My head hurts. It’s going to be tough to live down getting cleanly knocked out after trying to sucker punch Hans. Honestly though, I might not live long enough to hear the first joke about it.
Strangely, it felt good. The sparring that is, not the results of the sparring. We have been on the road for months now, and I needed to get rid of some of the anxiety that constantly plagues our journey. It was nice to let it go. It reminded me of when my father would take me out to teach me how to draw a bow squarely, or to spar out beyond the campfire’s light in tall grass clearings that were lit by the moon’s cool glow.
We have been playing cat and mouse with Salithius’s monstrosity for the past two nights. We managed to get behind it, which gave us peace of mind until we see the lights of a town on the horizon. We can’t light a fire. We speak in whispers. Our hunter oppresses us. I can only imagine that the slack faces of my companions mirror my own.
I am reminded of a song my father would hum while walking back to camp, holding a couple hares the he had caught for whatever group we were guiding for. It was a smuggler’s song.
Join me, join me, where the mountains break
I’ll take you past the rivers
and ‘round the great lakes.
The land holds a secret
that we can’t simply take.
We tap rocks veins
But with our blood we’ll pay
Join me, join me, in a woodland chase.
The mountains at our backs
Are no longer safe.
Out of mountains shadows,
And into grassy space
The diamond light we follow
In our coal black escape.
Join me, join me, the gallows we must face.
Another journey started
As the ropes put in place
The land holds a secret
That we can’t simply take
You tap rocks veins
But with our blood we’ll pay.
It occurs to me now that our route was probably taken by smugglers to get to and from the mines. Tickle Bay would be a half decent spot to leave from, especially if few questions were asked. Also, even if people knew there were smugglers, who would they tell?
We are tired, and months of anxiety with little levity have left us hollow. The town, which should be a relief to see, adds more weight to what might be ahead of us. What are we walking into? Is there a temple here? What if this isn’t Tickle Bay?
Hans and Vegard, bearing the mantle of Idiocy, want to keep the undead plague a secret and get in and out of town quickly. Our story is beyond believable, but we must warn the town, we must save lives. Dolf, Mari, Jensa, Aija, and myself want to find a temple to tell our story. Dolf’s word, and perhaps Jensa’s, will have weight in that circle. Also, we must confront this creature at some point. Better to do it on our terms than Salithius’s.
Hans and Vegard bicker with the rest of us. Our fears clash with our good conscience. Destroying this creature is the right thing to do, but also terribly dangerous. It is a tool of Salithius’s will, and if we are to eventually confront him, we must confront it. The problem is that this thing could easily kill us. Dolf ends all discussion with a simple argument: “It is never too late to kill something that is Evil”. That seems to lift the mantle from Vegard and Hans, for the moment.
May 24, 1136 – 4pm
All this, and we are still on the outskirts of town. We begin our approach, and one of our questions is quickly answered. A wooden sign sits just to side of the road with a sketch of a fat, cherubic, drunk man sitting above the words “Tickle Bay”, and underneath “Pop 300” is engraved by hand. Further along, two and three story narrow houses line the street. They are built close together, with claustrophobic alleys that are always shaded unless the sun is looking straight in. A dog, well kept by the looks of it, comes at the gentle urging of Jensa. A little girl follows behind it, flush with excitement like only children can be. Besides the nightmare that Blythe was, we have not seen people since Egersund. Despite being under Jensa’s charm, the dog continually glances at a tree that sits 100 feet south of us. Eyes, sitting on fleshy, shit-caked tentacles, watch through the fresh spring leaves.
Amazingly everyone seems to take note, and immediately Vegard disappears while we try to ferry our new friend, Betty, and her dog back into town. If we are going to fight this thing, keeping it out of town is a priority.
We promise that we will meet Betty tomorrow so that she may show us around. I sincerely hope we can keep that promise. As we turn to re-group and approach the tree, Vegard yells from the darkness.
“Hey guys, come check this thing out! It’s not that bad.”
We are facing a mage that shape changes at will, controls not only hoardes of zombies, but huge zombie monsters that are made of EYES, and Vegard is trying to sneak up on it like a puppy to a bear. It knows you are there, Vegard. It was fucking watching us while we walked up the road.
And so, the fight begins with us being unorganized and having no idea what we are up against. Dolf, Helga bless him, dispels the charm on Vegard while Mari fires a couple harmless arrows into the tree.
As Vegard scrambles away, a purple beam rips through the night, hitting Mari in the gut. She falls to the ground, but there doesn’t seem to be any physical harm that I can see at a quick glance. Sharp brambles, thorns, and branches from the tree form around the monster as Jensa and myself try to contain the creature with magic.
Vegard, continuing his trend of not thinking, tries to poke the creature through the newly formed, thick brambles that have just been conjured. I am momentarily baffled, as he tries to jump up at the tree to stab the monster. I can only imagine that the best outcome would be the equivalent of a pinprick, and worst (or best?) he dies. What a self-serving ass. His actions have put the group in danger and I cannot think of a more useless fucking weapon than the rapier to kill undead. And yet, he continues to poke shit with it. IT DOESN’T WORK! He walks up to everything we have killed, and puts that stupid rapier through the head like some kind of coup-de-grace when the fucking thing is already dead from the HOLY flames that Dolf has engulfed them in.
I need to teach him to use an axe or a blade or a club or a branch. Anything really. His fucking calf-daggers are better, as they bend less. I am going to take his rapier away. It’s best for everyone. Those raised rich are not the most practical, I guess. He needs to stop asking questions about one-hole.
Vegard falls on his ass after being rejected by the tree, and another beam rents the night air, barely missing Mari. The beams are coming from the eye stocks, which is scary as hell. What the fuck is this thing, and is it better or worse as an undead?
A crowd is beginning to form on the road. Our little battle seems to have been heard by those at the nearby tavern that sits on the town’s edge.
I follow Mari’s suit, and shoot a useless arrow into the tree. Aija, almost thinking clearly, grabs a torch from my bag, lights it, and makes a run for the tree. This, strangely, prompts a man to drunkenly raise a knocked arrow at Aija as she moves to set the tree aflame. I push his arm down, and four men tackle me. Mari is yelling that we are helping, but the crowd has taken a mob mentality. She is punched in the teeth for every word she says, and Hans and myself are easily subdued.
Not five minutes into the fight, we have launched no more than 3 ineffective attacks before being subdued by a tipsy mob.
Several things happen in quick succession. Jensa slams her staff into the ground, and a stringy,f fiery glow quickly worms its way towards the tree along the ground before shooting into the air to create a ball of fire at the tree’s height. As far back as we are, we can feel the heat emanating from it. At the same time, some men from the mob have gone to see why we are attacking tree, one quickly turning heel to run back to us. Dolf reveals himself as a priest of Helga, relaxing the crowd into letting Hans, Mari, and myself stand.
The other two return from the now burning tree, saying that there is nothing there. My brambles and Jensa’s fire must have hurt it, if only a little. Vegard, using the momentum swing that Dolf created, rallies ten townsmen to join us in the chase.
We are in disarray, a little panicked, and chasing a floating eye creature into a moonless darkness. We are running, hoping to make up the distance and not let it get away. So stupid. This is a toy, a pawn. It is not driven by survival. It is not something to be kept by one as powerful as Salithius. So when Dolf asks Helga to light the world up as it were day, the creature floats not thirty feet to our right, waiting for us to pass to then attack from behind.
With Helga’s blessing, though, advantage is now ours. Hans, Mari, and myself are able to put arrows deep into it, Hans hitting the main eye that sits in the body. Once again, poor Mari is burned through with a purple beam. The damage is visible this time, and I immediately hope that Helga will stay with us long enough to save her.
Vegard’s recruits charge at the beast with their short swords and clubs, despite the fact the thing sits 12 feet in the air. I cannot see a way they survive, imagining them looking like children with their hands in the air during their first game of netball.
Instead, one man gets underneath the creature and links his fingers together in time to launch his comrade straight into the air. The blow looks devastating. I don’t know where the guts sit on this monster, but the short sword goes deep enough that had this thing been living, it would have been a sure deathblow.
Dolf, not to be outdone by a non-divine attack, stands straight as can be, feet together, palms together, eyes closed. It is here where I do not see him as a priest, but something more. He is not a follower, but a leader. The spirits appear from the air and from the ground. They are all clerical in their ghostly garb. Their attack is what finally brings the beast down to earth.
A couple precautionary arrows, and it is not moving. We quickly assemble a pyre and let it burn hot. Merriment begins amongst the people, and the numbers swell as news travels and more people join the festivities. Our group is still nervous, knowing that Salithius’s ring is somewhere in the burning mass. We cannot reveal any information while the ring is active, or else he will be able to hear.
The kegs that have been tapped are phenomenal. They must be what is saved for the festivals. The beer is strong and I am drunk after only a couple. It has been so long since we have been around any joy or celebration. It reminds me of the Mountain Flower festival in Egersund, where children would pick wild flowers from the nearby woods, and shower Svenson Street with their pedals from the rooftops. Young couples would walk down the street hand in hand, raining petals landing lightly in their hair as they watched the street entertainers.
This party doesn’t compare, but it is a reminder that this village is set to be another victim.
We are being patted on the back, and prodded to reveal more of our travels and the nature of the vanquished beast.
Mysteriously, Dolf says, “The less you know, the safer you are. The burden of knowledge we carry cannot be relieved and it will only give you equal burden.”
This does not satiate their questions. The drunkenly don’t abide to that, especially during a celebration. They ask what they can do to help.
“A boat would help our cause,” I say, before quickly looking at the smoldering pyre and then at Dolf’s glare. I am not sure which is hotter. Well, If Salithius didn’t know were going across water, he should now.
The mayor, who introduces himself as Greg, offers us “Swift”, the best boat the town has. We mumble that our plans are not certain and thank you for the offer. Vegard searches through the ashy husk of what remains of the creature, and comes up with the ring.
Our energy slightly renewed, we get Greg to find us the town smithy. A smithy he is too, a monstrous man with forearms like thick twisted metal. Anders eagerly, and drunkenly, accepts that we must melt the ring, with few questions. And melt he does, with little problem. The ring is nothing but gold flakes mixed in with whatever else sits at the bottom of his forge.
Since the pyre has been put out, the festivities have moved back to the pub, despite the early hour. We tell our tale to Greg, Anders, and Pippet, the owner of the tavern. They are horrified, not only by what we have experienced, but also what must come next. You can see in their faces that their minds are turning to what will happen to them.
It is here where we take our leave to go to bed. Old habbits die hard as Mari and I set alarms around our sleeping area and the group discusses first watch. Randy, the town hero who gutted Salithius’s puppet, slurs that he will stand watch outside.
“We must not lose trust in the people of Atlin. Ten people volunteered their lives today,” he says gently after closing the door behind Randy.
The next morning, we get apple juice, coffee, eggs, and bacon. Bacon. I savor it. I try to remember the taste after I am done. We get supplies, restock, and meet Greg at the inn with Pippet and another gentleman with jet black hair, and tanned leathery skin that covers taught wiry, muscles. Jean Conley is the captain of our promised boat. He does not look impressed.
As we walk down to the docks we talk about Salithius, what his intentions and plans are.
“He vacations here, every summer,” continues Greg with a confused and concerned look on his face. We all look at each other, putting the pieces together.
“When he is here, where does he stay?,” asks Dolf.
“At his cottage.” Greg stammers. The danger now more complicated. He has a house here. A fucking residence. He might have wanted to keep the battle out of town as much as we did. That’s why we didn’t run into a army of undead. He sees it as HIS fucking town.
Any protection we could have left, any spells or enchantments, cannot keep the town from an attack that begins inside it. I also wonder if this is how the undead got to Egersund so quickly. They were transported in through a residence that Salithius already had.
I want to get in so bad. I want to burn it down, to destroy it. I want to hurt Salithius. I don’t want him dead, because that is not enough. I want him robbed of all his power, for him to live the rest of his days like that.
The house is most definitely protected from fire.
Tickle Bay’s people now face some tough decisions. Stay, and when Sal returns to vacation, pretend to not know anything. Pretend that everything is the same, and interact with a man that they now know is a mass-murderer capable of controlling those he kills as they did before they knew that. Or, leave. Hide, start anew, and be able to keep their families. Save themselves the grief of killing those who were once their kin to protect those who still are.
Salithius has killed another town. He has killed his own town, although he will not see it that way. The mayor begins to prepare for an evacuation as we trudge down to the docks to meet Captain Conley for our departure.
My father’s song has changed meanings for me now. Salithius is the smuggler, the looter, the thief. He enters lands that are not his and steals. His end will come from those he stole from. It’s with his blood, he will pay.
(session ends on May 24, 1136 – 11pm)