This goddam heat. The warm lake I thought I was swimming in was only in my dreams, instead I’m waking up in a puddle of my own sweat. Sick. I’d always heard talk of the cities to the South, of warm rivers and lakes. No one ever mentioned endless sweat and air that feels like I’m breathing in an oven.
As if reading my mind, Amy offers me some cool water to drink fresh from the lake. I think of those bugs and other potential creatures that lurk in that lake and make a face. ‘Pass’ I say and reach for the water-skin with water made by Dolf. As I turn to grab the bottle, I notice Jean sitting on the forest floor looking dazed. I can only imagine what he is thinking. I mumble a ‘good morning’ to him because anything else I think to ask him seems trite given what he’s been through in the last couple of days. I feel a strong sense of purpose this morning to get to Sweetwater as soon as possible so that Jean can get to a pub and do normal things without us bringing trouble his way. Seems like a more achievable purpose than the rest of this journey and more important to me right now. I can at least help this one person, a sense of accomplishment. The rest of this journey… I feel like we take two steps back for every half step forward.
We gather our things and start to head in the direction of Sweetwater. It feels so good to be on land. While I am sad that the boat sank, I can’t pretend I don’t love walking instead of rocking around on a boat. Dolf leads the way to the road as if he’s been here before and we follow without questioning. We very soon meet up with the wide, hard, dry dirt road that will lead us to the city. I can tell Dolf has a renewed sense of purpose as we turn right onto the road. It’s like he can feel the temple calling him home. Must be a nice feeling to know that whatever city you travel to, you always have a place to go where you are welcome. ‘We go to the temple first’ says Dolf out of the blue. I can’t tell if it is a question or a statement. I consider objecting but don’t. All I can think of is beer, a fresh cooked meal and a real bed to sleep in. Maybe I’ll just head to the pub with Jean when we get there… We walk in silence for a bit and talk turns to Amy. ‘Are your Super Friends going to be a home when we arrive, Amy?’ She doesn’t know. Jean, who has been silent all morning, starts talking about his favorite pub in Sweetwater, the TLR. I think it is sinking in that his ridiculous adventure with us is coming to an end and he can’t hide his delight in returning to his old haunts. My stomach growls at his description of the food and beer that await. So close I can almost taste it.
Soon the forest opens onto farmland and open fields. We see the fields run into the sea on our right and straight ahead we can see the huge stone walls surrounding Sweetwater. As we get closer, I am in awe of the height of the walls. They are huge and make the walls surrounding Egersund look like matchsticks. I shiver as I recall the last time I saw those walls, with undead dropping from them to chase after us. What would happen to this city if that disease ever arrived here? I can’t even imagine.
We are starting to pass people of the road heading in the opposite direction of the city. We stop one man who looks completely unprepared to be leaving the city in his flip-flops, t-shirt and shorts and nothing else. Dolf asks him for directions to the temple and the guy process to give a long and detailed list of directions. Seems like he’s messing with us. I tune out, it’s The Temple! It can’t be hard to spot. If we can’t manage to find the Temple in this city, I figure all hope is lost. As we get to the city gate, Vegard approaches one of the guards to let him know about the bug bears we encountered not too far from the city. The guard is surprised to hear of so many bug bears close to the city and I’m not sure that he really believed that we killed them all. Disbelief or not, he is going to dispatch a patrol to investigate further and ensure that there is nothing further to worry about. As we step through the gates, into the city, it feels like another world. The contrast from farmlands rolling into the see with the human stew of the bustling place is shocking. I have never seen a city this big before and I’m dizzy as I struggle to keep up to the group and take in all the new sites, sounds and smells. Amy immediately takes over as our navigator to the temple and starts ducking in and out of alleyways and small side streets. Jean stops suddenly and indicates he is heading to the TLR and will meet up with us there later. And he’s gone.
As we start to walk again, Vegard lets us know that we are being followed by a guy that he noticed when we first entered the city. Vegard subtly points him out to us so we are aware but after looking at each other we just kind of shrug and move on. We are so close to the Temple at this point, I could care less to engage someone in a fight. Seems stupid in a new city with our goal in site. If he gets in my way, that will be a different story. But so far, follow away guy.
After a few more twists and turns, we emerge from a small alleyway and the grand white temple is in front of us. How did I not see this before? Seems impossible that we just stumbled on it without warning. As we approach, I am hesitant. I am not a temple type of person, never been in one and I’m pretty sure I’m not really their kind of people. And that was how I felt before this messed up adventure. Oh, they say they welcome everyone but really? Dolf is great but he’s different from the others here I think. Now I’ve actually killed things, some those things used to be people. I feel a sort of doom as I step through the entrance, like it is possible I will be struck down when I place my first step on the gleaming white marble with my dirty shoes… which doesn’t happen. My discomfort only grows as we move further into this immaculate space. I feel like I’m getting dirtier and dirtier by the second. The polished white walls, floors, statues make me feel like actual dirt. This is for sure the nicest place I have even been in.
Someone approaches us, looks like a paladin, and Dolf explains that we have an urgent message from the Temple in Egersund. We are asked to wait while he finds someone to help us though I feel he wants us to stop where we are more so we stop dirtying this pristine place. Shortly, a scrawny young guy introduces himself as Brother Dylan and asks us to follow him. We start heading down hallways, going deeper and deeper down into the temple. It feels wrong and I start looking and my friends to see what they are thinking. I believe my feeling is shared. Brother Dylan opens a door and leads us into a stark room, which looks more like a jail cell than a warm welcome place to wait. Thump! The door closes and is locked. I knew it. I hate this place. I glare at Dolf, looking for someone to blame but it isn’t his fault and I know it. He reassures us that once they see the note everything will be fine. ‘Nice people, who jail you first and ask questions later’, I say. As we are start discussing what we should do next, the sliding peep hole opens and someone asks us what our business at the temple is. Dolf takes the lead, and tells him about our urgent message from the Egersund temple and passes the guard the sealed note. The door abruptly shuts and the guard is gone.
My daydream of a hot meal, ale and a real bed is interrupted after some time when our cell door opens and a guard asks us to follow him. We start asking him questions but he isn’t interested in explaining or apologizing. As we make our way up from the depths of the temple we pass the armory and are asked to leave our weapons. He doesn’t even acknowledge our protests and waits while we complete the request. Dolf seems to also be running out patience with our skepticism and reluctance. Amy chimes in and explains this is how they always do it and there’s no getting around it. How she knows that, I have no idea but I’m sure there is some extraordinary story behind it.
We proceed up and up and up and with each level we go up the temple seems to be more beautiful. Finally, we are led to large airy room with a huge desk. Seated behind the desk is possibly the smallest and oldest looking woman I have seen in my life. To be fair, no one really lasts that long in the mining business but I’ve never seen anyone this old even around Egersund. “Is that Helga?” Vegard whispers to Dolf. Dolf can’t help but let a little laugh escape and quickly says, “No.”
‘Come in, come in’, the tiny lady ushers us to a table with a wonderful looking lunch laid out. ‘My name is Mother Cordelia. Let’s have lunch and talk about this letter and what brings you to Sweetwater’. Over the course of our lunch, we provide a detailed account of our journey so far, how we came to be in possession of the letter from the Egersund Temple and our suspicions of Salithius. Mother Cordelia mostly nodded and remained composed during the telling, and just took it all in. When we were finished, she thanked us for being so brave and that she would like it if we returned around 8pm tonight after she had time to contemplate our story. We agreed to return, thanked her for listening and ventured off to find the Douglas house.
As Amy leads us to the Douglas house, we discuss what might happen next but really get nowhere. Amy soon breaks into a run up some stairs and knocks excitedly on the door of what I realize is a huge house. I’ve never seen anything like it. This is for one family? A lady opens the door, who knows Amy but is apparently not Geraldine Douglas. She lets us all in the house as Amy runs off to find Geraldine. As we stand in the foyer somewhat awkwardly, Alice welcomes us and explains that she is in charge of the household and that if we are guests of Amy that we are welcome here. Soon a tall, thin well-dressed woman in her 50s appears with Amy’s arms encircling her. She may not be Amy’s mother but she certainly seems happy to have Amy as one of her own. Geraldine is lovely and I’ve never felt so welcome, perhaps anywhere. Even though this house is huge and very fancy I feel at home here though I can’t explain why. I really hope Abby is home, with all of the stories that Amy has told I feel like I would really like her and that she would be someone I would really like.
We pass the afternoon in the cool parlor, while Amy tells Geraldine literally every detail of our journey here the rest of us relax in the comfort of this home and enjoy the great food that Alice brings in. Geraldine invites us to stay for dinner as Herbert will be home soon and will also want to hear about everything. I casually ask if Abby is in town and am disappointed to find out she is away. Amy is clearly excited to be ‘home’ and chats non-stop with Geraldine and then Herbert at dinner. The rest of us occasionally fill in a detail that Amy misses or corrects her on something she has essentially made up from prior to her joining our group. Clearly both Geraldine and Herbert are used to insane shit happening and neither seems surprised or fussed that there is a town of zombies somewhere in Atlin. After dinner we excuse ourselves to head to the TLR to visit Jean. Hans and Eric describe Jean and his predicament to Herbert, who says to tell Jean to come see him in the morning. We all feel better knowing that Jean will have Herbert’s help in getting back on his feet. Maybe we can work out a deal with Herbert for a boat for Jean.
We arrived at the TLR for a quick visit with Jean before our return to the Temple. We find Jean completely passed out at the bar. The bartender introduces herself as Rayne, and looks unimpressed with Jean being asleep on her bar. Clearly he’s had a good afternoon! We pay for a room and help Jean upstairs. He has so much beer in him that Dolf uses his powers to remove some of the poison from his system. With Jean more alert we fill him in and eagerly share the news about Herbert’s offer to meet with him in the morning. He’s still pretty out of it, so we leave him in his hotel room and I let him know that one of us will be by in the morning to make sure he makes it to the meeting with Herbert. We wish him good night and head back to the temple.
When we enter the temple, a sheepish Brother Dylan is waiting to escort us to Mother Cordelia. None of us (except Dolf) pass up the chance to chastise him for putting us in jail earlier. He apologizes so much that it ceases to be fun. This time when we enter Mother Cordelia’s office she is with another woman. This woman is not as old or short and has graying hair. The first words she says are ‘Hi Amy’. We turn, shocked, to look at Amy. Though why we would still be shocked by anything about Amy is a mystery. She is a child that has seen and seems to know everything about Atlin. ‘Oh, Hi Mother Jana’, Amy says nonchalantly. Mother Jana explains that she is from the Temple in Finnsbury. YES! All I can think is, “Yes!” We are done, the Finnsbury temple knows, I can stop this ridiculous journey to escape a mad wizard intent on doing magical things that I have no power to stop. The thought of not having to travel for 3 months to tell another Temple the same information makes me giddy. I do my best to contain it as my friends have more skin in the game. I have no family in Egersund, no one left there to care about. The last memories of that place being overrun with undead made me certain I would never be going back.
Mother Jana tells us that she has communicated with the Temple in Egersund. They have been able to continue protecting the temple and the people sheltered there which is amazing news. However, they are running out of food and starving. Vegard, Hans, Eric and Dolf are eager to hear news of their loved ones. Mother Jana says if they give her a list of names she will check with the temple to find out what she can. The relief on their faces is immediately evident and I hope that everyone is safe. I think about Hans’ family in the cottage and also hope they have been able to ration supplies and stay safe in their remote location. Mother Jana says she will inform the council of wizards to impress upon them to deal with this issue and to reign in Salithius. In the meantime though, the Temple needs to find a way to cure those who have this illness. We agree wholeheartedly and look to her for what she has come up with. Before she speaks, I see the look in her eye and can tell I’m not going to like what she says next. Mother Jana says the only way to devise a cure is to have an undead person here to study. She needs us to go back and bring someone undead back with us.
My happiness at finally being done with this mission is short-lived but at least this seems like a plan. And a plan that could actually do something to help this awful situation. But how are we going to get back there? How are we going to transport an undead back with us without getting ourselves infected? We’re all thinking the same thing and have no answers. Mother Jana tells us to go and get a good night sleep as she needs to think of way to send us to Egersund and bring us back quickly to avoid the loss of the lives at the temple and to hopefully stop this horrifying disease from spreading further.