“So tell me about the vampires,” I said, in a casual manner, having bumped into Jacque once again, this time in the Ordinis Mortis marketplace.
The man truly was everywhere, these days.
“Vampires?” he said. “Fiction, pure fiction.” He made a dismissive gesture and pretended to be immersed in examining the merchandise on the stall in front of him.
“You’ve told me of the loup-garou, of the marsh fires, of the voodoo witch. You’ve told me of ghosts and hauntings and the eerie above-ground cemeteries where any of the above may be lurking, it seems. But vampires are fiction?”
“There are legends of course,” he began, leaning casually against a nearby stone facade. “There were murders. Bodies found drained of blood. That sort of thing. “
He paused then, gauging my reaction. I kept my expression neutral. He continued:
“John and Wayne Carter, brothers you understand. Worked normal labor jobs, lived in the French Quarter. Seemed nice enough folks, at least, until the police found those bodies at their place, drained of blood. Found over a dozen of them.”
“What happened to these brothers?” I asked, feeling a bit nauseous.
“They were executed. Took 8 men to subdue them, they were so strong. Locals said they drank the blood of their victims…that’s how the nonsense started.”
Jacque’s stiff posture and reticence in elaborating on this story made it clear to me that he did not think this was nonsense. I gave no response, and waited for him to continue. Eventually, he did:
“Folks say their bodies went missing from their tombs. And that one of the victims that survived, went on to also kill people and drain their blood. Then you have the usual folk who claim to still see the brothers roaming the French Quarter at night, looking for victims.”
I recalled our first meeting in Aerie, hearing his footsteps behind me on the dark, empty streets. I felt a chill.
Jacque straightened himself and began walking past the market stalls. Vendors were packing their wares away and hurrying indoors.
He looked at me carefully, as if making up his mind about something. Then he walked over to the devotional fountain.
Removing a glove from his hand, he let his fingertips gently brush the surface of the waters.
Steam billowed from the fountain, accompanied by a resounding hiss. He touched the side of my face then, with that same ungloved hand.
I felt the beads of the fountain’s water trace burning paths down my neck.
I reached out to push him away, laying my palm flat against his chest. No heartbeat….?
I took a step back.
“Oh come my dear, you were never in any danger. I know you are an Avatar.” And then he was off again, walking across the grass over to the river.
“I call this the Ordinissippi. Has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?”
And there, further up the docks, I saw the drydocked ship, being loaded with assorted barrels and crates. Colored banners flew, glowing with their own luminescence under the starless sky.
“What is it that you want from me? Why have you been following me?” I asked, as I followed him toward the ship.
“Why, to tell the story, of course!” he said, laughing, as he climbed up onto the docks.
He hopped down off the platform and gestured over at a brightly lit cafe down the street, still open and bustling at this time of night.
“We all have much to learn of this world, but we must never forget where it is we came from. Here is where we have gathered, to rebuild our city as it once was…or as close as we can, in this place.”
He gestured at the avenue in front of us. Look there, Madame’s House of Voodoo…and there..we’re calling that the New Absinthe.”
“And there, the musical legends park…statues still with the sculptor. “It is apparently extraordinarily difficult to get quality granite on this world!”
I looked up and down the avenue, recognition dawning as Jacque led me from place to place.
We stopped for beignets at Cafe du Monde Noveaux. We sampled seafood at Pier 425. We danced under glowing lights at New Bourbon Street Balcony.
Slowly, slowly the sun started to rise.
As it did, the entire street seemed to …shimmer in the growing light. Fading out, until I was standing there like a fool in an empty field.
Had it all been a dream?
I looked down, and there in my hand was a handful of brightly colored metal coins, stamped with various faces and symbols.
I stuffed them in my pocket, and started walking back toward town.
It was early evening and I had just come through the pass, and I could see the lights of Brittany ahead in the distance.
Rather than head straight for the city, it was often my habit to pass through Midmaer to gather reagents that only bloomed in the moonlight.
And of course, that’s where I ran into him again. Jacque, in his fine coat, stood at the forest’s edge almost as if expecting me.
He didn’t seem to have any particular agenda, and trailed alongside me as I walked the path through North Midmaer way, gathering nightshade and mandrake root as I went. He made small talk mostly, but seemed on edge as we passed under the shadows of the trees.
I left the path then, heading into a grove of trees I knew had bountiful roots and herbs. The grove was well lit by a shimmering will-o-wisp.
I headed toward it, watching my step to not trip over brambles and branches.
Suddenly Jacque’s hands grabbed my shoulders, halting my forward movement.
Fifolet!” he whispered harshly, then gestured I should turn around. I looked around, trying to figure out what he was so worried about.
“Its just a will-o-wisp,” I said, gesturing at the hovering purple floating creature. There are many of them in Novia.”
He looked at it dubiously.
“It is quite harmless,” I added.
Jacque did not look convinced. He continued to look at the will-o-wisp, then at me, then back at the wisp, frowning.
I laughed, and gathered my focus, calling upon the powers of moon magic to summon a will-o-wisp right there in front of us. It appeared with a whooshing sound, then sat placidly, glowing softly.
“Feu Follet” he said, more slowly. It still sounded like ‘feefolay’ to me. “Devil spirits. They lure you out into the woods, often to your death!”
Well, this one’s not leading anyone anywhere, look…” I said, running in a circle and the wisp followed me obediently.
Jacque still did not look convinced. “You have this as a pet? In my homeland, these fairy spirits lure people to their doom – you’ll follow it right into a lake and drown!”
I decided that this would not be a good time to demonstrate that I had taught my pet wisp to dance. I dismissed it with a wave of my hand. Jacque relaxed noticeably.
In the sudden darkness, the lights of a nearby house became visible in the distance. Without a word, Jacque started toward it. We passed under the eerie branches of trees; trees that seemed to watch us as we moved. It was an unsettling feeling. I had never strayed this far from the path, before.
Jacque walked to the side of the house, which itself seemed to be carved of a giant tree, and peered in one of the windows. He then mumbled to himself at some length in that same creole patois he’d spoken the night we first met, then walked back to where I stood, hidden in the forest.
“It is her,” he said simply, and started back toward the road. “We should leave this place.”
“You mean the supposed “witch” of Midmaer?” I asked. “She’s known to live in these parts. She does herbal remedies and such for folk. Similar to my line of work, really.”
He shot me a glare.
“I’d recognize her anywhere. Your Midmaer witch is Marie Laveau, the voodoo queen. I knew the rumors of her death were false. Look, there in the window! She lives still!”
I raised an eyebrow. And then Jacque told me her story:
Marie Laveau, The Voodoo Queen did indeed provide herbal remedies, and was a well known and influential member of society in her day, which was all the more impressive for being a woman of colour during that time in South Louisiana. But it was also said that she communed with the dead, and crafted spells on behalf of clients for good or ill, and engaged in rites with demons.
“She knew things, that woman. She’d give advice to all the prominent people in town, and somehow she always knew the outcomes.” From his demeanour, Jacque spoke of her as if she were someone he regularly passed on the street. He talked then of her funeral, which was attended by people from all social circles.
While it was said that she died peacefully of old age in her home, many people reported seeing her after her alleged death. While her daughters took over her shop, mystery and legend always surrounded what became of her. Whether her magic was real, or whether she was merely a gifted reader of people, her legacy has echoed through the years and become a part of New Orleans history.
Even a century later, people still mark an X on her grave (where some claim she is not actually buried) and leave offerings in exchange for magical favors.
“And at last now, the mystery is solved.” He said, as if it were blindingly obvious.
“She’s come here, just as you have. Just as I have.”
“But what need have we of Voodoo, here in Novia? The land itself teems with magic.” To emphasize my point, I summoned the will-o-wisp again.
Jacque raised his arms and exclaimed something I did not understand, but needed no translation, and headed down the road out of the forest.
He called out behind him, “If you see one of those fifolets, one that doesn’t live in your pocket, don’t follow it!”
And he was gone. The forest seemed to ..unclench a little. There was a light breeze, like the trees let out a collective sigh.
I looked back at the witch’s house, and saw a face at a window staring back at me.
She nodded her head once, slowly. Then drew the curtains.
So I was making a delivery to a regular customer of mine up north in Harvest. As usual, the place was busy with many people going about their business, even though it was late evening and the sun had already set.
I heard a commotion down in the square, and saw a man in a familiar looking, fashionable yet out of style, overcoat being led by the hand by a group of young children who are chattering and gesturing wildly.
Of course, it was Jaque, who seemed to be turning up everywhere these days. Or at least everywhere that I was. That thought nagged me a bit, but I let it lie for the time being, and went to see what all the fuss was about.
Jaque smiled as I approached and said “These children have been telling me that the house up on the hill here is haunted. What do you know of this?”
I briefly explained that yes, strange things had been known to occur in that house after midnight, but that many adventurers had come through and investigated the matter. It wasn’t something I was particularly worried about, just local legends.
Jaque seemed to be considering something, and then finally he crouched down on one knee right there on the street and said “Children, do you want to hear of a haunted house from my homeland?”
I expect that some of the children probably did want to hear this tale, but the fresh lemon buns that Jaque was handing out to his would-be audience were likely the more deciding factor.
I loitered nearby, out of curiosity more than anything to hear the storyteller spin his tale.
Jaque sat down on a bench, and the children clustered around eagerly. He glanced up at the house on the hill, and then back at his audience, and began.
There was a house very similar to that one where I am from. Yes, a beautiful mansion and the home of Doctor LaLaurie and his wife Delphine….
Jaque went on a several minutes long tangent about the fabulous parties thrown at the LaLaurie house of which he had of course attended many though the nuances of wine and dancing, and the general behaviour of New Orleans socialites was probably lost on his current audience, who nibbled on their lemon buns and started to look bored.
“So their mansion was haunted?” I asked, trying to steer him back on track.
He grinned his famous grin at me, and carried on. “This house was, you understand, just a few houses down from my own home on Royal Street, and I can personally bear witness to some of the …activities… that went on under that roof.
By this point, some of the other residents of Harvest had gathered round to hear the tale. As Jaque began to describe the events that took place, it became evident both to myself and the surrounding parents, that such a tale was certainly not fit for children’s ears.
Suffice it to say that the mistress of the house, Madame Delphine La Laurie, was exceedingly cruel to the people in her employ, treating them as property and punishing them horribly for the smallest slight.
I could see that Jaque was trying to explain the origin of the haunting without going into what I later learned was gruesome detail. “She did bad things, very bad.” was about the best he could come up with. Parents were trying to usher their children away from the crazy man in the antique clothes – It was far past their bedtime.
Jacque did not seem perturbed by the loss of his audience. He continued talking, half to himself, half to me, while brushing the lemon bun crumbs off of his jacket.
“Anyway!” he said after a while, snapping back to the present. “The people, they found out what was going on. They gathered around in the streets demanding justice. And there was a terrible fire……”
So the story went, one of the cooks, tired of the cruelty of the mistress, set fire to the kitchen, which spread to much of the house. Madam Delphine was never seen again after that day, having vanished from the city.
For years later, he went on to say, later owners of the house reported hearing screams of agony, or the sounds of sobbing, coming from seemingly within the walls. For many years the house stood empty and fell into a state of decay. For the next hundred years, he said, everyone who owned the house ended up in shame. Scandals, even murders, and rumors of lost riches surrounded the house, though very few dared to go and search for them.
He said 150 years after Madame’s disappearance people discovered the skeletal remains of her servants, buried beneath the floorboards.
He finished his monologue and looked up at the House on the Hill, then looked at me.
Then a thought occurred to me.
´Jacque,” I asked, meeting his gaze. “How is it that you say you knew Dr LaLaurie and his wife, and attended their parties, and know of events that happened a hundred years after their deaths?”
To his credit, he didn’t even look surprised by the question.
“Ah, cherie, pretty AND smart” he said. “You’ll figure it out.” He did a flourishing bow and strolled off toward the house on the hill.
I heard the clock tower in town chime midnight as I turned and headed on the road leading out of the city.
When I reached the mountain pass, I turned and looked back. It may have just been a trick of the light, but I could have sworn that the mansion was ablaze.
I wrapped my cloak around my shoulders more tightly and travelled the rest of the way home.
It was some days after my chance meeting with Jaque at the Tavern in Aerie, when I was going about my usual business. I am an alchemist by trade, and often visit local swamps for rare herbs and mushrooms.
I’m more than capable of dealing with most of the swamp’s hazards, but it was unusual for me to encounter other people when I made my collection trips.
Even more unusual for me to be taken by surprise.
This is why I jumped a little, startled, when I heard a voice behind me suddenly utter in a raspy voice “Don’t move.”
Instinctively, my hand began to tangle with the channelling of Earth magic, and I turned to face the threat. Who was it but none other than Jaque, the strange man from New Orleans.
He backed away a step, and smiled what I would come to recognise as his famous disarming smile, and said “Mademoiselle Shimizu. I did not mean to startle you.”
I let the earth magics recede.
Satisfied I was no longer on the offensive, Jacque took my hand and led me back through the thick reeds aways, ducking behind one of the old Cypress trees. He pressed one finger to his lips. “Sssh” and with the other hand pointed out into the fog and gloom.
“What is it?” I whispered, seeing nothing but the usual foetid swamp waters, and hearing nothing but the usual cacophony of insects, buzzing from every direction.
I opened my mouth to ask him again, but he quieted me with a gesture. “Listen,” he whispered.
I listened to the sound of the water’s surface disturbed by fish. I listened to the sounds of creatures rustling through the underbrush.
Nothing out of the ordinary for South Fetid swamp.
After an indeterminate amount of time listening to nothing out of the ordinary, Jacque sat down on a fallen log and said “Well, that’s a relief.”
He sat there for a moment, straightening the cuffs of his shirt and carefully removing bits of leaves from his hair.
I had spent enough time with the man by this point to realise that an explanation would be forthcoming, but that he had to tell these things in his own way. Storytelling being, according to him, one of his most passionate entertainments, as I had learned during our meeting in Aerie.
Finally, satisfied that he had removed as much of the swamp muck as was possible while still sitting in the middle of the swamp, he turned and asked me, “Have you ever heard of the Loup-Garou?”
I, of course, shook my head that I had not. And so he told me the story.
In his homeland, Jacque explained, there were stories of a strange creature that inhabited the swamplands. the Loup-Garou, or what the locals sometimes called the Rougarou, was said to inhabit the swamps around New Orleans and Acadania.
He looked at me with his still empty eyes and said “It’s a werewolf of course. That’s what the word means.”
I smiled. Of course it was a werewolf. It seemed silly to believe in such things, and yet we did cross a rift into Novia, and I had surely with my own eyes seen and even fought stranger things than werewolves.
This loup-garou, Jaque explained, carried with it a curse – If it were to bite you, then you must tell no-one of it for 101 days, lest you also turn into a loup-garou.
“At least that is what the old wives used to say. In this world – who knows?”
We sat in silence for a time, listening to the chirp of crickets. “So,” I asked him, “It’s just a large wolf?”
“The head of a wolf, the body of a man, so the stories say. Or perhaps It was the other way around. I never saw it.”
“Hmm.” I said, not sure what else to say.
We sat a while longer, but it was getting late. Not that you could see sun or stars in fog this thick. I picked up my bag of herbs and stood up, preparing to bid Jaque good evening.
A soul-chilling howl suddenly echoed across the swamp.
Jaque jumped to his feet, and for a moment it seemed his eyes glowed red.
“Has the beast also come to Novia?” he exclaimed, and took up a fighting stance, though I noted, he drew no weapon. I was going to ask him what he planned to fight it with, when another sound pierced the darkness.
And this sounded like a woman’s scream.
In an instant, Jaque was gone into the mists. He was swift, but I had travelled these swamps many times, and I caught up with him in a clearing, alongside a terrified young woman.
He had his hand clasped tightly over her mouth, and kept saying “You mustn’t speak of it, you mustn’t breath a word of it!”
Without so much as another glance in my direction, he wrapped his cloak around the woman’s shoulders and began walking her back in the direction of town.
It had started raining again. I stood some time there in the darkness, listening, before turning to follow in the direction Jaque and the woman had gone.
And for some reason, the next night I found myself staying in range of the city street lights when I went out to forage.
People have come to Novia from so many places it was inevitable that some, at least, would hail from Louisiana. And while they have seen some strange things indeed in their time in this world, perhaps things are not so strange considering the tales they tell of their homeland.
One such traveller, I met one late evening on the streets of Aerie. He was going nowhere in particular, it seemed. It almost felt like he was waiting for me or at least for someone. He watched me walk aways, following at a respectful but unsettling distance.
A light drizzle began to fall, and I quickened my pace. My pursuer matched my strides. Finally, I stopped, turned, and stood beneath a guttering streetlight to face him. The night breeze pushed aside my cloak, revealing me to be harmed.
After sizing me up for a few moments, he laughed and mumbled something I couldn’t understand in a French patois, then gestured at the tavern across the street and offered to buy me a drink.
Since prior to running into the stranger the tavern had been my destination, I saw no harm in this – besides, the rain was picking up, and it would be best to go indoors until it relented.
As we walked through the doorway, his eyes took in the entire room, meeting the gaze of the few assembled therein – a tired barmaid, and a few late revellers in the corner. He seemed to relax, and it wasn’t until I saw this change in his demeanour that I realised how tense he had been before.
Then, as if we not just met by chance in the rainy street, he patted me on the shoulder and called the barmaid over to bring me a drink. Now that the light was better, I could see that he was quite handsome. He was young – not much older than I, certainly – but his eyes seemed ageless and ancient. I did not stare at them long.
It was there as I sipped some wine from some local vineyard, that he said quietly, “Pleased to meet you. My name is Jacque.”
I introduced myself in turn, and it seemed once this verbal barrier had been breached, there was no stopping the flow of words from him. He began with stories of Europe from an earlier time, and stories of Africa from the age of explorers. The level of detail in his recountings was remarkable.
As he spoke, I reflected that he seemed someone more accustomed to be around people. His clothes, cut from an older style, were ornate and clearly belonged to a man of wealth.
Finally, I asked of all the exotic places he had described which of these was his home before coming to this world?
“Ah,” he said, leaning closer to me, his voice dropping to a whisper.
His expression suddenly looks sad, his eyes misty.
He then proceeded to tell me about his home on Royal Street in New Orleans. The dinners, the parties, the food, the women!
He talked and talked and talked until the first glimmers of dawn began to flicker in the windowsill.
Then, quite suddenly, he was on his feet, donning his hat and cloak and bidding me farewell. In a quite antiquated gesture, he bowed and kissed the top of my hand and slipped a shiny bauble in my hand. He said it had been quite a while since there had been someone he could talk to so openly. Then, with a flourish, he was gone, disappeared into the pouring rain.
It wasn’t until after he left that I realised, he had never touched his own drink.
It was some days later that I asked a local jeweller familiar with otherworldly artefacts about the shiny bauble. He wasn’t able to discern much, says it looks by style to have been from the 18th or 19th century France, but he couldn’t tell for sure.
He was able to translate the old text for me; it read simply. “House of Saint Germaine”. Neither of us really understood the significance of this. What a strange fellow he had been! And the stories! Some too outrageous to believe!
I have written down all that I remember here for your delight, so that we may celebrate our journey to Novia while paying homage to our past, our roots, and the legends that have shaped us. By Shimizu in the year 560.
Just across a river or two from the city, Zyrina stopped along the side of the bridge and looked at the sign directing us to a midsize town just ahead. The sign said Ordanis Mortis.
“Here it is,” Zyrina trailed off. “Restaurant coming up.”
“Real food.” Lucy nearly drooled.
Without hesitation I spoke up, “Absolutely, we’ve travelled hard and hungry. Let’s go find out what we can. Same tactic as last time: look for people who know more than they should know…and get them drunk if you have to.”
“Is it far?” Lucy asked, her stomach rumbling along with her question.
“Nope. And the town crier is usually near the docks just as we enter town, and he will give us better directions than I can remember off the top of my head. I just remember the menu…” I noticed Zyrina wiped her mouth which was salivating in anticipation.
“Come on,” I called out as I headed for the community of Ordanis Mortis. I had more than food on my mind.
“List Rostov hires the best chefs in the land, as far as I’m concerned,” Zyrina proclaimed boldly as she crossed the bridge. “She has never failed to fill my stomach with a good meal and sometimes a good song too. List dabbles in music too, you know?”
I nodded my head, “Yes, I’ve played music with Ms. Rostov at various pubs around Novia. And I’ve eaten with you at this restaurant years ago.” Zyrina looked thoughtful for a minute before remembering, then nodded, and Lucy just looked confused and hungry.
Here Zyrina stopped gossiping and hailed the town crier, “Good sir, where might I find Los Gardeñias Restaurant owned by List Rostov?”
The crier pointed to the path across the field away from the river and through the beautiful cherry tree garden nearby. We did find it, mostly by following our noses.
We seated ourselves in the outdoor area behind the main building, on a long bench and a long table covered with a checkered pattern. Then staff arrived at our table with heaping platters of succulent meats and dishes from around the land as well as a sweet wine that all of us drank far too much of. The PhoénixPicante was AMAZING. Lucy had two helpings.
Zyrina had wandered off part way through the meal and, as Lucy and I were just beginning to wonder where she had gone, she returned. She held a few scraps of torn paper in her hand and placed them in a clear spot on the table.
“I saw someone I knew,” she said simply. “The mage has been here in Ordanis Mortis, too.”
That drew the immediate attention of Lucy too. We all leaned in further.
“Juanita Joanna Maria Pajero, a waitress here at Los Gardeñias, is an old friend of mine. I asked her if she had seen Aslinne come through town. She hasn’t.” Zyrina saw me open my mouth to ask.
“We were talking about magic in Novia and she got a strange look on her face. I asked what she was thinking about. She hesitated a little before mentioning a weird fellow, a tattooed mage in black with a little book under his arm and a big blue bag that had been here for a meal with an equally striking older man also dressed in black,” she told us.
Zyrina went on, “that description of the mage caught my attention right away. Juanita knew nothing else, but she showed me the cloak that the mage left behind after an argument between him and the other fellow.” Here she held up her hand to deflect my question. “The fight was about a dragon egg. It was short and vicious. She didn’t hear anything more specific. He didn’t even storm out, didn’t even finish his meal, he uttered a short incantation and rudely disappeared right in front of everyone.” She added, “Obviously used a magic travel scroll.”
I nodded agreement, “Go on.”
Zyrina continued by answering Lucy’s question, “They were here recently enough that Los Gardeñias has not yet discarded his forgotten cloak.”
Lucy looked ready to speak but Rina continued, “Yes, I went through the pockets,” She added seeing our hope, “I only found three things. These were in one of the pockets. Another one that looks like it was torn out of something.”
The first note was wrinkled from being in the bottom of a pocket and shredded to bits, but still readable. The series of numbers were different from the first ones we had discovered, but no less confusing. And the paper didn’t seem to match up to the edges of the other piece of parchment anywhere. The papers seemed to be related though. Four numbers in a row.
“What in the world can this be? A really long lock combination?” Lucy stared at the numbers as if they were going to speak to her. They didn’t. She smoothed the paper and tucked it in the satchel with the other numbers we had encountered. None of theses made any sense to any of us as of yet.
The second note made more sense. We were on our way to Darkshire Hills and this might have been the mage that was there with Aslinne and Kitty, after all. I nodded my head and pursed my lips to read it aloud.
At the headwaters of the Eylo River you will find the peace of mind you have been searching for all these years:
The Bent Bow Inn
When you arrive in Darkshire Hills choose Town Boundary #3 and take the left fork on the road. You will find us near the bridge.
Our inn is clean and tidy.
Our food is delicious and nourishing.
Our ale is unique and thirst quenching.
Especially after a long day of fishing along the headwaters.
Especially when you weren’t as lucky as you hoped you be today, but there is always tomorrow.
Come, eat, relax, and try again in the morning for that special fish that you know is there in the Eylo.
Yes, THAT big fish that you will tell all your friends about back home!
The Bent Bow Inn is managed by the Hawkins Family on behalf of the Byrd Family Holdings.
“See? We know where to look in Darkshire Hills now at least. The Bent Bow Inn.” Lucy seemed satisfied at least. I handed it to her.
“My family has properties I didn’t even know existed.” I shook my head sadly realizing that I really need to pay attention to that paperwork back at the Moontower Keep one day. Definitely one day soon.
Thirdly, there was a flyer for the local pub here in Ordanis Mortis, The Filthy Stag.
The Filthy Stag
Come on down to the oldest pub in all of Novia located along the mighty Eylo River in Ordanis Mortis.
You will want to come here and soak up the ambiance. Or at least soak up some of the suds. Don’t dress up. Trust us*
There is plenty to drink and all sorts of folks willing to play a friendly game of chance or share a secret or two.
We will never tell.
Find us straight north of the Town Crier. Or ask the Town Crier. He will know where we are. Bards are always welcome and will be given a meal.
*Wear boots as the floor may be sticky. *Leave your valuables somewhere safe.
Of course, we went to explore.
“Well, drat there isn’t anything here.” After sitting in the pub and playing song after song as well as a story or two, I had watched the entire room and there were no obvious Obsidians in the entire pub; we found little. Few would talk with us on such a personal topic of who they saw while they drank in the Filthy Stag, except one of the old locals remembered seeing a ranked mage with blue and green tattoos who was here one night muttering to himself for a few hours. The mage’s odd behavior spooked the locals. The Oldster didn’t know where that mage went when he rose up while “talking to the midair” and disappeared. Since there were no more drinks forthcoming from any of us he then left our table, grumbling under his breath.
“Weren’t right in the head, s’far as I could make out.” The old fella murmured into the dregs of his drink then went back to ignoring us all as best he could.
“We did find out how to catch a boat over by the docks to take us upriver to Darkshire Hills.” Zyrina said thoughtfully.
“Yeah, okay sure. One thing here was useful,” I conceded. “Information is always valuable.”
Though this interlude spurred us back to our mission, it shone no light on any of the things we understood. We now refocused on getting to Darkshire Hills as soon as possible. After paying for our meal and gathering up our belongings, we thanked the staff for the food and promised to be back next time any of us were anywhere near Ordanis Mortis.
From then on, we kept to ourselves on the road, stopping only to eat from our lavish meal leftovers that had been wrapped in freshly waxed cotton and placed in a woven basket along with another bottle of that sweet wine, Sangria. We rested occasionally and ate when we were hungry. The foliage changed as we trod the well-worn path through the North Majestic Forest, skirting the edge of the Grunvald Barrens and the Savrenoc Timberland as we kept traveling south along the winding trail that followed the Eylo River until Zyrina pointed out the Spectral Mountain chain.
There was a sturdy stone bridge to cross over a wide and deep crevasse with a fast-running river that gave us a great deal of trouble. This is where we turned and headed west into the Spectral Mountain range. We were expecting to have to tangle with bandits on this journey but, of course, the undead didn’t care about our expectations and attacked us on the bridge. Zyrina and I kept a storm of arrows flying as we all sprinted across and as far along the path as we could run while Lucy followed closely and kept a stream of heals pouring into each of us. Eventually the skeletons stopped running after us and went back to guarding their bridge just before we collapsed with exhaustion. Now THIS was adventurous and terrifying too; it sure got my blood pumping.
The exhilaration of battle took some time to dissipate. We worked well as an impromptu team and it took a few moments to relive the running battle while we rested and patched up our broken and jostled gear. We knew we would not have survived a pitched fight with the skeletons and were all especially relieved to have outrun them. The guard at the gates of Central Britanny had warned us of bandits on the road. I hadn’t thought they meant the undead but, from then on, we were far more wary of our surroundings. We slept rough and took turns on watch through the night. There was only one wandering skeleton that we easily outran and, within two days walk from Central Britanny, we had reached the southern edges of the Savrenoc Timberland. It smelled so fresh and vibrant high up in the foothills and the view of the fading peaks in the distance was breathtaking. I could always enjoy the scenery, even under the direst of dashes across the land. And Darkshire Hills was not far away from this fantastic resting spot.