After the End

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sotana
Sojourner
Posts: 229
Joined: Wed Mar 31, 2004 8:11 am

After the End

Postby sotana » Mon Feb 07, 2005 6:50 pm

It took a concious effort not to hunch my shoulders against the stifling weight I felt here in the city, hemmed in as I was by the closely packed buildings and jostling crowds. Only a couple of small errands left before, once more, I could turn my back on Waterdeep for a time. With single-minded purpose I pushed through the press of bodies filling the dusty street, intent on reaching my destination only to be brought up short by a heavily laden lorry crossing my path. “I might have chosen a better time to roam these streets,” I thought ruefully to myself as I stepped back for what seemed the hundredth time to allow a cart to pass. But I had been impatient and ready to be gone, having been anchored to Waterdeep too long already, waiting for the end to come. So the end had finally come...and now passed and yet here I still was. It was more than time for me to move on. I had played my part as best I could in the final struggle to defeat the Vile One, making a few mistakes born of ignorance but willingly offering myself as one of the necessary mortal sacrifices to destroy his host. My mind drifted for an instant as I thought back to the moment when the leaders of the Strike Force had explained their need and asked for volunteers. Even with all that was still unfinished in my life, the decision to die leaving those things undone had not been difficult as my own pursuits were insignificant compared to the evil Auzorm’tvorl could wreak, unchecked by those who might have stood against him but instead chose to stand aside. When the time came, I had stepped forward as four others had before me, raising my god-touched weapon to strike the blow and offer my life. And I had died. For a time, my spirit had lingered with the other defenders, helpless to aid in any way, able only to watch as they fought, their grim determination to accept no outcome other than the one they had planned plain on their weary, blood-smeared faces. With the Vile One’s defeat, the gods had accepted my sacrifice then, in return, granted me my life. The images of that long, desperate struggle were still vivid as they flitted through my mind...almost I could reach forth my hand and pick them out one by one, stringing each on a silken thread until I had a brilliant necklace to be worn and handled each day, clicking through the memories like a rosary...one bead the incredible weathered silver dragon Rysalarilleia who had deigned to protect me and transport me for too short a time....another bead the presence of the ancient Hero Kunethnin, Lord Deep Winter who had filled my mind, whispering always in my ear, urging me forward...still another bead the Frostmaiden-kissed Quarterstaff of Northern Fury I had held in my hand for a brief time, wielding it to strike down the enemy of life...and a bead for each of the faces of my comrades, diverse in background and race yet united in their plighted goal.

I was brought sharply back to the present by the strident tones of a salesman hawking his wares, waving a tired-looking cloak in the faces of the passers-by as he promised them the bargain of a lifetime for only 3400 copper. Time was wasting while I stood daydreaming. Clearing my head with a sharp shake, I resumed my course, eager to be done and away. I finally reached the general store and purchased a few pieces of paper I then used to pen two brief notes, one of which was quickly handed to an errand boy along with a few coins to see it delivered. My final errand took me to the Dead Orc Inn looking for the one person to whom my farewell must be delivered in person. I was only slightly dismayed to hear that she had left two hours prior to my arrival but became more concerned when the gossipy innkeeper told me of her mysterious visitors and subsequent hurried exit, carrying her few belongings stuffed helter-skelter into a couple of travel bags. Fortunately, I am a druid with all the druidic ease of transportation and although I do not make a practice of arriving unannounced, such was my worry that I simply slipped out the back door of the inn into the deserted alley behind and began chanting the necessary words to open the moonwell portal I needed. When the portal appeared, I stepped through to find myself at Turning Point facing a pale, shivering Lilira huddled in the dirt of the road.

“Lilira? What’s wrong?” I asked in concern as I hurried to her side and put my arm around her.

For a moment she was too shaken to speak.

“They’re all dead.”

“Who?”

“The family...in the farmhouse north of here.”

I was still, listening in growing horror as Lilira voice continued, pausing and stumbling at times but unconsciously calling upon her bardic storytelling talents to paint a blood-chilling picture. Apparently, she had happened upon the farmer’s son wandering alone, incoherent and in shock. Unable to get any answers from him and concerned about his family, she had traveled the brief distance to his home, only to find death. His entire family had been slaughtered by an unknown but unimaginably brutal hand. Loathe though I was to witness first-hand the carnage she had described so graphically, I knew it could not be avoided. The atrocities she had described could not be left for unwary people to stumble upon.

“Stay here,” I said. “Let me see what needs to be done.”

“Sotana, don’t go. You don’t want to see that.” Her face was still pale and there was a slightly hysterical edge to her voice.

Although I knew she was right I responded as steadily as I was able, “I know. But that doesn’t mean I don’t get to.” Life was rarely gentle but I had learned that the harsh realities of existence were never acceptable excuses for failing to do what needed to be done.

Mentally bracing myself, I walked as quickly as I could convince my reluctant legs to move, heading north to the farmhouse. I opened the gate just as the stench of death reached me and I recoiled involuntarily at the smell. This would not do! I had seen death before more times than I cared to count, lived with it in my dreams, even witnessed it at my own hand when the situation had called for it. Taking myself firmly in control, I pushed open the unlatched door of the farmhouse and stepped into its shadowed coolness. The smells that assaulted my nostrils were far worse than the stench that had met me at the gate. The ripe aroma of death and terror was almost tangible, causing me to stumble as my eyes struggled to adjust to the dim light. Finally the room came regrettably into focus and a low whimper escaped my lips. After the first glance, I closed my eyes in a futile effort to reject what they had seen, pressing my clenched fist painfully against my lips and fighting for control of my heaving stomach. The gore-spattered walls remained vivid against the back of my eyelids...the blood, I had expected but not the wanton butchering of flesh, bone, and entrails, evidence of the savage glee some thing had found in its gruesome work. After a handful of minutes I forced my eyes open, removing my fist from my lips so that I might breathe through my mouth in small, shallow pants as I walked as quickly as I could through each room. I had to know the extent of the slaughter but even more importantly, I was hoping in some unrealistic corner of my mind to find life. My ghastly tour did not take long and finally I was back outside and past the gate, blinking in the bright sunlight and gulping in the fresh air in great, heaving gasps as I leaned weakly against a tree for support. One of my shaking hands unexpectedly touched cold metal and I jerked back as if burnt, adrenalin pumping through my veins. It looked to be only a shovel but buried so deeply in the heart of the tree that only the top of the shovel was visible beneath the handle. Anger swept through me now, burning out the fear and disgust as I watched the tree bleed silently around the intrusion. I could not leave the tree like this, hurting and in pain but I knew my mortal hands did not possess the strength necessary to wrench the shovel from its snug resting place. Focusing my mind I closed my eyes as my form blurred, becoming that of a large black bear with paws the size of a human head and muscles rippling sleekly beneath the skin. I could not grasp the shovel but instead began to carefully bat at the handle near its base with my huge paws, hoping to dislodge the shovel blade enough to be able to remove the implement from the tree. Left, right, left, right....I worked at the shovel until, suddenly, movement! With a triumphant roar, I renewed my efforts until the shovel moved freely, then slid out easily from the tree when I grasped and tugged with my human hands. Abruptly the anger drained from me, leaving me exhausted and shaking as I dropped the farm tool on the ground and pressed both hands against the open wound left in the trunk. Breathing the necessary words I called on my god for aid, continuing my murmurs until the sap ceased to flow. The scar would remain but the healing could begin. Dropping my sticky hands to my sides, I walked wearily south to find Lilira.

She looked sharply at me as I entered. I knew I was paler than normal and raised one still-shaking hand to my mouth for just a moment as I collected myself.

“Who could do this?” I murmured in disbelief.

“I’ve heard there are demons who could do such,” Lilira offered.

“If it were demons, they would cut a wide path that we should be able to find and follow.” I replied. “Anything with that lust for blood will not be able to resist killing again.” Although where did that leave me? Did I have time for yet another distraction from my own pursuits? I had spent years now, wandering the realms, looking into faces, hoping that one would be the face I sought. But always there seemed to be something else pulling me away, most recently the Vile One and now, this. Yet I could not leave Lilira in danger if she somehow got in this thing’s way. We were both silent with our thoughts for some time until Lilira suddenly asked, “Why are you here, ‘Tana?”

Here it was. My chance to walk away and focus on my own life again. Taking a deep breath I said, “I am leaving Waterdeep now. I could not leave without saying goodbye to you. I stayed for the defeat of the Vile One. It is time for me to get back to my own concerns as they will not wait any longer.”

Realizing suddenly that her question had probably been based on my sudden appearance, I hurried to add, “I'm sorry for welling in to you without any warning but I was concerned when the innkeeper said you left in a hurry with all of your belongings.” We fell silent again. Now to find out her own intentions for the future if I could. “You're leaving too?”

Lilira nodded. “My great-grandmother decided I needed to be fetched. And the messenger wasn’t very polite.”

Her face darkened in memory as she added, “The witch burned my notes.”

I comforted her as best I could, knowing how much her records meant to her. She made an effort to shrug off her uncustomary dark mood as she reassured me, “I’ll deal with her later.”

I had one thing still I wanted to say to Lilira but first there were more pressing concerns to face whether I wanted to or not. Reluctantly I said with a resigned sigh, “I need to clean that up before other innocents stumble on it,” I said, gesturing vaguely in the direction of the farmhouse. Pulling myself together I added, “No time like the present I suppose.”

“I’ll come,” Lilira said quietly but firmly. Truth be told, I was glad for company in that deathly still house so we both turned and walked silently northward. I flinched only once when we reached the house and the stench hit me again but I managed to put my feelings aside and continue onward. I did not dare to look at Lilira to see how she was handling this. Finally we were back inside, in the living room, the scene of the worst of the carnage. This then was where we would begin. Steeling myself, I knelt in the middle of the floor, clenching my jaw tightly and trying hard not to think about what I was surely kneeling in as I pulled out my holy symbol and began my prayers to my gods. I did not know how they would answer my prayer, only that they could. As I prayed, I gained a welcome distance from my fear and horror until suddenly I knew what would be done. The hideous work that had been done here was unnatural yet ironically life had been reduced down to its most basic elements...blood, flesh, bone, tissue. As I opened my eyes and calmly rose to my feet, I was only dimly aware of Lilira’s presence, noted with some corner of my mind that she had closed her eyes as I began to chant. At my words, creatures of all shapes and sizes came from the forests and meadows outside. Wolves, foxes, bears, jackals, civets, beetles, carrion birds and more all flowed in and through the house like a living wave, eerily silent except for the padding of paws, the flapping of wings as they carried the grisly remains with them, back into the world of nature, back to the dust we all must become. As the last of the beasts slipped out the door, I ceased my chanting, suddenly drained and spent. I looked dully around at the bloodstained floors that could never truly be clean again and shuddered slightly. Lilira put her arm tightly around me, supporting me and offering her strength while I searched for my own.

Finally, I gathered enough energy to murmur, “Let us leave here. The evidence is mostly gone but death remains.”

We turned as one and headed back into the sunlight. I realized with some shock that the light was fading as the sun began to slip down behind the trees. We had been in that farmhouse for longer than I had thought and I had hoped to be much farther in my travels by tonight. Reaching deep for core reserves of strength, I took a steadying breath then turned to face Lilira.

“I need to leave. There are people I must find but I cannot leave you in danger like this with no way to contact me.”

Slipping my hand into the small skin pouch at my waist, I pulled out an object no larger than a pea and pressed it into Lilira’s palm.

“Have you ever seen a glimmerwing before?” I asked. Lilira gazed for a moment at the hard, round object in the palm of her hand, mesmerized by the opalescent sheen overlaying its bright crimson color.

“Glimmerwing?” she asked absently as she reached one finger to gently touch the cold object in her hand.

“A glimmerwing can go into hibernation at any time it so chooses. When it does, it pulls its chitinous shell around itself and becomes nearly indestructible until awakened.” I explained. “This one I have given you will be safely protected until you end its hibernation.” The glimmerwing’s ordinarily fragile appearance was the opposite of the strong armor it wore during its deep sleep.

At that Lilira’s head came up and she looked at me in inquiry.

“If you have need of me, simply hold it between your closed palms and breathe over it. The warmth will awaken it. Upon awaking it will find me wherever I am. Glimmerwings do not live long once out of hibernation but they are amazingly fast.”

As Lilira looked back down at the sleeping creature in her palm, studying it curiously I added, “The coloring of the one I have given you is distinctive so I will know it is from you and will come as quickly as I may.”

There. I had said all that I needed to say and it was time for me to leave while I still could. I hugged Lilira but she stopped me with a quick hand on my arm as I pulled back to leave.

“Be safe!” She said looking seriously into my face. “I will miss you. If you ever have need of me, send a well. I will enter if I am physically able.”

I nodded then realized more arrangements might be in order. After thinking for a moment I said, touching the amulet I wore around my neck, “If I need you and cannot well you, I will send an animal with my amulet so you will know I am in need of you.”

Almost against my will I added slowly, “I will worry about you...more than ever after what I have just witnessed in that farmhouse.”

Lilira didn’t seem to hear me as she began to rifle quickly through her bags, pulling out several items and muttering to herself. In a moment she pulled out a small ring set with a sparkling opal which she pressed into my hand, closing my fingers over it.

“Hold on to that. It isn't special. Just a gift...as thanks for everything you've done for me.”

I didn’t move for a full minute, digesting her words....It isn’t special....Merely the first gift I could remember receiving freely from another human being. Through tear-blurred eyes, I fumbled in my own travel bags until I found the simple chain I had been seeking. I slipped the ring onto the fine chain with shaking hands then clasped the resulting necklace around my neck.

“Now go before I make a fool of myself.” Lilira said huskily.

Not trusting myself to speak, I merely nodded and was gone.
Lilira
Sojourner
Posts: 1438
Joined: Thu Aug 28, 2003 3:53 pm

Postby Lilira » Tue Feb 08, 2005 1:08 am

I watched Sotana vanish before my eyes, her image blurred by the tears in my eyes. I gingerly put the small cocoon in my pouch, sniffing quietly. I would not cry, I told myself. Never mind that the closest thing I’d ever had to a sister had just disappeared, I didn’t have time to wallow in the luxury of crying. I wandered back to the Turning Point, stepping carefully and rubbing my eyes.

My stomach was still churning at the memory of what we had left, but with nothing else to go on, I knew not which direction to go. Back to Waterdeep where that mage might still be, waiting for me to do something to make it easier to ‘fetch’ me to the Isle, or to the southeast where I had intended to originally go.

What if this monster struck again?

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