After the fight, we decided to settle in for camp that day before pressing on. As I was setting up my camp, a surprisingly ornate envelope sealed with a simple blue seal appeared in the mud in front of me. I looked it over before asking Darvin to see what he could tell about it.
“It is… very magical,” he said, frowning as he studied it. “It could be exceptionally dangerous or very good. Though I have no idea what school.”
I walked a short distance away and opened the letter to find a blue piece of paper. It, too had gold scrollwork around the edges, and when I opened it, I blinked. A letter from my father? The writing in flowing celestial said he had pulled strings with the eschelons of Archons and that he can get Darvin cured should I wish it. But he requires a drop of my blood on the letter. And Darvin’s.
Still frowning, I turned the letter over and over. It didn’t look… perfect, but something seemed off, and the letter’s power read as powerfully evil to me. My stomach tightened. “This isn’t… right. I am worried. We should return to Whitehorn and conclude business there and then continue north to the capital.”
“Our interests coincide here. I agree,” Darvin said.
We continued onward, eventually reaching the borders of Greyreach. In the distance, we saw a small hamlet surrounded by fields. We approached the area where Whitehorn would have been… we discovered the road blocked by thorned vines. Gunnar scowled. “These are not natural.”
“Darvin, can you set them on fire?”
He raised an eyebrow at me. “Did you ask if I could set them on fire?”
A laugh. “The answer to that is most assuredly yes, but we should give the druid an opportunity. It looks like he is up to something.”
Gunnar, who had been conversing with a squirrel, looked back to us. “These are new—they won’t go on the other side because of creatures…”
“There were people there,” I said, frowning. “Many people. We should see what’s happened.” The others seemed reticent, but I shook my head. “We should perhaps go to Southport and see what the locals know about the place and what has happened.”
Reluctantly, we continued to Eastwatch. We paused, speaking to some of the locals there. They said two months ago, they wrapped themselves out of the woods and grew there with incredible speed. Most people have kept an eye on that, but they had not gone into the woods, and the woods did not come to them, so they didn’t involve themselves. They also said trade had stopped following the vines’ appearance.
We returned to the intersection, and Gunnar took form of an owl and flew over the vines, vanishing into the evening gloom.
When he returned, he reported the forest looked sick and broken. Everything looked wrong. Patches of fog hid humanoid creatures that came in and out of the fog. Two metallic, humanoid figures—golems hunched over and waiting. Long spikes curled off their bodies, the points jabbing toward the heaven. A small amount of rust clung to the surface.
“Ahlset,” I said, scowling. “We cannot confront this.”
“We should at least try and talk to him.” Darvin touched Ahlset’s ring to the vines, which uncurled. The two golems turned and began walking toward the farmland.
“Darvin, tell them not to do that. They don’t belong there, they belong inside, and that’s not going to be good!” I said, waving my hands.
“Hey! Hey! Come back here!” Darvin cried, brandishing the ring. They ignored it, and Gunnar frantically wove magic, entangling them in vines and trapping them there, though it wouldn’t last forever.
I stared at the things. “So… what do we do now?”
Gunnar walked up and tried to use a spell on the monstrosity. “Well… that didn’t work.”
“What did you try to do?”
“I can shape stone and earth, and that didn’t work on them.”
I sighed, lifting my visor and rubbing my forehead. First my father, now this… Gods. I knew we shouldn’t have had anything to do with most of this. What in the hells would be next? But I couldn’t just walk away and leave the people we’d settled there. And, almost more to the point, I was partially responsible for that Lich inside.
After some discussion we decided to dig down underneath the monstrosities and bury them in the ground forever. Darvin’s report about the Corpse Collectors made the chill in my veins turn to ice, and there was no way we could deal with them directly.
We spent the night and morning digging the hole and eventually toppled them into it. They released this noxious green gas from the bottom of the hole and eventually filled it in, little bursts of the gas appearing around our feet now and then. When we finished, Gunnar fused a bunch of stones together and sealed them in there forever.
“I… thought I should tell you. My hand… it’s numb. It’s been a little numb and tingly since we got that letter.”
So you tell us now? I thought, but I nodded. “Darvin, can you detect if there’s magical intervention?” It could, for all I know, be medical, since that’s one of the symptoms of leprosy…”
Darvin held up his hands. “Hey, she’s married, I would never…”
I rolled my eyes. “Not like that. You could touch her hand and transmit it, Darvin.”
Darvin focused, apparently channeling his mage sight, and squinted. “You need to simplify your life, Elif,” he grumbled. “What is that?” he said, recoiling away from her and gaping at her pouch. “What is that?” he said, giving Elif a look. “You have… powerful necromantic magic in this pouch here. It… may not be bad? But it might be why you’re tingling.”
I looked her over, examining her hands. “You… look a little anemic, maybe, but…” Pulling on my power, I sought evil and nearly vomited. “Elif, what did you do?” I asked, pointing at the pouch Darvin had identified. “What the hell is that?”
“I have no idea what that is, Darvin said.”
“But… it was expensive. And it’s cool.” She pulled out an intricately carved tooth. “I procured it in Port LeMort. It just kind of spoke to me.”
“Okay, well it’s not… it didn’t literally speak to me. But…”
“Of course. Art has to speak to you. Get rid of the tooth.”
“You need to get rid of that,” I said. “It’s more evil than the lich,” I pointed toward Whitehorn.
“Oh! You think he’d know what to do with it?” she said, grinning.
I just… stared.She pulled out the tooth and held it up, displaying it. “Hey. My hand stopped tingling. It can’t be that bad.”
“That’s MORE EVIL THAN THE FUCKING LICH!” I roared, throwing my hands up. “Ask your damn shovel if you won’t listen to me.”
“I think it’s awesome, and I’m keeping it.” She looked over at Gunnar. “Hey, you wanna touch it.”
Gunnar shook his head. “No, thanks…”
Lacking words, we made our way to Whitehorn. The vines looked to continue along the borders of what had been the kingdom bestowed upon us. Oakhill had changed. A palisade crossed the vines there, and two men stood at the top of the gatehouse.
The gates opened. “Welcome back, Your Majesty,” he called down to Darvin.
“Is Ahlset around?”
“Yes, absolutely. He’s in the administrative buildings.” The guard took us inside. The town hadn’t grown so much in size, but it had grown in wealth. The slums were no longer and were now shaped into somewhat rustic but well-built homes.
Skeletons with the multi-colored ribbons hanging from them, perhaps denoting their function, cut logs and hauled wood on the edges of the woods. A new area of the town looked quite ornate with a three-story building with two banners bearing the standard of Whitehorn hanging from the roof. No people did any people performing manual labor of any kind, though there were indeed people milling about. Mostly craftsman, artisans, folks with trade skills. The people seemed content with their life, much to my surprise.
We arrived at the building with the banners, and the two men at the doors straightened up when they noticed our presence. They greeted us and opened the door to admit us inside. The doors were ornately carved and filled with gems.
The bottom floor of the building appeared to be nothing but a large throne room with a wooden throne at the end of the room draped with furs and carved in an ornate manner. Darvin smirked and walked up, seating himself on the throne. “Oh, it’s quite… comfortable, really.”
He adjusted himself a little, “Someone bring me Ahlset.” However, there appeared to be no functionaries or anything in the vicinity. We decided on having Elif and Gunnar see if they could have him come to us. They headed off up the stairs, leaving Darvin, Asakku, and I in the throne room.
“Things have certainly changed here,” I said quietly, glancing at Asakku. “I can only hope that things are still as we left them…”
A few minutes later, Ahlset joined us along with Elif and Gunnar. “Good afternoon,” I said with a smile. “It’s been awhile.”
“Lord Magister,” Darvin said.
“Your Majesty,” Ahlset said, his politeness overwhelming.
“Tell me what has happened since we have been gone?”
“We have wealth, a happy populace, our health is good, the populace is happy… all is well.”
“The vines?” Darvin asked.
“We no longer need outside involvement. We are fully self-sufficient, my king. It is no longer required that we have any means of trade.”
“And the golems?”
“They were… as mentioned. Though they had not been deployed as of yet.”
“And the skeletons?”
“They were dead previously. We did not… add to them by killing anyone.”
Darvin nodded. “I see.”
“We have no need for more—we have plenty of them. They are no longer required, so we do not need to purchase them.”
“I am concerned with the lack of interaction with the outside world.”
“What does that have to offer? I know what it has to offer, and… we no longer find it useful.”
“My final concern, Ahlset. Prior to your release, in the past, you have been aggressive militarily. Are those aspirations still…”
“Ah. When I was a general, I was part of an invading army. As I am now in a defensive position, it is no longer necessary to be so aggressive. Also, there are no elves here to lord over us. Though I will say that I have structured this community based on their cities.”
“Have you heard of the great departure?” he asked, tilting his head.
We raised our brows. “No. What is this?”
“All the heroes of this realm have departed, going east to Black Reach. The community has not heard from them for some time. There is some manner of battle happening back there…”
“More important affairs,” Darvin said, cutting in. “This letter.” He gestured, and I retrieved the letter from the bag of holding and showed it to Ahlset. He looked it over, and I held it before him as he read it.
“I will need to investigate this further. Bring it to my study. I will not touch it. Gold writing on blue paper in Celestial… it’s unlikely to be good for me or for Liches in general.” He tilted his head and then looked to Darvin.
“And this tooth?” he had Elif show Ahlset the tooth.
“It is a tooth.”
“It has some powerful magic on it,” Darvin said to Ahlset. “Nercromantic in nature, I suspect.”
“Perhaps after the letter is dealt with. If you could leave it with me…”
“I’d rather not do that,” Elif said, frowning. “It was expensive, and…”
I interjected. “There is time to consider that. Perhaps we should look in to the letter while Elif considers that decision.”
“It will take three days for me to examine the letter, I expect.”
“Unfortunately… there has been a change in government, as they say. Most of them have retired from the settlement. Most of them left after the change in labor force… I will…” he looked around. “I will be quite blunt. Most of them are fairly useless who attend to their jobs as is necessary but do not stand out in any extraordinary way. Your spymaster still does send people out of the forested area to keep touch with the outside world.”
“Charr Henley has been… invaluable in that way. He had many contacts we have since found use for… Though I imagine most spymasters have similar contacts.”
Darvin and Ahlset discussed some matters of state and arranged to have passage into the forest to seek out the unicorn. He returned to his business, leaving us alone in the throne room. We agreed to make Elif and Gunnar aides, who had investiture of their power.
Darvin returned, saying he needed a virgin. I sighed. I knew that medusa thing would come back on me. Asakku, on the other hand, reluctantly admitted his status. I wasn’t sure if the medusa counted, since…
We found a grove full of unicorns, though as we approached they fled into the woods when we approached the unicorns. We waited for awhile, though nothing returned. Eventually, we left Asakku in the grove and waited separately.
Eventually, they returned, and Asakku acquired the hair after telling them it was to save a life, though they weren’t impressed with him overall. We returned to Whitehorn successful if still uncertain.
After a quiet few days, Ahlset called us forward to discuss the letter. Indeed, the letter would cure Darvin, but whoever supplied the second drop of blood would receive a curse. Perhaps not the same curse, but a curse. The letter appeared infernal in nature, either way.
We left my squire in Whitehorn and travelled north to the place Dimweir died, seeking the vampire responsible for his death. I roared, “Come out and fucking face me!”
It didn’t take long before three robed figures came out. “Ah, you’ve come to fail again, have you?” the judge said, smirking.
“No. But I have come again.”
Darvin lifted his hand, growling out a curse. A fireball arced from his hand toward the vampires, landing in the center of their small formation. The two lesser vampires shrieked, twisting and writing in pain, though not collapsing. Yet.
Asakku rushed forward, hopping down the stairs before ramming his spear into one of the lesser vampire’s throat. It crumpled, grasping ineffectually at the spear before jerking and going still.
Elif drew Saga and crept forward.
Drawing in a breath, Gunnar spat acid toward the Judge, splashing it across his chest.
One of the two vampires turned to stare at Asakku, and I could see his focus shift, change. His body tensing as he fought it and then relaxing as the hold gained purchase.
My chest tightened, and I snarled. I stepped forward, calling forth the power of Bahamut. It roared through me, and both vampires burst into flames. The Judge roared and snarled at me, his flesh turning black and curling under the force of my fury.
Stepping up to my left, Darvin threw his hand out, and fire curled toward the vampire again, though this time it was bright crimson, casting eerie, wavering shadows on the walls and ceiling.
Asakku rammed his spear into the vampire’s chest, making it let out a hoarse shriek, thrashing.
Elif jumped in, grabbing the vampire and wrestling with him. I pulled the letter out, handing it to Darvin, who dug his claws into his forearm. Blood poured onto the letter, and his name scrawled on the bottom. Seeing this, I yelled, “Wait!”
It was too late. Darvin raked his claws across the vampire’s neck, his hand poised over the contract. Gunnar rushed forward, thrusting Darvin’s hand into the contract with the vampire’s blood on the claw.
The sign, “Alaraz Scourgebane” appeared at the bottom of the page.
Gunnar snarled and spat acid at the monster again, missing.
Taking his opportunity, the vampire faded, swirling into a gaseous form, slinking off toward the door. As it passed me, Assaku stabbed his spear into the cloud, freezing it before my sword shattered the mist into nothing, and it faded toward the ground.
I walked over to Elif and healed the leprosy beginning to take hold of her system. “That felt a little anticlimactic, and I’m unsure about that letter. I am worried we may have angered a devil.”