The wall of ice left by the risen woman still blocked the exit of the cavern, fogging the darkness behind it like a cold window. At least three feet thick, it would have taken quite a bit of force to break. Johann did not see a problem however. Flame erupted from his hands and what was once a wall become but a thin sheet. Yet, after the flames stopped, a rumbling noise continued.
The blurry visage of a soldier appeared on the other side of the ice. He shouted a muffled question. He tapped on the ice and then barked an order to whom must be behind him. Other men came forward and begin to break through the ice easily.
The ice finally gave way and shattered onto the ground. It revealed three men at the opening, with more farther behind. One was especially decorated and stood taller than the rest. He removed his helmet to allow his shoulder length brown hair to fall. He had the scruff of a soldier, but a youthful face. To some of company he almost seemed familiar.
He scanned the company and when his eyes fell upon Fenix, he stepped down from his horse and knelt before him.
“It is our honor to the serve the Captain of the Guard, Glasspine, and all of Mandragorran. My Lord, we have traveled this distance to aid you and beg your assistance. We come with urgent news.”
The town of Glasspine, which they had once saved from the Warlock tyrant Liam Eldeen, was now under a new threat from the Northeast. Since the rumors of their evil leader and radical change of government had leaked into the rest of Mandragorran, the kingdom of Wolfden Vale had been subject to attacks from strange creatures and the erratic behavior of a stressed king…Allastair Bertram.
King Bertram had threatened war with Glasspine, claiming that which ails his kingdom as their fault. He preaches to the people that The Dark One rises again and resides in Glasspine’s walls.
Jordan explained that was simply untrue. Since the reform, Glasspine had become a peaceful home and was recovering well. Fenix and the company had inspired the people and they had found strength…but were not ready for the threat of the most militaristic nation in all of Mandragorran. This was not like King Bertram. This was not characteristic of the noble Wolfden Vale. They needed to get there as quickly as possible and extinguish the situation.
Blackwater agreed to again help the people of Glasspine, especially since they were under Fenix’s military leadership. Their first step was to head back to Argrim. Jordan had come to the mansion after making contact with their Argrim guide, Bashir – who awaits them at the Swaying Maiden inn with the others.
The same pebbled road they walked in the early evening led them back West toward Argrim. They left Mount Irith behind them through air much warmer than before, marching in front of the Glasspine Guardians.
Night had fallen much earlier. It was a blue and black thicket of shadows upon the path, lit by a full moon and bright stars. Ahead they could see the various torches of Argrim, its population still awake as it usually was.
The stroll was interrupted however by movement in the dark. A few said they saw it to the right, but Fenix focused his vision. Looking to the right with the rest, his periphery clarified. There was indeed movement…but to the left. Out scurried a stern-faced dwarf. His beard as long, black, and ornately braided as his hair. In tattered grey and darker grey garb, he stood straight, almost terrified to see them. They could recognize him as a member of the CS Blackwater’s crew named Diurlig.
He offerred no coherent explanation as to why he walked toward the mountain at night, but he was intent on doing so. Fenix’s hammer and Johann’s calm attempts at diplomacy made no difference. He struggled to get by and a shining twinkle came dangling from his chest. They snatched it away from him.
It was a small red garnet on a golden chain and whichever of the men who held it did not wish to give it back. It inspired an uneasy feeling, just as the garnet they found upon Wilhelm Van Der Pol, but it was intoxicating. They remembered this dwarf was present when they experienced a vision upon the original CS Blackwater, just as they had in the ice cavern. The garnets were a link.
Then they noticed a light rise from Argrim’s docks ahead. Pulsating light – like fire. Diurlig turned to it, turned back to the party, and lunged foaming at the mouth toward Fenix with his crude knife. It was his final action as he the hammer that once pinned him made a quick stew of his head. He collapsed onto the path a headless sack of bones. The Guardians almost gaped at Fenix’s strength as he ordered them to move ahead. Something was wrong in Argrim.
They rushed into town as Kraiven kept to the darkness between torches and alleys until they reached the docks. There the new CS Blackwater remained afloat, their reward from their voyage from Cenandira in yet another commandeered boat. However, its cabin atop was ablaze and was being tended to by the crew.
The party made haste, nearly snatching the buckets from the men. From the ramp, Johann attempted to deter the flames and did so quite well. The others spent buckets of water clumsily into the cabin’s window. Their efforts persevered and the final puff of smoke through the window was the fire’s last breath.
Questions flowed freely between them and their men. Who was on watch? Where was the captain? What exactly was going on?
The men stood timid, but answered the best they could. Diurlig was on watch, but was apparently missing as was the captain. They could not explain what happened, especially after hearing Diurlig attacked the company and lay dead on the outskirts. It was hard to believe. He was a dwarf of integrity, but they supposed he was getting a bit restless from being landlocked. The garnet he once wore proved the truth. Diurlig had worn it often, claiming he found it in a forest near Cenandira with his old mates.
It was the same forest the company had found the first small camp of the blood cult. The cult they followed all the way to Mount Irith where they harvested the sanguine innocence of young women for a demon’s summoning under Wilhelm’s vile influence.
More connections began to take form, but there was little time to ponder them. Captain Jean de Brasick was missing and the only lead they had was the Swaying Maiden inn. They rushed there, navigating the streets haphazardly to mistakenly end up where they had met Woljech and Mikel the day before. It took a second thought, but they remembered the inn was two blocks south.
They stepped in immediately. The common room was dimly lit and quiet. Only a few patrons nursed drinks or rested their heads on their arms upon their tables. Two men played a game of Dice Daemar as quietly as they could up against a wall. One was apparently winning more than the other. No one sat at the bar as Mistress Aybara tended to its cleanliness. She welcomed them all with a knowing smile as her eyes flicked to the left. She pointed out a room with an upturned nod of her head.
“They await you in the private room, Jordan. Let me know if you or your men need anything,” she said.
The company took relief in her statement and asked for the usual comforts. Spirits and food. She provided what she still had at such an hour and the men moved into the room.
Familiar men bickered around the table. Once they entered however, they fell silent and their eyes rested on the company. Their Cenandiran contact Bashrr, Captain Jean de Brasick, and Argrim’s Captain Woljech gave them approving expressions. Jordan Eran came around, grabbed a mug from the table and lifted it.
“To peace in Mandragorran and to Blackwater, the heroes of Argrim!” he shouted despite the time. The men erupted in a grovely cheer, raised their mugs and took hearty sips.
They discussed holding the alliance the war inspired together despite the uneasy politics. King Bertram’s actions against Glasspine were unacceptable and the Argrim and Cenandiran representatives agreed to help as best they could. But still, Wolfden Vale sat some two months away on the Northeastern coast.
Then they got the real bad news. Up to this point, the men had only an idea of the politics and crime involved in all that Blackwater had investigated, but the company finally revealed to them the true evil afoot. They explained what happened beneath the burned mansion; the harvesting of women, the blood cult’s power, and the ties to a Dark Lord they thought was truly myth.
It was a jaw-dropping revelation for the men. Goblins, Orcs, demons, sacrifice. War would no doubt come again soon. The story Blackwater told practically sounded of legends…and it inspired further thoughts of mythical tales.
“I have heard on the seas that the Elves have a path called the Ways,” said Captain Brasick.
“A place they created long ago that brings them closer to their God, but also closer to the soul of Mandragorran. It is said they span Mandragorran’s land in as many days instead of months. I…I do not know if the tales are true, burn my soul. But we may need the Elves anyway if what you say is true. We can be ready to sail by morning.”
It was a stretch, but their choices were limited. That could potentially get them to Wolfden Vale in less than a couple of weeks and possibly again the assistance of the Elves. They agreed to the idea as the men offered their final congratulations and left. The inn was half theirs, enough space for men to double up in various rooms. They played a bit of Dice Daemar for some easy gold and retired to their slumbers.
It was pleasant, much needed rest until Johann jolted awake. He sat up to see a vibrant blue and purple glow beneath his door. He woke the others in their own rooms with his whispered ghost sound. They all awoke to the same sight.
Fenix exited his room confidently and walked toward what resembled an amorphous whisp of darkness surrounded in brilliant glow. It crowded around Kraiven’s door. He offered it a question, but its only response was to split into three whisps that looked like hooded, floating men. They attacked.
Johann stepped out from his room and burned the whisps at the end of the hall as Kraiven attacked with his door and eventually his blade. It felt as if they hit nothing, but the creatures felt pain until they finally experienced death.
The dark whisps became nothing…and left the company pained and damp in the darkness of the inn’s hallway.
Current Date: January 27th, 1 AGW