Have you ever knocked over an inkwell? Probably not, you can’t afford ink even if you did learn to write, which I doubt. The ink spills out in vaguely squid-monster shaped blob with a “body” where the ink spilled over and the “tentacles” reaching down below as the ink runs down. And the ink it still moving so it kind of looks as if it’s a living thing, the tentacles grasping out for your soul. It’s kind of neat looking, aside from the fact that you have a bunch of ink to clean up. Well not you, but the maid, the point is aside from the mess it’s an interesting visual. What does this have to do with anything? Well I’ll tell you. As happens every few days I was shocked out of a sound sleep by the sound of screaming – shrieking really. There are lots of different kinds of screams, screams of joy, screams of frustration, screams of this and that and the other. But a shriek, a shriek is something else altogether.
The shrieker in this case was Dondarian, and in addition to shrieking he was also cowering with fear holding his blanket before him like a little kid. Looming over him was the shadows of the night coalescing into a shifting forms of impenetrable darkness – a writhing mass of black that continually morphs and twists into asymmetrical silhouette nightmare shapes, the fanged maw of a horrible leering demon, a tentacled perversion of nature, a ring of sharp teeth; all accompanied by the rotting stench of rancid flesh and a roaring noise of pure wrath and hatred. But mostly it looked like when you knock over an inkwell, only you know, scary.
Now here’s the interesting part, everyone else was sound asleep. Despite Dondarian’s yelling and the deafening cacophony coming from the shadow-beast everyone else seemed perfectly content in their slumber. They were abed in their blankets as if they had not a care in the world. I have no doubt that Dondarian is a brave and valiant fighter in normal circumstances but I can tell you from experience that the first time you confront a sanity-shredding nightmare from beyond reality it does take the wind out of your sails. I sprang to my feet and produced my crossbow – firing at the creature steady and true. Unfortunately by bolt had about as much effect as dropping a rock into water – some ripples and not a lot more. How exactly do you attack a creature made of shadow? Light probably.
This pointless attack made it shift forms again – within the darkness there was a deeper darkness. An eye, an ancient eye, an eye whose sclera has turned yellow with age. An eye as wide as a person is tall, shot through with thick red veins. An eye devoid of reason, full of malice and rage. The eye turned to me and its gaze made me wish the world would end so that horrible eye would close forever – gazing not at me, but through me, as if I were as invisible and inconsequential as a transparent fly. The eye narrowed, the pupil boring through any illusion I ever had of my own significance. The eye’s fury burned deep into my soul. I shuddered uncontrollably. The iris contracted, revealing the mad intelligence that drives it and then widened until it seems to fill my entire field of vision, obliterating my world and replacing it with one of terror and suffering.
I heard the sound of screaming and realized that the screams were coming from me. A tendril of darkness unfolded towards me like the lolling tongue of a lecherous jackal – slithering through the air like a water snake. A moment before it touched my face there was a blinding white light – a light so bright and pure that it felt like it passed through my body. It took me a moment before I realized that the light was shining from the nymph’s favor that the talking bird brought me. Which is a normal sentence that people say all the time. When the light receded the favor was gone, as was the creature. Dondarian was plastered up against the wall of the “town hall” looking for all the world like he was dead, but I could see his little chest rising and falling with his breath, slow though it was. I knelt down beside him.
“What the fuck was that?!”
His voice was raspy and low “I didn’t think . . . . I didn’t . . . . I just wanted . . . . I didn’t . . . . I didn’t . . . ”
At this point I noticed that he had a ring clutched in his hands.
“What’s that? Did you find that in the cellar?” He nodded dumbly and I had to restrain myself from slapping him, and I mean slapping him hard “Gods damn it what is wrong with you people, why didn’t you tell me you found this?!”
At this point Adriane and the others were waking up groggily, not because of the creature because of my shouting.
“What are you yelling about?”
“Oh nothing, just a Gods damned nightmare shadow demon attacking us in the night! Nothing you need to wake up about!”
Aurisk snorted derisively “A creature? Weren’t you drinking absinthe?”
I jabbed my finger at him “No, don’t you fucking dare! Don’t you even suggest that I was seeing things!”
Endrin rubbed his chin “Well it is curious that no one else saw or heard anything.”
I gestured angrily “Dondarian did! The thing was attacking him! I saved his life. Tell them!”
Dondarian looked around wild eye “I-I-I . . . don’t . . . the ring . . .”
Endrin walked over “Did you say something about a ring? Mylen’s spellbook had notes about forging a magic ring. I just glanced at that briefly but it was very unusual stuff, normally . . .”
He reached out for the ring and I smacked his hand away “Don’t touch that you idiot!”
He glared at me “You know I’m getting pretty sick of your . . .”
I’ll never know exactly what he was getting sick of because I smashed him in the face with the butt of my crossbow and knocked him to the ground. I was debating between stomping on his fingers and just shooting him in the back of the head when Adriane tackled me to the ground. Endrin fumbled his way to his feet, tangled in that stupid coat that apparently even sleeps in, and started to summon up a spell to smite me but Aurisk and the deserter (who probably has a name) restrained him. After that for some reason the night didn’t go very well. Adriane was trying to play mediator, but in the end the three adventurers left – packing their stuff and walking out in the middle of the night. I say three and not four because after making a token effort with the traumatized Dondarian, who was in no condition to even understand what was happening, they left him behind without a second thought. That’s the kind of loyalty you get from adventurers.
Adrien was looking out the door “Should I go after them?”
“Fuck them, first light let’s get as many people as we need to dig up that damn basement.”
Dondarian had dropped the ring during the commotion and it had rolled to the middle of the room where it stood on end. I snatched it up but if you think I’m going to put that thing on you’re out of your freaking mind. As I lay down to get what sleep I could in the next few hours I saw Adrien holding Dondarian like a child and trying to comfort him in a way that seemed both creepy and demeaning – he didn’t seem to mind though. The three of us were up at the break of dawn and rounded up every able bodied man in town to come out to the cabin with us. It’s depressing when I’m reminded that a gold coin is more than most people see for a month’s work. With a good thirty men manning shovels and passing buckets of dirt up and out of the cabin it wasn’t mid-day before the dirt was all cleared out, although you could see what was down there hours before.
Under all that dirt was a tiled floor etched with mystical crap – you know runes and symbols and lines and shit. Some of which were the same as the markings on the ring I had stuffed into my pocket. But what was even more interesting was what they found in the dirt. Such as the body of Rosalee Whiterock, looking like a party of lumberjacks had been hacking at her for eight days straight. In the layer underneath her they found a skull with some flesh still clinging to it along with assorted other bones here and there. I’m no expert on bones but I would guess there were the pieces of at least a dozen bodies down there. While they crew was still digging Adriane was watching in a horrified trace.
“What happened here?”
“I think that’s pretty obvious.”
“So what do we do?”
“I think it’s time we had a talk with Nacario.”
She nodded numbly and walked away to make arrangements. I asked Dondarian if he wanted to come with us, he seemed only thirty percent recovered at best, and he said that he’d rather stay at the cabin and overseeing the digging – which seemed to terrify him, but not as much as the idea of coming with us. Adriane’s office was just six miles away in Silverstream. The good news is that we were there in barely half an hour riding. The bad news is that said office, which was little more than a shack with a single cell, contained one very dead Nacario. Much like his wife it looked like he had been run over by a plow a couple hundred times and most of the blood was missing, just a couple smears on the walls of the cell.
“It’s too bad both our magic guys were assholes, this is definitely seemingly like the kind of thing you need a magic guy for.”
Adriane responded by running out of the room and puking her guts out. I can’t blame her for that. She came back into her own office shaky as a newborn fawn.
“What are we going to do?”
I sighed “I guess you’re going to have to go after Endrin and Aurisk after all. Track them down and get them back here, bribe them, beg them, do whatever you have to do. Tell them that you ran me off and you need their help, whatever story you need to feed them. Hells, tell them you want to betray me and kill me if it seems like that’s what they’re into – I don’t care – but get them back here. I don’t know anything about this kind of magic bullshit.”
I don’t know if she really agreed or if she was just glad to have someone telling her what to do but she rode off hard to the south while I returned to the cabin. By this time the work was done and all the laborers had left, I’m sure they were glad to get away from that place, but Dondarian was still there and as I rode up he came running at me in such a reckless manner that I had to do some pretty fancy riding to avoid trampling him.
“What out Saltfoot, you almost just got crushed!”
He grasped at my foot in the stirrup desperately “I know, I know now! The, the, the thing when it attacked me I could hear it in my head. I remembered! I saw it, I saw what it saw – Whiterock, he took off the rig to chop wood, he took off the ring!”
“You have to back up Dondarian you’re freaking out my horse.”
He didn’t, instead he was all but trying to climb up the side of the nervous equine “As long as a Whiterock wears the ring the creature is trapped! But when he took off the ring it started to come through to our world. Every second the ring is off it grows more powerful, right now it can only manifest at night, in dreams, but it gets stronger ever second! If it comes through nothing can stop it! We need Whiterock, we need . . .”
“Back off before you get us both killed!”
He managed to pry himself away from me and I rode a quick few steps away and dismounted.
“Whiterock is dead, if what you’re saying is true we’ve got problems.”
His eyes filled with terror but he didn’t lose it like I thought “It doesn’t have to be him, anyone in the family, as long as they wear the ring – Mylin’s ring – the creature is trapped, powerless.”
“Well he and his wife lived in the city so we’ll have to head back there and see if he has any kin and where . . .”
“Me? What do you mean me? I’m not a Whiterock, I’ve never heard of these people before.”
“The creature fears you, I saw it, I saw in its mind!
“That doesn’t make any sense, I . . .”
What I was was knocked on my ass by what appeared to be a burning lightning bolt made of acid. This magic attack sliced my horse on half in one of the most grisly and shocking things I have ever witnessed, but I think that probably saved my life, a direct hit would have probably done the same thing to me. As it was I came to my feet smoldering and aching as Aurisk and Endrin came walking up, their hands cracking with magic energy.
“Oh there you are, I was just coming to apologize, we need your help here and I was hoping that . . .
Aurisk shouted angrily “Give us the ring!”
“Now hold on a minute boys, I’m sure we can figure this out, there’s no need for . . .”
Endrin was more collected “Hand over the ring and leave, that’s our offer.”
“Sure, sure I get that, obviously this whole thing worked out well for Mylin since his family is rich now, let’s just talk about this.”
Endrin raised his hands crackling with restrained power “Give us the ring and walk away, that’s the only talk we’re going to have.”
I sighed, reaching for my crossbow “That’s the way you want it?”
Aurisk’s face was a bizarre mask of rage “The ring! Now!”
I looked back, seeing no sign of Dondarian “That’s the way you want it, that’s the way we’ll do it. You want the ring? Come and take it from me.”
Funds: 27,817 platinum, 44,828 gold
Inventory: Flask of Endless Sake, Hat of Effortless Style, Ring of Disguise, Badge of Last Resort, Stone of Good Luck, Tankard of the Drunken Hero, Censer of Dreams, potions of cure moderate wounds (5), potion of invisibility, Enchanted White Pathfinder’s Gear (effects as Iadaran Dress Uniform) Belt of Physical Might +4, Versatile Vest, Campfire Bead, Expedition Pavilion, +1 Human Bane Endless Ammunition Light Crossbow with Sharpshooter’s Blade, Deck of Curses (two cards used), Ring of Urban Grace, Bewitching Gown, Holy Symbol of Adariel (Sanguine Protection) Black Marketers’ Bag (5), white squirrel fur Slippers of Scampering, Token of Summoning, Tidy Trunk
Courtier’s Outfit, noble’s outfit (5) collegium ring, pocketed scarf, wrist sheath, signet ring (2) assortment of fake signet rings, silver chain set with moonstones, gold and emerald ring (2), garnets (700), severed hag head, gold necklace with jade pendant, ivory combs, tax collector’s badge, gold bracelet with ivory inlays, silver necklace set with rubies, gold earrings with jade inlays, silver and gold brooch, silver necklace with ruby pendant, glass vials of something awful (8), disguise kit, covenant ring , tiny diamonds (27), Saryah Phidaner gown, masterwork thieves’ tools, onyx (55)
Revenge List: Duke Eaglevane,
Piltis Swine, Rince Electrum, watchman Gridley, White-Muzzle the worg, Percy Ringle the butler, Alice Kinsey , “ Patch”, Heroes of the Lost Sword, Claire Conrad, Erist priest of Strider, Riselda owner of the Sage Mirror, Eedraxis, Skin-Taker tribe, Kartak, Królewna & Bonifacja Trading Company, Hurmont Family, Androni Titus, Greasy dreadlocks woman, Lodestone Security, Kellgale Nickoslander, Beltian Kruin the Splithog Pauper, The King of Spiders, Auraluna Domiel, mother Hurk, Mazzmus Parmalee, Helgan van Tankerstrum, Lightdancer, Bonder Greysmith, Pegwhistle Proudfoot, Lumbfoot Sheepskin, Lumber Consortium of Three Rivers, Hellerhad the Wizard, Forsaken Kin, Law Offices of Office of Glilcus and Stolo, Jey Rora, Colonel Tarl Ciarán, Mayor Baras Haldmeer, Rindol the Sage, Essa