The Chase - 09/22/2021
We started to pick up some of our things, the weapons, armor, and shields in preparation to meet with Lolopethes’ master; the Warlord Loramica. I was happy to leave my pack and heavier things behind, if only for a while. I took the time to dry off my hair and do a more thorough cleaning with the stands. The others were doing much the same, although most were eager to use the barrel of water that I had created.
I checked myself for my things, and my hand touched the Apocrypha
I carried. I hadn’t had time to think about it or read its passages recently. A pant of guilt shot through me, as I realized I hadn’t really tried to read its passages. At night I prayed as always, but I couldn’t say that I felt the solace my worship normally provided. Perhaps it was my arrival here in Eberron; the prison in Mror, the prison underground, all of the recent events. Or was it Eberron itself, so new and remote to all I knew and experienced before? I never claimed I could speak for my god Kelemvor, but I had never felt far from him, until now. Even with Adrissa by my side searching for faith, I felt a little lost myself. Until I touched the silvery cylinder.
I felt a sudden warmth clutch at my heart for a moment, causing me to reflexively clutch at my bosom. I could feel the strands moving within me. It was like something stirred them to life, and it wasn’t of my own volition. Focusing a moment, they seemed to be reaching or trying to reach for something. But the feeling was already starting to pass, and the strands started to quiesce and grow still.
Several of the others had already left the aid station, and I made my way to the door, shaking my head. And so, I wasn’t paying attention when I bumped into the “The Blade” as we both squeezed out the door together. But as we turned and turned with our chests brushing, I felt the strands surge again in a flurry. I stopped, and The Blade pushed past me, but as he did so, I tried to see what was causing the strands to react. It was then I realized two things; the first it wasn’t the strands that were tied to the Apocrypha;
it was the ones that were part of me that was an Aasimar. The second thing was that it was reaching not for The Blade…but something he was wearing.
That elf favored dark clothing was an understatement. His cloak,mask, armor and even his bow was lacquered to darkened hue. But as I looked at him, I noticed that just below the clavicles, that he had a lump under the softer part of his leather armor. Without asking, I reached up and touched the spot and barely grazed it, when he caught my hand by the wrist and held it firmly, his eyes boring into me.
“Don’t touch that,” he growled, his eyes narrowing.
“I’m…sorry. I felt something and—”
“—That’s private. And personal,” he said redundantly.
I nodded, “I understand…but I…I felt something…within me reach for it.”
He still held my hand tightly and his eyes didn’t relax, but he spoke in lower tones, and was less edged. “It is a family heirloom. I do not see how it would concern you.”
I shrugged, and said, “I don’t know. Perhaps we can talk later…when we aren’t rushed?” I tilted my head and smiled. After a moment, he released my wrist, and pulled his cloak tightly around his torse muttering a single word:
We walked over the bridge, heading back to the Church of the Blood Sacrement
. As we did so, some of the children, ran over to me and asked for hugs, and some saying thanks. Despite the grey day, and the grim circumstances they seemed unperturbed by it. I smiled and was glad that they felt safe and were adjusting to the near normal. But I also saw them run and hug Adrissa as well. They were seeming in awe of her; that she was travelling and fighting the evil around them. Living a romanticized ideal of what it meant to fight for your life. Perhaps they felt kinship, because how they now were caring for their parents, and now she took ‘care of them all.’ Adrissa was uncomfortable with the attention at first, but she did smile as she waved goodbye once on the other side of the bridge, and we started up the causeway to our destination.
But every step I took closer, the more unnerved I felt. It did not let up at all as we approached the open gate, and once we stepped inside the courtyard the source of my discomfort was clear. The courtyard had been turned into a makeshift stable, but instead of living mounts, there stood over a dozen horses. Dead ones. Their skeletons all dressed in high quality tack and harness, ever ready for the next ride. But even more discomforting to me were the four Karnnathi skeletons and four zombies stood flanking the door.
When we entered the courtyard, they just stood there, unmoving and oblivious to us, but as we approached the double oaken doors to the church, the eight all seemed to turn their heads and look not our group, but just at me. Their posture changed, and I could see them shift their weapons in their hands, all like a living soldier would at the approach of the threat. I remembered the last time I fought the undead and they didn’t move, or act like a ‘normal’ person. These did, and I could feel their malign hatred in my own bones as they stared at me. I wanted to turn around and walk away. I wanted to unleash my power onto them and destroy them. But all I could do was choke back the bile that built up at the back of my throat.
“You…are expected.” One of the skeletons hissed in a dry and raspy voice holding no warmth. I knew there were intelligent undead, and I never wanted to meet one. But now I was faced with eight of them and I was incredulous that these…things were normal. A part of Karnnathi life; a common tool of war. I didn’t need to ask my god about this; it was wrong; a horrible sin of the highest order. And yet, I could do nothing but be polite.
I swallowed and shivered, as I walked past the dead eyes staring at me. My breathing was quickened; and I fought every urge to run or to fight. Mobad opened the doors ahead of us, and as we walked up the steps, I felt a hand on mine, and I glanced down and saw Rosa looking up at me.
“You look a bit green. Are you alright?”
I quickly with as little movement as I could, I shook my head. Rosa squeezed my hand and sighed as she continued, “This is the darkest part of the Karnnathi soul; but you aren’t walking it alone.” I breathed at little easier and steeled myself to stride past the undead, and beyond the doors into the church itself.
The Church of the Blood Sacrament
was different that any other church I had been in. Other churches had windows, with glass to light the way, or stained glass to project icons and symbols to the faithful. But here, the walls had no openings to the outside. Light was provided by torches sputtering on various pillars, and overhead was a candelabra of candles. White, tapestries took their place, with embroidery of gold framing scenes of people with their heads bowed, and golden cloth surround as if it were trying to illuminate their hearts. Each person held an image of a cup or bowl which was filled with appeared to be red liquid.
In the center of the room, there were benches surrounding a dais, carved with deep channels, that let to holes at the edges. There was a basin in the center, but the view of it was obscured by a table, clearly moved and set over it. On the table lay maps and papers Around it stood a number of armor figures, some in heavy plate others in lighter leathers. Standing at one edge stood Lolopethes, who looked up from the papers at us and gave a small smile and a nod. Next to him, stood Loramica. While she stood a full foot shorter than her aide, her eyes and the grim look at her face was enough to put me ill at ease. My stomach continued to churned and I grit my teeth together as I suppressed the urge to vomit. But at that point she spoke, and I had something else to focus on.
“Finally, the…Kundarak lackeys are here. Let’s get on with it. Sergeant, report!” Loramica commanded.
One of the plate armored men, snapped to attention and spoke, “Ma’am! The Town streets have been cleared of the remaining vegepymies, and one quarter of the towns building have been cleared looking for other plant infestations. A patrol rotation inside the walls has been established as well. As we have the…children, “his voice quavered uncomfortably. “Watching the gates, with the support of the blind guards, it frees us to watch the walls and spare riders to patrol outside as well.”
“And our supplies?” Loramica asked.
“We have enough medicine to hold back illness for about two weeks. Perhaps three if we are cautious.”
“Medicine?” Rosa asked with curiosity.
Lolopethes responded, “Yes Rosa. When you warned us at the gate about the Eye Rot, we took precautions. Karnathi regiments had to deal with this illness often during the last war. We have eye drops that act as a prophylactic against it. However, it is useless as a curative.”
Rosa nodded, “That explains much.”
“Can we continue?” Loramica snapped.
“Sorry Ma’am. We sent riders out along the river on the south bank. So far, the army has not made any attempt to ford the river.”
“What about the north bank patrols?” she demanded.
“Two groups we sent out last night; one towards Salenhold, the other to scout to see where the army is encamped. They have not returned as of yet.”
Loramica nodded. “And I am told you have a cure Major?” she was now looking directly at Doxx, as the rest of us stared at the old woman in surprise.
“Um…yes, Warlord.” Doxx said awkwardly. “Rosa here, has a formula that will cure this variant of Eye Rot.”
“It will take a decent amount of two components to cure the town. Tagent oil and morning glys flowers are required.”
“As I recall,” said Lolopethes, “House Cannith should have a store of oil in Cattbron. As for the flowers, they are native to the swamps near Bog o Narn.”
“Then it will be simple,” Doxx started. “We call for reinforcements from Fort Deepdark or Vulyar, and then we sta—”
“—We cannot expect reinforcements.” Loramica said evenly.
Doxx blinked in surprise as the rest of us looked at each other. “What?”
“We are cut off,” Lolopethes said. “A wall of thorns has cut off the Lightning Rail to the south around Cattbron.
“A wall?” Mobad said slowly. “The same wall?” He looked at the warforged who exchanged glances with each other.
“A single wall like that would be almost a hundred miles in diameter,” Sage said doubtfully.
“One hundred twelve based on the northern edge.” Bookshelf corrected.
“Well, it doesn’t appear to be a circle, but more an ovoid in shape,” Lolopethes informed us. “The north south is longer. But it extends beyond Cattbron to the south, and cuts into Darklake just west of Bog o Narn and extends as far east as Salenhold. It has cut off the Lightning rail, and attempts to cut through it, or scale over it have been disastrous, leading to many fatalities in Cattbron.”
“What about under it?” The Blade asked.
“Well…that is possible, but all around the edges the weather is as icy as the Frostfell.” Lolopethes shrugged. “Practically solid ice.”
“Wait…the weather is warm here. Why is it icy at the edges?” Rosa asked.
“Because something is pulling heat away,” I said after a moments’ thought. “The same something that created the wall.”
“Indeed,” Lolopethes said. “And that something is drawing heat to the north. The south is now a frozen tundra; and while we could perhaps dig through it, the people needed would freeze before making any headway. The road to Denning was already treacherous with ice.”
At that moment, the doors to the church opened again, admitting two more leather clad men. They were spattered in mud, and the looks on their faces was tired and haggard. Loramica nodded a moment, and said tersely, “Report.”
The first man spoke, “As we feared, a large section of the army went to Salenhold, and it is under siege. While the army is on the less protected side of the fortress, its walls are far taller than Denning’s. However, the bridge across the river appears to be damaged, locking the defenders inside Salenhold itself. They are for the moment, trapped.”
His companion then spoke up, “The main army has ensconced itself within the forest and has taken no action to cross the river at any point. They seem to be content to…wait.”
Loramica frowned. “We have two weeks. After that, we will be blind to their actions, and vulnerable. Salenhold’s troops are bottled up, and unable to assist.”
“Why not rush the town?” Mobad asked.
“Because they don’t need to,” Loramica said. They could, and risk taking loses, or they could wait and let the disease takes it course and lose little of their strength. They know that no help is coming. Cunning for bunch of plants.”
“There was one other item,” the soldier continued. “On the return, we spied a small group of the larger ones, heading towards a section of the wood to the east.”
“A patrol isn’t a major concern,” Loramica said dismissively, but Lolopethes raised a hand and motioned for the man to continue.
“Ah…yes. But this patrol had a human figure leading them. We haven’t seen any other patrol with the plants.”
Loramica tilted her head and pursed her lips, while the rest of us looked at each other. “What exactly is in that direction soldier?” The Blade asked.
“We inquired at the Inn before coming here; it leads to a valley that dead ends into the mountains. There wasn’t anything of interest there, no farmsteads, no fortifications. Nothing.”
“It would seem that something is interesting; but only the druids know what,” Sage remarked.
“Druids? Explain Major.
Doxx again looked around sheepishly. “The leader of the vegepygmies has a circle of druid under his sway. We believe he is a Reacher by the name of Moragon.”
“And who is this druid?” Loramica demanded.
“Moragon. Moragon Finn,” Rosa said quietly. “He’s a member of a sect known as the Children of Winter. A sect that desires for the world to be reborn in a wonderous spring. And they apparently know how to breed or create…vegepygmies…and more.”
Lolopethes stroked his chin. “They know something. Something that requires their circle to attend to. I wonder what.”
Loramica leaned over the table and frowned in frustration. “Short on supplies, short on horse and men. It will take all the men we have to hold the town and stop sorties from taking out the gates and prevent them from gathering for a fording.”
“Indeed,” Lolopethes agreed and gestured at us. “They can handle other matters for us, while we fortify. If we can hold here, perhaps the stalemate at Salenhold will be broken.”
Loramica nodded and looked again at Doxx, “Well…what do you…advise,” she said with mouth clenched shut.
“Ah…well…we have three options it seems. Go to Cattbron and get the tagget oil. Go to Bog O Narn and find morning Glyss, or chase a wild patrol. How far is that valley anyway?”
“Its less than half a day’s walk,” Adrissa said quietly. “Everything else is four days walking or two on horse.”
“The druid may be able to answer questions; we should interrogate them while we can,” The Blade said firmly.
“Do you know the area well?” Loramica asked looking at the girl with interest for the first time, to which Adrissa nodded confidently. “Good; guide the Major and his band there then.
Adrissa smirked and looked straight at the old woman who just covered her eyes and rubbed her temples. “Yes…I would love to show him the way.”
“Good,” Loramica said curtly. “I have patrols to arrange. And you…you have a druid to find. Dismissed.” The soldiers saluted and exited the church, while Loramica and Lolopethes, headed towards a hallway in the back. Once out of earshot, Rosa turned to and looked at Doxx.
“Major…Major Doxx?” she said with a note of incredulity.
“Yes, that is my commissioned rank, means little; I don’t have a command—”
“—You didn’t exactly disabuse her of that presumption though, did you?” Rosa said dryly.
“How is it he outranks me?” Bookshelf asked Sage.
Sage shrugged, “I never got my formal commission at all. Bank guards don’t really need one.”
“Hrrumph,” said Mobad. “He not a war leader.”
“No. I’m not,” Doxx said. “I’m a…a—”
“—Spy.” The Blade finished.
“—An operative,” the flustered woman said.
“What’s an operative?” Adrissa asked looking at Doxx quizzically.
“A nicer word for spy.” Rosa said sweetly. “Some folks are picky about the term.”
“I am not pick…” and Doxx’s voice faltered, and he shook his head. “Doesn’t matter. Let’s go find this druid, so we can figure out what’s going on here.”
“Finally. Less talk, more action.” Mobad huffed in satisfaction. The others nodded and started to make their way out of the church.
I lingered a moment; as the voices drifted off outside. As I stood there in the quiet tomb of a church, I could feel the sense of wrongness again. I looked around, searching for one of the Karnnathi skeletons or zombies, but I saw no one; I was alone. My stomach once again felt uneasy, as I kept looking around in confusion, wondering what the source of my discomfort was. I closed my eyes and reached out with the strands. It was difficult as they were agitated, and it took focus to allow them to sense around me. After feeling around I realized that the discomfort was somewhere near the table that was set in the center of the room. I stared at it in confusion, unclear why it would be the source when I remembered something. I stepped towards it, and bent down to look underneath it.
Beneath it, a granite basin stood there. I reached towards it, and my fingers touched the edge, and I could feel warm stone. Far warmer than the air in the room around me. Standing up again I pushed the table a bit, so the lip of the basin would be visible. As the table moved away, and the light hit the basin I saw the source of my unease.
The basin was full of warm blood. It wasn’t the blood from a corpse; that kind of blood turned dark and cold quickly as life faded away. This was blood, as fresh as if I cut my own wrist and dribbled it in. Something kept it…warm…and fresh. But it wasn’t just that as I realized that the basin was like one to hold holy water.
“Myrai…come on,” Rosa said causing me to start.
I covered my heart with my hand as it pounded. “Rosa,” I whispered. “What is…”
“The religion here…the Blood of Vol. It asks for the ‘seekers’ to look within for divinity.” She said softly, and disapprovingly.
“So…what’s with the blood?” I asked dreading the answer.
“It’s the seeker’s. They ritually bleed themselves as part of a communion.” Rosa said simply.
“Well…to support their champions.”
“What do you mean,” I asked feeling even more ill than before.
“They…” she looked around before leaning forward towards me and whispering. “The champions of the faith are said to be…intelligent undead. And the church…they support them.”
I looked at the basin with horror. It felt like the walls of the church were slowly closing in around me. My heart pounded, and I felt nervous and ill. “That’s….that’s…wrong.”
“Its Karnnath…I don’t care for it much either. Come on. The sooner we get you out of here the better.
I nodded dumbly and followed Rosa outside. I didn’t even notice the undead staring at me this time, their malicious eyes looking at me with hate. I hoped it would be a while before I returned here, because I only had one thought on my mind.
I wanted to burn it to the ground.
The Blood of Vol is an interesting religion, and I love Keith Bakers notes about it. Trying to get the feel of the creepiness on one hand, the forced tolerance of others about it makes for an interest vibe overall.