Tuesday, August 20, 2019

#28: The Prophecy

Alerted by the snap of a branch in the otherwise still night, Zeb is torn how and even if to react.  Running off on his own leaves the already-wounded group nearly completely unprotected, but not investigating at all could mean inviting something dangerous to attack the camp.  There’s also the chance that the sounds of our pitched battle with the river creatures have alerted the barbarians rumored to live in the woods south of the River Mirar…or perhaps even the keravela, in which case having them meet us at the camp with Odesia present could be better than encountering Zeb alone in the woods.

Deciding that discretion is the better part of valor, we decide to keep the camp together, and Selben, Zargon, the semi-conscious Audric and I do our best to watch the woods around us, trusting on Lume’s keen ears, my meager magical protections, and more than a little luck to see us through the night. 

Fortune is indeed on our side: the snapping branch proves to be nothing threatening and before long, the sun casts its light over the horizon and those of us that are able to awaken from a poor, restless night.  I steal a few precious hours of extra rest to prepare myself for the travails of the day, and once my prayers to the Beastlord are complete, I distribute what healing I can, starting with Bonie then moving on to Laerch and Daegahr.  I spend some time explaining the events of the previous night after they fell in combat, and once done ask Odesia if we’re within the range of the keravela tribes.  She explains that she hasn’t seen any immediate signs, and that based on our progress, she estimates another half day or more before we reach her people’s lands.

We decide to stay where we are, not wanting to stray too far from the river and leave our boat unattended, and wanting to give everyone the best chances at the quickest recovery.  That decided, we set about making the camp as defensible as possible.  With Audric recuperated somewhat, he decides to push the corpses of the creatures into the river, but not before I harvest claws, teeth and spines to craft fetishes for Selben and Zargon to commemorate their bravery in the fight.  Our preparations take us deep into the day and uneventfully into the night.

Watches are set and I double the amount of magical precautions I can bring to bear on the camp; combined with the stakes and a large fire, we hope that is enough to get us through the night.  The shrill cry of my magical alarms is the first notification of trouble, however, and one of my illusory wyverns strikes at something in the dark.  Knowing that Zargon is keeping at the bank, we hold our breath and wait for his news.

Zargon witnesses one of the river creatures emerge, this one wielding a large spear or harpoon, and watches as it is paralyzed by the mystical wyvern.  Zargon rushes forward and runs it through quickly, his blade sliding easily into the creature’s scaly skin as he eviscerates it.  He returns to camp shortly thereafter to bring word, and we’re forced to decide—defend the camp, or defend the boat.

Unwilling to leave everything to chance, I layer what magical protections I can and head towards the bank alone to investigate.  By virtue of my ability to detect hidden foes, I recognize the threat of multiple creatures lurking beneath the water, at least three of them.  They seem to be pacing, perhaps investigating for themselves the slaughter of the previous night.  More long minutes pass with no change before my magical detections fail, and then suddenly I’m left in the dark both magically and visually.

I quickly creep back to camp and apprise them of the situation.  It does little to relieve the tension, and I return to my observation point to keep watch as best I can.  Time passes, minutes and then hours, and I’m eventually greeted by the dawn.  Exhausted, I return to camp to discuss plans.

Audric distributes some magical healing, a welcome gift from Mystra, and we decide to press on.  Laerch and Daegahr are in poor condition but can manage the effort, especially when split between the rest of us.  Fortunately, we are not harassed as we board the boat, but instead face the prospect of a rough trip upstream.  Our progress is slow, and we’re forced to rotate often as strength lapses, but though it’s a slog we make some progress.

Later into the afternoon, we see several plumes of smoke ahead on the south shore, some ways inland—the first signs of any habitation since Dagger’s Deep.  Odesia believes this to be the keravela.  We decide to keep rowing, and as we get closer, we see the forms of a man and a boy fishing in the river.  They’re not outfitted as barbarians, but instead wear some distinctive keravela garb.  One of them points to us and they run from the shore towards the plumes, so we dock at the beach and wait to see what happens.

Minutes pass, and Odesia’s discomfort is apparent.  Whether it’s due to her pregnancy, Laerch’s wounds, or the stress of engaging her tribe after being estranged for so long, we’re not sure.  After a while, a small party arrives from over the hill, a few men and women, seemingly led by a woman with a yellow sash and red belt tied around her waist.  Her style of dress is very similar to that of Odesia.

Odesia breaks from the group and approaches the group.  The group of keravela departs without any word, heading back towards the plumes of smoke and Odesia explains that we weren’t turned away, but that we weren’t necessarily welcomed either.  This was expected, she says, part of the rite of fuge.  With few other options, we climb the ridge towards the village.

We see bonfires and nomadic tents littering the ridge, and more keravela with darker skin and darker hair than the normal stock of people from the north.  We take Odesia’s lead in our approach, skirting the perimeter of the village before entering.  The tension between us and the camp is palpable, with many glares cast our way or hands that drift towards knives or spears as we pass.  We approach a group of keravela that locks eyes with Odesia, seemingly in recognition, but the keravela then cast down their eyes, rebuking her.  Odesia explains that we should make a camp and has hope that perhaps they will engage us on their own terms.

As the afternoon dwindles, no such outreach is offered, and we find ourselves without a plan as night approaches.  We decide to rest up for the evening, keeping normal watches.  Perhaps they will regard this as sharing the responsibility of the camp and buy us an audience.  During the middle watch, shared by Zargon, Bonie and Selben, a human woman approaches us from the darkness.  She has distinctive keravela features, and as she draws near, she whispers for Odesia.  She’s young, perhaps the same age as Odesia, who meets the woman ere they embrace briefly, and they begin sharing words in an unknown language.  Selben attempts to magically comprehend their conversation, but the gestures spook the keravela woman, and it is several moments before they continue.

It seems as if Odesia is explaining the ordeal with the river folk, referring to them as mare ilciferium, devils of the water, and the name Kezia is overheard as part of the conversation.  Once their exchange is over, the woman returns to the village and, when questioned by Zargon, Odesia explains that we shouldn’t disturb the village at night, and that remaining silent is the best course of action.

Dawn breaks, and the village returns to the state we found the previous day, with keravela bustling about daily tasks.  Odesia gathers us and explains that a friend, Vadoma, took great personal risk to speak with her, even when her own family would not, and explains that the creatures that attacked us are known to the camp.  The village hasn’t been attacked, but the population of these creatures makes the land and river less safe than it once was.  She explained our purpose to the woman, and while she didn’t know, she would try to discover if Kezia exists and return to us with news.  She also warns Selben against using magic in plain sight, that it may incite fear and won’t help our cause.  She explains that we are exteri, outsiders, and as such are not welcome.

By virtue of Audric and my own healing, our group is brought back nearly to full strength—a good thing, as a confrontation with the keravela seems to be brewing.  We witness a few tense gatherings of villagers and fear that our presence may not be tolerated much longer.  Fortunately, Vadoma arrives, though the conversation they share is much shorter, with a much higher level of anxiety.  We get the idea that Vadoma’s outreach to us has put her and us in danger.  Odesia wants us to break camp and leave the next morning, explaining that Vadoma gave the name of a woman, Masilda, a vidensi, a seer.  She lives among another keravela tribe that doesn’t associate with Odesia—this tribe is seemingly feared by Odesia’s own tribe.

The way to the new tribe’s camp is impossible upriver and would require travel overland.  We decide to leave the boat in the brush downriver a mile from Odesia’s village and make the trip, having no more to gain here.  A light rain starts after we obfuscate the boat, and we give the village a wide berth as we navigate the wood to avoid their hunters.  The terrain becomes rocky and hilly, difficult to traverse, and evening begins to set in.  We decide to camp for the night, not wanting to encounter guards, and we split up watches.

During my watch with Bonie, we hear the howling of wolves in the distance.  It reminds me eerily of my time in Carrock, perhaps magnified by our physical proximity to that location.  The night passes into Audric & Zargon’s watch, during which three figures appear several yards away—two walk on all fours, perhaps wolves, though the third is bipedal, perhaps a man.  The presumed wolves appear to converge on the third figure, perhaps attacking it and pulling it to the ground, but both Audric and Zargon agree not to pursue in the dark.

When morning arrives, Audric and I travel to the hill to investigate, but find no sign of a struggle.  We do see, however, plumes of smoke in the distance, hopefully heralding the presence of Masilda’s camp.  We reconvene with the others and begin our travel for the day.  Odesia tells us that she has no experience with this tribe and knows nothing about them, though she should share enough of a language with them to be able to communicate.

Before long, we descend into a valley and see similar tents and bonfires, as well as people in similar garb.  Odesia defers to our judgment; we defer to Zargon’s strategy in our approach, and he intends to engage them in a bardic capacity.  This time, we stroll directly into the camp, and while we see some wariness towards outsiders, it’s not nearly as bad as what we encountered at Odesia’s village.

A man starts walking toward our group—fairly large in stature, perhaps a warrior, with long, dark hair.  He has a single, bushy eyebrow, and a hairy chest.  Zargon begins to explain our purpose in the village and I push him out of the way, announcing in a challenge “We’re here to see Masilda.”  He gives a mischievous grin and turns around, bidding us to follow.  Beyond, perhaps 50 paces away, we see the clearly recognizable figure of Kezia—she locks eyes with us, then scurries away, out of sight.  After a few minutes, we’re led to the center of the tent village, and brought before a venerable tribeswoman—Masilda.  “Thank you,” she says to the warrior, and she dismisses him.

“Are you a vidensi, a seer?” I ask her, starting the conversation.  She replies, “Who wants to know?”

“Zeb,” I reply, “and if you are indeed vidensi, then you know that you’re not who I am here to see.”

Exteri,” is her vehement reply, though the meaning is clearly different that simply “outsider.”  We sense that she means “otherworldly.”

I slap my crude tarokka onto the ground in front of her and tell her that she has no idea just how exteri we are.  She smiles wryly in reply and speaks.  “We will help you, but not now—tonight.  Leave and return at dusk,” she orders.  “Come to this spot.”

“Will she be there?” I ask her cryptically.

“Yes,” is her reply, and I turn to leave, satisfied.

We camp outside the village per her demand, and when sundown arrives, we return to the center of the tents.  This time, nearby, there is raging a large bonfire, as well as a constructed platform, a stage.  Atop it is a small wooden table.  Masilda is outside, waiting for us to gather, the large hairy warrior to her side.  She beckons our group to approach.

We comply, and as we draw near, we see all the people in the village begin to file out of their tents, surrounding the platform in a wide circle.  We can’t help but feel claustrophobic, and from within the ranks of the tribe emerges Kezia.  Masilda begins speaking in her tribal tongue, and Odesia explains that Kezia is Masilda’s daughter and that this will be her first reading—a rite, perhaps a coming of age ritual.

Zargon, Audric, Bonie, Selben and I are ushered onto the platform with Kezia, and the crowd of tribesmen and women press tighter.  Kezia begins to speak, her voice low and accompanied by a supernatural sense of privacy, as if what she’s saying is only for us.  There are the markings of healed scars on her face, and we remember that the Kezia we met in Shadfeld had similar wounds, though they were fresh at the time.

“I met you once, in the ruins of the village.  I was somewhere I should not have been.  I was attacked.  Who are you?  In response, I lay out the Missionary and the Abjurer.

“You have traveled far,” she says gravely.

“You have no idea,” is Audric’s reply.

She puts her hands over the cards on the table and her eyes go black.  The bonfire rages supernaturally and she swipes the cards from the table, shouting, “Exteri!”

Her face grows darker still. “I can help you, but first you must be tested.”  She reveals from under her robe the actual deck of tarokka cards.

“Last time we were tested, we nearly broke the world,” I tell her, “so tread carefully with those.”

“Each of you, claim the card that represents the darkness in your own reflection, the darkness that you would deny.”  She lays over the first card, The Broken One.  Audric reaches for the card, but Selben snatches it violently, keeping it for his own.

She turns over a second card, The Philanthropist.  No one reaches for it immediately, but Zargon finally claims it.  The third card revealed is The Hangman and recalling the events in the barn in Longsaddle with the thief, I take it.

The fourth card—The Ghost, is nearly instantly seized by Audric.  Perhaps he sees some connection I am unable to discern, but before we can discuss it, the fifth and final card is revealed, The Temptress.  Bonie reaches out a hand slowly and takes it.  I give her a grave look, trying to be reassuring.

Kezia announces, seemingly disappointed in our decisions, “Try again.”  Bonie and Selben both seem firm in their decisions, so I take The Philanthropist card, recalling my charity with the fisherman in the valley before our first visit to Longsaddle, but am later convinced by Zargon that The Ghost could be me, a ghost to my former sect, outcast over differences in faith.  After more consideration, however, I reclaim The Philanthropist—despite the violence of my time as an active priest of the Malaran faith, I have found myself more and more drawn to help others.  The Hangman is given to Audric, recalling his strangling of the thief in Longsaddle, and The Ghost is given to Zargon—in our time, one hundred years in the future, the bard would indeed be a specter.

“There is one card yet to be revealed. If this card should come to pass, beware! for it will bind you here forever.  Will you see it?”  This warning and question, however, is meant for Bonie and no other, who nods that she would see the card revealed.  The Innocent.  I’m unable to react, the implication of the card clear in my mind immediately, even if to me alone.  Bonie pales, her face devoid of emotion.

A long silence passes before Kezia finally speaks.  She looks at each of us in turn, and her eyes go black again.  “You have the blessing of our people and are free to remain among us.” 

The crowd cries out in a welcoming cheer which surprises us all, but before we can regain our composure Kezia convulses, and her eyes blacken once again.  Her voice is frantic, and from Kezia breathes forth a prophecy:

“The queen is unborn, but the king will rise!
The anarchist, unfree, seeks his throne
The runes of three must be unmade,
ere the labyrinth’s door will forever seal.”

We are instantly reminded of the runes in Oldkeep and Moonglow Cave.

Danior, the large hairy man, approaches the stage to escort us off, stating that we are free to remain in the village.  He says he’ll find us a place to camp.  On the way, I take my deck of crudely-carved tarokka and throw it into the bonfire.

Monday, August 12, 2019

Map of the River Mirar and surrounds

The named locales in the map below are known or believed to exist (in some form) in the Year of the Raging Flame (1255 DR).

Click to enlarge