Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A Dissonant Chord - Part 3

In part 2, Ikram reached the town of Mournwood seeking information about the elf-bound warriors who had attacked him and his village. There, he agreed to sell more old world books to Padma, a rarities trader, in exchange for a large payment of arrowheads. While traveling, Ikram encountered two of the elf-bound warriors whom he fought and narrowly escaped them. Ikram reached the frozen cavern, encountered some mysterious whirling mist, and eventually picked up hundreds books and headed back to Mournwood.

17th day of spring, year 132

We slept perfectly. In the morning, I made some adjustments to Valeri's bags to better distribute the load on her back. Then I went foraging. I found a lone shroud crab hiding under some rocks; its eyes followed me as I passed, but it seemed non-aggressive, so I left it be. Unfortunately, I found no food. I jumped onto Valeri and headed off. We passed by a beautiful pond when Valeri grew tired. I let Valeri rest awhile by a pond full of frogs. As I hunted around, I caught several frogs whose dried legs would sustain me for days. I even caught an enormous fish that had eaten one of the frogs I was pursuing. I rode a bit further before camping, as the pond was lovely but quite noisy, and I might not have heard someone approaching. As we walked next to each other, I ate some of the meat and came upon a ruin of some sort. Was it an old temple? That whole area was eerily silent — not even birds were around. We camped for the night.

18th day of spring, year 132

We didn't sleep badly, but the silence was quite eerie, to be honest. We set off and reached an outpost. Strangely, everything seemed to be designed for children or someone of that stature. I wonder what could have used this place? While scavenging around for anything useful, I found a bit of leather in a chest. Upon closer examination, it appeared to be reptilian in origin. That is not a common nor inexpensive type of leather to find in these lands. We continued our travels and reached a forest. I spent a long time cutting wood and then set up camp for the evening.

19th day of spring, year 132

I had a great sleep. We set off after some route planning. Before I knew it, we entered Mournwood with no sign of the warriors. I went straight to Padma's shop and placed the sack of books on the floor. "I was wondering if you were captured by those elf-bound who came asking about you," she said. "I ran away from them. Do you know them?" I asked. "They have been passing through Mournwood for the past few months, since the start of winter, I'd say. Bastards, they are carrying prisoners to those freaks," she scoffed. "Why are they let into the city if they are criminals?" I asked. "Because they are bringing living wood. They are our only source of it currently. And they may seem like assholes but are not really dangerous for the city," Padma sighed. "Until they burn it down like my village." "Wait, what? Why would they do that? This is horrible, I'm really sorry," she said. "Because I was stupid enough to resist them when they tried to rob me. I didn't think through how exactly I was going to fight a whole clan," I replied. "I don't think it's your fault. It sounds like you just stood your ground but you got really unlucky. I hope you can use the money to rebuild your village and speaking of..." She went to the backroom of her shop and came back with a small barrel. "Four thousand arrowheads, as promised. I trust you on the book count," I thanked her, wished her good luck with reselling the books, and promised to come back after taking care of the elf-bound problem. "Do you know how their clan is named, by the way?" I asked. "Oh yes,  Coven of Lament or something equally ridiculous," she smirked. I thanked Padma again and left Mournwood, which seemed like a bad place to seek help fighting these elf-bound. It was probable that any mercenaries would sell me off to the clan upon learning my target. Additionally, if they asked Padma about me, it's possible they had already turned people against me. I moved one hundred arrowheads to my purse, leaving another three thousand nine hundred in the barrel. I transferred all my belongings from my backpack to Valeri's saddlebags and emptied the barrel into my pack. Consulting my map, I saw the town of Greatrock deeper in the wilds but decided to offload some arrowheads first to help rebuild Graycliff. I set off for Stoneford as night fell, making camp at a foothill.

20th day of spring, year 132

In the morning, I checked my map and set off for Stoneford. I reached it by midday and as I was walking to the tavern, Beltran, the local head, stopped me. He explained that the warriors had come to Stoneford and inquired about me, saying one of their number was wounded and they would return tomorrow. I told him that I was sworn to kill them all for what they did to Graycliff. I asked whether he could coordinate with the survivors to rebuild Graycliff if I funded it, but he snapped back that he didn't want to get Stoneford further involved. I said I understood and looked for the survivors. In the tavern, I found Sidan and Nekuna, a young couple who had lived downhill from my house. They looked devastated but happy to see me. I asked them how many survived and where they were. They said 25 people survived, more than two-thirds of the population, and most had gone back to camp near Graycliff while repairing what they could to make it habitable. "I came across a lot of arrowheads," I told them. "Can I trust you to distribute them equally among the survivors?" I added. "Sorry Ikram, we're not going back. We will rebuild here," they replied. "I'm not asking you to go back - just to distribute the money and you can have your share too, 120 arrowheads for every survivor. Just swear you'll do it as instructed and I'll give you the arrowheads now." They looked at each other and nodded. "Alright, we'll do it," said Sidan. They both swore on Sidan's knife to follow my instructions. We moved to a quiet corner where I took 3,000 arrowheads from my backpack and put them in Nekuna's sack. We thanked each other, and I rented a room for the night, feeling both literally and figuratively lighter of burden.

21st day of spring, year 132

It was time to leave for Greatrock in hopes of finding mercenaries. However, the trip would be a formidable one, with days worth of distance to ride through the Deep Wilds. I ate something and left Stoneford quietly. As I rode up the hills on Valeri, I came across two Ironlanders. When I approached them, my heart sank. "What are you two doing all the way out here?" I asked them. They pressed against each other and looked at me without speaking. "You're running off with the money, aren't you?" I said flatly. "Look..." Sidan started, but I cut him off: "Give it back to me. Now." They looked at each other for a second, then Nakuna knelt and took her backpack off. She opened it, took out some food, and pushed the backpack towards Valeri's hooves. "All but 10 arrowheads are in here," she said in a low voice as she stood up. Sidan and Nakuna then walked back towards Stoneford, with Sidan looking back at me just once with what seemed like anger. I jumped down from Valeri and counted the arrowheads. Along with my own, I now had 3,890 arrowheads in the bag and 100 arrowheads in my purse. With this load, I wouldn't be able to travel safely, and I would risk losing the money, so I took a detour to Graycliff first. I gathered everyone rebuilding the village and told them to split 2,890 arrowheads equally amongst themselves. I kept 900 arrowheads on Valeri and 100 in my purse, sleeping in a somewhat repaired house for the night.

22nd day of spring, year 132

In the morning, I bid everyone farewell and left Graycliff with Valeri. We passed through a flatland and then started following a trail. Suddenly, the weather took a turn for the worse as a snowstorm swept through the relatively open area. With no natural refuge in sight and the strong wind making it impossible to set up camp, we were forced to just press through the storm. Exhausted, we eventually reached a sick and sparse forest providing enough cover to set up camp and weather the ongoing snowstorm.

In the next part, as Ikram journeys into the mysterious Deep Wilds, he faces new dangers at every turn in the dense forest  forced to call upon abilities he does not fully understand in order to escape the clutches of a dangerous foe. Further into the woods, Ikram discovers secrets long forgotten and unnatural forces that make him reconsider his journey. Unnerving encounters with the forest's inhabitants leave him on edge. Most disturbing of all, a menacing entity that weighs him down for the rest of his journey.

To be continued...

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