Wednesday, December 6, 2023

A Dissonant Chord - Part 4

In part 3, Ikram came across a strange abandoned outpost that seemed designed for children or small people. He returned to Mournwood and completed his trade with Padma, receiving a large payment of arrowheads for the books. However, when Ikram tried to have a couple from his village distribute the arrowheads among the survivors rebuilding Graycliff, he was betrayed as the couple attempted to run off with the money. He eventually took money himself to his village. He then set off for Greatrock to seek mercenaries but was caught in a snowstorm.

23rd day of spring, year 132

The storm didn't allow us to sleep very well, but by the time we woke, the sky had cleared, so we continued our trip refreshed. We reached a grove. I heard a lot of howling coming from within, so I decided to ride around it instead of through. The extra distance took its toll on my and Valeri's stomachs. While eating, we were suddenly attacked by an elder wolf, possibly one that caught our scent while we were circling the grove. We were no match for this beast. We immediately broke into a gallop with the beast right behind us. "Smoke!" I thought - and thick gray smoke did appear, even more than I imagined! Valeri was engulfed in it, though I could still somehow see the beast through it. The beast was also getting enveloped in a smaller cloud. "And mirrors." I thought next. A horse the same chestnut color as Valeri now galloped closer to the beast than us. "Not bad," I thought, hoping for more. "Run!" I said, kicking Valeri. She sped up, putting some distance between us and the beast. I thought of more mirrors, and one more copy of me and Valeri popped into existence. But the beast was fixated on the real us. I started to panic as it closed the distance. I "tried" to make us disappear, whatever "trying" means when it comes to invocations, and failed. The beast was getting even closer. "Run girl! It's up to you now!" Valeri gave it her all. We kept distancing ourselves from the beast until it seemingly got tired or bored and stopped chasing us. We kept going for a good ten minutes more. When we finally stopped, I got off Valeri to check if she was alright. Her legs had been bloodied from running through branches and brambles. I gave her some water and patted her neck. Both of us knew she had saved us that day. I looked around for berries as night fell. By the time I had collected enough, it was already dark, so I set up camp for the night in a cave I found nearby.

24th day of spring, year 132

The cave helped Valeri and I both relax and enjoy a good night's sleep. I ate a big breakfast in the morning and continued my journey. We passed by a very tall cliff and later reached a small lake. I thought this would be a good place to restock on some fish or frogs, so I spent time until sunset fishing but didn't manage to catch anything edible. I ate some more from my supplies and had to throw some away as it seemed to have gone bad. After that, I fell into a tired sleep.

25th day of spring, year 132

I woke hungry but decided to keep my supplies for now as I was entering the Deep Wilds, unsure how easy it would be to find food. The first thing of note that we stumbled upon was an abandoned house. Like the outpost I saw on the 18th, the door, windows and height of the edifice seemed more appropriate for children than adults. I decided to squeeze in and take a look around. What I found were a couple strange contraptions. Both seemed to be made of bronze - the first looked like an alembic with one glass tube still filled with a blue fluid, while the other resembled a keychain but with more rigidly attached keys on a bigger ring. Even just for the bronze, these things held value. The blue liquid drew my attention as it seemed familiar. I opened the tube's lid - with a pop, a gray-blue steam started escaping and filling the room with the usual "smell." I closed my eyes, feeling it around me; almost seeing it. I started absorbing it but then felt like someone was watching me. I quickly opened my eyes and looked around. Some of the steam was being drawn into a crack on the floor. After closer inspection, it was a trapdoor with no apparent handle except for some holes forming a circle. The keychain! I rotated all the keys to point in the same direction and slid them all at once into the trapdoor's keyholes. Without even rotating anything, a click was made by the mechanism and the trapdoor popped upward a tiny bit, revealing a handle on its side. I opened it and peered into the coal-black room underneath. I lit a torch and went in. The room was full of metallic tablets (I think they were copper but they felt lighter than they should have been, even for their thinness) with unknown characters punched onto them. The tablets were mostly tidied onto stone shelves with some strewn on the floor next to some small skeletal remains. The clothes of the deceased human(oid?), or whatever rotten remains were left of the clothes, looked unfamiliar. The bones looked human but child-sized, perhaps a little thicker than I'd expect, but I was no expert in bones. I assumed the person was locked in here, probably by someone else, since the door would lock only after pressing it down and removing the keys. I looked around the house some more for any useful utensils to grab, then set up camp outside. I buried the remains and then fell into rest until morning.

26th day of spring, year 132

After an amazing night's sleep, I woke to find some berry bushes full of ripe berries right in front of the house, which I could have sworn were not there the day before. I ate as many as I could hold and packed a few more for the road. I then used some of my charcoal and paper to make copies of a few random tablets before continuing my journey. But as soon as I started to take a last look behind me, what I saw instead of the house was the same cliffs of the Ragged Coast that I had left behind when entering the Deep Wilds. I was somehow again at the border of the forest. Was this an attempt to impede my quest, or a friendly warning, a second chance to rethink delving into these otherworldly wilds? I didn't think I'd be any safer back, so I rode forwards into the forest again. As I rode through a hilly area, I encountered a cave. A gaunt face appeared in the dark depths. She started screaming at me, eyes wide open and fixated. More screams joined hers from within. I immediately remembered the stories my mother used to tell me about the broken. About four individuals came out of the cave's dark depths, wailing and waving their hands like madmen, followed by a child. I felt sorry for the kid - it seemed like a regular Ironlander child. I wondered how long it would take for the child to become like its parents, if any of them survived. I kicked Valeri and sped away from them. I ate some dried fruits and continued my journey. We reached a hill but Valeri was bothered by her wounds. I cleaned them with some water but I needed to apply some medication. Thankfully, I had some in my pack. I washed it up and bandaged it on her front legs. It was getting late, so I set up camp near some rapids freezing-cold water. That was a bad decision. I woke up suddenly when the river flooded the ground where I was sleeping. I jumped up and started looking for my things in the starlight. They were getting soaked and even being carried away by the rising water! First, I threw my bedroll as far onto dry ground as I could. It reached dry land but was already a bit wet. Then I noticed my backpack was almost in the river because of how much the water had risen. I raised my hands toward it, with my palms open, and caused it to jump out of the water from a distance and onto dry land. Then I saw some fabric flowing down the river. It was Valeri's night cover. Again, I telekinetically threw it onto dry land. It was too dark to make out anything else, so I turned my hand into a flaming torch that lit up the area. Everything was on dry land except me. I jumped over the water toward the forest, but two cold, gray hands grabbed my legs and pulled me into the water. It was a sodden! Even underwater, the unnatural flames on my hand kept burning. I turned to see my assailant: he looked like an old man with white eyes and mottled skin. I freed my left foot and stomped on his face, causing him to release me. I grabbed the grassy ground and pulled myself onto it as fast as I could. Shaken, I gathered my things and moved them near the trees where Valeri was standing. I was shaking both from the cold and because I knew I would see this sodden again. I lit a fire and tried to warm up and dry my things until dawn.

In the next part, Ikram arrives at Grayrock hoping to find clues about the Cove of Lament but quickly comes to an unwelcome realization that will waste his time and unfortunately some of yours too, as he tries to figure out what he should do next.

To be continued...

No comments:

Post a Comment

Popular Posts