I think we are in rats' alley
Where the dead men lost their bones.
T.S. Eliot, The Waste Land
Saraia's Temple of Knowledge
All Gods' Monastery
Grandfather Asher strokes his beard in contemplation. His eyes reflect nearly a hundred and twenty years on Slate, and they have begun to fail. The robes of a cleric of Saraia, the golden ouroboros faded to a dusty yellow, are draped over his ancient shoulders, and he leans heavily in his chair. The children of Lake City are seated all round him in a drove, sixty or more. The smell of lamp oil and smoke permeates the room, and peal of thunder echoes in the temple chamber, the first of the evening. Yes, he has done this a few times. Asher's presence is commanding, even to the children. Aside from the odd whisper or nudge, they are rapt, inasmuch as children can be rapt. His voice is old, but he speaks with the clarity of a storyteller.
You all know the story, but our memories are everything we have of what was lost. I tell you now the Gelbnacht, that your children may dream of the sea, that the lost beauty of our world will not be forgotten. Ninety-nine years have passed since that night, and we have been bowed by its terror ever since.
Before it began, this city was on an island.
A little boy squeaks at the grandfather, "What's an island?"
"You see, the lake was full of clear water, like your cup, and an island is where the land..."
The wooden door to the chamber crashes open, and a flash of green lightning illuminates a strange, bulging shape The children scream in seeming unison. Haltingly, the figure hunches forward into the light of the oil lamps. The figure throws a weathered cape on the floor, and two faces appear from underneath it, one familiar and one horrible. The familiar face is Jacob Thistlebrow, an accomplished herbalist and perhaps Lake City's most prolific explorer since The Fall.
Asher's white brow raised in alarm. It was seldom indeed that door opened after sundown. "By the gods! Jacob, you could have been killed! Do you have any idea what time it is?"
Jacob's brown hair hangs limp with sweat. Although he is stronger than many, he had been carrying this load for some distance. "Better than most. This man is dying. He got caught in the rain. Last night. Missed his pavilion. He's been raving about Pike, I think something happened to their clerics."
The man looks up and moans incoherently, grasping weakly at Jacob's clothes. He cannot stand on his own. His eyes are opaque white. Blind. The rain had nearly destroyed the rest of him as well. Dark pits and scars cover every inch of exposed skin. Grandfather Asher breathed sharply through his teeth as he bends took a closer look."Lay him there, on the stone. Leave him to me. Jacob, take the children to their homes. Stop staring boy, you know where the tunnels are. Go!"
The door to the outside slams magically shut, and with another peal of thunder the rain begins to come down in buckets. In the lamplight, Asher kneels painfully beside the man. He speaks softly. "I can cure your blindness, my son, but I am afraid the rain's effect on the body is often permanent."
The next morning
The entire city was here. Nearly three hundred men, women, and children crammed into the monastery's largest chamber. They were here either to get a closer look at this strange man, or to hear what he had to say. Few could do either of these things though, mostly due to the crush of people here. Grandfather Asher was seated in the chancel along with seven Grandfathers, none of whom were less than thirty years his junior. In a sense he was most qualified to speak today, but these days he saved his voice for the children, where it often mattered most.
When it became clear there would be no more arrivals, another Cleric stepped up to the pulpit. His name was Brother Garrat, one of just a handful of a new generation of clerics. He stands tall and thin, and wears old robes, a hand-me-down from his predecessor. On them is the sigil of Grum, the maligned god of nature.
"Last night a man came to us seeking help. He traveled from Pike to our monastery in two days' time, a journey that often takes three under the best conditions. This sprint very nearly cost him his life, but it may well have saved a city. It seems the clergy of Pike has vanished, and it goes without saying the entire city will die without the life-giving water they provide. I and Father Tolly have volunteered to go to Pike as stand-ins, to provide succor to the people and, hopefully, return home when the clergy returns."
A whisper went up from the crowd. He cleared his throat.
"Two clerics are all this city can spare, but it is a moral imperative that we do so. To that end, we must ask the people of Lake City for aid. We have selected a few seasoned travelers to attend us, but we do not deign to bend the will of any man or woman who would not go. We seek volunteers to go to Pike with myself, Father Tolly, and three barrels of water. Any joiners will be happily rewarded."
The crowd was hushed. To go out in the wilderness with clergy and fresh water was an incredibly dangerous mission. There were stories of parched bandits who would kill for the merest drop of clean water, stories of the creatures twisted by the unreal power of the rain.
Clary was the first to volunteer. She strode confidently forward, the yellow-eyed wolf Silinrul close at hand. Her presence, and the wolf's, seemed to inspire confidence among a few others. There was a fighter, two scimitars hanging by her side. Two practitioners of the arcane stepped forward, one of them a woman of unearthly beauty. Finally a disheveled little man joined them, his eyes bright with adventure. Their number was small, but perhaps they could be enough of a force to save Pike.
The Road to Pike
In the beginning, it was seven bold adventurers who set out for Pike, Jacob and the scarred man among their number. A single brown nag pulled a load of water almost too heavy for its cart. They journeyed southwest under a yellow sky, down the slope of Lake City's island-hill and across Serenity Flats to the first pavilion that sat beside the once-well-traveled road to Pike.
Serenity Flats was, well, flat. Dry lakebed extended miles in any direction, only rising here and there where islands had once stood. The air was hot and humid, to the point that even breathing became difficult at times. Sunlight often shimmered on the dirt, the most basic mirage, but not even the most foolish of the party would mistake it for standing water, nor would they be fooled into leaving the well-trod path to the pavilion.
The building itself had stood almost since the lake dried up, although it was difficult to tell what held it together. It was constructed from the timbers of a merchant vessel, its name long since worn off by weathering. Despite its tumbledown appearance, it was large enough to serve as shelter for two dozen or more travelers at once. Here they would make camp for the first evening, for though the sun still shone bright in the sky, another hour's journey would likely mean getting caught in the rain.
Their preparation and journey had been in near silence; perhaps the grimness of their mission had kept their tongues. It seemed that now was perhaps the best time for introductions. The two clergymen set out to find firewood. Perhaps they would get lucky and find some.
Posted on 2016-02-25 at 22:28:27.
Edited on 2016-02-26 at 11:16:31 by Schnozzle
Athelia Moonstryker stood near the doors of the Monastery keeping her back against the walls of the building. Silently she listened to the commanding voice of Grandfather Asher as he spun stories for the children. Her sapphire eyes scanning the room recalling every face in the gathered crowd. As the door swung open, it took only an instant for her to realize Jacob Thistlebrow had entered, yet by instinct the fighter found her hands ready to draw her weapons. The fear of the children rang through her body as they reacted to the figure who had entered with a stranger. Listening to the exchange, Athelia assisted in relocating the children, and delivering them home safely.
The following morning Athelia packed extra items before heading back to the monastery’s largest chamber to listen and inquire about the course of action the elders considered to be wise. It was Brother Garrat who took the pulpit and explained the situation. It seemed they needed volunteers to protect the clerics on their travels to Pike. A woman with a wolf companion had approached first, and Athelia was quick on her heels to volunteer to join an adventure. The thought of eminent danger appealed to the young fighter, and she stepped forward proudly. The fighter counted the members and weighed their worth on the adventure as being a well-balanced group to embark on the mission.
Athelia wore full plate armour, and in beautiful sheaths crisscrossed on her back were her dual wielding scimitars. At a few parts of the journey the air became too thin, and it was difficult to breathe in the heat of their environment. Her mind attuned to the trickery that can happen in such conditions, she paced herself well with the rest of the party and always kept alert of her surroundings for fear of danger lurking.
As the two clergymen left to find firewood, the fighter studied her companions in better light, advancing to the middle of the room and speaking loudly:
“Greetings, I am Athelia Moonstryker, and I vow to fight until my dying breath to ensure success of this mission. You can anticipate that I will be at the forefront of all battles, fighting to the song of my ancestors. I look forward to working alongside each of you.”
The world was dark and his skin burned with pain as he heard the pattering of rain and droplets hit his skin. Damian didn’t remember much, just sprinting out of Pike, running towards Lake City as fast as he possibly could, with barely enough supplies.
He remembered laying there for what felt like weeks, the rain pouring down on his body, burning him intensely. Images of a man carrying him back, every shift of his body would cause him to groan in pain.
His next memories were of lying on a stone bed, his sight had returned and he sat up, wincing slightly but he was healed… for the most part. Except for his scars.
He was quiet during the meeting, having explained his situation to the clerics beforehand and he was extremely grateful to the brave men and women who volunteered to aid him in this mission.
Damian had his hood down but covered most of his body with robes. Underneath he had worn leather armour and his scarred hands gripped his quarterstaff tightly, the hunter was leaning on it for support. He surveyed the group and smiled at them, his twisted visage growing more disconcerting as he did so. The fighter stepped forward and Damian inclined his head, stepping forward slightly as well. He said, his voice firm:
“Greetings Althelia. My name is Damian Dawnshine and on behalf of myself and my city, I cannot thank all of you enough for aiding me, especially you Jacob for saving me.” Inclining his head roughly towards him. “I will try my hardest to be of help and if anyone requires something of me, please don’t hesitate to ask.”
Posted on 2016-02-26 at 15:22:20.
Edited on 2016-02-26 at 15:23:28 by Impulse
Clary’s eyes snapped open, a strangled scream dying on her lips as she bolts up in her bed. Looking out the window she sees the moon glowing in the sky overhead. Jumping slightly when she feels something cold pressing against her arm she turns swiftly ready to attack the intruder only to find her beloved wolf at her side,
“Sorry boy, I didn’t mean to wake you” Her voice was soft as sleep still clung to her mind and for once she allowed the blissful black to take her leaving her unaware of the happenings that were going on that night.
The next morning
Her footsteps made no sound as she and Silinrul walked through the city, coming upon the gathering crowd. Pausing for a moment, she listened. Something had happened, they needed people, grinning slightly the ranger eyes Silinrul before strolling up and volunteering on the spot,
“Silinrul and I will join the party. Should be fun, entertaining.” Once a few others followed and volunteered, Clary left to gather what she’d need, Silinrul as always by her side.
Meeting the rest on the road, Clary kept close to her wolf, talking softly to the beast, running her fingers through his course fur, waiting for when they’d set out. She momentarily looked at the woman, Athelia was her name apparently, nodding her head in greeting, Clary kept quiet.
one of the travelers, a young man of late teens - if more then just barely, slept in his chain shirt and coif. The tip of his sword was visible beneath his shield that lay across him like a blaket. he sit up and takes off the coif, wiggles his fingers and any road grime falls off him and gathers in a pile near the wall. another wiggle and waggle of his fingers and like a breath of cool fresh air his smell of travel leaves him as easily
[cast prestidigitation to clean and freshen himself]
As people introduce them selves he waits for a moment of pause and interjects, "I am Geoff of Broyhill, a village near the mountains southeast of Lake City. I was at the monastery when I heard the request for help."
Having said his piece he proceedes to take his shield and with whispering words and wiggly fingers he paints a dragon within a circle on a white background. the dragon's wings are outstretched and the wings and head are touching the circle. the taloned claws each hold a rose in one and sword in the other, the stem of the rose and the hilt of the rose touching the lower arc of the circle.
At first you see the head facing in the direction of the rose, but with a wave of his hand the head turns, and when facing strait it blinks then full faces toward the sword.
Jacob looked around again at the group, a bit curious. He was unused to traveling with so many, but even so he imagined that this was a peculiar mix.
He nodded at the one he'd saved. Damian, he'd said. It always left him feeling awkward, when people expressed gratitude for a life saved. He didn't know how to tell them he didn't do it for the thanks, for acting like it was no big deal would be to tell them their life was meaningless, and that was to be avoided.
Or so the lessons had went.
So he nodded, and kept a polite look on his face. It wasn't that he was unhappy to have done it either. It just.... was.
An armed woman caught his attention next. Athelia she'd introduced herself as, before Damian had spoke. She'd been there the night they'd shown up out of the rain, but he didn't recognize her. Of course, that was no indication of anything. Jacob hardly ever recognized anyone, except a few key people in each settlement he visited. The few he needed to know to keep going about his way.
The woman with the wolf was curious as well. Jacob was always interested in meeting and talking to people who were good with animals, but she seemed to want to keep her privacy, and Jacob was content not disturbing it. Either they'd get a chance to talk, or they wouldn't.
His eyebrows rose as Geoff introduced himself, showcasing a talent for the arcane. He'd had some issue with arcane spellweavers in the past. Hopefully this wouldn't turn out the same way. Then again, he had no reason to suspect it would. He kept his polite expression, and nodded in turn at Geoff.
Finding a break in the introductions, he decided to make his own, following Athelia's lead. "I am called Jacob Thistlebrow. I tend to serve as a scout and a guide, and am a fair shot with a bow, though nothing particularly remarkable. Should we run into misfortune, I have some small skill in healing, but it would be better to avoid it all together, hmmm?"
These flats are boring, seriously boring, but the people are not.
Daxos of Clan Turin had heard a little about the disturbance the night before, but not being fully a part of the community or the monastery, he knew few details. As he listened, he knew the town of Pike was in serious trouble. Could Dax do anything to help? He wasn’t sure exactly, but it seemed possible. He could add his bow to the group that would defend the water. He might be able to help find out what happened to the clerics. Whatever it was, he was doing no good sitting here in Lake City. “Make your life matter,” his father had always said. His mother would not be pleased at this sort of volunteerism, but she would be proud.
As an unlikely group of others volunteered, Dax eventually added his name to the list as well. “I’ll do what I can,” was all he said.
As the group crossed Serenity Flats Daxos studied his surroundings and the group he travelled with. He couldn’t decide if they really were unusual, or just the sort of strange folks that made up the world in these strange days. Who knew what the world would bring? As for the flats they travelled through, Dax was very curious about them at first – he had never travelled the flats. The mountains he knew fairly well, but not the flats. Still, even his curiosity waned as mile after mile of nothingness passed by. “If this terrain can bore even me, it must be bland,” he thought to himself, for it was rare that he couldn’t find something to investigate. But here there was . . . nothing but flat dust.
As the group settled in for the evening and the clerics went for firewood, Daxos listened as the rest of the group introduced themselves. Finally, it was his turn.
He grinned at the group. “I’m Daxos of Clan Turin, up in the mountains. Loudwater is a small town, not all that far from Middleton, just hanging on near the edge of things.” He glanced at Damian, whose harrowing adventure had brought them all here. “I hope we can help Damian. A few barrels of water is a nice start, but the loss of the clerics seems like a long term problem. Maybe we can make a difference somehow.” With that he looked around at the rest of the group. “It is a pleasure to meet all of you. I will assist however I can.”
Geoff looks across the plain after all of the introductions, inhales deep and lets out in a long sigh.
"The beauty of this land a century ago . . .Can it ever return?" Before any can answer he looks to the direction of the clerics search for wood, "Do we need wood that bad, or can we have a cold camp? I am concerned for the lives and safety of the priests. We also want to set up guard watches, this load of water is more precious then the safety of desperate bandits."
Posted on 2016-03-01 at 12:38:19.
Edited on 2016-03-02 at 00:26:31 by Scott DeWar
A final, low groan escaped her lips leaving her panting in the early morning hours. The meditation left her tingling with pleasure and she glistened with its sweat. She began each day the same, seeking a private moment of ecstasy in this dull banal world. It was a reminder of all she had lost, but she held onto it just the same.
Xana hated this world. The nightly deluge only served to underscore that hatred. It was an ugly place without a memory of the joy that once was here. Even the games of intrigue that once provided distraction felt empty among a broken people.
Moving from the bed, Xana made her way to the small mirror that decorated the wall of her humble quarters. Small though it was, the room was hers alone. A mixture of fear and awe had bought her a small piece of privacy in this world. In this small kingdom she laughed, cried, and wallowed in the muck of life. She did not care how it was won, it was hers.
Her reflection stared back at her with burning golden eyes. Within that fire was a loss deeper than any mortal soul knew. In the dark hours of midnight and again with the burning light of dawn it consumed her. Every night for a century, she had tried to return only to find the once familiar pathways gone. It seemed she would remain here for all time, like an ancient monument of a forgotten age. Would the world in time forget her too?
Sighing, Xana pressed a hand against the polished surface of the mirror and began to trace the lines of her face. At least she was still beautiful. That was something this world could not take from her. A tiny spark of magic came to life within her and began to clean away the morning sweat just as it smoothed the tangles in her dark curls. In this world water was too precious to draw a bath, so it would be magic that cleaned away the dirt of the day.
Just as it had been every morning in memory, Xana set the fey charm to tidy the small chamber before she left to face the day. It was likely to be as dull as every day before it.
Well played, Asher. Well played.
She never had any intention of joining a rescue mission. In this desperate world the salvation of one human life meant very little to her. The aging priest had certainly known this when he publicly announced her volunteering to join the miscreant party of heroes. Altruism was not in her nature, not unless it suited her own ends. Yet to deny such a public announcement would have left her in a rather untenable position. Sadly, they needed one another for survival. So she found herself escorting barrels of water and clerics to the village of Pike. At least the day would not be dull.
Nearly a days journey through the Serenity Flats brought them to the first pavilion. Introductions began and Xana quickly slipped into role of the benevolent witch, a brilliant smile lighting her face.
"Well met one and all, I am Xana walker of the Starlight Path. I pray that together we can bring some bit of salvation to the people of Pike."
Continuing to smile, she met the eyes of each of her companions as they awaited the coming night. Her smile even touched her eyes.
((OOC: Prestidigitation/Mage Hand in the morning))
Posted on 2016-03-02 at 13:23:46.
Edited on 2016-03-02 at 13:27:40 by Nimu
The Road to Pike
Very few trees had found their way here, and those that had were too stunted and sullen to drop any appreciable amount of fuel wood. Still, the old lake bottom was prime piece of real estate for anything that could draw life from the acid rain - no small task, but a handful of bushes and black grasses rose above the exposed soil and offered enough tinder and kindling for a small fire. Garrat and Tolly walked among them, having left the seven to their introductions nearly an hour ago.
Their packs full, they ambled for some time discussing nothing in particular. Poplar Hill, once Poplar Island, rose to the east, perhaps only a few hours travel away. Few of its trademark trees dotted the hillside anymore, the last straight timbers long since harvested. Above and behind it, Aspen Hill dominated its place on the horizon. Both were lit a dusty yellow in the early evening light as they caught the rays of the setting sun.
"Our world still has its moments of beauty, Garrat," remarked Father Tolly, the corners of his salt-and-pepper goatee pulling upward with a smile. "It's moments like these I remember, when my faith is tested. The gods are still here, Brother. They just can't see us as well as they used to."
"Aye," was all Garrat could muster.
"Grandfather Clement - I don't suppose you knew him - used to call it 'the hour of the evening's gold.' I thought he was too full of the old world's poetry until I came out here for the first time. I'd call it an apt description, wouldn't you?"
Father Tolly practically bowled Geoff over when he finally reached the pavilion. His eyes were wild and his face ran with the sweat of one unused to running. His hand was clutching something that caught the light of the setting sun and glinted yellow spots everywhere. Turning to face the disfigured man, Tolly opened his hand. A lavish domino fell out and hung in midair, suspended by a golden chain wrapped around the man's finger. It was gold with silver pips, and something red tainted near half of its face.
"Damian, could this be from one of the missing clerics?"
Hardly waiting for a response, he turned to the others and said "Brother Garrat still stands where he found this holy symbol. It's perhaps fifteen minutes travel between us. Shall we investigate the area, or should I call him back?"
The sun was setting fast on the small company, and with it came the familiar acrid smell of rain.
Posted on 2016-03-02 at 23:56:59.
Edited on 2016-03-03 at 07:40:48 by Schnozzle
"The rain is near, we should hurry. Damian, your injuries from the rain might be too fresh to try and brave it at this time. You may want to stay. I will go, who is with me. We will want a tracker to at least ook for a trail to follow in the morning."
And the rain, rain, rain came down, down, down........
Jacob watched, and listened. He preferred watching and listening. They were easy. And the knowledge you got could end up saving your life.
Or someone else's life.
A golden domino. Followers of Jack then, he supposed. Though it could have just been a memento. A reminder of fortunes won, then lost, and won again. Did Jack Domino have clerics? Jacob supposed he must have, though he'd never run across one. A cleric who dealt with games and chance and lies? Not a deity that endeared himself to most people in times like these. Usually only the desperate, or the truly lucky. Even with one of his domains being water, many people preferred Grum, Lacuna, or Iaoth. Especially Iaoth.
He was digressing again. Jacob shook his head slightly, forcing himself back on track. They had very little time before the rains hit. Once the heavens opened, praying would be of little use. That said, they needed information, and a member of the convoy was still out there. Nothing for it then. He'd cut it close, and past close before. Just have to be cautious.
When Geoff asked for volunteers, Jacob waited a beat before responding. "I know the area well enough, and can do a bit of tracking. I'll go."
Daxos was trying to learn something about his companions when the cleric ran up to the pavilion holding out the domino holy symbol.
Hearing the questionable details, Dax looked up at the sky. he had spent plenty of time outside of the city exploring, but one reason he was still here to continue exploring was that he was always cautious to make sure he had a retreat available before the rains came. And the rains were not far away. Why did it always happen this way? The rain . . .
Wait. The rain. "Hang on a moment. That token, is that blood on it? Let me see it quickly. (He takes a look at it using his googles of minute seeing. What is the red?) Jacob, would that have lasted through a night of rains? Would the acid and water of the rains have scrubbed it clean? If so, whoever dropped it, cleric or otherwise, is within a days hike."
(edit based on new info)
Dax looks closely at the domino and notices that the blood is only on one side. "Well, it is blood. But, it is only on one side of the symbol. If that side was down, the rain might not have affected it. So there goes my theory." he looks at the one whose town they are going to save. "Might this be from the missing clerics?"
"I'll go with and keep my eyes open." When he gets to the site where the symbol was found he will use his spyglass to look around.
Posted on 2016-03-03 at 19:00:45.
Edited on 2016-03-03 at 23:11:56 by Nomad D2
Xana watched as the wheezing cleric burst into the pavilion. The wild look in his eyes promised some bit of excitement and the gilded domino spoke of even more. Still, as much fun as the chaotic diversion might be the smell of rain had already begun to fill the air. To her mind there was little choice in the matter.
"Call young Garrat back, Tolly," she spoke, ignoring the others that already jumped to aid. "The rain is far too near for more than a trip there and back, if we even have that much time. We will investigate come sunrise. Whatever is there now will certainly be there in the morning."