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Double Nature: The Journey of a Half-Drow (Session 3)

21st Day of Tardisia, Restatio

The last few days have been so chaotic. So many things have happened recently that I have almost forgotten what it feels to enjoy a quiet day. Lying down in the middle of the countryside, I can see the stars, so bright and so beautiful. I can hear the distant sound of crickets, soothing in its rhythm; a lazy firefly flies around Veronique, who is deep asleep, before Verna elegantly flies down and eats it. Harmand and Bingo are away, probably alleviating themselves before going to sleep. Around us there are fields and trees consumed by the darkness of night. The patterns of grey I see when in the dark do no justice to the array of colours that have started to spread with the new season.

The morning was bright. We woke up with the break of dawn. Quietly, we left the inn to avoid disturbing anybody. The little town was quietly sleeping when we started our journey. The grass and the leaves, still covered in dew drops, shone bright with the first lights of the day. For the first couple of hours we didn’t talk much, we were still trying to recover from waking up so early. I was at the front, keeping an eye on my map, making sure we didn’t get lost. Bingo was walking next to me. Every now and then he would nod off and bump on my side to then wake up and force himself to walk in a straight line. Behind us there was Harmand, rehearsing “The Story of Harmand the Great” with Veronique, who didn’t seem to pay much attention to him. Not much was said at that time, but it all felt so… peaceful. When I left Gold Port I was so alone and now, now I was part of a group. I still don’t know much about them, but we all had a common goal and were willing to fight for something good. That made me feel safe.

At some point we stopped to rest and eat some rations. I looked up to the sky and noticed there was a raven flying over our heads, circling around. Initially I thought the bird could be interested in our food, so I didn’t give it much thought. However, when Veronique looked at the raven, the bird immediately changed directions and glided straight to the young lass’ shoulder. Bingo squeaked in excitement.

Oh wow! How did you do that? Do you know this bird?” He asked.

Veronique kindly smiled to the bird and pet it gently “It has been following me for a while now. I think it likes me, and I like it too. It’s almost as if we were bound together. Somehow, I can feel what it feels, see what it sees…I think I will keep it.”. She said.

I studied the bird with fascination. I always liked ravens. Back home most of the birds you saw were seagulls. These are not particularly intelligent or pretty and they spend most of their time pestering around or stealing food. The bird was dark. Not dark like the night, but dark like the void, empty of all light. Its eyes looked at me with a glare of understanding, almost as if it already knew who I was. For some reason, that raven, perched on Veronique’s shoulder, it seemed to fit quite nicely.

Have you thought of a name for it?” I asked. Veronique pondered for a while. Then, she just said:

Verna”.

That is a lovely name,” I said. “I wish I had a pet myself. I used to have one as a kid, but…It didn’t last too long….” I started to feel a bit uncomfortable thinking about Jeremy, so I decided to focus on Verna and enjoy the rest of our meal.

I wonder if I would be able to get a pet myself as well”. Bingo said. We all looked a bit confused at him. He then started to concentrate, mumbled some arcane words and a small misty cloud appeared new to him. From the cloud, a new raven, almost identical to Verna, showed up. The bird quickly sat on Bingo’s head. The shock almost made me choke on my food, hadn’t it been for Harmand who immediately started to slap my back, certainly bruising it.

How did you do that?” I asked. The halfling was already distracted, feeding his bird.

Oh, I just remembered I could do that”. He said without giving it much importance. For some reason I felt like pressing on that matter would take us nowhere, so I decided to let it go for now. It was strange, however, that a halfling that, just a couple of days ago, asked me to teach him some magic, all of the sudden was able to summon a raven out of thin air.

Once we were done with our lunch, we proceeded with our journey. The trip was uneventful. As we travelled south, the grassy lands that surrounded Longmill were replaced by the yellows and oranges of the forests. We had the path to ourselves, there were no other travellers in miles. We admired the landscape and talked about trivial things.

When the sun started to lower, we decided to set up camp. We started a fire and laid our bedrolls. After eating we all went to sleep. The stars and the moon reminded me of the mysterious woman who now I know, or at least I think I know, it’s some kind of entity trying to become a new goddess in this world. I thought about what she told me, about the quest she gave me, about my powers. If I really was supposed to help her save all drows, I needed to become stronger, I needed to be able to control my powers, to focus them in some way. Something in my head told me I would need to find a way of properly conduct my magic. I don’t know how, yet, but there must be something, somewhere, that can help me with this.

I will stop writing now, for it is getting cold and my fingers can’t bear writing any longer. If the following days are as uneventful as this one, I don’t think I will be writing any entries until we arrive to Mael. I do hope they can remain uneventful for a while.

24th day of Tardisia, Xenephias

Well, it was good while it lasted but I guess a day can’t qualify as uneventful when somebody tries to murder you.

The last few days were quiet. We travelled along the road without any relevant to happen. However, earlier today we were on our way to the border of Mael. The ground started to look fertile and covered in endless fields of wheat. Under our feet the road of dirt progressively changed into an old stone-paved path. No major buildings were on sight beside some random grain silos and a couple of abandoned selling stations.

As we were walking and chatting, we noticed in the distance a figure, slowly walking towards us. I couldn’t quite make what it was. Veronique and Bingo sent their ravens up to the sky to scout. After a while, they described what the raven saw. The strange figure was an elderly man, carrying a stack of bags and boxes on his back, somehow maintaining a steady pace.

We continued walking and eventually crossed paths with him. The man looked up and smiled when he saw us.

Greetings travellers!” He said trying to catch our attention. “May I interest you in any of the goods I carry”.

Oh, sure! What do you have?” Asked Bingo.

Well, I´m glad you asked. Among other things, I specialise in a very unusual product, something that no other merchant will be able to offer you. Something so unique, so bizarre, that nobody will believe you when you tell them. Lady and gentlemen, my name is Bread and this…” He then pulled from one of his bags what looked like a loaf of extremely stale bread.” …is Bread´s bread”.

We all stared at him and the loaf of bread quietly, waiting for a punchline that never came.

How much?” Harmand finally asked.

I´m glad you asked! 1 piece of gold” Answered Bread.

Sold” Said Harmand who immediately exchanged the loaf of bread for the gold coins. Once he had the bread, he tried to bite it, but all he managed was to hurt his teeth. “What the hell is wrong with this bread?” He asked annoyed. Veronique grabbed the bread and hammered it against the dwarf’s armour, making a loud clunking noise.

This bread is older than Harmand” She said, indignant.

Well, you are not supposed to eat it like that, of course!” Bread replied.

So how are we supposed to eat it?” Bingo asked.

I´m glad you asked. Most people will just soak it in water. Others will mix it with milk. Nevertheless, regardless of how you take it, most people affirm that eating Bread´s bread will fill your body with vitality, feeling twenty years younger at least.

This is just very old bread” Veronique insisted. “Have you never thought of making a jam or something to spread on it to at least making it more…flavourful?

Yeah! You could call it Bread´s bread´s spread!” Bingo added.

I never thought of that. That is a great idea! You, young lady, know your way around bread.

Well, I am a baker, after all. You know, making real bread…” She said.

While this happened, I noticed Harmand cut a small piece of the bread and crushed it with his hammer. Then he ate the crumbs. Later he admitted to me that he indeed felt stronger and filled with energy for a while. I turned to Bread again.

We are currently travelling to Mael. How are the roads down there? Is it safe?

Oh, I´m glad you asked! Everything is fine, beyond what currently is happening down there. But compared to most roads in this continent, I would say they are fairly safe. If you continue this path you will eventually reach Featherpost, which marks the entrance to Mael. It shouldn´t take you more than an hour.”

That´s really helpful, thank you.” I was going to end our conversation there, but there was a thought on the back of my head that wouldn’t stop bugging me. “Say, Bread…Have you, by any chance, seeing any drows down the road?” I cautiously asked him.

Drows? Oh, thankfully no! No sight of those underground weirdos. No offense…”

“Non taken.” I said, a bit uncomfortable. There was an awkward silence for maybe 5 or 10 seconds before Veronique finally spoke.

Well, it was a pleasure meeting you, but we need to get going. There is much road to walk still.”

I smiled at Veronique and then looked at the merchant.

Well, you heard the boss. We better get going.”

Oh, right, Well, I wish you safe travels. I hope we meet again.”

We continued our way down and soon we lost sight of Bread.

After an hour or so we reached Featherpost. In front of us there was a fortified wall that extended to both sides to the mountains that guarded the valley. Men in heavy armour could be seen walking up and down the wall. As we approached the gate, two men blocked our way.

Halt! Who are you and what is your business here?” One of the guards asked, glaring at us.

My name is Bingo the Great! And we are here to recruit followers to save the world” Bingo said. Luckily Veronique reacted quickly and stepped up.

Forgive my friend, we are just visiting. We have heard some great things about the glorious kingdom of Mael.” She said, persuasively.

And what are your names?” The second guard enquired.

“I already said it: Bingo the Great”

 “Veronique Lorraine”

“Harmand the Great”

“Rhyl’Aun Ridge”

As soon as I said my name, the two guards eyed at me, in an unfriendly way.

What business brings one of your kind here?” The first guard asked.

I could feel their eyes drilling through my face. I always heard that drows were not welcomed in many communities but the trade with dark elves and the memory of my mother in the minds of most folks back home had shielded me from this experience. Since I left Gold Port, however, I had started to experience this general rejection and it wasn’t a comfortable feeling. I could feel my mouth getting dry and my hands shaking.

Well…Like my friend said, we are just curious traveller, wanting to learn more about your kingdom.” I said, hoping I didn’t stammer.

Yeah, like…What is so great about Maelborne, anyways?” Bingo suddenly interjected.

Both guards immediately forgot about me and stared at the halfling. Veronique and I looked at him dumbfounded.

What…Did you just say?” One of the guards asked, clearly containing his anger. The halfling just shrugged his shoulders.

Just so you know…” Started the other guard. “Maelborne is the home of the greatest leader in all the continent, our beloved Queen Amelia.

Is she important?” Bingo asked. At this point I could feel the tension drilling a painful hole in my stomach. Before I could say anything, however, Harmand stepped up, raised his fist and exclaimed:

Yeah, for Queen Amelia!”

The other guards seemed a bit confused at first but soon they started to follow him.

Ye-Yeah! For Queen Amelia!

In a matter of seconds, all guards in Featherpost were cheering and shouting their queen’s name, slapping each other’s backs, as well as ours, laughing and smiling, filled with national pride. We took this chance to cross the gate and left Featherpost behind.

Still gobsmacked, I went to Harmand and asked:

How did you know that would work?

What? I just felt like doing it. Who doesn’t like a good rally every now and then?” I didn´t know how to answer that. I was just pleased the situation didn’t escalate.

Hey, did you see that?” Said Bingo pointing to some distant hills. I tried my best but couldn’t see anything besides some trees and bushes.

What is it?” I asked.

Bingo shook his head slowly.

I don’t know…For I moment I thought I saw somebody watching us from afar.” He said, unconcerned. I was about to dismiss it when a cold chill ran up my spine.

Say, did you notice if, per chance, that mysterious person had dark skin like mine, hm?”

The halfling shrugged his shoulders and made a quick noise indicating he wasn’t sure.

We continued our way south. At some point we reached a crossroad. A sign pointed to the west read “Inkereek” while another one pointing to the south showed “Silverscot” to the south. Since our goal was to reach Maelborne as soon as possible, we decided to continue south.

After half an hour we reached a very wide river, on the opposite side of which there was a city, Silverscot. We crossed the river via the main bridge, which seemed to be in very good conditions. It wasn’t necessarily new, just very well kept and, although I have not much knowledge on this, the engineering work was solid.

Once on the other side, a valley of gold extended all around to the town for as far as we could see. The wheat, ready to be harvested, rocked with the wind, giving the illusion of waves coursing through a sea of golden water.

Being in Silverscot was a change for me. Gold Port, although always booming with commerce, was a small coastal town; and Longmill wasn’t much bigger than a village. Silverscot, however was vibrant. That was the best way to describe it. People all around, moving from one place to another. A multitude of sounds and smells. Shops and stands everywhere with people trying to sell you exotic dishes, clothes and all sorts of items. By walking in a straight line, we eventually reached the centre of town and, there, what looked like the main square.

A huge gathering was taking place. I wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said there were at least a thousand people there. We managed to make our way through the crowd and see what was going on. A simple wood platform had been placed in the centre of the square and, on top of it, two figures could be seen. One was an armed man, most likely a guard, but the many medals on his chest piece indicated that he was probably the commander of the local guard. The other man, however, appeared to be some sort of warrior. He was wearing leather and scale mail, and he carried two swords strapped to his back. He was older than me, maybe 40 years old. He was grizzly, muscular and tall. The look in his eyes was stern, but he was also charismatic. Not like young bards in that work in taverns, but like an experienced captain who has spent all his life rallying troops to victory.

…and the Queen expects us to pay their outrageous taxes that they raise every single month. Why? We are the ones who plant the grain, the ones who harvest it, the ones who grind it. Our blood, sweat and tears are in that flour. And for what? So those richer than us in the capital can enjoy their luxurious meals. Those people, they claim to be true citizens of Mael, but we know that is not truth. We are the original inhabitants of this land. The bones of our ancestors are mixed in the soil where our grain grows. Their lives, their memories, they are part of this land. So next time Queen Amelia asks us to pay their taxes, to give away our hard-earned money, we will say: No more!”

The people were constantly cheering and shouting but, otherwise, it seemed to be a peaceful gathering. The crowd remained civilised and were listening attentively to the man. Nevertheless, with a quick glance around I soon noticed there were guards all around the square, still and vigilant, I assume in case thing went out of hand. It was at this point, distracted as I was when all went south.

I didn’t have much time to react when Bingo suddenly shoved me to the side and I heard a maniac laughter. On the ground, to my side, was a hooded and masked figure, laughing uncontrollably while holding their sides with their hands. Next to it was a simple knife, which Bingo quickly grabbed before unmasking the unknown assailant. It was a young lad, younger than Veronique, probably somewhere around 14 years old.

What…What is going on?!” I asked confused.

Bingo took out some string from his backpack and started to bind the lad’s arms and legs together and gag him.

This boy tried to stab you while you weren’t looking. Had I been just a bit slower, you would now have a nice hole on your side.” He said with unexpected seriousness. I looked around, people weren’t paying much attention to us. Those who noticed the laughing boy decided to politely ignore him as if it wasn’t their business.

We need to get out of here before we get in trouble and find out why he wanted to kill me. Harmand!

“I’m on it!” Harmand quickly lifted the boy, who wasn’t laughing anymore and forcibly took him into a dark alley.

Once we were away from the sight of any curious bystanders, Bingo took the gag away from the boy and gave him a couple of seconds to catch his breath.

Why were you trying to kill my friend?” He asked in a rather unusual calm way.

I cannot say” The boy answered, trying to be defiant but clearly scared.

Come on…” Bingo insisted. “We just want to know the truth, then we will let you go.

I really can’t say” The boy reiterated.

Veronique let out an impatient sigh and moved to face the boy, still held by Harmand.

Hold still” Said Veronique to Harmand. She then lifted her right hand, pointing towards the boys left leg. She muttered some words under her breath and a spray of noxious liquids bursted from the palm of her hand and soaked the boy’s legs. The lad screamed in agony as his clothes and flesh started to dissolve. The smell of burnt flesh began to fill the area. Harmand stared at Veronique, eyes wide open:

Dammit woman, you could have hit me!”

But I didn’t.” Veronique replied. “Now, talk!” She said to our captive.

The boy was sobbing, struggling to hold the tears.

I really don’t know. They kidnapped my sister, they told me they would kill her unless I did what they told me. They said that today a half-drow would come to town and that I should stab him. They gave me a knife. It was supposed to be a quick thing, stab and run. Then somebody else would come and make sure that the job was done.

I really have nothing against you but I had no other option. I’m sorry, I’m really sorry…” At this point we were unable to understand what the boy was saying among all the sobbing and crying. We looked at each other, confused but also sorry for the boy.

Bingo went to the boy and placed a hand on his arm.

Hey, hey, don’t worry. We understand, sorry we had to do this, but my friend Harmand will heal you now, right Harmand?” Harmand nodded. He then proceeded to sit the boy against the wall and, as he had done many times before, he placed his hands over the wound ,without touching it, and with a quiet prayer, the wound caused by Veronique’s spell healed in a matter of seconds.

Now…” Bingo started, in a fraternal voice. “What is your name, boy”.

The young boy wiped the tears away and snorted a couple of times.

Then…” He said, his voice still a bit shaky.

Hi Then, nice to meet you. Now, tell me. Do you know who this people are? The people who told you to stab my friend, that is.” The boy shook his head slowly.

I really don’t know. They called themselves The Order but that’s as much as a I know…Please, you have to help me. They have my sister, they have Elleyn.

Bingo looked at me and I nodded. I slowly moved towards Then and kneeled down so I could look him in the eyes.

Don’t worry Then. I understand, you had no option. I don’t blame you. We will help you find your sister, but first we need to know how to find this people. Did they tell you what to do after you stabbed me?” I asked, trying to sound calm.

Then took a deep breath before answering.

They didn’t say. They just told me to do the deed and then somebody would come and check to make sure you were dead.”

We looked at each other, trying to come up with a plan.

I got it!” Bingo exclaimed. “Rhyl, would you be able to make it look like you are dead with that spell you have used before?”

I thought about it for a bit.

In theory, yes. It shouldn’t be too difficult, as long as nobody tries to touch me.” I explained.

Bingo nodded, excited.

Very good. Then, if you lie down here, pretending to be dead, potentially somebody will come and check on your body. Meanwhile, Veronique, Harmand and I can hide somewhere nearby. As soon as they show up, we will just come out and capture them. What do you guys think?

We all thought about it for a second. It was the best plan we could come up right there, so we all agreed.

Using the same spell I used in the past to deceive the goblins, I created an illusion around. My skin turned paler, my clothes appeared to be soaked in blood and, on the side of my torso there was a fake stab wound. I sat down against a wall, my face looking downwards, trying to look as lifeless as possible. The illusion also hid any signs of my breathing.

In the meantime, the other three left, not without first leaving Verna and Bingo’s raven watching over me, every now and then sitting on me, tugging from my clothes and my boots. Harmand, Veronique and Bingo went inside what looked like a storehouse, with windows conveniently looking down to the alley. The boy, Then, run away.

An hour had almost passed, I was worried my illusion would wear off any minute but, before that could happen, somebody came. I couldn’t properly see who it was at first. It was walking at a normal pace, natural and relaxed. Once they noticed me on the floor, they slowed down, moving cautiously. They bent down and I was able to see who it was. It was a human man. Middle age. Olive skin and dark brown short hair. He looked thin, very thin. His eyes, sunk, gave the impression he hadn’t had a hearty meal in a long time. An incipient beard was starting to show in his face, tanned by the sun. His clothes were regular, the kind of clothes you would see any lower-class merchant wear, but they were torn and worn in many places.

The stranger lifted his hand in an attempt to touch my face. I held my breath, even though the illusion would hide this. Luckily, before he was able to touch me, Verna came down, placed itself between the man and me and cawed at him menacingly. This discouraged him who put his hand down again.

Satisfied, the man got up and started to walk away. I wasn’t sure what to do next. Should I stay? Should I cast a spell? Should I get up and run after him? Luckily, before I could do anything, Harmand burst out of the nearby building. He lifted one hand towards the man, which was now about 30 feet away, and with a thunderous voice he said:

HAAAAAALT!

As if under the effect of a charm the man stopped right on the spot. Then his body, clearly out of his control, started to walk back towards us. Once he was in the dwarf’s reach, the man found himself bound by Harmand’s strong arms against his will.

What…What is going on? Who are you?”

Veronique and Bingo also came out from the building and I got up to get a better look at the man, who was quite shocked to see me, a dead man, walking again.

What the hell is going on?! How…How are you standing? You look like a corpse!

Oh, right, sorry…” I said before dispelling my illusion.

Who are you people?!” He asked once again, getting more and more anxious. Before I could say anything, Veronique went to the man and slapped him in the face.

We ask the questions here. What´s your name?” She asked, rather authoritative.

Why did you do that?!” Veronique slapped him again.

I said we ask the questions here. Now answer!”

Yeah!” Harmand exclaimed. “I bet you have an evil name, something like…Frederick!”

What?! No! My name is not Frederick, it´s Jonathan.” He said, suddenly distracted by the unexpected turn in the conversation.

Yeah, I´m sure it is, Frederick” Bingo added.

Seriously, my name is not Frederick…” The man replied, slowly losing any remnants of patience he had.

Veronique got closer to the man, held his face with her right hand and stared at him.

Frederick, we don’t have much time, who are you and what were you doing here checking my friend’s dead body?”

First, my name is not Frederick, alright?” Frederick said, sweating profusely. “My name is Jonathan, I´m a simple fishmonger who was minding his own business when I saw a dead body on my way here and now I find out that he wasn´t even dead, like, what the hell? How did you do that?” The man was on the verge of crying. He seemed scared and anxious.

Oh really…?” Asked Harmand, who then proceeded to deeply inhale in the hair on the back of Frederick’s head, like two lovers sharing an intimate moment. “Then why don’t you smell like fish?”

It´s my day off. I just went to the gathering at the main square and this is a short cut to my house. Please, just let me go…” Frederick started crying and wriggle.

Guys…Do you think maybe we got the wrong person?” I asked. I was starting to feel a bit dizzy with guilt. What if this wasn’t the right person? What if we are just torturing an innocent bystander while the real culprit is running around?

Nah, that´s just what he wants you to think, isn’t that right, Frederick?” Said Bingo, who then proceeded to dig in his satchel and take out the Asgardian rock. “Now, tell us what you know about this!” He ordered, holding the rock just a couple of inches away from Frederick’s face.

That…That is a very nice rock, I guess?” He said, getting more and more confused with every passing second.

Aha!” Bingo exclaimed.

Aha what?”  I asked.

He knows about the rock, which means he must know about Asgard and our quest.

Duh” Harmand agreed.

I don´t think that´s what it really means. Maybe we should let him go, we can’t waste any more time…” As I was saying this, I heard a soft laughter coming from Frederick.

You guys…You are insane. And to think they see you as a threat, you morons!”

“Wait, what?!”

“Aha!”

“I knew it!”

What are you talking about, Frederick?” Veronique demanded.

For the last time, my name is not Frederick. I´m Jonathan, and now I know the Order has nothing to worry if a group of fools like you is the only thing in our way.”

“The Order? What order?” Bingo asked.

The Order of the Basilisk. The ones who serve the great Serpent and will bring an end to all that is wrong with this world” He explained.

“What does this Order have to do with us? With me?” I asked.

I don’t know exactly. I know somebody from outside the Order wanted you dead and I was asked to make sure the deed was done.

Who was that? Who is part of the Order?” Veronique insisted.

Nobody knows…Nobody in the Order knows about other members besides the person who initiated them. It’s like a dark chain. It’s the way we keep of our secrets. Secrets that you will never find out…” He said, with regained confidence.

I saw Veronique narrow her eyes, her expression turning sombre as she approached the man. She put her hand on the man’s outer thigh, slowly, and looked him in the eyes.

Oh really…?” She said, with a twisted smile. As she started to mumble a series of incantation, a noxious liquid started to ooze from the lass’ palm, slowly melting the leg of the man.  “Now tell me, Frederick…Who.Are.They?” The man screamed in agony as his legs burnt. Bingo and I slowly took a step back from Veronique.

My name…Is…Not…Frederick!!!”

For crying out loud girl!” Harmand yelled. “You almost hit me, again! Try to think before you do this kind of things.”

The man was weeping out of pain. The situation was getting more and more stressful.

I swear I don’t know much more. The only thing I can say is that I am supposed to meet with somebody in three days to tell them the elf is dead.” He said, his voice starting to fail him.

We looked at each other and quickly understood what needed to be done.

We need to ambush this person. That way we might be able to get more information.” Said Veronique.

Yeah, if one of us pretends to be Frederick, we just might be able to trick them.” Bingo added.

We need to find some place to hide until then. We can’t just roam around with a man that is missing part of his legs.” I said.

Right!” Harmand said “Hey, do you know of anywhere that we can hide?” He asked Frederick while shacking the man violently, making his melted legs flop in an unpleasant way.  The man was starting to lose conscience.

There is an abandoned storage room that nobody uses. Go there and leave me alone…”

Nonsense! You have to guide us to the place, and then I just might be able to heal your legs.” Harmand replied rather chippy. The dwarf then proceeded to knock him out with a swift punch and put him in an empty sack of potatoes that was lying nearby.

I hid myself with an illusion and made our way to the hideout.

Frederick wasn’t lying. Near the market area there was a small storage room. It clearly hadn’t been used in a long time but, for some reason, there were still crates filled with carrots, onions and potatoes. Everything was covered in dust and there was more than one cobweb around the area. Spiders. It’s not like I hated them, or that I was scared of them. I was used to seen them around dad’s store. But something about them never felt quite right with me, despite my fondness for most animals.

Once we made sure we were safe and that nobody was following, I dispelled the illusion and we carefully placed Frederick against the wall. Harmand then used one of his healing spells to help the man recover his legs.

Thank you, but you won’t be able to fool anybody. I have a family and a job. They will notice my absence and they will start asking questions. They will find you sooner or later.” He said.

He was right. We needed to create a cover until we met with this unknown individual. Luckily, Bingo came up with a plan.

I have a plan.” He said. “What if, hear me out. What if we disguised ourselves as Frederick and go and see his family and his boss and create an excuse to explain his absence for the next three days? Rhyl’Aun, I know you can use your magic to change your looks, and I think I can do the same. You go and see his family now, and tomorrow I will go and see his boss”

Ok, I think I can do it.” I conceded.  “But what should I say to them?”

Just tell them you are going on a trip for work. Maybe going to a nearby village to sell some goods.” Veronique suggested. That sounded like a good idea. Realistic but vague enough to work.

Yeah, and I will tell the boss that he is feeling too sick to work. I’m sure that will do it.” Bingo added.

Then it’s decided. What is your full name, man?” Harmand asked, now talking to Frederick.

I told you a million times already. My name is Jonathan…Jonathan Frederickson…

We all remained quiet for a couple of seconds, looking at Harmand.

Eh…I wasn’t that far off…So tell me, what is so great about this Order of the Basilisk?”

“You lot have no idea. We serve the great serpent, the basilisk, the Messiah that one day will come back to this land and will carry all its followers to salvation.”

But Frederick…We know about this serpent.” Bingo started. “We travelled to a different world, called Asgard. That’s where I found this!” He showed the Asgardian rock once again, his face lighting up. Then, his expression turned sad “The snake you are talking about, it’s no saviour. It’s just a giant evil monster that wants to destroy you, us, everything. The whole world. I wouldn’t say that’s the right role model for you.”

The man shook his head slowly, sad, almost as if he was pitying us.

You don’t really understand. You just haven’t suffered like me. You don’t know what is like to be poor, to be mocked by your family and your boss while you try to make a living. One day, the Basilisk will see my loyalty, and I shall be rewarded. He has power, real power, something that you have never seen before, and it can do things that you can’t even imagine.”

The man remained quiet after this and Bingo sighed deeply. I tried to move things forward to distract him.

Well, I should get ready and go and see his family.” I said.

I used the incantation I had used many times in the past and turned myself into an exact replica of Frederick.

Amazing! Let me try!” Bingo said, eagerly. He repeated the same incantation as I just did and turned himself into an illusory copy of Harmand, but without the beard.

What?! What is this? What is this abomination? How…. how dare you deface my image with this hairless mockery?” Harmand clearly wasn’t very happy about this, but Bingo was clearly enjoying his reaction.

I don’t know what you are talking about Harmand. I feel so young, so smooth…” This prompted a series of curses and insults from Harmand who was on the verge of a heart attack. I couldn’t avoid grinning a bit, barely stopping myself from laughing.

Anyways. Frederick, tell me where your place is and I will get going.”

Frederick gave me some indications to his place. He wasn’t lying, the alley where we met was the shortest path to his house from the main square.

The house was small, and it had clearly seen better days. The glass in most windows was cracked and the wood bitten by the pass of time.

I slowly approached the front entrance when a woman, thin and small, came out of it.

Jonathan, my dear! You are back!”

She run towards me with the intention of giving me a hug. I quickly backed off so her arms wouldn’t go through my illusion.

Ah, yes, dear. It is I, Fred…Jonathan, your husband. Please do not hug me as I reek of fish and I wouldn’t want to pass this horrible smell unto you.” Modesty aside, I feel my impersonation of Frederick was almost flawless.

What? What are you talking about? Today was your day off!” Frederick’s wife was quite upset about this.

Ah, yes. What you say is true. But my boss asked me to help around since it was rather busy. In fact, I come here to tell you that I will not be at home for the next three days, as he needs me for an important business trip.”

At this point the lady seemed to be about to explode. Her face turning red as words raced from her mouth.

What in all rings of hell are you talking about? Are you stupid? How do you let your boss treat you like that? Today was your day off! And now you are saying that you won’t be at home for three days? Who is going to help me take care of the kids? You are never at home, always working. And for what? For a rubbish payment which barely covers the costs for this shithole that we call home! I should have listened. I should have married Smith the smith. You know? He proposed several times, but I said Nooooooo. I’m going to stick with Jonathan, he will provide for me. And what did that bring? A rubbish life with a rubbish husband in a rubbish house that I have to take care of by myself while you just go away with your boss, doing who knows what. I swear, you are more stupid than a donkey and one of these days you will come home, and you won’t see me here, I mean…

The wife continued shouting at me but I wasn’t listening. I was panicking and was desperately looking for a way out of it. I just had to wing it.

Oh really? Well, by all means, go and marry Smith the smith. See if I care! I am done with this ungrateful family. From now on, I’m out of your life and you will never see me again!”  After that, I stormed off and run as fast as I could.

Breathless, I got back to our hideout. Frederick was bound and deep asleep and the others looked at me.

Well…Did you do it?” Veronique asked. Still trying to recover from the run, I sat down against a wall.

Yeah… I think so…”

Without getting into many details, we had some dinner and tried to sleep. We had some long three days ahead of us.

25th day of Tardisia, Militantio

We woke up early, with the first sounds of the market around us. From our room we were able to hear the merchants setting up their stands and calling their first costumers of the day. My neck was aching from sleeping on the hard floor. As we tried to freshen up for the new day. Veronique approached Frederick, who clearly didn’t have much rest.

Frederick, you say that the Basilisk has power, but have you really seen it? I can show you what true power really looks like…”

The lass then started to mumble some dark and arcane words that I was unable to understand. Her eyes glowed dark and she started to rise a couple of inches from the ground. As this happened, darkness started to gather from every corner in the room and black tendrils began to spawn from the shadows, twisting and lashing all around.  It was times like this that I was quite glad that Veronique was on our side.

This lasted for a couple of seconds and then the tendrils disappeared as fast as they came.

It is truly impressive, I must admit.” Frederick conceded. “But the Basilisk have powers beyond your understanding, powers that can bend worlds and realities, powers that…!”

“Yeah, yeah, shut up already.” Veronique said, annoyed.

Soon after this, Bingo left, disguised as Frederick.

Half an hour later, he was back while we were having breakfast.

So, how did it go?” Harmand asked. Bingo sat down next to us and started to munch on some rations.

Oh…I got him fired”

What??!” Frederick almost jumped in shock.

Yeah, well, it was more like I quitted for you, but, hey, at least now you don’t have to suffer working for that horrible boss.”

Oh no. No, no, no…My wife is going to kill me…” He said, his head hanging low. I felt a knot forming in my stomach.

I wouldn’t worry about that…” I said.

Oh?”

Yeah…I sort of broke you up with your wife, probably causing a divorce…Yeah…”

What??!!” Frederick, now completely destroyed by the news, started to cry. “Oh, no,no,no,no,no…My life, you’ve ruined my life!”  He continued crying, curled on the floor. I felt guilty. I know this man was part of a group that was trying to kill me, but still, I couldn’t avoid feeling terrible.

Harmand stood up, walked toward Frederick and sat next to him. Then he started to pat him gently on the back.

There, there, my friend. No need to cry. You clearly weren’t very happy with that life, right? Now you are free! Free to pursue your dreams and do whatever you want. Do you have a dream? Anything that you wish to accomplish?”

Frederick wiped the tears away.

Well, I always wanted to become a guard. Then everybody would respect me. But the Commander of the City Guard will never take me seriously unless I know how to fight.”

“Is that all? Well, you are in luck, because it so happens that you have a great warrior right next to you.” Harmand said, joyfully.

Really?” Frederick asked, surprised. Then he looked at Veronique.

No! Not her! Me, you scattered brain.” Harmand explained, annoyed.

You really would train me? After all I did?”

Of course! You just need to promise that you will abandon that Order and help us.”

Frederick thought for a solid minute before giving his answer.

…Alright, I promise. Thank you so much for this opportunity.

Atta boy!”

After that, Harmand spent most of the day teaching Frederick basic combat moves with a stick. The rest of us kept watching and scouting around town. Nothing relevant happened beyond that.

27th day of Tardisia, Rias

Three days have passed since we captured Frederick and convinced him to abandon the Order of the Basilisk. Nothing special happened until today. Harmand spent most of his time training the man to fight with a pretend-sword by using some sticks. I don´t have much experience with weapons but Harmand says that Frederick has potential and that he is on the right path to become a good man, his eyes tearing earlier when talking about him. I am just glad we get to spend a night at the tavern and not in that crammed storage room. However, I worry for the day we have to face Níðhöggr, for even defeating a single man has proven challenging for our group, almost destroying a building in the process.

Earlier today, we asked Frederick for directions to where his was expected to meet with his superior regarding my assassination. After that, we tied him down for safety measures.

We are sorry, Frederick, I hope you understand why we do this.” Bingo said, apologetic.

Don’t worry guys, I understand. I wouldn’t trust myself either.”

Good man” Said Harmand, before punching him on the back of his head, quickly knocking him out.

After that we headed to the meeting point. It was a narrow alley, wide enough to let two adult men go through side by side, but nothing special. Boxes placed on the side, waiting for somebody to pick them up, and the usual smell of urine and damp.

We quickly agreed on a plan. I would disguise myself as Frederick and wait there. Harmand would hide in a crate nearby while Veronique and Bingo hid in a nearby building, keeping an eye on us from a window. As soon as this person showed up, we would ambush them.

We all took our places. I sat comfortably on the crate where Harmand was hiding, awaiting my signal.

It must had been no more than 40 minutes when a man showed up. Unlike Frederick, this person didn’t try to appear ordinary at all. He was wearing a leather armour and carried more than one weapon on himself, making it clear he wasn’t just a passer-by. I stood up and gave him a silent nod to greet him. He reciprocated.

So, what news do you bring me, brother?

The deed is done” I answered. The man nodded again.

Good, one less thing to worry about. Now go on and wait for further instructions in the next few days”

The man then turned around and started to walk away. I quickly knocked on the crate to give Harmand the signal. Light a firework, the dwarf burst out of the box, launching pieces of wood in every direction. Veronique and Bingo also came out of a nearby door, closing the only available escape route for the man. He turned around and looked at me.

What is the meaning of this?”

We are here for answers” I replied. “Why did you want to kill the elf?

Is that what this is all about? You feeling pity for that half-drow?

Just answer the damn question!” Veronique ordered. The man smirked and shrugged his shoulders.

 “Very well, I will tell you. It’s not like you will be living much longer. The Order of the Basilisk recently made a new and powerful ally, the Araneae.”

“The Araneae? Who are they?” Bingo asked.

Within the drow society, there is a secret group, a band of thieves, spies and assassins, so skilled, so untraceable that many believe that they are just a legend. But believe, they are not some old widow’s tale. They are very real, and your friend must have made them very angry because they want him dead. That’s why they came to us.

But why are you helping them?” Harmand asked.

The Order has agents all around the world, ready to take over soon. However, we don’t have the right tools for it yet.  That´s why we made a deal with the drow. One dead bastard in exchange of all the magic items that we want. That way, we will be unstoppable.

That seems like a large payment for just one death.

The man raised his hands in a gesture of indifference.

That might be true. But let me tell just one thing. If that half elf isn’t dead, he better end his life already. Because once the Araneae have targeted you, there is no escape, no running away. You are just a dead man walking.”

“In that case you will have to tell us where they are.” Veronique said.

The man then drew his sword and changed his stance, readying himself for battle.

I´m afraid that is not going to happen.

The first one to move was Bingo who, with unexpected speed, launched himself with unexpected speed towards his opponent, daggers first. However, the man managed to evade every single attack by moving his body with experienced grace. He didn’t even need to use his sword, he just moved away from the halfling the same way somebody avoids any incoming pedestrians in a crowded street.

As he was backing towards me, I thought about using a spell to knock him out. However, they were all too close to me. It was very likely that my magic would not only hurt him but also me and, most importantly, my friends. Instead, I grabbed my staff with my two hands and attempted to hit him on the back of his head in a spear-like motion. Again, the man managed to dodge my attack. It was almost as if he had eyes on his back.

The man, ignoring me, started to recite a secret spell. An ethereal dagger appeared in front of Veronique and thrusted towards her, barely drawing a straight cut her face. Veronique, probably in the same situation as me, attempted to hit him with her staff, this time succeeding. Meanwhile Harmand, who was next to me, took this opportunity to hit him on the side with his hammer. He managed to land a hit, but just barely, clearly not enough to stop him.

Our opponent,  realising he was starting to lose any advantage, pushed Bingo away with a quick move of a sword and tried to make a run for it. We all followed him as best as we could.

Bingo ran like a bolt and managed to step in front of him, preventing the man from running away. As this was happening, Harmand run towards him, hammer in the air, and tried to strike him again. This time the dwarf missed and, instead, smashed away the corner of a nearby building.

Now that the man was far enough, I tried to cast another spell. However, as the magic was hurling in between my hand, lights started to flicker and then disappear. Something went wrong. I felt my whole body tingle and foreign. I looked down and saw something that I had never seen before:

Breasts?

Indeed, my body had changed to a shorter and more feminine one. My skin was white pale and covered with dark black clothes. Dark leather boots protected my feet, much smaller than they used to be. Falling from both sides of my head I had long straight black hair. My fingers were long and thin, and my nails were longer than usual and, somehow, painted in black. I looked in a nearby puddle and realised that I had transformed into an exact copy of Veronique.

Oh no, not again…” I said with a sigh. Our opponent seemed to be as confused as me as he was staring at me. However, this confusion gave Veronique just enough time to cast her spell. From different corners, flames started to gather around the man who, in a matter of seconds, was scorched and unconscious on the ground. Lucky for us he was still breathing.

We all gathered around the body and I soon noticed that the other three were staring at me.

What the hell?” Veronique asked. These weren’t her exact words, but I decided to paraphrase here a bit.

Sorry, it just happened. I can’t change back either. We will have to wait until it’s gone.”

How long will that take?” She asked.

Like an hour, probably.”

She sighed and asked Harmand to carry the burnt man back to our hideout.

I think you look pretty.”  Bingo said. I turned to him and pat him on the shoulder.

Thank you. I just hope she is not mad at me…

Soon we were back in our storage room. Harmand gently laid the unconscious man on the floor.

What…What happened? Who is he? Why are there two of you now?” Frederick asked, a bit confused and shook.

Two? Oh, no, no, no…You are wrong, there is three!” Bingo joyfully said, changing his appearance to Veronique’s now. The original Veronique let out an annoyed sigh.

It’s…It’s a long story. This is your guy, tough. We managed to stop him. Now we just need to wake him up. Harmand, will you be able to heal his burns?” Veronique asked to Harmand. He nodded and proceeded to tie the man before healing him. By the time the man finally woke up, the effect of my accidental spell had worn out.

What…What are you doing…Just kill me already.” The man said. He then noticed my presence. “Ah, so I finally get to see the man who is causing such a big ruckus among drow society. Now, he has reason to kill me and, yet, I’m still breathing.

In due time. But first tell us, what is your name?” Veronique asked.

Why do you want to know it?”

Veronique grabbed a knife from her belt and slowly licked the side of it.

I just like to know the name of those I have killed.”

A chill ran down my spine. Was she being serious?

“…Jekyll.” The man answered.

Ok, Jekyll. Where is she?”

Who?

Veronique quickly slapped him in the face.

Come on, Jekyll. The last thing I need is an owl imitator. Where is the girl? The sister of that poor boy you sent to kill our friend?” A twisted grin then crossed the man faces, still bearing the print of Veronique’s hand.

Oh, that…She, and other people that have been ‘recruited’ by the Order are currently being relocated to Maelborne, right under the castle. If you really want to see her, you will have to find a way to sneak under the Queen’s snobby nose. But you don’t have much time, anyways. They will all be sacrificed on the next full moon, all for the glory of the Basilisk!” He then laughed maniacally.

Veronique appeared thoughtful for a moment.

I guess it’s safe to assume you won’t help us, right?” She asked.

The man aggressively spit toward the lass.

You might as well just kill me or I will kill you myself. Either way, you are as good as dead. As soon as my brothers and the Araneae find out about this, they will hunt you down, like foxes on the run.

Veronique looked at me.

What do you want to do? Remember he is the guy responsible for what happened today.

Wait!” Bingo exclaimed. “You can’t be serious. We need to at least try to convince him to change his ways, like we did with Frederick.

I don’t think that is going to happen.” Harmand interjected, calmly. “Look at that man’s eyes. He is too far gone…

But…What about this?” Bingo slowly took out the Asgardian stone.

Look Bingo, Trygve said it himself.” Veronique added, determined while moving to face the halfling “There will be people that we can change…And people that we can’t. These latter ones, well, we have to get rid of them. Or else they will become a bigger problem in the future. We almost lost Rhyl’Aun today. What if this guy comes back and finish the job, killing our friend?”

Bingo turned at me, I could see his eyes filling with sadness. A knot was tying deep in my stomach and I am sure I will regret the words I said to him until the day I die.

I’m afraid she is right. Believe me, I hate this decision, more than anything else, but it’s the best for us and our goals. I…I’m really sorry.”

I could see something die deep inside the halfling and, full of guilt, I had to avert his eyes.

Harmand grabbed his hammer and lifted it over Jekyll’s head.

Very well. Boy, any last words?

The man lifted his head one last time to stare at us.

Your doom will come soon.

Ok, well…May you find some peace on the other side.

The hammer went down with a swift move. I closed my eyes just before impact but still heard the cracking noise of the skull being broken by the hammer.

I then turned to Bingo, who was facing the other way, and tried to comfort him. He gently pushed my hand aside.

If anybody needs me, I will be in the nearest tavern…”

Harmand, Veronique and I stared at the body.

I think we should get rid of it someway. We don’t want to draw any attention to us.” Veronique suggested. Harmand cleared his throat uncomfortably.

Well, while you do that. I think I will take young Frederick for a walk. Come along, boy!” He then untied the man and dragged him out of the room.

For a couple of minutes, Veronique and I remained quiet, thinking of an easy way of getting rid of the body. Then, something came to me.

I think I have an idea. How much of that corrosive liquid can you produce?

The lass looked at me, with an expression that clearly told me she was having the same idea as me.

As much as you need.

We lifted the body and put it in a nearby crate. Then she started to pour enough noxious liquid until the body was covered and it started to melt. We tidied up a little bit and headed out, not without first taking the appearance of a milkmaid that was around my age that used to live next door back home.

Do you think it was a good idea to leave that crate filled with corrosive goo and flesh there?” I asked.

There was a moment of awkward silent walking.

That’s somebody else’s problem.”

But what if it starts to leak out of the crate?”

I said: Somebody else’s problem.”

We continued walking until eventually we found a tavern called Drunken Goose.

Through one of the small windows on the door we managed to see Bingo seating lonely. We went down and sat next to him. He didn’t seem very keen to talk at that point. The owner of the tavern, who soon I learned was called Kram, came and took our order. While we were waiting for our drink, Harmand arrived, eyes teary.

What happened? Where is Frederick?

The dwarf used his arm to wipe the snot that was running down from his nose.

Frederick…He has finally become a man, a man with a new path in life. I think we can all feel really proud of how we touched this man.

I think you were the only one who actually touched him…” Veronique replied.

We all sat there and discussed what to do next. It was clear we wouldn’t manage to do this all on our own. We needed more people to help us.

What about that man who was talking to the crowd earlier today?” Bingo suggested. “He seemed quite charismatic.”

We called Kram to ask him about this man.

Oh, you must be talking about Maurus. Yes, good man. He used to be a priest of Jaktara, back at the Red Temple. Then the Queen started to increase the taxes like crazy. People went mad and were looking for a leader. Maurus, used as he was to address his followers, soon found himself filling this position. Now I know that most people in this town are more than willing to give their lives for him.”

“What about you?” Veronique asked. “How do you feel about this whole conflict.”

I honestly cannot say. I believe the rebels’ motivations are legitimate but, as an outsider, I don’t feel I have a right to take a stance on this.”

Oh, so you are not from here?” I asked.

Nah. I’m from Whitescar. I used to run a tavern there with my brother. Then we had this big argument and we had a fallout. I moved out and never heard from him again.

We thanked him for the information and asked him to give us directions to the Red Temple.

Well, well, well. As I live and breathe. If it isn’t my old fellow travellers!” We turned around and we saw a familiar halfling holding some trays with pies.

Hey, I remember you!” Bingo said. “What was your name again?

Well, Lyle, of course. And what do I owe the pleasure. Don’t tell me! You’ve heard I started working as this tavern’s new cook and wanted to try all my new recipes.

Yeah…Sure, let’s go for that.”  Veronique said, tired and defeated.

Well, fret no more! I just happen to carry with me a fresh batch of my famous pork pies. Please, taste them and tell me what you think.”

He handed over some pies to the four of us. We all had a bite. There was clearly some improvement compared to his wolf stew. This time, at least, I was able to eat it without modifying the flavour with my magic. But it was, overall, mediocre, at best.

Well, what do you think?” He asked, eagerly.

It is…Something I have never tried before.” I said, trying to sound convincing.

It is rubbish, that’s what it is. You still have so much work to do.” Veronique said, candidly.

I really don’t want to be rude, but I do like my food to have some flavour in it.” Bingo added, innocently.

Lyle’s smile quickly turned into a frown.

Well, maybe it’s not the cook’s fault. Maybe is the people who are eating the food, that clearly don’t have enough experience with quality cuisine to understand how good food works. I’m so fed up with dealing with people like you and the other clients in this tavern, who are too classless to really appreciate my food!

Lyle, you idiot!” Shouted Kram from the other side of the room. “Are you insulting our customers again.

Yes! I am so tired of working in the kind of environment. I quit!

The halfling then dramatically ripped his apron off him and stormed out of the tavern. We didn’t see him again that night.

Kram quickly came to us and apologised. He then offered us two of his rooms upstairs for free. We accepted.

I just don’t know what I’m going to do without a cook now.” He said.

I could help you around the kitchen until we leave or until you find a new cook.” Veronique offered.

You would? Oh, thank you so much, young lady!” He said grateful.

After a while we all went to our rooms. Harmand and Bingo went to share one of the rooms. Since I was still looking like a woman, I ended up sharing the other room with Veronique.

Veronique is now deep asleep in her bed. Or so I think. It is quite difficult to tell. She lies down, face up, completely still and sometimes I can’t tell if she is really breathing.

Writing down all of today’s event, I wonder how different this day would have been if it hadn’t been for Bingo’s quick reflexes. Dead. I probably would be dead. One day I need to do something to show him how grateful I am for what he did. For what all three of them.  Although I still have my doubts about travelling a group of people who are so keen to torture and execution, especially since I’m sharing the room with the one who did most of these things, I am glad I am doing this journey with them and not by myself.

28th of Tardisia, Restatio

It was a quiet and chilly morning. The last day of the month. Summer had clearly abandoned us by now.

We all went down for breakfast, me still disguised as the milkmaid.

While Veronique helped around the kitchen, baking enough pies for the rest of the day, I asked Kram about travelling to Maelborne. He explained to us that it would be a three days journey. Following his suggestions, I marked the best route on our map.

Once Veronique was done, we headed out to the Red Temple, hoping to find this Maurus.

On our way there, we reached a square where young boy, probably somewhere around 10, 11 years old, was working as the local yeller.

Hear ye, hear ye! King Cretu finally makes a move and invades neighbour country to the east! The town of Paerish is under siege!

Veronique approached the lad and gave him a couple of coins. He told her King Cretu ordered his army to attack from the north two weeks ago. Due to the high mountains that separated the two kingdoms and the sea to the north, this had been an unexpected move, which explained why they were not prepared for the attack.

After this, Harmand gave the boy a couple more coins and asked him to look for Frederick and send him to the Drunken Goose to look for us.

Meanwhile, Veronique was looking gloom.

Is everything ok?” Bingo asked.

It’s nothing. Come on, let’s go.” She said.

We eventually found what we were looking for. To the side of a small square there was a tall building, made of reddish wood, that could have been a temple in the past. However, there was no trace of any holy symbols.

The door was open, so we stepped in. The inside of the temple had become more like a garrison. People were walking around, studying maps and discussing battle strategies. At the bottom of the temple, where the altar used to be, there was Maurus, talking with a young man that looked vaguely similar to him.

We went closer to him and the man stopped talking as soon as he noticed our presence.

May I help you?”

We excused ourselves for interrupting his meeting and introduced ourselves. I used my old neighbour’s name: Amber. We asked him if he knew about the Treaty of Three and what he thought about it.

The Treaty? I think it was a great idea. Any person with a head over their shoulders will know that there is strength in unity and collaboration. But today’s leaders are too stubborn to realise this. But why do you ask?

Veronique proceeded to explain everything to him. About us, Asgard, Trygve, Níðhöggr, and Rhas Ghor.

“I must admit that your story it’s quite something. Not that I don’t believe you. In fact, some of my scouts had recently reported some unexpected necromantic activity in the vicinity of Rhas Ghor. This would explain it.

I would love to help you, but I can’t abandon my people now. I made an oath to them. Until I stop the Queen and get them to treat us with respect I won’t be able to do anything else. I don’t know how long this will take me, though. We make for 50% of the kingdom’s population but the Queen’s army has more resources at their disposal than we do. This could be an endless conflict.”

Well, what if…” Bingo started. “What if we go to the castle and talk to the Queen. We could convince her to change her ways. If that was the case, then you wouldn’t have to fight anymore, and you could help us with our quest.

That is a noble point of view, my little friend. I don’t think the Queen will be that easy to convince, but if you are really determined to do this, then let the Queen know that we want from her to revert any tax increase and go back to what they were 7 years ago. That, and we want to be respected as much as any other citizen from this kingdom.

We will do our best.” Veronique promised.

Before we could continue discussing this, however, a small delegation the local guard lead by the Commander of the Guard, stormed in.

Barath.” Maurus said, addressing the Commander.

Brother…” He said, coldly. He then looked at the young man standing next to Maurus. “Antsy¸ get down from there and head back home. Your mother is dead worried.”

Stop treating me like a child, father. I have made my decision to support uncle. If you weren’t so blind, you would also see how wrong you are.

“Now is not the time for your nonsense. I am here to shut this whole thing down, by order of the Crown

And how do you plan to do this, Barath?

Before the situation could escalate any more, a man rushed inside the temple, out of breath.

Maurus! Something bad happened!

What is it?

The men who scout to the west said something happened in Inkereek. Everybody is gone!

What do you mean “gone”?

It’s like everybody just disappeared in thin air. There is nobody left. Only footprints and signs of violence all around it.

Maurus went quiet for a second and then faced Barath.

Are you not going to do anything about this?

Inkereek is not part of my jurisdiction. It’s not my problem

Damnit brother! The wellbeing of all your people should be your problem. If you are not going to do anything, I will have to do it myself! Antsy! You are in charge until I come back!

Maurus left the temple and followed him as best as we could.

Soon we were at the stables, outside of town. We offered to help him.

If you are able to ride and fight, I will welcome your help. You, halfling, you can ride with me on my horse, Ifrit. The others can borrow my men’s horses.

We all got on our horses with ease, except for Harmand who had some trouble convincing his horse to let him on.

On our way there, I briefly stopped Maurus to talk. Despite how bizarre our story was, he chose to believe and help us, and even though there were still people looking for me, I felt bad about hiding my true nature from him. That is why I decided to cast away my disguise and explained, without giving much detail, the reason for my lie.

As long as your heart is in the right place and fight for the good of others, I don’t care what you look like or the reasons why you hide yourself. I thank you for being honest.

I was surprised about how easy it was for him to accept this news but I also found it quite comforting. Without further a due, we continued our journey.

After what felt like three hours, we reached Inkereek.

It was a small mining village. Maurus explained to us that Inkereek was built near the mountains for the miners who worked there extracting the silver. The mines, however, had run out of ore many years ago.

Like Maurus’ man said, the village was completely empty. The silence was deafening, almost asphyxiating. We reached the centre of the village and noticed a group of footprints all over the ground. We followed them up to the entrance of a nearby cave.

Maurus unsheathed his long sword.

Be ready, we don’t know what we will find there.

We stepped into the cave, with only Maurus’ torch as a light source. On the ground there were more footprints, walking deeper inside the main.

As we made our way, the iron-like smell of blood started to surround us. We kept moving and eventually we reached a chamber big enough to hold large groups of people. The chamber was lit with some torches, enough to not be in total darkness, which allowed us to see a nightmarish vision.

All over the ground there were torn pieces of clothing, enough for dozens if not hundreds of people. The stench of blood and death filled the whole room, it was disgusting, overwhelming In the middle of the room, there was a white pillar, on which rested the dead body of a young man. Behind the pillar there was somebody, a drow, holding a ceremonial knife in his right hand. He looked at us with a psychotic smile on his face.

Ah, good, you finally arrive, you filthy traitor. We wouldn’t want you to miss this. Now, Helion, grant me your blessing so I can put an end to your enemy’s life!” As soon as he was done with his speech, the drow pushed the blade through his heart and fell lifeless to the ground.

And for a moment we thought that was it, just a mad elf ready to kill himself. But that wasn’t the case.

We were about to examine the body when we started to hear it. The sound of something large, something with multiple limbs heading our way. A heaving, heavy breathing that brought a chill to our spine.

From a side entrance they came. A horrible monster. A humanoid with four arms and two legs. A long face covered in faceted yellow eyes. A spider-like mandible were once there was a mouth, salivating, eager to taste our flesh. That would have been enough to keep me awake for the rest of my life, but something worse was about to come.

The body of the drow raised from the ground, standing in an unnatural way. Torso and limbs started to twist, the disgusting noise of joints and bones cracking, shifting and deforming. Hairy, long legs started to grow on his side and his skin started to stretch and bloat as his body was taking the shape of a giant spider monster, ready to destroy us.

What the hell?” I think I said, although I was too in shock to properly remember.

One of the humanoid creatures climbed with easy the wall and crawled on the ceiling towards Maurus. Meanwhile, the spider monster shot a web to Harmand, who was stuck in place, unable to run while confronting the other man spider.

Oh, I really hope this works…Everybody, cover your ears!

From one of my pouches I grabbed a piece mica and held it between my hands as I slowly blew some air into it. I then opened them. As I did this, a small bubble floated towards the monster and landed on the ground somewhere between the humanoid creature and the giant spider. When the bubble popped, the loudest noise I had ever heard thundered through the whole chamber, making their bodies reverberate. This was enough to make the man spider explode into a mush, covering us in its liquid remains. The spider monster, however, was still standing.

Still better than I had expected.” I spoke too soon, for I started to feel the familiar tingle that usually was a bad omen.

Suddenly, a strange fae-like glow surrounded all of us, allies and foes equally. Even without my darkvision, it was quite easy to see each other in the dim light.

While this was happening, Bingo rushed to aid Maurus, who had been badly injured by the other monster. Nevertheless, he was still standing, his sword glowing with some magic I had never seen before and fighting with great might. Between the halfling and the man, they managed to subjugate and execute the creature, although not without getting hurt in the process.

On my other side, Harmand had managed to get rid of the cobwebs and was keeping the spider monster abide, just long enough for Veronique to cast the same spell she had used many times in the past. Dark energy, hurling around her, flew through the chamber and hit the monster in the chest, creating a bloody hole in it as it passed through. The monster fell down and this time it remained there.

Well, I clearly wasn’t expecting this…Do you know anything about this?” Maurus asked. I wasn’t really sure what just happened either, but I felt it had something to do with what the mysterious lady had told me in Longmill. As much as I liked Maurus, I wasn’t sure how much I should tell him.

I don’t know for sure. I have heard drows were starting to follow some dark entity, but that is as much as I know…

We all rushed out of the cave and back to our horses to warn everybody back in town. I put on my disguise before departing, just in case.

When we arrived back at the Red Temple, the young man called Antsy was still there, talking with some of their men. It was already night and most rebels were resting or eating.

What happened, Uncle?

You wouldn’t believe me if I told you…” But before he could start telling him what we saw, the guards barged inside the hall, this time weapons first, making it clear that they were not kidding around.

Maurus, brother.” Barath came in with a serious look on his face. “It brings me no joy to say this but, by order of the Crown, I am here to arrest you and bring you to prison.

Father, what are you doing?

I am doing what is best for our nation. Now, Maurus, I recommend that you come with me peacefully.

Maurus sighed and with a resigned expression walked towards Barath.

Very well. You can arrest me, but you will not be able to stop what we already started.

As Maurus was being dragged by Barath, he looked one last time to us and gave us a slightly nod with his head, indicating that it was our turn to fulfil our part of the deal.

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