Gale looked around at his traveling companions. They were a strange site, riding alongside the merchant’s cart on what were once the bandits’ horses. Their prisoners were tied up in the cart. The three humans were grumbling amongst themselves. The elf was staring off into the distance and ignored any attempts at interaction. Ku rode ahead of the cart, keeping a vigilant eye on the horizon. Barry hung back with the other bandits-turned-guards and seemed to have fallen into a position of leadership with them. Blind Seer ranged to the sides of the group, fast on his four paws, and would often bring back small game for dinner.
Gale took a long sigh and glanced back to the northern horizon for what felt like the hundredth time today. He kept expecting to see Molroito galloping over the low rolling hills behind them. Ku called out to the group, “Someone ahead!” Gale loosened his short sword in case there was trouble.
He loped along through the short grasses that were prevalent in this region. He had taken to the group readily enough. It felt kind of like a hunting pack, but Blind Seer could tell that the others were cautious around the others, still not fully trusting. Blind Seer had to admit to himself that he was still a bit wary of Gale. He hadn’t decided yet if he should tell the group that Gale was an elf. Blind Seer had kept an eye on Gale as they traveled and it seemed that Gale was telling the truth about once being a slave. In any case, Gale hadn’t shown any hostility towards the group.
Blind Seer caught a whiff of a stranger’s smell on the air about when Ku called out, “Someone ahead!” Blind Seer moved to rejoin the group.
He rode along at the head of the column, keeping watch on the road ahead. It was strange to him, being free to follow his own path. For all his life, he had lived a structured life, following the teachings of the older enieto in the Void Temple where he had been born. He reflected on those days. There had been a variety of subjects available for him to learn… history, psionics, medicine, even arcane arts, but Ku had always gravitated towards the martial teachings. He had learned about how the body operates, how muscles grew and a bit about how to treat wounds. Ku felt the cloth strip covering his knife wound. It seemed to be holding up well. They had given him his first blade at a young age. They had taught him how to wield it well and how to integrate the psionic talent innate in all enieto into his fighting style. Ku reflected that this may have saved his life in the fight with the bandit leader and decided that he would add mental exercises to his daily routine.
Ku looked ahead on the road and saw a figure sitting on a rock, hunched over and wrapped in a thick traveling cloak. “Someone ahead,” Ku called back to the group.
He was still wary of the others in the group. Barry half expected to wake up bound and gagged one morning and stuffed in the cart with the other prisoners. So far, though, it appeared that Rognvald meant to keep to his offer of honest work and steady food. As they were riding along, Ku called out, “Someone ahead!”
Barry rode to the front of the group to have a look. Ku nodded towards up ahead, where a hunched figure was getting up from a rock. Blind Seer ran over to join them and said, “What is it.” Gale brought his horse up on the other side of Ku and said, “Looks like an old man.”
The four of them moved forward. They stopped a ways from the figure and Barry called out, “Hail, traveler!” The figure moved a shaky hand to his head and pulled back the traveling cloak’s hood. It was indeed an old man with a weathered face, bald head, and bright white beard. “Oh. Hail, travelers,” the old man said.
“Where are you headed,” asked Barry.
“I am bound for the Void Temple near Erthorpe. I am on my End of Life Journey.”
“I see,” Barry said solemnly. He chose his next words carefully, for he knew that many preferred to make the End of Life Journey alone, but felt compelled to offer aid to the old man, for Erthorpe was still many miles away. “Sir, if you wish it, you may travel with us. We are headed in that direction and will be passing through Erthorpe. We have a few spare horses, or a spot in our cart if you’d prefer that.”
“Thank you, lad. Seems the enieto will have one more kind memory to add to my tablet. I am well enough to ride.” They brought up one of the spare horses and helped the old man mount it, then continued south.
He rode near Rognvald. Barry and the old man rode behind, chatting about the man’s travels. Blind Seer and Ku were ahead, speaking quietly. Rognvald leaned over towards Gale and said, “So… whereabouts are you from? I’ve been running this route many a year and haven’t seen you in Edgeville before. What brought you around that day?”
The question caught Gale off his guard. He fumbled around in his brain, struggling to recall what the human slaves back at the farm had told him about this region. “I’m from Terinvod, a small hamlet.”
“Never heard of it,” Rognvald said, shrugging. “Ever been down to Lakeside?”
“No,” replied Gale.
“It’s a nice place. It’ll be nice to sleep in a bed after all this traveling.”
He had heard the conversation with the old man, but had not understood much of its meaning. The others had grown almost reverent when the old man had mentioned the End of Life Journey. Perhaps it was something similar to his own Spirit Quest. Blind Seer had also heard the old man mention a Void Temple. He knew that enieto lived in such places, as there was one near his tribe’s land. The Sagesnouts typically did not approach the place, though, preferring to keep to themselves. Blind Seer decided to ask Ku some questions about the things the old man had said.
“Ku,” Blind Seer began, “What is a Void Temple? What is the End of Life Journey that the old man spoke of?”
Ku sat silent for several moments, watching the road ahead and flexing one of his frills. “When humans grow old and have decided that the end of their life is fast approaching, many choose to travel to the nearest Void Temple. There, enieto record the human’s memories onto a tablet. A copy of the tablet is sent to the Scriveners in Laushurno, where they store it away for use in their analysis of history. The original tablet is given to the human’s relatives. After having their memories recorded, the human is brought to the innermost chamber of the Void Temple, in which is a pool that houses our young, which closely resemble a frog’s young. The human allows one of our young to enter their skull through their spine, thereby relinquishing their life. As best I understand it, growth is triggered in the enieto young when it consumes the human’s brain and the human’s body is used as a sort of framework as the young grows. We enieto are grateful towards the humans. In exchange for their gifts of life, we do what we can to aid them in matters of medicine and illnesses of the mind, as well as using our psionics alongside them in investigation of crime.”
Blind Seer walked along quietly, absorbing all that Ku had said.
He finished his explanations to Blind Seer, then they both traveled along in silence. Ku wondered what the wolfos thought of enieto. He had not had much interaction with wolfos in the past. This one seemed to like him well enough.
After a time, Ku broke the silence and asked, “What is the meaning of your name, Blind Seer?”
Blind Seer replied, “It was given to me by the elders of my tribe. They sensed in me a power not found in many wolfos. At times, I am able to glimpse the future, hence Seer. As for the Blind in my name, my mother told me that the elders bestowed it on me in the hopes that I would become blind to the ways of strangers. I am still trying to puzzle that part out.”
Ku pondered the wolfos’ words and said, “Your ability to glimpse the future sounds similar to some of the psionic abilities that other enieto in my Void Temple practiced. I plan to improve my own abilities in order to fight better. Perhaps you would like to train with me?”
Blind Seer wagged his tail and replied in the affirmative.
The old man spoke at length about his travels throughout his life. The man had been all across the Sun Blessed Lands, from the Brimmahg Confederacy to the Tirim Desert. He had returned here, to the Fadafir Kingdom, to live out the final years of his life in his homeland. From his stories, Barry deduced that the old man was some sort of practitioner of the arcane arts. The old man finished one of his tales and the conversation grew silent for a few minutes.
“Lad,” the old man said in a suddenly serious voice. Barry looked over at him and saw that the old man was regarding him with a strange expression on his face. “In all my years of travel, I’ve never seen the River swirl around anyone such as it does with you.”
Barry, confused, replied, “River? What river? What are you talking about, sir?”
“I’m sure you’ll see it one day. Soon perhaps,” the old man said, still regarding Barry with a strange expression, “Yes, I am sure of it. I think it may be best if you had this.” The old man reached into his cloak and produced a book from within. It was bound in old, weathered leather and had a simple clasp to keep it shut. The old man handed it over and Barry took it, still not sure what this was all about. If it helped bring the old man peace, though… Barry thanked him and stowed the book in his pack. The old man smiled and started in on another story.
They soon reached Erthorpe, a ragged collection of very few houses, smaller than Edgeville. They restocked on some supplies with the people there. The old man bid a bittersweet farewell to the group and headed off towards the Void Temple. Barry reached into his pack and felt the book, wondering what the old man had been talking about and why he had given the book to Barry. The group finished up stowing the supplies. They gave the prisoners a few bites of food and a swig of water, then headed on their way.
He glanced up and checked the position of Nostiarna. It was nearly beginning to cover the sun. They had made good time today. Erthorpe was several hours behind them now. Rognvald told the group that camp should be made soon. Blind Seer scouted ahead and reported back that there was a good place up ahead.
“What is that,” Ku inquired to no one in particular as they crested a hill. Rognvald looked ahead and saw the old stone bricks stacked to form a now crumbling tower that even in its younger days would have been squat. “Ah,” Rognvald said, “That was one of the Ervnot family’s watchtowers back when the Fadafir Kingdom still had a king. Ever since the king was ousted by his angry subjects, the lords of the Fadafir Kingdom have been squabbling amongst themselves. Used to be that the lords raided each other, thank the Elders that that has stopped nowadays. The wealth and power of the Ervnot family has long since diminished and they have allowed much of their holdings to fall into disrepair. It should serve to shelter our camp from the wind, but I would rather not go inside, looks like it might collapse on us if we talked too loud.”
They set up camp near the ruins of the tower, behind low, crumbling walls that once guarded the tower door. They got some food cooking and sat around the fire, chatting amiably. “Hush,” said Blind Seer suddenly, “Did you hear that?” Everyone stopped to listen. Rognvald could only hear the crackling of the fire. Gale spoke up, “Just then, it sounded like soft, quick footsteps in the tower.” They sat in silence for a few moments more. “Let us investigate,” said Ku, moving towards the tower door. Gale and Blind Seer moved to follow him. “Keep an eye on things out here,” Barry said to the former bandits, then moved to follow as well.
Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry
They opened the tower door and found it to be very dark inside. Barry put together a torch from his pack and lit it on the cooking fire. The group entered the tower and found themselves in a large room. There were a few doors to the sides and a metal portcullis across the room. Ku crouched down, looking for tracks in the dust on the floor, but could not find any. Blind Seer sniffed the air and commented that it smelled very stale. Gale and Barry checked the side rooms and found only long rusted weapons in what was the armory and long gone foodstuffs in what appeared to have been a storage room.
Ku approached the portcullis, sizing it up. It appeared that the opening mechanism was rusted on this side. “I can lift this, though it may make a bit of noise,” he said. Ku bent down and took hold of the bars, then strained and began to lift it. It made a horrible grating noise as he got it about a foot off the ground. Blind Seer felt a sudden spike of precognitive dread and called out a warning to Ku, but it was too late. Ku’s efforts sprung a trap that the guardians of the tower must have placed long ago. A bolt flew out from beyond the portcullis, stabbing into Ku’s arm. “Voidwatcher’s eyes,” Ku swore as he dropped the portcullis with a clang. He looked down at the bolt in his arm. The wound was beyond his skill to treat. He clutched it and said glumly, “That will take weeks to heal. I am not sure I will be able to swing my sword with this wound.”
Gale approached and said, “Let me take a look at that.” He looked at the wound and felt the power stirring within him. Gale knew that he could heal this wound. “This may hurt,” he said to Ku, then grabbed the bolt and pulled it out. The power bubbled to the surface as he put his hand over the bleeding arm. A soft glow briefly lit the wound, then the skin rewove itself until it was good as new. Ku flexed his arm, then stared at Gale. Barry and Blind Seer were also staring at him with shocked expressions. “You… you… you healed him,” Barry stammered, “How?”
“I’m honestly not sure,” said Gale, “I can just… do things sometimes.”
“Only in the oldest tales have I heard of such magic,” said Blind Seer.
Gale looked around, unsure of how to respond. Ku said, “Thanks. I’m glad that you can do things sometimes. Shall we move on?” Ku moved towards the portcullis again. Barry moved up and grabbed Ku’s shoulder. “Hang on a second,” Barry said, “Let me take a look at this thing and make sure there aren’t any more bolts waiting to fly out at you.” He took a close look at the portcullis, running his fingers along the walls at the edges of it. “Aha,” he said, “Look here, this string has been broken. It must have triggered the trap. Shouldn’t be causing any more trouble, though, go ahead and open it.” Ku lifted the portcullis, holding it a few feet off the ground while the others moved pieces of wood from the store room to prop the gate open. The group ducked under the portcullis and moved into the room beyond.
They entered a hallway that turned right from where the portcullis was. They found the trap, an old crossbow that had been rigged to trigger when the gate was opened. It was in surprisingly good shape. Barry unhooked it from its mountings and strapped it to his belt. The group made their way carefully down the hallway. At the other end was a stairway that looked like it might go up to the tower proper, but the stairs had collapsed halfway up and the way looked impassable. To the left of the stairs was another door. Barry checked around the edges of this door. Finding nothing, he eased it open.
The group piled into the room and looked around. There were no other doors in the room. In the middle stood a fountain that may have once brought water to the soldiers that manned the tower, but had long since gone dry. Around the fountain, spaced equally apart so as to form a rough circle, were six stacks of rocks reaching about knee-height. “What do you make of these things,” Barry asked softly. The air in here was still and it felt wrong to disturb it overmuch. Ku crouched down to examine on the rock stacks, touching it slightly with a finger. The rocks toppled over, clattering into the dry fountain. An obviously enraged noise split the air, sounding like a mix between a hiss, a growl, and a yell.
Barry held his torch higher and looked around for the source of the noise. He saw it. Above them, on a ledge that they had previously not noticed, stood a short humanoid creature with wrinkled grey skin, bulbous eyes, a long nose, and a dagger in one of its three-fingered hands. “Up there,” Barry cried. The creature jumped down and sprinted across the room, moving astonishingly fast. It stabbed its dagger into Gale. Barry drew his rapier and slashed at the thing, but it dodged his blow and turned its bloodshot eyes towards him. A beam of energy slammed into it. Barry glanced over to where the beam came from and saw Blind Seer standing on the raised part of the dry fountain. Ku got the greatsword off his back and took a swing at the creature, but it danced around him, cutting a gash into his leg with its knife. Barry looked up and saw that more of the creatures were appearing on the ledge. “Fall back to the door,” he called to the group. The group fell back as more of the things dropped to the floor and rushed around. “Damn, these things are fast,” Gale said, fending one off with a jab from his short sword. The creatures darted in with their knives, grinning with mouthfuls of razor sharp teeth. The group made it to the door and started backing out into the hallway. Barry yelled in pain as a spear appeared in his side. Back near the fountain, more of the creatures had spears, preparing to throw them. Ku chopped one of the spears in half as the volley came in. A few of the creatures laid dead on the floor now, but there were still too many. The group managed to get into the hallway. They retreated further and ducked under the portcullis, just barely keeping the things at bay. Gale and Ku kicked out the pieces of wood propping up the portcullis and it dropped to the ground with a loud clang. The creatures glared at the group from the other side of the gate, then slunk back into the darkness.
He was picking the last meat off the bone of dinner, one of the hares that Blind Seer had caught today, when they returned from investigating the tower. Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry hurried out of the door, spinning around and shutting it as soon as they were through. Rognvald saw that they were all injured from small cuts and asked what happened. They first had the other guards take watch, then told of their foray into the tower.
Rognvald nodded slowly as they told their tale, then said, “The creatures you are describing sound like feywarped, or perhaps even fey themselves.”
“What are those,” asked Blind Seer.
“I’ve not studied them much,” replied Rognvald, “But as I understand it, fey are creatures that have close ties with the natural world. Some are violent, others are not. Feywarped are creatures that have been twisted in some way by the fey. Whatever these were, likely they seek to reclaim this old ruin to the land. The circle of stacked stones you described… I think I once heard that it is a shrine to their gods.”
“I’ve only heard tale of fey in legends and stories,” said Barry, “and even then, only that they live in the Forest of Giants, far to the west of here.”
“I have heard about encounters with them all across the Sun Blessed Lands, but indeed, it is rare to see them so far from the Forest of Giants, where it is said they originate from.”
“The way you describe the fey sounds much like the Nature Spirits in our legends,” said Blind Seer, “And the feywarped sound a lot like the Dark Tribe, or what others call wargs.”
Rognvald nodded and said, “Yes, it has long been theorized at the University of Sehhrosh, where they study such things, that wargs are a form of feywarped. We should be extra vigilant on watch tonight.”
They all settled down for bed and a long night of uneasy rest.
He laid down on one of the sleeping mats and closed his eyes. He had grown accustom to resting like this, but never truly went to sleep. He would enter a trance-like state and reflect on past events, but would still be aware of his surroundings to some degree. Tonight, though he had trouble resting. Every rustle in the grass sent him reaching for his sword, thinking those creatures were coming back.
He eventually gave up on trying to sleep and took over watch from one of the other guards. Gale poured out some water from his water skin into a bowl and set to work scrubbing himself clean. The blood from his wounds had dried and clung to him unpleasantly. Luckily, most of the group members’ wounds had been shallow. They had bandaged them up as they spoke with Rognvald. After his companions’ earlier reactions, Gale was wary about using his healing powers in front of Rognvald and the other guards. Gale did not want to draw attention to himself. He scrubbed the blood off with a rag, feeling much better now that he was cleaner. What he wouldn’t give for a bar of soap…
The rest of the night passed uneventfully. Gale stirred up the coals of the fire and put some breakfast on them. The others soon awoke to the smell of roasting hare.
He woke, seeing and smelling that Gale had started cooking breakfast. ‘An elf and a healer,’ he thought, ‘This pack is rather strange.’ Blind Seer checked the shallow gash in his side that one of the creatures had given him and saw that a bit more blood had dried into his fur in the night. He licked it clean and then went over to the fire to get breakfast.
“Here you go,” Gale said, handing him a bit of hare on a stick. Blind Seer reached out and grasped the stick in his forepaw with the primitive thumb-like digit that all wolfos had. He bit into the hare and thanked Gale for cooking the breakfast. He looked over and saw that Ku was stirring.
He got up and saw Gale and Blind Seer by the fire with breakfast. He joined them, taking a stick of hare from Gale. When he was done with it, he picked up the hare’s head, cracked it open with a knife, and popped the brain into his mouth. He waved his frills in contentment as he ate the hare’s brain. It tasted good and had the nutrients vital to an enieto’s healthy diet.
He awoke and saw Gale, Blind Seer, and Ku near the fire. Rognvald was also waking up and walking over towards the fire. Barry got up and joined them. “Looks like we survived the night,” he said to the others.
They soon broke camp, loading up the prisoners in the cart and hooking their gear to the horses. Barry mounted his horse and took up his position behind the cart. ‘One could get used to this,’ he thought, ‘Honest men to watch your back and interesting travel tales, like almost being murdered by creepy little sharp-teethed monsters. Then there’s Gale… the healer. I wonder what his story is.’
The group got back onto the road, such as it was… not much more than a dirt trail through the low hills of the northern Fadafir Kingdom. The morning journey passed in peaceful quiet until a tremendous roar rang out through the air. Barry spun around in his saddle and caught a glimpse of some huge pale blue creature pass overhead, flying low and fast. Whipping his head back around to the front, Barry saw the creature drop behind a hill up ahead. He wasn’t sure, but he thought the creature may have been having trouble flying. He rode up beside Ku, reaching him about the same time as Gale and Blind Seer.
“What in the Elders’ names was that,” Barry asked the others.
“I have no idea,” said Ku.
“It looked like it may have been injured,” said Blind Seer, “Perhaps we should see if we can help?”
“At the very least, we should check to see if it is away from the road. We wouldn’t want that thing attacking Rognvald. It looked dangerous, let us proceed with caution.”
Gale, Blind Seer, Ku, and Barry
They rode ahead on the road, sending Blind Seer ahead so that he could peek over the tops of hills with his low profile. As they neared the fourth hill, they heard the labored breathing of something big. They dismounted and carefully edged around the hill with weapons at the ready. Another roar split the air, so loud that they covered their ears, then there was silence. They all glanced at each other, then continued around the hill.
What they saw next shocked them all. A pale-blue creature lay spread out on the ground. It resembled a lizard with wings, but seemed to be made entirely of ice. The group approached it slowly, moving in for a better look. Up close, they could see many gashes and chunks missing from the creature. “Is it… dead,” asked Blind Seer tentatively. Barry moved forward and lightly tapped on of the wings with his rapier. The creature shifted. They all scrabbled backwards, looking for defensible ground. They steeled themselves for the worst, but realized that the creature hadn’t moved at all after the slight shifting. Looking again, they saw that it was beginning to melt into slush in the sun. Barry’s probing with the rapier had merely dislodged some of the melted slush. They watched in shock as the creature crumbled apart over the next minute, melting to slush, then to water, and soaking into the ground.