A Darkness Within

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A Darkness Within

7 Charlatos:

Quickly, he pocketed the small stone into his clothing while he knelt before the pool. His eyes fell on the statue of Aeia as he rose to his feet and he cast Her one last scathing look before he left the gardens. He felt rather than saw the eyes of those gathered for that tour event as he walked away without a goodbye. They had tried to engage him - especially that foppish Lord Whick and his odd female companion. He hadn't gotten her name, and that was fine with him. He was in no state of mind to socialize. He did not come to make friends. He came to give Her a piece of his mind.

The Citadel Gardens were a place of worship for Aeia, but he was not there for that. He was there to chastise. She had failed to protect her. Now they were alone.

Yet, he had walked away with... something.

His fingers curved around the damp stone in his pocket as he hurriedly walked toward the market, gathering a few portions of food to take back to the jungle with him. He couldn't leave his son alone for very long in his condition. That was also Her fault.

Quietly, he made his way out of the town and away from anyone who may recognize him. They thought him dead and he did not have any appetite for correcting them. Let them continue their foolish worship of Her. It would do them no good, just as it had done his family no good.

23 Charlatos:

All along the western coast, the storms raged - gathering into a series of windstorms, cyclones, and blizzards of wrath from River's Rest to Icemule Trace, all the towns between, and even Teras Isle. The skies blackened, grew heavy and grey, blustery cold gripping the spine of the coast as the unusual storms raged on. And as nature is known to do, it prevails. The towns were ill prepared for this weather and it seized them in its grip. Merchants and townsfolk alike were finding their paths unable to be traversed, at least not safely.

One such caravan of merchants were headed toward the frigid Olbin River near Icemule Trace, where they were setting up for a festival in Briarmoon Cove. The weather descended upon them with ferocity and they were forced to turn back, grudgingly leaving behind their plans. Coming upon others along the way, they discovered they were not the only ones to retreat under the face of the storms.

On their way to Solhaven, they met a troupe of travelers aiming to set up a bazaar in the town of Wehnimer's Landing, but were now heading back. The violent disruptions of weather had driven them to wait it out back in River's Rest. Things were not as they hoped when they arrived, having been dogged by the storms the entire way home, despite several attempts to just wait for it to abide. The storms in their river town were brewing with a ferocity that was not matched by the weather they'd experienced further out. Their houses rattled and the jungle drummed with the sound of rain hitting the thick foliage and flora of the dense surroundings.

They could only pray for it's end.

4 Olaesta:

The black cloud that gathered over the Muse was the topic of local gossip the next morning as River's Rest woke to the aftermath of the second major storm the Jungle had seen in the last month. There was no real understanding of what was causing it, though of course rumors ran rampant of it being the adventurers from the Muse that brought it with them. River's Rest was a very close-knit and small town, not terribly excited about the adventurers in the first place, and quick to place the blame at their feet for anything out of the ordinary happening before, during, or after their visit. There were a few who felt it was Aeia's wrath, as the most recent See Elanthia! tour event had brought some of these adventurers to her garden shrine in the Citadel. No one knew for sure, though, and so they just told their tales to each other and went on about the business of their day.

At the dock on the north fork of the Tempest River, the Whispering Muse floated languidly while Leiana and Jaired painstakingly cleaned up the remnants of 'goo' and any other items lost the previous night into the river. Leiana had sunk the boat after the twins, Roseantha and Heliantha, had sullied it with their experiments on the sickly plant life Rouste collected from the Jungle. Despite the warnings when a large black cloud appeared overhead after they cast necrotic magic at the sampling, they had persisted and stayed on the deck long after Leiana and the others gathered were whisked away to a sanctuary for safety. After repeated infusions of necrotic power, the cloud simply exploded like a balloon and showered the deck in tiny pieces of black goo. For reasons unknown, Roseantha picked it up without gloves and promptly became diseased. Large pustules exploded over every inch of her exposed skin, oozing black goo in their aftermath. Many attempts were made to heal her, but seemed to only increase the disease, which was odd to say the least. It was only Roseantha's demise that ended her pain. It seemed that more experiments were needed to determine how to stop the disease spreading through the Jungle.

As Leiana made her way into town for supplies for the boat, a local stopped her and asked about their progress in the investigation. After a brief discussion, she invited him to join the next meeting as she hoped he could shed more light on the situation they faced. She didn't like that the healing magic cast at Roseantha only served to increase the girl's distress and ultimate death. It worried her quite a bit, actually. She recognized that darkness and had worked very hard to suppress it within herself. What damage could unchecked darkness like that cause in this small town?

As Leiana walked away to complete her purchases, the local watched her for several moments and then ran off toward a man he recognized in the Commons. "Hey Argount! Hey Argount! Wait up!" he cried out as he approached. A few moments of conversation and they parted ways as Argount began his way toward the river where the Muse was docked.

9 Olaesta:

There was no end to the aggressive pitter patter of the rain as the ceaseless storm assailed his tent. Ancient branches of indifferent and blissfully uninvolved trees creaked and swayed from high above and all around, which did their part in suppressing the winds but offered little more. The Karazja jungle was many things, but for one it wasn’t welcoming.

Jaired had led a search party earlier in the evening, and though some clues were found, it mostly attributed to dead bodies as they were eventually overwhelmed by the jungle’s inhabitants. Evidence of the blight was present on many of the creatures, and it just took one giant Elemental to bring the endeavor to a violent end. He even accidently took one of the local’s head off, and the poor girl was just trying to help. She got in between him and the Elemental, he told himself. The healers and clerics were able to get her back upright, but the failure weighed on him. It was really starting to pack on.

At least he wasn’t responsible for the death of this one. The grave marker flickered in the reflection of the small fire he had built, the roses upon it wilting away under the relentless drops of rain. Soon they’d be washed away and little more than a memory and the jungle would claim it all. Every once in a while the howling screams of trolls filtered their way through the dense brush, no doubt reveling in their earlier victory. Cat was curled up and fast asleep next to the fire, and Jaired hoped he appreciated how hard it was to keep a flame lit in these conditions. The truth was, however, it wasn’t for them.

He drew in a long breath and closed his eyes just as he had practiced, but it had been such a long time since he had to use his Sight he worried nothing would come of it. The markings around his eyes began to glow as they burned at his skin, and when he finally opened them everything went silent. Even the rain stopped, but that was not to say that it stopped raining. Each drop hung suspended in midair and the only thing that moved was the now-reversed flickering of his small fire. He pushed himself to a stand and walked out from the safety of the tent, his eyes scanning back and forth across the dark brush for any signs.

“Wh-who are you?” a feminine voice asked.

“A friend,” Jaired responded, following the voice with his eyes until he gazed on the translucent form of the woman huddling beneath some downed branches.

“Why are you here?” she asked, her words weak and trembling as her pale, spectral body shivered. Her arms were wrapped around herself, and her fingertips clutched tightly into her shoulders, “Have you seen my husband?”

“We came looking for you,” he responded, and then added, “For you and your husband. He can’t be far, come sit with us.”

Any reluctance the woman had was abandoned at the offer of some warmth and shelter. She scrambled over and nearly toppled Cat as he remained blissfully asleep and unaware. As she huddled over the fire and held out her hands she let out a sudden, surprised gasp. She could see through her hands and she didn’t understand why… but she was already beginning to.

“No…” she whimpered as she began to sob and buried her face in those now translucent hands, “No, not like this. I was just a little sick. They need me.”

“Shhh,” he whispered in a hush, keeping his tone low and comforting as he gave her space with the fire. She said ‘they’, so the information about a child was correct, “You can still help.”

“Help?” her voice cracking as her shoulders wracked, “How can I help!?”

The droplets of water suspended near her reacted with her shout, bursting away a small distance before resettling in midair. He had to be careful and she didn’t have much tim. Neither did he for that matter. The presence of the Gate was like a pressure, and the longer he stayed like this the more it crushed down.

“You said you got sick,” Jaired persisted, crouching down to get level with her gaze from across the heatless fire, “…and why out here? Tell me what happened while you rest a bit, then we will go look for them.”

“Okay…” she calmed, black tears falling from her eyes as she clutched them shut, “He came home in a rush, and said to pack what I could,” she halted a moment, meeting Jaired’s gaze in a searching way before continuing, “He is a good man, so I didn’t question it at the time. I did what I was told, and he brought us out here. Then it started raining and it didn’t stop… and the trolls were hunting us, their howls keeping us up all night. I got sick. I couldn’t stop coughing… he…”

She let out another keening, wailing sob. Nearby branches began to sway in directions away from her and the pressure from the Gate was turning from a crush to a very distinct pull. Cat’s eyes suddenly opened wide and flicked around to stare at Jaired. The feline didn’t have to say it. Hurry.

“Not like this… not like this…” she wrapped her arms around her knees and rocked, prompting Jaired to move beside her and rest a comforting hand upon her shoulder.

“We rarely get to decide,” he said in a low, careful tone, “We will find them, but for you it is time.”

With a final, shuddering sob she began to nod, “I always thought… there would be a beautiful woman dressed in white.”

“I think that part comes next,” he assured with a small smile.

“Will I be alone?”

“We all are when we walk through, but it won’t be for long…”

“Promise?”

“Yeah…”

She didn’t seem to notice that the branches were whipping all around in a frenzy or see the absolute panic in Cat’s eyes. In fact she seemed absolutely calm and at peace as her eyes closed and her form went still. Jaired gazed up into the void above and closed his eyes, the searing glow surrounding them fading away as the chaos abruptly stopped. For a single, tiny moment there was nothing, and then the rain began pelting at his face once again. Cat let out a little chuff and then curled back to sleep as Jaired just sat there gazing upwards, eyes closed.

He wasn’t crying. The sky was.

Reasonable Tactics

9 Olaesta:

It was no kind of weather for going outside, so gathering plants would have to wait. Still, there was plenty to do here. The old man set a mortar and pestle down on the table, a handful of drakefern soon joining it. He sat down with the soft grunt of someone aging past their bones. The falling rain made a pleasnt backdrop for the routine work of grinding up plants to powders and pastes. A low hum gave melody to the steady pitter-patter of the drops hitting the roof of his shack. Satisfied with his work, he pour the results into a jar for later use.

"Foul weather, wouldn't you say?" He didn't look up from jar labeling.

"Nah soh bad yah closed tha door," Rouste replied, shrugging off his rain hood.

Chortling softly, the old man said, "I suppose that's true. The storm is giving a nice breeze. It's warmer than it should be for Spring." He turned slightly and consulted a close-by leather book. "You don't seem to have any orders to pick up. What can I do for you?"

"Special request." Rouste sat down at the table and dropped his sack on it. "Got gloves?"

The elderly man looked at him for a moment, then nodded. "Of course. What do you need?"

"Found thih in tha jungle near River's Rest." Rouste pulled out a wilted, blackened plant, handing it to the man. "Donna seem tah beh aneh natural thing that ah can tell. Soil nah affected. But it does affect people if it makes skin contact. Donna seem tah spread through air."

The herbalist pursed his lips. "Strange. Do you know anything else?" Rouste nodded, showing him the diseased pelts and skins of jungle dwellers. His face became more pensive. "Can I keep this?" Rouste nodded again. "I'll see what I can find. How can I find you?"

"Ah'll find yah."

*

"Master Vicimer, it has been far too long," Coltrane warmly greeted. "How have you been?" His smile faded upon seeing Rouste's flinty demeanor. "What is it?"

"Ah need tah show yah sahmthin'."

Cloudy With A Chance of Goo

11 Olaesta:

Roseantha was intrigued by the diseased plant that had been discovered growing in the jungles of RIver’s Rest. Her training in sorcerous magic included both spiritual and elemental magic, but the core of sorcery was dark magic that could be enhanced with study in demonology and necromancy. A corruption that could withstand healing magic and instead be empowered by it was something she was very keen to study and potentially master. The Council was ever looking for more knowledge, magic, and weapons that could be leveraged to guide the world towards an ordered future.

Heliantha volunteered herself when Leiana asked for volunteers to examine the plant via magical means. A plan was quickly devised between the two twins. When Leiana handed the plant to Heliantha a short time later, Heliantha probed it with a detection spell and then trickled a small amount of necrotic energy into the plant that was easily absorbed. A malevolent cloud of noxious goo was created from this infusion. She then instructed Heliantha to continue to channel necrotic energy into the plant as she did the same; it was imperative to complete their experiment before the others realized what the pair were up to. Both she and her sister infused more and more necrotic energy into the cloud with it growing ever larger. Leiana must have sensed something was amiss and Roseantha saw Leiana gather everyone else and quickly leave the boat. Roseantha was pleased when the cloud exploded, covering the boat with the remnants of the cloud and leaving bits of the noxious goo upon every surface.

She was widely criticized for picking up a piece, but it was very important the Council had a detailed report of the effects of the goo upon a living humanoid. What came next was not pleasant and suffice it to say rather excruciating, but sacrifice is a given when one has pledged their very soul in service to others. Her death was not swift and her weak willed sister nearly ruined the experiment by attempting to bring about her demise more swiftly.

Imagine the potential if a large enough cloud could be created to cover an entire town, a city, a nation and then infused with an necrotic energy until it burst, blanketing everything and everyone in the noxious goo. An impressive image, but far from a practical application. The Council was ever precise and preferred finesse rather than brute force and terror. The most pressing issue was how to contain the cloud and transport it for further study. A material or vessel that could channel and release the noxious energy rather than having it simply explode would be ideal.

It would be best to reach out to other Council members in order to move forward with weaponizing the goo. She would share her findings with her fellow Council members and work with those that saw the merit in her plan. The Council had been patient long enough and it was evident that events continued to unfold in a chaotic manner due to the bumbling of those that currently held power or simply meddled where they should not. No, it was time for those best suited to lead to do just that.

The More Things Change

28 Phoenatos:

As Jaired clutched the wheel at the helm of the sloop, he couldn’t help but feel a little nostalgic. The winds of the storm were causing a racket through the riggings of the sails while an annoying bell was chiming itself half to death. He really needed to get rid of that thing at some point. Wild, angry rain ceaselessly pelted at him and his crew: one ethereal black cat that didn’t even seem to notice, and one siren that was languidly leaning as far as she could over the starboard side of the ship. Her razor-sharp fingertips barely touched the crests of the passing wave, but each time they did she was awarded with a quick and annoyed spray of seawater.

Just like old times, except this wasn’t the Siren he was used to working with during his years doing Charl’s dirty work. This was Tanai. The other major difference was how they were both there on their own accord. He’d seen Tanai in her siren form before, and it would seem that the battle for control between her and the monster was starting to go more her way. She seemed more herself than the last time, and he wasn’t sure how to explain it but… let’s just say it didn’t take a lot of effort to convince the siren side of her that this was a venture worthy of her time.

A quick flash of lightning lit the horizon.

“Land ho!” Jaired called out. Tanai lifted her hand in a tilty, side-to side wave that said ‘whatever’ in every known language. He chuckled.

As they closed in on the beach he started started seeing to the needed preparations with the ship. He’d managed to purchase a fine enough sloop from the port at Kraken’s Fall, but he had visions of galleons in his head already. Cutting ties with the Landing had hurt but he had a promise to keep. Leiana and him probably belonged on the part of the map that read ‘There be Monsters Here’ anyway.

Once the anchor was deployed Jaired took a moment in the captain’s quarters while Tanai got the rowboat ready and Cat ‘helped’. Jaired carefully worked two lumps of wax and stuffed each down and into his ears. Opening and closing his jaw with a ‘mawp, mawp’ he waited until all he could hear was a dull ring of sound. He even gave his hands a clap to make sure.

The moment he stepped out through the door and back into the storm, Tanai yelled something at him. Because of course she did. He gave a grandiose gesture with his arms as he near skipped his way over to the rowboat and tried to settle in, but before he could do that Tanai yanked the securing knot loose. Instead of carefully and gradually lowering their boat into the stormy, raging waves of Maelstrom Bay, they fell. As the small vessel crashed down he almost toppled up and over the edge but managed to frantically grab hold onto some ropes. He couldn’t hear it but the way Tanai was clapping he knew she was laughing, too. He shot the siren a look while he composed himself and got to the task of rowing.

Another flash of lightning lit the Karazja Jungle in the backdrop of the beach as they ran aground. Well, it was time to get to work. Jaired hopped over the edge and started pulling the rowboat further up the seaweed-covered beach to keep it from drifting away while Tanai did her part. He could just make out the silhouette of the Scholar’s structure further up along the sands. With a gesture of his hand to go ahead and a nod of affirmation from Tanai, he started to make his way on foot.

Jaired had his reasons for wanting to help the scholar and his son get away. He always had a soft spot for redemption stories and had a little bit of a history smuggling individuals on their way to a fresh start. Tanai had succeeded in befriending the young Kodynn with a few others, but for his part he only seemed to make the boy’s father, Egert, more upset. They still weren’t sure where he had the stone but Jaired had a pretty good idea. Cat would have a better one.

Tanai took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and began to sing. The nebulous, serene sound of her voice cut through the thunder and rain and he was certain that if he could hear it, he’d be unable to resist. It didn’t take long before Egert shambled out of the shelter and heedlessly stumbled into the pelting rain. His eyes were wide and so dilated one’d think they had gone entirely black. Kodynn emerged soon after, his hands clutching the all-too-large rhimar battle axe that Phocosoen had given him. The boy had to rush a few steps to catch back up to his father and, blind as he was, bumped into him a bit. The jostle did nothing to shake Egert from his daze.

So far so good. Everything going according to plan. Next up was Cat’s part to try and sense the presence of the missing artifact. Wait... where was Cat? Jaired glanced all about as the pair shambled closer and the feline was nowhere to be seen. His shoulders slouched and he reached up to pinch at the bridge of his nose in mild exasperation. With a breath and a nod he gathered his wits and began walking towards them like a ghost through the night; his steps soundless and his form shrouded but let's be honest, it wouldn’t make much of a difference out in the open like this. His main objective was hypnotized and the son was blind. How hard could it be?

A large pouch hung heavily from Egert’s belt and Jaired took the opportunity to dip his hand into it. He removed what felt like a stone and simultaneously dropped a small pouch in its place. It took less than a moment and he was already a few steps away walking towards the now-abandoned shelter. As Jaired glanced back over his shoulder he saw Kodynn doing the same, gazing towards him with his sightless eyes. The boy heard him? Sensed him? He must be getting rusty.

It would hopefully be no matter, for they’d soon be joining Tanai in the rowboat. It was a good thing the boy was blind so he’d be unable to see Tanai in her current state, and it would be up to her now to console the boy’s father and convince him that this was for the best. To further convince him, the pouch Jaired swapped the stone with was filled with coin, maps, and names of people that would be able to help them. Or Tanai could just eat him.

He was certain the scholar would be upset about leaving his research and starting over, but one must often sacrifice for one’s family, and Egert had sacrificed enough already. It was Jaired’s hope that he would come to realize that sooner than later, but chances were he would never know. By morning they would be well on their way beyond Maelstrom Bay and these cursed shores.

Which, speaking of, brought Jaired’s attention back to the stone in his hands. They weren’t even sure if this small thing is what had caused the storm, or the black goo, or if the storm caused the black goo, or… eh, he shook his head. It wasn’t his problem to figure out. Things would play out from here in whatever way they would.

Cat was waiting for him inside the shelter, licking at his paw and rubbing it over the back of his ear in repetitious movements to apparently pass the time. Jaired muttered under his breath as he knelt down and unceremoniously hid the stone beneath some pillows. With that, the job was finished.

His night was not over, however. He’d have to keep an eye on things and make sure some troll didn’t wander over and make off with the artifact before whatever search party could. That was the last thing they all needed. He figured he could spend the time thinking of how he was going to tell Leiana about the new fleet he had in mind to go along with their other plans.

Then he remembered the wax stuffed in his ears and began to try and scrape it out with his fingertips, but the more he tried the worse he made it. He figured he could probably use a lockpick or something… or a dagger… because jamming sharp pointy things down one’s ears always ends well. Solve one problem, and then solve the problem after that.

What could possibly go wrong?

Credits


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