In which Vestra and the team battle demons and the landscape…
We arrived on some rough ground, dusty, with pillars of rock all around us. The pillars were large, in some places sticking up above the mist that lay all around. Although immense, they still had the look of being placed by giant hands. In some places, the columns had fallen, leaving stones strewn in a tumbled stream. The Fey Node pointed us ahead and to the left, and was dim enough to let us know it would be a long walk.
I adjusted my pack, shifting the weight to the left side. My right side was still a little sore from the last encounter with… verdam, I’d lost track of all the minor skirmishes we’d been in. I don’t even remember.
There was light from some disperse source. Sort of a pervasive twilight, orange and pink in the mist, seeming like it would be night soon. The red and black streaks in the rock showed a strong contrast to the lighter sandstone. On the ground, there was a gritty, sandy surface that made for a slippery surface as we descended down a slope. I started to wonder about the rock formations, stopped walking, and stepped up closer to one.
As I fingered the surface, I looked at the sand on the ground and the smoothness of the rocks in the pillars. There was evidence of wind. Kheluzluft. Strong enough that I counted ourselves fortunate to be here on a calm day. I looked up at the tower. These are not natural kaurtaurm. Who stacked them? When? And why has there been so much neglect? How much time? What powerful agent neglected this work?
“I agree with you.”
I was surprised, but took a deep breath so as not to show it. Niva was next to me. I looked at her. She smiled, “You were muttering to yourself,” she explained. “Yes, it’s not natural. This place seems to be part of the chaos, but also seems to be imbued with some magic. Like a powerful mage – no, a demi-god – was experimenting with his/her new-found skills.”
There was a large crash behind us. I turned around to see a line of fallen stones next to Cragbeard. He shrugged in satisfaction and sat on one of the boulders. Next to him, Tryn was climbing a pillar and disappearing into the mist. Allara and BRND were experimenting with the mist, surprised to see their arms vanish into the mist, then re-appear as they brought their arms back.
I turned back to Niva, then gasped in surprise. Niva had slumped next to the pillar. I helped her into a sitting position, leaning against the pillar. “Are you okay?”
“Yes.” Niva gave me an embarrassed smile. “I tried to find out more about this place, sending my consciousness out to…” she stopped and gave me a measured look. “Suffice to say, there was definitely a god of some level here, who created this place in their own image, and then was gone for some time. There is still some presence, like a distant memory, or a song you can’t get out of your mind.” She took a deep breath. “There is something here, weak and distant, but still connected.”
“Vestra! Watch . . .” Cragbeard’s warning made me spin around to see a figure phasing into solidity behind me. It was humanoid, and about dwarf size, then there was pain on my chest as the demon hit me. I saw two more figures solidify from the mist, one running toward Allara and one next to BRND.
I used my left foot to push against the pillar and used my arms to leverage my strength against the demon. He didn’t move. The dwarf demon showed his teeth, “It will take more than feeble pushes to knock me down, Grandma…” I spit upon his insult, but he just laughed. I reached for my warhammer and battleaxe and stepped to the side for space to attack. As I swung both weapons at him, he continued to laugh, “Accood is the bad brother, and the mist helps him!”
In the distance, I could see BRND against one demon, hitting him soundly. Tryn had joined that battle, ducking under one demon’s arm and stabbing it in the side. Cragbeard and Allara were working on the other.
The eyes of the demon dwarf in front of me glowed blue. I felt a wave of energy crash against me, but I was able to grasp a foothold and not get dragged away. It was my turn to laugh. “You will die, khuzdarg, vas em bi!” The demon countered with, “The Mist is not happy.” He was silenced with the cleaving of my battleaxe and the bludgeoning of my warhammer.
Cragbeard gave a shout of triumph as one of the demons he was battling fell down. Meanwhile, Tryn was wandering in circles, muttering to herself. BRND and Cragbeard teamed up against the remaining demon, while Allara stepped back to a strategic position.
The demon in front of me collapsed as I struck it again with the warhammer. “The Mist brothers will welcome me home,” the demon muttered as it slumped to my feet and disintegrated. I looked up. Cragbeard, BRND, and Allara had dispatched the last demon. Tryn was still wandering in circles, but this time she was stumbling as well. I looked down at Niva. Our eyes met and she nodded slightly. I walked to the rest of the group.
Tryn had a large cut along her forehead which was seeping blood. She was also speaking nonsense syllables. BRND grasped her by both shoulders and spoke to her boldly. “Tryn! Tryn! TRYN!” BRND reached out and slapped Tryn across the face. Cragbeard stepped forward to look directly in BRND’s eyes. Tryn continued to mutter. BRND touched Cragbeard’s hand. “I think she may need some sort of exorcism.”
Allara stepped between them and looked at Tryn critically. “Let me look at her,” she said, all politeness and sweetness and authority combined. BRND nodded slightly. I cleared my throat to get Crag’s attention. “Come on, Crag. Let’s look over the loot.” Crag nodded.
We looked over the debris left from the demons’ attack. I poked at a cloak with my battleaxe, and Crag shrugged. I turned the cloak over and found some parchment bound together. I picked up the pages and brought them back to Allara and BRND. When we got there, Tryn was sitting and giving BRND a small smile while BRND looked at her carefully. I handed the pages to Allara. I kicked at the clothing from the other two demons. I found a rod. Niva joined us and shook her head. “Leave it.” Her tone was strong enough to make Crag and I look at each other.
Tryn, BRND, and Allara joined us. We gathered ourselves and headed back in the direction the Fey Node pointed. After another hour, the light had dimmed considerably, but there was a bright light in the distance. As we continued, the light in the distance brightened as well as the light in the Fey Node. Eventually the distance brightness resolved itself into a wall of fire. The wall extended as far as we could see in both directions. Allara gave a grunt of, well, what exactly? Resignation? “The crossing point is directly through the flame, not more than five strides.”
Tryn stepped forward. She’d gotten noticeably more clear-headed as we’d walked. “Stand back,” she whispered and pulled out a dagger I hadn’t seen before. Tryn muttered a few words and the dagger started to glow with a dull blue shine. She walked toward the fire holding out the dagger. I began to feel cold myself as I saw ice crystals form on the blade. Tryn pierced the the flame and started to cut a wide circle. As she cut, the flame retreated from the dagger until an opening was made. “Just big enough for a dwarf,” I said and jumped through. BRND and Crag were right behind me. I stared through the acrid smoke and saw some figures coming toward us. “Company,” I muttered and pulled my battleaxe and warhammer into position.
What unfolded was one of the most confusing battles I’ve ever experienced. At one point I was hitting a misty form, then BRND was coming at me. Crag let out a yell as he was hit, then stepped back as BRND charged him. Tryn seemed to be everywhere at once. First behind the form I was swinging at, then on the other side of BRND, then next to Cragbeard. Allara’s face with a halo of hair, BRND next to her attacking her, then Tryn in front of me. I swung my battleaxe at her, again, and yet again, then collapsed to my knees in tears.
After the crossing, we sat around the campfire and nursed our wounds and confirmed our friendship. It seems Tryn was the only one clear-headed enough to withstand the psychic forces of the demons beyond the fire-wall. At least, that’s the way Niva described it. Whatever Allara had done had made Tryn more resistant to the demons.