Part 21 of The Adventures of The Split Falchion
“What?!” Vargard yells loudly, in shock.
“Quiet, quiet,” ex-Major Wilhelm shushes Vargard.
“That’s impossible!” Vargard says, slightly lowering his volume. “They’re kind were exterminated long ago.”
“Almost, it appears,” the ex-Major says, “The Church thought it had, but there were always rumors of survivors. Odd tales in the fringes of the kingdoms….”
“What happened? Why is the queen holding back the Eyes if there’s lycanthropes in Aundair?”
“Let me start at the beginning,” the ex-Major pleads, pouring himself some of the whiskey.
“It must have been two weeks ago,” he starts, after taking a sip. Vargard had also started drinking, listening closely, “A man was brought into Fairhaven seeking medical treatment. He’d been bitten a few weeks ago, in the night, by what he assumed was a wild dog. Never got a close look at it.”
“Where was this? And why wait so long?” Vargard asks.
“A village in the Chanthwoods. Only about a day’s ride away on a good horse. Apparently…” the ex-Major jumps slightly, startled by sudden noise. A downpour had started outside.
“Jumpy?” Vargard asks.
“It’s this damn weather,” the ex-Major complains, “When has a rain storm like that ever just… appeared in Aundair?”
“I wouldn’t know,” Vargard answers. “Just get back to the point.”
“Right,” the ex-Major nods, downing the rest of his glass, “The man had recovered from his injuries without any apparent ill effects. Two weeks later, he comes down with a massive fever. Limbs shaking randomly. It took days for the family to decide to bring him to the capital. Our doctors tried their best, but the man succumbed to the disease.”
“I still don’t see where this is going. Unless…” Vargard lets the end of the sentence hang.
“So, you’ve heard the legends too?” the ex-Major asks conspiratorially.
“I doubt there’s a person who hasn’t. Even those who farm for a living have their own tales. As far as I recall, most deal with a curse that spreads by the bite of a lycanthrope.”
“It is no legend,” the ex-Major practically whispers, “The body rose the next day, transformed into some beast. It killed 10 guardsmen before it could be brought down, and another 4 when it rose again. Someone was clever enough to use silver, that stopped it in its tracks.”
“How is it that no one has heard of this?” Vargard, still in disbelief, questions. “How do you know about this?”
“The crown was able to contain the incident. Word won’t reach the public,” the ex-Major answers, “Fortunately there was an incident earlier that could disguise the casualties.”
“Earlier… oh. The raid on those insurgents.”
“Yes, apparently that was going to be kept under wraps as well, until we needed an excuse. As to why I know of this, my son was the one who killed the beast,” he says, a note of pride in his voice.
“John? He’s in the guard?”
“Yes, only a sergeant, but I imagine that will soon change. But, I was also read in because of our… relationship,” the ex-Major adds hesitantly, then continues, “Since you’ve started burning your old guard contacts, they needed to go through me.”
“Lukias was a bastard who got what was coming to him,” Vargard argues, “And by ‘them’, I assume you mean The Eyes?”
The ex-Major shakes his head, “No, they’re distancing themselves from this, as I’ve said. No, this comes straight from the top. Aurala’s guard and the diplomatic core. And yes, I consider Lukias to be a personal failure of mine,” the ex-Major concedes, “You have my thanks for your part in that.” The ex-Major sighs, sensing Vargard about to speak, and continues, “To save you further questions, we’ve reached out to Thrane to help us.”
“Thrane? Are we that desperate?” Vargard asks, astonished.
“Yes,” Wilhelm nods gravely, “No one here knows how to root them out, and the Queen is not keen on having werewolves running around while our enemies peer in from all sides.”
“What’s to be our part in this?” Vargard says, referring to The Split Falchion.
“Thrane’s willing to help, apparently their religion’s stance towards lycanthropes is stronger than their political ambitions, but not with anyone from Aundair’s government,” he laughs, and continues, “They’re not insane enough to let them run across the country unsupervised, but the Diplomatic Core doesn’t want to risk even planting an Eyes agent in them. Things are still a little testy after Lancaster, they never really gave him back you know.”
“Believe me, I know. Surprised you do, though,” Vargard nods.
Wilhelm grins, and says, “I still have old students in high places. A few probably know us both, given that you’ve the old Garodin touch for knowing everyone there is to know. And they certainly remembered their favorite mercenary captain when the Thranes gave their ultimatum. Must’ve tried three bars and several card houses before I found you.”
“Could’ve just tried the inn,” Vargard replies.
“Yes, well, where do you think I started?” The ex-Major takes another shot of whiskey, then says, “They’re quite confident that it is impossible to trace your history, so to the Thranes you should appear just a team of mercenaries hired as a third party.”
Vargard sighs, and asks, “Lycanthropes? Thranish purgers on Aundairian soil after all this time? How’ll I even begin to explain this to my team?”
“You won’t have to. The Thranes will, it’s their show. You have the option of refusing this assignment…”
“But I won’t,” Vargard says, completing the sentence. “Alright. I’ll have to gather my team. Where should we go once we’re ready?”
“Fairhold. There’ll be a man waiting for you,” the ex-Major explains. “And Var, sorry we had to meet again like this,” he adds, looking down.
“Not your fault, Will,” Vargard answers, informally.
“Heh,” the ex-Major laughs, “Been a long time since you’ve called me that. It was all ‘Mr. Garodin’ after your 13th birthday. I’d always wondered, what would have happened if Nimerin…” he drops the sentence, not wanting to continue.
Vargard takes a drink of whiskey for the first time, and adds, “I’ve never properly thanked you for your hospitality.”
“Pay it no mind,” the ex-Major says, “That’s what family’s for. But it’s nice to hear you call me that again. Reminds me of the days you were just that runt of a nephew running around Fairhaven.” He smiles wistfully, looking into the middle distance.
“I should have visited you sooner.”
“Peh, you’ve been busy saving the world. I haven’t heard the whole story, but it seems like you’ve been playing quite the savior of our nation as of late.”
“I… wouldn’t exactly say that,” Vargard answers, abashed.
“Nonsense. Now, you have a date with some Thranish scum. I’d suggest you make it.”
Vargard nods, and stands, “I will return, afterwards. It was good to meet you again.”
“You as well, my boy. You as well.”
The ex-Major smiles as he watches Vargard exit the room, sending stone already in hand. He takes a look at the decanter that was between the two of them, most of its contents still remaining. He pours another shot and downs it, lost in thought. He’s just like Nimerin, he thinks. Same dogged determination, same loyalty to the motherland. I just hope he avoids his father’s fate, Wilhelm muses, replacing the stopper on the whiskey decanter.
“We’re really going to stay out of this?” a figure asks another. The two were alone in a room, deep within Fairhold, where the ancient citadel starts to blend with the undercity it was built upon.
“Orders are orders. Though I don’t like it either.” The other answers, in a more confident voice.
“Surprised to hear that, seeing as you’ve still got your golden boy in the mix.”
“Mr. Garodin’s presence is a benefit, I admit,” the second replies, “Though he is hardly my ‘golden boy’.”
“We’ve all got assets Drider, but no one uses one specific team as much as you do.”
“What can I say, Rakh? He’s effective. Hasn’t failed to deliver yet,” the one named Drider answers.
“True, though that’s more due to your puppet-mastering than anything else,” Rakh answers, “How goes the other matter?”
“We’re close to an answer, or at least the next step.”
“You’ve not an idea already?” Rakh answers, a little surprised.
“It’ll be in the briefing to Aurala tomorrow… but my team is finding cover name upon cover name. Phantom companies and money trails crossed across Khorvairre. Whoever is behind this is good… almost as good as us.”
“The Trust, then? Zilargo is involved.”
“No,” Drider shakes their head, “They’re not this proactive. I’d doubt they’d have the resources to mastermind this either. This is… something else.”
“You got an idea?”
“Maybe… but it’s too soon to tell. This situation does present a unique opportunity, however.”
“What?” Rakh asks, curious.
“Let’s just say Mr. Garodin isn’t my only ‘golden boy’. Or, ‘golden girl’, in this case.” Drider answers coyly.
“Hmm… You always were a secretive bastard Drider.”
“What can I say? I wouldn’t be here I wasn’t, Rakh.”
“True.” Rakh nods, then switches topics, “You ever see anything like that infirmary though? I couldn’t even stomach it at first.”
“It was indeed a horror that has not been visited upon us in quite some time,” Drider agrees. He looks to a drawing of the beast that had been laid on the table between the two agents, “I admit to some understanding of the Thrane’s fervor. Hmm… good hunting, purgers.”
Outside of the City, Dusk
Vargard had rallied his subordinates fairly quickly, most unoccupied. There was some disbelief when he explained the job, but as always, they followed their leader.
Upon reaching Fairhold, however, the group was informed that their meeting with the Thranes would occur outside of the city. Grumbling to themselves, The Split Falchion began the walk back to the outer city. They passed through one of the smaller gates, as the main ones had closed somewhat earlier than normal. Vargard had mused to himself if this was due to the presence of Thranish emissaries outside of the city, but no one else paid it any attention.
According to the page who had been waiting by Fairhold’s gate, the Thranes were waiting by an old yellow barn about half a mile outside of the northern gate. Even without this information, it was easy to tell where they were. Two magnificent flags, one of the kingdom of Thrane, and one of the Silver Flame, blew in the evening window. When they got closer, The Split Falchion sees that the flags flank the main entrance to the aforementioned barn, with heavily armored guards stationed below them.
“Halt!” One of the guards shouts, brandishing her halberd at the approaching mercenaries. She and her companion wore the armor of the Thranish Kingdom, a mix of both royal and religious symbolism contained within. To Vargard’s trained eye, he recognized them as Knights Militant templar.
“Stand down,” an authoritative, feminine voice orders. The speaker steps from the throng inside, seeing the newcomers. The Thranish templar orders don’t have the same military ranks as does Aundair, mostly due to their religious origins, yet Vargard placed her around the rank of captain. He hadn’t been told who to report to, but the fighter assumed this was she.
The guards lower their weapons, planting them in the ground with their left hand, and placing their right clenched fist over their hearts. “So, you are the foreigners who would aid us in our quest,” a human woman addresses formally, looking over the five.
“Foreigners? This is Aundair, if you’ve forgotten,” Vargard counters, eyeing the garish flags.
The Thranish Captain, who by her weapons appeared skilled in melee combat, smiled, and answered, “Ah, but I meant foreigners to the hunt. For we are familiar with the craft of destroying the enemies of the Holy Light, when you have likely naught seen but a shifter.”
“You admit it?” Lesani cuts in, “You… purgers really do hunt shifters?”
“Purifiers, our titles are,” she corrects, “Though it seems the denizens of the Reaches hold old hatreds close to their hearts.”
“How did you…” Lesani says, taken aback.
“Let’s… get back on topic,” Vargard reasons, “You’re here for lycanthropes, not shifters.”
“Correct,” the Thranishwoman says stiffly, “Though your assertion that we are but common tradesmen called at another’s leisure is perilously erroneous. We are the anointed warriors of the Silver Flame, and it is under its will we have deigned to assist you in your plight. For monstrosities such as they must be hunted wherever they may seek shelter, lest we risk a resurgence.”
“We only got this job today…” Vargard forges on, trying to ignore the Purifier’s speechmaking. He could tell the arrogance was grating the nerves of his men. “I assume you’ve got a better handle on the situation.”
“As much as one could imagine,” the purifier answers enigmatically, “Come, I will brief you inside. I trust you are aware of our stipulations?”
“None of us are with Fairhold. We’re just mercenaries,” Vargard answers.
“Good. It heartens me to see that your people can keep their word,” she says, turning without a further word.
Marwyn’s nerves were rattled by the Thranishwoman’s talk as well, but he tried to shrug it off. Everyone knew the haughtiness and air of superiority that the Thranish had. Jorduna wasn’t taking it as well however, he sees. Both she and Lesani were clearly, deeply offended, but they kept their tongues as well. The five followed the purifier into the barn.
8 men in Thranish armor stand in the center of a barn, a makeshift table the focus of their attention. Most appeared geared with the same style of weapons as the woman leading them, though some also carried a crossbow or a shortbow. Two had no visible weapons, save for their holy symbols. They were a mix of human, half-elf, and elf. Though other races were not prohibited from inhabiting Thrane, it seemed those three made up the majority of the nation. Shifters are the exception, however, had long ago been all but driven from the country due to their affiliation with lycanthropes.
“I am Purifier Gelwin,” the woman from before begins, “Leader of this sacred mission. Our numbers are more than sufficient for this task,” she grimaces, “But it appears your sovereign leaders do not trust in these servants of the Silver Flame.”
“How many of you are there?” Vargard asks, as he and his stand before the Thranish purifier squad.
“10 in total. All seasoned veterans of the war against these monstrosities.”
“You’ve fought werewolves before?” Marwyn asks, curiosity getting the better of him. Gelwin smiles though, almost motherly.
“Not exactly, young one,” she answers. Marwyn is surprised by the sudden shift from arrogance to kindly condescension, “Though there are those of us, myself included, who have fought other lycans. There are more than just those cursed by the wolf’s fang, and in fact we have not confirmed they are our foes.”
“O..oh,” Marwyn answers.
“Triton, your report,” She addresses who Vargard pegs as her second in command.
“Yes, purifier,” Triton answers. He was a half-elf, and one without armaments, most likely a cleric. “Your sovereign was gracious enough to indulge us with everything they know of the incident.” He withdraws notes, referring to them for a moment. His voice was honest, no trace of his superior’s haughtiness. Though his face was even and serious, it still seemed like he was smiling behind the grim façade. “The time frame of the attack is approximately one week before today. The victim was a farmer, and succumbed to the sickness, only to be reborn as one afflicted by the lycan blight.”
“Does this happen often?” Lesani asks, relieved by the new speaker’s temperament.
“…Not exactly,” Triton answers eventually, “Normally, d..disease from a lycanthrope results in death if not treated. With proper treatment and the Silver Flame’s grace, this can be avoided, of course. The legends surrounding their curse being transmitted by the bite are normally false. Rarely this is not the case, though our archives suggest that only though whose lineage was already tainted by mongrel blood can be affected this…ugh…”
He coughs suddenly, putting a hand to his mouth. “Brother… you should rest,” the other cleric purifier says, supporting him as he doubles over.
“My… my apologies,” he says between coughing fits, withdrawing to a straw mattress further inside of the barn.
“Is he alright?” Vargard asks Gelwin.
“The Silver Flame has sought to test him with some malady. I would not fear being inflicted, we would have long before you. He will overcome it in due time, Purifier Celain’s ministrations will be sufficient,” she says, referring to the female cleric tending to Triton. “’And through blessings, we can assure his readiness for battle, should it come to that.”
“Have you thought to ask Aundair to take a look at him? They might know what’s wrong with him,” Marwyn says, genuinely concerned.
“Only if we wish to commit sacrilege, though your concern is laudable,” Gelwin answers, returning to the strange disposition she had before. “Our clerics have attempted spells before which no disease can linger. The only conclusion is that this is a test willed by the Silver Flame. Purifier Triton’s struggle against it only heightens his own piety.”
“Ok…” Marwyn says, somewhat in understanding, and somewhat in confusion of the Thrane’s strange mannerisms.
“Now, correct me if I bear false witness, but I make you to be a swordsman,” she says, eyes glancing at Vargard, “a rogue,” to Jorduna, frown on her face, “a warlock,” Lesani, and another frown, “a ranger, and a bard,” ending with Marwyn, taking on a sickly smile.
“Y… yes,” Vargard nods. “I had imagined you would be briefing us on how we would work with you while hunting our quarry.”
“Of course. Tri… oh,” Purifier Gelwin pauses, momentarily downhearted as she glances towards the prone cleric, “Yes, I will explain,” she continues, recovering.
“While we are not sure of the true nature of our foe, we assume it to be the lycan werewolf. They are most deadly within armsreach, which is why we had trained to best them in that arena. Your archers will be good support,” she nods at the two with bows, “Though they must be cautious. Depending on how many, the lycans will attempt to strike our weak points. It is imperative our formation remain unbroken, even if it means allowing some to escape. More detailed instructions will be provided when we better understand the battlefield, though for now, take these,” she gestures to a crate that had been lying unattended against the wall.
“What is this stuff?” Jorduna asks, holding a vial with a clear oil inside.
“Silvered oil, a bounty from the Holy Light. Apply this to your weapons, and they will be effective against the scourge for an hour, perhaps more.” Each member grabs a small belt to which five flasks were attached. A confused look crosses Marwyn’s face as he notices the think neck of each flask. “Pour the oil into a pouch, and you may dip arrows into it,” Gelwin answers without prompt, and Marwyn nods, face clearing.
“So… basically poison for werewolves,” Jorduna says, storing the vials carefully within her pack. Marwyn catches a glance of several other, similar looking vials with various shades of liquid when she does so.
“Yes, I suppose that is one way to say it. That is all for today’s tribulations, let us now rest our souls to prepare for those of tomorrow.” The Split Falchion stares at her for a moment, then realizes that the rest of the retinue was preparing for sleep.
“We’ll be making camp outside, if that’s alright,” Vargard says.
“It is your own choice, though I would advise remaining together after tonight, else the fiends may chance upon you separate from us.” Purifier Gelwin nods gently in parting. She moves to one of the old stalls she had claimed as her own, and kneels down, closing her eyes.
She opens them when she senses someone behind her. “What is your name, young one?” she asks.
Marwyn steps back, shocked that the Purifier had noticed him. “M… Marwyn Verdani.” He had stayed behind, wanting to ask Gelwin something, but she had retreated before he could work up the courage.
“Well, Marwyn? Did you require something of me?”
“Why… why are you talking to me like that?” Marwyn asks, as respectfully as possible.
“I… oh,” Gelwin answers, slightly self-conscious once she hears her tone, “My humblest apologies if it appeared I was mocking you. When I first saw you, I first thought it was a vision from the Flame.”
“Uh…..” Marwyn stumbles, not entirely sure how to respond to that.
“You remind me of my son,” she says plainly, erasing the ambiguity, “Not a perfect mimicry, now that I see you, but close enough that… Are you not too young to be a mercenary?”
“I can fight well enough,” Marwyn answers.
“That’s not… Do you not wish to enjoy the gifts of youth before embarking on such a gritty and dangerous life path?”
“Gel… it’s not him,” a gentle voice admonishes. Triton had recovered enough to speak, and was doing so from his bed.
“You’re right, of course,” she replies softly, and turns to Marwyn, explaining, “Our child was claimed by the Flame early in life. Though it comforts me to think of his mortal struggle over, seeing you…”
“What happened to him?” Marwyn asks, surprised at the sudden turn of events.
“Nothing that needs be repeated,” she answers evasively, “I apologize, but I must commune with the Silver Flame. I will refrain from… from seeing you as different from your compatriots. Good day.”
“Good day,” Marwyn returns, not sure if that was for better or worse.
“What’d she want?” Jorduna asks, as Marwyn walks to The Split Falchion’s camp. Though they were within a reasonable walk to Fairhaven, it would be foolish to not stay close to the Thranes.
“Nothing. I wanted to ask her something,” Marwyn replies.
“It’s not important,” he says evasively.
“Something to do with how weird she was acting with you?”
“Y…yes,” Marwyn answers awkwardly, “But I’ve cleared that up. It wasn’t… I mean…”
“I think we get the picture,” Vargard answers, “And as long as it doesn’t impact the mission then you don’t have to tell us.”
“Speaking of,” Jorduna reenters the conversation, “Werewolves, Var? I half didn’t believe you when you told us. I thought this was more smoke and mirrors on the part of our ‘friends’,” she says, dodging the reference to the Eyes. Vargard had advised them that it would be wise to avoid mentioned them near the Thranes.
Lesani, who was tending to the campfire, built after the night was proving to be a little chilly, says, “I believe the Purifier mentioned we know not if these are true werewolves.”
“Wait, but I thought that guy in the apothecary turned into one.”
“Yes,” Vargard answers, “but the guard burned the body before anyone could confirm this. Understandably, those involved were a little traumatized, they can’t really remember what they fought with enough clarity.”
“But we’re sure it’s a lycan?” Marwyn asks.
“Yeah,” Vargard nods, “Wouldn’t have called on Thrane if we weren’t sure of that.”
“How many kinds are there?” Marwyn questions, curious.
“A few, according to the histories,” Lesani says, sitting back now and reading a book she had requested from the University of Wynarn upon hearing of their mission, “Though none know which are extinct, if any are.”
“We’ll find out soon enough, that’s for sure. Hey, if it’s not too much trouble, can we get some shut-eye before we fight lycanthropes?” Jorduna requests, with her usual irritability.
“Right,” Vargard answers, “It does seem to be getting late. As far as I can guess the Thrane’s will investigate the scene of the attack tomorrow. Shouldn’t be much to it except travel, unless we’re lucky.”
“Lucky?” Jorduna says, “That’s what you call fighting werewolves?”
“Better than staying with the Thranes for weeks trying to track them down,” Vargard counters, silencing Jorduna. She nods in agreement, and with that the conversation ends.
Marwyn settles down for rest, slightly uncomfortable with nothing but a thin mattress separating him from the earth. He’d grown too used to the beds of The Crowned Leper, certainly not the best, but better than sleeping out in the open. He wondered if this would become the norm again, if their times in Fairhaven were drawing to a close, or merely beginning. His thoughts drift painfully the Mevalyn, unsure what the future held for them as well. Mind distracted from the rough earth, Marwyn finally passes into sleep.
Morning, Next Day
The Thranes had awoken earlier than the rest, at dawn, and readied themselves for the day’s journey. The site of the initial attack was only a day’s ride away, but depending on what they learned, more travel could be demanded of them. The Split Falchion had acquired horses, of course, but they common mounts couldn’t compare to those of the purifiers. Obviously bred for combat, they’d easily outpace those of the mercenaries given the chance.
Marwyn was the last to rise, back aching from the past night. He soon recovered, remembering the stretches that had been a daily occurrence before Fairhaven. He glances over at the Thranish formation, and notices that they were all wearing helmets, making it almost impossible to tell them apart. One was plumed, assumedly Gelwin, and she was the last to prepare her horse. The plumed templar approaches the mercenaries after stowing her supplies, and Marwyn’s suspicions are confirmed when she addresses them.
“We are ready,” Gelwin speaks to Vargard.
“Where should we ride?” Vargard asks, noticing that the rest of the purifiers had mounted, and were collecting into a two lane riding formation.
“As you wish, so long as you remain close to us,” she answers, “Though if combat occurs, you are to allow us to engage first. It is our duty as masters of this hunt.”
“Of course,” Vargard replies simply, and continues, “We’ll ride after you.”’
The travel went West along one of the smaller side roads that spread out from Fairhaven. Travelling to its end would likely lead one to a small hamlet or village at the fringe of the nation. They would need to go farther, however, into the Chanthwoods that bordered the Eldeen Reaches.
Many travelled to Fairhaven, farmhands mostly, who move closer to the capital in search of work. Practically everyone gave the Thranes a second look when they passed, and Marwyn, at the very back of their group, could feel every backward glance. He suspected a few might call the guard, and hoped that they didn’t run into any trouble.
They had left with plenty of time to reach the village within the forest, however the Thranes called the group to a halt around midafternoon. They were near the edge of the forest, yet it was only prairie in the immediate area.
“Why are we stopping now?” Marwyn wonders aloud, settling down after the ride.
“If I had to guess, it’s a more defensible position than camping in those woods,” Vargard answered. The woods ahead were thick, like the Duskwood, though there was a main road that cut through the center. That led to Wyr, one of the west-most towns of Aundair since the Eldeen-Reaches split from the kingdom. They were far north of this, however, and the terrain was less developed. Vargard continues, “I wouldn’t be surprised if they’ll establish a permanent camp here tomorrow, and only send a small force into the woods. Gives them a fallback position, and there’s enough time to visit the village and get back before dusk.”
“Makes sense,” Jorduna comments. The five were separate from the Thranes a similar camping setup as last night, save the barn. “So we’re just staying behind and guarding this place?”
“Not if I can help it,” Vargard shakes his head, “We’re hear as witnesses for Aundair. I’ve no intention to let Thranish purgers question my people without some of us there.”
“I thought they were called purifiers,” Marwyn comments.
“Peh, yeah right,” Jorduna replies, “They’re as bloodthirsty as always, name’s just different. But wait,” she adds, catching the full meaning of Vargard’s words, “You mean we’re splitting up?”
“I highly doubt they’ll split their forces and allow us to stay together, especially inside the woods. I’ll have to talk with Gelwin about it tomorrow,” he replies, pensively.
“Got wood,” Cletus grunts, setting down a stack of dry branches on the ground. No one had noticed him absent, but that wasn’t exactly abnormal.
“Think we’ll need a fire?” Vargard asks, surprised.
Cletus nods, and Lesani adds, “It was rather cold last night. Thank you, Cletus.”
“’s nothin’,” he responds, settling down himself. Marwyn, taking the initiative, builds the base of the fire and lights it with a flaming arrow. The sun falls, dusk quickly approaching.
After tending to the fire, Marwyn glances over to the Thranes. They appear to be setting a fire as well, and setting up tents around it. With an hour or so before he could begin to rest, Marwyn withdraws his lute and absentmindedly plays a few chords. Of the many reasons he missed Mevalyn, performing was one of them. His music now seemed almost hollow to him, mourning the loss of its harmony.
He notices Lesani taking time to write in her notebook, while referencing another, larger tome. Her ritual book, assumedly. He wondered, in that moment, if there was a way to emulate a second player, through animation of an instrument or other. He dismisses the thought, though. Any magic of that kind would likely be prohibitively expensive, and ever since Lesani showed the dangers of his newly found ritual, he was wary of casting another.
Another reason, he realizes, was Jorduna. She’d shown considerable irritability to his playing, and even now was twirling a throwing dagger in her hand. Not intentionally menacing Marwyn, but it was reminder enough. He stowed his lute, and tried to let the scenery occupy his mind.
Meanwhile, Vargard interrupts Lesani’s study, and brings her to the side.
“I hadn’t had a chance to ask you this before, but will you be able to complete this mission?” Vargard asks quietly, careful not to let anyone overhear.
“Over course I can, Var,” she responds, “Though I understand your concern.”
“It’s just… Gelwin seems like she could set anyone off eventually. And given your history…”
“Just because I have seen firsthand their capacity for spreading pain does not mean I will refuse to work with them,” Lesani answers, “I am a professional, as are you.”
“Good,” Vargard nods, “I’m sorry I doubted you. Though it may be best if you stay behind tomorrow if they do intend to split us.”
“I want my best elf watching the remnant like a hawk. I’ll break my sword before I trust these purifiers.”
“Then I will not take my eyes off of them,” Lesani says graciously.
The Next Morning
Marwyn was, again, the last to awaken. The biology of most in the retinue allowed them a natural advantage in this, but as for the rest, Marwyn was still readjusting to sleeping in the open. He hadn’t truly awoken during the night, but he had come close on several occasions. The forest nearby did not help, the random calls of nocturnal predators interrupting his rest. Fortunately for him, he still awoke before it became necessary for another to rudely stir the bard.
He notices Vargard over at the Thranish camp, speaking with Gelwin. Both occasional look to a man still lying prone with worried glances. The rest had also broken camp, and were milling about nearby the main group. He quickly gathers his things that weren’t stowed on his horse, and joins them.
“Will not be able to continue,” Gelwin says, Marwyn catching the end of the sentence.
“What’s wrong?” he asks.
“Triton is unresponsive,” the purifier answers, briefly addressing Marwyn, and then focusing back on the fighter, “We will interrogate the villagers as planned, it was my not my intention to send our full force into those woods in the first place, yet this complicates matters. I will require some of your men to stay behind and bolster our forces.”
“Think lycans’ll be bold enough to strike a camp in broad daylight?”
“No, but I intend not to leave anything to chance. The light rewards the vigilant.”
“How many of your force will be advancing into the forest?” Vargard asks, thinking.
“Myself, and our best four swords. Unfortunately Triton’s current state necessitates my other chaplain to remain behind to tend to him,” she answers.
Chaplain, Marwyn thinks to himself, she must mean the cleric who was now kneeling beside the sickened purifier.
“We will be without the Flame’s curative blessings,” Gelwin continues, “Is your bard trained in such magics?”
“Yes,” Vargard nods, “I assume you’ll want him to accompany us.”
“Correct. Him, and two others. I assume you will join the hunt today?”
“Yeah. We’ll be ready to head out when you are.”
“Very good,” the purifier nods, and turns to address her men, most of whom were standing at attention before her. “Purifiers!” she begins, “Today we do the Flame’s bidding! We will track down the accursed scourge to their foul dens, and we will cut them down where they rest. No fiend may stand before our might, no matter how foul their hearts. Triton has temporarily succumbed to his test of faith, but we will be all the mightier for his struggles! We are the cleansing light of the Silver Flame, and none can withstand us!”
“For the Flame!” the men shouted, saluting.
The Split Falchion, however, had separated, and were discussing their plans.
“Marwyn, myself, and Cletus will be joining five of their number while they investigate,” Vargard explains.
“So what, I’ll just sit around all day while you have all the fun?” Jorduna asks indignantly.
“Ideally,” Vargard nods, “Marwyn and I have to go, no question, and Cletus fights best in the woodlands. If it comes to it. It’s the best call, Jor.”
“I… alright, fine,” Jorduna capitulates, “Anything you want me to do while I’m here, boss?”
“Just make sure the Thranes don’t try and pull anything. Other than that, not much. Fight with them if you’re attacked, use your common sense.”
“Got it,” Jorduna replies, “I’ll let you know if anything happens.”
“We’ll do the same,” Vargard answers. Lesani and Jorduna return to the campsite, while Cletus begins walking towards the forest before the main group.
“We won’t be able to bring the horses,” Vargard says to Marwyn, “Do you have everything?”
“Yes, I think so,” Marwyn nods, quickly double checking to make sure he had everything on him.
“That crossbow is looking… worn,” Vargard observes, noting the handcrossbow with the deep gash when Marwyn checks it.
“I know, but it works. It’s… a reminder of a past mistake,” Marwyn explains.
“So long as you’re confident,” Vargard answers, “As much as Gelwin thinks enemies lurk behind every tree, I doubt we’ll run into trouble. We’re in more trouble of the Thranes throwing their weight around. If something like that happens, don’t do anything until I have a chance to react. If I’m not there, get me on the sending stone as soon as possible. You know how it works, yes?”
“Yes!” Marwyn answers, “Not… entirely, but I’ve got the basic functions down.” He had been given a brief tutorial when Vargard had first given him the stone, but some of the more advanced functions such as changing the speaker’s volume eluded him.
“Good,” Vargard says, “Looks like the purifiers are ready to move out.”
“Where is your third man?” Gelwin asks, noting the presence of only two mercenaries.
“He… likes to scout ahead when possible,” Vargard answers.
“I didn’t see him leave,” the purifier answers, somewhat perturbed.
“Not many do,” Vargard answers confidently, “He’ll rejoin us once we pass the tree line.”
“So long as he isn’t warning the villagers in advance, I suppose I have no qualm with this,” Gelwin answers. Behind her were four Thranish warriors, three male and one female, all equipped with silvered swords. “I trust you remembered to bring the holy oil?”
“Yeah,” Vargard answers, reaching for one of the hardened glass bottles at his belt.
“Good. I see no reason to delay. One point to mention, however, now that we are separate of your warlock,” she says, making sure Lesani was out of earshot, “If this hunt requires us to enter the Eldeen Reaches, you are to depart from this holy mission.”
“What?!” Vargard exclaims.
“It was part of the accommodations granted to us,” Gelwin replies, “With the site of the attack being so close to those festering lands, I wouldn’t be surprised if such measures were necessary.”
“That was never mentioned to me,” Vargard counters.
“I suppose your employers merely forgot that part of pact. I’m sure you have some way of contacting them, confirm this if you must.”
Vargard grimaces, not seeing any indication she was bluffing. “That’s not necessary.”
“Wise man,” Gelwin answers, “And if it is any consolation, I’m sure your employers will still keep track of our progress without you.”
“What do you mean by that?” Vargard says, feigning ignorance.
The purifier chuckles, and replies, “I suppose you wouldn’t know. Let’s just say we’re quite confident they’ll be keeping their eyes on us. But let us make haste before we lose the light.”
Vargard grunts in reluctant approval, not liking the surprise.
As Vargard had promised, the dwarf rejoined the procession once they had passed a few trees. One of the Thranes jumped slightly when they noticed him walking along the rest, but calmed once they saw the rest unperturbed.
The group walked along a small path, more of a game trail than a road. By his map, Vargard had estimated an hour or two of travel time.
They arrived, however, well after noon. The trail had winded through the woods, and several times Gelwin had to halt the procession and regain their bearings. Finally, however, they reached an area where the wood became more sparse, leading to a clearing where several wooden buildings had been constructed. Their make was shoddy, with several visible holes scattered among some of the roofs. The forest canopy would still protect the denizens from light rain, but it was clear none of the villagers was a talented carpenter.
“What business have you here?” a gruff man asks, clothes well soiled by the earth. Others had stopped what they were doing when the soldiers had arrived, but only this man had challenged them.
“We are here by the grace of the Silver Flame, to root out the monstrosities which plague this land,” Gelwin responds.
“You’ll find no followers of that lark here, nor beasts to slay. I’ll ask ye to move on and leave us in peace.” Several of the villagers disappeared from sight after this, sensing possible trouble.
“What you believe is none of my present concern,” Gelwin cuts back, “Yet your compatriot who fell to lycanthropy, and murdered several of his countrymen, is.”
“You… have no authority here,” the man replies, uncertain and uneasy.
Vargard sighs, and enters the conversation, “I’m afraid she does. We’re here on behalf of Fairhaven, they’ve asked for Thrane’s help.”
“And we’re to believe you why?”
“Your hierarch’s seal,” Gelwin answers firmly, growing impatient, “I have a writ of passage, and questions you are bound to answer. Now, shall you answer them, or will we have to turn to more drastic measures to continue our hunt?”
“What, what do you wish to know?” the villager asks, yielding more to the threat of violence than otherwise.
Meanwhile, Camp at Forest’s Edge
Jorduna was practicing with her throwing knifes, aiming for a propped up log, when her attention was drawn by a loud cry from the center of camp. Seeing the Thranes cluster around something, she grunts in annoyance, and retrieves the knives embedded in the decaying bark. Lesani, who had been resting closer to the camp, was already in the huddle when the hobgoblin arrived.
Triton was still unconscious, though he had begun to violently thrash about. The Thranish chaplain knelt closest, though none attempted to restrain him. Lesani was speaking with the Chaplain when Jorduna joined the circle of onlookers.
“Anything we can do?” Lesani asked.
The Chaplain shakes her head, and replies, “This isn’t normal, not that this disease has been so far. His fever is gone, but now convulsions? By the Flame, what am I to do with a disease that flies in the face of all I know?”
“Shouldn’t you be holding him down?” Jorduna asks, more out of curiosity than concern.
“No!” the Chaplain responds quickly, “No, that would only stress Triton more. We must simply… wait. That’s all we can do, unti. Ah!” the Chaplain cries out in pain, as Triton’s hand suddenly grabs her wrist hard.
The Thrane, still convulsing, opens his eyes wide, and begins speaking a language Jorduna didn’t recognize. All but the Chaplain, who was bound by the man, back away in fright. The Chaplain, meanwhile, listens intently, ignoring the pain in her wrist. As soon as it began, the shaking stops, and Triton’s body grows limp once more, the man sinking back into unconsciousness.
“Is he…” one of the Thranish men asks hesitantly.
“No,” the Chaplain replies, gently lowering Triton’s hand, which had released its grip.
“What… what was that?” Jorduna exclaims.
“I’m not sure. I must consult my journal. If you two return to your camp for the immediate future, I would appreciate it.” The Chaplain responds.
“Of course,” Lesani responds, diplomatically. She grabs the still puzzled Jorduna gently by the hand, and ushers her in the direction of their own campsite. When they were out of earshot of the rest, Lesani whispers to Jorduna, “Something is going on, and I do not like it. Did you notice Triton’s eyes whilst he spoke?”
“I was more concerned with the whole, you know, not being assaulted by the crazy person to look deeply into his eyes, Les,” Jorduna responds.
“They were silver,” Lesani says.
“Triton’s eyes are blue,” Lesani explains, and Jorduna’s eyebrows furrow in understanding.
Meanwhile, Forest Village
“I don’t like the looks they’re giving us, Var,” Marwyn says under his breath. Gelwin and two of the Thranes had gone into one of the smaller buildings with the man who had spoken to her, while the other two stood guard outside of the door. The members of The Split Falchion had remained outside as well, but had distanced themselves from the interrogation. The remainder of the villagers, around 20 by Marwyn’s count, also milled around. At times, they would stare balefully at the Thranes, and merely give dirty looks at the mercenaries.
“I don’t either,” Vargard whispers, “Let’s hope Gelwin gets what she needs from that man.”
“I don’ think we’ll be walkin’ outta here,” Cletus, the quietest of the three, breathes.
“What do you mean?” Vargard asks, concerned.
“Where are the bows?” Cletus asks, giving a quick but pointed glance in the general direction of the villagers, “I don’ see anythin’ for huntin’.”
“Maybe they don’t. Or they don’t want to seem… confrontational,” Marwyn reasons.
Vargard, however, follows the dwarf’s line of thinking. “Shit. Their children are here, Marwyn. If it were my child I’d have a weapon within arm’s reach if mysterious strangers showed up and started dragging people into buildings.”
“Then why don’t they have any?” Marwyn asks nervously, staring at the men of the village and verifying Cletus’ assessment.
“Might be… ‘cause they don’ need ‘em,” Cletus answers, while beginning to slowly pace towards one of the buildings that seemed unoccupied. His gate appeared to be unchanged, as if he were still relaxed.
“No eye contact,” Vargard breathes, matching Cletus’ gait and gently pulling out a flask, as if to take a sip. Only this flask contained not alcohol, but the silvered oil. Marwyn reached for his lute, and made as if he was tuning it, careful to look solely at the strings. Only when they passed out of site of the villagers, rounding one of the abandoned building’s corners, do they drop the act.
Vargard carefully removes his sword and begins to apply the oil, taking any precaution to minimize the noise. Marwyn reached for one of his flasks, but before he can do so, Cletus hands him a pouch which already contained some of oil. It appeared half full, the dwarf’s arrows already treated.
“Var, what’s going on?” Marwyn asks, worried, while dipping arrowheads in the oil.
“That story about the village turning as result of infection never sat right with me, Marwyn. Smart money? He was a lycanthrope all along. They all are. We’re in the middle of wolven deathtrap.”
Continued in Part 22, The Bad Moon Job, Part 2 – A Flight from Fantasy