I’ve realized I don’t spend much time alone. Oh, there was the two years in the Stronghold of Kithri’s Fist, but I only have vague memories of that place. When I first left the monastery I always seemed to have someone or something following me around, whether it was the mule, or those skeletal gnomes, or Brother Charles and his bright blue feathers. Since then there has been Liz and Bob, and a whole cast of character that have flitted in and out of my life. It both made me thankful for the company of good friends, and sorrowful for their absence.
Liz, of course, has been the most stalwart of the lot. I love that lizard girl more than I have ever loved anyone else, including Bob who comes a very close second, or Kithri, whom I worship. Semaunzilla (may she forgive my lack of emotional connection) understands the platonic, the rational, the esoteric and most of all, the isolation.
The night had grown very dark. I could only hear my own breathing. The wind was still and the rains had not started yet, but they would come before too long. No, even the insects were quiet as the sky grew dark and the clouds hid the moon and stars. I sat on my hillock, staring into the blackness, watching for any movement that would indicate danger, or better, the return of my friends.
Even the closeness of Kithri did not help the overwhelming loneliness that fell upon me hours after the sun fell. There is an interesting phenomena that occurs when you are truly alone, with no light and no sound. The memories of my life began to race through my mind, the failures and the missteps, the fear and the isolation. I read once that to truly understand the world, one must first understand themselves, and I am coming to realize that I do not know myself, not really.
After two more hours, when I thought I would fall asleep and risk both our lives, I hit upon an idea. It was more of an obvious thing now that I had a moment to think unhindered. I did what came naturally to me. I channeled the divine, which of course was the more natural form from Semaunzilla (may she provide hints along the way) and not what I had grown accustomed to utilizing. I started small, as I had done when Kithri first showed me the way. I pulled the two loadstones out of my belt pouch and practiced mending a tear on my cloak. It was a small thing, a pull of thread that had been snarled in brambles at one point or another. The garment was in no danger of failing, so I intended it to be a miner thing, a thing so simple that I could do it with any power I could muster.
Of course, nothing is simple. Part of the original mending involved two loadstones being drawn together as more of a metaphor for the item being mended. I hope you can imagine my surprise when on the first pass the loadstones not only did not attract one another, but they were inert, having nothing I could tap into with the divine I held in my mind. It was as if the metal of the stones did not exist in the world. While disturbing, and frustrating the first hour, it did give me a clue.
I took off my armor. Now, I know what you are thinking. Here I was blind as a bat, with who knows what in the swamp ready to swarm over me and turn me into a light snack. And yet I was removing one of my major assets, my plate mail.
But you see, this was Kithri’s armor, just as the loadstones had been bequeathed to me by her. Once I was out of my plate, and stood in the night in nothing but my small clothes, I thought about that cloak by way of the divine in my head and thought how best to mend it. And, like a flash of lightning on a summer night, the answer was revealed to me.
Unfortunately, that is not all that was revealed to me in that moment of insight. Yes, the armor had been blocking the divine flow I was receiving from my scaly goddess, but I had been eschewing her influence ever since I had begun to weave the power I had been granted.
In that moment I breathed a fresh breath of the life around me. If I concentrated hard enough I could feel the living things; from the worms in the moist soil at the edge of the water, to the swarm of leeches that roiled between me and the main road to the west. As I scanned my mind around, other forms of life took shape, such as the willows that ran along the edge of the river, far enough away from the swamp to drink from the swift water, but close enough to feel the languid pace on this side of the berm that separated us.
For a brief amount of time, measured in the heartbeat of a gorge-wing asleep a stone’s throw to the east, I knew the life of this swamp and I experienced a connection that I had never felt before.
But I felt other things, further afield. Back from the direction of the tunnel I saw things that gave no glow, who radiated no life. These were creatures most foul, demon spawn, anathema to growing things and the wholesomeness of the world.
As they had no life force that my new found casting had discovered, the magic could not name them, but my experience and logic could extrapolate. Things hunted the night, searching for us. I could tell that they were not moving toward us, which was good, but why I had discovered this new power was unclear to me. Then I thought of the first thing I had discovered. To mend the cloak using the more nature based divine, I would need a bit of spider web instead of the loadstones. It made sense, of course. Nature would utilize the gifts that occurred naturally. And that thought enlightened me as to why I could feel the demonspawn or possibly undead that radiated the opposite of nature. They were things that were broken, points in the world that should not be, and by so desperately wanting to mend something, I had utilized more of the power than I had anticipated and highlighted these blights in my mind’s eye.
I wondered if this is what Liz could see when she had a moment to concentrate. Before the power faded, I cast around to Kithri and saw that indeed she shown with a flame, like that of a hooded candle, and that something evil had used her moment of vulnerability to attack her. Only her strong will had saved her in that moment, but the act had thrown up such overwhelming defenses that her light could not return to the world on its own.
But there was something there, a thread that I could see, a blackness that ran from her, into the world northward, a braid of taint that would need to be unraveled at its source.
If only my friends had returned. I had a path forward, but first, I needed Liz and Blargle. I would not survive the road ahead without them.