Day Three Hundred and Fifty

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

The smell coming from the village was horrific.  It began hitting us half a league out once the wind shifted.  Otherwise, I bet that smell carried half way to the sea.   We rode with our cloaks up over our faces, to little avail.  There’s something about the smell of rotted meat, especially when you can identify it as people, that triggers awful things in your brain.  We are wired to be afraid of the dead.  Dead meant disease.  Dead meant monsters.  The horses weren’t happy either.  The war horse didn’t seem particularly phased, but his gait was stiffer than it had been.  The other two horses were on the brink of panic.  I suggested Ingrid and Lilith go around the outskirts of the village while I made a scouting pass, and Lilith looked at me like I’d somehow grown a third eye in the middle of my forehead.  I just shrugged and they followed behind me.  When Ingrid vomited off the side of her horse, neither Lilith nor I turned to look.  I wasn’t feeling too solid myself, and the sound alone was almost enough to send me over the edge.  I think I needed to start experimenting with a new spell.  I’d seen Rufus weasel gnome conjure up a stiff wind to dissipate gas that had collected around us once before.  But this was not a smell that would just blow away.

The outbuilding had mostly burned, but there were no bodies in them.  The villagers had all been corralled in the main village hall where they’d been killed and a day or so later, burned.  The burning came after, Liz had been pretty confident.  Otherwise we’d have had the whole village risen as zombies.  I wish I knew who had come into town and set the place on fire.  I don’t think that was Eronel.  She wanted people to wander into town and be surprised by the undead.  There were other players in the area for sure.

Someone had taken down the crosses for example.  We didn’t stay long enough to dismount, but we did a cursory scouting mission.  We did find one of the missing ghouls had been killed and left in the central square near the well, with one arm pointed north.  My money was on Liz being funny, but I’m glad she killed that ghoul.  Didn’t want that sort running around to prey on innocent civilians.

The other undead had been burned on a pyre.  There was a scattering of ash and bones next to the village hall.  I checked.  That pyre had been out long enough to grow cold.  More than a day by my reckoning.  Could be two just as easily.  Lilith said she believed whomever burned the village hall had come into town and burned the undead remains.  Probably something we should’ve done.  But we were too worried about getting back to warn our people.

When we got to the northern edge of the town, we found a cairn built up with a large stone propped on the top.  There were runes carved in the surface that I could read.  The runes were familiar but old.  I had learned them from my… I had to stop and think.  To be honest, I don’t think I’d ever seen runes like that in the monastery, Father Mulcahy.  Yet I could read the language.  Not just read it, speak it.

I recited the words out loud so Lilith and Ingrid could hear them and realized with the impression of lavender and cloves that this wasn’t my memory.  This was the memory of Iridius Nightblossom, the elven sorceress I had freed from centuries of enslavement and torment.  Funny how the memory of the language also brought to me her name.  I had not known it previously, or if I had, it had been buried deep within my psyche.

Veteris vestigia flammae, I thought inside my head, this time hearing the words in her melodious voice.  This was an ancient quote that had been old before the cataclysm and had been among her favorite bits of knowledge.  I knew the language and the words from her study, her research.   Not my own.

“I feel once more the scars of the old flame,” Lilith recited, staring at me oddly.  “How do you know this?”

I pointed to the stone that had been raised and she turned her horse to approach.  She glanced down at the carved runes, but shook her head as if she were frustrated.

“Can you capture these in your journal?” she asked.  There was an urgency in her tone that made me raise my eye brows.

“Of course,” I told her.  “Simple as pie.”

After I copied the runes down, she demanded the page, so I handed her the sheet.  She read through them greedily and folded the page, slipping it into her tunic.  Then she pulled out the skinning knife from her boot, cut off a thumb’s length of hair from her ponytail and tossed it onto the cairn where it burst into flame.  The smoke rose skyward for a moment and dissipated in the breeze.

I glanced at Ingrid who was no fool, even for one so young.  She took out a skinning knife as well (neither drew the Quietus blades) and cut off a hank of her own hair and tossed it on the cairn.  For a moment nothing happened.  Lilith paused a dozen strides further down the road, waiting.  When after a moment nothing occurred, Ingrid repeated the words I had said in the forgotten language, enunciating each syllable and glottal stop with precision.  As the final tones of her words faded, the hair burst into flames and vanished as well.

She rode to Lilith and the two of them looked at me, expectantly.

I had no idea what ritual we were propagating, but I was sure Liz had not performed it.  She had no hair to burn.  Also, I don’t think she knew the language of the runes.

I did not like the feeling of coercion from the two women, especially Lilith, but I did exactly as they had done, sacrificed a bit of my hair to the flame.  With mine, however, a tone sounded, echoing across the village.

I don’t know if it was the third sacrifice, three being one of several holy numbers, or the fact I was a cleric.  Or even if, perhaps, it was nothing more than the fact I had read the native words and invoked the magic.  Regardless, as the blue smoke rose for the briefest of moments and the tone faded, eleven figures emerged from the forest to the north.

For the briefest of moments Lilith and Ingrid did not notice.  Then the leader of the eleven raised her hand skyward and lightning fell to the ground.

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