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Archive for the ‘Dear Father Mulcahy’ Category

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty Six

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

There was so much more to this story. How had this apparently just man come into the situation he found himself in? Who had killed his family, and how had he found himself in the debt of a vile and evil representative of the draconis mediocritous? Don’t get me wrong, she was powerful enough to make me need to change my small clothes after one short visit, but the giants batted her around as if she were a kitten. Perhaps the trick with her would be the trick I would use against any braggadocios bully — stand up to her and show no fear. Or, show you have nothing to lose. Yet another thought would be to show they had something to gain.

I thought perhaps that last would do the trick with this wild one. I looked to the weary and beleaguered troop before me and nearly laughed at the absurdity of it all — children and a few adults playing at brigandry in order to survive the despicable demeanor of a powerful and dishonorable protector. What were the tradeoffs that would even hint at the feasibility of rescinding one’s sound judgment and good sense to buy a little protection? How much had these already given in the service of… confound it what is this dragon called?

“Pardon,” I asked, interrupting my own thoughts. “What is the name of this dragon you serve so inelegantly?”

I looked at them as they gaped at me. Had I missed something?

Just Jacob squinted at me, judging my actions. “She prefers to be called Miss, actually. In formal company,” he said with a small chuckle. “But to those closest to her she will also allow Cassandra.”

“How very odd,” I said, scratching the stubble along my chin. When had that begun to be a bother? Usually I could go weeks without shaving. “Cassandra, you say? How intriguing.”

I paced across the room and out to the mouth of the cave. Five giants would be hard to hide. But I think, with enough leverage, we could roll them down the ramp to the acid pit and the beastie within. Not sure if five would be enough, but we could try.

Also, to make things look more theatrical, we could… yes… it just might work.

I returned to the cave and interrupted the others. They had been fawning over a restive Just Jacob who looked relieved at my return. I know the older lass with the crossbow had to have been relaying the fact I was not fleeing. Still, he was only a little older than me, and perhaps his wounds had made him feel more vulnerable.

“I have a plan,” I said.

“Yes,” Just Jacob said. “You mentioned that.” He waited a few moments, watching me and when I did not respond immediately let out a heavy sigh. “Good cleric, do you think, perhaps, you would share this plan with us before the others arrive and turn our cave into our cairn?”

I glanced around at the others, realizing my thoughts had run significantly ahead of my mouth for once and tried to sort them both out before replying. It would be tricky, and time consuming, but if it worked, we’d all be spared a lot of smashing and pain.

“This will be complicated,” I began and all but the girl in the cave mouth sat down, expecting a long story. “That trap you set was very effective in killing one of the giants. What exactly lives in that mud hole?”

The young girl at Just Jacob’s feet spoke up. “We call him Fred, but really we’ve never seen him. He can eat quite a lot, however.”

This would work out just fine.

“Here’s my idea. We take the four giants we can reach and cut off their heads.”

This elicited a squirming among the audience.

“I’ll take care of this if need be. Then we strip the bodies of usable items: boots, armor, weapons and the like. Then we roll the bodies down the hill to Fred.”

“And the heads?” Just Jacob asked, eyeing me sideways.

“We take those someplace else, leave a false trail, and put the heads on stakes. That should incense the giants to rush in to whatever lair they think they are approaching. With any luck they will fall into a bog and die.”

They all watched me, baffled.

“There is a place,” Just Jacob said. “We avoid it. It is the home of a virulent tribe of acid spitting spiders.”

“Been there, seen that,” I said, waving my hands. No way I wanted to go near there. Besides, the giants had already encountered them.

“Next option?”

One of the young men who had fought alongside me stood. “What about the hydra south of here about a half a league?”

“Dead,” I said. “Froze to death when the planar rift opened.”

They all started talking at once. After a moment, Just Jacob managed to calm them down. “Is that what happened? We have seen several bizarre events in our time here, but this was the most severe.”

“We thought we could close the rift somehow,” I said. It would make things so much easier.

“Rufus would know,” the young woman said from the cave mouth. “He’d know how to shut that down.”

Who the bloody hell was Rufus?

 

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty Five

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Despite my initial supposition of brigandry, I was surprised to find that none of the survivors were interested in looting the dead giants. Being from a taciturn and frugal upbringing myself, I found a quick perusal of the dead giant’s affects would not be amiss. There were only five giants, and they each had small pouches on their belts. It didn’t take long to ransack those for bits of this or that. Of course, looking at the men who were gathering their dead into the cave, I felt slightly amiss as I pocketed a handful of colorful gems and some odd coins the like I have never seen. The triangular coins were thick, a finger’s width and three fingers wide from one tip to the next. I didn’t bother with determining value. I’m sure Bob would help me with that once I freed him. Of course I had to get to him first.

The remaining brigands huddled in the cave around their obviously exhausted leader, Just Jacob. The young man drank from a skin, the smell of alcohol thick in the air. The two crossbow wielders took up a position inside the cave, with a clear view and firing field of the entrance. They waved at me as I passed and approached the small cadre of survivors.

“What of Bruce?” Just Jacob choked out after a moment. “Where is our lay-about shepherd?” He glanced around, expecting the old man to pop out of the shadows or something.

I winced at his Bravado. “He has died, good Jacob,” I said, making sure to stand back far enough to avoid a sudden lunge from the aggrieved man. His shoulders were broader than mine, not that it mattered. “Begging your pardon,” I added, hoping to assuage his grief somewhat. “He died valiantly, in battle.” It is what a hob would want to hear.

Note to self. Not all people are interested in dying valiantly. These were not hobs.

Just Jacob seemed to fall into himself. His chest nearly collapsed as his shoulders slumped and his head fell down between his knees. At least he sat on the ground with his knees up. Otherwise I think he’d have fallen over.

I started to say something else, but one of the crossbow wielders handed the weapon to a compatriot and knelt in front of Just Jacob, taking off her helmet at the same time. Did you catch the gender normative pronoun there. Her. A girl. Not that women weren’t capable of being brigands just like men, but when I say girl, I mean barely ten summers. Tall for her age, for sure, but a child, Father. A child with the hard eyes of a killer — the set face of one who has seen more of pain than should ever be allowed.

“Jacob,” she whispered, taking the skin from him and grasping his hands. “He saved Bertram and Alvin. You know he would rather die than see any of the rest of us killed.”

Just Jacob looked up, resting his open palm against the girl-child’s cheek and half smiling through his tears. “He always said he would protect us,” he whispered to the girl. “He would be proud of how well you and your sister have done.”

The other crossbow wielder grunted, her eyes trained on the mouth of the cave. “How many more of those are out there?”   The second girl asked, directing her gaze at me for a brief flicker.

I shrugged. I had no intention of lying to them. “Hundreds,” I said. “They hunt the dragon.”

The four who stood glanced at one another, then they all turned their gaze to Just Jacob who sighed and tried to stand.

“That explains a lot,” he said, wearily, finally settling back against the wall of the cave. “She came to us yesterday, wounded and mewling. She is not as powerful as she would have you believe,” he said, turning his gaze from his flock. “Perhaps it is time we ended our servitude to the black wench?”

Again the four exchanged looks. This was not a welcome thought, it seemed.

“You should rest,” I said, gesturing from Just Jacob to the pallet the others had made for him. Several other wounded lined the back of the cave. With another day I could heal many of them enough to allow them to walk out of here, but I did not have that day. Do you have any way of closing off this cave?” I asked.

Just Jacob shook his shaggy head. “There is a way out further back, a twisty passage barely large enough for me to pass. And the entrance here is small. Perhaps we can hold up here without them killing us for a few days. We have food and water, but not as much as one would hope.”

I looked around. The rock here seemed sound, but I was no delver of stone. Bob would know right away. As it stood, I think the concerted efforts of a few giants could reduce this cave to rubble, bringing down the whole hillside.

“Perhaps there is a better way,” I said, thinking aloud. “Perhaps we can divert the attention of the large oafs and drive them someplace uniquely qualified to cause them more harm and confusion than they are ready to deal with. What say you? Does such a place exist here to here? Could we draw them away?”

“We, my good sir,” Just Jacob said, holding my gaze with his own. “While you seem capable,” he said, glancing to his troops, “these children have done enough. I would not put them into further harm’s way.”

The others protested, but quieted when he raised his hand.

“I am the captain,” he said with a weak smile. “You gave me your loyalty. Did you not?”

They each nodded, the young crossbow girl at the last. “We were lost when you found us,” she said, taking a knee and bowing her head. “We will follow you into the Abyss if you but ask.”

Bad idea. But I’ve seen the Abyss even if only through a weak portal.

“What would you do, master priest?” Just Jacob asked after a moment. “Thrill me with your plan of subterfuge and daring.”

So I did.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty Four

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Bruce grew angry at first, drawing a bit of blood from my throat. But I held perfectly still, my hands on the young man. “What is your friend’s name?” I asked.

“What?” Bruce asked, his eyes on his captain’s chest. “Name?”

“If it is not a state secret,” I said with a smile. “Notice how his breathing has eased and color is coming back into his face?”

The dagger at my throat eased back a smidge. Not enough to make me comfortable, but the sharp blade was no longer cutting into my tender flesh.

“It does seem that way,” Bruce said, pulling the knife away and settling back on his heels. “Thank you.”

“I am a man of my word,” I replied, drawing a thumb across the cut in my neck. “And your friend’s name?”

“Jacob,” he said. He let out a long sigh that was almost a moan. “Just Jacob.”

I used a tiny trickle of divinity to heal the cut on my neck and swiveled to face Bruce. “Is Jacob a good man?” I asked.

Bruce looked from the young man to me. “Aye, he was. Before they killed his family.”

I wanted to ask more about that, to find what led a man to brigandry. Unfortunately for Bruce and several others, the day was not going to end well. A kettle bell began to ring and I could hear the thwump of crossbows. Something was attacking the camp.

Bruce ran from the cave, snatching up a long bow from the entrance, totally abandoning any pretense of threatening me. I had just saved his captain. What mischief could I get up to? Or so I imagined. I thought to ask him, but by the end of the battle, Bruce was wounded beyond my healing powers.

But he died valiantly saving his fellows and we all survived a battle with the giant’s vanguard — three dire wolves and five ice giants. If not for the giant’s complete lack of experience in this region and the brigand’s exceptional understanding of the horrid terrain, every man one of us would’ve died. As it was, we only lost seven of eleven standing.

The brigands had been busy setting up the ambuscade, trust me. There was a pitfall to a bubbling pit of acidic mud that caught the first giant through the defenses. It was a intricate bit of engineering and timing. Said giant tripped over a concealed line which caused him to stumble forward, where he was met in the side by a loosed battering ram that the brigands had rigged for just such an opportunity. This flung the giant stumbling to the right and directly into the downward slope leading to the aforementioned pit of bubbling acidic mud. His screams did not last long as something lived in that mud and dragged the giant’s head beneath the surface. The giant did not yet understand it was already dead and flopped around long enough for me to see all the meat melted off his skull. Not a sight I relish ever revisiting.

Bruce personally killed one of the dire wolves with his bow before the rest of the brigands were engaged. I joined the fray as soon as I saw what we faced, preventing one of the wolves from entering the cave system where they would have assuredly ravaged the wounded.

Of the four that survived, two of them were crossbowmen who had been placed in hard to reach points above the killing zone. They were responsible for taking down one of the giants. Oh, they didn’t kill it outright, but they did blind him, giving those on the ground with spears and glaives ample opportunity to go in and skewer the hapless attacker. Unfortunately, while they took down the giant, four of them were killed in the first seconds after the giant fell, one literally crushed to death beneath the fallen foe.

The last dire wolf took down two men, hamstringing them both as they hacked at the battle-hardened beast. I certainly wouldn’t have stayed within range of those axes. As it was the encounter was more of a draw. The brigands were not faring well over all. That left three giants.

I managed to keep one distracted by smashing it in the knee with my mace, eliciting a howl of agony as the giant went down to one knee. Before I could do more, one of the remaining brigands staggered from the cave mouth in nothing but a shredded tunic and drove a glaive through the giant’s throat. I turned to see Just Jacob struggling to remain on his feet by leaning against the glaive skewering the giant. I went to him, catching him and settling him down to the ground.

“You must rest, Just Jacob,” I said, smiling at the man. “Do not undo all my healing, what say?”

Just Jacob stared at me a moment, perplexed, but nodded once and settled his head in his hands as fatigue washed over him. Strong one there. With as much healing as he’d taken, I was shocked to find him standing, much less taking down a giant — even one that was already sorely wounded.

The two remaining giants were beating back a tight group of spearmen when Bruce dropped his bow and drove his short sword in the back of one giant’s knee. Funny how absolutely vulnerable the knees are for things like walking, running, fighting, standing. Once the giant fell over, others rushed in to stab it to death.

Unfortunately for Bruce this left him open to a heavy blow from the last giant shield. Bruce was wrecked in ways I could only imagine, by the way he hit the ground most of his bones were broken. But he was not out. He managed to stab the giant in the ankle before he was stomped on and killed. The giant fell back under the combined efforts of the remaining crossbowmen and those who could carry a spear or glaive. I rushed the thing in the end, hammering him over and over with my mace. I didn’t walk away unscathed, but my wounds were light in comparison.

I have grown weary of pain and suffering. What is it with this world that elicits such?

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty Three

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

I’d sent Kithri’s bread basket with them, in case they ran into the rest of the crew. I had eaten my fill. Besides, I could go a few days without food. The healing and the sleep had done more for me than any given meal would. I shouldered my gear and glanced at the map once more before heading northeast. I could make the dragon’s cave in time for afternoon tea if I humped it. With the giants prowling in the area, stirring up gods know what sort of monsters in their wake, I chose to be ahead of them if I can help it.

I doubted seriously I could take on a single of their warriors single handedly. No way I was surviving a confrontation with a squad of the ingrates. I pretty much hoped they all died a horrible, acid washed death for shooting me. I had been parleying. How was that honorable?

I covered about half the distance before I had any real trouble. In the clearing ahead, where the path was the most obviously trodden, I spotted an ambush. It’s not that my powers of perception is extraordinary, but I had stepped off the trail to water the verge, when I caught sight of one of the ambuscade’s scouts. I guess my white robes, white armor and pasty complexion had hidden me against the background of falling snow upon already covered ground. I stood and listened to this sentry (Kyle) speaking with a compatriot (Bruce). They had been travelling on dragon business when they had first been attacked by two giant wasps (told you) and then the dragon came upon them and commanded they set up this ambush to slow down the giants who were coming.

They had wounded, and they had dead — and a great snootful of anger and fear. Giants? How in the multi-hued chaos of the Abyss were they supposed to survive fighting a single giant, much less a squad?

I thought best how to handle this situation. Should I warn these men who were obviously not above pillaging if not worse. Did I have an obligation to warn them? Did I have an obligation to heal them? I closed my eyes and prayed a quiet plea to my spiritual guides to show me the way. Was I not a priest of life? What was my major malfunction?

I crept back to the main trail and approached just outside of the ambush zone and called out to Kyle and Bruce. There was much shuffling and quiet discussion before they recovered from their shock. I waited patiently. Once they settled down to now answering me, I went further.

The fact I came in peace was a point in my favor. The fact I offered to heal their wounded intrigued them. The fact I was alone cinched the deal. A camouflaged gate covered in defensive spikes was pulled open and I strode into the camp, hands held high. I called out to see their wounded and held up my holy symbol, not my mace. It was fairly hairy there for a few minutes when I thought that I’d stepped into the chamber pot on this one.

But I was vindicated. These men were hard, brutal, and terrified. Their leader was gravely wounded and they did not expect him to survive the night. I explained that I should go to him first and do my best to save the brigand. The fact they did not have a cleric to help them meant my chances of a miracle here was very high. Doesn’t take much to awe desperate men.

Bruce was sent with me to a small cave where they had set up their base. In the back, on a mat of reeds I found their leader. Beneath the bloody bandages, thick, matted hair, and tattoos, I discovered a man not much older than myself. Perhaps two year, or maybe three. The way Bruce went to one knee when we approached the dying man, spoke volumes of his loyalty.

I knelt at the pallet of reeds and began my examination. Gut wounds were horrible and an unusually painful way to die. I asked Bruce to describe how this young man had been wounded and he stammered. After a moment, he explained how they had been coming back from a raid deep into the eastern reaches when the rift had opened and caught them by surprise. They had been ambushed by two of the snow beasts. They had killed them both, but not without losing seven of their own men, plus another six wounded including the captain here.

I let out a long whistle at that and explained how my crew had taken a few of them down before the giants showed up. Bruce seemed to relax at the sound of my voice so I continued with my examination and prepared to so some full-on healing magic. I used my most potent incantation to force the divine into this gruff looking ruffian. I could not but help notice the number of older scars that crossed this man’s arms and chest. What a hard life he had led to this point. My need to rescue was bubbling to the surface.

He moaned when I healed him and Bruce put a dagger against my throat. He was a hard man, older than the dying leader, but more scared than anything.

“Peace, brother,” I said, feeling this young man for a pulse. It was there, yet it was weak. I tried a second healing spell and he arched his back off the floor, emitting a weak cry before falling back with a thump.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty Two

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Sparkle slept through the night and deep into the next morning. The bugger that had tried to eat her had injected a powerful poison that had nearly ended her. Once I realized it was more than just the blood loss I was able to purge her of the poison and her sleep grew calm. We decided to head out when she woke up because the place was foul.

I had been reluctant to open the basket, let me tell you. I was half hoping that it was like the first time Kithri had blessed me with bread, and it would refill every day. But I did not want a miasma of old blood, sweat, animal funk from whatever had once lived here (Liz thinks bear), and vomit. Not a combination I wanted to mix with the fresh butter, honey and yeast smell of the bread.

Liz gave Sparkle her full daily allotment of summoned berries and the rest of us just tightened our belts. We needed substantive food soon, with all the healing especially. But the cold also drained one. We were able to drink our fill of melted snow, refresh our water skins and eat the remnants of our emergency food we carried in our kits just as the sun (our sun) reached its zenith. Then we were off.

Just like before, Liz scouted ahead, but now she had the arduous task of making sure we did not run afoul of the giants. Turns out, not so easy. One of the three wings had moved far enough west to leave the convergence zone which penned us in. Not a pleasant situation to be in. We travelled for two hours and found our way turned at critical points further north and east, rather than west. It wasn’t until our second tag-up with Liz that she informed us that we were close enough to the dragon lair to tackle that now, if I wished. Seems there was a standing agreement that I would visit the dragon alone to negotiate once it was made clear to the dragon that I would not be delivering the head of Wizard Tim. She had quite the snit, rampaged across leagues and leagues of swampland, attacking one town and three caravans. I was pretty upset with that news. The village was of the mud and reeds variety and the inhabitants were no stranger to having a dragon in the neighborhood. Most survived, for what that existence was worth.

We chatted about our options and I finally decided to go visit this dragon and see what her terms of parley were. I would love to have Bob back out from her dastardly grip. I was missing the fuzzy rascal. Hearing his voice each night just heaped guilt upon my existing treasure trove of the stuff. Now that I knew I’d been lost for two years, I could not even begin to imagine what he’d gone through to convince the dragon to swap himself for Sparkle. But to sit idle for over two years, only singing each night as a way to reach out to the world. Of course, part of his offer may have been to sing for the dragon. That gave me pause. If she was a fan of his singing, what else was she a fan of. He was very charming when he wasn’t smashing his way through villains with his axe.

Once we set on a path, Liz told us we had to speed up. One of the giant columns was going to find the dragon’s main lair in a day at most, and that did not give me much time to get there and work out whatever arrangements I could. So we ran.

Yes, I sounded like a wounded ox. Maybe I needed to find a magic item that would help me run quieter. Of course, I could just work on my conditioning more and stop sounding like a bellows every time I stopped to catch my wind.

We came to a point where we had to cut west for the frog’s fortress, and east for the dragon. I took out a piece of parchment and Liz drew me a map. She marked everything she knew about pits and traps, quicksand, acid sloughs, giant man-eating plants and monster lairs.

Then she flipped the page over and did the same from here to the frog compound. That way, if I survived, I could make my way to their camp and we’d assault or infiltrate the frog’s domain together. She gave me three days. After sunset of the third day, she was going to assume I was dead and go into the frog’s place (alone of need be) and free her people.

Shadow One wanted to go with me, but understood the situation. He said I was a fool more concerned with honor than winning. I smiled at him and reminded him that honor was worth more than personal comfort and that I could hold my own with the glory of Kithri and Semaunya (may she agree with my supposition).

I took the bread basked off my kit and sat it on the ground between us. I said a quick prayer to my twin deities and cracked open the lid. To my astonishment and significant joy, there was another loaf. The four of us shared the divine bread, sharing one last meal before we parted company. It was as super, awesome, tasty as always. Before you know it, however, the bread was gone, our water drunk and our divergent paths set. I hugged Sparkle who returned it enthusiastically. Shadow One saluted me and stepped aside so as to give me a clear path to Liz who stood quietly aside, her gaze averted, her demeanor grave.

She reached out to shake my hand as Shadow One did and I surprised her by stepping in for a hug. I understood polite protocal. Is she did not want a hug, I would step back, make my apologies and go along my merry way. I just prayed she did not flinch. It was just a hug.

The embrace was stiff at first, then she seemed to soften slightly, allowing her head to rest against my shoulder. It took me a second to realize that she wept. Her head was turned away from the others so they did not, or pretended not to notice. After a moment I stepped back, laying my hand along the side of her face.

“Be well, heart of my heart,” I said after a moment, letting my hand drop away.

She looked down, twisting her hands together. Rather she twisted a length of multi-colored cord that was tied to her belt. For an instant I saw it in anther context, a moment we had shared, a ritual?

“Be safe,” she said, turning away and walking across the trail.

Shadow One and Sparkle were further along, waiting for Liz to catch up. I wanted to return to her, we had so much unresolved.

As I glanced down at my map, deciding my path, I caught the glint of color in the churned ice and mud. The colored cord lay on the ground where Liz had stood.

I stooped to pick it up, and when I stood, the three of them were gone over a ridge.

What in the name of all the gods was this for her to worry over and then cast into the mud?

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty One

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

So, broken leg. Shadow One got my leg splinted and wrapped tight. Hobs don’t always have healers (that survive) and he proved to be quite handy in this situation. Liz and Sparkle created a travois to carry me in and we were off. Lilith had given way to Sparkle just after Liz and I left them in their alcove at the height of the blizzard. It was Sparkle who was daring and risk taking. She convinced Shadow One to risk the weather long enough to get out of the convergence zone. She was right. They had come back into the rift searching for us. Lucky, too. With the four of us, we had a much better chance to survive. Okay, three of us. I was mostly delirious from pain. Liz did summon me a few berries that were both tasty and provided a bit of healing. I could take care of it myself given a few hours rest. But I was well past my breaking point — likely explained why I fell asleep despite the pain.

Liz claims I passed out, but I don’t think that’s likely. I believe exhaustion did me in and no one can prove otherwise.

We travelled half a league north and west, away from the dragon’s territory and away from all the acid based monsters. No one wanted to risk the spiders again. I wonder if Bob had encountered anything like them when he went to rescue Sparkle. I’d have to ask him when I saw him next.

Liz found a cave who’s occupant had frozen to death, so we moved in. They got me out of the weather and Shadow One built a fire. He had some pretty amazing skills for survival. I was lucky to have him on my team. Sparkle kept watch when Liz went out to hunt, and Shadow One melted some snow for us to drink. I know I was out of my head with pain and exhaustion because it was all going along pretty well. Turns out Liz had given me some berries that not only dulled the pain, but messed with cognitive abilities. I was stoned out of my gourd.

Just as well. Liz got attacked and barely made it back alive. Shadow One was wounded helping her beat back the giant wasps she’d stirred up and Sparkle threw up. Yeah, vomitous cometous. Real tag-team event, let me tell you. With Shadow One and Liz full of wasp venom, they joined Sparkle in vomiting. I’d have joined them if I hadn’t been so out of it. The cave we were in grew nearly uninhabitable. Of course, we were in no shape to move.

I worried that Liz had been ambushed by the wasps. What the heck was that about? Was she losing her skills? Of course, the wasps may have been stirred up by someone or something else, in which case we were lucky to have fewer wasps to deal with, or something bigger and meaner was out there wounded and pissed off. My brain tended to find the worst case scenario when I’m addled.

We managed to survive nonetheless. I slept for a while and woke with a modicum of strength. Enough to cure Liz and Shadow One from their massive puncture wounds. Then I passed out again. Seemed only fair.

Sparkle vomited a bit more during the day and the others kept watch. After dark, with the temperatures plummeting again, Shadow One built up the fire and took up a post near the cave entrance to make sure nothing came to investigate. I think also it was because the air was fresher there.

Sparkle ended up with a fever before too long and by the time I was conscious again, had slipped into her own round of incoherency. I healed myself as much as I could and tried to see to Sparkle. She was belligerent and obnoxious (and vomiting) so I didn’t get too close until she totally collapsed. Then I was able to discover that she had been preyed upon by another of the swamp denizens that I had never seen and frankly, never even had nightmares about (until now).

It was some form of tick, Liz called it, only larger and semi-intelligent. It had begun to bore its way into Sparkle the point where her jerkin met her leather breaches. During the day, somehow, the nasty little biter had been able to get into skin contact with her and latch on. It was bloated with her blood, had a set of pincers that would curl your hair, and one eye that tracked you as you moved. It was very unsettling.

We got the nasty thing out of her with an ample application of heated dagger and red hot coals. It screamed before it popped which was damned messy. Shadow One was familiar with similar creatures and had the sense to dig out the bit of the creature that was below the surface of Sparkle’s hip. Seems it was still alive and would burrow its way into her body, eventually making for her heart. It was messy work, and even with my healing, she would scar.

Beat being dead, I guess.

We were down for a while and had no hope of doing much of anything, so we hunkered down here for the interim. Liz scouted, reporting that the giants had split their forces into three columns and each was making their way through the swamp and razor fens searching for the dragon’s den. Liz knew where the den was, so she figured we had a day or two before they found it. The dragon was not stupid and the giants were out of their comfort zone. She also reported seeing two more snow beasts, but they were making their way east, back into the fullness of the ice plane. They’d, at least, had enough of our painful world.

I thought to ask Shadow One about Tim and the others, but they had not seen anything. Would be nice to regroup, alas. After we could all travel, I decided we’d head on to the frog’s stronghold. We’d get our act together then.

Probably.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Fifty

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

Taking a hunk of wood that large could’ve killed me just by the way my body reacted to the event: shakes, sweating, dry-mouth, dizziness, not to mention the blood loss. Shock is a nasty thing.

On the positive side of the ledger I learned that my most awesome and ultimately cool suit of holy(ish) armor had a built in stabilizer that helped prevent me from sliding into shock. Whoever designed these things was a genius. Oh, don’t think I wasn’t in an exceedingly horrific amount of pain… there was plenty of that. But once I got the bolt out of my shoulder I could heal myself. Just to reiterate here, I had to push the bolt deeper into my shoulder, through the muscle, so the jagged head was outside the flesh, then break off the shaft so I didn’t have to drag the fletching through the wound. Once that was done, and I regained consciousness, I was able to heal myself. Just a note. Giant crossbow bolts are longer than normal ones. Nothing here was easy or over quickly.

For the most part what really happened was I fell down and laid there until Liz came back. See, she was off firing off a dozen arrows at the enemy, more to drive their mounts into a panic and let them deal with the bogs, than actually killing any of the giants.

In case she reads this at some point in the future she did say she killed two of the giants with arrows through their eyes. Sounds hard to do, and I’m not one to judge when it comes to expectations versus reality, but if she said she killed two of them, I have to believe her. Have to meaning I trust her, not that she’d punch me if I didn’t write this. Not really.

I’d also like to point how that Liz is really strong. And fast. She shoved the bolt through my shoulder before I could open my mouth to protest, then, when I was blacked out, broke the bolt and, well, you can read what I described above. She had to tell me what happened at that point because, as I wrote, I passed out.

She did cast a heal on me, being that she now had some ability there with her connection to the world powers. Not sure if Semaunya (may she grow less cryptic in her dealings) helped her, or if she was channeling Kithri, but in the end it didn’t matter. The bleeding was stopped, the wound was closed and I was on my feet moving below the ridgeline before the boulders began to rain down where we’d been.

I’m lucky that Liz had been scouting this region for so long. Yeah, everything was blanketed in snow and ice, there were still landmarks she could pinpoint to help us on our way. I don’t think she had the stomach to shoot all the mounts, even if she had all the arrows she needed.

Newsflash. We had been running northward about thirty minutes before we took our first rest. I wanted to thank Liz for expending all her arrows on my behalf, when I notice she had a full quiver.

Yes, you read that correctly… FULL QUIVER. She has a magic quiver. Of course I grilled her. She wouldn’t go into it, but by the markings along the leather flap that kept the rain off the fletching, she got it in the stronghold of Kithri’s Fist. That will definitely need some more explaining, though not today. She actually told me to shut up about it and that her blind grandmother could track us with me breathing so hard and talking all the time.

I chose not to be insulted by all that. She was stressed out and working her ranger stuff at a handicap. Also, followed by giant horde. All probably too much for the poor thing.

(If she read that part she would definitely punch me).

With the day I had, she may just let it ride, though. We were running again, with me trying to breathe quietly, when we ran over what looked like open ground. It was open, a little too open. Like, open to a fall.

I went down with a grunt as one step was on solid ground and the next crashed through a thin layer of ice and then nothing. Well, nothing for about the distance of ten spans. Then I hit solid ground again. I also broke my leg.

I think I screamed then, before passing out once more.

Several good things came out of all that, if you can believe it.

First of all, my scream (don’t listen to Liz, I do not scream like a toddler) alerted other denizens to our presence. This included several snow beasts, and some of the more hardy denizens of the swampland. Liz was able to cast a dwoemer over she and I which kept us hidden from the assorted biting things. Liz told me the ensuing battle was a thing of beauty as one of the snow beasts lost to a sort of flower that shoots quills which are attached to vines. Once the quills (which appear to be coated in toxin) are embedded in their prey, they drag the body back to be consumed. That was pretty horrific.

The second snow beast fell beneath the overwhelming numbers of acid spitting spiders that erupted from a nest that was camouflaged by the snow. Liz promised me that she set the nest on fire after the snow beast was good and dead. She also burned the body just in case any of the spiders laid eggs before they died. I’m having nightmares from that for sure.

Another sort of good thing that happened was that Lilith and Shadow One found us (mainly due to my screaming). Before I truly slipped into the bliss of unconsciousness they arrived to help watch over me. Liz’s powers were more nature related and healing was not her best skill. Hiding, hunting, killing were all way more prevalent. I was okay with that as long as I didn’t get eaten by acid spitting spiders.

I mean, come on. Swarming, acid spitting spiders? Who that that was a good idea?

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Forty Nine

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

When the giants calmed again Baithor called for a parley. Of course, that is what I had been hoping for. I’ll chalk that up to clean living. I agreed, of course, with certain caveats. I’m not suicidal. We’d shout across this valley for as long as it took. Despite Brother Durham’s supposition to the contrary, I’m not a complete moron. I am quite aware that any one of the invaders could squash me like a small crawly thing, but we needed them to leave off chasing the dragon and go back home. If it meant arguing with a being three times my height with an army large enough to subdue this entire region, then I’d do what needed doing. I’m helpful that way.

For starters I thought I would explain how if they stayed here they were doomed. The rift would probably close on its own if we didn’t figure out something, and then what? The temperature here would return to its native muggy and moist. That would prove very inconsistent to their typical frigid and somewhat dry weather we’d witnessed so far. To the point of impinging up their overall health. And the diseases one could contract in a swamp. You know, of course, as you live on the edge of a swamp, but these poor souls probably only deal with things like the snow beasts Lilith and I slew, and how much effort could that take with all their prowess? Perhaps a cold or flu. Guessing by the color of their skin, I’m betting they didn’t suffer from frost bite too often. Heat prostration could definitely fell the whole lot of them.

So, you can see, Father Mulcahy, I had to convince them for their own sake, as well as ours. I had no desire to see that significant armed force roaming around in my world, even if they’d collapse before long due to the heat. The damage they could do in the meantime was overwhelming. We’d nearly been wiped out by less than a thousand frogs. Three hundred giants and their hugundous war mounts could smash everything in this entire region and grow bored with the activity.

Now, if I could get a couple of them to ransack the frogs place, or wipe out the dragon, that would be amazing, but I had friends in both places I did not want to see get pulverized in the melee. Perhaps I could convince this Baithor fellow to loan us a couple of his warriors. As long as they listened to me, we could make that work. It was worth asking.

“Tell me how you came to invade our homeland,” Baithor bellowed, interrupting my strategic planning. For the records, I had absolutely no problem hearing him. His voice was booming. I’m sure the hobs back at the keep could hear him. I explained that he was, in fact, invading my world, but I don’t think he believed me. I’m not really clear on how well he heard me, though I did shout quite a lot.

Next he asked after the size of my forces and I laughed, which seemed to score a few points — he remarked that I wasn’t as stupid as he’d first thought. Not sure I liked how that went. If I told him two, I’m pretty sure he’d think I was lying in any case. Nothing said was the prudent course.

Thinking to keep him off balance I decided to give him more information about how this was not truly his world. I explained how this land was cursed (pointing out the acid mire his people found themselves in) and how due to the horrible magicks that had wrecked this entire region over seventy thousand years previously, that the planes were thinner in some places and rifts occasionally appeared. Sounded viable and lofty to my mind. I glanced down at Liz who nodded and gave me the thumbs up. Though I wasn’t sure she meant it in our native dialect indicating good job, or in her people’s colloquial meaning you would recognize from the phrase involving a large stick and someone’s excretory cavity. The less said about that the better. I opted to believe she meant nothing but positive encouragement. Some days you just needed to think positively.

After much consulting with his scouts, the evidence of the rising temperatures, and the acid swamp which had not been part of his original hunting ground, I believe he was starting to come around to reason. Don’t get me wrong, I had no doubt this very large blue skinned man would enjoy nothing less than munching on my bones. I’m not that big an idiot. But I did believe with all my heart, in the overwhelming power of the unknown and how it affected an individual’s decision making, as well as said being’s instinctual need for self-preservation.

What I didn’t really take into consideration is that some people are just vindictive, churlish miscreants.

I grinned down at Liz once more, totally sure I had convinced them to turn around and march back to their castle. Sincerely. That is, until the cross bow bolts knocked me from my feet.

To be fair, only one managed to strike flesh, and it hurt exactly as you’d expect a colossal chunk of wood entering your shoulder to feel. Three others bounced off my armor, but the resulting kinetic force drove me from the top of the ridge, allowing the rest to sail over my tumbling body.

“Great,” Liz said, sliding down next to me. “Now can I shoot them some more, oh great arbiter?”

I could only nod at her as I tried to figure out how best to remove the crossbow bolt so I could heal myself. Gods this day just kept sucking.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Forty Eight

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

We ran further north just below the ridgeline. Shadows lay along this side of the ridgeline. Here the ice and snow was thicker, denser. I had to concentrate on my steps. The ground was deceptive with many obstructions hidden in the snow. I did not want to fall into a pit, or trip over a root. I could hear nothing above the crunch of ice and my own breathing. Which could explain why I nearly ran into Liz. That and the fact she stopped suddenly. I skidded to a halt just shy of slamming into her, snow and ice spraying her instead. I bent over, hands on knees, sucking in the frigid air. Why was I so out of shape? I needed to do more running.

Liz cocked her head, listening, then grabbed me by the shoulders. “Down,” she said, throwing us both to the ground. I was astonished by just how strong is. Not sure if she’d planned it, but I landed on the bottom. I’m sure it was a much softer landing for her. Although my armor was not soft. My head did a single bounce of the ground and I saw stars for a moment.

I’m pretty sure she didn’t have to slam me down quite so hard.

I blinked my vision clear as a boulder smashed through the verge a hair’s breadth from where I had skidded to a halt. Their aim was astounding.

Liz lay on top of me for a moment, looking into my eyes. “You sound like a wounded oxen when you run,” she said, shaking her head. “I could track you with my eyes closed.”

I started to open my mouth to retort, but she rolled to the side, muttering words I could not make out. I wanted to reach for her, to comfort her, but the gulf between us was too vast.

“Thank you?” I asked instead.

She looked back at me, obviously wanted to say something, but struggling. She warred with herself, it was plain to see. At least to me. I had spent many hours studying her face. I had recollections of watching her as we exchanged stories from our childhoods. The most vivid were of her laughing. Then there were the practice session with sword and spear and late night philosophical discussions on the purity of nature versus the sanctity of the divine.

Those were good memories, though again, vague and distant. I knew this young woman, apparently better than I knew myself.

Three sharp blasts on a horn sounded from the giant’s troop and their tumult died away. Then a voice boomed out. “Puny ones,” a great craggy voice called. “I am Baithor, steward of the great holdfast, Icewrack. He who wields the spear Gurgfell. Renowned slayer of the great wyrm: Hoar’s Bane, whose hide I wear as a cloak. I who smashed the Dwarven stronghold: Brökhold as the war leader of the Ice Fist legion. I am your doom. Parley with me if you have the courage.”

Liz motioned for me to stay down, but I knew how this turned out. We were sorely outnumbered, even if we had the advantage of terrain. Violence did not answer every situation. Sometimes you had to talk your way out of trouble. I was good at talking.

I climbed to my feet and strode to the top of the ridge. Below me a dozen giants poised ready with boulders, and half as many again held great crossbows. I would be dead the moment this Baithor gave the word. So I did the only thing I knew how to do. I raised my hands in the air to indicate I had no weapons and called back.

“I am Useless Lump, Bearer of the crest of Kithri — Bread Mistress and Life Giver. I am Prophet of Semaunya (may she strike her foes with aplomb) — scaly harbinger of parity. I am he who wields of the Mace of Teeghel; Captain of the Night Wing legion; slayer of the great snow beast; demon bane; priest of love and life.” I drew breath and went on. “Merric of the honeyed loaf ; Knight of the Journal; Secret Keeper of the Forgotten Citadel; Whisperer of Fallen Flames,” and last but not least, “slayer of Giants.”

Okay, mainly I set two of their homelier cousins on fire, but I’m sure they ended up dying because of it.

Whatever, it sounded good.

I stood there a little astonished by my recitation, my mind ringing. Some of those titles I had made up since meeting Tim and hearing all his pompous appellations. But some of these came to me unbidden, as if I were channeling the words of another. Or perhaps it was the forgotten memories of the sorceress I had freed when I killed the brain beast. I had no idea what the Whisperer of Fallen Flames was about but it sounded really cool. Can’t wait for that to become clearer. Unless it was more pain. I could do without more pain.

The world fell quiet as my last word faded. Then the giant Baithor began to laugh. Great guffaws that sounded like the cracking of old ice. He laughed so hard and so long that his warriors around him took up the chorus, sounding as if an avalanche was sweeping the world. Those words were not from my experiences and I wondered how much of the elf sorceress I had absorbed. Strange to have memories that felt like my own, but were at the same time alien.

I glanced down at Liz who stared at me, open-mouthed. I’m not sure if I impressed her in that moment, or if she had decided that I had truly and finally lost my ever-loving mind. May be a little of both.

Cleric Journal: Day One Hundred and Forty Seven

DearFatherMulcahy

 

 

We watched the giants. The beasts they rode were agitated to the point of fear. The screaming of the dying mount should not have broken a war trained mount. Liz told me that. She slid down to where I lay on the ridge and whispered to me, planning out loud.

Beasts trained for war had been inured to noise, wounds, and blood. The way these mammoth beasts were reacting spoke more of the alien smells, the sudden rise in temperature (for them at least, I was still damned cold) and the inexplicable deadly terrain. The warriors were working to calm their mounts and send word back up the line to call a halt to the advance.

“Now is the time,” Liz said, watching my face. “I can attack them, throw their mounts into further disarray. They can’t charge forward, most of this valley is riddled with pits and pools that will swallow one of those things whole.”

She watched me for a reaction, as if she expected an argument. There was something so familiar about this, something that I should recall but could not bring into focus. We had fought over a similar situation or conversation. I reached up and rubbed the bridge of my nose again. The glare of two suns on the snow cast sharp shards of light into my eyes. That tempered with the cold and lack of sleep was driving my headache into new and unhappy realms of pain. And yet she watched me, obviously wanting to act. There was a window here, I realized, while the memory of the first mount dying was so fresh in those around it.

“Do as you deem right,” I said, and she nodded before slipping away from me. I wanted to reach out to her, to touch her, but that moment was gone before I could act.

How many times had that exact series of event taken place? More than once memory said. Hesitation, doubt, fear, and shame were the things that filled my mind. What had happened between us?

That thought was driven from my mind when the first mammoth bellowed and reared, throwing its rider. Liz’s aim was amazing. She’d shot the poor creature in the massive eye. Its fall caused the others to jostle around and another rider and mount slipped down a ravine into another vaporous gulch. Their combined screams along with another three arrows from Liz were enough to turn the twenty or so creatures in this valley before us into a panic. Two other riders were thrown and it quickly became obvious that the log jam coming through the cut into the valley was causing further difficulties.

The giant who had fallen into a gulch was pulled out by his fellows and even from this distance I could see great swaths of acid burns. He would be scarred for life, if he survived. I did not see a healer among them, which surprised me. Perhaps wounds were seen as weakness. I had read that orcs were like this. True warriors embraced their scars, rejoiced in the way they showed their bravery and their toughness. To me, is showed that a guy had been thrown into a pit of acid. Nothing brave about that. Horrific, actually.

I looked over at Liz who was moving further north, letting loose another volley of arrows. This time someone spotted her. I cried out when I saw the great ice boulder come sailing toward her position, but she was already on the move.  A second boulder flew in my direction and I scampered south along the ridge and down from the peak. The hunk of ice, roughly my three spans in width smashed into a grove of trees, snapping trunks with its velocity and force. The ice giants were very strong. And we had poked them. Not unlike kicking a hornet’s nest.

Yes, I remember kicking that hornet’s nest as a child. And yes, I remember just how painful it was before you rescued me. I think up until that moment I had felt like a shadow in the monastery — an unwelcome ghost. But you stepped in, banished the hornets with a wave of your hand and I felt the divine wash over me as you healed the worst of my stings. I very well would have lost the sight in my left eye if you had not acted when you did. That was the day I knew you loved me.

Brother Durham seemed less inclined toward kindness, as I recall, chastising me for being a fool and telling me some lessons in life had to be learned the hard way. He did not want to look at me that day, as I recall. The way he deliberately looked away, tears of rage in his eyes, let me see how he truly felt about me.

Liz skidded down the icy slope to land on her feet beside where I sat, staring into the broken grove. I looked up at her touch and wondered how much time I had lost this time.

“We must go,” she said, pulling me to my feet. “They are coming.”