24 Barrakas, 998 YK
Zol, 9:36 PM
Bex scratched her chin thoughtfully. “Anyone have any ideas?”
“Match the colors?” Arturo suggested, moving to clear the rubble away from the floor in front of the northern fireplace. The others shrugged and pitched in to help.
“My guess is that burning some offering in the right fireplaces might show Whitehearth’s location on the map,” Bex offered.
“Or the location to Redhearth!” Relic said excitedly.
“Or…that. Sure.” Bex aimed a crooked smile in the wizard’s direction.
“Aren’t we looking for Whitehearth?” Rickard asked, confused by the warforged’s enthusiasm.
“Whitehearth for the job. Redhearth for me,” Relic explained.
“Oh, I see.”
“No one has seen Aarren d’Cannith in ages. This might be a clue to his location. Some conspiracy theorists believe he is actually the Lord of Blades.”
“I don’t think I’ve heard that rumor,” said Bex with a pensive frown.
“Well, these hearths match tha’ colors for sure,” Art commented.
“What are these ‘seals’ that the writing on the statues mentions?” Rickard asked, slipping into Inquisitive mode.
“That’s the part I don’t get either, Rick,” said Bex. “Maybe they’re under all this stuff.”
“What was the original clue that Lady Elaydren provided? How do we know we are not looking at Whitehearth, Redhearth, and Blackhearth right here?”
“Aye, but we are,” said Art with a snicker. “There be hearths all around us!”
After half an hour, they had finished clearing enough rubble from the north and south fireplaces to reveal two additional Cannith symbols carved into red and white marble respectively.
Rickard looked at the three symbols and deduced, “I bet those are the seals.”
“Whitehearth, White Seal, NE 9,” Bex read from the back of the red dragon statue, her face scrunching up in thought.
“So. white seal, northeast nine?” Art said dubiously.
Relic stepped on the white seal and then walked nine paces to the northeast. He found himself on a blank circle on the map in what used to be southern Cyre. If the scale could be trusted, it appeared to be some thirty miles beyond where the dead-gray mist border began, due east of the hamlet of Olkhaan. The wizard retrieved the map they’d found at the old Cannith foundry beneath Sharn and was gratified to see the similarities in the maps. He marked the spot as Whitehearth.
“If this is correct,” Art posited, “why don’t we mark all the places?”
Bex nodded. “Right, Art. Let’s do that. I just hope the Cannith scholars took different lengths of stride into account…”
A few minutes later, all of the locations identified on the backs of the statues were marked on the map in the old Cannith journal. Not all of the places they found were in Cyre-That-Was, but at least half were.
“These might come in handy later,” Art said cheerfully.
“Especially Redhearth,” Relic reiterated.
“’Specially Redhearth,” the tiefling agreed.
“Lady Elaydren’s sure to find the information useful. Maybe valuable,” Bex said.
“Well, I’ll be bettin’ ya that we may end up at others lookin’ fer these schema things,” Art said with a wink.
“Chances are good, at that,” she said.
Relic nodded absently. “Now… I vote for sneaking the Hells out of this place. Who’s with me?” The wizard raised a hand. The vote was unanimous.
The bodies of the Emerald Claw soldiers and those of the glass zombies lay where they’d fallen not an hour before. The sound of pickaxes on glass still echoed from somewhere outside of the refinery. The Cyrans made their way to the exit of the refinery, looking up and down the glass-shrouded streets of Rose Quarry. As they stepped outside, a raspy voice emanated from above and behind them. “Well, well, well…”
Looking up with muffled curses, the Cyrans saw a tall, emaciated man wearing a beautiful hooded robe of black silk slide out of the shadows atop the refinery. He had deathly white skin, and a thick scar ran from the corner of one gleaming red eye back past a pointed ear. He smiled, flashing sharp fangs. “What have we here?” he asked rhetorically, seeming to take the adventurers’ measure with his casual crimson gaze.
“Traveler’s tears,” Bex breathed.
“Back inside, maybe?” Relic said quietly.
“I wouldn’t make any sudden moves, were I you,” said the dark figure conversationally. “With but a word, my entire contingent will descend upon this location. Let’s talk.”
Arturo cleared his throat, and in a mocking tone that drew a sideways glance from Bex, he said, “About what, pray tell?”
The creature smiled like a knife. “Whitehearth. You don’t look like Cannith to me. Sent by one, likely. Trying to creep in and take what we’ve labored these three days to steal.”
“For all he knows, we didn’t find anything,” Bex whispered.
The tiefling picked up his finger momentarily, opening his mouth to speak before closing it and lowering his hand. “So… We actually- Everything that were in that there room… still be in that there room.”
The pickaxes continued to echo around the ruined village in the pregnant silence that followed.
“Truly,” said the figure. He sounded amused. Amused and angry.
“Mebbe if we knew what ye be lookin’ for, we could give ya a better answer,” Arturo said.
The creature sighed. “If you continue to play the fool, I shall become annoyed. Perhaps I’ll call out to my fellows now?” He raised a hand to gesture slowly, tauntingly.
While Arturo held the creature’s attention, Relic quietly suggested, “Maybe we should get him into the building alone.”
“We can ‘show him what we found,’” Bex agreed.
Arturo held up his hands in a conciliatory manner. “All we did was move some rubble around. Ye can see fer yerself…”
“You found it.” It was not a question.
“Found… some statues?” Arturo said.
With an angry snarl, the creature vanished as a bank of mist appeared. The sound of pickaxes abruptly stopped.
“Oh boy,” said Rickard.
“Run,” Relic commanded before he began sprinting along the path they’d taken to get to the refinery. The others followed his lead.
“This is going to go poorly,” the warlock said.
“Going to?” Bex retorted.
From the north and east, distant but closing, came the sounds of glass footsteps on glass terrain. The Cyrans moved swiftly back around to the western edge of the plateau and began their hurried flight back to the south and the elemental cart.
“Can we send up a flare or somethin’?” the changeling asked. “Let Failin know we’re comin’?”
“I don’t know of a way without giving our location away,” said Relic.
As they drew near the Emerald Claw camp, they saw that the camp was still astir, but not yet organized. However, a swift glance northeast showed a bank of mist rushing toward the camp.
“Is there any way that can be good?” Bex said rhetorically.
Giving no further thought to stealth, the Cyrans broke into a full sprint, startling the Emerald Claw camp as they bolted past and out the south side of the village. So complete was the soldiers’ surprise that the adventurers gained a lead. Shouts rang out – a call to arms – and green light burst from the camp in a searching arc. Without slowing, the Cyrans cleared the last hundred yards until they crested the rise behind which Rocky waited with Failin and the land cart – which was, blessedly, already running.
“Saw the light show and figured we were gonna have to get outta here quickly,” the warden explained.
“Well, bless yer hearts and git movin’ afore they eat ‘em!” Arturo cried.
Rocky waved them aboard, and Failin’s wide-eyed stare took them in with obvious concern. Emerald light filtered through the growing fog cloud as the land cart left Rose Quarry behind.
“You know where Olkhaan is?” Bex asked the excoriate.
“Know where it was,” he nodded grunting. “Beyond the mist now. Why?”
“We’re going somewhere east of there. Who’s got the map?” Once she’d retrieved it from Relic, she said, “We found Whitehearth…here. Can you take us there?”
“East of Olkhaan? In the mist?” Failin balked. “You’re mad.”
Arturo spun around and exclaimed, “Ain’t ya figured that out yet, boy?!”
“Madness doesn’t pay the bills. Job was for Rose Quarry and back. This… I don’t know…”
“That’s where the money comes from!”
“I’ve been paid, sirrah. Adding to the pile, are you?”
“We can’t let the Emerald Claw beat us to Whitehearth, Failin. Please?” Bex said, as her suddenly voluminous eyelashes fluttered.
The excoriate shook his head. “Dead can’t spend coin,” he sighed. “Damn you. And damn me.” He turned the cart to the north. A small smile slowly grew on his face. “Still better than last clients.” Within minutes, the green light was no longer visible on the horizon.
Since night had fallen, the dead-gray mist was no longer visible. Failin informed the group that they were roughly three hours from the border. From there, it would be another three or so to get to Whitehearth, assuming the map was correct and they didn’t run into any…complications. While they traveled, Bex asked Failin what he’d heard about the Mournland.
“The dead unchanged. Magic given life. Things That Should Not Be.”
“Anythin’ to watch out for other than…everything?” Arturo asked sourly. Failin gave him a look. Bex gave him the same look.
After a while, the Cyrans settled in to rest as well as they could while the cart lumbered along. They slept fitfully on the move, and only slightly less fitfully after it stopped within sight of the dead-gray mist that bordered Cyre-That-Was. Failin snuck in a couple of hours of rest when the warforged informed him that they had finished their rest cycles.
. . .
Edge of the Mournland
25 Barrakas, 998 YK
Wir, 6:45 AM
In the morning, the sun didn’t rise so much as the night became less dark. In the shadow of the mist, a dim twilight is the best that can be hoped for. The company broke their fast, and Arturo repromised Failin additional coin to be paid upon safe delivery to and from Whitehearth. Everyone boarded the cart after the excoriate had roused the earth elemental powering it.
The wall of roiling mist rose ahead of the cart, appearing solid and ephemeral at the same time. Passing into the cloying mist was like entering an alien plane of existence. Light barely reflected through the shifting layers of vapor. Sounds became muffled and distant, even when produced nearby. The place had a narrow, ominous feel to it, and a feeling of isolation and growing dread built within them as they traveled deeper into the mist.
“Most dangerous part, some say. Mist confuses. Many wander through it. Aimless. Hopeless. Until they die.” Failin’s voice seemed an unwelcome intruder in the uncanny stillness.
“Not hard to see why,” Bex said softly.
“I’ll not be puttin’ this on our calendar for ‘Places to Visit Next Season’,” Arturo quipped with a nervous chuckle. The laugh echoed weirdly, as though the Mournland did not approve of the tiefling’s attempt at levity. He winced at the sound. “Ain’t no place for a light heart here,” he said, subdued.
The mist weighed heavily on everyone as the minutes crawled by with nothing but the sound of the rumbling elemental, the creak of the cart’s wheels, and the breathing and occasional shifting of its occupants.
“I never imagined it really was this bad,” Relic said.
“It’s like there’s nothing of Cyre, here,” Bex said. “If I didn’t know better, I’d say we’ve awakened on one of the moons.”
After a relative eternity, the mist finally gave way to a desolate, barren landscape. Failin was not the only one to release a sigh of obvious relief. The ground was cracked and broken, and in some places it had fused into jagged glass. Few plants grew in the region, and those that did appeared to be twisted and dangerous. Even outside of the mist, the light was dim, and the sky wasn’t really visible beneath the blurry dome above.
The excoriate frowned as he looked around. “Mm. No good landmarks. Hoped the sky would help. Hm.”
“Is there a problem?” Bex wanted to know.
Failin turned to look at her and blinked slowly. “I’m in the Mournland. ‘Problem?’ she says.”
The changeling bit down hard on the first reply that came to mind. “You know what I mean,” she managed.
Arturo smiled and patted Failin on the back. “We’re all right, ‘slong as we keep our heads. I got faith in ye.”
“If I navigated correctly, and if the mist didn’t throw us off course, and IF Olkhaan still stands…” Failin said. “Perhaps… This way?” He sounded achingly uncertain as he put the cart into motion once more.
The tiefling gave the man’s shoulder a squeeze. “Bound for glory, sir. Headlong into the dark be the only way to conquer it.”
. . .
Stone spires, some the size of small hills, appeared as they crossed the blasted terrain. No wind stirred. No insects whined. No life other than the six travelers seemed to exist or even be welcome in the Mournland. After a short time, they came across the ruins of a siege engine likely used in one of the many battles from the Last War. Its shattered form was scattered over a small patch of land, and the bodies of a handful of what appeared to be Brelish soldiers lay among the broken pieces. Failin slowed at the sight.
Arturo whispered, “Well, I’m expectin’ them to get up any minute.” He frowned.
“I wonder if they died in battle, or died from the Mourning during a battle,” Relic said.
“Mm. Stop here?” asked the excoriate.
“Prolly, should look around,” said the tiefling.
“Are you sure?” Bex asked him, her voice a bit high. As Arturo and Relic exited the cart, she sighed. “All right. But if we get killed, I will give you such a haunting.”
Rocky stayed with Failin in the cart while the others moved out to investigate. As they drew nearer, they saw that the fallen soldiers looked as though they were killed merely moments ago, though they surely died at least four years previous. Still, their wounds appeared fresh, and they had not yet begun to show the slightest effects of decomposition. As they examined the corpses, something unnatural stirred – not the bodies, but something from behind the broken siege engine. A foursome of skeletal wolves, with twisted spines and grotesquely large heads filled with sharp teeth, stalked out and the first barreled down on Bex, chomping down hard on her arm!
She brought her blade around faster than the eye could see, jamming it deep into the creature’s bony body, before taking a step back from the beast. Relic’s enchantments brought the wolves closer to one another before he evoked a shock sphere to blast them apart. Arturo put his crossbow through its paces and Rickard cursed the not-quite-dead-enough beasts with his dark magic.
Another wolf dragged Bex from her feet, but she quickly scrambled back up and away, trying to catch her breath. It seemed somehow more difficult, as if the Mournland itself were actively sapping her strength. She couldn’t seem to evade the wolves and moments later, she succumbed to her wounds. The ground seemed to drink in her blood thirstily. Lustily.
Arturo’s magic brought her back around if only barely, while Relic and Rickard continued blasting wolves with their magic. Despite the extreme hellish punishment being meted out by the Cyrans, the beasts seemed unfazed by pain. The tide only very slowly turned in the adventurers’ favor, and Bex was relieved when her blade, driven through the last wolf’s skull, finally made it drop. She shook her head and wiped her nose on her sleeve. The stars faded from around Rickard and he let out an exhausted grunt. Relic let his fires burn a bit longer, just in case.
“Aye, well. That were somethin’...special,” Arturo observed. “I think we should look around. Be mindful of the bodies, though.”
Scattered among the bodies, they found a scattering of coins as well as an enchanted crown upon the brow of a man in robes. When they returned to the elemental cart, Rocky and Failin could only shake their heads in disbelief.
And the barren Mournland still stretched out before them…