The next day, Sapphira informed her companions that she would be leaving town for a short time. Her brother‘s body was prepared at the shrine of Heronious for a proper funeral service, so she would be traveling south to Eurnoa lake to perform a ceremony.
Landen and Durgyn granted her fond wishes and sent her on her way. Then the two of them headed to West Hill to investigate these ghostly rumors. The halfling’s fair was off to another lively start this morning, but as they wandered away from Eastgate Way, things were very quiet among the small homes of West Hill. As in Silver Hill (the neighborhood of Shadrach, Landen’s mentor) this area is mostly stand alone homes with small walled yards, but the yard’s bushes in West Hill are more barriers to prevent curious passers-by from peering than the fascinating topiaries found in the previous. With nothing amiss, they knock on a random door to speak to a local about the alleged haunting. Likely, the home’s occupants are spending a day at the fair, as no answer comes to the door.
Whether it was investigate methods or Durgyn’s stomach, the pair headed to the more dense area of West Hill made up of row houses containing little shops at street level. There seems to be a good gathering at the local restaurant, so they enter and get a table.
The dining area is mostly filled with tables in the middle of the room, but the walls in the far corner are lined with private booths: walls that run full height from the backs of the benches and a curtain to completely contain the seating area. Getting comfortable in a booth, the waiter pleasantly asks what his new patrons would desire. Landen peers around the room and waves a hand to pass the waiter’s attention to his friend, and Durgyn orders a pitcher of a light drinking ale.
The minotaur perks his ears up and scans them around the room, but can’t make out any talk of the ghosts from the din of conversation in the room. Landen however, seems to have taken interest in a meeting taking place in a booth across the corner from theirs. The curtain is drawn closed, but a small opening remains revealing a man in a blue robe covered with small white stars. Whoever he is speaking to across the table is concealed behind the curtain. The waiter returns and Durgyn orders another ale as he sips the last dregs from his current pitcher. After inquiring about the quality of their meat pies, he orders 4 of those as well. When asked, Landen still passes on ordering any food, but asks about the patron in the curtained booth.
“Ah, that blue robe. He must be an employee of this bookstore down the street: The Reality Wrinkle it’s called. I see them going in and out of there.”
After some time, Durgyn drinks more beer and finishes his pies while Landen strains to overhear portions of the conversation in the other booth. With the waiter’s final return, Durgyn places an order for 2 more meat pies to-go, and during the wait Landen walks across to the booth neighboring the one containing his subject of curiosity.
“It was a pleasure doing business,” he overhears the man in the blue robe say. “Your services were of great help.”
Then the curtain slides open and the man in blue emerges from the booth followed by a well dressed man. Landen can tell a light leather armor is concealed underneath his clothing, and he spots two daggers on the back of his belt. Tempted by the daggers, Landen leans out from the booth and reaches for them. One came free with amazing ease, yet his pull wasn’t as smooth on the second. The man turns around catching Landen holding his two daggers, and a patron who witnessed the lift from his table gasps as he watches the scene unfold.
“What is on your mind, sir!?” The man angrily asks, confronting the thief.
“Merely admiring your daggers m’lord,” Landen sheepishly replies. “Forgive me, I just had to handle them to appreciate them fully.” He flips the daggers out, offering the hilts to the man.
The man replies with a cold, hard stare. A tense silence stood in the air before he snatched his belongings from Landen. “Fool. You should learn to admire with your eyes! Next time, someone might not be as forgiving as I.”
“Indeed m’lord. Thank you.”
The pair leaves the restaurant, Durgyn with two nicely wrapped meat pies and Landen with an injured pride. Durgyn seems to ignore the fact of the encounter that just happened between Landen and the man inside. Perhaps he dismissed it as the silly behavior of a thief, or just didn’t want to draw attention to it out of consideration of Landen’s dignity. Leaving without any leads on the source of the haunting rumors, the pair is not sure how to continue their investigation. Before they can consider what to do next, something very strange happens as they walk down the street.
For an instant, the very fabric of space seems to warp. Distances stretch to infinity or close to nothing, straight lines warp and weave, and vertigo assaults their senses. In the eye of this insane storm, space opens up, and a pool of thick blue slime oozes out onto the street. As the feeling of vertigo subsides, a huge wormlike creature rises up from the pool. Its translucent, purplish skin reveals strands of pulsing organs beneath it, and a ring of hooked tentaclelike limbs surrounds a gaping lampreylike mouth.
After the disorientation, Landen happens to spot a blue robed figure on the rooftop; perhaps the same blue robed man that was in the restaurant. Without time to ponder this discovery, he had to act fast, because there was indeed a giant wormlike creature writhing in front of him. He ran to a nearby alleyway, drew his bow, and stood ready to peek out from the corner with an arrow knocked.
Without enough time to react, Durgyn barely escapes a lunge from the creature. It’s mouth of tentacles came at him swiftly, but the worm didn’t have enough reach to strike the minotaur. The disgusting creature slides itself towards Durgyn, hissing defensively. Not easily intimidated, Durgyn draws his sword and moves in closer, lifting his blade ready to strike. Then suddenly, the strange dizzying effects from before arise again in the adventurer’s minds and another of the large worm rises from the pool of slime.
Landen lets loose an arrow that strikes through the entire mass of the translucent creature. Seeming more angered than harmed, it continues to direct his threat to his closest prey: Durgyn. It strikes down with it’s tentacles, one clamping it’s beaklike end into Durgyn’s flesh and grasping tight. Realizing the full danger of the situation, Landen drops his bow and runs into the street, both scimitars flashing from their scabbards. Durgyn struggles against the worm’s grasp, but it’s strength is too great. It lifts the minotaur to it’s round, tooth filled mouth and snaps at him, but failing to bite his prey the creature drops Durgyn to the ground. Landen cuts a gash into the other alien form, and it returns the strike with a flail of tentacles, some striking true and grasping the rogue.
Durgyn lifts himself from lying on the ground, and angrily lets out a minotaur war-cry as he charges for the beast before him, head dropped and horns bared. The charging gore attack strikes true, both horns piercing through the worm with devastating results. Using his strength he lifts the front end of the creature up and throws it off his horns. The results are satisfying, as it cries out and writhes in pain.
Landen, struggling in the grasp of the other worm’s tentacles, is lifted from the ground towards it’s mouth. He swings a free arm still grasping one of his swords with all his effort, and the blade strikes true. The worm reacts, but it seems the pain didn’t phase it enough to lose it’s grip. Seeing his companion’s need, Durgyn pulls his axe from his back and cleaves his foe clean in half, then focusing his attention on the second creature. It’s razor teeth clamp into Landen and his body goes limp, hanging as ragdoll would held in one’s hand. The creature’s tentacles, now with an even greater grasp, hold Landen firmly as it slithers back from the approaching minotaur. Durgyn runs with axe lifted, and he strikes true once more with the same result: an alien worm halved straight through.
Durgyn lifts his unconscious friend from the ground and searches over him for any healing potions. Finding none, he knew he needed help fast. Running to Eastgate Way with his friend in his arms, he bursts onto the street crowded with the people enjoying the carnival.
“Someone help, I need a healer! I there a healer anywhere!?”
At first, most of the crowd was frightened by the sight of this minotaur warrior carrying what appeared to be a dead body. Then they noticed he wasn’t dangerous, but in need. No one replied, and Durgyn continued to call out his need.
“Can anyone help!!”
Then a call comes from a nearby carnival booth. “Over here, come come! I may have what you need!”
Durgyn approaches the suave looking halfling’s booth: a mercantile of oils and potions. “What is it you need sir?” the halfling asks, ignoring the obvious.
“A potion of healing, quickly!” Durgyn requests.
“Ah yes, I’m sure to have one of those… let’s see…” The halfling crouches down out of view, browsing his inventory. Durgyn hears the contemplative hmms and haws of the halfling as he clinks glass bottles together, apparently searching for the right one. The minotaur however can’t help but notice the nicely organized shelves behind the halfling’s booth, one of which holds small glass vials with a liquid strongly resembling that of healing potions he had seen before.
“Come on already!” Durgyn bellowed in a deep, menacing tone. A voice so deep and fierce that only a minotaur could achieve it. “This is urgent, stop delaying!” He could tell Landen’s health was quickly fading to the black, as more blood seeped from his wounds and his breathing became shallow and labored.
His voice frightened the halfling merchant, making him jump and drop a bottle. “Okay, okay! I’ve got what you need, right here! Right here!” He pops back up to the counter with a vial in hand. Almost ready to hand it over, a glint catches his eye and the profiteer in him senses an opportunity. “Now, the matter of price.” This makes Durgyn’s anger now fulfilled against the little man, and his eyes burn toward him. “Umm um um, well… it would be one hundr… s… sixty gold!”
Still sensing this as a raw deal, Durgyn cannot waste any time. “FINE!” He grunts as he snatches the bottle from the halfling’s hand and freeing the stopper, pours it down Landen’s throat. The bleeding stops, his wounds appear to begin the process of healing, and Landen fills his lungs with air, beginning a less laborious pattern of breathing. It was obvious his friend was no longer on the brink of death, but he was still unconscious. Not saying a single word more to the greedy, shameless halfling, Durgyn set the gold on the counter and carried Landen to their Inn.
After arriving at the Inn and laying Landen in their rented room, Durgyn didn’t want to delay any further. He thought of Sapphira, and realized that now more than ever they needed her abilities. Then he thought of the shrine of Heronious, where Sapphira would go for her morning prayers and where her brother Helix’s body was prepared for burial. He knew they would help revive Landen to proper health and strength. Before he left the Inn, Durgyn was sure to set a left over meat pie on the bed side table for when Landen finally did awake.
As he walked up the small path leading to the shine decorated with iconography of Heironeous, he noticed the air becoming foggy as he progressed. When it was finally in site, he saw the shrine looming out of a bank of thick mist. A woman’s voice cries out from behing the shrine. The words are indistinct, but the tone carried a sense of urgency. Faintly he hears the clattering of armor; not as one walking in it, but a random clunking in the distance. Quickly, Durgyn ran to the shrine, using his sense of smell to guide him where his eyes failed in the dense mist. At the entry he found Torea, the junior paladin of the shrine, breathing heavily with an expression of concern on her face.
“They took her! They took Alein, my mentor!” Torea cried, recognizing Durgyn as a friend of Sapphira’s. He dashed through the mist in the direction he heard the clanking armor just moments before, and two figures in blue robes confronted him.
“Out of the way. Where is the paladin?” Durgyn said, choosing to draw his sword over his axe.
“She must be out of the way for the gate to open,” one of them replied, barring a dagger menacingly.
Durgyn positions himself for battle, and lowers the tone of his voice as he did earlier with the halfling. “Tell me where she is!”
One of the robed adversaries’ eyes opened wide, and he shook in fear saying, “No! When the gate swings wide, our world will fall into the void! She must be out of the way!” Less intimidated, the other ran towards Durgyn and screamed a pitiful battle cry. He swung his dagger pathetically, and Durgyn knocked him unconscious with a swift blow from the hilt of his blade. He approached the cowardly man still standing with his blade pointed out.
“When the bells toll, they will ring the end of time… yes!” was the man’s reply. Durgyn didn’t know if he was ignoring his questions, but from the strange bounce and shake in his voice he thought perhaps this man was insane. He thought it was worth another try, in case this pipsqueak was merely trying to hold back information in being cryptic.
“Tell me where you took her!”
With an actual response, Durgyn thought he was making progress. “The PALADIN! Where is she?!”
Now the man just burst into hysterics, babbling, “She MUST be out of the WAY! The gate will open! Yes, oh yes… then The Blessed will lead us in singing the praise of the ones beyond, even as our bodies are consumed and our minds lost… yes LOST! To madness!!”
Now utterly confused, Durgyn still attempts to press on. “Who is The Blessed?”
“The Blessed? The Blessed hears the voice of the Speaker in Dreams!”
“Speaker in Dreams?”
“The end of time will come! Yes! When the bells toll!!” The man laughs and his speech is unstable, completely lost to insanity. Durgyn decides these are the ravings of a lunatic and swiftly knocks him out with a blow to the head. Torea approaches out of the mist.
“I came here for your help,” Durgyn explains. “My ally Landen is severely injured and unconscious in our room at the Inn. I was wondering if you could aid him.”
“I suppose,” replied Torea. “But what about Alein? We need to find her, so I am also in need of your help.”
“Of course. I will take these two to the town guard, then after Landen is recovered the three of us will look for your mentor.” Torea agreed to Durgyn’s proposal, and she headed for the Inn.
At the guard post Durgyn dropped the two robed menaces off, much to the surprise of the guardsman receiving the prisoners.
“These two attacked the shrine of Heronious?” He asked. “They’re just bookworms that always hang around that strange store in West Hill. I suppose it doesn’t surprise me though. The people there always seemed a little crazy.”
“Yea,” Durgyn said before leaving. “They fight like bookworms.”