We found a private nook in which to discuss our options and decided to confront the mesenger who carried the letter to Nexus first as he was right upstairs. Vesper and I spoke to the polite but firm Maitre d’ for some time before the messenger, a fellow named George Chaplin, came hopping down the stairs to meet us. Layn’leen later told me that the only reason it took her so long to fetch him was that she paused to llisten while some of Sessus’ men attempted to interrogate Rune about us. She says that Rune was no fount of information, so I suppose that Count Thorn did not think to bring anything worth trading. At least I know that I am not the only one so foolish.
Chaplin, on the other hand, was quite voluble. He seemed like a spigot from which words flowed. I wished that I could find a valve to turn him off with on more than one occaision. His desperation to complete his task, and his constant worry about his Mistress’ desires were not natural. I felt certain that it must be inspired by either magic or trerror, but sadly I did not feel like consulting Vesper on the subject in front of him. He displayed his dedication quite convincingly by grabbing his belongings and insisting that we leave immediately….despite his obvious exhaustion. Between his axhastion and his short stature I ended up carrying him so that we could make decent time through Nexus.
Part of our earlier discussion included some of Olivia’s likely whereabouts. We left the Prodigal Sun intending to head to the temple of the Thousand gods heresy at which her father preached. We stalled I the courtyard, surprised to find the bodies of two of Count Thorn’s men waiting for us. One was in the fountain, the other in Crookback Row. Both had clearly been slaughtered by some overwhelming force. I collected an eye from each of them for Vesper hoping that she would eventually be able to tell me what supernatural entity had been behind their demise.
The temple was in its normal battered state when we arrived. I asked after Olivia and we were shown to a narrow, dark tunnel. It lead into a cavern under the Firewander District and Olivia was there tending to the sick and injured among her “rescued” slaves. We snagged her and headed out of Nexus, catching a ferry in the forge district. I paid Otto’s cousin to take us as close to our destination as he could and tossed in a bit extra to take his time going home and lie about where he’d dropped us off.
That night, while I was on watch, a strange wind blew. Combining the thought of magic with the element of air made me think of Count Thorn. I tried to wake Vesper and ask if Air Dragon born could search for people using the wind, but she never stirred. I could have woken her eventually, but I was in a hurry. Layn’leen woke instantly and cloaked us with magic. The strange wind died down soon after.
We walked for four day before we reached Caplin’s home town. We left him there after he gave us directions. I lead the way towards the Valley of Death warily, with one eye alaways hunting for bandits. The farmer we had chatted with along the route had spoken of strange wagons going by and renewed activity from the Eyes of the Hills. I thought that the Eyes had disbanded after Count Thorn slew Captain Jack last autumn, but I suppose someone could have pulled them back together. There always seem to be new people willing to be bandits, no matter how thoroughly the last batch was slaughtered.
Two wagons, three corpses and a charred hole in the side of a hill waited for us in the valley. The wagons appeared to be empty, but had false floors and proved to be full of substandard weapons, armor, and shields. The corpses gave every indication of being dead, but we had to chop them into pieces to keep them from attacking us. Olivia burned the corpses when Layn’leen and I were done with them. Vesper told us that both the strange behavior of the corpse and the charred hole were likely the result of Abyssal magic. The one likely caused the other in some way… but I admit that most of her explanation made little sense to me. The big thing that I got out of it was that I was likely to be fighting some sort of evil undead spell caster in the near future.
Inside the hole was a room with five other doors and a glorious domed roof depicting the Unconquered Sun. The floor was less glorious, covered as it was by the detritus of a human encampment. I was incapable of sneaking around him, but Vesper untied his bowstring and Layn’leen speared him neatly through the eye while Olivia distracted him with words. Olivia than healed him and let him go, which really upset Layn’leen…but I don’t think that we need to worry too much about it. Everyone who matters seems to have figured out that we are anathema. It makes me sad… I had really hoped that we could hide it for much longer than this.
Each of my sisters approached the door marked with their symbol and each received a strange vision. Olivia’s was of a mountain top cliff. Vesper’s involved wind blown leaves and the Earth moaning in pain. Layn’leen caught memories of life as a man. I asked her if sex was different for men, but she said that she didn’t remember anything that interesting… just running and falling in a body much bigger than her current one.
I watched over them rather than approaching my own door. The vision of my own funeral that had invaded my mind as I entered this place was more than enough for me right now. Vesper chattered on happily about the First Age glories that likely waited beyond the doors, but I felt no excitement at the thought of confronting the tombs of our former selves. The only thing that kept me moving at the behest of Anezka’s voice was the thought of the contract Rune held.
Anezka… I could not tell if my memories of her were false things or some remnant from a past life. We all had them…. The sound of her voice, so familiar and foreign, brought them crashing down on us. She was a fellow thief, bookworm, or orator; a younger sister in need of protecting…whatever most strongly pulled on the heartstrings of the one doing the remembering.
And yet… there was a false note to all this sororal warmth. Our runaway archer had told us some things about his “Mistress of Pacts Signed in Blood”… a name that sounded nothing like Anezka. Many of the things he’d said did not match the things we remembered, though I suppose that any blond is capable of dying her hair black.
We discussed the nature of the doors for a bit, then tried to pass through the Night door together. It worked and we found ourselves standing on one of a cluster of stone pillars abandoned in the vastness of the ocean. A quick perusal of the scene showed us a few important facts. One; there was some sort of altar on the pillar farthest from us. Two; only Layn’leen and I would be able to make the leaps between pillars reliably. Three; we were about to be swarmed by froglike people who seemed to live in hives attached to the bases of the pillars.
Olivia and Vesper stayed behind on the first pillar while I moved to the second one with Layn’leen. I hated separating our group, but trying the jumps would be dangerous for them. They could guard each other’s backs while I guarded Layn’leen’s.
At first that plan seemed to work, but a problem rapidly developed. I could not keep pace with Layn’leen and slaughter her foes. I had to choose one or the other action. There were simply too many of them to do otherwise. The only place the frog creatures were not swarming was the pillar with the altar. I told her to “go” and leave me to face the things hoping that she could move fast enough to stay out of their reach.
She took off like I’d shot her from a bow and I settled into my task, sending my Ji slicing through froglodytes like a scythe through ripe wheat. After eight or so of them went down before me the rest retreated somewhat giving me room to breathe. My side ached from a lucky shot one of them had landed, but my first thought was for my sisters. I looked around to see Oliviia standing next to Vesper, struggling to get one of the froglodytes off of her Kitar and Layn’leen making her second to the last leap only to have the rock she landed on crumble beneath her weight.
She swarmed back up the pillar like a spider only a hairsbreadth ahead of a renewed froglodyte surge. She raced across it’s surface and threw herself onto the final pillar, landing in a roll that put her well out of range of the first golden orb that appeared from the surface of the pillar to strike her. Now we knew why the frog creatures avoided the place.
One of the orbs managed to strike her before she ducked down behind the altar, but none were quick enough to strike her a second time as she reappeared with bulging pockets and a strange bracelet on her wrist. She made the leaps to rejoin me without difficulty and we rejoined our sisters, returning to the domed room together.
The Eclipse door dimmed a bit and the voice encouraged us to hurry, but I insisted on resting long enough to have all our wounds tended by Olivia and hear Layn’leen’s story of a casket containing three male skeletons and one female one, bedded down on great wealth. She took her bracelet from the dead woman’s wrist with every certainty that it belonged to her. She also had another memory of her man’s life…this one of raiding a treasure horde with her father and finding that same bracelet.
Vesper’s pleas that we explore beyond her door were nearly as irritating as those of the voice, which repeated itself exactly every few minutes until I wondered if it was even a real voice. Vesper’s pleas changed slightly from moment to moment, Anezka’s did not.
We proceeded through the Twilight door next and found ourselves standing on a platform high in the branches of an immense forest surrounded by a massive pile of human skulls. One large building, with a toppled tree holding its door closed, stood out from the rest of the village. We made our way towards it slowly, winding our way across abandoned bridges and through homes whose former occupants now dangled , headless and strung up by their toes. Some lacked skin or bones as well, but most looked as if they had died in their sleep only to be decapitated, drained of blood, and have their toes woven into their thatching.
I climbed down a rope ladder to make the leap to our chosen building. Layn’leen swung the rope ladder and I anchored it, allowing my sisters to climb down to the roof without having to risk the jump. We waited there long enough for Vesper to scribe the message carved into the tree trunks despite the fact that the place gave us all the chills. Not even a bird stirred in the branches…nothing lived here but trees.
We moved over to the one opening into the building that we could see… a broken skylight covered by a strange greenish glow. A glance downward showed us a wide open work room where a monstrous thing paced like a caged animal. The thing wore my youngest sister’s form but its eyes were pitch black and its Twilight marking bled as if it had been carved into the Thing’s face with a blade. It saw us above it and smiled.