Cycles of Shadow

The Elf Whisperer

I was vomiting at the same time as I was firing arrows.

Disgusting.

We didn’t have enough pairs of hands to sail both ships, so we scuttled the pirate hulk. I would have loved to have joined in, but I had an urgent appointment with the rail. Ezekiel joined me for conversation between retches and hurls. I hate the sea.

*

Korinn Island is lovely this time of year. Snow-capped mountain. Evergreen forests hunched around the rock. A blasted-apart wreck of a ship lounged in the shallows of the bay. The reason for lack of contact from the island for two months was apparent.

Real tourist hotspot, the wood-elves travel for miles to lie on the beach.

Ragnar graciously offered to wait for us for two days. He was all heart.

*

Deepstone had been closed to business for some time. The shacks and hovels had long since collapsed due to age. Helpfully, the sign reading “Deepstone” had been crossed out, with the optimistic “New Deepstone” and an arrow in place.. I didn’t get close enough to check if it was written in blood. The newly-weds probably didn’t want grisly details like that on their honeymoon. I led the way in the direction of New Deepstone.

*

It’s not the primitive nature – or the half-cocked attitude they have towards building them – but the sheer laziness of goblin traps that offends me. Even Elrik, spouting off about Bahamut this and smiting that, spotted the rocks standing on either side of the road and the foot-deep furrows in the earth leading up to them. Not thrilled with the idea of ending up on the point of a goblin spear, I skulked off into the treeline. I had even managed to kill one of the bastards with anyone getting on the drop on me before Adrik decided upon a head on charge, admittedly killing a pair of the wretches before disappearing under the weight of three spiked-helmeted goblins. Blood was everywhere, I tell you, Adrik was the only one grateful to hear Bahamut’s name said over and over again.

We spent the majority of the ambush keeping Adrik alive, bellowing and swinging with three goblins stuck in him like a pincushion. Kathra, admirably, stood toe to toe with her husband, but I stuck to the trees. You don’t smell the goblins when you’re shooting at them from far away. Rane was smart, switching himself and Adrik with a quick teleport. It was a pity Adrik went screaming back into the fray.

We were doing well against the lowly scum, it was the goblin mage prancing about on a high rock who did the harm. Not the last time I’ll be grateful for having our own prancing mage. I love seeing Ezekiel use that spell in combat, but if he puts one of those grasping shadows anywhere near me, it’ll be him getting two arrows in the skull.

The mage managed to blind and disorientate both Rane and Elrik, who couldn’t connect with that mage for all the gold in Waterdeep. Kathra had to resort to moving between each one and searing the will of Pelor into each of their skulls at extreme close range. I’m glad I had the satisfaction of putting an arrow through the mage’s throat.

*
New Deepstone was a massive improvement over its predecessor. Granted, the Ministry of Expansion built the settlement on a fault-line, but I’m sure the views from the watchtower at the top of the cliff offer spectacular views of the goblin infested landscape and the shipwreck-clogged sea beyond.

We were directed to those in charge of the tiny settlement. Tomas, the bald priest of Moradin introduced himself first. I’ll ask our new dwarf friends about the number of humans who worship that particular deity of ale and digging some other time. The tiefling – tieflings are always trouble – was Branya Fireheart and she spoke little. Alan Costa – strange name – was the island’s Flaming Fist representative.

Tomas also introduced us to Larien Bundy, the leader of the cut-off mining colony. He explained (I’ll need to speak with Ezekiel on the subject of how plausible this explanation was, in hindsight) that a magical storm hit the island, handily destroying the ship in the bay and disabling the scrying crystal the colony was provided with.

We were offered food and a house before a tour of the mine in the morning. The dwarves seemed eager at the chance to go underground. I wasn’t thrilled, but it was either that or back on the boat. We retired to bed sated, with Adrik blind drunk.

*

I was awoken by a piercing scream. Our dwelling had been invaded by a force of men led by Tomas and Branya. Kathra had – in her generosity – seen fit to wake us. I took the most painful blow I’ve had in some time, the blade went straight into my stomach. Ezekiel took a poisoned blade wielded by Branya to his shoulder. Elrik saved the day with a blast of holy light, blessing us all with improved aim in the semi-darkness. I managed a reasonably graceful leap from the bed in time to see Elrik dislocate the jaw of an attacker. Green blood sprayed across the floor, then promptly evaporated. I can’t say it was the best way to be roused from sleep.

Rane, in typical fashion, saw no need to raise himself to his feet, instead teleporting across the room in a storm of steel, parrying blows on all sides. As Kathra and I started scoring some kills, the attackers revealed themselves as beings of shadow before dying with a wail. I can even admit now that I was a little tearful when I saw Ezekiel fall, his lifeblood soaking the bedsheets all around, but Elrik – I’m pleased to report – managed to bring his holy power to bear again and raise the prancing mage.

We repelled the attack, “killing” “Tomas” and “Branya” and had come to the conclusion that the island had been taken over by shapeshifters of some description. The purple-coloured, necrotic force-field which had descended upon the house was certainly not something a mining colony had the power to construct either. I admit I may have bounced an arrow off it, experimentally of course, and perhaps buried it in Rane’s torso. A flesh wound…

No more dangerous than the flames which leapt through the building. Ezekiel, fresh from his brush with death, was perceptive enough to spot a trapdoor in the floor. From it, the head of Alan Costa appeared, mercifully still attached to the rest of his body and looking thinner and thoroughly unkempt compared to his earlier self. I guessed that this was the real Costa and might have asked for proof had he not suggested joining him in his nook below the ground. With the building burning down around us, we graciously accepted. As ever full of ideas, Ezekiel cast a magical series of sounds to suggest that we were burning to death in the house.

Costa proved his humanity to us by spilling some of his very red blood. He also granted us infravision, bestowed by a series of edible gems which are apparently one property of the gems available in the mines of the island. A useful island indeed…

Costa confirmed that as far as he knew he was the only person left alive on the island. It appeared the doppelgängers also have the ability to steal the abilities of any person they kill. Costa suggested an expedition to the mine, to determine what the objective of the doppelgängers was, as his form of guerilla warfare clearly wasn’t going to be successful in the long run.

*

As our discussion came to an end, I felt woozy in those tunnels below the earth. I spotted, too late, a shadow detach itself from the wall. The island’s occupiers had found us. We found ourselves completely weakened during the fight, Rane could barely muster a decent hit whilst under the spell of the shadows. Our hits were weak and one shadow forced us against our will to attack each other. I’ve never experienced anything like it before, it was like his voice whispered straight into my head, without going through my ears. It was Kathra and Elrik again who saved us, blasting away the charms on us and obliterating several of the shadowy beings.

On regaining control, I opened fire on the shadow who insisted on clouding my mind, puncturing his throat with an arrow before Adrik sheared its head off.

Costa bestowed another series of gemstones on us, which when swallowed returned us to full strength. I could pop those things all day…

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Anghrist

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