Phantasmagoria - Chapter 6
"Look at it this way Kell. While the angel lore would be a boon it is not the only lead we've got. What did you say about your dream again?"
"The red spores and the demon at the Lost God Altar were connected," replied Kelloran dejectedly.
"What if the fungus and the Angels were connected too?" the ghost posed.
Stone shot Chells a quizzical look. "How did you come to that conclusion?"
"Actually it is more of a hunch. They feel connected I'm not sure how yet though."
"What about the goblin’s. Those crossbows part of this too?" Thomas asked.
"I don't know. Honestly I could be dead wrong. Like I said is just a gut feeling. Even so it is something we need to address, maybe even more so than the angels, connection or not. Here is my thought each of us spend the tomorrow trying to figure out what this mold is. Stone take the natural plane. See what communes will tell us. I'll try the same thing from the spiritual side."
"What have spirit to do with this?"
"I'm not sure yet and I don't think spirits themselves are really an issue. I'll tell you what I find tomorrow."
"Well my job is obvious." remarked the tall alchemist. "I have plenty of mold samples already. I'm sure I can scrounge up some more from under Stones bed too if need be."
"Very funny, Thomas."
"Seriously though. I'll see how this red stuff reacts to the basic alchemical processes and compare that to normal fungi reactions."
Kelloran pondered for bit but he could not shake the thought of crossing paths with a demon cult not to mention whatever awaited him at the Altar of the Lost Gods. “What about me?"
Stone sat back down after retrieving the darts for the fourth time. "You get the Gods. Thomas, Chells and I all have strong ties to a number of specific Gods but unless these angels are associated to one of them you have best chance to sense it. If these angels really are some sort of divine servants then maybe we can find out who they belong to."
With that the group broke for the night. Thomas polished off his mead as Kelloran doused the torches. Chells simply faded away while Stone retrieved the Apocrypha scroll for the library.
The day dawned thankfully on a sunny and only somewhat chilly morning. Thomas decided to see if he could not find a fresh farie mushroom as well as grab himself several samples of the red mold. He shifted his shoulders a number of times to make sure none of the boxes and jars clinked or shifted much. No sense gathering samples with broken containers. Satisfied that all was secure, he set off towards the white woods and the forest beyond. Taking the bridge seemed like a good way to give any goblin watching town a clean shot. Once past the Woodland Altar Thomas spotted the dark scarlet blotches on a the hillside. He took a few specimens from here, marking them so he could compare them with any found else in the woods. He crisscrossed the steep slope and the Woodland Loop looking for the fey sticks that would lead him to a farie ring. So far no luck. About half way through the Loop all signs of the red fungus stopped so Thomas took another pair of samples from this far edge of the contamination.
Just as he was packing up, an insect bit him sharply on the cheek. "Damn it." he swore. The bite throbbed and the alchemist wondered if it had been a sting rather than a bite. When another sharp pain lanced into the knuckle of his left hand. Thomas grabbed his gear and bolted. "Fucking Nest!!!!!" His foggy breath billowed back from him as he put as much distance as he could from the spot of attack. "Wait a minute...I can see my breath. There was frost on the ground this morning. What insect would but out today." Stopping to look back Thomas saw a swarm flowing towards him. It flashed through the sunlight falling brightly through the leafless wood. Yet instead of the black of wasps or yellow of bees this shifting mass lit up with a deep crimson. "Ohhhhh SHIT!" Considering how much pain the lanky crafter was in from the two stings, he had no doubt the swarm was lethal. Any other of the Favored of FallenStar would have been engulfed in moments. By Kismet's grace, it was Thomas they were chasing.
Slipping his pack from his shoulder he pitched it lighting into the softest drift of leaves he saw before lengthening his stride. He knew this would tire him more quickly but if did not gain some distance between himself and his pursuers all it would take is one trip and he would be done for. On top of that he could either gamble one taking the hill at full speed or slow to a safe speed and loose ground. Thomas figured he could rest when he reached safety. Running full tilt he approached the steep slope and shed just enough momentum to sprint along the incline rather than straight down it. A lance of agony speared his shoulder but then Thomas hit the road and pulled ahead once more. "Woodland Altar is closer," he though. "but aren't these things corrupted woodland creatures? If the still attack at the Altar, there is no way I’ll make it up those stairs." He turned slightly crossing the shallower rise to Melcynda's glade. "It's further but even if they cross into the peace I could make it to the altar in two or three bounds. If neither of theses stop them....." Thomas shoved that thought way and flew into the blessed clearing. He spun, ready to change directions and run once more if needed. The red swarm rushed at him but as it hit the open glade it exploded in a silent cloud of crimson dust.
Flopping down on the grass Thomas closed his eyes and caught his breath. "That could have been really bad." Even though he had slept well the night before, napping was something Thomas did just as well as sprinting. Opening his eyes what seemed like a minute later showed the sun had risen far more than he had expected. He guessed it to be just shy of noon but that realization paled when he noticed the sharp pain of the stings were gone. "Thank you Melcynda" he whispered with a smile. Cautiously he headed back the way he had come. He'd abandon his pack if need be, but he would try to recover it if possible. His luck held and he found his satchel without another attack. Sweeping the knapsack to his shoulder he found Kismet really did love him that day. Not two feet from where his pack landed was a perfect circle free from the mold. Dead center of the clear ground was the purple faire ring. Snatching a mushroom, and of course a fey stick to match, Thomas headed quickly back to town.
He heard voices from the tavern so rather than head straight for his shop he headed in and for the stairs to warn his friends of what he had encountered.
"OW!!!!" barked Stone as he hit the landing.
"Stop scratching stupid. I can only heal so quickly." Thomas made it to the top to see Kelloran standing over a very bedraggled druid.
"I can't help it. They itch like crazy!"
"What happened, Stone?"
"Hey Thomas. A briar patch came alive and tried to rip me apart. The thorns had to be four inches long apiece."
"I nearly bought it too. Mine was a swarm of what looked like blood red wasps. How about you Kelloran?"
"Rabid chipmunks the size of woodchucks." replied the restorer as he applied his magic to another wound on Stone's back. Thomas and Stone looked at each other and while it really wasn't funny, the distracted deadpan delivery of such a statement caught them off guard. The two nearly fell over laughing. They sputtered apologies but Kelloran swiftly caught the humor of it and chortled along with them. After a while the three friends got themselves back under control. Stone wiped a tear away and clenched his hands to prevent himself from scratching.
"You want some potions Stone?" asked the crafter.
"My healing is tapped out." Kelloran answered for him. "Do me a favor check to see if Chells is in his shop. If not I'll come down and grab some potions for him."
"Will do." he replied as Stone uttered his thanks still chuckling and wincing simultaiously.
Thomas left his pack by the door of his home and headed over to templar's hut. The door was open so he called out from just outside the cloth covering. "Hey Chells. You there?" He waited a few moments but, given Chells' odd behavior lately, his not answering could mean any number of things. Could be Thomas needed a spirit caller dust to get the ex-medium's attention. Peeking in he saw a body in the bed. He looked closely and realized there were no glowing chains wrapped about the still form. "Lazy cretin. Hey Chells, wake up!"
"No really. Stone's hurt."
"Ok Ok I'm up. What?.... Ackkk Damn Thomas! The sun's still up."
"Duh it's just after noon."
"I don't do day. What was that about Stone?"
"He got shredded by some plant in the forest. Could you go see what you can do for him?"
"No problem. Gods it's bright out here."
"No wonder you like being a ghost. You’re paler than the spirits in your graveyard. Get some sun man!!!!" joked Thomas.
"Hmmph" grumbled Chells as he headed into the tavern. Thomas entered his shop and began cutting and separating the various samples he had gathered.
The four friends meet for dinner once more. Stone looked much better after Kelloran’s and Chells’ ministrations. The Surtur Grill was providing Blazing Spice Steaks. Luckily the dwarven kegs still had enough to dilute the fiery seasoning to bearable. Even before Kelloran and Stone had finished loading up their plates, Thomas had to tell them what his research had uncovered. “I’ll bet you any amount that whatever that mold is, it is not really fungus. It is not natural at all.”
“We know its not natural Thomas. No-one living or dead has ever seen it before.”
“Not Natural as is in common. I mean Natural as in coming from nature. The stuff is not organic.”
“I agree with Thomas.”, remarked Stone settling down at one the round tavern tables. “My commune with the woodlands was not at all what I had expected. I first sought out the trees thinking that since it was seemed like the fungal plague, it must surely be eating into them. Instead I found out the wood was sleeping peacefully beneath the red stain growing across it. The sleepy flora was barely aware of the mold. It was not harming them at all. It as if it was sitting on top of everything, like a paint rather than a decomposer which would work its way into the terrain.
“So I turned to the creature of the forest. That’s when the commune nearly overwhelmed me. I have rarely ever felt such anger before. Many of the animals and insects were borrowed in, preparing for winter. Yet they were not at rest. Their natural sense was calling them to begin hibernation and yet they reacted to my contact with ferocious hostility. I quickly disengaged and then melded with the plant life. This masked my humanity and probably saved me from the fate of Kelloran and Thomas. Unfortunately some part of that antagonism must have followed me and so it was the brush around me that attacked. My ability to command plants slowed the thorns considerably but still I could not command them completely as I should have been able to do. Something else was overriding my will.”
“WeLL I cAn teLL yOu mY huNCh wAs RIgHt.”
“Chells, You’re echoing again.”
“SoRry Kelloran. Is that BetteR.”
“Getting there. So which hunch are you referring to; the angel connection or that there is a spiritual force involved?”
“Both acTually. You all know that spirituality is not just dealing with the dead. Spirituality encompasses Divinity as well, among other things. Well I’m pretty sure the over-grown farie angle is probably folklore. After you guys went to bed I began my investigation. I work better at night. Instead of heading for the woods first I visited the spots Kelloran pointed out where had seen the lurking angels and tried to read anything from the locations. Sure enough there were spiritual traces left behind. Faint but definitely divinely based. After I had a good feel for what I was looking for I glided over to the woods. It is one and the same. The mold is not real. It is the residue of the angelic anger.”
“That is why it affected the animals and not the plants.” Stone realized. “Haven’t you been saying spirituality has a lot to do with emotion.”
“Yes. Truth, Justice, Honor are grounded by values. Spirituality, Compassion, Valor are emotional.”
“So it makes sense. Animals are going to be moved by emotions far quicker than the trees would, especially at this time of year.”
Kelloran started to speak but Thomas interjected a quick question. “But why are the angels angry in the first place.”
The Restorer spoke up once more. “I think I know the answer to that. What I found out makes a lot more sense now. I got nothing from the temple. No way was I going to the Lost Gods altar solo. So I trekked out to the Woodland Altar next. I think I know who the angry angels belong to and worse I can guess why they are here.”
Three voices spoke one word in chorus “Who?”
“Troth, the God of Oaths. Someone has broken their word in a really bad way, though I have no idea who. The bad new is whomever that was is tied to FallenStar. Not just superficially. Whomever has brought this on us is someone important to this town.”