Phantasmagoria - Chapter 8
It had been a harrowing few weeks for the hardy winter companions of Fallenstar. With endless debating over the true origins of the angels, the purpose of them becoming visible to Kelloran, the fungal plague covering more and more of the woodlands each day, and more and more animals and vermin becoming distorted and violent toward the stalwart adventurers, tensions had run high for a while. And sadly no new progress was being made toward solving their current problems, or in figuring out who exactly had broken the major oath, if that truly was the case.
Two evenings past the solstace, at 11 bells, still found the friends in the Jack O' Lantern, drinking the remainder of Raith's winter stock. "Hey, does anyone know if Raith left anymore dark ales?" came the muffled voice of Kelloran. His head slowly rose up from behind the bar, bottles clutched in each hand. "All I can find is this mead. Man I can't think of the nastiness awaiting me with this!"
"Hey, careful with that, that's my favorite!" said Thomas, looking up from his many open jars perched along the edge of the bar. "Just set them up here and I'll take care of those..."
"I don't think there's anymore left Kelloran," said Stone. "You're going to have a hell of a tab to pay when Raith gets back. Don't think he won't know who took all the ale. He knows it wasn't any of us..."
"Doesn't matter, I'll be dead before he gets a chance to collect anyway." The Restorer's mood of late had sunk to new lows. His usual laughter dulled by his fear of Thomas' vision. His jokes had gone from light-hearted to a very sarcastic tone, and he knew it was grating on his fellows.
"Are you still bitching about that!" said Thomas. "I told you. I've been dead before, Stone has been dead before, Chells has been dead before, and even you've been dead before. Hell, Chells is probably dead right now! What's the big deal!"
"Can't be raised if I'm in the belly of some extra-dimensional demon, ass!" joked Kelloran. "Speaking of Chells, has anybody seen him today? I haven't seen him since the day before yesterday. He was still checking on more spiritual residues of the angels, trying to pinpoint some source to work from. I have a life-spark on him, but I don't know if it will activate if he gets into trouble on the spirit plane. I just know he isn't "technically dead.""
"Haven't seen him today either," said Stone. He lolled back in his chair, looking more disheveled than usual. "I can't believe those goblins got the drop on me today. Tomorrow one of you guys is coming with me when I journey back out there. Normally they would have been quick exercise, today, they almost had me."
"Quick exercise, you?" quipped Thomas, giving Stone the head-tilted stare he has mastered so well.
"Yeah, it was like they were guided by Arboleth himself, that rotten bastard. They fought like banshees, screaming, whirling blades, and then they pulled out another one of those crazy crossbows and I thought I had had it. Luckily my command plants worked just well enough to wrap one up so I got the hell out of there."
Kelloran let out a long sigh. "I'll go with you tomorrow Stone, so long as we don't go anywhere near the Lost Gods altar. I'll be honest, for the first time in a while, I'm really stumped. I can't think of any other direction to keep exploring the Angels, even though I feel it is the Gods will that I do so. I keep feeling drawn to checking out whatever I can about Apocrypha, but so far have no other leads. I know we've gone over this a few times, but I feel like he is the key that I should be following. Another master of the little known fact, another lore-hound, another puzzler. I feel that if I had followed a diffent path in my training, he could just as easily be me."
"Cool, I'm gonna hit the hay, and I'll wake you up at dawn." said Stone, gathering up his gear. None of the four went anywhere these days without weapons, armor and their adventuring gear. It was just too risky.
"Dawn for you...or actual dawn?" laughed Thomas. The subdued mood of the four friends had yet to really get the irrepressable alchemist. Both Stone and Kelloran chuckled along with him...they knew it would really be noon.
"I'm out too Thomas, good luck finishing up those new reagents. I don't know if it's really wise to be trying to concoct new potions with that fungus. Be careful." yawned Kelloran. Thomas bent back to his work. It was hard enough to keep the skills of his craft secret, he wanted to try new things, but didn't have many avenues to work with. His attempts to speak with Yazminch had yeilded him many side-quests in search of new components, but even the gracious spirit was reserved with lost alchemical lore. His conversations with the Forgotten Alchemist hadn't gotten him much further at all. And he knew there were so many more things he could do with this craft. Even now, he barely needed his lab, he could mix and create no matter where he was. But so far no real luck trying to use the fungus. It was all very frustrating to him. The lights burned late into the night as Thomas continued his work.
The next day, Kelloran and Stone both strapped into their armors and sheathed their blades. The black tendrils encirling Kellorans blade leaped out a few inches as he cleared it in the scabbard, almost eager for a fight. Not a good sign for the Restorer. "I hate combat. Especially when I'm in it." laughed the restorer. His heavy black robes left behind for the day, he felt athletic, but not ready to face kill or be killed situations. "Where are we going today, anyway Stone?"
"Thought we should check out the Nihilus Grove, see what the nullzone does to the fungus and to the visions of angels and the like. I have been calling in favors trying to find some information on the Cult of Deceivers, and I know they've been active up there in the past."
"What would the Cult of Deceivers want with the Nihilus Grove? And I thought we were going to pursue other avenues of attacking the angel/oath/fungus problem, not head on with the Cult? Oh, and I saw Chells this morning. Echoey voice and all. He's been staying out longer and longer lately. I hate that Echoey voice!"
"I'm not sure what they would want yet," said Stone, but I know you wanted to maybe try heading in the direction of Apocrypha, so there we go."
"Cool. But, can we take the long way around, throught the fields, maybe down through the FOC? I'm really serious about not going near the Lost Gods Altar."
"No problem, let's go."
The two adventurers shouldered their packs and headed out, both keeping a wary eye out at every moving thing in the snow-covered fields. They trekked on for a few hours, carefully avoiding any obvious dangers, always an eye open for runes or other sources of information or income. Runes had been found pretty sparingly recently, much to the dismay of the two lore-hounds. No new information always means no new puzzle pieces to work out. You have the same pieces and no way to put them together.