Prayers have done nothing to soothe my spirit.
It had only been a week in when the caravan encountered a significant delay. Heavy rains followed us and a thick carpet of black fungus sprung up over the road. When some of it was cleared away, it made a sound like a crying child, which spooked the horses. It also grew back quickly. Some took this to be a bad omen; others suspected black magic.
All became restless.
One seasoned wagon driver told us of an extensive cave system beneath us, which was the most likely origin of this plague. Killing this fungus at the root was an option, but clever Mordai had another plan. Fire had proven most effective, so why not burn a straight path through it? Meanwhile, the horses’ ears could be stopped up and the application of blinders would keep them on the path.
I envy my companions, they seemed unaffected by what happened next. Even Karybdus acted as if he heard nothing at all.
A most unholy sound arose from the burning path. I will never forget the sound of a thousand crying children. This will most likely haunt my nightmares for the rest of my days.
What should have been a most welcome distraction only heightened my unease. Two beautiful, but impoverished, twins were trying to join our caravan. They claimed to only want passage as far as Dagger Ford, and were most coquettish in their pleading.
I should have ignored them, but when they mentioned sharing tales, I could not resist.
There is a persistent, lingering feeling that I don’t have much time left, and so I was most compelled to find stories wherever I could. Sheherazade must have her thousand and one nights, and I must fetch the stories to fill them.
It is easier to speak of the entertainment trade with Arita and Zalina (as they called themselves), but I cannot dismiss them outright when they say they have a secret for me. For all I knew, it could be something fantastical, if not necessarily true; to me, anything that could fill one more night is better than none.
A whisper on the wind, that sounded much like Mordai, echoed that I should not be alone with them. I hesitantly demurred from their offer, delaying them only for the next night.
Their painted smiles were like red slashes. I could not get back to the fireside fast enough.
I am reminded of something my father said to my sister during her lessons: “A good woman is like a bottle of perfume or spices – pleasing to all the senses. A fine quality for a queen to have.”
As soon as he was out of earshot, Sheherazade whispered: “What if the bottle is filled with poison?”
It is one of the many clever and profound things I’ve heard from my big sister. I cannot begrudge her her destiny.
The fireside was a welcome distraction. Karybdus enjoyed taunting and antagonizing the wagon driver who tried to advise us about the fungus. The strange little halfling Enom could definitely spin a yarn, but grew more hostile to his audience. There was another merchant, who appeared to be of two minds by the light and dark. This caravan carried many mysteries, but I was far too wrapped up in my own troubles to unravel them.
I was tempted to know more, and I was still greatly troubled by the horrible crying of inhuman things.
It seemed like a good idea at the time to turn to the cleric for counsel. I mean, even if my faith lay elsewhere, was it not Ryk’s station and duty to provide comfort for the soul?
The next night came all too soon, so I confided to Ryk about my misgivings. I thought it was kind of him to watch out for me on the way to my meeting, and somehow Karybdus involved himself. I thought I was being clever with my chaperones, but Arita and Zalina saw through it.
They invited us in, and I braced myself. Instead, we spoke a little of our origins. Even now, I feel foolish and worry if I gave too much away. Knowing what I do now, I am glad that I was not too specific, and my family can verify my identity by the token they gave me: an intricately patterned handkerchief Sheherazade made for me that I keep tucked in my shirt.
Ryk spoke of his sister and his royal lineage. I felt much sympathy for him, and envy for the “sisters.” I longed for home even more, but buried it with a smile and kept my attention on the conversation.
Apparently, the twins’ secret was that they were fleeing a wrathful god. Ryk seemed most knowledgeable about this nameless threat, for when he flipped to a page in that book he always carried around, the twins reacted most fearfully. Karybdus’ curiousity got him to look at the name, but I averted my eyes lest I draw its baleful gaze.
Things got really awkward immediately after that. It seemed that everyone else in that tent wanted a more… intimate acquaintance, so I bid a hasty goodnight.
Still, I kept close with my hand over my dagger, waiting in case their affections were a horrible ruse.
Whatever cries I heard were not of pain, so embarrassment won out over vigilance.
Shamefaced, I made my way back to the campfire and tried to put all thought of what was happening out of my mind. I was quite intrigued by that book and harboured hopes that I may have a chance to look at it.
Later on in the night, a great commotion came from the tent of those interlopers. I heard a mighty cry and the thunder of hoofbeats and blows landing.
By the time we came to Ryk and Karybdus’ aid, the twins’ tent was in tatters and they had fled into the night. As for the other two… Well, more than their pride was injured (and exposed).
Sir Salazar was their unlikely saviour, but I have never seen someone who fit the role so perfectly. A paladin in shining armor saddled upon a mighty steed! I was thankful that he saved two our party from their own folly, and I dared to hope that perhaps someone with strength and sense would be joining us on our arduous journey.
They explained that the twins were shapeshifter assassins. It was obvious, what with the terrible shape Karybdus was in after his… “ordeal.” I merely clapped him on the back with the healing word of the day.
I washed that hand when I had the chance.
Keen-minded Mordai investigated the remains of their tent and belongings. I thought I’d help myself to their silks, but was stopped when he recognized the patterns. He darkly warned me that they were worm infested, then turned on his heel and stormed back towards the caravans to confront the merchant he was riding with.
I think Mordai’s deduction was that the merchant was in league with the twins, or at the very least, responsible for his discomfort on the road. I think Mordai was so angry, he didn’t even consider that the twins may have merely stolen from caravans’ merchandise to continue their ruse, and that the poor merchant was entirely innocent of the affair.
By the time we caught up to Mordai, he and the merchant were screaming accusations at each other. The man was becoming more and more worked up, ranting about how his livelihood and family were ruined.
We were drawing a crowd.
I thought back to one of my former employers and felt some sympathy for the man. But then again, if he was half as successful or clever as Nafisah, then he had other goods and routes that would more than make up for the loss.
Then the merchant accused Mordai of being an unclean, worm-infested creature! What a terrible thing to accuse Mordai of! I wanted to defend the tiefling, or at the least, quietly settle the matter with the irate merchant. I was hoping to discreetly offload the excess purple cloth on the merchant as compensation, but there were so many eyes on us that all boldness fled me.
Mordai swallowed his pride and paid the merchant off in exchange for the tainted silks, but he would have to seek alternate accommodations now. I know he didn’t have worms, but did he have to burn all the fabric before I could find a worm-free scrap?
The crowd soon dispersed and we were left to our own devices, so I tried to find whatever rest I could for the remainder of the night.
For the next few days, there wasn’t much excitement aside from sightings of two great birds in the sky, following the caravan. No one had a spyglass, so many assumed that they were eagles. The more enthusiastic travelers thought it was a great omen.
Some of the party were suspicious, and upon further observation, found that they were great birds called “perytons.” Apparently, they hunt beings of fae blood, such as elves, and feed upon their hearts.
The caravan route would take us through a mountain range, which would mean that the vertical distance between us and the perytons would close. Karybdus was most insistent that the creatures might attack the caravan and should be destroyed.
We had rounded up some reinforcements from amongst the most seasoned guards. Some of them, such as the grim dwarf captain, were itching for some excitement. It didn’t take them much convincing to assist us.
Once we were in the mountains and had reached a satisfactory elevation, we had lashed onto each other and started to scale the cliff walls.
I… I didn’t know why I went along, to be honest. Perhaps I thought I would be of some help. Hammond was my climbing partner, so he certainly made up for my lack of experience. I was told never to look down, so I did my best to avoid that. Although, looking up and getting a better look at those perytons didn’t help either.
There were some near misses and slips as we made our way up the mountain. When we did engage the perytons, I was too busy concentrating on not falling to get all the details. All I know was that some of the more experienced climbers and the magic wielders threw what they could at the birds as they swooped at us.
One was downed by our spellcasters, and I managed to put the other to sleep soon after.
When we were back on solid ground, Karybdus was most relieved, and Ryk and Mordai studied the creatures’ corpses, making notes and taking samples.
I had assumed that the rest of the trip would be more sedate, but the powers that be went out of their way to prove me wrong.
Just as the mountain path had given way to foothills and cut through a sparse forest, giant spiders and large hulking humanoids came out of the trees to steal the caravan’s horses for food. Apparently, they were a common nuisance for the passing caravans.
My attention was diverted when a failed sleep spell did not have the same effect on the monsters, and only worked on the horses we were supposed to rescue. I nearly avoided catching fire due to an errant scorching ray. There was too much chaos going on to know which of our spellcasters was responsible, but I strongly suspect it was Karybdus’ fault.
The only memorable moment of this encounter was Sir Salazar’s great pursuit! He rode after one of the fiends on horseback, and disappeared into the forest. Karybdus gave chase and when the two of them returned, the horse was recovered as were the others. Not a single beast was lost, as far as we knew, although one of the merchants was most unlucky.
I mentioned that I was nearly immolated, but that was because the wagon I was riding on caught a stray scorching ray, not only catching aflame, but shattering the dishware and porcelain he was carrying. I felt quite sorry for poor Mr. Hoper and the misfortune to befall his delicate cargo, so I stayed with his wagon to help clean it up and offer what service I could to him and his family for our carelessness.
Perhaps it is unwise to withdraw from my fellow adventurers, but I see that I am not strong enough and haven’t contributed much towards fighting the threats on the journey. I feel most inadequate, but I cannot forget why I am out here in the first place. If my traveling companions continue to attract trouble, I may not live long enough to bring home Sheherazade’s tales.
It is a long way to Waterdeep, and I grow more uncertain about my fate.