The Maelstrom Calls - Part 2

Away In a Manger

The Darklands - October 12th - Morning

Oaks opened his eyes and looked around. Most of his strange companions were gone. He was lying inside a crumbling old structure with the roof half missing. Gabriel sat against the the far wall poking a small fire with a stick, his breather hung loosely around his neck. Their Ashen guide was there also. He stood with his back to the pair staring out of an open doorway into what appeared to be an ill kept farmers yard. There were other buildings outside and from what Oaks could see, they were in a similar state of disrepair.

"Where are the others?" Oaks asked. Gabriel ceased his poking at the flames and looked over, relief etched on his face. The Ashen turned slowly and folded his arms.

"They went on ahead." Gabriel explained, "They wouldn't wait."

Oaks noticed that Gabriel was wounded. His shoulder was bandaged tightly and his winced as he moved to face him.

"What happened?" Oaks asked.

"Something out there didn't disagree with us. You especially."

"It was foolish to remove your mask." the Ashen interrupted, "You are not of the people and you were almost lost."

"I... I don't remember." Oaks replied as he scrambled to his feet. "I mean I remember not being myself. Being scared half out of my whits, but not the detail."

"This world are not for you." The Ashen said turning his back once more.

"Full of useful information is that one." Gabriel said, "Best I can tell from the others is that there are some sort of toxins in the ground, or maybe in the air. Messes with your head..."

"But not him?" Oaks indicated the Ashen.

"Looks like he is immune."

"Not immune." the Ashen corrected without turning, "We resist the call of the shadow, but in time it would take even me." The tall man was staring at the sky, a strange look on his face.

"What's wrong?" Oaks asked moving to stand at the mans side, "What are you looking at?"

"The sky is silent." replied the Ashen and Oaks followed his gaze realising that the man was right. The boiling clouds of the Maelstrom were still, and the usual rumble of distant thunder could not be heard. It was unnerving.

"Been like that all morning." Gabriel piped in, "Gives me the willies."

Oaks stood there for a long time before speaking again, "Where are we?" he asked the Ashen in a hushed tone.

"An old settlement of my people. They tried to live outside of the territory, away from the city dwellers."

"What happened to them?"

"They died. The madness took some, and others... we are not immune." There was bitterness in the mans voice and longing, but Oaks did not press. He doubted the guide would be forthcoming anyway. He looked back into the building where he had been sleeping and noticed for the first time the layout of the structure. A wide open area with compartments built into the two side wall. They were in some kind of animal stable. He could see the feeding troughs and drainage channels now. He wondered how many people had been lost here. How many had tried to make this fresh start away from the cold clutch of the Dusk militia.

"How will we enter the Delve without the others?" Oaks asked at last and the Ashen gave a humorless grunt.

"The entrance is nearby. I will take you, come." And with that the man was walking.

"Looks like we are off?" Oaks called back to Gabriel as he followed their guide towards the rear of the settlement. Oaks saw that the buildings were crouched beneath the foothills of the Southern Mountains. He reattached his breather as they moved out into the open and began to walked towards a nearby rock face with a visible fissure at its base. The Ashen pointed towards the opened and Oaks nodded in understanding.

As they made their way across the open ground between the ruined settlement and the rocks something cold brushed against he back of Oaks neck. He flinched and looked around. Looking up he noted that the clouds of the Maelstrom remained still and quiet. Another cold wet tap on his cheek caused him to gasp and he heard Gabriel mutter in surprise to their rear. Even the Ashen was looking around in wonder now and soft white flakes of frozen water began to float down around them.

"Snow?" Gabriel gasped and he turned round and around watching the ever increasing flakes fall all around them. Snow was not unknown but it was rare, perhaps once in a generation the sky would grow still and the snow would fall. Oaks remembered his grandfather speaking of it. The world turned to white. He grinned beneath his breather mask as he watched the poisoned earth become smothered in this beautiful white flakes.

By the time they had reached the fissure they were all shivering and a soft breeze was picking up, driving the snow into flurries. Before entering Oaks looked back and took in the sight. He could hardly make out the settlement now and the stables in which he had slept, the snow was falling that thick.

"From here you enter." The Ashen said after a moment of them standing outside.

"What will we find in there?" Gabriel asked.

"Darkness and death." the Ashen replied and with that he was gone, walking briskly off into the rising snow storm, leaving them behind.

"We best get inside." said Oaks.

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