A Camp In The Night

Sunder turned to Jeke. “I can confirm part of Lithwick’s story. I have heard rumors of this village, it’s population entirely butchered. It happened somewhere up in Aarden.”

"Aarden?" responded Jeke With raised eyebrows.

“Do you mean Varland?” Reise said, thinking he'd heard wrong.

“No, Aarden,” Sunder repeated clearly. “It is a land in the frigid north beyond Taras and Varland, home to untamed barbarians that trade in fur hides. It is also home to the frost elves, some of whom have recently sworn allegiance to the Iron Queen. A group of them were said to have wiped out this human village to prove themselves to her and that they had what it takes to join her legions in Zatar.” He looked at Joseph sombrely. “So you were the only survivor and the Iron Queen was there personally?”

Joseph nodded. “Now I have nightmares, apparently I black out, and some name keeps popping in my head. Drivin? Drakez, no Draken, Draken Darward."

“Perhaps I can help to alleviate these nightmares of yours, I have some small skill in—” Orla broke off in mid-sentence; her silver-shot blue eyes widened and a chill rippled down her back. “Did you say Draken Darkward?”

“Why does that name sound familiar?” Reise wondered, frowning. Jeke also turned, looking at the two. He had no clue about whom they were talking about.

"What exactly happened, I just remember seeing a woman in danger, I think it was you, and a voice, a cruel voice spoke in my head, so...fuzzy." Joseph groaned in pain.

Jeke turned back to the man, half crouching, half walking with a wine skin to quench his parched throat. Jeke tilted it upwards gently as he glanced at the other two. He gave a look of calm and a nod before answering. "You attacked and killed Knights of the High Church that were wrongfully accusing those two," Jeke said of Reise and Orla, giving Joseph a moment to swallow. "You passed out as I came to you. You gave those two quite a scare."

“He didn't scare me. I met Orla inside the fort after all that stuff outside happened,” Reise clarified, turning to his companion. “Did this guy give you a scare?”

“I was very scared, but I think he was trying to help me,” Orla answered, defending Joseph. Jeke gave a small shrug.

Reise turned to Jeke. “If he was protecting Orla from those church knights I’d like to buy him a mug of Aelmerian ale. What is he doing all tied like an animal?”

“He is cursed by the Iron Queen,” Sunder interjected gravely. “The man is under her influence, her witchery.”

"I have heard whispering of this Iron Queen and a lot of it seems to be propagandist rhetoric... But there have been whispers of her power," Jeke spoke thoughtfully. "And what I witnessed is at least some kind of possession-"

“What does that even mean?” Reise threw up his hands. “He's cursed to wander the far north telling everybody the cycle of Man ends now, a New Age is arriving, the old age is ending and how from the Shadows of Revenge, those suffering from the might of Man shall… Oh no! Now I know it all by heart!”

Jeke rolled his eyes and fetched for his pipe as Orla regarded Joseph with her Faerie Sight. “I can sense elven magic about you. This close I can even see the skeletal ouroboros faintly glowing through your shirt. You’re right that it’s meant to be a mockery… it is obscene.”

Sunder looked at her. “You are a mystic?”

“Something like that,” Orla answered, catching a warning look from Reise telling her not to reveal too much about herself. Jeke, scraping the cooked-on resin within the well of his pipe, saw the look and understood. Like so many, he too often had to hide magical properties. He glanced back to the pipe, finishing and packing in more hobbit leaf.

“What else do you sense?” Sunder pressed her.

“Strangely, there is Infernal magic mixed with the Iron Queen's ancient Elven magic.”

“Maybe the Iron Queen is half-elf and half-demon?” Reise suggested. “It would explain a lot.”

Orla shook her head. “No, that's not it. I think I recognise the unique magical signature of the infernal magic even though I've only seen it once before. It belongs to Draken Darkward.”

Jeke lit his pipe with a burning brand of a twig, inhaling as he turned to Sunder with a glance. "There is that name again." Smoke hollowed out of his nostrils

Sunder looked between Orla and Joseph. “This Draken is a wizard?”

“He was a young criminal who lived in Dalen over a century ago that—”

“That your grandma told you all about,” Reise finished.

“Yes, my, uh… grandmother.” Orla looked around at them all. “Draken was half-demon. His father was the mighty demon lord, Soularous, which would make Draken an Infernal prince. I do not know if he is even still alive. He had a loyal friend named Shade, and one day out of the blue, the two unexpectedly arrived in—”

“Your grandma's enchanted rooftop garden?” Reise interrupted.

“After somehow managing to escape the dungeons of Queen Thalia,” Orla continued, remembering the events like they had all happened yesterday...

Joseph looked up at Reise, "That line you spoke, I heard it. It's a voice of a man, a cruel voice. I hear it every time I fall into a slumber. The voice was the same one I heard before blacking out. Draken's name always appears to me everytime I hear that line, and I get images of a destroyed village, in what I think is...in Dalen close to the Langford Forest edge. By the look of the place."

Jeke nearly choked on the mulling herb. He knew Langford Forest as a dangerous, mystical place. There were things that lurked in those dark woods, things born of the First Age and some born more recently. And he knew the village he was talking about. It had no name now, one of many settlements that ended in Dalen. And that was no more than a fortnight away, for very few roads led to Langford Forest and even fewer went through it.

Reise looked confused at what Joseph said. “I don’t have any idea what you are talking about. I was just repeating what I heard said several times. I don’t really know what any of it means, I’ve heard a lot of people say a lot of crazy things about ending the world. Holding up signs with ‘The end is neigh’ things like that. I don’t take much stock in it. Villages are sieged, they fall, they are those peoples' world. Not many see much outside it. So when they do fall it's like the world ended.” He shrugged. “I just know there is nothing good to be gained from stepping foot in Dalen. Nothing but rubble, and a den for thieves that love a green emerald motif. At least, last time I was there.”

"You are not wrong," Jeke responded, blowing out. "But neither are you correct. If Dalen's entire population were to march out, the world would probably be a bloodier mess. Demons and devils prowl those lands. If anyone Infernal would know if the world was ending, it would be them. And if it weren't for happenings like this," Jeke gestured with his pipe to Joseph, continuing, "I would be keen as well to take a grain of salt."

He leaned back against a tree, puffing on the pipe. "I have seen a few things, as we all have. Something tells me that an end is coming, that something is coming. And the way things have been, I am inclined to agree. There are things we never see because we have grown used to crying wolf, thinking it is the same as the real."

Jeke pulled in a bit of smoke and let it out in a near perfect O-ring. "If what all has been said is true, let's say, then not only is the fate of Man being changed but all races. Elves, dwarves... All races. All for change... This is a revolution." He blinked and tapped his pipe a bit before offering to the others. "Of course, it is simply my musings."

< Prev : Fortune Favors the Bold Next > : Thundering storms