12. Bound souls
30th of Rova – Sunday Dawn, Sandpoint
The previous evening Harsk and Ilori had stayed in the Rusty Dragon to examine and discuss a spellbook while Vidarok had went outside, sat down under an oak tree, crossed his legs and meditated. I had returned to the outskirts of Sandpoint to drill with my gladii blades, and to gather my thoughts. While I didn’t show it to anyone, my near-death at the hands of Nualia and the dream-vision of my twin brother haunted me. If the druid preferred sitting still eyes closed to achieve focus and peace of mind, I wanted to break a sweat and lose myself in the dance of the blades, or become one with my weapon of choice, the longbow.
Before midnight, I took another swim to wash the toil and crawled to my bed in the Rusty Dragon. Sleep avoided me, and dawn broke too soon. No matter, I thought, what could we find in an empty little island?
We walked through Sandpoint to the Junk Beach, and from there, using the low tide to our advantage, over to the Chopper’s Isle. To gain entry to the Isle proper, we had to climb a steep cliff, which proved to be no challenge. The top of the isle offered a nice view of the town – we could see Sandpoint slowly awaken to another day. The isle itself was hilly, challenging to traverse, as long hays and grass covered everything. It had very little in the way of forest. Nonetheless, we were careful with our steps and looked closely for any signs of Korvut’s boy Simon.
The isle was only some 300 feet long, so we reached the first peak, situated in the middle of the isle, quickly, and found the long burned remains of a house. According to town lore, the building had been the Chopper’s, and had been burned by the townfolk when the Chopper’s identity had been uncovered. We searched the ruins closely, but found nothing initially – no bodies, no tracks. After a moment however, Harsk spotted something on a nearby cliffside.
“Here, I can see something”, Harsk beckoned to us. On the cliffside, a pile of trunks, hay and branches covered what it seemed was a tunnel leading into the cliff and underground. We cleaned the path and confidently ventured into the tunnel.
The tunnel led to a staircase, which led further down underground. There, we emerged into a small, man-made cave. It felt like something crawled on my skin when I saw the statue at the middle of the cave – it depicted a beatific yet demonic pregnant woman whose skin had been tore and cut in places. The reference to the cult of Lamashtu was undeniable to even my untrained eyes. Her presence was indeed strong in Sandpoint, I realized.
The statue was not the only thing in the cave. Vidarok went ahead and kneeled next to remains of a long-deceased man. It was an adult, so it couldn’t be Simon Korvut. The previous sheriff perhaps, or the Chopper himself? No-one had found their bodies, and no-one after sheriff Hemlock had visited the Isle. A mystery.
We circled the room, looking for any clues, but found none. I was drawn to the statue, and walked to it. As I was reaching for it, I heard angry curses emanating from within. Something moved inside the statue, I realized to my amazement, and it was stirring, as if the statue was coming alive. “Watch out!” I managed a warning as I stepped back and drew an arrow from my quiver. Then a horrible keening scream pierced the enclosed space and a shadowy figure leaped out of the statue.
“A ghost!” Harsk bellowed. Ilori was first to react, snapping her fingers and erupting the air around the ghost with fireworks. The undead wailed in pain. I followed with an arrow that went right through it – it was still materializing to this plane of reality and didn’t present much opportunity for me to hurt it physically. “My arrows are of limited help here”, I cursed between my teeth as it whirled in the air towards me. I tried to duck as it reached out to me but couldn’t evade it. I could feel cold numbness where it touched me in the shoulder, and then, painful weakness across my body. It was sucking my strength out of me!
I broke out of its grip and warned the others. Harsk and Vidarok both charged the spirit and tried to strike it, but their attacks were fruitless. Instead, the ghost turned in mid-air and set its hands on Harsk. The dwarf’s face grew pale, his skin thinning as veins became visible. Harsk groaned in pain and dropped his sword as the spirit ripped lifeforce out of him.
As if one of the ghosts was not enough, another emerged from the statue as well and hovered around aimlessly before noting the presence of the fire sorceress. Ilori, now alone, was forced to confront the second ghost. Not faltering, she showered it with rays of fire but the spirit endured them. Deciding not to leave her alone this time, I circled the melee of Harsk, Vidarok and the first ghost and shot the spirit threatening Ilori with an arrow. My aim was again true, but there was little to pierce and hurt. My mind started to race. What did I have that could really hurt these bastards?
Harsk stumbled back, shaking, sweating and pale as white linen. Vidarok kept slamming the spirit with his quarterstaff, expertly evading its touch at the same time. But Ilori was not so nimble. The second spirit caught her, draining life out of her for a second before Ilori pulled out of its reach.
The situation was going to the shitter and fast. Then I remembered. Fumbling for my bandolier, I found what I was looking for – a potion full of holy water from the cathedral. I turned to the closest spirit, opened the bottle and spattered its contents all over its smoky form. I was awarded with a shriek of pain that hurt my ears. Looking back, I should’ve poured its contents into my vine to bless my arrows, but I wanted a safe and sure way to test my hunch. And it paid off. Vidarok took advantage of the spirit’s suffering and landed a powerful blow that actually seemed to hit something. Harsk, coming to his senses finally, drew a deep breath and spread his arms wide, channeling positive energy. Blue-white light shimmered from his fingertips, pulsing out to every direction. It didn’t restore our strength but rocked the spirits, adding to their blight. “Keep going!” Vidarok yelled to Harsk, “they’re hurting!”. Ilori, visibly weary, lifted her hands almost placidly. She said something to the spirit attacking her but I couldn’t hear what before slamming her palms together.
The ghost simply vanished into a violently exploding ball of fire that almost torched us as well. “For fuck’s sake!”, I laughed almost manically, reveling in the ghost’s destruction and shielding my face from the tremendous heat.
Harsk, still trembling from the effort and keeping his hands to stretched out like he was pushing apart two walls, kept chanting and channeling positive energy. The blue-white light grew stronger, now spiralling around his arms in full and struck everyone in the room, the remaining spirit and us both. It tore the evil spirit to metaphysical pieces but did nothing to us. Then complete silence fell and the room was as we had found it.
Lacking our strength, we chose not to cover the tunnel to the cave. Whatever had haunted the place was now destroyed and we were sure hiding the place was no longer necessary. I had however some questions for Hemlock the next time we’d see him. By Earthfall, what the hell had we just vanquished? Two trapped souls? But whose?
We continued our trek north, to the other side of the isle. There we found a fireplace and camp that had been abandoned a month or two before. We entertained the thought that Simon had lived here. He was a tough kid, I had to admit, if he had survived here alone for several months. I tried calling for him by his name, but the place was dead silent.
We backtracked, expanding our area of search beyond the path we’d used. Halfway back to the southern tip of the isle, I saw a small piece of cloth caught in a branch, swaying in the wind. I walked to it, removed it and had a closer look. It was piece torn from a shirt, probably a man’s.. or boy’s.
There was no trace of the boy, and no other clues were found, so we returned to Sandpoint. But instead of returning first to see Korvut, we went to the cathedral. Zantus welcomed us wearily.
“The plans you brought me from Thistletop”, he began, “they incriminate Nualia completely. You were truly right about her”, he admitted. “Her goal was to burn the town as an offering to Lamashtu, feed the souls of its inhabitants to her wicked goddess so her army could rise from the plane of Hell, using some sort of well beneath the city.” Harsk nodded. “Indeed, we saw the well when we vanquished the demoness Elyrium.” Zantus looked very serious and considered what the dwarf had said. “If that is the case, we will have to deal with the well somehow. It needs to be closed.” I crossed my arms. “Can you do it, priest?” I asked. He shook his head. “I’m not sure. We’ll have to see but we might need much more potent magics than I have available”, he explained, briefly glancing towards Harsk and Ilori. Not pursuing the matter further, he changed subject. “There was also writings about a monstrosity called Malfeshnekor, that Nualia tried to release from its prison.. it is uncertain if she succeeded or not.”
“What about the beast you had killed in town the night we arrived from Thistletop? Perhaps that was this Malfeshnekor” I suggested. Zantus again shook his head gravely. “I don’t believe it was Malfeshnekor, but something much more simpler and less deadlier.” At that moment I was quite happy we had decided to return to Sandpoint straight after we had killed Nualia – gods only knew what would have lied beyond the doors we left uninvestigated.
We exchanged some words with Zantus regarding Korvut and his son – the high priest too felt that the boy had in reality ran from town, and not to Chopper’s Isle like Korvut thought. We didn’t mention about the piece of cloth, which I gripped in my breeches’ pocket as we talked. If the cloth belonged to the blacksmith’s boy, then the high priest’s ignorance of the people and world around him was borderline obscene. First Nualia, now Simon Korvut.. I just shook my head and made a mental note to never again ask Zantus for insights about anyone in town.
The topic of the extraplanar well, as Harsk so beautifully termed it, was left open and we headed the blacksmith’s shop to show what we had found, and possibly bring sad news.
He was not happy seeing us approach. “What do you want?” He spat, not leaving his workbench. I said nothing, and showed him the piece of cloth. His mouth fell open and he took it from my hand. “W-where did you find this, ranger?” Funny. No-one had ever called me that. “From a branch in Chopper’s Isle”, I replied shortly. Tears welled in his eyes and his stone-faced demeanor melted like snow in Spring. “It can’t be.. It can’t be that he is gone”, he muttered to himself, tears running down his cheeks. No-one had anything to say, so we remained silent. Korvut sobbed, his face down to the ground, his hand gripping the cloth tightly. Then he looked up. “He must have left the town. You didn’t find a body, did you?” Harsk shook his head and Vidarok and Ilori were both about to say something but Korvut didn’t pay any attention. “Yes, that’s it – he must have fled the town like they say. It must be so.” He was denying the obvious, poor man, but none of us had the willingness to express doubts. “Thank you friends”, he dried his eyes, “for bringing this to my attention. As a reward, I will forge everyone of you a master-wrought weapon, shield or armor of your choice. I can even use rarer materials, if I have them available or if you bring them to me.” We were all a bit taken aback by his sudden graciousness, so we humbly thanked him, and promised to return when we had considered our choices.
We walked back to the Rusty Dragon in silence.