Sunday, October 27, 2013

[Raeslyn's Story] 3.3: Skittering in the Dark

  Since, as far as I could tell, it was late, I decided that I was calling it a night. Not that I could really judge if it was night, or evening, or even afternoon. The gloom that hung over the town like a cloud gave the appearance of a perpetual twilight that wasn't doing much for my disposition. Irritably, I stomped into the town's only Inn, a large, gothic looking place called the Dusken Draft. Interesting name. But I was mostly just interested in a place to sleep. The second I stepped inside, a young, harried looking woman greeted me from the side. She stood behind a tall podium with an open, yellowed book in front of her.

     "Even in the darkest night, the Dusken Draft will burn bright." Is her greeting. She said it in a way that gave me the impression that this is a customary greeting to those entering the Inn and I idly wonder how often a day she has to repeat that line and if she's sick of saying it by now. Her face was set in a neutral blankness, as if she couldn't care one way or the other about me. But the second I stepped up toward her and her eyes lifted and automatically sought mine, she gave a short gasp and dropped the quill she'd been holding. I raised an eyebrow in mild amusement.

    "Uh...hello! You must be that new Guardian from Silverwood. The whole town is talking about you." She said, now scrutinizing me as if trying to match me up to what was said. I folded my arms.
     "Oh? All good things, no doubt." I responded sarcastically, then snorted. It was obvious the townsfolk couldn't wait to get rid of me.

    "Are you..." she trailed off and bit her lip, glancing around. "I raised my chin a little, prompting her to continue. "Well, are you as strong as they said you are?" She blurted out, then turned slightly red. I cracked a wide grin. "Oh, much stronger, darling." I said in a deliberately coy tone, just to ruffle her. Then I grew serious. "Why, you have someone you need done away with?" I asked, mostly joking. She gave me another pensive look and I frowned. "I'm not some blade for hire." I said sharply. I turned, annoyed, and tossed over my shoulder, "Raeslyn, for your ledger." I assumed she wanted my name to write down in her little book of guests or whatever that was, before she'd gotten distracted by the actual sight of me. I strode up to the bar and sat down heavily in a chair. Now more than ever I've come to the conclusion that if I'm going to help the snobby folk of Gloamwood, I'm getting paid out of the deal. A lot. Even if I have to take it right to the mayor. Or whoever the leader of the town is. A man on my right in fancy plate armor who'd been lounging in the chair like he'd been there all day, swiveled around to eye me as I ordered a drink and paid for a room as well. I sipped my faeberry wine, and noticed the man was now glaring at me. Now what? I turned and arched an eyebrow at him.

     "Yes?" I asked him mildly. As far as I know, I hadn't done anything to tick off gramps here. The plate wearing guy had to be pushing fifty winters, from what I could tell. It was hard to tell age of the Mathosians, but I'd say that was about right. He had short cut gray hair in an expensive style and well cut wolf-hide gloves. Maybe he felt his pride threatened by the arrival of a more younger fighter. Who knows?

     "I am Tacitus the Elder!" The man exclaimed, puffing out his chest and staring me down. I frowned lightly at him. Was I supposed to be impressed or feel a significance attached to the name? "Well you're definitely not Tacitus the Younger." I muttered dryly, taking another sip of my wine. Perfectly chilled. I watched out of the corner of my eye as the man's face turned red and he sputtered. Suddenly he stood up and I tensed, wondering if he was going to attack me. The barkeeper must have thought the same thing, because he was suddenly giving us both hard looks from across the counter.

     "I wouldn't talk, rogue. If you were any good, I wouldn't see or hear you. As I would dearly like that, I suggest you get some training, you look new to the game." With that, the warrior took on an air of self satisfaction and lumbered away from the counter. I glared after him, mood officially soured again. Moron. Probably never seen a fight in his life. Ha, what does he know anyway? I was still muttering to myself when the barkeep wandered over to refill my wineglass.

     "So, you hear about the Pass then?" the man asked, idle chitchat, as he poured the bright pink liquid into my glass. I glanced up at him, somewhat confused. "What do you mean? What Pass?" Well, here was finally something concrete I could deal with! Maybe. Unless it was just the usual tavern talk that circulated around bars and Inns. The barkeep leaned toward me, as if imparting a grave secret, and whispered, "You know, Silkweb Pass." I gave him a blank look. "No, I don't know. I'm new to Gloamwood, remember? What's going on in Silkweb Pass?" Vaguely, I remembered there being a "Silkweb Pass" sign on the signpost I'd seen at the fork in the road before making my way to the Pines. That must be what he was talking about, but what problem there was, I had no idea.

     The barkeep wet his lips and glanced around nervously, as if looking for threats. This had me reflexively scanning the room as well. I settled my eyes back on the chubby man and waved a hand. "Silkweb Pass echoes with the cries of those who fall victim to the terrors that lurk there. They say that those who enter the pass never come out again, and that the skittering in the dark can be heard long after the last scream fades away." I blinked. Ooooookay. Half of me shuddered at how sinister that sounded and the other half of me was wondering at how overly dramatic the townsfolk were. "So, what exactly is the threat in the pass, then?" I asked, finally, when the silence grew somewhat telling. The barkeep blinked and shrugged. "Pretty sure it's giant, man-eating spiders." He said nonchalantly, scratching at a stain on his belly. My eyes widened. I couldn't help it. He said it so calmly, after his previous hushed and grim voice. I mean, really? I rolled my eyes and stared at the ceiling, not sure if I was asking the Vigil for patience, or guidance.

     "Sounds delightful. I think I'll go take a walk up there tomorrow morning." I said finally, then spun around on my stool and meandered upstairs to my room. Behind me, I could feel the disbelief rolling off the barkeep in waves. I snickered to myself.

    The town was making me so on edge that I slept fitfully, with my daggers within easy reach. I had no idea if they truly resented my presence here, or what was going on, but I wasn't taking any chances of waking up with a knife in my back, thank you very much. Death, though apparently not permanent, was a most agonizing experience I'd rather not repeat again. Ever.

     The next morning, I woke up with gritty eyes and a nasty taste on my tongue. Looking out the tiny window in my room, I could see that the sky looked the same as it did last night. Well, maybe marginally lighter. Seriously, how could they stand living in such depressing climes. I was yearning for the beautiful, sun dappled forest of Silverwood already and I'd only been in this accursed wood for...what was it now? Three days? Two? It was so hard to keep track of time here. Another reason to detest Gloamwood. It may have at one point been a part of the beautiful Silverwood but it was rather obvious that it was its own forest now, with its own atmosphere. As soon as I figured out what was making the goblins freak out and outright attack us, I was out of here faster than you could say Ascended.

    After a cold breakfast of salted meat and hard vegetables, I gathered my things and made for Silkweb Pass. Time to do a little investigating. If I wanted payment from the town, I had to earn it after all. The sheriff watched my leave town with a speculative look on her face. Once I came to that fork in the road I remembered from before, I studied the signs. Sure enough, one sign pointed off to the southeast and proclaimed that Silkweb Pass was in that direction. I studied the road for any sign of what lay ahead. It was well traveled, surprisingly, so either the barkeep was exaggerating, or the problem at the pass was a recent one. Interesting. Shrugging to myself, I followed the road for several hours. As I walked, I studied my surroundings. The trees here were impossibly tall and huge, seeming to touch the sky. And every one of them appeared sickly; dying even. Not something I was ok with. Whatever was hurting this forest, it had to be stopped. How dare they, whoever it was, bring harm to the sacred natural places that Tavril had blessed us with. Occaisonally, a small lamppost dotted the wayside, lit with a dim, eldritch glow that suggested a magical touch. I wonder who had cast the spells to keep the roads lit in Gloamwood, since I didn't think this was a forest that someone with holy magic would willingly stick around in. But than again, I couldn't imagine anyone willingly sticking around in this forest.

     The road curved around a large, dark boulder and I slowed, muscles tensing. If there was going to be trouble, no doubt it would hide around the corner where unsuspecting travelers wouldn't be able to see it coming in time. Cautiously, I stepped around the boulder. No creature or mortal was waiting on the other side, but interestingly enough, the path stopped at the foot of several sets of stone steps that led up a rather steep incline. How odd. The steps looked old. Positively ancient, actually, and were girded by a heavy stone wall on either side. I wonder who put the steps there, and how long ago. They seemed to radiate an ancient mystery that made me think they were from a pervious age even.

     To my eternal dismay, the entire top of the plateau was covered in large swatches of filmy white material. It almost looked like a macabre winter setting. Except it wasn't the winter season and that wasn't snow. Oh how I hated spiders. The white webs, filaments long and whispy, covered literally everything. Every tree, every rock, every inch of ground. Even the occasional lamp post had been subjected to the stuff. Well, now I could see what the problem was. And it most definitely was a problem. If left to their own devices, the spiders would eventually grow bold and keep expanding their territory. Before you knew it, they'd be knocking on the doors of Gloamwood Pines. I sighed deeply, unsheathing several daggers, including the one that was wreathed in the ever-burning magical fire. I hate to admit to myself, but I really liked having that dagger. I'd even practiced the "spell" on other daggers. I wasn't sure what exactly you could call the ability, but I didn't feel comfortable calling it magic. I didn't like magic.

    No wonder everyone was so afraid to go traveling. I doubt they were partial to being dinner. It was beginning to feel like everywhere I turned around in Gloamwood, the wood was filled with danger and corruption.

     Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted something encased in webbing that didn't look like a natural part of the landscape. Of course, it was nearly impossible to tell, what with the webs coating everything like the bizarre topping to a cake. The object in question was perfectly square, about knee high, and kind of wedged between a small boulder and a fallen log. It looked like a large shipping crate, actually. Keeping an eye out for the eight-legged menaces that were no doubt hiding in the forest, I wandered over to see what the object was. Sure enough, it was a crate. After I used a dagger to peel off the layer of web, I could make out faded words on the top of the crate, along with a tradesman's crest that was actually familiar. I'd seen it around Sanctum, actually. Artificer? No, a jewelcrafting mark, wasn't it? Glancing around once more, I bent down to pry open the lid of the box. Inside, I was quite proud to find that my guess had been correct. The crate was packed full of beautiful, delicately wrought necklaces. They were all exactly alike, each with an ice blue gem dangling on a thin silver chain. Nestled among the necklaces was a shipping invoice, which I picked up out of curiosity.

     "To the order of John Tintan, 25 Cloudborne Ice Necklaces for the selling of magical amulets against bad fortune." The invoice read. I smirked. Bad fortune eh? Superstitious nonsense. The average citizen was so clueless about the real dangers of the world. Still, I bet that this Tintan guy would love to have his merchandise. I wonder how much he'd pay me for them? I grabbed a handful of the necklaces and stuffed them in my bag. I may be an Ascended and a Guardian, a member of the light and holy order, blah blah, but that didn't mean I couldn't make a living doing what I did. I was risking my neck here, after all.

     Just as I straightened up, I heard it. A skittering sound that set all my hair on end. Very slowly, I turned fully around. A large spider was descending from a high branch that swung over the road. And by large, I mean small pony sized. No spider had any right to be that big. I felt quite cheated. It seemed to be looking right at me with creepy, dead eyes, so black you could lose your soul in them. Holy forest of Tavril! I gulped and took a hesitant step back, hitting the back of my knees against the crate. Suddenly my confidence in removing the spider threat diminished greatly. The creature raised its mandibles menacingly, as if it was all to eager to see what I tasted like. Yeah, no. Did I mention, I really hate spiders?

    The spider stepped left. I stepped right. It studied me with creepy, multi-faceted eyes. I scowled with distaste. Come on Rae, I told myself sharply. Man up, you're a High Elf and a rogue! You took on Regulos....well sort of....a shade of Regulos. You can kill a spider! I twirled my daggers in expert fingers, giving the appearance at least of being confident.

     When the spider suddenly lunged at me, all eight legs springing its large bloated form off the ground with more speed and agility that I'd thought, I was nevertheless ready for it. Feinting left, I forced the spider to turn that way, revealing its vulnerable underbelly. Creatures, and insects in particular, weren't all that intelligent and were easily fooled by my maneuvers. Quick as lightning, I'd thrust both daggers into the soft delicate material that made up the spider's belly. I kept my arms close in front of my chest, in a shallow X across the wrists, and then suddenly and violently ripped outward with them. I had to dance backward quickly to avoid the steaming, gelatinous insides from covering my new armor. Disgusting. The spider continued on for a few yards before collapsing and flipping over onto its back. It gave a spam and its legs curled in tight to the body. Fluids and other things leaked out of the body as it twitched once then stilled. I didn't even bother going near it. No way. I may revere and care for all of Tavril's creatures, but I had to question Her wisdom in creating spiders.

     The rustling of dead leaves had my attention and my shoulders slumped even as I turned to look. Yup, just as I figured. Two more large spiders were crouched behind me by the wooden crate. These were smaller then the first, and lighter. Just great. I really hate spiders.

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