After taking down the Mudfins, we walked for about an hour, not wanting to camp right next to the corpses in case scavengers were drawn to the smell of blood and gore. The night was not comfortable on the cold ground, but we knew that only one more night would take us to our goal.
We slept a couple of hours and then moved on in the starlight.
It is interesting, how fast you become inured to the spectacular if the spectacular becomes common. The first days in the forest, I had been awed by the untouched nature and the simple solitude. After meeting Sigmir, on our flight, there had been natural beauty in a way I could not have imagined, for example frozen waterfalls, the canyon we had crossed, glistering with snow in a few places and some others. Of course, the Blood Moon and the aurora had been sights that I'll never forget. Now, after the forest had turned into vast snowfields, at first they had impressed me and as we walked and happened upon the first valley, cut into the land by a river over the course of centuries the power of nature had been inspiring. Looking at the ocean, seeing it's vastness, knowing that it was both literally and figuratively the end of the world had been humbling.
However now, the valleys we were crossing and sometimes wandering in were no less spectacular than the first, but somehow after the third it wasn't so inspiring any longer and at some point - maybe crossing the fifth - it simply became a chore, and I was looking forward to visit a different part of the world.
In the afternoon of the next day, we saw Neyto, a small grove of trees - looking as if they were made from pure crystal - interspersed with a couple of small houses around a small lake made out of silvery water. The feeling of power from the pool was immense and it was what I had been feeling for days. This was the Nexus, or at least its physical representation. I could almost see the flow of power, just on the edge of my perception. On a small hill at the edge of the grove was a strange looking house.
Where the others were log-houses made out of the abundant pinewood of the region, this one was not. It was a log-house as well but it stood on tall stilts which looked as if they were made from living trees, rooted into the earth. The logs itself were white with small black spots looking almost like birch. To reach the house, one had to climb a steep, narrow staircase, roughly hewn out of the strange, white wood, showing that it had the same colour throughout. Around the house was a small fence, made from the same material. Somehow, I had a feeling that the village elder would be in this strange house.
As we walked into the grove, a tree in front of us sprouted a face and looked us over. Both, Sigmir and I were riveted to the spot by the tree's piercing gaze. Then it focused on me and spoke. “Who walks into Neyto?”
It took a moment for me to gather myself and answer: “Greetings. My name is Morgana, a traveller, and this is my dear companion Sigmir. The wolf is called Ylva and she is Sigmir's partner, my own partner, the raven Lenore, is currently avoiding the cold within her Hallow.” the piercing gaze motivated me to answer with a truth as complete as possible. Leaving something out might be considered a deliberate obfuscation and we were coming to ask for help so accidentally insulting the people here could be a catastrophe.
“Huhum, Morgana the Traveller... You carry something old with you... You should see Grandmother, she will know what to do with you.” the tree spoke again, this time with a frown. “Go to the white house, Grandmother lives there. Do not walk close to the lake, you would die.”
With that warning, the face faded back into the tree leaving me and Sigmir looking at each other with an expression of disbelief. I had this strange thought in my head, 'Ylva, I have a feeling we are not in Kansas anymore.' Well, at least with that thought, the hope came that we'd meet the good Witch of the North next. Thankfully, no Yellow Brick Road was in sight just now.
We gave the lake a wide berth, cautioned by the warning the tree had given. Closing in on the house, we were able to see more details and the wood looked strange close up; almost like bone but the shapes were all wrong. Still, it gave a foreboding feeling.
We walked up the stairs but there was no door, nor window. Puzzled about the question how to ask for entry, I stopped for a moment before applying Occam's Razor to the problem, the easiest solution is usually the best. I simply walked up to the wall and gave a knock, similar as to how I'd knock on a door. The material didn't feel quite like wood and the knocking was strangely soft.
It took a moment, then I was able to hear laughter from inside and a door appeared before me, right in the place I had just knocked on. Taking the appearance as a sign that we had been invited to enter, I took the handle and opened the door.
As we entered, I appraised the room and my mind had trouble adapting for a moment. The outside of the house was maybe fifteen on thirty feet, but the room we entered alone was larger than that and it had doors leading off into other parts of the house and even a small, winding staircase in a corner, leading both upwards and downwards. At least it was not a phone-booth.
Mesmerized by the room, it took me a moment to take in our host. When I looked, there was a feeling of power and I was awestruck. My first thought was that she looked young, then, after seeing her eyes, that she was ancient. Both thought wrestled with each other for a moment, then I shelved them.
Sigmir took my hand, and I felt it shake a little so I gave it a soft squeeze to remind her that I was with her. At the same time, I realized that Ylva was pressing herself to my legs.
“Greetings. We were told by one of the trees to seek someone out he called Grandmother. I'm called Morgana, a traveller. These are Sigmir and her partner Ylva.” I focused on Lenore, asking her to leave her Hallow and as she materialized on my shoulder, I continued: “And this is my own partner, Lenore. She was avoiding the cold in my Hallow. Also, while I know one should never lead with an apology, I apologize in advance if I make mistakes in my decorum. These mistakes are borne from ignorance, not disrespect.”
Our host looked us over. Then she spoke. “At least, knowing one's limitation you do. Grandmother, you can call me. I am wondering, why are you here?” By now, you could have knocked me over with a feather and I guess the sheer perplexity was visible on my face, causing the Grandmother to break out into laughter. “No, I don't talk like that. But the look on your face, priceless. So, tell me, what are three of the fool's brood doing here?”
The fool's brood? The only thing three of us had in common was Jötun-Blood so the fool was most likely the god who had created the Firn-Elfs and fathered Fenris. But the fool? I'd heard him called Deceiver but never fool. A thought for another time.
“Well, Grandmother, a shaman has done something to Sigmir here. I don't know exactly what it is, it does not feel like a curse so I guess it's some kind of disease or poison. It sapped a great deal of her strength and even now tries to weaken her. When I first tried to help her, the System gave me a quest to seek help from those who live close to a Nexus or to learn a great deal more about healing. While I'd love to gain more knowledge about healing, her health is my main concern, so we made the journey here.”
At that the Grandmother blinked in surprise. “You are seeking healing for your loved one? You are not here to drain the pool to strengthen the soul you carry around?”
'Soul I carry around?' “You know what to do with this?” I asked, taking the still wrapped Soulprison out of my pack.
“Curiosity.” With that, the Grandmother looked closely at the Soulprison and then answered. “Ah, well, of course I know what that is. What you carry there, might be one of the rarest things in this world. It is quite literally the soul of an immortal being, imprisoned by its enemies. The one you hold was made by Sunna to hold one of the Great Beasts they had subdued. You see, if you simply kill an immortal, it does not die, else there would be no point to call them immortal, would there? No, if an immortal 'dies' the soul simply re-enters the Cycle and after some time, it is reborn and regains it's memories, living once more. A Soulprison prevents that, holding the soul and over time it weakens until the soul simply vanishes and the Soulprison crumbles, having accomplished the feat of truly ending an immortal. Creating Soulprisons is quite a challenge and locking a soul into one even more so.”
I did not want to be impolite and interrupt her and in all honesty, it was fascinating to hear her talk. But my main-objective was not the prison. I wanted Sigmir whole again.
“Forgive me my impudence, Grandmother, for all my thirst of knowledge, I don't care at the moment. Every day I felt the thing within Sigmir grow in strength, with each day it has been harder to seal it. What do I have to do to help her? Or to have you help her?” I asked with passion in my voice.
“Oh, dear. What are you willing to do, is the more important question.” she said, her smile morphing into something dangerous. I remembered my oath to Sigmir.
“Whatever it takes. I know I am mortal. I feel that you are so much more powerful than me. But still. Whatever it takes.” Now, the Grandmother was looking truly interested. Sigmir however, not so much. “You can't do that! Why would you...? I won't...” She was now gripping my hand with so much force, it hurt and was babbling. I turned to her and pulled her face down so I could look her directly in the eyes. “I told you, I'd do whatever is necessary.” Then I gave her a soft kiss. “So, Grandmother, what would you have me do?”
“What would you do if I wanted your life? A life for a life, that sounds like a fair deal to me, what do you think?” I had researched the penalty for Death a bit; loss of levels, loss of equipment, possilby permanent loss of attributes, harsh but not crippling if you did not make a habit out of dying.
“You do know that Travellers return from death? I would not want a powerful being like you to feel tricked.” I spoke, wondering if the next moment would spell the arrival of my first in-game death.
“Integrity? I like it. But yes, I know about the Traveller's immortality.”
With that, she pulled a gem out of her gown and a thin beam shot forward. I felt a strange sensation deep within me, pulling at something I never realized I had.
|A Soulprison-Mark has been put upon you. As long as you die within the range of the prison while your soul is marked, your soul will be removed from the Cycle, causing Perma-Death.|
Well, that puts a spin on it, doesn't it? Still, a small voice within my head told me 'It's just a game' but a much louder voice shouted 'It's for Sigmir'
I was just about to tell the Grandmother to go ahead if that was the price she demanded when I was pulled into a hug by Sigmir, her muscular frame shielding me from the Grandmother. “No! You will not give your life for me. If you do, I will simply accompany you. I will not lose you. I love you!”
Part of me wanted to protest, to tell her that my life did not matter that I was just a Traveller to this realm but a look into her eyes stopped me dead in my tracks. Seeing the conviction in her eyes, the words simply died on my tongue so I put it to better use, giving her a kiss, putting all the feeling into it that I could, leaving her off-balance and letting me step out of her embrace.
“Well, I'm afraid I can't give you my life, it has just been claimed. You could kill us both but that would make the whole thing a bit pointless.”
The Grandmother suddenly surged forward, I felt myself shift into Bullet Time and see her hand morph into claws of iron and strike at my throat. I might have dodged, I might have used either my shuttle or my Butterfly-Wings but I did neither. I simply stood, knowing that it would be pointless. I had said that I'd do whatever it took. I simply looked into the ancient eyes of the Grandmother, wondering for an instant what those storm-grey eyes had seen. A feeling told me that she had been around when the land had been young, that she had seen aeons pass by. It was both a humbling feeling, seeing that ancient being, older than the mountains but also a empowering feeling, knowing that nothing was impossible. The frozen instant passed and her claw-like hands stopped slightly touching the skin of my throat, causing tiny droplets of blood to well up, so sharp were her claws.
Sigmir surged up, having felt the movement next to her but I stopped her before she could draw her weapon, knowing that it would do no good.
“Conviction. Interesting. Well, killing both of you would be boring. I think I will go with tradition.” her voice took on a strange quality, echoing in the room as she talked.
”Three tasks, I pose thee. Your first task is to venture forth, into the Barrow Den. Something restless haunts there. Put it to rest.
Your second task is to seek out a firebird, maybe on Mount Yugid and bring me a tail-feather. If you can do so without killing the bird, good, if not, just as well.
Your third task is to venture into the Gardens in Tegi and take some of their apples. They are marvellous, growing year round. Five will do nicely.
Accomplish these tasks and I will help you. Oh, and in order for you to have time for the tasks, I will seal the disease within your friend for a year and a day but if the seal breaks, you will both die.”
“We will do your tasks, Grandmother.”
|Quest Difficulty||Very Hard|
|The Grandmother of Neyto has given you three tasks to accomplish. Accomplished: 0/3|
|Quest Reward||The help of the Grandmother|
|Calm the Barrow Den|
|Put down the Restless Dead in the Barrow Den|
|Quest Reward||You accomplish one task for the Grandmother|
|Collect the Firebird's Tail|
|Collect the Tailfeathers of a Firebird|
|Quest Reward||You accomplish one task for the Grandmother.|
|Steal the Apples of Tegi|
|You need to collect five Apples in the Gardens of Tegi. The inhabitants will not part willingly with the Apples, as they are their greatest Pride.|
|Quest Reward||You accomplish one task for the Grandmother|
The Grandmother spoke again. “I advise you to talk with the others here in Neyto. They might help you, if you help them.