Entry 10: Riloth 19th the 9th
I can’t sleep.
I’m exhausted, but my mind keeps going over the possibility of a Blessing, and from there to all the other mysteries in my life: Why I’m trapped in this prison? Where is Bearskin? What were my parents looking for? Who killed them? Why were they killed? I suspect the last three are related.
I hadn’t thought about them much over this past week and a half, which might be a sign I’m getting some closure, but I don’t think I’m that lucky. I’ve just had this bigger more immediate problem to focus on, and wallowing in my parents murder hasn’t been a priority. I always did throw myself a little too deep into projects.
I need to process this, and if not get past it, at least allow myself the delusion that I have.
Where do I even begin? Aside from the constant threat of being executed, my life was very uneventful until a few months back. Most of it had been spent on the road, traveling from city to town in search of esoteric knowledge for my father’s studies. My father would sell the knowledge he gained to other scholars, alchemists, adventurers, and whoever else would pay for what he’d found. When the world flooded, much knowledge was lost, but as my father likes—liked—to put it “most of it was just misplaced.” My father supported his own studies by piecing this lost knowledge together and finding those who wanted it most.
Occasionally, he would get a long term contract to unravel a mystery at the behest of a noble, scholar, or occasional wizard. In those instances we would stay put for a while. Two years ago, we made our way to Lakeside and set up there. My parents had lived there when I was born, and we had occasionally returned over the years. Aside from the Tower, Lakeside is the center of information for Basin, being at its literal center and the destination of the all the rivers that give the Continent its name.
My father was working as a clerk at a private library in between contracts and continuing his own research in his spare time—and likely during his work hours. My mother continued training me in private by night and worked repairing nets for fishermen by day. I helped with that too, mostly untangling nets. We worked every day in the shadow of the great column of steam that rose from the center of the Great Lake. My mother called it training and the frustration would teach me to learn Mend, but when I got frustrated I tended to light the nets on fire. Hammers and nails.
It never took, and she eventually taught me the wizardry version of the spell. She didn’t seem that disappointed when I failed—I suspect that she was experimenting on me with that one and that it hadn’t been a tried and true Stormcaller training method.
About a year back, my father’s behavior grew erratic. His infrequent meetings became more common, while their time and location grew stranger. He had meetings all over the city, at all times of the day, and would disappear with little notice. The meetings continued for months, sometimes he’d return excited with a spring in his step, other times he returned in a panic. One night he returned with blood on his clothes and spoke to my mother in hushed tones when they believed me to be asleep.
On our last day in Lakeside, my father came home from one of his meetings positively ecstatic. We packed up our belongings that very night, bought a new donkey, and struck out on the road towards a small town called Edgewater. He had arranged a meeting with a man named Teshiv, whom he claimed would be the "key to his troubles."
Teshiv. That name sounds familiar. Where have I heard it?
Can you help remember that?
No, I guess not.
On that topic, I’d completely forgotten about that interaction until now. I think you’re enhancing my recall of events from before we met. Not to the same degree as when I write about the last few weeks, but when I picture the scene in my head, it's as if I’m watching a play as opposed to the vivid living recall.
I can recall the exact words of conversation my parents had before he left for that meeting.
When my father left that night, he spoke to my mother, not realizing I was in the house, "Esriel, dear, I’ve done it! I’ve found the man who might prove to be the key to my troubles. Teshiv’s representative has invited me to meet with him at Edgewater to discuss an expedition. He will fund it! I will be able to go back and save them!" They walked to another room and I couldn't hear what they discussed further
I can only view the scene from a fixed position, and there is only so much detail I can pluck from the recollection. It is far from the vivid recollections of this last week. For those, it is as if I'm reliving the events in slow motion. I could plumb the depths of a second of time for pages, documenting everything around me from the number of bricks on the floor to the passing of birds overhead. So long as I put quill to paper, I can fill you with the infinite details of a moment. Thus far I have saved us both from that level of detail. When writing that passage above, there was no reliving of sensations or thoughts, only a clear memory of an event long past.
For that, at least, I am thankful. I have resolved to write down the events that took my parents from me, but I do not need to relive the emotions of those days. But how do you have this ability now? When I first discovered your recall enhancement, I couldn’t remember the location of a campsite the week prior, but now I can remember events months past? Is our Bond growing? It must be, but I don’t see any of the physical changes with you that are reported to occur when that happens. One more mystery to the pile I suppose.
Sorry. As usual, I’ve become sidetracked.
The journey from Lakeside to Edgewater by cart takes about a month. By ship up river that same trip would take only a week, but for obvious reasons that was out of the question. Well, obvious to anyone that isn’t a possibly-sapient book. I should explain. Most ships employ a Tower journeyman to conjure wind to sail upriver. Since all rivers lead to the Great Lake and all winds blow inland to the Pillar of Clouds, it’s the only practical solution for getting up river at any reasonable speed. The Tower uses the opportunity to give their new wizards some world experience after a decade of being cloistered. And I am sure this part is coincidental, but the Tower gets paid to place a spy on every major trade vessel on the rivers.
The few times we did travel by ship, my mother played the role of a Stormcaller on a walkabout. In exchange for free passage, and sizable payment, she’d conjure wind by casting Gale. There were always ships in between Tower wizards that would jump at the chance to secure the services of a cheaper alternative, but doing so too often would have earned her a reputation.
With all our possessions packed high in our cart, we set off north to Edgewater, traveling along the Burnam River. In our haste, we overtook a caravan heading north after two days of travel. Had my father been less excited, and a hair more patient, he would have waited the day or two it would have taken to arrange passage with a caravan of our own. Away from the major cities and their surrounding regions, the lands between civilization are vast unexplored wilds. Even now, hundreds of years after the settlement of Basin there is more than enough land to go around without the need to risk a goblin raid.
We spotted the breakfast cookfires of the caravan an hour after breaking camp on our second day. By the time we caught up, they were just getting ready to hit the road.
“Let's play it as Stormcallers carrying medical supplies from Landing back to our clan,” my mother decided as we approached. “There’s been talk of trouble on the road, and we are less likely to be strung up after an attack if they know upfront we have magic.”
We pulled over, taking turns putting on our ship clan clothing which we kept for just such occasions, loose fitting tunics and pants made from a thin sail cloth. I became Tal the Stormcaller Apprentice, and my mother became Tamrien, Master Stormcaller of clan Elmheart. The wrinkle that set into her forehead when she said the name made me suspect that Tamrien was not only a real person, but someone my mother would enjoy putting through some "training."
We caught up to the caravan, now in character, and fell in place quickly. The caravan guards were happy to have us after my mother gave a brief demonstration of her powers, and we were sent ahead to the middle of the line so we could respond to any trouble that arose.
We traveled for three weeks with little to speak of. We were friendly, but distant to the other travelers, answering overtures for small talk with short answers, and setting our campfires close enough to fall back to the group if an attack occurred, but far enough away to signal our desire for privacy.
The trip became more eventful when the river started to dry up. After three weeks, the water level began to drop noticeably, which in and of itself was not an uncommon occurrence. The depth of all the rivers on the Continent vary throughout the day as the tides pull more or less water over the mountains that hold back the Ocean. At least, that's what I believed at the time. Instead of rising though, as is the norm, the water level continued to drop day after day. Three days in and we began to see ships run aground. It takes very little to spook a caravan, and this did the trick. We picked up our pace, breaking camp early each morning and limiting rests to the bare minimum to keep the animals from keeling over. Despite the nervous urgency, we did not march later into the night. Night is the domain of bandits and feralkin, not merchants.
My father spent the journey diligently reviewing his journals from the top of the bouncing wagon, while my mother and I took turns next to him, driving the cart and scanning the horizon for threats. When it was my mother’s turn to drive, I’d walk the length of the column and a little bit ahead until I found a good target to practice my magic on. I was partial to large rocks. Once the rear of the column passed me by, I’d walk back to our cart and take my turn driving, and then my mother would do the same.
It was during these times that I caught notice of Trish. When you live part of your life hiding in the open and trying not to stand out, you become aware of others doing the same. She was riding in the back of a tanner’s wagon—which itself was at the rear of the column. Over time, I began to detect something was off about the strange girl. When camp was set, the tanners would skin and clean any game the caravan brought in that day. Trish would disappear, only to return for dinner, where she blended in like one of the family. The other thing that marked her as separate from the tanners was her smell, or lack of it. The tanners were traveling at the rear of the column for a reason, and whatever chemicals they used for their work had long since permeated deep into their clothes, or bodies. The one time I encountered her away from the cart, there was a distinct lack of odor.
It’s not unusual for people to buy passage with a merchant or tradesmen as they join a caravan, but never in my life of travel had I seen someone willingly travel with a group of tanners—or unwillingly for that matter, if you didn’t count the tanner’s children.
Once I noticed the strange girl, I found myself looking for her each day as the column passed me in my training. For the most part, she stayed in her wagon, and everyone else stayed well away. When someone did venture close, be it a guard checking in or a fellow traveler dropping off some game, Trish would vanish. From the guards' demeanor, they were not looking for her, or anyone for that matter. This girl’s strange behavior led me to viewing the camp through more critical eyes, and this is what led me to find the suspicious member of our caravan—besides Trish and I.
Each night, as the caravan broke into camps, my mother and I would walk to each campsite distributing objects that we’d cast Light on for use during watches. It's much easier to cast the spell on a person than it is on an inanimate object, but with split watches, it's worth the extra expenditure of Will to cast it on something that can be handed off. For some reason I’ve yet to figure out, it's much easier to cast the spell on a piece of fruit than it is on a rock of similar size and shape. The spell also sticks easily to crafted objects, like books or knives, but I didn’t want to go around the caravan giving all my stuff away. This led to me walking through the caravan with a basket of apples procured from the caravan’s supply wagon, brilliant white light blinding any who looked at the mass of glowing orbs above my head. The spell summoned a brilliant white light a few feet above the target that illuminates the area for ten paces around it. I doubt you, as a book, have much experience navigating with a torch, but if you had, you'd understand why the guards rejoiced at our arrival.
It was during these trips that I noticed the mysterious stranger. Mysterious stranger, look at me, it's like I'm writing a cheap romance novel. The man's appearance didn't stand out, with brown hair, average height, and well worn travel clothes. His behavior on the other hand stood out to my newly suspicious outlook on the camp. Each night found the stranger at a different camp, and at each camp he sat at the edge of the fire's light. The man never spoke, but sat studying the faces of those gathered.
The tanners were the last to receive my Light, that night, and after handing my last apple to an elderly tanner woman, I spotted the roaming man off to the side of their fire. I felt compelled to warn Trish away. In hindsight, I don’t know what led me to doing this, but the doing saved both me and her.
I asked after Trish out of earshot of the watcher, "Where is the young woman who has been traveling with you? I wanted to speak to her about a—" I stopped, paused my mind blank not having a convincing line prepared. Weakly I ended with "—thing."
The tanner woman gave me a wink. "Oh, I'm sure you have a thing for her alright. She went off to the river bed to see if she could find any fish in the pools left by the river."
Feeling the heat in my face I excused myself, knowing the Light had betrayed my embarrassment in its clear white glow. "It's not like that, but thank you."
I found her near the dry river bed, staring at the reflection of the moon in one of the pools left behind. I had a Light above my head, banishing the darkness before me, but also heralding my arrival from far away.
She didn’t look up as I approached, but stared into the reflection in the water as she asked in a bored tone, “What do you want?”
“Sorry for disturbing,” I said, hesitant from her tone. She sounded bored but her posture looked tense, like a cat preparing to pounce. “I think there is someone in the caravan looking for you. Well, he’s looking for someone and you seem to be hiding, so I expect it's related. Tonight he’s at the tanner’s fire, and I thought you would appreciate a warning.”
Her posture relaxed, and she put something back into her coat that I hadn’t realized she was holding.
“Thank you," she said. As I turned away, she continued, “Do you want to join me? I’m Trish.”
I stopped, and sat next to her on the large rock. “Sure, I’m Tal.”
I dismissed the light, and we lay there staring at the stars. At first in silence, but then, to my surprise, she began to talk. I won’t share the details here, it is not mine to tell, but it felt like she had been holding a lot in for a long time, and just needed to let it out. She spoke vaguely of some betrayal, but then went on at length about adventures at sea.
“So, why are you pretending to be a member of a ship clan?” she asked in between one of her tales. I almost missed the question, so abrupt was it.
Once the words registered, I shot up looking around in panic. In scanning for eavesdroppers, I saw that the caravan was ablaze in the distance.
I broke into a run towards the camp, summoning a cantrips Glow in my palm to illuminate the ground. I could hear Trish running behind me.
"Kill the light," she hissed.
I dismissed the light and slowed, waiting for her to catch up. When she did, she scolded me, "If we run into that with your beacon, we are going to walk into an ambush. Follow me."
She drew two wickedly long blades that danced the line between sword and knife, and grimaced slightly as she did so. With weapons drawn, she led the way through the darkness.
We reached the tanners' camp first, approaching with the large wagon shielding us from view. The wagon, along with all the tents, were engulfed in flames by the time of our arrival. The only sound from the camps was that of the crackling fires. Around the crater that had once been the campfire lay the charred remains of the tanners. From the pattern of destruction, the campfire had exploded, possibly the target of a Fireball. My mother says the spell is easier to aim when you target a fire.
The mysterious man lay beyond the radius of the explosion. The ground and his wounds told of him surviving the initial blast by dint of his position at the fringe. After the explosion, he crawled weakly through the dirt, only to have his throat slit.
Trish rummaged through his cloak and pulled out a leather wallet. Riffling through it in the firelight, she pulled out a sketch of a woman that bore a striking resemblance to her, but had more elfen features than the girl before me. She pushed the papers back into the wallet, and the wallet disappeared into her clothes.
Once more her knives appeared, as if out of nowhere, and she asked, "Where's your camp?"
I pointed out to the darkness where my campsite lay and we set off towards it. My mind raced as we approached the camp. The absence of any fire at all gave me hope that maybe they’d gotten away. Maybe they had seen the attack and extinguished their fire? Or they defended themselves and fled in the aftermath?
The scene around my camp site was a gore streaked battlefield. The sickly odor of burning flesh and the fresh scent left behind by lightning magic filled the air. There had been no sudden explosion that took my parents by surprise, and they’d fought fiercely. The light of the full moon illuminated the ground, which was littered with the dead. Each wore identical robes, and bore the telltale signs of my mother’s magic. Others had died of sword wounds, or had ice shards sticking from their corpses. Near the remnants of our campfire, a patch of ground was covered in a sheet of ice, whatever had caused it had extinguished the fire and slew two robed figures in the process. Our belongings lay strewn across the campsite, a clear sign that my mother’s air magic had been at work.
We followed the trail of the dead in the darkness, from the fire to our cart. Sitting before a pile of the dead, I found my parents lying against the wheel, holding each other in death. With the cart at their back, they’d made a valiant last stand, and the dead were piled three deep in a ring before them. My parents were covered in burns and cuts, but despite it all, they had managed to slay a small army of these strange robed assailants. My father held a sword in his hand, one I’d never seen. Never before had I seen him wield a sword, let alone the unadorned silver rapier he held in death.
When faced with great stress my mind falls back to surface level observations. I took all this in, while walling myself in with a barrier of analysis. Instead of trying to cope with the reality of my parent’s deaths, my mind latched onto the incongruities I saw.
Who are these robed figures? Why did they come here? Where did this ice magic come from? My mother knew no such magic, and only the robed figures bore such wounds. Where did my father learn to wield a sword? I’ve never seen him practice, or even use one in the times we’ve been in danger. Right? Or had I?
The plain sword seemed oddly familiar, despite its nondescript nature.
Where had he gotten that sword from? I’d helped pack the cart, there was no way this blade could have been hidden in the luggage.
Attached to the belt he always wore sat a scabbard fit to this blade. Had that always been there? It seems impossible that it had, but the sight of this scabbard too felt familiar.
The grief struck later, and struck hard. For now, I felt only numb.
I stood there, motionless and staring at my parent’s bodies. Around me Trish looked through the dead in a ruthless and efficient manner, items disappearing into her jacket as she gathered them. When she’d gone through the robed figures, she came to my side.
“We need to go.”
I didn’t move, and she went to my parents’ bodies. Slow, with a respectful gentleness she had not shown the others, she went through their pockets, gathering what she found into my father’s satchel. When she was done, she cut my father’s scabbard from his belt, and sheathed the sword after wiping it clean on her own clothing.
She came back to me, threw the satchel over my shoulder, and ushered me into the darkness.
That was harder to write than I expected and I already expected it to be quite difficult. Despite that, I feel better. Maybe now that it's written down, I can stop reliving it in my head, wondering what—if anything—I could have done differently. I’m thankful that whatever of your magic grants me emotional recall didn’t work for that night. I don’t think I could have relived that again. It took days for me to break from my stupor after that, who knows what experiencing it again would do.
Those questions remain though. After Edgewater, I have a better idea as to who attacked that camp, but still no clue as to why. Were my parents the target? Trish? Or were we just in the wrong place at the wrong time?
I’m off to bed. The reset is going to occur soon but I’d rather not be awake for it. Unsurprisingly, waiting for reality to reset leads my mind to spiral into a whirlpool of existential dread.