Sunday, March 22, 2015

The Temple

We walked back to Mountain Home, quiet and somber, reflecting on what we had just witnessed. Since it was rather late, we went back to the Wagon Wheel and called it a night. The next morning Willow and I woke and went downstairs for breakfast, where Freja and Temperalus were already seated. Not long after we sat, Finfer joined us. After eating in silence for a bit, I asked “So where do we start? The Montrose family still needs to know about Jacob.” Willow agreed. Freja said “We could probably start there.” Marlon happened to walk by right then, so Freja caught his attention and asked him how to get to the Montrose place. He directed us, so we finished our meal and left. The Montrose house was huge and ornate, well cared, with pillars across the front, and a very elaborate door knocker. We knocked; no answer. We knocked a couple more times, but no response. “Obviously nobody is here,” Freja said, “So I am going back to the temple to check on Ali. Maybe they’ve heard something.” Temperalus and Finfer go with her, and Willow and I opt to go back to the tavern.

At the tavern, we try to talk to Marlon more, but, like before, he was less than helpful. “Do you know our brother, Woodsy, at least?” Willow asked. “Sure, I know Woodsy. Good guy. I don’t know where he is, though. Last I heard he went with a shipment somewhere, but I don’t know where. That’s Trading Company business, not Wagon Wheel business.” Since we were not having any luck with the bartender, we took our drinks to a table against the wall and listened to the random conversations around the bar. From those conversations, we learned a bit of the town’s history: Greenbriar, the town on the other side of the Copperstone Mountains, is where most of the elves live. The dwarves settled here because of the mining in the Copperstone Mountains, and the town of Mountain Hide developed later after the dwarves expressed interest in a partnership with the elves for protection in exchange for weaponry. A few elves came over the mountains to settle, and from there the town was born and grew.

Before long, Freja and Temperalus arrived at the tavern, with Finfer not long behind them. They were unable to learn anything new about Jacob, so we decided to go back to the farms. As we walked over to the farms, Willow and I filled them in on what we learned about the background of the town, just as idle conversation to help pass the time. As we approached the farms, though, we noticed that, while the bodies of the undead we had killed were still there, the bodies that were missing arms were gone, and the ground that previously looked disturbed was smooth. “Where do you suppose the bodies went? And how did they get there?” Freja asked. Willow looked around. “I do not see any tracks or marks, so they were not dragged away.” I had wandered over to the edge of the forest, looking around, when I spotted tracks heading into the woods. “Willow,” I called out. “I found tracks over here.” The others joined me, and we followed the tracks into a particularly dense part of the forest. The sound of animals running filled the air, and through the trees, running straight for us, were a group of boars.

“Willow...” I said, drawing my bow. “Boars.” Even though it had been several years since a boar killed our father, simply seeing the animals caused Willow to start trembling with rage. I released an arrow and connected with the leg of one of the smaller boars, as it reached Temperalus and attempted to bite him. Willow quickly cast a spell on him to enhance his abilities, then drew out her short bow and shot the other smaller one, nearly killing it. Cursing, she ran through the trees and drew back again, hitting it in the back, breaking its spine. The bigger of the boars charged Temperalus, knocking him down and trampling him, leaving him crumpled on the ground and in massive pain. Finfer put a crossbow bolt in the side of the big boar, causing it to scream out, blood running from the wound. Freja ran to Temperalus and healed him with divine magic, enough for him to be able to cast a spell on himself that created three Temperalus duplicates that surrounded him. The smaller boar gored one duplicate, and it vanished. Willow drew back her bow and planted an arrow between the smaller boar’s eyes, just as I released an arrow and pierced the big boar in the neck, both falling to the ground, dead.

Freja and Finfer assessed the boars. “Hey,” Finfer called out, “these boars smell like undead.” Temperalus, who was sitting with his back against a tree for support, said “Cut one open. If the meat is fine, we can eat well tonight.” Willow, still full of rage, said “The gods themselves could not force me to touch that vile thing.” She stalked off to a nearby tree and sat at the base of it, her back to us all. Everyone looked to me for answers, and I said “A boar took our father’s life and left our family crippled. Enjoy your meal; I will have none of it.” I went to retrieve Willow, and we slipped into the forest to forage.

When we returned, they had finished their meals and were ready to continue down our original path. Nobody said anything about the fight with the boars or the reactions from my sister and I, and we followed the tracks for a few more hours, mostly in silence, save minor conversations about which direction the tracks were taking us. When it became too dark to see much of anything, we made camp and took our usual watch shifts. I climbed a nearby tree and tied myself in its branches, with Willow at the base of my tree.

I was woken by the sound of Finfer’s urgent whispers, trying to rouse Willow. In my half-asleep state, could make out “Willow” and “wolves” and Freja coming from the other side of camp to see what was going on. As I was trying to process what was going on, Willow let out a blood-curdling scream. I quickly untied myself and looked down to see a large wolf clamped down on her leg. Freja immediately conjured a spell that cast a sort of fiery substance at the wolf, causing it to be a bit disoriented. It released WIllow, who quickly scooted as far away from the wolf as she could. A dire wolf jumped out of the shrubbery and over Finfer, knocking him down, razor-sharp teeth grazing his arm. Finfer jumped up and backed up, shooting his crossbow. He missed the dire wolf but managed to hit the one that had bit Willow, with a lucky shot that killed it. A third wolf appeared behind Finfer, bit him on the neck, and Finfer fell to the ground, unconscious and bleeding. Temperalus launched magic at the third wolf at the same time Willow released an arrow, both finding their marks and killing it. All that remained was the dire wolf, who was pacing back and forth, blocking us from a dying Finfer. Freja rushed forward and took a mighty swing, but the dire wolf easily shifted away, turned, and bit her arm, throwing her to the ground. Temperalus placed his fingers to his temples and started whispering strange incantations. Suddenly the dire wolf started yelping and turned and ran in the opposite direction. I jumped down from my spot in the tree, followed it, and killed it.

When I returned, Freja was tending to Finfer, doing her best to heal him enough to where he could drink a healing potion and rest. I helped Temperalus move the bodies of the dead wolves deep in to the forest, while Willow worked on tending to her own wounds. Freja and Temperalus offered to keep watch so that Finfer and Willow could rest more, so Willow and I climbed two trees clustered together, with Finfer sleeping at the base. After a few more hours of rest, we were woken by Temperalus to take our shift, and the remainder of the night passed with no further issues.

The next morning, once everyone had woken and eaten, we packed up our camp and picked up the trail once more. The tracks led us to a small clearing in the trees, which contained an old temple that was overrun by forest. About 200 yards away from the church, the tracks stopped abruptly, and there were signs of burrowing in the ground, much like we saw at the farms outside of Mountain Hide. “What do you suppose that is?” Willow asked. “It looks deserted.” I replied. Freja cast her hands out in front of her and closed her eyes, opening them a moment later and shaking her head. “I sense nothing,” she said. “No undead, no evil, just... nothing.” I closed my eyes and listened to my surroundings. “Willow,” I said. “There are no birds.” She was quiet a moment, listening hard. “I hear nothing. No movement, no noises, nothing. Do you suppose it has to do with this place?” I looked around us and considered for a moment. “Well,” I said, taking a step forward, “We could always go take a look. I could sneak up there.” Willow put a hand on my arm and said “Not alone, you’re not.” Finfer stepped up next to Willow. “I’ll go with her.” he offered. “We’ll be alright.”

Slowly and quietly, we made our way to the building. He motioned he was going to the right, so I went left. I saw nothing except a deserted building, overrun by vines and cobwebs. We met back up with the rest of the group and reported what little we saw. “How about we go try the door?” Willow said. “It is worth a try.” As the five of us cautiously approached the door, Finfer and Willow looked around to see if they could spot any traps or anything surrounding it that might prohibit one from getting too close. Once they were satisfied all was well, Freja gripped the handle and gave a good, solid pull. The door did not budge. She tried again; nothing happened. “Are you sure it’s not locked or anything, Finfer?” She asked. Finfer looked again. “I’m certain. There are no switches or levers or anything. There isn’t even a keyhole on the door. Maybe it’s just stuck.” Willow stepped up and said “How about we try together? If we can combine our strength, maybe it will be enough to unstick the door.” Freja and Willow each positioned themselves to get a solid grip on the door handle and gave a strong pull. The door creaked open a few feet and a swarm of bats flew out, startling us, and flew away. Moments later, the ground bulged up in front of us and several giant beetles broke through next to Freja and started crawling up her body. She shrieked and started trying to stab and step on them. Once we had disposed of the beetles and all was again quiet, we pulled the door open the rest of the way and entered the deserted compound.

The inside of the building was very temple-like, with high, arched ceiling, rows of dilapidated and broken pews, and a thick layer of dust all over everything. Near the entrance stood a large brass bowl on a pedestal with a rust line on the inside, as if it had contained water at some point. Near the back of the building was a large, wooden altar. There appeared to be no stairs and no other doors, aside from the one we used to enter. The room was covered with symbols painted all around the interior; depictions bats, partial skulls, and mouths with a split tongues, among others, all over the interior of this temple. I was fascinated by this, as I had never seen anything like it before. “What do they all mean?” I asked, completely in awe. The paintings were haphazard, as if there were no rhyme nor reason to their placement. Temperalus said “These are the symbols of evil gods and deities. The half-skull, I recognize that. It is the symbol of Vecna, the god of evil secrets and undead. The one there that looks like bear’s teeth about to bite? That is Beltar, the goddess of malice. I’m afraid I don’t know several of these others, other than that they are evil.” Freja suddenly shivered, as if winter’s wind passed through her. “This is a bad place. I do not like this, one bit. We need to leave.” Temperalus said “Look here. This symbol, it isn’t a deity. I have seen it somewhere before.” Willow went to his side to see where he was pointing, and immediately recognized it. “The man we captured in the cabin. He had this tattooed on his arm.” She paused for a moment, and looked around the room. “This place is is shaped like a skull.” she said. Temperalus, looking around, said “You’re correct. I believe we need to learn this building’s secrets.”

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