Chapter VI: A Plan Regarding Poison
In the aftermath of the massive, bloody brawl, we--well, we all looked haggard, reeked, and were as exhausted as we would be after a massive, bloody brawl! Umbraltide is a dark world. Our battles are less worthy of a hero's medal and more worthy of a singing scoundrel's drunken praise. As we struggled to bandage our wounds and take off our scratched and dented armor, many questions still plagued us: Who were our attackers, and why had they targeted us? Were they only common brigands, or something more? Were they trying to defile the Woodlands of Zelyon somehow? Above all, who was this Overlord Diktat that they were trying to "send us to" by killing us? Sleep came immediately, but answers would have to wait until dawn...
Something else waited until dawn: pain. Roaring, searing, blinding pain.
Even though I had wrapped a few pieces of cloth torn from my underclothes around the wound where the Death Knight had struck me, the gash still bled, and not only that, but the poison had sunk deeper into my body while I slept. I could feel its seeping tendrils tickle my flesh and find their way into my hidden parts, and I gritted my teeth hard against the sentient venom's bite. I would not scream; I would not moan; I would not even cry out as I had before in the presence of Haldiros. I was a warrior, a Secundant,
and I could not afford to show any sign of weakness. Not anymore. Either this poison would conquer, or I would. We could not survive together, it and I.
When we awoke, Uulrek Nahasht, the Forest Elf who served as our guide through the outskirts of the Woodlands of Zelyon, checked my bandage. "Not good," he said. "I wish we would have had time--or rather, I
would have had time, to make you a proper poultice, but I felt so weak and frail that all I could do when I had a spare moment was collapse! I have failed you, Secundant,
and as it now stands, it will no longer take a full midnight-to-midnight in order to turn you into what we all fear. You will become a Death Knight at dusk, the moment the sun sinks into the earth."
I shut my eyes, wanting to drown out Uulrek's announcement as blood rushed through my ears in the sound of the ocean. Dusk? This was worse than any of us had thought! The pain engulfed me again, and I struggled to remain silent. Silent as the grave, as the azure sky, as Uulrek had now become...
As it turned out, the redoubtable Bryan Borneblade had been listening. "Eh?" he scowled, spitting on the ground. "Isn't there anything you can do, Elf? Gather some herbs or something like that? Some Nature's Protector you are!"
"There is no cure for a Death Knight's blade poison," Uulrek said, gazing sadly upon his blunt and stubble-chinned comrade. "It's absolutely fatal--worse than fatal, as a matter of fact. What part of that don't you understand?"
Borneblade glared at him with red-rimmed eyes-this time not from drink, but from the sheer ravages of fighting. "And what part of we have to save the Secundant
understand? If you're too much of a coward to scrounge up some measly plants or boil her a sleeping draught to help the pain, then I will. Just point me over to the cauldrons, and I'll do the rest!"
"No one calls me a coward, sir," replied Uulrek, his voice soft and yet ice-cold. "However, as much as I hate to admit it, you do have a point. I will set to work concocting the sleeping draught immediately. I may not be able to cease the poison's flow throughout our lady's body, but I will be able to cease her agony once she's resting and unconscious. Dusk will come, but if I have anything to say about it, our Secundant
will have final victory. She is too strong to let this poison claim her, and even if she begins to transform into a Death Knight, I heard her repeat the words for 'kill me, kill me before...' in her native tongue this morning. It was...a nightmare."
"Tell me about it," said a voice that floated into my mind: female. Yradne's. "I can't believe you two. Haven't you even thought about asking me what I can do? It's true that I'm a Wizard, and Wizards are a thousand times better at throwing balls of fire and ice at their foes than they are at healing, but I have run across a recipe for an Arcane Antidote that rivals any priest's salve! It may not cure the poison--it may not even purge one-tenth of it from her blood--but at least it's something to strengthen the mind and the will. I'm going to need some help gathering the ingredients for it, though, and even figuring out what they are. They're all in riddles, because we Wizards love those." I heard Yradne laughing, or at least I thought I did through the pain.
"What are the ingredients?" asked Uulrek, sounding very intrigued indeed.
"Now we're talking!" Yradne cleared her throat and recited a list of the needed items, or rather riddles whose solutions contained the needed items: "We need the tendrils of a traitor,
the dissolved dent of a defiler,
the mist that shrouds the gift of life,
the meanest food and creatures on the ground,
and last but not least, the Contract of the Shadows half-fullfilled.
" She paused for a long, tense moment. "Luckily for us, I know what that last riddle means. The Contract of the Shadows involves self-sacrifice, though it never calls for full completion. It is a process whereby one's life essence is transferred to another person or even animal. It requires a strong soul on the part of the one fulfilling the Contract. It is considered purely blasphemous and evil by every priest alive, because death is supposed to be the final end of the body and the journey of the soul toward Rapture or Inferno, whichever way you lean." A wry laugh.
"So let's do it!" cried Bryan Borneblade. "I'll do it." I admired his sheer nerve.
"Ehm--the Contract says a strong soul
is required. Sorry, Borneblade."
"It says a strong soul,
not a pure soul,
and I'm strong. Sure, there are many drinks I've drunk, fights I've fought, and lovely lasses I have lain, but I can survive any fight put to me--even one with death itself!"
"Point taken," said Yradne with an admiring tone in her voice. "Are you sure you're willing to sacrifice yourself, even halfway, for our Secundant?
"If I don't," he replied, his voice dead-serious, "I am coward of all cowards."
"It's settled, then," replied Yradne, her words containing a slight tremble. "As for the rest of the riddles, I'm afraid I can't make any real sense of them. All except the first one: The tendrils of a traitor
refer to hair, specifically the hair of one who has betrayed his or her kin and country. Who among us is a traitor?" Yradne asked. "We're all good people--we'd never do that!"
"I know of one," said a deep Ebon Elven voice. "Or, rather...I know of two." The next thing I knew, I could feel someone's dagger cut off a lock of my hair, from the front near my forehead. I smiled. Good show, Haldiros! With any luck, this Arcane Antidote will be prepared in no time.
Haldiros also surrendered a lock of his ebon hair, since he too was a traitor, however unwilling at first, to his home city of Ilthuul'xtat. Two conundrums solved, and three more to be unraveled! I certainly hoped they'd be before dusk...
"What in the Infernal Realm is the dissolved dent of a defiler?
" asked Bryan Borneblade, sounding frustrated, but at whom? "I mean, if I take off my helmet here, you can see it has a lot of dents! How on the gods' green earth can you dissolve them? I suppose I could try and melt down my helmet, but over Uulrek's campfire, that would take ages!" He was completely right, and I also had no idea how you would 'dissolve a dent'. That riddle was certainly puzzling, if not outright nonsensical. "Plus, I know I have defiled my share of 'respectable places'--and respectable ladies--but, I mean, come on!" Clearly this was not the answer to the riddle, because I didn't think that poor Bryan Borneblade, for all his 'defiling', was meant to 'dissolve his dents'.
"Wait a minute," said Yradne. "What's that smell?" We all knew it--the death-scent, the stench of decay. "Pfeh. Sometime after we save Vtorym, we really should try and bury all these bodies." If I wasn't buried along with them...
"Hold," said Uulrek Nahasht, offering me a ladle of the potent sleeping draught he had just finished preparing. "It's very hot--sip carefully--Ah! There!" As its fluid wrapped me in a blanket of warmth, I nodded my thanks to the Forest Elf. I had just enough time before I slipped into unconsciousness to hear him say something interesting: "I have an idea about that conundrum, Yradne. Check the bodies. I once heard a colloquial term among my fellow Forest Elves, specifically the youngest ones. They called their teeth 'dents', because they said their teeth made 'dents' in all their food!" I smiled, almost laughing, but I lacked the strength to laugh now. It had all been sapped out of me. "The ones who attacked us last night have certainly defiled our sacred forest. Perhaps one of their teeth would do to be dissolved." Disgusting? Aye. Necessary? Aye again. I'd do anything for that Arcane Antidote, even if it didn't work. I clung to hope in what could be the very last hours of my life.
"All right, genius," said Bryan Borneblade good-naturedly. "What about 'the mist that shrouds the gift of life?'" He sounded more hopeful now, too.
"Water," replied Uulrek. "That is the gift of life, at least in these Woodlands, besides the shining sun itself. We must hold something up in the middle of a waterfall's spray or something like it--any object, I suppose--in order to collect that mist. Once we return, we will add it to the Secundant's
poultice. All these things must be dissolved or burned, and then boiled, even the hair and the tooth. Then the mix must be applied to the dressing of her wound and wrapped around it. We must hurry--we don't have much time."
"Tell me about it," Yradne said again, and I could imagine her rolling her eyes. What hour of the day was it, anyway? "What of 'the meanest food and creatures on the ground?'" That part of the riddle still confused me.
"I say we locate some badgers," said Borneblade. "Or wild boars, or wolves, or any animal that springs to attack you the moment it catches your eye! Those are the meanest creatures on the ground, my friends, and let's find what they eat!" Sounded sensible enough to me...oh, my head, my eyes...!
This was when I awoke, to find that every part of my sweaty and stinking body had been scrubbed clean--even the intimate places that no one but priests and lovers ever saw! Yradne's work? I hoped so, though another part of me hoped that another strong yet gentle pair of hands had done the cleansing...! I also found that I had been bound to a tree, and kindling-wood was piled high all around me. Haldiros also waited, bow and arrow at the ready, standing about a dozen paces in front of me. Ah. If I start to turn into a Death Knight all of a sudden, Haldiros will shoot me and light my pyre. The tree will burn, and so will my corpse. Victory!
Thirdly--what was that on my wrist, which was tied behind my back? It was warm, soothing, damp, and also--wriggling? It felt like a very tightly-tied poultice. "Two locks of hair, one dissolved gold tooth from the fiends that attacked us last night, the mist of our most pristine waterfall, and last but not least, humble, or 'mean', roots and maggots," Uulrek Nahasht announced proudly. "It took us a while to figure out that last riddle, but then I thought of the best little creatures to cleanse wounds--ones that eat filth! I decided to wrap them in alive, because that's what they need to be in order to consume poison and dead flesh and blood." Nice image, but nicer revelation!
"Thank you," I said, still feeling groggy from the sleeping draught. "The hour?"
"The sun will set shortly," said Bryan Borneblade, walking behind the tree and clasping both my hands. "It's time. Yradne, begin your incantation for the Contract of Shadows. I shall
fullfill it, even if it costs me my whole life instead of half of it!" I fought back tears--he would do this for me?
Yradne raised her staff and began chanting long, ancient words that awed me with their dark beauty and majesty. Would it work? It simply had to!
The red ball of the sun sank lower and lower in the sky. Please...no...
I closed my eyes, hearing a bow-string being pulled taut, and a soft whisper:
My body seized up with even more pain than I had felt during the entire day. Bryan grasped my hands as if his own were two vises, and I could hear him shriek and moan as his very life, his nature, his essence, was transferred to a female frame that was fading fast. I closed my eyes, praying for the end to come quickly. Haldiros, you fool! I can feel the poison claiming me! Hurry!
The earth seemed to quake all around me...or was that only my heart?
Four friends surrounding me, untied and still alive...I didn't understand...
"Why?" I moaned, not caring if anyone saw my tears now. "Why have I not slaughtered you all where you stand? There is no cure for the blade poison of a Death Knight...am I dreaming? Am I in the Rapture, or the Inferno?"
"The Arcane Antidote worked," Yradne said, a smile unlike any I'd ever seen gracing her pale and delicate face. "However," she said, "even though you are not one of those horrific creatures...the venom has claimed three out of ten parts of your blood. I sensed it as soon as my incantations were over. You will not kill us, nor transform completely. The price that you will pay is an otherworldly rage that will send you flying if an enemy dares attack you. This rage will consume your whole being, and we'd best stand back if it hits!"
"My," I said, my head reeling and my body feeling as if it had no bones. "This could be a blessing, not a curse!" We all laughed then--harder than we had laughed in what seemed ages. This day had lasted a million years. With any luck, tomorrow would only seem to last a moment, a moment of pure bliss.
Even though I was a wretched maid, three-tenths Death Knight, I was alive!