No warranties. This is a work of fiction. Names, places, allegories, institutions, and happenings are fictional, or explicitly used fictitiously!
© Andre Michael Pietroschek, all rights reserved
Two winters ago: Glarrys, our faithful Tabaxi, had made her inheritance. From waitress to the owner of the inn. Her inn, the tradepost, and a militia chapter of the rangers made up the entire, little outpost. Cozy, now that most monsters had been neutralized. Beloved, and lucrative, as good-aligned ex-adventurers deserve it.
Last year's greatest drama was a cooking festival hosted by gnomes going awry & an unexpected lack of supplies. Luckily, the halfling rangers were so loyal, that they skipped their third breakfast for the entire winter, and added only one late-night meal to the regular five meals per day. ``Gluttony, a goddess ?´´
This year, I knew: It was different, because Glarrys contacted me, using clerical magic. Such is not easily done for fun, so an emergency must have occurred! Aged, but not callous, I prepared to aid my former comrade in arms. Starting, by alerting other former members of our adventuring team.
Me? Yes, indeed, I had forgotten my manners once again, as if reading my aura and looking at my quite formidable arcane robe and staff would not already do that for me. I am Lucario ``Oakstaff´´ Pretzlau. An aging, human small-town-wizard with a handful of graduations in arcane circles and seminars.
While I would never consider myself a master wizard, I did spend twenty-five years of my life as an adventuring aka wandering wizard.
``And another 25 years trying to recover & survive a while longer!´´
Tragically undone, when we clashed with a creature not even supposed to still exist. A Larakhen spawn. Swamp creatures continuously devouring the magic out of any life-form known. If one does not flee.
Blessed survivor of the assault, as I was neither alone nor an ill-prepared bookworm type of person. Tactical withdrawal. Years of wandering had kept my muscles in mediocre shape. Not, that I could compete with a ranger, a monk, or fighters, but I had learned from each of them. Still, my power was wrecked, drained.
Where was I? Ah, I am Lucario ``Oakstaff´´ Pretzlau, and for a swift journey across the realm, I contacted former companions, so not to travel alone. It has always proven wise to stay wary of criminals, and even wiser to never travel ill-prepared! And, while I could no longer just teleport us across the realm...
I still knew solitary wizards, some rare warlocks, and colleges and academies worth asking for help. Hence, I gathered two more adventurers, who owed Glarrys the kind of favor that makes aging wrecks once more risk clashing with dangerous Evil. Bards earn more with such tales, I know.
I felt relieved, when Gurin Shadowstomper, a dwarven thief unbelievably fond of his family belonging to a dwarven house that went from underground to living in the forest, willingly joined in. Rogues are a vigilant sort, and a Hill Dwarf companion is a good safeguard against the criminal foul play, non-magic-users tend to muster!
Our third companion was a surprise, as Melissa ``Paladina´´ of the Sacred Shield (an order of knightly wardens), started her wandering year. This means she had earned the privilege of leaving the cloistered walls of the order by graduation and dutiful service for at least one year. A real, knighted paladin woman.
Rain-resistant traveler clothing for me, armors and shields for Melissa, and the leather on mithril only a dwarf, like Gurin, could consider body armor. Food rations, water flasks, and filters, so we could drink river water without falling sick. The little yet wise efforts learned on a hundred ordeals before.
With a travel preparation and group gathering done within only eight hours, I was decently happy. If it would not have been under the pressure of time, then a full group of at least six adventurers would have been formed, but I was glad that payment was not part of this.
We three boarded a small ship, sailed west one harbor in distance, and then failed to find horses, so I did an incantation of swift movement on each of our boots and shoes. Moving faster than most rangers could, we made our way to the inn named the Last Resort.
Glarrys' new homestead.
Some beast howled in the night, but the overall assessment of danger was wonderfully absent. After a short sleep in the forest, we used the early morning light to reach our destination. Awestruck, as the outpost had been worked into a walled little village by now.
Craftsmen work done during the last year. Impressive!
Age and pain take some toll on my ability to concentrate, so the stars I saw, when entering the inn resulted in a slightly less well-trained Glarrys hugging me nearly senseless are mentioned. A bit tired, but still the Tabaxi woman I remembered. Life was hard for her, but it was work she did for herself now.
Glarrys still wore her holy symbol, was clad in a chainmail shirt (tank-top style, yet mithril metal), and had studded leather bracers protecting arms and legs. Not half the real cleric armor, still far from being naive about the new job excluding what we had faced so often before.
An intense hour cut short, as we had mostly personal issues to debate: Glarrys had sensed a change in the inn's atmosphere. She had checked it with her magical senses, and found something odd, vaguely toxic opposing her investigation. Soon thereafter, nightmares haunted, whoever slept in the inn.
The emanations of evil, depravity or the presence of undead in the vicinity CAN trigger such nightmares. Nightmares, which are a burden to some, but also a warning sign to watch out for, as they are grossly different from childhood bad dreams!
Gurin inquired about dwarven ale, but I was happy to realize, after just a moment of eavesdropping, that Gurin meant to deliver dwarven ale to the Last Resort. Yes, dwarves are good in business, and dwarven ale was even legal. Always a pleasure, when the thief is disciplined and cautious enough. Kinda.
Melissa followed her routine procedure, as trained paladins would not even freak out about evil detected. She assessed the rooms, and the frequenters of the inn, with her divine scrutiny, but did not mention any concern to either me or to Gurin or Glarrys.
In my experience, people of the faith are stronger, when not alone. Could be wishful thinking or an older man's nostalgia, yet I think: Glarrys and Melissa seemed to get along well. No heated debates about different deities, and the kind of gentle but formal: I knew from so many women in the past. Good enough.
We made a quick plan, as we were impaired by the routine having to go on. So far, no danger would justify evacuating the inn. We ate in the kitchen, and once the guests were served, we ventured upstairs, to use magical detection, physical tracking, and whatever dwarven villainy offered.
After four incantations, I felt a minor headache arising, and the first signs of fatigue made it harder for me to concentrate. Still, I finished all six of my prepared magical detection routines, as I wanted to do my part in making sure our rooms would be safe, and the trouble zone would be thoroughly investigated.
There was a baleful, clearly magical presence, but not the form a person, like a typical tiefling sorcerer, or a spell or ritual would leave behind. No surprise, as the occurrence covered an area, at minimum one floor of the inn, and thereby threatened the entire outpost.
I helped buy us time to rest, as I used my magic to counter the magic we had detected. Weakening it temporarily would not solve the problem, but it allowed us a safer rest to be in shape for undoing it best we could. Gurin mumbled about a bad feeling, too.
Bad news to us. Sense of foreboding.
``They will tell you that arcane formulae is trusted and established for a reason. True, still I tell you: Not one of those bookworms has survived a single assault by real monsters and real villains! Hence, there is a smarter way called adapting your staff enchantments to your way of life, not some ancient tome’s boasting.´´
While it was not my first night in clothing, keeping my staff in my hands, I still wondered, how much harder such must be, when wearing metal armor, a shield, and larger weapons of the martial sorts. Gurin and Melissa, much like Glarrys, never really complained about it. Still, sometimes it showed to impair movement nonetheless.
There are magical effects, be they arcane or divine in their origins, which immediately make living folks aware of them. One such occurred after midnight, and in retrospect, I know that not only I was instant-awake, when it happened.
The upper floor of the Last Resort had six guestrooms. While not spartan, like monk cells, each was at best made for two persons. By design, all rooms had vaguely the same structure and interior. Typical, little hotel rooms, one could say in big city words. But, something was wrong. Very wrong.
Glarrys was already rushing up the stairs, as faithfully unafraid, she had continued to work and sleep in her room below. Gurin and Melissa were in the corridor, weapons in their hands. One look and we reassured each other that we had the same bad feeling.
The three guests supposedly there with us did not answer, when we knocked on their doors. After Glarrys used the master key and Gurin opened another door to save us time, we found them gone. Gone, as in vanished, abducted, snatched away, for the windows showed no sign of acrobatic escape, nor sleep wandering.
``That magic is still tucking at me. Can you feel it, too?´´, I asked.
Agreement from all three swiftly followed, and due to Gurin I could be sure it was NOT just the awareness trained spellcasters share when strange magic is around. The magic was made to tuck, for whatever purpose.
Dream-like shifts in our perceptions occurred. Or, better said: What we mistook to be dreamy were in fact emanations of someone attempting to meddle with the reality of our surroundings. Instead of waiting dumbstruck, I shielded my team with the kinda spells we wizards use to absorb magic missiles.
What happened next is hard to describe, as we were simply ripped away from where we stood. Ripped away forcefully, by an unknown magic now specifically targeting us four. We awoke in a cavern. A feeling of dread with us, but not immediately urgent. Chants could be heard, syllables of incantations!
Contemplating every bit of wizardry I could remember, I concluded that those spellcasters I name cultists had directed the baleful energy to prevent us from ending it. With lives at stake that was malevolent enough to consider militant resistance. The risk of harm by trying to knock them unconscious only seemed too great. It was, as later learned.
Our five opponents fought, albeit disturbed during their ritual, and we won only by the clerical magic healing the wounds we suffered.
Gurin, as swift as his blend of rapier and dwarven warhammer went, was still too slow to reach a second opponent after finishing his first one off.
I see no heroism in it, but justified protection of the community. We killed five cultists, who probably were homicidal maniacs, and who DID use black magic against each of us and others. Sadly, only bardic tales end with a celebration.
Cultists often serve a more formidable power, called a higher power, albeit the lower hells are the most common source. Once we had ended the ritual, we were no longer targets, but that was it. That alone did not end the threat. Hence, we continued our investigation.
As noted, after Melissa and Glarrys had prayed for healing, which is a lifesaver we thank the gods for! Using magical senses, we found the hell-hole, call it portal, that delivered the weird energy. And, being too wise to consider me, or our team, greater heroic powers, we kept it simple.
Melissa and Glarrys coordinated their prayers with my incantations. The clerical magic aiming to turn anything contaminated by Evil back into natural (at best into sacred), and my ability to undo magical effects, focused on weakening the baleful portal's resistance.
The final struggle, and at least we scored a temporal success.
Mightier wizards may indeed curse my name. But, my task was to support Glarrys. And, reporting to the local constabulary and alerting temples and arcane colleges would still be done in the weeks to follow. That struggle never ends, and being limited does not imply that we did not act dutiful and sane.
The cult must be found, as knowledge of using such magics is certainly not in books for starter students. The energy must be identified, so to go proper threat assessment.
Finally, the influence of evil outsiders must be thwarted, as the mere thought is worse than nightmares! Literally.
And, as written by me: We sat in bathtubs, shaking and hurting. Our greatest longing was being alone and comfy in our beds! Rest & recovery. No sex orgy to celebrate that we were still alive. No gold dished and no cheering commoners, nor any promotions on the job.
We just did the right thing, the best we could.
The original story, as written and intended.
The second story introduces the younger brother of the protagonist. It is online by now, here on e-stories,
The third story, not yet written, is beyond what I can announce. Authors comment
All rights belong to its author. It was published on e-Stories.org by demand of Andre M. Pietroschek.
Published on e-Stories.org on 05/27/2023.
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