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Return from The Black

I shiver as I sit propped up against the back of the bed in small hut. Its been the better part of a week, most of which I barely remember as I’ve been in and out of awareness due to a fever. Even though we had a healer and his kit and a mage that could supply me with mana I still wasn’t able to keep the corruption of the swamp from effecting those of us with open wounds. The wounds were closed by the surgeon the best he could while we moved and I was purifying the blood regularly but we were too far in and it was too strong for me in my weakened state. I am still not entirely sure how we got back to the village, it took us twice as long to get home as it did to get us in and the last few hours of the journey getting out are still a blur. I remember seeing the village in the distance and much like the last time i was poisoned I remember swearing as the blackness filled my vision. At least this time I wasn’t unconscious for days, only a few hours, and I didn’t have any visions. I awoke in the hut I am currently in being tended to by a couple of Daughters and a skilled healer. They told me that Ylsa and Rhodi of the Watchwolves got myself, Stanrick and Bryech back to the village. I just nodded and whimpered as they removed the stitching the surgeon put in so they could clean the wound better now that we were safe. I think I passed out again at that point. This was the game we played for the better part of a week. They would come in cleans the wounds. I had a deep one on my side along with broken ribs and one from my hip down along the top of my left leg almost to my knee. Not as bad as the one in the side but it did require a lot of stitches. They wouldn’t let me cleanse myself as they said I needed to save my strength. Fever would spike on and off so I was only conscious for a few hours at a time during that week. I am feeling better now. Fever is still there though I am spending more time awake than asleep, which is a good sign. It is still going to be awhile before I can travel again though with the ribs being broke.

I stare down at the blank piece of parchment and writing board in my lap. I still haven’t told my clan nor my pack what happened. Really how could I, how does one explain what a failure one is? The plan was simple. Go in, find a book, and get the hell out. Things were going wrong by the third day. I knew we had no idea where we were and the wooden supply cart had broke down and we were unable to carry all the supplies at this point. Getting out took precedence in my mind so I thought what I was divining for was the exit. Turns out Gaia or someone else had other plans. I never got a vision of what I was divining so I was going off instinct and faith like I normally do. I can feel the tears sting my eyes as my mind relives it all. I had just sent a scout up over the berm to check the other side while I scoured the area in front. I was positive whatever was pinging my divination sense was nearby, yet whatever I was latched on to I failed to detect it when it walked five feet behind me in someone’s pocket. Worse seer ever. I heard movement so I paused and turned and looked down the road and I could feel the blood drain from my face as four Mordok spotted me. I turn and look to my left and right and I am the only one to be seen. They charge. I scream. They are on top of me before I could stop them. Their shaman played with me, slicing non vital parts enjoying to hear me scream with each one. One stabbed me in the side with a spear and I remember screaming for Stanrick. The world starts to get fuzzy as I can feel my blood soak the cold ground beneath me. I remember seeing a shield smash into the Mordok above me right before the shaman could slash my throat. I feel arms tugging me and I see light glint off a shiny hat as we both struggle to get to our feet and stumble out of the way. Fredrick got me behind the group and set me down and trusted a health potion from his own supplies into my mouth and forced me to drink it. My incompetence nearly cost me my life. I owe Aeden, a Lion of Arnath, and a member of the Bastards and Fredrick of the Bastards, my life.

But no, that isn’t the end of it. Chaos broke out from there. A small band of mercenaries decided to turn and kill the others, everyone got separated and broke off into groups. We struggled to get to a safe place from there. Thrand, Stanrick, myself, Orrin and Bryech and one of the human clerics were in one group. We were forced to leave Rhodi and Ylsa behind as the Mordok continued to swarm. We ran for our lives. Nothing elegant or brave or heroic… we flat out ran like the Great Wolf was chasing us. We paused just long enough for me to divine a direction, this time knowing I was looking for the exit. We made to the broken down cart where we were swarmed again. Everyone fought. I got slashed in the leg and in the side taking the full force of a swing to my ribs. As the fight died I turned and looked behind me. Stanrick was on the ground. My heart sank and I ran and dropped to my knees. I went to go start to cast my divine magic and realized I was empty, I could feel the panic setting in, I couldn’t keep it out of my voice. I looked around desperately for a way to get the energy I needed, the human cleric dropped next to me and I begged him to give me mana and he said he couldn’t. He did say he had enough to help pull Stanrick back from the edge of death and bid me to look down, I turned and looked at Stanrick grasping for my hand. Tears stung my eyes then as I tried to hold it together in the moment. Here in the quiet of the hut my control falters, they fall splashing on the board in my lap. I remember I took his hand and begged him to not leave me alone. Thrand screamed to get moving and get him up. He could see more Mordok coming out of the edge of the clearing. Thrand shot arrow after arrow at them to slow them down but they kept coming. Orrin helped me carry Stanrick. Bryech fought to keep them at bay but he was cut so many times. By some miracle of Gaia, Ylsa and Rhodi were alive and not harmed and got a small band of people to safety including the healer and one of the mages that could transfer mana. Fredrick even risked his life again and went back and managed to get the healer supplies and a pack full other items. Rhodi and Ylsa helped Stanrick and Bryech until we could find a place to rest and do patchwork healing.

I fling the board from my lap across the room in frustration. I was completely useless, in fact I almost got myself killed and those I care about as well. I pull my knees up slowly as I can feel the stitches pull in my leg. I rest my head on my knees and just sob. Every time I close my eyes, all I see are Mordok. I feel the spear in my side. I see Stanrick on the ground. I feel overwhelmed, lonely and useless. I don’t know what it is I am suppose to be doing anymore, I feel so lost.

I hear rustling and raise my head just enough to see a Daughter stick her head in the door of the hut. She is younger than me but not by much, though heavier and stout of build and has wheat blonde hair and blue eyes. I believe her name is Rill. She eyes the board on the floor then looks at me, I hastily wipe my face on my sleeve. She steps inside and picks up the board, parchment and writing stick and gently sets it on the bed side table.
“Soulveig wants to see you.” She states as she looks over me. “I have been sent to help you.” I nod and pull myself together. I know better then to turn this down.

She checks the bandages and stitches and helps me into a simple chemise and dark brown skirt. My pants are trashed and my gambeson is need of repair. The brown travel leathers I normally wear are too constricting with the broken ribs and stitches. I’ve been told loose clothing until I can take a full breath again without it hurting or at least till the stitches can come out. She helps lace up my brown boots and hands me my staff which I use as a walking stick since it still hurts to put all my weight on my left leg.

She leads me to the largest wooden long house structure in the village. The outside is very plain in comparison to the Clanleader’s longhouse in Everspring. She unlatches the large oaken door and we both walk inside past two big guards. I step inside the doorway and the magical energy of the room nearly sends me to my knees. “You wish to see me, Rhya.” I manage to state as I look across the fire at this old women who could probably toss my sorry ass into the yard with a flick of long her fingers. Her eyes glow with Luna’s energy clear as day to me as she studies me with silver eyes that never appear to blink. She watched me for a while as I stand just inside the doorway. I could feel her flipping through my soul like it was an old book that she was studying. Any attempt I made to spiritually defend myself got slapped aside with ease. I finally stopped fighting and let her read what she wanted to see. I looked at her with the other set of eyes I had. The way she pins back her long wavy grey hair and watching her make tea from muscle memory reminded me of Grandma Freya who I haven’t thought about in years. Soulveig’s silver eyes could pierce like a blade. Her strong jaw clenched in the similar way I have seen Stanrick’s do when he is contemplating or trying to understand something and when Siren does when she is pissed and is trying to control her temper. Soulvieg is much older than any Ulven I have ever seen though yet she doesn’t appear frail or sick in fact quite the opposite. She had a regal demeanor that would of put anyone one in Clanleader Cahal’s court to shame. I can tell she was at one time no stranger to the Elder Halls and court discussions. Her magical aura was the strongest I have ever felt, though there were other visual cues from around the room that told me that there was more to the story. Rill stays along the edges of the room and busies herself with tasks. I can tell she is listening to every word we say.

She finally speaks, her voice is commanding like most Matriarchs I know but yet there was something there I couldn’t put my finger on. “Sit, child.” She nodded her head to a pile of cushions next to her. I did as I was instructed and though it took me a moment to figure out how to maneuver around the stitching and the broken ribs. She was watching me the whole time. She handed me a cup of tea. “It will ease the pain” she stated. I looked at it, it was a simple mixture of pineed sap, spruce sprigs and lavender. I sipped the steaming liquid, watching her over the rim of the simple tea bowl. “Stanrick talked with me for some time to try to convince me to see you.” My eyes grew big. With all the preparation for the swamp and the travel I sent Stanrick on, we forgot to go meet with her before we left. I curse under my breath “Rhya… I…” I stammer. She holds up a hand, cutting me off. “Hush child, I don’t care about excuses” I shrink down into myself. Yet another thing to add to my list of things I screwed up on. “Though I know why he wanted you to see me. I don’t know all the details of the dream. You only told him part of it.” I sigh and nod. “Stanrick was already trying to fix things. He barely knew me at the time. I didn’t want to give him reason to worry or a reason to drag me here to fix it now before I went to Grimward territory. I had a job that had been delayed long enough. Though I will say that High Priestess Morrigan did suggest I talk to you about it as she thinks it is lingering corruption. ” She looks at me and tilts her head to the side for the moment and then nods. “Probably for the best. Morrigan has always been wise like that. So, child, why don’t you tell me what you can’t currently tell him.” She states as she continues to watch me as she prepares herself a bowl of tea as well. I look over to Rill then back at Soulvieg. She frowns at me. “She is my apprentice. She will not tell anyone or she will have to deal with me.” “Very well, Rhya” I state. I look down into the bowl of tea in my lap and try to push all the current issues aside as I pull up the dream. Even though Soulvieg’s pack is clanless and does not necessarily follow the same ranking systems as the clans do, she is both this packs Chieftain and Priestess. She and Anjan Vakr-Ravensmark are the two strongest witches that any Ulven knows of and I would be an idiot for not getting her thoughts on it. If she says Rill will tell no one, she is my elder so therefore I believe her. So I tell this ancient matriarch the same thing I told my own High Priestess. It starts that I am standing in a clearing and see a image of the Mother, Gaia, like when I was laying in a coma for days due to Mordok poison after I had talked to Raskolf in the pass. She is tall and regal, long black hair and the dark green robes that I know are made from the needles of the evergreen that blow gently in the breeze. She turns to look at me, her normally flawless pale skin is marked with black large marks that are oozing. They are black like the muck in the swamp. Her bright blue eyes are sad and in pain. She cries at me “Why didn’t you do what I told you? Why didn’t you do your duty and save me…” The plants around her wither and die and the ground under her feet turns black like the marks on her skin. She slowly starts to sink like it was quicksand. I reach out to help, tears streaking my face but couldn’t get close enough. My feet are sinking into the same black tar that Mother Gaia is sinking in. I hear a cry of pain that made my heart ache, I look over my shoulder and the Great Wolf stood there at the edge of the black tar. He strugged against arms of my brother, father, mother and my first mate Torolf. They struggle to hold him back as he howls for his mate. They are trying to reason with him as he struggles to try to save her. I turn back and start casting every spell I could think to get to the Mother. I even turn to some of the long forgotten spells… nothing works. I watch the Mother sink into the earth and I was trapped up to my chest. I hear Torolf scream my name as my head slips beneath the tar. I cant breath, I feel hands tear my clothes and my hair as I continue to sink. I hear a woman laughing though it sounds like the voice from the corruption idol in some weird way. She is saying something but I cant understand what she is saying. It is a language I don’t know. As I feel like I am about to pass out from not being able to breath, I would wake up screaming and gasping for air.”

Soulveig sits there and studies me for a moment. With a heavy sigh she signals Rill to bring her something. “I know you took the Idol home from here a couple of moons ago with no protection spells other then what you learned to cleanse the corruption. That was foolish. You are stronger then you think if nightmares are the only thing you walked away with.” She starts to mix a potion. “Morrigan is right, you may have some deep ingrained corruption that won’t let go even with all the thorough cleansing spells I know your clan has. “ She studies me again then looks at her potion then adds a few more things. I can tell she isn’t telling me everything she knows. The tightness around her mouth is telling me she wants to say something but chooses not to. She is also clenching her jaw as well. She takes the tea bowl from me and adds the potion to it. “You are going to be fighting it for a while but this should give you aid. My Daughters and I have seen our share of corruption from that swamp and know how to fight it better than most. Just remember, you are not alone in this fight.” I didn’t press for more information on what she is leaving out. If it was important she would say something. “Thank you, Rhya” I say as I drink the contents of the tea bowl.

“What else is on your mind child?” she asks as she looks at me. I take a deep breath and wince a little. “I feel I need to apologize to you. Not for forgetting the appointment though I need to do that too, for almost getting your nephew killed. My incompetence nearly costs us our lives.“ I work myself to my knees and bow my head to the ground in contrition. She smacked me in the back of the head so hard my ears ring. I sit up and rub the back of my head, looking confused, now knowing where Siren got that trick from. She raises her eyebrow at me as she glares at me like a disapproving grandmother that makes me want to shrink in on myself in shame. “Have you ever had to divine something before?” she asked me. “Yes, with Fritha, but I helped her in her ritual, it was not mine…” I state plainly. “You were how far into the swamp?” She stated. “About three days in but it took us six to get back” I reply. “For someone who has never had to track something before with divination, was surrounded by such a high level of corruption and yet still managed to see through it, you may not have found what you sought but you managed to get almost everyone out alive. I think you are selling yourself short. I said you are stronger then you look. I meant it. ”

She is suddenly taken by a coughing fit. I lean forward to help but she holds up her hand to stop me. She raises her head and looks at me, I notice a small trickle of blood coming from her nose. Soulvieg just sighs at me as Rill comes over and notices and shoots me a glare. “Go now and be with that hard headed nephew of mine. He needs you more then he will admit.” Soulveig tells me with a wavering and unsteady voice as she waves me off. I frown and nod and quietly leave the long house though I can feel her eyes linger on me as I leave and wonder what it is she was unable to say to me.

I hobble over to the Daughters of Gaia healing hut and pull the curtain back. It looks like a force of nature went though this hut. A couple of Daughters were still cleaning up the mess and mopping up some blood. Stanrick is tied down to a cot and fresh bandages cover his wounds on several parts of his body. I frown and untie him. One of the senior Daughters grumbles at me. “If he awakens and flips out again, you are cleaning it up.” I look at her and sigh “Fine”. They find me a bunch of cushions and I managed to sit down again. “Don’t leave me…” I whisper as I kiss the back of his hand. I rest my head on the side of his cot and pray to Gaia for guidance.

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