(29th of Elesias, 1491 Dalereckoning)
“Can you hear me?”
She stirred, moaned, but couldn’t see or speak. It was dark, and cold. She faded in and out more than once.
“Can you hear me?”
“Mm-cah.” she replied, which should have sounded like “I can.”
Kaileena woke curled in a ball, with her limbs numbly pressed against her body and her fingers, toes, and the tip of her tail throbbing from the cold. Her wrists were bound around a post, and she tried to speak, only to find herself gagged with a length of cord that tied around her snout and throat painfully.
“She’s awake. Let me take the damned muzzle off already!”
“Zolin?” she tried to say. It didn’t come out right.
“I’m here, Kaileena. Try to sit up. Use the pole for leverage.”
Her claws gouged wooden planking, as a pair of warm, thickly corded arms lifted her by the shoulders. She clutched to the post, and found herself teetering, but upright.
Details came in as she oriented.
Kaileena blinked, confused, at Zolin’s worried expression, then at the covered wagon they inhabited beside a pair of massive, fur-clad humans. Possessed of long beards and braided manes, and a coat of chest hair like an animal pelt, it was difficult to tell where exactly their armor ended. They scowled at her regard.
“Chief says it stays on. It stays on.”
Kaileena groaned, meekly, as vertigo struck her, and she wavered. Were it not for Zolin, she wouldn’t have stayed up. So she clamped her eyes shut and tried to be still. Her throat was parched, and she heard herself wheeze.
“She’s dehydrated. Let me give her some water at least.”
The Rashemi man scowled, looked to his companion, who merely shrugged, “Stays on. Loosen it though, enough for her to open her mouth a little.”
Rough hands grabbed her by the mouth, and she felt the tension of the cord lessen, leaving indentations in her skin that throbbed.
“Hold still, Kaileena. Drink this.”
Kaileena felt the leathery texture of the lip of her waterskin, and gagged as its contents filled her throat.
“It’s still wine...” she tried to say, but it nonetheless soothed her throat, allowing her tongue to taste the air, so she nodded, and let him offer her another few sips.
Eyes open, Kaileena held her position more easily, even as the wagon struck a rock and bounced, eliciting a curse from their captors.
“Where are we?” she croaked, “What’s happening?”
“They’re taking us to their lodge, to meet with one of the Witches.” he replied, appraising her carefully, “They saw you consume the Blue Fire.”
Then it all returned to her; that Orc, and the box he carried. Likely stolen from a caravan from Thay. It must have been like a bag of holding, enchanted to dampen magic.
And its contents...
Moaning, Kaileena swallowed the gorge rising in her throat, as she remembered the power coursing through her, destructive and unreal and throbbing for release. Even a few moments more and something terrible would have happened to her, she knew.
And then she remembered the orb that had caught the Shaman, and that final, terrified look in his eyes before it took him.
Zolin turned her head so she could vomit out the back, and she did precisely that.
After she was sick, he pressed her against him, as much as the post would allow.
“It’s alright, it’s alright. The Orcs are gone, and that Shaman...”
“You killed him good.” The Rashemi said around a chuckle, “Quick and clean.”
“I didn’t want to kill him!” she snapped, tears threatening, “The Fire...I just...I needed to get it out of me!”
“...I used the first spell I could think of...If I’d just...”
“If you didn’t kill him, they would have.” Zolin interjected, shaking her, “He was dangerous, and he tried to kill us. Just like Malakas. You did what you had to.”
“I don’t want to have to do it...” was all she could reply, vehemently, “I didn’t want to be able to...do something like that. Gods, who alive could eat Blue Fire and spit it back out in another form? What in the gods’ names am I, Zolin?”
To that, he had nothing to say.
Zolin held her tightly as they rolled into a small, rustic village surrounded by trees, with the sun rising behind them. Its buildings, mostly log cabins with shingled rooftops and shuttered windows, were low to the ground, and arranged within a stone toss of the next house. Still early, its occupants were already roused. There were men chopping lumber near a great pile, with more hauling in logs from the forest. Some of the wood was passed to a group of children, which brought it to a large communal fire pit in pairs. Women processed game; a half dozen stags, a massive sow, and more than a few fowl.
A festivity was nearly underway, it seemed, likely for last harvest.
The fur-clad warriors were greeted warmly, and their leader presented a cluster of Orc heads, tied by a thick cord. A great cheer went up in their honor, which grew quiet as they were ushered off the wagon.
They were led, tied together, up a small hill on the western slope, to a longhouse with a banner depicting a pair of wolves under a full moon. Zolin noticed, with some confusion, numerous old shoes left haphazardly around the door, and a tripod of sticks on the roof of the house. Their leader snorted as they crossed the threshold, “The domovoi likes you, it seems.”
“Our House Spirit.” Moirshen explained, “If it sees a person it doesn’t like, it has a habit of throwing those sticks up there. It’s...particular like that.”
The Longhouse was stocked with supplies, and its walls were decorated with mounted animal bones and furs. A large fireplace rested a short distance from the door, between lengths of beds on either side, inside of which hung a cauldron.
Zolin heard, amid the ruckus as the berserkers each set their gear by a particular bed and chest, a disembodied sighing, and a ladle suddenly stirred the cauldron by the fire on its own.
“Take a seat by the fire. We don’t have a prison to lock you in, so you can share breakfast. I’ve sent someone to fetch the Wychlaran.”
The man nonetheless scowled, “No magic, and no praying. If you try anything, we won’t take chances. Understand?”
They both nodded, very quickly.
Handed a wooden bowl of boiled grains and berries, Zolin shrugged, and tried to feed a few spoonfuls to Kaileena.
“I’m awake enough now, thank you.” she replied, in garbled tones thanks to the muzzle, dazed but clearly amused by his worrying, and took her own bowl, still pressed shoulder-to-shoulder. With the muzzle still on, she had to push the spoon into her mouth to deposit the grains.
Again that voice sounded from nowhere, humming contentedly as a berserker removed his boots, sniffed them, and promptly hurled them out the shutters and onto the lawn with a pained grimace.
Kaileena eyed him as they ate, before whispering in her native tongue. With his limited grasp, Zolin interpreted, ”Wareware ha nani wo subeki ka?” What should we do?
"Mio-...Miokuru.” Zolin replied, stumbling over the term. Wait and see.
"Gomen nasai. This is my doing.”
Shaking his head, Zolin handed back the bowl when he was finished, “No, it wasn’t. Run of bad luck; which we should have expected. It will be worse the further we go.”
“If we’re not killed here and now.” she replied under her breath.
“I don’t think that will happen. This isn’t Thay or Sembia. They’re good people, I’m sure.”
Shrugging, Kaileena finished her own bowl, and lay on her side, her head and the tip of her tail pressed against his lap, her back towards the fire. Her eyelids drooped heavily, and he saw her tongue dart out a final time before a deep, deep yawn. She looked haggard, drained, and even among these hardened warriors she quickly fell asleep.
Though he hadn’t slept in well over an entire day by now, Zolin rested a hand along the base of her neck, pulled her closer, and waited for the Witch that would decide their fate.
Anastasia answered the summons the moment the messenger arrived in her tower in the Urlingwood, having run to her over the course of what must have been a very, very long day. Poor dear was exhausted, but the earth was just too soft to ride off the road this time of the year. She gave him a samovar of tea and told him to mind the tower, and to lock the door when he left.
With her proximity, the Midnight Moon Lodge was under her jurisdiction, and thankfully she had a more convenient means of travel to it, and to many places besides.
Calling upon the spirits, reduced with the events of the Windwalker but present regardless, the elder witch transformed her body into a cloud of dense fog and seeped into the cracks of her tower, to the Backroad situated underneath in a natural shale cavern radiating with Underdark magic.
Also known as one of the Hidden Paths, the Backroad was one of many sites that conjoined with the Crossroads; not quite portals so much as a network of hidden folds in the world, tears in the fabric of reality that allowed certain normally impossible actions, including, in this case, crossing the distance of many leagues in a single step. It was the reason she’d chosen this bleak, foggy marsh as the site for her home, after all.
Reforming in the cave winded, for it was a long, long journey of many bowshots down a narrow vent, Anastasia panted, hands resting on her hips as she caught her breath.
These things are the forte of the young, she thought with a breathless laugh, dusting off her black robes before tying her long grayed hair into a tight bun, and setting her porcelain mask, fashioned in the likeness of a wolf, for she had come of age in the shadow of that particular lodge and liked to show her respects.
She leaned on her staff for support as she ambled down. The cavern was lit with enchanted torches that burned for years; a deep shaft that terminated in a long tunnel, its end impenetrable darkness.
That was her destination.
As she passed into it, there was a length of time to which she was only aware of her own ragged, irregular breathing. Gods, it felt longer every time...
Eventually, she heard the steady drone of wind, then birdsong, and finally, a less suffocating darkness in proximity of sunlight. It was well into the afternoon as she hobbled out of a cavern just south of the town, and a brisk walk brought her to the lodge itself.
The villagers scrambled to come to attention, kneeling by her feet at either side.
Still thinking such a thing to be silly, Anastasia was nonetheless all seriousness as she advanced the hill, trying very hard not to strain her knees.
Chieftain Moirshen, actually a member of her family via her second granddaughter by marriage, addressed her at the door.
“Honored Othlor.” he said with a low bow. Those under his command knelt.
“The creature is inside?”
“Yes.” he said gruffly, “As is her knight. They were no trouble, after the...Blue Fire.”
Nodding, she let herself in, to find them sharing a luncheon of smoky sjorl cheese and bread.
Having spent some time traveling the world in her youth, beside warriors on Dajemma, she was left with an impression of Lizardfolk in its appearance. But with skin, and bright blue. The creature, the woman, in turn, stared right back, with violet eyes with narrow black slits. Both her and the mail-clad man, a fellow human, tensed at her approach, before the domovoi manifested, carrying a platter of honeycake and scrump, a potent fermented cider.
“Ah, you remembered!” Anastasia replied, delighted, even as her guests startled at its appearance. Like a human, but short, with thin, gangly limbs and a torso and face covered in fine white fur, a domovoi was a creature of Rashemen, and generally frightened outsiders.
“Yes, yes, Honored Othlor!” he jittered, smiling widely, “I have made many honeycakes for you, and much cinnamon in the scrump!”
“And some for our guests?” she asked, doffing the mask and lowering her hood.
“Of course. And I make more, yes?”
“We’ll see how it goes.” Anastasia conceded, “I expect not to leave for my tower until tomorrow.”
That done, she slowly, gingerly, took a seat two paces from the outsiders, considering. The spirit left the platter on the table beside her, and unable to contain herself with that serendipitous odor wafting her way, she sighed, snatching a honeycake up and daring a bite.
“You can speak, if you want.” she added for their benefit, “And help yourself to desert. You look famished.”
“Conjured food only provides so much.” The woman considered, her voice muffled by the rope around her mouth, “And it’s hard to eat with this.”
“Fair enough.” Anastasia conceded, and with a flick of her bony wrist, the rope unraveled and fell to the floor. Startled, the woman nonetheless felt her face, groaning. Where her mouth had been bound, red streaks of puffy, irritated skin remained.
“Thank you.” the man added quickly, “I think I’ll try that drink, actually. Scrump, was it?”
“Made from apple and honey, with a touch of cinnamon, and left to ferment.” she clarified, “Careful; its bite is more than you might expect.”
“So...” she continued, as both of them took a sweetmeat and a steaming mug, “Now that we’re all cozy, I think an introduction is in order. I am Anastasia, Wychlaran of Rasheman.”
“Zolin Naran, Servant of Amaunator and Adviser to the Guard in Suzail, Cormyr.”
“Kaileena, Priestess of Sune, of Suzail and of Teikoku.”
“You are a long way from home. The both of you.”
“I am returning to my birthplace, to right a wrong.” Kaileena explained, “And Zolin is accompanying me.”
"Dajemma then?” Anastasia pondered, “I know nothing of this Teikoku. Is it in Kara-Tur?”
“No. North. A small island across the Great Ice Sea.”
Puzzled, the witch nibbled on her honeycake, “And your people that reside there...?”
“I have never met another like me.” Kaileena replied, sensing the nature of the question, “They are human, like you.”
“Curious. I know of no island there.”
“It is there, milady.”
Anastasia laughed, “Milady? If you must defer to honoraries, refer to me as Othlor; True One. These people of this land, this Teikoku...did they teach you to eat the Blue Fire?”
Kaileena paused, looked away, “No, Othlor. They hate and fear magic there. I traveled here, well...the mainland, to practice my craft.”
“Then you are a Wizard as much as a Priest?” Anastasia noted, genuinely impressed, for few indeed could balance the needs of both the divine and the arcane, “Did you train in Thay?”
“No!” Kaileena gasped, horrified, “I...considered it. But I realized quickly that the magic they taught was nothing I wanted to learn.”
“To Cormyr, then. A better choice, from what I hear, anyway. Was it a spell that allowed you to use the Blue Fire?”
“No. It was...” she puzzled, “I don’t really know. My flesh eats magic, of almost any kind. Adds its energies to my own after breaking it down. I always called it Purple Fire.”
“Yes. I’ve always had it. At first I thought it was from a spirit I made my familiar...but he seemed to think it came from my blood. Maybe all my people could do it, if I have a people”
“Or...” she added, shivering, “Maybe I don’t have a people. Maybe I was created. Never once have I found a mention of a people like my own...and I wonder...if there even is such a thing.”
“I’m so sorry. That must be painful for you.”
Nodding, taking another sip, and holding in a smirk as they did the same and gagged on its sharp bite, Anastasia toasted them, “You think that’s bad, try Jhuild.”
Jhuild, also known as Rashemar Firewine, was the brew that allowed their warriors to enter a magic-enhanced berserker state. Few foreigners ever found a taste for it, though it was in high demand in certain, predominantly dwarven, circles.
“We’ll take your word.” Zolin noted, coughing and promptly setting the mug down.
“Not so bad the second time.” Kaileena conceded, “So...what will you do with us, Othlor?”
Considering, Anastasia shrugged, “I could order you taken to the Urlingwood. Studied. Maybe my sisters could invent a potion from your blood that would duplicate this Purple Fire phenomenon.”
Both tensed. The camaraderie they had built up in these short minutes evaporated.
“But...” Anastasia added, “I would not subject you to such treatment. That is more in line with the attitudes of the wicked Red Wizards, and we are not they. They, of Thay. Hah! You are no enemy, and so you are a guest of honor. You will dine with us tonight, and fatten up, for we Rashemi dislike those of thin, elfish bodies. Then you will go; I sense you are no threat to this land or its people, but we would prefer if you went on your way. Quickly.”
“That can easily be arranged.” Kaileena noted, “You know, the complaint I got most often by people that mistrusted me was that I should ”just go back to where I came from“. Well, here you go. I’m doing exactly that; going back to where I came from.”
“A good thing, then. Off with you; these old bones need a long rest, but the village should be nearly ready to start the revel. Enjoy yourselves.”
The night indeed brought with it a great revel. The locals danced wildly around the great bonfire, and a wide table accommodated a feast of pig, dear, and fowl. Platters of roasted apples and steamed potatoes, smaller greens, and honeycakes and other treats piled high, rattling as warriors slammed their tankards of jhuild and scrump to bawdy tunes.
With Zolin beside her all the while, she danced, laughed, and ate her fill, though the Rashemi scoffed at her aversion to meat.
“With teeth as sharp as that...” one inebriated man chortled, “You outta be fixing for something more real!”
They even broke into cheer as she performed a bellydance atop a stool, never once losing her balance, despite indulging in the scrump herself.
With a prayer to Lady Sune, Kaileena later made the flames bloom with flaring golden embers, illuminating their village to levels approaching daylight. The light also had magical compulsions; heightening their intoxication and lessening inhibitions. Delighted with her trick, they cheered anew and with greater enthusiasm, though a few elders spat on their fingers, made a fist, and then flicked their fingers three times.
When the festivities came to an end, they were led back into the lodge, and Kaileena fell asleep curled against Zolin in a bed by the corner, warmed by the fire and lulled by a faint melody a certain unseen spirit hummed contentedly.