Chapter 19: Dawn

A frozen, snow-covered lake lit by an orange sunset

They are jolted awake by the thud of the mill door.
“Hello?” a familiar voice calls. “You’re not a trap, are you?”
“Saph!” Gerard murmurs, his face lighting up. He clambers to his feet.
“Because the guards outside told me not to walk straight in, in case you were a trap,” Saph continues, “but I don’t think the raiders know morse code, so I didn’t think it was very likely you were.”

Gerard supposes that he must have slept for an hour or two, sitting upright by Keothi’s body, because when he next looks around him it is dawn. Beside him, Cyd and Nubbins are curled up in a ball, eyes closed. Cyd’s arms are still wrapped around Nubbins’ tiny form.

The monk climbs to his feet, feeling the stiffness in his muscles and the ache of fresh bruises. He hesitates, then moves across the room to check on Aleph. He needs something to do with his hands. The Warforged is alive and stable, but Gerard keeps fussing with his bandages anyway.

His motion wakes Cyd, who groans and stirs. Shifting Nubbins out of her lap, she crawls over to her pack and fishes out a dark lantern, which she lights with a tinderbox.
“What are you doing?” Gerard asks.
“Sending a signal to the Keep while it’s still dark.” There’s another window on the far side of the balcony; Cyd crosses to it, wincing as she moves. Once there, she slides the shutter open and closed in a complicated pattern.
“M-i-l-l–s-e-c-u-r-e-d,” she spells out. “I hope someone over there knows morse code.”

She repeats the message several times as grey light begins to seep into the room. Soon, the sky will be too bright for anyone to see her tiny lantern, but as the red lip of the sun peeks above the eastern horizon, Cyd spots a pinprick of light coming from the highest window in the Keep’s tower:
Acknowledged. On our way.
“They’re sending help,” she tells the others, her voice flat. They all know the help is too late to be of any use, so there’s no point in mentioning it. Nubbins, who is awake now, says nothing. He’s still staring numbly at the two potion bottles on the floor beside him.

Seeing them gives Gerard an idea. “Nubbins, may I have one of those?” he asks. When the gnome does not reply, he takes one gently. Then he starts unwinding the largest of Aleph’s bandages. After a minute, Cyd comes over to watch him, intrigued.
“Um… If you think I did them wrong, you could just say.”
“Your bandages are fine, Cydonie,” Gerard mutters, his mind on his work. “I just remembered something from my reading last night.”
Last night. The night before the dragon came and turned Greenest into a warzone. Gerard is astonished to realise that those peaceful hours in the library with Cyd were only a day ago. He glances at Cyd, trying to shake off the strange feeling that time has been standing still these last twenty-four hours. She is staring at him, one eyebrow quirked in a question. Even Nubbins has turned in his direction.

“I was reading about the physiology of magical constructs, and it gave me an idea,” the monk explains. “Aleph does not breathe or eat, correct? One might assume, therefore, that no potion designed to be inhaled or consumed could have any effect on him. In fact, they simply cannot enter his bloodstream via his mouth. But he does have blood—well, it’s a kind of sap, really—but the principle is the same!”
He looks up to see the effect of this revelation on his companions. Both are gazing at him in utter bafflement.

“If we pour the healing potion directly into his bloodstream, it may produce the desired result,” Gerard summarises. He has unwrapped the bandage by now and so he demonstrates, unstoppering the healing potion and trickling its contents into the open wound. He does this slowly, letting each drop of liquid seep through the exposed wood of the Warforged’s body and into the sap at its heart. There’s a tense pause, all of them holding their breath. Then, incrementally, the wound begins to knit itself back together. Cyd actually claps. It’s the first victory they’ve had in what feels like an age.

A few minutes later, Aleph’s eyes flicker into renewed brightness and he raises himself on one arm.
“What happened?” he grunts, seeing Cyd, Nubbins and Gerard all leaning over him. Cyd throws her arms around him, nearly knocking him back to the floor.
“You’re awake!” she cheers.

Over her shoulder, Aleph catches sight of Keothi’s body.
“Is Wordweaver—” he starts.
“He died,” Nubbins whispers. “And it was my fault.”
The Warforged takes a minute to process this. “No one is to blame but Glasstaff, Nubbins,” he says, finally and firmly.
Nubbins shakes his head. “I could have healed him.”

He kneels in front of Aleph, head bowed. “I am not worthy to be called a member of the Eighth Phalanx,” he says, voice trembling. “I would like to hand in my resignation.”
Aleph looks at him for a long moment. “You are a brave gnome, Nubbins, and I consider it an honour to call you my brother-in-arms. Our phalanx may be small, but to my mind it is indivisible.” He places a large metal hand on Nubbins’ head. “I ask that you fight by my side to avenge our friend’s death, not punish yourself for being unable to save his life.”
A tear rolls downs Nubbins’ cheek and plashes on the floor. He nods.
“I’ll try harder next time,” he says.

*

Once he has recovered a little of his strength, Aleph lights incense at Keothi’s head and feet and kneels before him, his eyes dim and contemplative. Cyd and Gerard lay out three bedrolls, for Nubbins and themselves. Nubbins, meanwhile, takes Keothi’s bedroll from his pack and places it gently under the goliath’s head. As he covers the body with a cloak, a thought occurs to him.
“Where’s his key?” Nubbins asks.
Gerard draws it from his pocket and holds it out. “He gave it to me before he died,” he says. Nubbins takes it from him, grasping it tightly. “I want to investigate the portal, like he asked us to.”
Gerard nods. “I will join you on that journey, if you’ll allow me.”
“Company is always nice,” Nubbins replies, flashing him a weak smile.

After a moment, Nubbins joins Aleph in prayer. Cyd and Gerard climb into their bedrolls and fall instantly into a doze, huddling together to keep out the bitter chill.

They are jolted awake by the thud of the mill door.
“Hello?” a familiar voice calls. “You’re not a trap, are you?”
“Saph!” Gerard murmurs, his face lighting up. He clambers to his feet.
“Because the guards outside told me not to walk straight in, in case you were a trap,” Saph continues, “but I don’t think the raiders know morse code, so I didn’t think it was very likely you were.”
Gerard hurries to the top of the stairs. Saph is standing in the doorway, three guards behind her. “Saph!” he calls. “It’s us. The raiders are dead.”
The guards, who raised their crossbows as Gerard came into view, lower them again, looking immensely relieved. Saph’s large blue eyes crinkle into a grin. “Oh good! See, I told you it wasn’t a trap!”

Her smile falters as she takes in the monk’s blood-streaked arms and the rents in his clothing. “You’ve acquired some new wounds to bind, I see.”
Gerard glances down at himself, noticing for the first time the bloody handprint where Wordweaver gripped his arm. “The blood isn’t mine,” he says. “Well, some of it is. I am not as good at dodging as I thought, it seems.”
“I should have brought Brem along.” Saph cranes her neck, trying to see past Gerard to the balcony above. “If the others are even half as beaten up as you… What?”
Gerard’s distress must show on his face. “You’d better come upstairs,” he says.

*

The usually voluble Saph seems stunned into silence by the sight of Wordweaver’s body.
“I’m sorry,” she manages at last. “He looked so strong. I didn’t think he’d die.”
She sounds so contrite that Gerard pats her awkwardly on the back. “None of us did,” he replies.

“The guards and I can move him to the temple for you, if you’d like to rest,” Saph continues. “I don’t think the brothers of Chauntea know any spells to raise the dead, but they could probably preserve his body for you until you can find someone in Elturel or Berdusk willing to help.”
“That’s a kind offer, but the raiders—”
“The raiders are dispersing. The dragon’s gone, too—made one last pass about a watch ago and then flew off. The streets are much safer than they were.”
“Then we would be grateful for your help,” Gerard finishes.

Cyd opens her mouth to agree when she is interrupted by a deep horn blast. “What was that?” she asks instead.
“Not one of our warning horns,” a guard confirms. “Doesn’t sound like the raiders, either.”

“It seems to be an alarum, nonetheless,” Aleph rumbles. “If someone needs our aid, I must try to help them.” He goes to get up but staggers, leaning heavily against the wall. From outside, the horn sounds again.
“Like hell you will,” Cyd says. She digs through Keothi’s pack and pulls out his cloak of stealth. “We’re none of us in a fit state to fight. Let me go and check it out first, see what we’re dealing with. We can plan from there.”
Weakened as he is, the Warforged has no choice but to agree.

*

Cyd stays close to the treeline as she works her way towards the source of the noise, keeping out of sight between the low-hanging branches. She heads west, then north, out towards the edge of town. As she reaches the wreckage of the barricades, she hears the horn again. She crouches low behind a shattered crate and peeks out at the road beyond.

A man in a dark cloak stands in the middle of the path, surrounded by raiders and kobolds. A heavy hood obscures his features, but even from a hundred feet away, Cyd can see that he looks… weird. He whirls around, drawing a quarterstaff from his belt and revealing a back that is strangely humped—and is that a forked tail Cyd can see, flicking out from beneath the folds of his robes?

Then the man flings off his cloak, and Cyd boggles. Two curved horns protrude from his head; two immense, bat-like wings spring from his back. As the kobolds release a volley of slingshots, he leaps into the air with a whoosh, arcing towards them. He brings his staff down on the head of the one in the middle, spins in mid-air, and returns for another pass. The other two stumble back; the winged man feints left, dodging another slingshot, then throws the second kobold backwards with a powerful left hook. Before the third can decide whether or not to flee, a swift blow between the eyes makes his decision for him.

At last, the man lands, turning back to the cultists—and Cyd is jerked out of her daze. As they circle him, knives in hands, she nocks an arrow and lets it fly. It catches one of the raiders in the chest. He reels, and the winged man trips him onto his back. As he raises his staff to deliver a knockout blow, the other raider darts in under the man’s guard, drawing back his dagger. Cyd’s second arrow hits the raider in the eye and he collapses at the feet of the winged man, who turns to look in her direction. She steps out from behind the crate, hands raised.

“Hullo,” she says, grinning. “I thought you could use some help, and I figure the fact you’re fighting raiders means you’re probably on our side! Were you the one blowing that horn?”
“It is a conch. And yes: I was passing nearby and saw the dragon overhead. I thought I might be able to assist the townsfolk.”
Cyd holds out a hand. “We’re here for more or less the same reason, then. I’m Cyd.”
The man looks warily at her hand, then bows. “My name is Atone. That is also my mission.”

“…Right.” Cyd withdraws her hand, returning his bow. “Pleased to meet you, Atone. The dragon’s flown off, but Greenest still needs plenty of help, so if you want to stick around, you’d be welcome. My friends aren’t too far from here, if you’d like to join forces. We’ve been fighting these damn dragon cultists all night.”
Atone nods. “That sounds sensible. Lead on; I will follow you from the air—I would like to get a sense of the layout of the town.”
“Great! In that case, let’s get going. The rest of the group couldn’t plan their way out of a wet paper bag without me, so I shouldn’t leave them for too long.”

Atone furrows his brow as he spreads his wings. “I am not sure how your friends came to find themselves inside this paper bag, but surely we could simply tear it in order to free them?”
Cyd rolls her eyes. “Ah, you’re another one of those. You’ll fit right in.”
“There are more tieflings?”
“Not what I meant,” Cyd replies. “But don’t worry. You won’t exactly stand out.”

*

Atone takes to the air as Cyd sets off, flying in a slow slalom above her head. As she reaches the path back to the mill, however, he swoops back down to land beside her.
“Cyd,” he says, folding his wings and covering them again with his cloak. “A large group of kobolds and cultists have gathered near the Keep. They appear to have prisoners with them.”
Cyd curses. “Gods, will this night never end?” She paces a moment, thinking. “There’s no way we can fight them. I’d better scout ahead and see what’s going on. Atone, my friends are all in the mill up there. Tell them that Cyd send you, that you were the one blowing the horn—”
“Conch,” Atone corrects.
“—Whatever. Tell them I’ve gone to check out the situation at the Keep and I’ll be back in a minute, OK?”

She darts off before Atone can reply, following the curve of the river up towards the Keep. She soon spots the raiders—there are at least thirty of them, gathered around a towering blue half-dragon. He’s at least seven feet tall, with a huge greatsword strapped across his back. Behind him are four prisoners, each flanked by a kobold holding a dagger to their throat.

As Cyd watches, aghast, the half-dragon walks up to the gates of the Keep.
“Defenders of Greenest!” he booms. “I have had a successful evening and am feeling magnanimous! Send out a champion to face me in a duel, and I will release these prisoners without harm.”
He turns and strides back towards the raiders, pausing to add a final condition. “You have half a watch to meet my terms!”
“Why can’t anything ever be simple?” Cyd mutters as she hurries back towards the mill.

Join us again on the 30th for the next chapter, The Champion of Greenest!

New reader? Check out the first chapter!

 

Thanks for reading, guys! And remember, if you’re enjoying the story so far, you can download all of the side quests from DM’s Guild to play at your own table!

One Comment on “Chapter 19: Dawn

  1. Pingback: Chapter 18: The Long Night, Part 3 – Tabletop Tales

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