(Illustration by Stephen Fabian, from N4 Treasure Hunt)
The castaways awakened from fitful sleep, the dawn which greeted them muted by the ongoing storm – and by the goddess’s ultimatum.
“So, old timer,” Alistina said to Osric, “we better get off this island today.”
Zeke frowned at his growling stomach. “Some grub’d be nice, too. Ain’t too keen on the notion-a sneakin’ through the goblins on a empty stomach.”
“Can’t help with food,” replied Osric. “Mebbe we kin fish off th’ boat once we’re away.”
Disappointed, Zeke busied himself with Hafkris’s crossbow.
“Sure you know how to use that thing?” Alistina asked.
“Sure’n I do. Point an’ click. Ain’t a simpler weapon out there that ain’t a stick.”
He smiled as if he’d made a joke; Alistina couldn’t be sure if he had. Eilir obviously had her doubts, but said nothing, packing up her spellbook once she was finished with it.
Stetching himself out with a riot of cracks and pops, Osric said “Manor’s about a thousand yards north. There’s a depression we kin use ta sneak most of th’way to it. All th’entrances ‘re guarded, but thar’s a window with loose bars I been usin’ ta git in ‘n’ out.”
“Then let’s go,” said Theronna, belting on her sword.
They walked out of the temple and back into the storm. Soaked by the time they reached the bottom of the hill, they saw the manor in the distance – a large keep flanked by two smaller buildings. They also saw the depression leading away from the base of the hill, coming right up to the manor. Dozens of humanoid figures surrounded the smaller buildings, and at least half a dozen goblins guarded the manor’s entrance.
Zeke shook his head. “You sure that trench is gonna git us past all them pirates?”
“I ain’ sure o’nothin’,” Osric replied. “But if ye’ve got a better idea now’s th’ time.”
Eilir said “I could try to stage a diversion.”
“Like what?” asked Alistina. “Calling for Daddy?”
“No.” Eilir made a rude gesture at her. “I could start a fire. That might lure the guards away from the entrance.”
“Bit wet fer that, ain’t it?” asked Zeke.
Theronna moved closer. “And what’s supposed to keep their attention once your fire’s got it? Two rats humping each other?”
“I don’t know!” shrieked Eilir. “I’m just trying to help!”
“I say we follow Osric’s idea,” said Theronna. “He’s been getting around with no magic and no martial training.”
Smiling, the old man ran down to the depression and crept toward the manor.
“Doesn’t mean I trust him, though,” Theronna muttered to the others before following.
They made it just past the halfway mark when a patch of scree loudly gave way beneath Eilir’s bare foot.
They froze in place, readying their weapons. They heard someone approaching, making no effort to be stealthy. Zeke felt oddly hot in the cold and rain.
A lone orc pirate appeared, gazing down into the depression, a falchion hanging loosely in his grip. Alistina struck him right in the midsection with the light of Lunia, knocking the wind out of him and doubling him over in pain. Zeke fired his crossbow and caught the orc in the shoulder, a trickle of blood leaking from beneath his studded leather armor. Theronna’s longsword found a tiny glimmer of sunlight as it bit into the orc’s neck, turning his cry for help into a gurgling mess. It fell into the depression, dead before it hit the dirt.
Zeke moved up to the body, watching as the orc’s blood oozed out with a queasy look on his face.
“Better not throw up this time, boy.” Theronna peered over the lip of the depression to see if anyone else was coming.
“That armor might fit him,” Osric said, pointing from the orc to Zeke.
“Didn’t do him much good,” the farmboy said.
“Mebbe not, but ain’ like he needs it n’more.”
He donned the leather smoothly, naturally, like one would clothing. It fit him quite well, although the boots were a bit tight. The falchion seemed to belong in his hands.
Theronna pointed and laughed, saying “Now he’s a man.”
“Don’t make fun of him!” Alistina said. Eilir also seemed offended.
“I’m not. He’s come a long way in one day. I salute you, Zeke. You’re a man now. That’s what I said and I stand by my word.” She offered him her hand, and he shook it, grudgingly.
Osric moved like a ghost toward the window with the loose bars; a cat would have made more noise. Zeke went to follow, but his new boots pinched like mad, and he crashed into Alistina, both of them falling in a noisy heap. Zeke caught a sharp rock in the back and it was all he could do not to shout.
“They heard that,” Osric said, looking off toward the manor entrance. “Wait here, I’ll lead ‘em off to’ard the temple, then come ‘n’ find ya inside later.”
“You sure about this?” asked Theronna.
“Sure, they won’t follow me inta th’temple. The Queen’s room has that stick; ya kin use it t’find th’other pretties.”
“Queen’s room,” Zeke repeated to himself.
Alistina whispered “Be careful.”
“Sure, miss. Suren I will.”
With a wink, Osric bounded out of the depression, flailing his skinny limbs to get the orcs’ attention. Shouting insults in Orcish, he fled back up the hill, four orcs taking up the pursuit. After a moment, all was quiet again.
They counted to ten, then moved to the window, sliding the bars out of the way so they could climb into the manor. They found themselves in a dark room, illuminated by Alistina’s light of Lunia, with broken cots and chests strewn around.
Zeke purposefully moved toward the door, but Theronna was there first, peeking into the keyhole. “Dark hall,” she whispered, “running west to east.”
Voices echoed somewhere in the distance; but the direction and the language were indistinct. As Zeke opened the door, Theronna’s hands went to her head, and her legs began to shake.
“Douse that light,” Zeke told Alistina, and she complied. The soldier looked around, as if seeing beyond the concerned faces of the other castaways.
“Theronna? Are you all right?” asked Eilir, wringing out her hair.
Theronna said “Who are you?” before collapsing to the floor.
Alistina dropped to her side at once. “You two find the queen’s room,” she said. “I’ll take care of Theronna.”
Leaning out into the hall for a look around, Zeke asked “Sure we should split up?”
“We need that wand to escape, and we can’t wait for her. Just go.”
“All right, then. See if you kin keep ‘er quiet ‘til we get back.” He slipped into the darkened hallway, Eilir close behind him.
They came to a door, which Zeke carefully opened. Beyond it, a hall continued west; another ran to the north. The voices they’d heard before seemed to come from that direction – two or three, speaking what sounded like Goblin.
Zeke motioned for Eilir to open the ornate door before them, and she did so quickly. He let out a breath he didn’t remember holding and crossed into the sitting room, taking Eilir’s arm and pulling her in behind him.
He closed the door and began his search. “If you kin make a magic light,” he whispered, “now’s the time. We gotta find this magic stick, and I don’t think we kin do it in the dark. Er, find the stick.”
He may have blushed, but it was gone by the time Eilir cast her spell. “Right,” she whispered back. “I couldn’t find your stick in the dark. THE stick. Right.”
The room had already been tossed, but they checked it before moving on to the bedroom. But as they approached the door, a pair of goblins emerged. They saw an unadorned stick of crimson wood in the second one’s hand.
“Bree-YARK!” the other goblin shouted, and they closed to attack, he first one stabbing Zeke with its spear. Eilir blasted the wand-bearer with a magic missile, blowing a hole clean through its chest. As it fell down dead, Zeke fumbled to draw his falchion, failing to strike the surviving goblin. The creature jabbed him again; incensed, Zeke reined in his wire arc for a shorter chopping strike, cleaving the goblin completely in half.
Still shaking from the sudden burst of violence, Zeke wiped the blood from his faves and leaned over to take the stick. “Think this is it?” he asked absently.
Gasping for air, Eilir said “Let me… let me see it.” She made her way over to Zeke, her fingers lingering on his as she took it from him. Blood on his hands stained hers, and he stared at the sight.
“Yes, this is it,” she announced. “There’s a command word carved on it here…” Her eyes flicked up to his. “I, um…”
“We should… we should get back.”
Eilir nodded and led Zeke back down the hallway.
- – - – -
Theronna awakened and leaped to her feet. She threw Alistina against the wall and shouted “Who are you!” before recognizing her. Nothing had changed; the island still had her. “I’m sorry,” she sighed, releasing Alistina. “I’m… what happened?” She fell back to the floor, tears brimming in her eyes.
“You were saying all kinds of things… about war, your parents… shooting a chicken… just what’s on your mind, anyway?”
“I don’t know; my mind’s no longer my own. When we arrived here yesterday, I couldn’t remember anything that’s ever happened to me. Ever. I’m acting on instinct – martial training, I guess?”
“Sounds like amnesia. I’ve seen it before, when I was with the Watchers Over the Fallen.” Alistina started to rub her arm where Theronna had grabbed it, but chose to bear the pain instead. “You might have suffered it when the slavers knocked you out.”
Her words brought no comfort to Theronna; the soldier was crying now, and made no effort to hide it. “What else was I saying?”
“There was a lot of it.” Alistina sat facing her. “You didn’t wand to wear a dress; you were afraid the boys would laugh at you.”
“A dress?” The word made Theronna think of Eilir. Such a girl... had Theronna ever worn a dress? “What does it mean?”
“I don’t know, but think about it. It might help you remember something else.”
Theronna squeezed her eyes shut, sending fresh tears down her cheeks, and shook her head.
“It’s all right,” Alistina said at once. “It’ll come when it comes. You don’t want to push too hard.”
“I’m keeping a journal… maybe that’ll help.”
“Maybe.” Alistina reached out and brushed strands of blond hair away from Theronna’s face.
“I don’t trust Osric,” Theronna announced.
“I know. You said so before.”
“But I don’t know if it’s a bad feeling about him, or if he’s reminding me of someone else! His white hair… it’s his hair.”
“What about his hair, sweetie?”
“I don’t know. Not yet. It’ll come to me soon, I think.”
“Like I said, don’t push yourself too fast. There’s no telling what feelings your memories will bring up.”
“So where are the others?” Theronna wiped the tears from her face, and started to get up.
Alistina caught the soldier’s hand and guided her back to the floor. “They went to get the wand. They’ll be back soon. Let’s just wait here, and try to keep our wits and our strength about us.”
Theronna allowed Alistina to lead her to the corner of the room, where she lay her head on the woman’s shoulder. Alistina didn’t see the soldier; all she saw was a woman in pain.
“Thank you for helping me,” Theronna said. “I feel like I don’t have any control, and I don’t know any of you… I don’t, do I?”
“No. We never spoke to each other before yesterday.”
“I feel helpless, and that feeling goes against everything I believe in. We’ve got to make it off this gods-forsaken island.”
“We will,” Alistina said, hoping she sounded convincing. She looked down and saw Theronna’s hand holding hers. How long had that been there? She thought of Gendry, and she wasn’t sure why…
- – - – -
“What happened to you?” Alistina asked the bloodied Zeke when he returned. Eilir was close behind with the wand.
“Got the stick,” Zeke announced. “Goblins stabbed me. They’re dead.”
Theronna jumped up, freeing Alistina to heal Zeke’s wounds. Eilir said “And we can use the wand to find any other magical treasures that might be around…” She seemed a bit disoriented, yet curious about what she missed while she and Zeke were away.
“Then let’s go,” Theronna said. “We should make for the catacombs, and we’ll pick up any treasure we find on the way.”