12/25/380 Wonder and tragedy

“Lycia, NO!” Rowan’s shout rang through the trees as the Feeshan loosed her arrow. The white-fletched shaft flew swift and true, punching through the translucent shimmer of a sapphire wall to bury itself in Dervish’s shoulder.

Briefly, Rowan wondered how everything could have gone so wrong, so quickly. Their group had arrived at the site of the mysterious dome the night before, and despite a tense contact with less-than-reputable Rogue Adventurers McKamis, Van, and Hawes, they set up camp without trouble on the ocean-ward side of the dome, where its impenetrable bulk shielded them from mundane and magical observation.

The following morning, at Lycia’s insistence, she, Rowan, and Ur-Ravi approached the dome on foot, protected from its powerful emerald effect by Ra-na’s shield. Perhaps they chanced to arrive at the hour of its work’s completion, or their arrival had triggered the powers that erected to reveal themselves. Whatever the case, the dome had fallen, revealing in place of forest and river-coast a gentle rise covered in unnaturally short, unnaturally green grass … just like that found bordering all of the Creator built roads.

Once they regrouped, the party approached the top of the rise, and found yet another surprise them: a harbor city, surrounded by eight-hundred-foot tall cliffs, accessible only by the harbor mouth and a narrow road opposite on the landward side. The city was equipped with warehouses, two inns, and Marked Embassies for every Creator save Os’Gnihton – everything from a Baluud Temple tree, to a stretch of Wa’la desert, and a strange black cube that could only be Ta’as. Much of the city, although it had complete streets and plazas, was empty, waiting for its future residents.

The party descended cautiously, making their way along the streets between empty godstone pads towards the one building they did not recognize: a building of white stone and stained glass at the center of the harbor where the land met the water, its shape reminiscent of the head of a sperm whale. Inside, they met the Dreamer of the Dagat Tawo, the Eighth People of Abantey, and learned how, long ago, they had been hidden away after the malevolent force known as Kagubot, killed their Creator, Os’Dagat. The harbors, the Dreamer had explained, were warded with powerful magics to protect the Dagat Tawo from agents of Kagubot, and they, could not leave without great risk to themselves. On behalf of their resurrected Creator, the Dagat Tawo offered trade in ambergris and energy stones for all who came with honesty and sincere intention, and gifted the party a twenty-energy stone apiece in return for taking their message to the Librarians’ Guild.

Once outside the harbor’s wards, the party contacted the Librarian’s Guild and Roa contacted the Baluud Temple in Saboto relay the Dagat Tawo’s message. Os’Baluud, sent Priesten, Hunters, and animals for the temple tree, with amazing speed. It was then that everything had started to go pear-shaped. One of the arriving Baluud – a female Hunter with wolf familiars – was viciously mulched by grass that was neither short nor docile, but a localized mass of writhing, needle-thin spikes.

Roa and the Marked Baluud withdrew to the harbor to confer, while the rest of the party retreated to the town-ward edge of the unnatural verdure. There, Ra-na become aware of someone watching them. Hammond coaxed from the bushes a very tall and ragged Baluud-Wa’la man accompanied by three massive winter wolves. He introduced himself as Dervish, and showed considerable fear and skepticism at the sudden appearance of the harbor. No words could persuade him to leave the safety of the forest and set foot on the grass. Just as the party was ready to agree to let him go, Ra-na flinched as something slammed through the link – which proved to be Lycia dropping into controlled frenzy to sink a coma bolt into the strange and paranoid hermit.

Dervish turned tail and ran, the arrow still protruding from his shoulder, and Lycia launched herself in pursuit, eating up distance in an all-fours sprint. Hammond was shouting, Ur-Ravi was beginning to move, and Rowan’s mind leapt to a decision. They could not leave Dervish to his own devices. For information, and for amends, they needed him alive. A step became a trot, became a sprint, and Rowan was flying, his Taushung cloak snapping in the speed of his passage.

He overtook Lycia in the space of seconds, briefly registering that she had tumbled and was grappling with a wolf at least as big as herself. Trusting in her skill, Rowan kept running, relying on the fine balance of his sword form to keep him on his feet as he sped through the undergrowth. Ahead, the trees thinned, and he caught a glimpse of Dervish keeping pace with another of the massive wolves. Was it Rowan’s imagination, or was Dervish slowing? Had Lycia’s arrow broken skin and delivered the coma potion?

There was no time to dwell on it. Closing his mind to the link, Rowan raised a hand towards Dervish’s fleeing back and focused, feeling the pressure of building magic behind his eyes, pins and needles shooting through his body as he pushed the safe limits of his power. His awareness rose into emerald, locking onto the green-grey of Dervish’s mind and delivering a stunning hammer-blow of mental energy. Rowan had just enough time to see the hermit go down in a slump before the third wolf blindsided him with a flying lunge. Good fortune and a small measure of skill kept the creature from pinning him, but its teeth closed around the nape of his neck while they fell, and Rowan ended up dangling awkwardly from the wolf’s jaws. Suddenly aware of an encroaching torpor and the press of unfamiliar magic against his senses, Rowan snarled, and the Combat Mage hardened his mind against the insidious pressure. He gathered himself for another emerald punch, no longer caring if the wolf’s brain turned to jelly inside its skull, only to find, to his shock, that its mind was invisible to him. A shiver gripped him, and memories of the Hybrid War intruded on his thoughts. These were no ordinary wolves.

The creeping torpor made it difficult to concentrate. Rowan enveloped himself in the slick hardness of a sapphire shield and thrust outward with all the force of will he could muster, but only succeeded in shifting the wolf back several feet, dragging himself with it along the ground. Hammond approached, bow drawn, his guardbeast-brother Andvari slipping in and out of visibility at his side, but Rowan’s consciousness was rapidly fading. One last time, he drew upon his magic, this time wreathing his body in crackling agate and managing to roll free as the creature spasmed from the shock.

The second spent with his face buried in the dirt may as well have been a lifetime. Rowan struggled to move his increasingly non-responsive body, fighting a losing battle against whatever the not-wolf had subjected him to. Dream-like, he saw Hammond rush past, his gentle face contorted in fury, and seize the insensate Dervish, shaking him violently back and forth.

“Bring him back! BRING HIM BACK!” Hammond was shouting. Rowan looked around with fading eyes; Andvari and the wolves were nowhere to be seen. Ra-na’s clinical touch was in the back of his mind again, and there seemed to be figures emerging from the stand of trees across the clearing, but Rowan’s strength was spent. Darkness enveloped him, and he knew no more.

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