My life has definitely changed quite a bit in recent months. Mostly for the better, I think. I went from being a Theran Nethermancer’s personal slave experiment, to a slave in a Theran mine, which led us to being guests in a Horror’s personal playground in the Nether Realms, and finally we’ve ended up as Newots among a clan of Trolls. Needless to say, a Newot is Trollish for indentured servant; pretty much a slave with a few benefits. I suppose that I should be grateful that I am still alive. Not that I fear Death, how can one fear something that isn’t the end, but only a new beginning. However, I do have some unfinished business that needs taken care of.
We must return the Book of Tomorrow to Throal. I must find out the fate of my family. I will rescue Sari from the Therans. And lastly, I must attempt to end Xandarlathalas. It’s the least he deserves for what he’s done to those I care about.
Since I have been among the Steelskull Clan, I have had a ton of time to myself. My Patron, Grimlock, is a Troll Elementalist of some note. Unfortunately, he is quite old for a Troll. Most of my time is spent fetching herbs, brewing teas and making him comfortable. While we both may be magicians, he has very little to say to me. I’m certain that everything about me unnerves him. The Steelskull Clan has no Nethermancers among their peoples, until now. Even still, there are times when I can feel Grimlock inspecting me astrally. Being a Nethermancer tends to make one sensitive to astral disturbances. Distrust seems to follow me around like a cloak, unsettling to all who view it.
But I am also thankful that Grimlock has a full alchemy lab setup in his home, which he has graciously agreed to let me use. I have managed to find a cliff nearby that had a rather large patch of Dragon’s Tongue that I picked. When harvested correctly and cooked into a tea, it’s very affective for fighting poisons.
I have found that I do enjoy the alone time as I wander freely among the jagged countryside looking for herbs. The Twilight Peaks do have a majestic, if a bit harsh, beauty that surprised me. I never expected the hard living that is required of the clans here to amount to anything other than utilitarian. While their lives can be a bit harsh, they survive on their sense of honor. For everything revolves around honor among troll society. In many ways, the troll clans are much like the Therans. (I would never say that to a Crystal Raiders face though!!!) They take what they want from whoever they want. It’s how they survive. One key difference though, while trolls and Therans will mercilessly pillage anyone they find, trolls will not attack an obvious lesser opponent. For that wouldn’t be a challenge and therefore is a slight again their honor. While a newot is mostly like being a slave, once accepted, you are technically considered to be part of society; an extended family at best. Still better then living with Therans.
Which brings me to a very interesting enigma that I ran into while out fetching herbs a few days ago. I was on a secluded cliff, not far from the village, looking for vreela stalks. The leaves from a vreela plant can be very helpful in reducing fevers, aches and pains if taken in a correct manner. It can also be very deadly if prepared incorrectly. It was here that I stumbled across, what I believe to be a very crude summoning circle. On closer inspection, the circle appeared to be made from bone fragments, sticks and rocks. Looking astrally revealed that the circle was never completed. Most likely due to the fact that sticks and rocks are not valid components for summoning anything Nethermantic in nature.
However, wood and earth are quite valid when attempting to summon anything elemental. So either someone was just playing and decided to make a circle of stuff or whomever threw this together had no idea what they were attempting to accomplish. What little grass there was inside the circle appeared untouched. Outside of the circle, the grass was clearly trampled. Like someone had clearly been pacing around the circle, which is very common when creating a summoning circle. To create a summoning circle, the magician carefully walks counter clockwise around his circle. Slowly the summoner pumps astral energy into the circle, layer by layer, much like a mason builds a wall, so that it will act like an invisible cage for any spirit that might inhabit the circle once summoned.
Unsure, I picked up the bones shards and put them in one of my pockets. Then I kicked the sticks and rocks about to disperse the rest of the circle.
Once back at Grimlock’s hut, I asked him if he had any young pupils. He replied with a grunt and a shake of his head, indicating that he did not have any students.
“Unfortunately, I do not.” After a long pause, “It saddens me to think that I am the last Elementalist among the Clan. I fear that my knowledge may die with these old bones. Why do you ask, elf? You interested in learning the most basic, yet powerful elemental arts?” he inquired with a raised hairy eyebrow and tusk.
“I must admit that yes, I do find all forms of magic interesting, particularly those with the Elementalist bent. But that is not why I ask. While out scavaging for vreela leaves, I came upon an incomplete summoning circle. It was crude at best, but neither was it strictly Nethermantic or Elemental in nature. In fact, it seemed a mixture of the two.” I explained.
At this Grimlock raised an eyebrow. I described where the summoning circle was located and what it looked like. I pulled out the bones I had collected from my pocket and showed him. They were clearly fish bones of some variety. I told him that whoever had created this circle did not appear to know what they were fully doing, as the ritual had obviously failed.
With another grunt, Grimlock stood up and headed for the door. “Keep your eyes open. I will go inform the other elders of the clan what you have seen.”
With that, I turned my attentions to creating a poultice out of the vreela leaves. It occurred to me while I was working that the fish bones most likely came from the small lake not far from the village. As it was quite plentiful, the trolls here ate a fair amount of fish in their diet. Once finished with the poultice, I walked down to the lake area, making sure to avoid most of the residents on the way.
As I approached the lake, I could see a troll and a t’skrang tying up a boat to its moors. I patiently waited to be acknowledged. The t’skrang noticed me first, cocking her head to the side a bit as she gave me a look. Not taking her eyes off of me she reached over and slapped the troll on the arm, pointing my direction. He looked over his shoulder, grunting (trolls grunt a lot I have found), “What is it elf?” he said in Throalic as he continued to tie his knots. Not waiting for my answer, he went on “You just missed your companions, Skram, Dremnin and Hannah. They just took today’s catch up for dinner to the longhouse.”
Doing my best to be respectful, I replied back in trollish, “Ah, yes. Uhm….I wasn’t looking for them. Apologies for bothering you Arngrim, but I was wondering if you could tell me what happens to the bones of the fish that you catch?” With that, Arngrim put down his ropes and fully turned my direction. It was at this point I realized Arngrim was a meaty, yet lanky fellow. Tall even by trollish standards. Unlike most trolls whose horns both point the same direction, one horn swept back along his skull while the other fully pointed forward. Unique I’m sure. Unfortunately, he seemed to catch me staring at his horns. Striding forward, he cleared the distance between us in about two steps. Inwardly I was cringing at myself for staring, I should have known better by now. None the less I did not move or back away from Arngrim’s impressive stature.
Looking up at Arngrim, a full two heads taller than myself, he replied, “The fish are cleaned by the cooks. I suppose some of the bones are used with clothing and some turned into jewelry.” Squinting and leaning in closer to my face, “Why do you ask?”
Not wanting to alarm anyone, I replied, “Ah….yes, well, you see, fish bones are perfect for tattooing and I wish to procure some for any future endeavors that I might need.”
“Hmph.” Was his only reply as he seemed satisfied with my answer and turned and went back to his nautical duties.
“Right, well, thank you for your time Arngrim.” I pointed over my shoulder back towards the longhouse, “I’ll just go and bug the cooks then…” and with that I headed back up the hill.
After thinking about it, my chances of narrowing down any suspects who might have grabbed these bones didn’t seem very good. So instead I went back to Grimlock’s hut. Once nightfall came, I carefully made my way back to the same clearing as before. Nothing looked disturbed, so I called to my familiar, Eidolon. After a few moments, I heard a high pitched screech from above me. Perched on a cliff above sat my hideous krilworm friend. I gave him instructions to watch this area and to come and wake me should anyone show up during the dark hours. He gave a screech of confirmation and I went back to the hut for some fitful sleep.
The next morning at sunrise I was awoken by Eidolon, only to be informed that no one had been in the clearing during the night. Frustrated, I help my little friend into his carrying knapsack that I had created for him. While krilworms are naturally a nocturnal creature, as my familiar, Eidolon is an exception. But I saw no need for him to suffer during the day if it wasn’t necessary. Besides, I get enough stares from the trolls as it were, no need to drawn anymore attention to myself having a krilworm perched on my shoulder.
And so it was, the next few days were the same. I studied alchemy during the day with Grimlock, while Eidolon watched the clearing for anyone to enter during the nights. It was on the third night that Eidolon came to me well after midnight. Quickly putting on my boots, I quietly let myself out of Grimlock’s hut and ran towards the cliff clearing. Once I got close I slowed down, us Nethermancers are quite capable of creeping around, so I did my best to be quiet, as I didn’t want to startle whoever was in the clearing. As I came closer, I could hear soft chanting, in a somewhat high pitched female voice. When I finally looked from around my rocky perch, my tattoos nearly fell off of my skin. It was Hannah! She was attempting to summon something into her circle. The look on her face was true concentration, as beads of sweat rolled down her face. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing before me.
When suddenly a look of accomplishment crossed her face, I looked to the circle and it had filled completely with smoke in a cylinder shape. Whatever was inside I couldn’t see it, so I switched to my astral sight. The spirit Hannah had summoned was too powerful for the circle she had created. I could see in astral space that the circle wasn’t complete. Astral energy was leaking through parts of the circle, meaning that the spirit could escape if it so chose. I quickly picked myself up and ran towards Hannah. I was about half way to her when the spirit manifest and came roaring out of the circle. With smoke trailing around it, this hideous skeletal dog/hound/rabbit creature emerged, heading straight for Hannah. This startled her, causing her to back away and trip over a rock outcropping.
As she fell I screamed her name, “HANNAH!!!”
Time seemed to slow down. As she fell backwards, and I yelled her name, she slowly turned her head towards me. The spirit was now mere feet away and its intentions were clear. Its boney clawed appendage was in mid swipe, aimed at her chest. While the clearing was small, it was still on the edge of a cliff, and Hannah was headed over to her demise. In the span of a breath, I frantically reached into astral space, grabbing all of the energy I could and shaped it around the spirit, yelling for it to hold. Thankfully that was enough, as it stopped advancing towards her. Unfortunately, time seemed to return to normal and she went over the edge screaming.
“Nooooooooo!!!” I yelled as I watched her little form slip over the edge. I felt my heart sink in my chest and my arms and legs immediately became dead weight. My knees gave out and I sank to the ground a mere three feet from the edge. I could still feel the spirit pushing against my will over its hold. I ignored it for the time being, feeling despair beginning to creep into my being.
“VRIDICH! HELP!” I suddenly heard from over the cliff edge. I quickly scrambled over and looked down. Hannah was only a few feet down, hanging on by a root of some kind. The spirit heard as well and started pushing on its hold with renewed vigor. I grabbed the edge of the cliff and stretched my long Elven arm down as far as it would go. It was just barely enough, but I was able to reach her wrist and get a firm grasp. She immediately let go of the root and grabbed onto my arm with both hands. It was such a horrible angle laying on the edge of the cliff that I couldn’t get any leverage to pull her up. The spirit chose that moment in time to throw everything it had against my hold. I could feel my astral hold on it slipping as I was forced to split my attentions between holding onto Hannah and keeping the spirit shackled in place.
“Hannah, I need you to hold onto me, don’t let go.” I said through clenched teeth. I turned my head towards the spirit so I could see it fully. Opening my vocal chords up to astral space, I spoke directly to the spirit in its native tongue. Mustering my best commanding voice, I stared wildly into its “eyes”.
“Spirit, by the Passions, if you do not leave now and return to the Plane from whence you came, when I drag myself up from this cliff, I am going to walk over to that circle, re-summon you myself and you’ll wish you had never set foot here this day. I will see to it that every last shred of your essence is torn asunder and cast adrift on astral winds, never to exist again. Ever.”
I was afraid that my bluff was going to fail, as I could still feel it pushing on its failing hold. It was in that moment that my dear, sweet Eidolon chose to attack the spirit from behind with a screech and barbed tail. Fluttering around the spirit was enough to make the spirit think twice about the odds now. With a small whoosh of air and an audible pop, the spirit disappeared.
Thankful, I turned my full attentions back to Hannah. With tears streaming down her face, I managed to finally put all of my meager strength into pulling her back up on top of the cliff. We both collapsed onto the ground, exhausted. She immediately pulled herself over to me, holding on tightly, she curled up into a ball besides me. “I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!” was all she kept saying for a time.
I did my best to console her, until she finally passed out from exhaustion. So there we sat for a few hours, me not wanting to disturb her poor fitful sleep. And for the first time in over a decade, I felt something, sitting there on that cliff, watching the sun rising in the East. I felt my wheel begin to turn again. Just a little, but it was there again.
“Yes, yes, of course, of course, my friend”, the scout said as he glanced at his daughter’s inert form. “Please come in and I’ll fix us a nice pot of hot tea to take the morning chill out of your bones.” As he moved quickly across the cabin floor, “Is she all right?”, he asked with genuine concern.
I spoke quietly, “Yes, she is fine. Just exhausted from her ordeal.” Gingerly walking over to the nearest bed and gently laying her down, carefully pulling the covers over her. For a moment I stopped and stared at her, brow furrowed, and arms aching. Shaking my head I walk over to the fire and stand there, trying to warm myself.
Quickly I explain what had transpired over the last few days. In a low tone, I continue on, “I must say that I am surprised by her tenacity. Even without the proper training, she still managed to summon a spirit. Not only that, she has obviously developed the ability to be very quiet, as I’m sure she snuck out of this very house earlier tonight.” I say with a sly smile.
“I’m not at all surprised by her tenacity”, the human said with a slight smile on his face. “She came into this world with a Horror inside her, so she began her new consciousness with that abomination inside of her… sharing her existence, as an evil shadow within.” He sipped his tea and then continued. “It seems natural for her to be drawn to Nethermancy, if you think about it, bearing in mind all that she has been through. And as my daughter, she has certainly had the opportunity to watch me and gain the ability to use stealth as a skill.” He shook his head and said softly, “And I was afraid she was taking up a thief’s calling.”
“Just so you know, I knew nothing about any of this, Hannah and I have never talked about summoning. Or anything Nethermantic in nature at all. So I am curious where she picked up the idea to attempt a summoning. If she had mentioned anything to me, I would have come to you first, Dremnin.” I say solemnly.
Dremnin looked at me with conviction and said, “I know you would have approached me had she come to you and asked. She is a resourceful little minx, and I am proud of her in spite of all that has come to pass.” He reached out and grasped my arm and looked in my eyes, saying, “Thank you so much for your help, Vridich. It is appreciated beyond what you may know.”
Nodding, “I’m not saying she wishes to be a Nethermancer, as we did not have time to talk after I found out. She pretty much passed out once calmed down. For all we know, maybe she is interested in being an Elementalist. Summoning can work both ways in the spirit world. Passions know that being a Nethermancer comes with its own stigma, and I wouldn’t wish that on her if there are other options.” I take a sip of the warm tea that Dremnin hands me. Warmth spreads down my gullet into my belly.
“I, too, had considered apprenticing her into Elementalism, most likely with Grimlock, as he is a Master of the craft”, the scout said over his tea mug.
“NO! I WANT TO BE A NETHERMANCER!” Hannah yells out of nowhere. And with that, I spewed tea all over the fire and mantle area. Looking over at Hannah half sitting up on the bed, hair tousled every which direction, was quite the sight, I must admit.
“Gadzooks girl!” exclaimed Dremnin loudly in angry relief that it was just the girl’s anger speaking. “You nearly scared us out of our wits. What’s gotten in to you?”
“I don’t want to be afraid anymore.” she says in her best bravado voice. Chest puffed out somewhat.
At this statement, I look over at Dremnin with a raised eyebrow, then back to Hannah. “I see. You believe that by walking the path of the Nethermancer will make you fearless?” I ask.
Hannah vigorously nods affirmative. “I’ve seen you stare down Horrors, spirits, resist your Theran Master, and not move an inch when Rorik charged you to kill you. Only to see him run away from you in fear. You blasted your enemies with….whatever it is you blast them with! I want to be feared too!” At this last proclamation, I quickly turn back towards the fire, pretending to warm myself. Dremnin can see from a sideways glance that I’m trying not to laugh out loud.
After a few seconds, I turn back to Hannah with a serious face. “Hannah, you don’t want to be feared. To be feared means that you are not loved. And you are clearly loved.” Motioning to Dremnin. “A Nethermancer must always walk a fine line between life, death and spirit. While that may sound a bit dramatic, that is the truth of it. Death is just as important as life. For if you wish to only be feared, then you have no care for life, and I could never teach you to become a Nethermancer.” After a short pause, “So I would ask you to please consider this choice a bit more, discuss this with Dremnin. After that, if you are still sure of your choice, then I’m sure you know where to find me.”
She nods slowly, seriously, drinking in the words I have just spoken to her. I can almost see the words bouncing around in her head.
And with that, I thank Dremnin for the hot tea and head to the door.
Turning back to Hannah one last time, I say, “I’m glad you are ok sele selistra (little bird).”