Leaving the little village in the middle of snowy nowhere seemed such a relief. Those scrubby woodcutters and their greasy wives were not like the refined, sybaritic company you can find in the Hexagon of Ysar. But they traded well. Or at least they insisted to cover Etna with tons of furs after her “husband” healed their cold feets and rotting teeth.
So the trio ventured in the snow. The smelly boy first, then the furball (i.e.Etna) and last the Elf, who revealed another discomforting capability: he can walk on the surface of the snow as it were a polished marble floor.
Snow – as Etna realized – can be beautiful the first 2 hours. After 2 days you hate it.
But when you turn back to the village you just left and you can see a menacing cloud of dark smoke coming from it you easily understand that you can only go further.
In the ears the recommendations of the wiseman of the woods are still resounding: “Go and search for the Archdruid, he is well hidden in Khelborill, but if you follow the Elfic Roads, you will find him”.
“Elfic roads” murmured Laertes…they must be something I should know, because they resonate in my mind, but I can’t remember…it was sooo long ago
The days and the nights seem always the same when you are out there, in the wild snow -coated plains.
Sometimes in the deepest and darkest hour of the night they could hear a distant cry, like a big animal wounded to death, that desperately growls
Eventually they approached a woodcutters’ settlement, few huts…and no sign of life.
No welcoming smoke from the fireplaces, no sounds of children or wives at work.
In the middle of the settlement there was a heap of moving black feathers: crows that are feasting (!) on the corpses of frozen dead.
There is no man corpse. As no axe or hatchet around in the village.
Karkaroff – the familiar of Laertes – suggested him devouring the eye of a corpse to recollect his last memories The Elf refusedso the familiar did it for him,
And Laertes experienced the vision of a horde of dwarves and paladins of the Inquistion who slained with no efforts neither mercy the woodcutter’s wives and their children… blessing them immediately after so they will not turn into undead.
The trio realized that somehow they were taken in trap: the village has been burned down as they left it, and someone is making carnage just in front of them. Karkaroff was sent further in exploration.
That night they are still awakened by the animal’s cry. Thet follow the moaning (it is easy as all of them possess night vision: in the night the smelly boy eyes turn into amber catlike pupils). And they find a pityful old stag, arrowed to death. In his antlers, even if gory, devotional ribbons and tiny silver bells are still recognizable. But the majestic beast is nothing more than a mass of black frozen blood.
As he dies, Death itself comes and take him. And with him all the natural life around.
“Look” murmurs Laertes “look how a Totem Animal dies”.
But Death attracts death.Suddenly from the trees a group of walking undead approach the clearing: they are the woodcutters killed by the church. Armed and unblessed. They try to reach the dead carcass and devour it.
The Smelly boy quickly jump to a tree taking the elf with him.
ETna casts on herself her new spell of flying and levitates away (she will be remember like a gigantic bumblebee).
The smelly boy attacks one of the zombie. Laertes blesses him with the gift of growing.4
Disgusted by the scene Etna flies over the carcass and teleport it away.
Then the Elf casts his dark fury like a curse on the undead: the shades of the wood become alive and ensnare the foul creatures. Burning them with tons of fireball is an easy job for the young orc.
So they can properly mourn over the carcass of the stag.
But suddenly Laertes breaks into shrieks: somebody is torturing him. From afar. Somebody is keeping his familiar and slowly killing him and a voice “he will be here soon; I promise you. And he will tell us the secrets of the elfic roads”.
The elf has some glimpses of the interior of a tent where some people of the church is torturing Karkaroff. And he starts to run and run. For hours. It is so difficult for Etna and the smelly boy to keep pace. The elf warns them to stay back. But that is not his own quest Etna remarks, they are there together.
And the Inquisitors with their dwarven throatcutters are many.
Any time they stop to rest, Laertes is tormented with painful vision from his poor soulmate: one eye has been carved out, the feathers of the wings cut away. And that malevolent voice…the voice of Raphiel!
They ran for days until the reached the camp. Just one day ahead. But what’s the plan then?
Direct attack seems suicidal. A deal? But with what,,, Laertes still has no idea how an Elfic road shoud look like.
Anyway they needed to rest before facing the Demon and his new fellows.
Laertes took the chance to give Etna some spellcasting lessons.
The smelly boy took the chance to sneak away and perform a little ritual, that Calanthe, his lover and mentor taught him in case of misfortune: offer three white furred minks to Mercia and she will bless you with unnatural luck.
When He came back to the camp, Etna and Laertes recognized that there is something new on him and try to investigate.
And it is only then that Etna realized that no one ever asked him his name. He went just as the smelly boy who saved them many times.
“My name’s Krell” said him.
“And you got some ancient powers on you…” replied the Elf “Would you mind if I look into them”
And for the first time Etna could see what the Elf did her many times, how he cast his slumber charm, how he rides his victims, how he feeds on his dreams.
There was a time when Calanthe and Krell were togethere, intimately together, enjoying the pleasures of their hot skin both in human and in animal shape. This mysterious Calanthe, hald man half wild cat, seemed to know so many things about the wild and the totem spirits and the elves….elfic roads included
“elves do not draw their maps. They sing them. They compose a song that can tell you the exact way to reach one of their kingdom. They are beautiful ancient songs that describe a world that there is no more. Most of them are almost useless now, as the Cataclysm changed the surface of the Earth itself. But here in the ancient forests, theis songs can still trace a way. That’s an elfic road, my young boy…now why don’t you get down on your knees again??”
The spidery fingers of the elf leaves the skull of the feverish Krell as he woke up.
“Thank you boy for your precious memory. I am not a thief. So I will give you some of mine memory in exchange”
And Krell experienced the vision of a great breath taking hall where creatures of ancient terrifying beauty are sitting on their thrones…not peacefully because their words are words of distress, and doubt, and hope and hate. The ancient halls of the kings and queens under the hills…
“Now we are fair, my boy, I took something from you, you got something from me. Last question human: can you sing?”
And in the greyish lights of the morning Krell sang with the forgotten words of the world that there is no more. Worlds of trees and shadows. Elfic lyrics that design an elfic road throught Khelborill.
Hopefully the road that will lead them to the Archdruid before Raphiel stab the little heart of Karkaroff