–Lullaby, ch. 2–
In which the party reaches Lullaby and gets seriously creeped out.
The next morning, the companions made their way from the Red Door House to the docks south of the river to find Dalvin Torn polishing the already shining railing of the skyship. “You lot destroying my barge was the best thing that ever happened to me, and that’s the truth,” he said, as they rose into the air due the magic of the pulsing globes of blue arcane energy. Dalvin grinned broadly, “Hear that? Of course you don’t. Nothing to hear at all. This beauty is supposed to run silently and she does, by golly. When that nasty Calder had me servicing her, I didn’t do my best work, you might say. Great thumping hum all the time. Not anymore.”
As the skyship ascended, the companions spun slowly on the deck, taking in their surroundings. The Sea of Torn lay to the west, glistening in the morning sun. Past that the Aril Forest stretched as far as the eye could see. Mountains to the south pierced the sky. To the west and north, the verdant land of Torniel gave way to the Glass Ocean and Eldasin Sea. Bathing in the Glass Ocean were two islands, one shaped like an hourglass and the other to its south, a small patch of green.
“There it is. Lullaby,” said Danath. “Doesn’t look so scary from up here.”
“Just wait,” said Norros. “I think this is a bad idea.” He sat down heavily on the deck.
“What’s gotten into you,” asked Elend, sitting down next to him.
“Oh, nothing really. It’s just…I went to see Honey Wyle last night. I dropped off the gold I promised Eri I would give to her orphan friends and then stopped by the kitchen. I’ve been curious lately, ever since meeting Eri, who my parents were and why I wasn’t subjected to the same treatment as Eri and the other orphans. Why was I treated well? Honey told me I came with quite a stipend – from my elvish father, no doubt, who wanted nothing to do with me. I pressed Honey for information, and now I have a name. My mother’s name: the woman who dropped me off in the Shambles to fend for myself. I always thought I hated her for that. But when Honey told me her name, I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t hate her. I couldn’t hate Insley Chase. I know my mother’s name. Insley Chase. Insley. My mother has a name.”
He took a deep breath, held it, and then blew it out slowly. “It’s just a lot to process.”
Elendithas patted Norros on the hand. “Maybe we’ll find her one day.”
The skyship Moonrise slipped through the air, moving southeast towards the ocean. In short order, they had flown past the southern marches of Torniel and a small garrison town was fast approaching. From the air, Cliffwatch looked like the city planner had at first been pulling pieces of road out of a box and laying them nicely alongside one another, but at some point had tripped and spilled the rest of the road pieces all over the place.
They landed on the outskirts of town and thanked Dalvin for the ride. Clambering down the rope ladder, they dropped to the ground in front of a pair of elves in crisp uniforms. “Major Glissa Gabirel,” said the lead elf. “Lieutenant Falor Gabirel, my aide and nephew. Follow me please.”
Her manner was cool, but the companions couldn’t tell if she were being rude or simply efficient with her speech. They followed the two elves to the garrison’s headquarters in the center of town. Once they were behind closed doors, the major said, “So I ask for leave to investigate Lullaby, and the Pinnacle sends you lot. I mean no disrespect, but you do not look to be the smartest choice for this assignment.”
“If you mean no disrespect,” growled Nadarr, “then try not to say disrespectful things.”
At the same time, Danath said, “Hey, this is new armor!”
“Look, I have my orders,” said Major Gabirel. “I don’t have to like them or agree with them. I know that if I take soldiers to Lullaby, word will spread, and that’s the last thing we want, no matter how unfounded this legend is.”
“So you don’t believe in the legend that there’s something sleeping beneath the island?” asked Elendithas. “What about the disappearance of the citizens of Abundance?”
“The two need not be related. To fulfill the general’s orders, I will provide you with a boat across the strait and some rations, but the rest is up to you.” Major Gabirel looked with undisguised disgust at the companions. “You’re not even kitted out properly.” She turned away, saying in a stage whisper, “Amateur hour, that’s what it is.”
“Excuse me?” Nadarr began to say, but the lieutenant stepped in.
“You can borrow my armor, if you like,” he said, “Not that I ever need it on such a ruddy boring assignment as this.”
“Falor!” The major rounded on her nephew. “You will speak only when spoken too and not before. Our ‘friends’ here can take care of themselves, I’m sure.”
“Yes, Aunt Glissa…I mean, yes, Major Gabirel.” Falor backed away and slumped against the wall. “I was just trying to help,” he muttered under his breath. And then in a curt, military voice, “Permission to depart, ma’am?”
As Falor left, the companions heard him speaking aloud to no one in particular: “I joined the military for some action, not to sit and rot, looking at a deserted island all day.”
“Please excuse the unprofessionality of my nephew. He is young – for an elf – barely fifty.” And then, more to herself than to the others, “He will learn discipline. I will break him in the end.”
“If that will be all then, Major?” asked Elendithas. “We’d like to retire for the evening. Is there a good place to eat around here?”
Major Gabirel looked up from her musings. “Pub called the Right Angle. You’ll find it south of here where military precision meets civilian sloppiness.”
The companions took their leave. “I don’t like her very much,” said Norros. “And giving us a riddle just to find the pub. That’s just downright evil! I’m too hungry to think.”
“I thought that thing above your neck was more than just a hatrack?” said Danath. “She means the streets. Military precision is these gridded streets in the middle of town. Civilian sloppiness is…here.” They stopped where the street they were following bent around a collection of buildings for no apparent reason.
“There it is. The Right Angle.” said Nadarr.
They ordered food and asked discreetly about the nearby island, but no one had any more to add to the legend. People were frightened of it though, that was certain. Elendithas lost some gold playing cards, and then they turned in for the night at the barracks.
They were awakened the next morning by Major Gabirel shaking them out of their cots. “We’ve got to get you down the cliff before the town wakes up. Let’s go.”
They stumbled their way to the edge of the cliffs overlooking the Glass Ocean. Ropes hanging from a stout pulley system waved like strands of hair down the sheer rock face. A rowboat was lashed there, like the oversized basket of a dumbwaiter. “All aboard,” said the Major.
“You’ve got to be kidding,” said Norros. “You want us to go down in that thing?”
“What? You’d rather fly your skyship to Lullaby? I’m sure that wouldn’t stir up any press.”
The companions clambered aboard the rowboat and huddled in the center of the precariously balanced craft. Major Gabirel worked the mechanism. As they descended, she added, almost as an afterthought. “Oh, if you see Falor, tell him to report to me posthaste.”
“My nephew seems to have taken it into his head to go to Lullaby himself to investigate. He left in the middle of the night; seems to have interpreted my ‘permission to depart’ more liberally than I meant it. Do not worry, I’ve already begun drawing up the court martial.”
If she said anything else, the wind whipped her words away before they could reach their ears. Several minutes of heart-stopping, uneven descent later and the rowboat splashed into the cold water of the Glass Ocean. Nadarr’s three companions all looked at him. “Oh, all right,” he grumbled, grabbing for the oars.
The sun was high in the sky when the rowboat crunched into the beach leading to the town of Abundance on the northwestern coast of the island. They had seen no other rowboats, so Falor must have landed far down the coast. The companions walked up the beach to the nearest street. The emptiness was palpable. Though they were at sea level, even the air felt empty of oxygen.
“What do we do now?” said Norros.
“Let’s check some of these houses,” suggested Elendithas.
They approached the nearest residence and tried the door. It was unlocked and swung open with a rusty screech. As they crossed the threshold, they could feel the emptiness of the house without even searching the rooms. No soul had crossed that threshold in a hundred years. The table was set for a meal. Ancient embers lay cold and inert in the fireplace. On the hearth a stuffed toy bear was resting face down. As Elendithas looked at the bear, her vision suddenly blurred. When it refocused, everything was tinged with unnatural blue light. She saw a little girl playing with the stuffed bear by a roaring fire. An older child was setting plates and silverware on the table. A voice called from another room that supper was nearly ready. Elend looked more closely at the two children and realized that something was not quite right. Their faces. Their movement. Blind, blank stares. Jerky motions as if they were being controlled by marionette strings. The little girl raised her head and turned her dead eyes to Elend. Just then the world swam, the unnatural light faded, and the house was empty once again.
“Did you guys just see that?” she whispered, with a note of panic raising the pitch of her voice.
“You mean the creepy little girl? Yes.” Nadarr bent to pick up the bear.
“Don’t touch it!” shouted Norros, and then he suddenly spun around. “Who’s there?”
“It’s just me,” said Danath, holding up his arms defensively. Then he also spun around. “I felt it too.”
“Let’s get out of this house,” said Elendithas. “Keep searching somewhere less eerie.”
“You mean somewhere other than Lullaby?” asked Norros. “I’m in.”
“No, I meant a meeting hall or something. Somewhere less…personal.”
They backed out of the house and headed up the street to the town square. They reached the green, blinking in the hot sun. Suddenly everything was tinged again in the unnatural blue light. The town square, barren just a moment again, was now peppered with people: milling about, chatting in small groups, playing children’s games on the lawn. The companions noticed nothing strange about the people standing still. But the people walking and children running moved like their joints were too loose somehow — like their limbs might just fall out of their sockets at any moment. They blinked again and the blue light vanished. The town square was empty once again.
“Does anyone else feel like we’re being watched?” said Norros.
“Yes,” said Nadarr, unsheathing his longsword. “I do not like it.”
“Let’s find the sheriff’s office or something — somewhere there might be records, anything that can tell us what happened here.” Danath surveyed the buildings bordering the green space. “There.”
They huddled closer as they made their way to a building labeled, “Town Constable.” Inside they found a desk stacked high with dusty papers and a pair of small jail cells, both locked. A third time, the blue light dazzled their eyes and they saw a man hunched over the desk and two more men resting on cots in the cells. One prisoner sat up, obviously intoxicated, and laughed a wild laugh. The constable called for him to shut up. The prisoner laughed more heartily, manically, then tipped off his cot and smacked the floor headfirst. From his prone position, the drunk lifted his head, but now his neck seemed to be broken. He turned to look at the companions, his head at a crazy angle and his laugh now came in hollow barks.
Danath ran outside and the others followed him in short order. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe.” The ranger gasped for breath. “What is going on here?”
“Whatever it is, I want no part of it,” said Norros. “Come on, let’s go.”
Elendithas moved to place herself back to back with Nadarr. “We can’t leave yet. Let’s at least search the treeline where the garrison saw movement. Norros, walk back to back with Danath.”
“And then we’re going.”
“Then we can go.”
They moved in pairs into the farmland east of Abundance. As they approached the treeline, they came to a fence and for a fourth time their vision blurred with the unnatural blue light. The fields were empty a second ago, but now they saw people toiling away: some digging, some plowing with teams of oxen, some moving stones, some corralling livestock. The people were too far away for them to notice anything odd, but the oxen gave their hearts a turn. Where they expected to see burly animals straining at their yokes, they saw skeletal beasts with rotten, festering flesh clinging to bleached rib cages. The oxen turned their heads and regarded the companions through sunken eye sockets. One ox snorted and stamped, then charged.
The blue light vanished. But the ox kept coming.
Lullaby, Ch. 3 “The Ox and Constable” Coming Soon!
Written by Adam Thomas, Dungeonmaster
Jarrod Antkowiak as Norros Arborshade
Allissa Leonard as Nadarr Kasdann
Jack Leonard as Danath Errandir
Leah Thomas as Elendithas Day