–Lullaby, ch. 4–
In which the party ventures to the center of Lullaby Island, wonders why Falor Gabirel has stripped off his clothes, and then finds out.
Nadarr woke for the final watch of the night. The first fingers of dawn crept up over the trees in the distance while the paladin looked on with concern at his friends twitching and gasping in their sleep. The sun emerged from its night’s rest and painted the cliffs of Torniel behind him in shades of pink. Nadarr shook Elendithas awake and gestured to the Half-Elves. The bard blanched and nodded. “The quicker we complete our mission, the better,” she said.
They roused Danath and Norros, who woke weary and disheveled. Silently, the four companions boarded their rowboat for a paddle around the island. Nadarr took the oars and, fighting the outgoing tide, kept the boat parallel to shore. Elendithas sang a ditty to encourage the Dragonborn: “Row, row, row your boat, all around the island. Merrily, merrily, merrily, I hope we don’t see the Eye again!”
“Catchy,” said Danath.
“I think I’ve heard it before,” said Norros.
After a morning of battling the surf, they ran their rowboat aground next to an identical beached craft. Nadarr heaved the boat above the tideline while the others inspected their goal. “It must be Falor Gabirel’s boat,” said Elendithas. “It’s got the same markings as ours.”
“But no Falor,” said Norros. “What do you see, Danath?”
“Tracks leading away into forest.”
“And this,” said Nadarr, fishing something out of the sand. He held up a handaxe that was half-buried beneath the rowboat. “Could be Falor’s. I saw soldiers at Cliffwatch carrying these.”
“I really don’t want to go into that forest again,” said Norros.
“That’s the way the tracks lead.” Danath started off, following the footprints in the sand. “Come on.”
Elendithas and Nadarr joined Danath. Alone on the beach, Norros felt more than ever the pressure of a never-ceasing gaze boring in the back of his head. He raced to catch up with his friends.
A short way into the trees, Danath found an old trail, once paved with cobbles but now overgrown by a hundred years of neglect. The footprints from the beach continued on the path, and the companions followed. As morning crested into noon, Danath noticed a splash of color up ahead. They crept forward to investigate and found the jacket of a military uniform discarded next to the path. It was sky blue and well-laundered but for the dirt of the path and a tear in the shoulder of one sleeve. The opposite shoulder was bedecked by yellow loops of ceremonial rope.
“It’s a lieutenant’s insignia,” said Elendithas.
“Are you sure?” asked Norros.
“Look, young ladies of breeding must know how to address members of the military when they meet them at parties. ‘Politeness is learned, not bred,’ my stepmother always says. That’s a lieutenant’s jacket – count on it.”
“More evidence that we are on the right trail,” said Nadarr. “But the question is, will we find Falor alive or dead…or undead.”
They continued on their way up the overgrown path towards the center of the island. Once more, they stopped and found a belt abandoned in the bushes. “It must have been left recently,” said Danath. “See how the buckle shines.”
“Look. Trousers as well,” said Nadarr, picking up the lower half of a uniform: white pants, with a yellow and blue stripe down each leg.
“What’s he doing? Getting undressed really slowly?” said Norros.
Once more they set off and reached a crossroads late in the afternoon. “The trail becomes difficult to follow here,” said Danath. “And I think I know why. We were here yesterday. These are our tracks.” He pointed to a long swath of trampled ground. “Let me look more closely.”
Danath bent low, sniffed the grass, and tasted a few blades. “Nothing,” he said under his breath. He stared intently at the footprints, attempting to find Falor’s boots heading off in one direction or other. “Nothing,” he said again. He was so focused on the ground that he didn’t hear the voice off in the distance.
“Danath, let’s go this way,” said Elendithas, pointing across the path into the woods.
“So you’re a tracker now?”
“No, but I hear someone talking through the trees there.”
“Oh. Okay, let’s go.”
But as they crossed the road, they were once again pummeled with a wave of intense and hateful psychic energy. None of them resisted it, and all four bent double with the sheer force of watchful judgment pushing them to the ground. Norros looked down at the constable’s badge he had lifted from the dead wight. For a moment, the fabric beneath the badge looked filthy and frayed and the skin beneath that necrotic and oozing. He ripped the badge from his chest. The moment passed and his skin was normal. But he felt unnaturally warm, like his insides were baking in the hot sun.
Norros looked around. The other three were staring at him. “What? What did I do?”
“You were clawing at your chest,” said Nadarr. “That badge is bad news. Why don’t you get rid of it.”
“But it’s mine. I found it. I’m the Constable of Abundance now.” He tried to force an air of pride into his voice, but it quivered and broke, and sweat started pouring down his face. “Is anyone else really hot?”
Nadarr held out a hand. “The badge.”
“Okay, I’ll put it in the bag of holding for now.”
“Guys, the voice,” said Elendithas. “Shhh!”
The words of an incoherent monologue drifted to them on the wind. “I’ll show you, Aunt Glissa. ‘Worthless product of nepotism.’ Is that what you think of me? I’ll show you. I came to the island by myself. Brave, that’s what I am. The Island. Lullaby. Bye bye. Eye. The Eye. Watching me. The Eye. All I see. Aye aye, Major…”
The companions crept forward to find Lieutenant Falor Gabirel stumbling through the forest in his underclothes, swinging a machete this way and that, sometimes striking leaves and branches, sometimes hitting nothing but air. His speech continued in a rambling stream. “Dead things. Dead air. Dead island. All around me. I can’t. I can’t. I. Eye. The Eye. It sees. It knows…grows…sows…death…”
Falor turned a slow circle, and they watched his eyes dart around, never focusing on any one thing for long. Tripping on a root, he shot his arm forward to brace himself. But the machete was in mid-swing, and he caught his own forearm with the blade. He stopped and looked at the dark blood now dripping from his bronze skin. “Blood. Don’t need blood. The dead don’t need blood. Not on Lullaby. Bye bye. Eye. Always the Eye…”
Norros made to grab him from behind, but even through his madness, Falor’s combat training asserted itself and sent Norros flying over his shoulder. The rogue landed on his back, the wind knocked out of him.
Nadarr hefted his sword and swung with the pommel out. He struck Falor on the head and the elf crumpled next to Norros. Elendithas bent down to bind his wound, but Falor, not quite unconscious, flailed his arms, making it impossible for Elend to minister to him. “The Eye. Watching. Always watching. Above. Below. Within. Why? Why? Aye, aye, Major. Bye bye. The Eye…” Falor’s flailing subsided and he drifted off into fitful slumber.
Elendithas bound Falor’s wounded arm while Danath bound his hands behind his back. “I don’t want him to hurt himself in this state,” he reasoned.
“And what state is that?” asked Norros. “Is that happening to me? Am I going to end up like him? Are we all? We need to get off this island.”
“We need to complete our mission,” said Nadarr.
“The way I see it, we already have,” insisted Norros. “We found Falor. We know the movement is caused by zombie villagers. Let’s go back to Cliffwatch and send the whole garrison to fight whatever’s here.”
“And have them end up like him?” The paladin hefted Falor onto his shoulder.
“Nadarr, we’re ending up like him. This Eye he’s talking about. I feel it. I see it. It’s there in the back of my mind all the time.”
“What about that clearing you saw from the tree yesterday, Danath?” Elendithas turned to the ranger. “Maybe there are answers there.”
“Maybe, but I think I’m with Norros on this one. We’ve got enough information. Let’s get out of here.”
“Look, we are in the center of the island right now,” said Nadarr. “Night is coming. If we pick a direction, we will eventually hit the relative safety of the beach. Let’s head toward the clearing, which is also toward the shore. Two birds, one stone. Here.” The dragonborn passed Falor’s unconscious body to Danath, who buckled under the weight.
Nadarr dug his claws into the bark of a massive oak and started climbing. His three companions waited below and watched Falor twitch in his sleep. The elf groaned and whimpered. He was awfully hot to the touch.
A few minutes later, Nadarr clambered down from the tree. “We are dead center in the middle of the island.”
“Please don’t say ‘dead center,’” said Norros.
Nadarr ignored him. “The clearing is to the east and a touch north, that way. But I had a thought while I was up there. A spell I know might help Falor.”
The paladin gestured for Danath to set the elf down. Nadarr cupped a clawed hand on Falor’s cheek and channeled warmth and light into his unconscious form. “It’s a spell that makes one more heroic,” he whispered. “Might help alleviate his fear for a time. Wake up, Lieutenant. You’re safe. You’re with friends.”
Elendithas bent down and put a hand on Nadarr’s shoulder. She had not seen this tender side of her dragonborn friend before, and now she herself felt safer knowing it was inside him.
Falor came around and shuddered visibly at the sight of a dragonborn’s scaled snout so close to his own face. “I know you?” he asked. “We’ve met before?”
“We have. Recently at Cliffwatch.”
“Recently? I know not what day it is. Or what year. How long have I been on Lullaby?”
“Not quite two days, but your stay has taken its toll.”
“Falor,” said Elendithas. “Your aunt asked us to find you. Do you remember leaving? Rowing your boat to the island? What happened next?”
“I found a path. I took it. The further I went, the madder I got. I’m mad, you know. It’s odd…to know that one is mad.” Falor started laughing, and the laugh built towards hysteria.
“Falor!” Nadarr squeezed the elf’s jaw. “Tell me about the Eye.”
“The Eye. The Eye is everywhere I look. And it is looking everywhere inside me. So warm. Too warm. Burning. That’s how I feel. Like my flesh is boiling. And my mind is coming apart at the seams.”
“Can you be more specific than ‘everywhere?’”
“The Eye is below? As in underground?”
“Beneath. Under. Sunder. I’m being rent asunder. Why did I come here?” Fat tears began rolling down Falor’s cheeks. “Why did I come? Why did I? I…the Eye. The Eye. The Eye.” Falor rocked back and forth, then held his breath, looked at the companions for a long, hard moment, and said. “The Eye. Bye bye…”
“My spell has worn off,” said Nadarr. “I am loath to cast it again.”
“So this Eye thing is underground, maybe,” said Norros. “Another thing we can report to Major Gabirel when we get off this maddening island. Let’s go.”
“East northeast. I’ll lead,” said Nadarr, unsheathing his longsword. But the further they went into the forest, the trickier it was to discern the path. Nadarr tried to remain walking in a straight line, but some sort of pressing paranoia kept pushing him off track.
The last rays of sun were fading when Nadarr admitted, “I’ve lost the path. I’m not sure which way we’re going.”
“There,” said Elendithas. “What’s that?”
“I see it too,” said Norros. “A light, flickering like a firefly. Up ahead there. And another one. Come on.” Norros and Elend set off after the lights.
“Guys,” said Danath. “Be careful. You don’t know what those lights are.”
“Anything’s better than being lost in the dark,” said Norros. He stopped short as one of the lights flickered mere feet from him. It was the size of a lantern, and it danced and shimmered playfully.
“It’s a will-o’-wisp,” hissed Danath. “Get away from it.”
But it was too late. “It’s beautiful,” said Elendithas, reaching up to touch the inviting ball of light.
Lullaby, Ch. 5 “Beneath the Mire” 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