Beneath the Mire

–Lullaby, ch. 5–

In which a Will-o’-Wisp nearly kills Norros, and Elendithas discovers something disturbing underground.

←Read Chapter 4: The Madness of Falor

A blast of lightning shot from the glowing orb and enveloped Elendithas with shocking energy. The bard dropped to one knee; her finger was singed and the acrid smell of burned hair filled her nostrils.

Danath pointed at the Wisp and whispered, “Nera hilagri.” For a moment the yellow ball glowed red, having been marked by the ranger. He let fly an arrow, but the light danced away and his arrow streaked off into the growing darkness. Norros followed suit, but his arrow missed as well. “These things are impossible to hit!”

Nadarr dumped Falor’s unconscious body on the ground and unsheathed his longsword. Following Danath’s lead, the paladin also marked the Wisp in his mind. Then he strode up to the ball of light that had attacked Elend, and he and the bard both slashed at it. But they cut only the air.

“Don’t aim for where they are. Aim for where you think they’ll be,” said Danath, letting loose another arrow, which shot by the Wisp, closer than his first attempt but still missing. The Wisp flickered for a moment, then vanished.

“Easier said when you can see it,” called Norros from his hiding spot behind a squat and sickly bush. He took a shot at the second Wisp, but again his arrow went wide. Just then, the ground next to him began to deflate. “Guys, we’re in a swamp…and it’s sinking.”

The others looked around and saw pockets of mud bubbling and draining. They could feel the bottoms of their boots getting sucked ever so gently downwards. “We need to get out of here,” shouted Elendithas.

“First, we must dispatch these evil lights,” said Nadarr, as he squelched his way towards the second Wisp. Holding in his mind to where he thought the first Wisp darted, Nadarr turned in that direction and released his poison breath. Hoping to see the lights start to writhe, the Dragonborn was disappointed when his breath seemed to have no damaging effect. But the particles of poison gas did light up the invisible Wisp long enough for Danath to draw a bead on it. He frosted his hand on his amulet, took careful aim, inhaled, and loosed. The arrow passed right through the middle of the invisible Wisp, which flickered back into view. “I hit it,” he said. “But I don’t think it did much.”

“At least we can see it now,” said Norros, whose arrow also struck home.

Elendithas whispered harshly under her breath, and for a moment the Wisp flickered, dimming with each pulse. “Anyone else know any psychic magic? It works on these things!”

“Not I,” said Nadarr. “But I know how to throw this axe.” The first Wisp had glided over a small reed strewn pond, and its lights was reflected in the still surface. Nadarr’s axe spun through the air and cut the Wisp’s light in half. At the same time, an arrow from Danath pierced it. The Wisp pulsed wildly and then was snuffed out like a candle, leaving only a thin trail of smoke rising into the air.

Elendithas, Norros, and Nadarr surrounded the second Wisp, and started hacking at it with the blades. The Wisp evaded every swing, swaying and swooping playfully, as if it enjoyed this dance of death. But Danath had figured out its movements by now. Moving his hunter’s mark to the second Wisp, he sighted just above Elendithas’s head and released his arrow. It passed through the Wisp, whose bright light flickered and dimmed. But his intense focus betrayed him. Danath looked down to find his legs below the knee had vanished into the sucking mud. Grabbing the base of a gnarled bush, he heaved himself out of the mire and cast around for a patch of solid earth to stand on.

In the meantime, the remaining Wisp continued to dance around his friends’ blade, building its energy all the while. Norros managed to strike it with his shortsword and in the moment of contact, the Wisp let out a tremendous pulse of lightning down Norros’s blade and into his body. The rogue shook violently and fell unconscious in the mud. The Wisp’s inviting yellow glow turned a sickly green as curling fingers of light drifted down towards Norros’s prone form. The noxious tendrils sought a way in, testing his nostrils and ears and mouth.

But before the Wisp could turn Norros into one of its own, Nadarr reared back with his sword, and swinging with both hands in a downward arc, he cleaved the Wisp in two. Elendithas ducked as the dragonborn spun a full circle and cut the lights in half again. The four small lights blinked out of existence, leaving just small spindles of smoke dissipating in the foul swamp air. Elendithas bent over Norros’s form and sang him a healing lullaby. He sat up and looked at his sword hand. It was blackened with burn marks.

“My heart is racing,” he said.

“It had stopped for a moment,” said Elendithas. “Perhaps it is catching up.”

“How’s my hair?” He doffed his hood.

“Sticking out in all directions.”

“Just the way I like it,” he groaned as he rose to his feet. Nadarr supported Norros as the three joined Danath across the swamp. The ranger was bent over the ground, searching the area.

“Falor’s gone. And I don’t see any tracks.”

“You don’t think…” began Elend.

“That he got sucked into the swamp? Yes, I do.”

“We must have disturbed the area when we entered this morass,” said Nadarr. “It wasn’t sinking until we got here.”

“Whatever the timeline, I’m afraid Falor’s gone,” said Danath. “But who knows? Maybe we should check below. We have rope, right? Tie me up. I want to take a look.”

“I think we should just get out of here,” said Norros. “The swamp is still sinking, and I almost died once tonight. I don’t fancy dying again.”

“Just a peek,” said Danath. “Count to thirty and then pull me back up.”

Nadarr fastened one end of the rope around his own waist and the other around Danath’s. Elendithas stood behind the paladin and held his belt. Norros slouched with his arms crossed,  watching the proceedings. Danath took a deep breath and dove into the mud. He could feel himself being sucked downward. The mud oozed into every exposed orifice and coated his clothing and seeped into his boots. But within a few seconds, something unexpected happened. Danath’s arms and head left the mire, and he found himself hanging upside down from the ceiling of an immense cavern. He had just enough time to scrape the mud off his eyes and out of his ears before the rope went taut and he was pulled back.

Back above ground and covered head to toe in clinging mud, Danath sucked in air and collected his thoughts. “I didn’t see much. It’s an underground cavern, and I could hear the dripping of the mud hitting the floor all over. Couldn’t have been more than twenty or thirty feet down. Falor could have survived that fall if he landed in a pile of mud. But I didn’t see him. Then again, I was only down there a second.”

“Let me go,” said Elendithas. “I can cast a light spell to see more of the cavern. Plus, now we know we can breath down there, so there’s no need to pull me up until I signal.”

“I always expected you’d never want to get too dirty,” said Norros.

“If I wanted that, I wouldn’t have left home,” said Elend with a withering look. She hung her lyre from the nearby bush and pulled her hair back into a tight bun. “I am going to need a bath at some point, though.”

Nadarr tied the now mud-caked rope to his lithe friend. “Wish me luck,” said Elend, and she took a massive inhale, the likes of which her singing tutor would have been proud. A few seconds later, she exhaled into the stale, rank air of the underground cavern and sent her dancing lights in four directions.

The light moving north bent around a corner where the cavern narrowed into a passageway. Elendithas noted that the walls were too smooth to be naturally occurring, but couldn’t think of a burrowing creature large enough to make such a cavern – or one capable of burrowing through solid rock. As the light vanished around the corner, she heard the sound of footsteps echoing around the cavern. She shifted her gaze to the westerly moving light, which seemed to have broken apart and was now reflecting off of several glassy surfaces. She sent the rest of her lights to merge with the western one to bring the oddity into better view.

The combined light hovered in the air above the anomaly, and Elendithas peered down at it, willing herself to understand what she was seeing. The glassy reflections shuddered for a moment, and then she saw it: A massive eyelid slide open to reveal a milky iris swimming in dark ichor. Elendithas watched in horror as the pupil contracted in the glow of her dancing lights and then swivel to gaze right at her. She tugged with frantic desperation on the rope and barely had time to gulp in a breath before she was yanked upwards and out of the cavern.

“I have no idea what that eye thing is, but I know I never want to see it again,” she said between hacking coughs.

“I keep saying it, said Norros. “Let’s get out of here. Let’s get far away. If that thing is what I think it is, I never want to see it the first time.”

“You think it’s a Be–” said Danath, but Norros cut him off.

“Don’t say it out loud!”

“I’ve heard legends of them. We call them Rexavydar,” said Nadarr. “But I thought they were just stories to frighten hatchlings.”

“Let’s just say, I don’t want to find out,” said Norros and he stalked off.

“Wait, where are you going?”

“Doesn’t matter. We’ll hit the beach eventually if we just go in a straight line.”

The other three followed him westward, but within a minute of setting out, all four were once again hit by a wave of psychic pain, the worst one by far. Norros shrieked and clawed at his chest and hair. Danath, Nadarr, and Elendithas grabbed onto each other to keep from falling over. When they had recovered, they looked at Norros. His face was lost in vacancy and a stupid grin played across his features. “I feel so hot,” he said. “Does anyone else feel warm? No, not hot — burning, boiling. I can’t stand it. I can’t. I. Eye. The Eye! I’ve got to go to the Eye!”

Norros turned due north and made to run, but Nadarr caught him in a tackle. “Not you too,” said the Dragonborn. “Danath, looks like the rope is getting one more use tonight.”

They tied up Norros and led him westward towards the beach. All the while he strained at his leash, trying to move northward. “I need to go north. Yes, I do. North. Only one way to go.”

An hour later, they heard the sound of waves crashing and left the forest behind, Hugging the beach, they turned north with the hopes of reaching their boat by morning. “Thank you,” said Norros. “North, only one way to go to the Eye. Must go.”

But after another hour of walking, Norros changed his patter. “East, I must go east. Only one way to go to the Eye. East.”

“I think he’s trying to get to the clearing you saw the other day, Danath,” said Elendithas. “I’d wager that’s the way down into the cavern, or at least the easy way down. I don’t fancy another trip through the mud.”

“Nor I,” agreed Danath. “I’ve never liked enclosed spaces.”

“Nor I,” said Norros. “Eye, Eye. Always there.” He spoke the words in a little melody, which he continued with incessant rigor until dawn started promising a new day.

“Before sunrise, I want to send a message,” said Elendithas, pulling her new sending stone out of her bag. She stroked it and the runes glowed blue. “What should I say? It has to be short.”

“Tell it to go south,” said Norros. “The Eye is south. Tell it to go south.” He strained at his bonds. “I have a good feeling about going South.”

They ignored him. After a few minutes discussion, Elendithas whispered to the stone: “Dear Kirra, please forward to mom. Still on island. Solved mystery. Found Rexavydar. Need further instructions. Shall we engage? Danath says, ‘Hi.’”

After a long night of trudging through forest and sand, the weary adventurers reached their landing site. They lashed Norros to the boat and sat down for a long-awaited breakfast. The sun was up and the sound of the surf soothed their nerves. Keeping their backs to the water, they discussed their next move, but found no clarity. Norros’s constant refrain did not help their deliberations.

As they were packing up their food supplies, the sending stone pulsed blue. Elendithas touched it and heard Kirra’s voice in her mind. She relayed the message: “Mom says reinforcements on way. Be there tonight. Weird things happening at the Equestrian too. Maybe you could help if you were here.” Elendithas paused and smirked at her ranger friend. “And she ended with ‘Hi Danath’ back to you.”

“Well, how about that. She’s thinking about me,” he said. A faraway look played across his face.

Elend punched him playfully on the shoulder. Nadarr harumphed and started polishing his sword.

“We should go south, right now,” said Norros.

Read Ch. 6: The Massacre at Abundance →

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

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