We join our heroes NUTMEG the dwarf and LUCY the gnome just outside the little village of TOROLD’S PASS, which, in recent days, has been stricken by a mysterious plague. NUTMEG and LUCY have been tasked with discovering the source of the plague within the silver mine just outside of town…
Table of Contents
- Chapter 1 – In Which a Trap is Sprung
- Chapter 2 – In Which Some Sand is Flung
- Chapter 3 – In Which Lucy’s Cloak is Torn
- Chapter 4 – In Which Things Smell Quite Bad
- Chapter 5 – In Which Someone Reads Something
Chapter 1 – In Which A Trap Is Sprung
“Fuck.” Nutmeg swatted in vain at a mosquito. “I didn’t think little stinging bugs lived this high up in the mountains.”
“They normally don’t,” replied Lucy. She grinned and whirled her star-and-moon cloak closer around her shoulders. “You’re just lucky.”
Nutmeg glowered under his beard. The road up the mountain from Torold’s Pass had been long and tiresome, and they weren’t even at the mine yet. A cool breeze washed down from the mountains – with any luck, carrying the mosquitoes away. The dwarf turned to look back at the town behind them. Torold’s Pass was a homely little town, tucked into the shoulders of the Serpent Mountains. Hearthfires rose from most of the homes – but not all of them. Some stood empty, and dark. The plague had claimed too many victims already.
Nutmeg scratched at the latest bite and hefted his warhammer. “Come on. The sooner we’re underground, the sooner we’re away from these little bastards.”
Lucy followed gamely behind. She and Nutmeg were of a height – he a dwarf, and she a gnome. But his stocky legs moved faster than hers, and not for the first time she cursed all the hours she’d spent studying in her library, whiling away the hours at her desk. Certainly, the secrets of the arcane had opened to her. But nobody warned her the secrets of the arcane came with chronic back problems.
Before long, they reached the mouth of the accursed mine. The ground was littered with tools, picks, and shovels, abandoned as if they’d fallen from the nerveless fingers of miners in flight. A single darkened shaft led to the depths ahead. The dirt path beneath the wooden supports was strewn with stone debris. No light issued from the tunnel. Burnt-out torches lay within sight of the entrance, their brackets torn from the shaft walls.
Nutmeg knelt, tasted the stone debris. “Silver in this mine. I’d wager my hammer.”
“You don’t have to,” said Lucy. “Our contact did mention the vaunted silver mines of Torold’s Pass.”
“Well.” Nutmeg spat out a bit of dust. “Still.” He kicked a shovel. “These folk were running. Curses don’t usually chase people like that.” He sniffed the air. “I don’t smell goblins, though.”
Gods bless Nutmeg’s nose, thought Lucy. The dwarf was young and wild. He’d practically been feral before Lucy found him. Those instincts still proved useful, though. Lucy hefted one of the fallen torches and lit it with flint and tinder, and motioned for Nutmeg to lead the way. As always.
The tunnel passed deeper into the mountains, and the cool air washed over them like a refreshing bath. After a time, the way opened into a small chamber with a high ceiling, supported by creaky timbers. In the center of the room was a pair of overturned wooden carts, surrounded by a scattering of rock and ore. Lucy wrinkled her nose. Even she could smell the death here. Nutmeg pointed with his warhammer – “Look, Lucy, a body!”
Sure enough, it was. Or at least, half of one. A pair of legs jutted out from beneath one of the carts. The smell of rot was enough to tell Lucy those legs wouldn’t be walking anytime soon. She looked around; the walls were smeared here and there with dried blood, especially around the other tunnels branching away into the mine.
“Definitely silver, yup,” said Nutmeg, thoughtfully chewing on a fleck of ore. “High quality, too. Bet we could get a good price for this back in the town.”
“You’re not wrong,” admitted Lucy. “Right. Let’s get that poor bastard out from under the cart. And if we happen to load up the cart with ore, well, that’s fine too.”
“I’m betting we could get a few hundred gold pieces for all thi-” Nutmeg moved to flip the cart over. As soon as it shifted, however, there was a twang, a snap, and then a thunderous boom. Lucy dropped prone, drawing her dagger and cursing. Nutmeg jumped back and roared in pain.
“A trap!” shouted Lucy. “Nutmeg, are you all right?” Her voice sounded soft and hollow; her ears rang with an unpleasant tinny pitch.
“WHAT?” asked Nutmeg. He shook his head like a horse shaking off a fly. “WHAT WAS THAT?”
Something had fallen from the ceiling, and Lucy stooped to pick it up. “Fuck. Thunder stone.” A simple enchanted rock, carved with mystic glyphs. Dead and useless now. But someone had planted it.
“WHAT?” asked Nutmeg again.
“Ah, gods. Can you hear me, Nutmeg?”
“Right, okay.” This could be a pain in the ass. She sat down heavily on the cart and pulled charcoal and paper from her pack.
“IF YOU’RE GOING TO WRITE SOMETHING, DON’T BOTHER,” bellowed Nutmeg. “YOU KNOW I CANNOT READ, LUCY.”
“Yes, I know,” she said, entirely to herself. She drew a quick, shitty picture of the body still trapped beneath the cart, with an arrow pointing to it. Then she drew Nutmeg – a big hairy blob with a hammer.
“HEY,” said the dwarf, “THAT’S ME!”
Lucy jabbed her finger at the body, then at Nutmeg. He understood. He wasn’t particularly dumb, Nutmeg. Far from it.
He knelt by the body beneath the cart. It was a human man, not un-handsome and middle-aged, very dead. Nutmeg inspected several nasty-looking holes in the man’s neck.
“CROSSBOWS,” hollered Nutmeg.
Lucy made an affirmative sign. Her ears had stopped ringing, but Nutmeg probably had a good hour left of bellowing and hooting. She sighed. No job was ever easy.
Chapter 2 – In Which Some Sand Is Flung
Lucy gestured to the leftmost of the other tunnels, and Nutmeg gamely led the way. It wound away into the mountain – but not downward, merely off in another direction. Light flickered in the distance, and Lucy’s stomach dropped. Would there be survivors of the curse waiting for them? Thus far, they’d avoided the accursed plague, and she didn’t intend to start catching cold now. She fingered the pouch of rainbow sand on her belt, one of many such little pouches all across her cloak, her shirt, her belt, her leather vest, even in the heel of her boots. She and Nutmeg had never met a foe they couldn’t face together. This was no different.
She heard them before she saw them. Around the last bend, a door stood slightly ajar. Yipping voices leaked out like rain through a cotton roof. Nutmeg looked back over his shoulder.
“SHOULD WE SNEAK IN?” he shouted.
“Oh, fuck off.” Lucy kicked the door open.
The smell hit them first: a pungent, meaty odor rather like rotten beef. The long room was plainly a mess hall, although all the tables were currently tipped on their side, makeshift barricades manned by a handful of horrid little lizard-y creatures: kobolds.
“Grelt de vaknat dur du nemtik!” yipped one of the kobolds, a wan-looking little lizard. All of them were hidden behind their barricades; crossbows and shortspears pointed menacingly at Nutmeg.
It had been a long time since she learned Reptoid at the Knowledge Institute of Lone Tower, and that had been mostly ancient, formal Reptoid, not this bastardized pidgin the kobolds spoke. Still, she got the gist. “Get out before we kill you!” was something of a universal sentiment.
“Vaknat du…vaknat seht…” Lucy spat. “Fuck it.” She pulled out a handful of rainbow sand and threw it before her, shouting the secret word.
Before her eyes, the sand became a spray of light and color, a burst of rainbow dazzle. The kobolds howled and fell back from the barricades, clutching at their eyes and yipping in something that was definitely not college Reptoid.
Nutmeg knew what to do.
He gave a howl of glee and vaulted the first barricade, whirling his hammer about his head. There came a sound like a pumpkin falling from a castle battlement, and then another, and then another. He was good at his job, Nutmeg.
Lucy strolled around the tables. The strange, horrible smell got stronger as she neared a bubbling cauldron; a quick peer over the edge was enough to put her appetite off for a few weeks. Nutmeg had made quick work of the kobolds, but one was still trying to crawl to its fallen crossbow. Lucy drew her little dagger and pounced, pinning the kobold’s hand to the table nearby. When Nutmeg raised his hammer to finish this final foe, Lucy waved her arms frantically.
“NO!” she shouted. “Prisoner!”
Nutmeg jabbed a finger in his ear, squinted at her, then nodded. He set down his big warhammer – now gore-spattered – and pulled from his belt a smaller, hand-sized hammer. “WHAT SHOULD I ASK THIS ONE?”
Oh, gods. Lucy pulled out another piece of parchment. The kobold prisoner was shaking with fear, and Nutmeg kicked the little lizard-man goodnaturedly. Lucy did her best to draw “how many of there are you?” using little stick figures and big question marks.
Nutmeg had picked up a good number of talents on the streets of Lone Tower. Among them was a knack for languages. He might not have been an expert in Old Reptoid, or in High Elvish, or even in Ancient Dwarfese, but he could jabber in pidgins with the best of them. He bellowed the question at the kobold. The little beastling just stared up, defiance writ plain even on its alligator snout.
Languages weren’t the only talent he’d learned on the streets. He lifted the hammer high and brought it smashing down on the kobold’s little finger. It sounded rather like crunching a carrot, and the kobold screamed. Nutmeg repeated his question, and this time the little guy stammered an answer. A dozen or so kobolds, it seemed. But there were more to begin with. Two score or more.
Lucy passed Nutmeg another piece of paper, this time with a dead body and a question mark.
“WHAT IS DEATH?” asked Nutmeg, puzzled.
“Ah, gods, no,” said Lucy. She added a few arrows, and Nutmeg’s face cleared.
“HOW DO WE KILL THEM!”
“No,” said Lucy, for her own sake. “No.” She started over.
At last, Nutmeg got it. “HOW DID THEY DIE!” He turned and repeated the question at ear-splitting volume to the terrified, baffled captive.
Of course, he couldn’t translate the kobold’s reply. Lucy did her best. Curse. Coughs. Fevers. Plague. And then something else, something she didn’t quite catch.
“Again,” she said, in Old Reptoid, hoping it was close enough. “Say it again.”
She listened hard. Stealing. Dead. Something was stealing the dead. Dead humans, dead kobolds. Stolen.
There was little else the kobold could tell them, that was clear. His scaly jaws chattered with fear; his double-lidded eyes were wide and terrified. Lucy pulled her dagger from his hand and pointed at the door. “Here’s the deal,” she said conversationally in the common tongue, as the kobold sat stunned, unsure what to do next. “You’re an evil little shit, and you and your friends probably killed all those nice humans in this mine, which is part of the reason I’m in this shithole town in the first place. So I have very little sympathy for you. However, you’re helpless, weak, and it would make me feel bad to let Nutmeg stave your scaly little dome in. So here’s what we’ll do. I’m going to take one of your toes,” and so saying, she sliced with the dagger, and the little kobold screamed again, “and now every time you look down at that toe, you will remember that we let you live.” She pointed at the door and, in Old Draconic, said “Go. Get out.” She didn’t have to tell him twice.
“WHAT DID YOU SAY?” asked Nutmeg.
Chapter 3 – In Which Lucy’s Cloak Is Torn
By the time they were done sifting through the kobolds’ belongings and raiding the larder, Nutmeg’s hearing had mostly returned. He’d sniffed out a few gems and gold among the kobolds, and happily packed them away in his duffel. The larder off the kitchen was locked, but didn’t stay locked when the warhammer started swinging. “Some wine,” reported Nutmeg, when he was done with the larder, “and a little ale. And some lamp oil, actually. Potent stuff. Watch your torch.”
“Of course,” said Lucy. “You didn’t drink any of the spirits, did you?”
“As a matter of fact, I did not.” Nutmeg patted a flask on his hip. “Got enough to keep me going today.”
“Good,” said Lucy. “I’ve a feeling the food and drink in here is linked to the curse. The plague. Whatever it is. A sickness.” She relayed the kobold’s ominous warnings, and Nutmeg frowned.
“If someone’s stealing corpses, there’s probably necromancy involved, yeah?”
“Possibly. Experimentation of some sort. Seeing if the plague worked, perhaps.”
“Weird,” said Nutmeg. “I thought this was just one of those ‘clean out the mine’ jobs.”
“Well, we knew about the plague. Curse. Thing. Or at least I did. I was paying attention.”
“I was too,” said Nutmeg. “Just not the whole time.”
At least the pay was good. The man in black, the man who had contacted them in Lone Tower, had made that clear up front. Serious payment for expenses, and then on completion there would be a solid sum. And money was never bad. They’d done some jobs on contract before, but always for a known element – sometimes the local city council, sometimes the merchants, sometimes just a person with money and a need. But this guy, the man in black, had been something new. Nutmeg thought he smelled like money.
They continued down the mine, back out past the wooden carts, then on down the next pathway. This one felt like a mine. It descended into the mountain’s guts. The nice thing about human mines was that Lucy and Nutmeg didn’t have to duck their heads.
The path grew steeper, and Nutmeg held up a hand. “Wait just a moment,” he said. He knelt and laid a hand on the floor of the cavern. In the distance, down the shaft, a soft blue light welcomed them to continue onward. Magic? Lucy readied herself.
“There’s a trap,” announced Nutmeg. “Someone’s dug a pit. Ten feet ahead. See the seam?” He gestured to one of the countless cracks in the earth of the tunnel. “You step on that trigger,” and here he gestured to one of the innumerable small stones, “and you’ll go down about-” he paused, tapping the ground with his pinky “-twenty feet. Give or take.”
“Can we avoid it?”
“Sure,” said Nutmeg. “Just don’t step on that trigger.” He pointed to a rock that may or may not have been the rock previously indicated.
“Goodness,” said Lucy. “Fine.” She tiptoed to the edge of the tunnel wall, and slid past, grimacing when a loose thread from her cloak caught on a splinter from the timber tunnel supports. That would cost to repair. Not much, a few gold, but still – the point was to make money on these ventures.
At the end of the tunnel, past Nutmeg’s trap, the walls opened up and they stepped out into an enormous cavern. The ceiling climbed high into the mountain. Green-blue lichen glowed on the walls and crags, pulsing with eerie phosphorescence. In the glow, flecks of silver glittered in one hand-cut wall of the great cavern.
“See that?” said Nutmeg, and when she looked she saw. There was a hollow cut into the silver wall, maybe thirty feet off the ground. A cunning rope ladder led up to the hollow. “More kobolds?”
The answer came in the form of a kobold. One scaly head poked out from the hollow in the wall, wearing an oversized iron helm and brandishing a spear. “Who is?” shouted the kobold. “Who goes?”
Many years ago, before she settled in Lone Tower, before the good times, Lucy had bought a little pocket-sized crossbow off a fellow gnome merchant. The crossbow fit neatly into her robes, and was designed such that a bolt rested near the firing mechanism. With a flick of her wrist, the crossbow was up and out, the bolt slipping into place with practiced ease. “Eat arrows, shithead,” said Lucy. Her finger closed on the trigger.
“Wait, wait, wait,” said Nutmeg. “Wait. Wait,” he said again, when Lucy angled the crossbow a little higher. The bolt would take the little bastard right between the eyes. Maybe it was the one she’d let get away, but there was still some unsated bloodlust stirring in her soul.
Nutmeg eyed the first kobold. “We are warriors,” said Nutmeg, in pidgin Reptoid, “sent to clean these mines.”
The kobold’s head disappeared. There came a chattering from in the hollow, a yipping and yapping, the sound of kobold debate. Then the head returned.
“My name is N’dok,” said the kobold with the helmet, “and I am a mighty sorcerer, a great master of kobold lore and art. I led my tribe here to seek fortune and wealth. We found only death and disease.” He raised his spear in the air, and there was almost a quiet nobility to the horrid little lizard-gremlin. “We wanted to raise our children here, in these tunnels beneath the earth, far from the reach of the savages in the west and the cold winds of the north.”
“So,” said Nutmeg, as Lucy fiddled with her crossbow, “you killed the humans?”
“We did,” admitted N’dok. “We did. But you must understand. We did not know. We did not know of the evil in the deep cave.”
“Yeah, about that,” said Nutmeg. “What can you tell us about, you know, curses? Stuff like that?”
“There is something down there,” said N’dok, darkly. “Something which eats and breathes, I am sure. I sense dark magic.”
“Okay, sure,” said Nutmeg. The conversation was getting stale. “Look, I think we can let you guys go alive.” He turned to Lucy and repeated it in the common tongue. She squinted up at the kobold. “Think we can let them go?” asked Nutmeg.
“I suppose we could,” she said, lowering her crossbow. “The guy just said to clean out the mines. And mostly the problem is the curse, right?”
“Yeah, I think so,” said Nutmeg. “Granted: pretty sure they did kill the miners.”
“Oh no doubt. No doubt. But come on. They were going to die anyway.”
“Well, yes, okay.” Nutmeg hefted his warhammer. “Fine then. I’m going to tell these kobolds they can fuck off as long as they stay away from Hegemony lands.”
“Hold up. Ask them if they have any loot.”
“Tetsek gabool du?” called Nutemg. There was a pause, then a weary affirmative.
In the end, there had been ten little kobolds hiding up in the wall. A few of them were clearly hatchlings, still with their eggskin on, shrunken, underfed things. N’dok lowered down two barrels of silver ore as well, offering them to Nutmeg and Lucy. Nutmeg licked a chunk experimentally and gave Lucy a grin. “It’s the good stuff,” he said. “No doubt about it.”
“Remember,” Lucy said to the kobolds, in the common tongue, “if I see you in Hegemony lands again – ” she brandished her crossbow – “veknat!”
One of the koboldlings burst into tears, and the sad procession hurried away, up and out of the accursed mine.
Chapter 4 – In Which Things Smell Quite Bad
“You didn’t have to yell at children,” said Nutmeg.
“I beg to differ,” said Lucy.
They carried on, after escorting the kobolds out and stashing the new barrels of silver up by the wagons. Quite a haul so far. Nutmeg’s thews ached just to look at the wagon. Lucy wasn’t built for heavy loads; it would be up to him to get that down the mountain again. They descended. The passage narrowed, and grew warmer and warmer as they wandered deeper into the caverns. Here, the once-sturdy timbers and wall supports were shaky and poor. Even Lucy’s torchlight hardly seemed an adequate defense against the cloying darkness.
The darkness grew, and the heat grew, and the sweat began to pour. Nutmeg’s undershirt was drenched in moments. A smell, too, wafted up, rank and rotten.
“I’ve decided I hate this place,” said Nutmeg.
“Mmf,” said Lucy, who had wrapped her cloak about her face.
In the streets of Lone Tower, Nutmeg had met sickness face-to-face many times. The Rocky Burrow, where the beggars begged and the lepers lept, stank of bodies and bile, of miasma and foul secretions. The same smell drifted up from the chamber below. Lucy tapped him on the shoulder.
“We shouldn’t breathe this air,” she said, her voice already hoarse. “The curse. The plague. I’d bet twenty gold pieces it’s coming from here.”
“What if we have to fight?” Nutmeg slapped his hammer. “N’dok said something about living things.”
“If we have to fight, fight fast.”
They descended further. The heat, the smell; it felt as though they were walking into a fever. Nutmeg puffed up his cheeks and held his breath, and they stepped out into the next wide chamber.
Waves of heat washed through this cave, thickening the air around them. Cracks in the ground issued wavery gouts of steam. The hot blood of the earth was down there, boiling the very air of the cave. The chamber itself was a tight bowl. The floor was littered with corpses. Kobolds, humans, even a goblin or two, all preyed upon by rats, skittering through the sea of bodies, pausing occasionally to nibble at a choice morsel. A host of mouldering rat-corpses lay nearby, some still twitching.
“Mrf,” said Nutmeg, thickly. Lucy made a similar noise. Even holding his breath, Nutmeg could still taste the putrefaction, the horrid slime in the air. On the other side of the cavern, though, another tunnel curved away into darkness, and over the sound of chewing rats, the rush of distant water burbled, dreamlike.
Lucy pushed past Nutmeg, hustling forward through the corpses. She would certainly have to wash her cloak after this one. So intent was she on reaching the next tunnel that she almost didn’t notice the hand rising up from the mass of the massacred, the hand with the flesh sloughing off and the fingernails long and crooked.
But Nutmeg noticed.
He let out his breath in a rush and a bellow, and dove forward with his hammer high. In a flash it came down, and smashed the hand into jelly. The rest of the corpse shuddered like a thing possessed, and then lumbered to its feet, groaning.
Other groans answered. Other bodies rose. Nutmeg and Lucy ran.
The undead things shambled faster than seemed possible. Lucy hopped and dashed through the pit, past gory messes and perturbed rats. Nutmeg ran backwards, facing the things which walked. “Gahh,” said one of them, a thing that had once been a human miner, still dressed in the rags he’d died in. A crossbow bolt jutted from the corpse’s neck, rotten with age and slime. Most of the thing’s head had been caved in. Nutmeg would’ve liked a closer look at the wound; a mace, most likely, or some similar large crushing weapon. A weapon that had been wielded left-handed, as well. Curious. The thing got too close for comfort, and Nutmeg battered it to the ground, smearing his warhammer with filth.
“Come on!” shouted Lucy, who had made it to the tunnel. “Hurry up!”
Three more undead things stumbled through the pit toward them. Nutmeg was breathing heavily now, soaked in sweat. The sound of rushing water was louder. He could use a bath. “Be right there,” he said, and ran to meet his foe.
The splatter of hammer on flesh was like a kind of music, percussive, echoey in the tiny cavern. The trick with undead things was to reduce them to such vile jelly that they were effectively no longer one entity but several. Nutmeg was not inexperienced in those matters. He shrugged off the foul miasma, the stench from their bodies, the heat in the air; in battle, none of that mattered.
When at last he ascended from the pit, drenched in grave-juice, Lucy was waiting. “You just had to, didn’t you?” she said. “Now we’ve got to stop by the temple in town and see if they can check you over for plague.”
“I’ll be fine,” said Nutmeg. “Remember that time everyone else at Burley’s Bouncing Bedsheets got the clabberpox except for me? Sickness-proof, I am.”
“Gods, sure, fine,” said Lucy. “Let’s go. I think we’re nearing a spring or something.”
Sure enough, the tunnel led up steeply – almost a scramble – until they emerged in a far more welcoming cavern than the last one. This was a large place, a massive cathedral in the rock. From one wall poured a clear stream of water, a spring that carried on across the room until it disappeared through a hole in the far wall. In the center of the stream was a pillar of stone, a colossal natural column, jagged, lined with that same phosphorescent moss from the silver mine below. Weird red glyphs glowed on the pillar, in a strange tongue neither of them recognized. As the clear mountain water passed the pillar, it turned a rancid grey, cloudy and befouled by some strange magic.
Then everything went dark, and a guttural voice cried “Fools! You’ve blundered into my lair!”
“For fuck’s sake,” said Lucy.
Chapter 5 – In Which Someone Reads Something
Lucy drew from her one of her pockets a small, desiccated, long-dead firefly, and with a word tossed it into the air. The little dead bug glowed, and glowed brighter, and then the chamber was filled with light once more.
And in the light, they saw.
Orcs were an uncommon sight, even here along the Hegemony’s northern border. Orcs like this were even rarer. The thing was near seven feet tall, gaunt and bony, clad only in a loincloth. A stone symbol hung around its neck on a leather thong. It held a crude crossbow, and a menacing mace was strapped to its back. When the firefly’s light burst forth, the orc snarled, enraged, and shot a bolt.
It thudded into Lucy’s leg.
“Shit,” she said, and sank to one knee. It hurt, it hurt, it hurt. “Gods, shit,” she said again. “Nutmeg, kill that fucker.”
“I’ll need some help,” said Nutmeg, as the orc dropped the crossbow and unstrapped the huge mace, hefting it in its left hand. “Got some magic for your little buddy?”
“Ugh.” She reached for another pouch, and pulled out a bit of powdered iron ore. Another word of command. She puffed on the powder, and it blew into Nutmeg’s face. The dwarf sputtered. And grew. He grew, and grew, until he was a few feet taller than the shocked orc. Nutmeg gave a happy yell and ran to meet his challenger.
The orc raised its free hand and spoke words of command in its own tongue. A foul mist spread from its fingertips, writhing like a serpent toward Nutmeg. Lucy called out – “Careful! The plague-!” but it was far too late. Nutmeg coughed as the mist wormed down his throat, up his nostrils, into his body.
He was definitely going to have to visit the temple now.
If anything, though, the mist made him madder. He whirled the hammer above his head. Then crashed it down. The orc parried with the mace, but stumbled. Nutmeg swung again. And again. The orc dodged and leapt, cursing all the while, laying about itself with the mace as best it could. It caught a blow on Nutmeg’s thigh, and the nine-foot-tall-dwarf roared with rage.
Lucy pulled experimentally on the crossbow bolt. Nope, that hurt. By the gods, why did it always go this way? She could’ve stayed at home in Lone Tower, reading some of High Mage Yurrianna’s latest Treatise on the Planar Instabilities, but no, no, she just had to go gallivanting off with Nutmeg. Again. She fished for the pocket crossbow, knocked the bolt into place, and pinged off a shot at the snarling orc.
She caught the orc right in the leg, in the exact same spot it had shot Lucy. The orc looked down, more in surprise than in pain. It was all Nutmeg needed.
The orc’s brains burst from the back of its head, washing into the water of the spring. And then, at last, all was quiet.
It was almost tranquil, in fact. The burbling water, the glow from the phosphorescent moss; it was all so peaceful that Lucy nearly forgot about the pain in her leg, until she tried to stand and toppled over, swearing. Nutmeg, still colossal, hopped across the stream to the other side, where the orc had apparently set up a crude camp. The camp was little more than a bedroll and a backpack, but the dwarf rifled through the bag, and came up grinning.
“He was prepared!” boomed Nutmeg. “Looks like some good medicine to me.”
He tossed a little vial over to Lucy, who had to scramble to catch it. She inspected the red fluid, murmured a few magic words, and nodded. “Medicine indeed.” She uncorked the stopper with her teeth and chugged the whole thing. The bolt popped out of her leg with a squelch; the flesh knitted together. “It’s almost too easy,” she said. “What else did he have?”
“Some scrolls,” said Nutmeg, visibly disgusted. “You know how I feel about scrolls.”
“Written language in general, yes.” Lucy forded the spring. The corrupted water even smelled funky, a musty, unhealthy odor, like liquid mold flowed down the mountainside. “Some sort of orc shaman who set up shop to poison Torold’s Pass. Interesting. Pity we knocked his brains out; might’ve been nice to ask him some questions.”
“Eh.” Nutmeg continued to rifle through the backpack. “Hey, he had some amethysts! Alright! You know the jewelers love those.”
Lucy was busy with the scrolls. The spells were written in the command words of magic, the universal script that morphed and wiggled and changed by the moment. “We can sell most of these,” she said. “Not that useful. But – hang on -” One of the scrolls caught her eye. The command words spoke of restore, of balance, of pure. “Let me try something.”
“The last time you said that,” said Nutmeg, taking a swig from his now-gigantic flask, “you gave me hives.”
“I didn’t know you were allergic,” she said, and read the command words from the scroll. When her chant was finished, she pointed at the eerie, glowing glyphs lining the stone pillar. A sound of wind came rushing. Her fingers trembled, and the softest light in the world spilled forth, painting over the glyphs with blessed oblivion. The glyphs faded. The water cleared. The filth washed away.
“By the Nine Stars,” said Nutmeg, finally shrinking to a reasonable size. “I think we’ve done it, Lucy.”
“I think you’re right,” she said. “Once we get our cart down the mountain.”
“Ah, shit,” said Nutmeg.