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Chapter 33 - Aoife

Neera closed the ledger and held it tight against her chest. Their new friend Anders finished getting dressed while he rattled off question after question. He had an odd look to him, part manicured bookworm, part feral man.

It was kinda cute.

Outnumbered and severely outmatched, Anders was surprisingly demanding in his questioning. Within a matter of minutes, he knew everyone’s name, all about the airship crash, the death of the Cleric, Neera’s abilities and their fears about the nature of Everspring’s destruction. The man was as efficient as he was thorough, she had to give him that much.

Aoife remained quiet during the entire conversation, an outside observer witnessing the barrage of questions. Moswen leaned in every now and then to fill her in on some of the story details he felt were missing from the time before she joined their group. As if she didn’t already know most of them. She’d been there to experience it herself after all.

Aoife wondered just how long they had before a swarm of angry hunters showed up. Surely their intrusion was bound to be noticed. They hadn’t exactly used a light touch to get in. She hadn’t even had a chance to ask a thing about the Mazewilds, the Drae, anything that would help her. And they still needed to make their way out safely. Anders needed to speed things up.

Once the somehow-rugged-but-delicate man had run out of questions, he extended a gentle hand to Neera. “Do you mind?” he asked. She was still hesitant to hand over the ledger, but this was the man they had all traveled to meet. She reluctantly handed him the book.

“He said it was a warning,” she said.

“Erathos said that? The man this belonged to?”

“Yeah, but I don’t know what he meant.”

“Hmm.” He opened the ledger to the first page and began leafing through the pages slowly. “The last Cleric...” he muttered to himself.

Having never seen the ledger herself, Aoife grew increasingly interested as well. Since it was apparently written in code, Anders wasn’t actually reading the pages, but he considered each one carefully, one at a time. What he could possibly be inferring from the pages was a mystery. As he thumbed through them, Aoife couldn’t help but notice they were filled with words written in a script both familiar and totally foreign. The language was harsh with no flow between characters. Each letter stood alone, disconnected. It gave her a strange sense of both recognition and utter unfamiliarity.

“So?” Neera nudged him. “What language is it?”

“Kyrill? You don’t recognize it?”

“Should I?” he asked, completely lost.

“Hmm, perhaps not. I assumed you might at least be familiar with it. It is your namesake afterall.”

“Sorry, what?”

“It’s Kyrillic, or at least the script is.” When nobody seemed to take the bait, he continued. “It’s an ancient language, pieces of which have been absorbed and recycled into the alphabet you know today.”

“And as a historian, you just so happen to speak this ancient language!” Isha exclaimed.

“Nope! Not a word.”


“The thing is, this uses the Kyrillic alphabet, but it’s not actually written in the language. It’s gibberish.”

“If you could stop fucking with us and get on to the point you’re trying to make and actually help with our massive fucking undertaking, that’d be great.”

“Right, sorry. It’s not written in the Kyrillic language, because it’s not simply language. It’s code. A substitution cipher, to be exact. Created for the sole purpose of keeping the information contained within these pages secret.”

“Not secret anymore, buddy.”

“Keep flipping,” Neera said. “It gets... weird after a while.”

Neera’s suggestion piqued his interest and he quickly flipped through until the pages “got weird.” The ledger, as one might expect, was written in a very neat and orderly fashion. It wasn’t a journal; it was data, arranged in tidy columns. Until it wasn’t. All of a sudden, as if changing from night to day, the carefulness with which it had been written was thrown out the window. Notes were haphazardly scrawled across the page, drawings and diagrams and formulas filled any unused space with no regard to the ledger’s intended structure. There hadn’t been any dates on the preceding pages, or at least none that were encoded, but Aoife had a strong suspicion that things might have changed around the time of Everspring’s destruction.

Anders spent a significantly longer time examining the “weirder” pages, oftentimes spinning the ledger around as notes were wedged into the margins and turned against corners. At times, the pages reminded Aoife of her childhood, of her time spent in school, of the other children filling the margins of their math pages with stick figure people killing each other, 3d cubes and pyramids, flowers and stars and the ‘cool S.’ Aoife was fascinated at first, but she was quickly losing interest in page after page of the unintelligible nonsense. She was ready to leave Anders to his own devices when he flipped the page once more and a sketchy drawing on the page caught her eye.

“Hey, wait, I know that.”

She pushed Anders aside, grabbed the ledger and brought it in front of her, tracing her fingers over the tree roots spilling out across the page, stirring the circumference of the pool within. It was undeniable, a striking resemblance to the strange, bath-like upside-down-tree-thing she’d witnessed inside the tower at the middle of the Drae barren. She was no artist—though neither was Erathos it seemed—but if she were she would have no trouble recreating it from memory alone. It was ingrained in her memory, a picture-perfect, detailed image. A hidden Drae barren in the middle of the Mazewilds is eerie all on its own, but something weird enough to stand out in those surroundings? You don’t forget something like that.

“You were in Everspring?” Anders asked her.

The question caught her off guard. It was one truth she intended to remain hidden, yet here the man was, cutting to her core.


“You said you’ve seen this before? It’ll take quite some time to decode an entire book, but the big letters at the top of the page? That clearly says Everspring.” He tapped his finger against the page’s titular line, big bold letters with a thick underline. This was important. “And this right here.” He pointed down the page at the aerial view sketch of the Everspring, the oasis, encircled by the three obelisks that surrounded it. “That’s a pretty good indicator.”

“The thing I saw...” She hesitated, much like Neera had. This was her secret, but this was also the man that would hopefully help shed some light on the Drae, give her the direction she so desperately desired. “It was in the Mazewilds.”

“The Mazewilds?” he asked.

“Bullshit,” Moswen said.

“The Mazewilds?!” Neera cheered.

“Don’t believe me. I don’t give a shit. I’m not interested in trying to convince anyone.”

“I believe you!” Neera cheered again.

“Neera, that’s nice, but I don’t care.” She turned to look Anders in the eyes, her face serious and uncaring. “You. Why did the Cleric draw that in his ledger? Is there really one in Everspring? What is it?”

The bombardment of questions which Anders had no way of knowing the answers to left him in a daze. “I won’t be able to know anything for sure until I can decode the ledger...”

“Erathos did want to take a short detour to fly over the Mazewilds,” Isha butt in. “Maybe he wanted to investigate those questions himself.”

The Cleric knew something about the Drae’s pool and had very likely been looking into the Drae themselves, even if he didn’t know it. Aoife felt a tinge of regret upon realizing she had killed the one man who could have likely helped her the most against the Drae. Hopefully Anders could fill the sudden void.

“You’re holding something back, Aoife. What is it?”

“Yeah, you came here for your own reasons, but I think it’s time you filled us all in on what that reason is.”

“I’ve been investigating the Mazewilds,” Aoife said, again holding back.

“We gathered as much. Why?”

She knew she couldn’t do it alone. And here were people quickly becoming her friends who seemed to have goals aligned with her own. Opening herself up was a risk, but one she had to take.

“I came here because I need help...”

Wait, no, back up.

“I lost someone very important to me and...”

Too far back, forget all that.

“The pool that I saw,” she tapped the drawing, “was inside a tower... in the middle of a Drae barren.”

“The Drae?!” Neera was already on the edge of her seat, but at the mention of the Drae the girl lost her godsdamned mind.

“Yeah, except they ain’t heroes like in the stories. Bunch of fucking sadists more like it.”

“You found a barren in the middle of the mazewilds,” Moswen said, his non-question riddled with disbelief. For someone who wildly embellished his stories, he didn’t seem to trust the words of anyone else’s, suddenly scrutinizing the details of her’s.

“I did. People were living there. Had been. Hidden behind massive walls in the middle of nowhere. Maybe a dozen or so structures, one of which was a dedicated prison and torture chamber. The place had already been long abandoned by the time I got there.”

“If you had to guess, how long had it been? A hundred years? Two hundred?”

“No, no. It was a little dusty, maybe, but still in pretty good shape. It couldn’t have been long since they left. Maybe a year tops.”

“Okay, wait, wait, wait, wait, wait,” Anders stammered, closing his eyes and raising his hand. The man needed to think and something was hindering that, the junkie. “If it was really that recent...” He was mostly just talking out loud to himself. “Something is definitely going on here.”

“You gonna share with the rest of the class?” Isha asked.

“Yeah, yeah, umm... okay. So, for the longest time, there had been rumors of dangerous beasts within the Mazewilds. Up until somewhat recently, they remained rumors, but we now have proof that they were true. And we mounted that proof on the walls of this very lodge.”

And give impassioned barroom speeches for killing oversized house cats.

“Aoife here has found proof that people were also living in the Mazewilds, but aren’t anymore. Up until somewhat recently,” he reiterated the words, punctuating them, drawing the connection. “And during the time all this change was occurring, Everspring was demolished. Two is coincidence, but three is a pattern. These things have to be connected.”

“What about the other rumor about the Mazewilds?” Kyrill said. “That anybody who goes in never makes it back out?” He motioned towards Aoife. “Clearly that’s not real, right?”

“It is for most,” she answered, “but I’m also not the first to make it out. I had help, a mentor. I don’t think I experienced it myself—maybe I was lucky—but I was told the Mazewilds did something to disorient travelers, turning them around. They try to find a way out only to get pulled further in. Trapped.”

“I’ve felt it before,” Moswen said. “And not even inside, just approaching it. It felt wrong.”

“What if these so-called Drae,” Anders’ theorizing continued, “trapped in the forest and cut off from society, had tamed the beasts of the Mazewilds? And now that they’re somehow free, the savages are using the beasts to wreak havoc across the empire?”

“They might be a bunch of sadists, but I don’t know about savages.” Aoife said.

“What if they’re like that guy from Shaded Seed?” Neera asked. “And his hawk, Kira?”

“Leven,” Isha said wistfully.

“He could control Kira, see through her eyes and everything. What if the Drae can control the beasts?”

“Impossible,” Anders dismissed the notion. “The only person ever powerful enough to...” He trailed off as his train of thought was derailed. “Fuck.”

“What?” Isha asked, suddenly tense.

Anders disregarded the question and looked into Aoife’s eyes with a surprising intensity. “The bodies you found in the Mazewilds, in the barren... You said they were tortured.”

“Yeah, they were strapped to tables and had—”

“Bamboo,” he interrupted. He motioned with his hands and mimicked his chest exploding. It wasn’t close to what the Drae’s victims likely endured, but it got the point across.

“How the fuck did you know that?”

“It’s how the Empire used to torture people. Empire with a capital E. Sentencing them to a horrific, slow and painful death.”

“What does that mean?!” Isha exclaimed.

“Your friend with the hawk, he can control the bird. He’s a Vaun. It’s one of the several known specialties of magic,” he said, motioning to Neera as if she had any fucking clue what he was talking about. “Impressive, yes, but the hawk is the only animal he can do that with.”

“Of course she is,” Kyrill said, incredulous. Did Anders have a point to make or was he merely stating the obvious? “L’vendros may be special—and he wouldn’t hesitate to show it—but he’s bonded with Kira. It’s the special connection they share that gives him the ability to do that. Kira is giving him permission, allowing him to take control. And since you can only ever bond with one—”

“Actually,” he interrupted again, “I’m fairly certain that’s not entirely how it works. In fact, there was a man—the only one in all of recorded history—that was capable of controlling multiple animals.” Anders held his hand to his forehead as he muttered to himself, strained in thought. “What was his name, what was his name?”

He opened his eyes with a proud but gentle realization.

“Raaz. His name was Raaz.” His smile faded as he continued. “And, he just so happened to be one of the leaders of the old Empire. And everyone knows where The Fifth Pinnacle once stood. The Mazewilds.”

Anders turned to Aoife, an unnerving certainty in his eyes.

“You didn’t find a Drae barren. You found the last remnants of the Empire.”

The group sped through the twisting and turning corridors of The Hawk’s Roost, guided by a surprisingly energetic and focused Anders. The man had grabbed only a small bag before rushing out the door and demanding the rest follow.

“Where are you taking us?” Isha asked, demanding an answer.

“I just need to pick something up first,” Anders answered back, not actually answering her question. His bare feet slapped against tile, then stone, then back to tile again.

“I don’t get it,” Aoife said as she hurried to Anders’ side. “If what I found really was the doings of the Empire, why would you think this Raaz guy is part of it? He would have died hundreds and hundreds of years ago.”

“Sadly, we have no records or accounts of what really happened when the Empire fell so we’re still making assumptions, but the evidence would suggest at least some survived. They, of course, are long dead. It’s possible, however, that these so-called Drae are merely the descendants of the Empire. Magic ability was known to be passed down to offspring. We could be dealing with the great-great-grandson of Raaz for all we know.”

“So it turns out the magic forest people we know as the Drae are actually the asshole children of the most brutal tyrants and dictators in history?” Isha asked rhetorically. She laid a hand on Neera’s shoulder. “Sorry, kiddo.”

Anders turned another countless corner and flung open a set of wide double doors. The creaking doors echoed throughout the wide-open room. The walls were lined with bookcases, shelf upon shelf filled with the most expansive collection Aoife had ever seen. Like so many of the more-impressive rooms within The Hawk’s Roost, a staircase led to a balcony that rung around the second floor. Wheeled ladders were attached to the walls, an exquisite chandelier hung from the center of the ceiling and the floor was filled with tables and desks and a lounge area with couches and comfy chairs. Dust was accumulating on every surface. This wonderful, lovely place seemed like it was rarely used, likely by Anders and Anders alone.

The man walked with determination up the stairs, knowing exactly what he was looking for. Pulling one of the ladders over, he climbed several rungs and began flicking through book spines. His arms stretched wide as he leaned to the side, kicking out his leg to reach the book he came to find. Aoife was surprised to see how well he was capable of balancing, especially considering his state of intoxication. She hardly knew him, but she felt it was a symbolic example of the man: stubborn, but capable.

Anders slid the book out, hopped to the floor and hurriedly made his way down the staircase.

“Quickly now, we haven’t much time.”

Anders made demands and gave directions as if he were suddenly in charge of the group, making decisions for the rest without so much as filling them in on what he was planning, if anything. Isha couldn’t have liked it, but she did as directed like everyone else. Aoife followed suit with an angry reluctance.

She found her patience waning as her frustration grew. Aoife had made the trip to Rotwater in pursuit of guidance and direction, but so far had found neither. Just a man who, regardless of how he tried to spin it, was definitely on a prolonged bender. He’d answered none of her questions and only made things more confusing. The Empire? It had been quite the revelation, sure, but it didn’t really change things for her. She was still after a mysterious group she knew very little about. Perhaps this apparently important book would help shed some light.

“Time for what?” Isha asked as Anders trotted down the staircase, book in hand. “Where are we going?”

“Yeah, where are we going?” a voice behind them asked.

Standing in the library doorway were six heavily armed guards, shields and pikes at the ready.


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Posted by Anonymous on 11.07.20
woah hold up!! is everspring a play on neverwinter!?!?

the empire
The Howl
The Mazewilds
The Shelf
Shaded Seed
Wayfarer's Ridge
A Gentle Scar
Tiller's Hamlet