The Flower in the Sepulcher

Mina's Notebook, pp. 75-77

One of these days, I’ll be able to come home from a ranging, change my clothes, have a cup of tea, and sleep in my nice, soft bed before I have to deal with any new crises. I’m sure it’ll happen eventually. Today was not that day.

The trip back from the Air site was miserable. It stormed the whole way and we could barely keep the charts dry, much less ourselves. The river was running high and fast, so progress was irritatingly slow. Wasn’t easy to get fires going or cook food either. Also, we had to tie up at a public dock and walk back to the Rose. As if that wasn’t miserable enough, our door was kicked open and there was a trail of blood leading into our dining room. The mostly-dead woman in plate armor on our dining room table was a bit of an unpleasant surprise as well.

I had the distinct pleasure of figuring out why she broke into our guildhall – she’s on the run from the Inquisition of the Church of St. Cuthbert. Why they’re after one of their own, I couldn’t say, but whatever their reasons may be, I don’t feel too inclined to help them. See: Galen. There were three of them, working with a rather unpleasant man who could smell blood on the air through the rain and the swamp. Strangely enough, the inquisitors didn’t seem too inclined to ask me many questions, but that man wasn’t easily convinced. Dangerous. I described the device on his shield to Cyrus, who immediately recognized it as the sign of the White Rabbit Runners. I recall Owain’s tangled with them, and that they’re slavers. My snap decision to mislead them was obviously a good one.

From inspecting her gear and rifling through her pack, we’ve figured out a bit more. Her name is Isabella Warden, and she’s a member of the Purifying Sword branch of the Church, a group dedicated to destroying undead and evil outsiders. Cyrus is also fairly sure that she’s an orphan, between the name and the sign of the Charities in her journal, and that she’s been on the run for a while, after leaving with little notice. She doesn’t have a copper to her name, and the only food in her pack is a waterlogged heel of bread.

As for me, I’m supposed to be sleeping right now. Not sure when that’s going to happen, to be honest. Galen’s room went silent before I got up to write this, Finn’s deep in a trance, Clyde’s chasing something in his sleep, and I’m pretty sure I hear Cyrus snoring across the hall. I am going to be so useless in the morning – I’m usually dead asleep hours before he’s off watch. I guess I’ll extinguish this light spell and go stare at the ceiling over my bed some more.

Gods above and below, Drylands. You are incredibly lucky that I don’t know where you usually sleep when we’re in Treff, because if I did, it would be very hard for me to resist the temptation to smother you. It’s not like I didn’t expect to meet the other Lords in Exile eventually, but that dinner was just one long string of minor unpleasantness after the next.

Let’s start with curtsying. And hand-kissing. I guess it’s useful in that you instantly know who’s never gotten laid without paying for the privilege. Oh, and also apparently casting spells at the table is impolite where you come from so I didn’t even get to prestidigitate Bantam slobber off me. Ugh, I still feel dirty just thinking about those two.

And the sheer volume of cutlery. How many different kinds of fork do you people need to eat a relatively uncomplicated dinner? I could understand if crab was on the menu and you needed a fish fork to get the particularly tasty bits out of the shell, but roast beef has no such logistical barriers. It’s a piece of cow. You stab it with the fork, cut it with the knife, use the fork to transfer a smaller bit of cow to your mouth, repeat. Apparently I used the salad fork. I don’t seem to remember a salad even being served, so why was there even a salad fork on the table?

Also I have no idea what to think of your father. At first I assumed asking about my family was just the usual small talk, but five questions in I couldn’t shake the feeling that I was being interrogated. Made me long for the tender comfort of delivering a field report to the Grand Bailiff.

At least you cut that conversation off with an appropriate degree of embarrassment. And said I look nice in the dress I paid fifteen fucking gold for. Fifteen gold. For the record, a (far from complete) list of things I would rather have spent fifteen gold on:

  • two vials of ink.
  • a bullseye lantern for the boat, and enough oil to fuel it for a month.
  • a cage to throw Clyde in if he shreds this dress too.
  • a sack of twenty-nine hammers, purely so I could compare them favorably to your intelligence.

… I feel better now. On a brighter note, my hunch that I wanted to get to know the Limbers was one hundred percent correct. They’re pretty great, and I’m looking forward to taking on that job they offered us. Particularly if it gives me an excuse to go see their workshop up close.

Most of our conclusions about Isabella were confirmed after she woke up (didn’t ask about the orphan thing, seemed a bit irrelevant, not to mention more impolite than casting at the dinner table). Her story is deeply disturbing – while we were in the southern swamp, there was a bloody schism in the Church of St. Cuthbert. The Purifying Sword and the Charities asserted that the cult of Zarus was still active in the Church and needed to be removed and were denounced as heretical, followed closely by an absolute massacre. I can’t claim any real knowledge of the situation, but my gut feeling is that if you feel the need to kill off two factions of your church for even suggesting there’s something wrong, there’s something very wrong.

She’s interested in joining the free company for a time, repaying her debt to us and continuing her work against the undead and outsiders that plague the swamp. I’m hopeful that she’ll make a good addition to the company – I’ve been wanting to take on another warrior since Cyrus’ last mission with the Lords in Exile. If she doesn’t, I’ll figure out a way to get her on an eastward boat – they take a pretty dim view of slavers and religious purges back home, it would probably be the safest place for her to take refuge. Treff isn’t in the Empire’s jurisdiction, but I’m not going to risk the company if she can’t contribute.

We’ve got a few job options lined up, including work for the Trinitarian Church and the Circle of Equals. Those are going to wait, though – the way I see it, that dreadnaught we saw in the sky over the White Forest might just be heading this way, and I want to give the Limbers as much time as possible to get the city some new trebuchets. Considering they won’t even be able to start logging the liveoak for the arms until we clear out the site, helping them is priority number one. We’re taking Isabella along with us. She isn’t comfortable going out in the city with the Inquisition and the Runners after her, so she hasn’t been outside of the Rose in days. Aside from getting her out for some fresh air, I want to see what she can do in combat.

The Limbers had an interesting problem on their hands indeed – their liveoak grove was in the middle of a wild magic zone. My instruction on those at the Academy was “dangerous, avoid”… to be honest, most of the stuff we’ve been dealing with as a free company was on the “dangerous, avoid” list. The raw power running in the place makes magic behave… strangely. I could feel the power fluctuating wildly when I cast, and there were a host of strange effects. I swapped Isabella into a combat and it took no time at all – a trick that us naturals have a very hard time getting a handle on. One of my lightning bolts went off with a dragon roar – an effect I wish I could reproduce! Of course, the church bells ringing when I cast invisibility on Finn were less desirable. It’s not unlikely that there are more of these zones in the swamp – they’re generated by damaged arcane foci, and I’m sure the Mosquito Kingdom didn’t stop with one. Fortunately the focus was easily shut down with a simple dispel magic and some level of resignation with regards to absorbing some arcane backlash. I’ll make sure to pass that information on to the Traveler’s Collective and the Four Corners.

The wild magic zone led to some very strange creatures indeed – spellwarped ettins, vaporighus half-summoned from Gehenna such that they couldn’t be merely dismissed, and a truly terrifying gray render, warped by the Far Realms to a twisted mockery of Material geometry. The entire time, my magic was sparking and hissing and not nearly as effective as it should have been. On top of dealing with the wild magic, everything we fought seemed to just shrug off my spells – well, except for my lightning breath. I didn’t feel the wild magic straining against it at all. I’d assumed it was just another trick I’d figured out, another way to manipulate the arcane power of lightning. Galen, Finn, Cyrus, and Isabella don’t seem to think it’s anything worth commenting on – I guess they think it’s a spell. I’m not so sure anymore, but I’ll keep that to myself for the moment.

Isabella proved very useful – fearless, powerful, and ferocious. The moments Cyrus has where he just snaps and drops his defenses so he can slam something into the ground? That’s very moment of every fight for Isabella. She doesn’t have his finesse and elegance, but he doesn’t have her ability to make every blow devastating. I do agree with her self-assessment of being most effective against undead and outsiders, so I think it’d be best to take her for missions dealing primarily with those creatures. Not as if there’s a deficit of those in the swamp.

I remember a dream again – well, snippets of a dream. I don’t remember any images, but I remember a voice, a deep female voice speaking Draconic. She didn’t speak the clean, precise dialect I learned in school, but it wasn’t lizardfolk Draconic either. I don’t remember exactly what she said, but I woke up with ideas swimming in my head. Maybe she inspired me.

I need to go talk to Alain. Isabella is technically a fugitive, and even if the people after her have no jurisdiction here, that doesn’t mean they won’t cause trouble for us. I’m hoping the Moss-Covered Sword can help with that – if anyone does have jurisdiction here, they do, and having some kind of lawful authority approving her residency at the Rose will probably put Isabella’s mind at ease. For that matter, her particular talents would be incredibly useful to the Order’s mission. I also pulled out that old leather case from the bottom of my haversack and wrote up a letter of introduction for Isabella, dated two weeks ago and “signed” by Jens Master, Harbormaster at Stone Table. The Runner I shove the letter at won’t know that I’ve been forging his signature since I was in primary school, and with any luck it’ll confuse them long enough for me to get an actual authority figure between us.

I’m also going to ask Alain if he could find out about my mother’s family for me. Everyone else seems so bloody interested. I suppose I could ask Marin to look too, but she’s in the intelligence corps now. Even if the letter got to her, she might not be inclined to help a friend she hasn’t seen in years with a personal question. If her visions are anything like Alain’s, I’m sure she has heavier thoughts to contend with. A storm in the swamp, blood in the cathedral. I’m glad I’ve never had that particular talent. I don’t need to see all the worries of the world.



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