Part 33: Ghosts

3 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

Another day of nothing to report for travel. Sorry, Heath, I might go back to how I started this journal when Shadow and I were adventuring together. Nothing happened in the Wyldwoods today and I suspect nothing will happen during the next few days before we arrive at the Dead Falls. It’s not that I don’t mean to write to you! It’s just that I know it would be very boring to read three entries that all say the same thing: “Today I walked until Shadow said we could stop. Then I made food. Then Actaeon said something funny. Then Rendu played some music. Then Torag snored too loud. Then Clio stabbed her doll a bunch. Then Shadow did/did not catch a fish. Then Briar did something silly. Then I slept. I need a bath.”

That said, we arrived at the Sour Vintage tonight, so something interesting did happen! It’s so very different from the last time we were here. It used to be just a quaint little tavern on the road, but it’s so much larger now. A plaque now sits at the entrance that reads, “Birthplace of the Heroes of Prophesy.” It has apparently drawn a lot of attention. There are more rooms, the common room is absolutely packed with people, and the staff is much larger now. Poor Aetala probably couldn’t handle the booming business all my herself, but she’s had the chance to hire some new folk to help her out. There’s even a wing of the building, an addon, for centaurs to stay. We’re certain that is all because of Briar!

Aetala and the crowd were extremely pleased to see us and showered us with free drinks and food. That right there is such a switch! When we all first met here, none of us had a lot of money and we had to carefully budget. Right now, our purses are a bit heavier and Aetala is sending free appetizers out. Our deeds in the Wyldwood have brought a lot of attention to the Sour Vintage, though, and she’s terribly thankful for it.

We had a lot of fun here. For starters, Dia’s been publishing my abilities in all of her works so no one seems bothered by the fact I was Heath when I came here, I was Flee a few days later, and I am Leef right now. All my life I was told I was a nurh malai1, but here, no one was bothered at all. I mean, I believed Damon when he told me to just be myself, but it’s nice to see that happening over and over again. I don’t have to pretend anymore, and it’s utterly freeing.

Briar was tired so Aetala led her to her very own room before giving each of us a key to our own. I guess we have permanent rooms at the Sour Vintage if we need them. Torag, despite having never actually been to the Sour Vintage before, cashed in on his free drinks and started having a private party with himself and about six different beverages. Actaeon was feeling uneasy again – remember, he was uneasy when we were first here – so he hid in the back of the room and just listened and watched. Corinna and Pholon sat with some travelers and regaled them with our stories. Shadow went to the kitchens to talk to the cooks and came out with the largest and spiciest plate of salmon I think I’ve ever seen. Something to note when I speak with Dia next: if Shadow offers you spicy salmon, do not accept. I might not be able to taste anything again for the rest of my life.

Clio and I found a table and I went to the bar to order us some drinks. I remember she told me that she doesn’t want spirited beverages anymore, and I remember I said I would try my best to do the same, so I went to the bartenders to ask for some tea instead. Rendu, as it turns out, has never been to the Sour Vintage either, and he wanted to pay for his drinks. Aetala wouldn’t allow it since he bears the same Mark as we, so they compromised and Rendu became an impromptu bartender. He and I flirted with each other as I asked for the “hot bartender” to serve me, and he gave me that silly, impish wink when he did. I see why the guys and girls like him, but I wanted to get back to Clio. Briar eventually came back out and stood by us for a second before awkwardly finding Torag and… Actually, Heath, I have no idea what she was doing there.

I learned a thing about Shadow that perhaps I already knew, and I think the rest of the party suspected it, too. He seems so much healthier outside of Ellandyr. I thought it was a city thing at first. You know, how both Clio and Briar feel more comfortable outdoors than in large, populated spaces? For Shadow, I think Ellandyr just bothers him. Too many bad memories. Since we left, he’s been chipper and hopeful. It’s just like when he and I traveled together before we met the others. He told me war stories and told me what kinds of vegetables he grew on his farm. I told him about the wildflowers and sailing on the Golden Cutlass with what I suspected were pirates. He taught me how to use that crossbow I found and I proved to him how utterly useless I am with hunting. We had fun together, and he’s always been so very protective of me. Looking back, he probably just saw me as some weird guy from a far away place who didn’t know much of anything. Well, not much has changed there, now that I think about it.

Tonight, he got the group to dance with him. And I’m proud to say I danced my booty off! Rendu got Briar to dance, and they both looked so very happy. Even Clio got up to dance a little. I’m not sure what Actaeon was doing, but Torag refused to dance. He said he needed to be fully drunk to do that, though he was already about nine drinks in.

At the end of the night, the group met up in Briar’s room to discuss the next few days of our journey. Oh! Before I forget, we made a new friend! I met an oread nymph named Kano. He’s a legendary hunter of some kind, having previously slain a Verdant Sun’s Avatar some fifty years ago, and he’s pretty well-known around here. Kano is currently on the hunt for information on the Dreaming Sun’s Avatar, and another Sun’s Avatar that has no other title (that is, it is the Sun’s Avatar). The hunter is on his way to Ellandyr to do some research and compete in the Great Games, and I offered to buy him a drink when we meet him there. Shadow wants to go hunting with him.

Quick group meeting: we discussed the rumors we overheard in the Sour Vintage. Apparently the ghost ship has been occasionally sighted in the Lethe River east of here, but Torag didn’t hear any actual confirmation on that. Shadow heard that most people say to avoid the Dead Falls because no one returns. And I quickly read through your scriptures for passages on ghosts, telling my companions that a ghost can possess you and you know you’re near one when you feel the overwhelming senses of loss and sadness. Briar, Rendu, and I can all cast a blessing that protects us from ghosts, so we’ve got plenty to back us up on the ghost ship. We are as ready as we can be.

Here I sit in my room, writing this entry, with a throat that thirsts for a stronger drink. It was very nice to sit and chat with Clio tonight. She and I don’t get to spend a lot of time together. I’ve spent plenty of alone time with Shadow and Briar, and lately with Torag as I hopelessly try to train him for the Great Games. Now that I think about it, I haven’t yet gotten to have any one-on-one time with Actaeon or Rendu yet. That’s fine about Actaeon. That man intimidates me, but in a good way. As far as spending time with Rendu, we just haven’t yet had the opportunity, apart from playing together at the tavern back in Ellandyr. Clio and I just talked about our adventures, Briar’s silliness, Actaeon’s aloofness, Rendu’s bartending skills (he’s a show-off), Shadow’s change in psyche and his love for overly spicy food, my inability to eat spicy food, and making bets on how many drinks Torag would consume before finally having to excuse himself to find a chamberpot. Side note: it was fifteen.

Tea is fine. I can get used to tea. You always wanted me to stop drinking. I wonder if I’m strong enough to actually do that?

1 to Wakening Sun, Voelis

See? I don’t have to write each day! Absolutely nothing happened along the way, other than Briar awkwardly remembering that she danced with Rendu. You know, she mentioned how bad she was at dancing, but I thought she danced splendidly.

Keledone visited us this morning and gave me an alchemy jug. Yay, infinite supply of water, vinegar, and mayonnaise! What exactly was I planning on doing with this? I used it to make some poison for one of Actaeon’s spears. Not sure if that helps or not. Rendu got his new chakram from Azorius. Shadow got his new bow (he said its name is Rare’s Thorn). They both look so very pleased to have their cool magic items. Briar ordered a staff from Dygo that makes her light gem float, which is really cool. Actaeon and Torag were talking with Keledone while the rest of us waited and I played with my new jug, listening to the sloshing liquids inside. My flying shoes aren’t ready yet, but that’s okay. I was far too busy playing with this weird jug. I will definitely ask Dia to help me use it for some pranks.

Travel today got weird. As we got closer and closer, Briar noticed that the map changed. It had new text appear below the Dead Falls: “Here lies the legendary ship at night before the dawn.” We surmised that meant it would only appear at night. Who ever heard of a ghost haunting someone during daylight, right? It made sense to us, so we approached when the sun had set. The water in the Lethe River was flowing fast as we passed along a jagged and narrow path. It lead us to another path through a thin canyon-like stretch. Briar and Shadow sent animals to scout ahead for us but they didn’t find anything awry.

It was actually this canyon path itself that tried to kill us! As we moved through, we heard howling gales and felt the push of claustrophobia all around us. A few of us noticed before the rest that the canyon walls were collapsing inward to crush us. Some ancient trap guarding the Dead Falls, no doubt. Actaeon, Briar, Torag, and Clio all dashed pretty fast to get out of the way. Rendu did a cool teleport thing (I didn’t know he could do that! Did Clio teach him? Maybe she can teach me, too!). I am a bit slower than the rest, but Shadow picked me up and got me out of there.

Here, we noticed that the Dead Falls, pretty as they are at sundown, are eerily silent. The falls go down into a deep chasm rather than going out to sea. You know, like a normal river? The Lethe River is supposed to be the passage to the underworld, though, so I guess that makes sense. Note to self: do not jump into the chasm. The next path led us through a series of switchbacks that seemed to go deeper into the cliffs through a watery tunnel. Torag offered to carry me. No, wait, that’s not true at all. He kind of just picked me up. I didn’t really have much say in it. The others followed close behind.

There it was: the Gjallarhorn. The ghost ship, beautiful in its design with large masts, black sails, and visages of fearsome dragons all about, sat quietly in a moonlit bay surrounded by sheer cliffs and utter silence. How did it get here? And where are the ghosts? Answers for later, we guessed. We walked across the gangplank and the feelings of dread were overwhelming. For my part because the last ship I was on now rests at the bottom of the sea, but also because we kept thinking we saw something just out of view, and we heard whispers all around us. I swear I heard the sea shanties from the crew of the Golden Cutlass. At first, I tried to ignore it. But then Actaeon started singing along quietly. How did he know that song? The Golden Cutlass was Ylissean!

The upper deck of the ship was spooky and quiet, so, like the foolish people we are, we decided to go to the next deck down. We found a series of rooms, storage spaces, and hammocks for a crew that wasn’t there. Rendu has a neat ability to detect the presence of undead around us, but he felt absolutely nothing but cold and quiet. Actaeon broke open a chest and found a book that details Estor Arkelander’s murderous crusade against the fey. In what I’m certain was the captain’s quarters, we found Arkelander’s journal that outlined the curse of Khar’shan and how Arkelander has no way of breaking it.

In the oar room, we finally found the ghosts. At each oar was a dead man or woman, dressed in rags and looking like rot, all but transparent as their visages drifted between this realm and the next. None looked up to us, and we didn’t bother them. The oar drummer, a woman with gaunt skin, was at the back. After looking around (and after Torag stealing what I’m pretty sure is a magical chest full of death), she asked us if we are ready to travel to Ellandyr.

I couldn’t help it. I had to say yes. The treasures of the dragonlords are in the possession of Arkelander, and Vaevictus told me I need them? Why? Why do I need treasures? I don’t know. I don’t even think I want them! But… what’s this pull I have to them? I couldn’t help myself. When I affirmed it to the drummer, she began to play. Fearful and ashamed of myself, I ran up to the top deck. I wanted to flee, but it was too late. I and my companions saw the ship lurch forward, aiming to dash itself against the rock walls. But as it did, it very suddenly submerged itself into the water. We held our breath and grasped onto the rigging to avoid being left behind in the dead waters. We emerged just as our lungs would give out, and found ourselves in a world between night and day.

What time is it? What day is it? It feels like I’ve been here for so long, but I swear we have only been here perhaps thirty minutes. There are many ghosts on the ship now, specters of all kinds, watching us but not interacting. They’re doing as we are.

We are waiting for our captain’s orders.

1 Draconic: ugly idiot