Return from Hellfast
Aldus spends much of the time on your travel back attempting to deal with the young wyvern hatchling, whom he has named Echo; the wyvern often vocalizes two questioning chirps or warning growls instead of one. It shows signs of the typical wyvern temperament, being somewhat aggressive and stubborn. Aldus is able to keep it in hand, though, teaching it to accept travel in a crate and carefully “muzzling” its stinger. It seems uninterested in making friends, though it does gradually seem to accept Aldus as an authority and a potential companion.
It would almost be easy to forget about the Hellblade’s younger daughter; Ixana tries to keep out of the way as you travel, and is a mostly quiet presence. She takes directions well, and although she doesn’t initiate conversation, she seems quite curious about the outside world. She tries to get close to the wyvern at one point, and also tries sneaking up behind Zath to read over his shoulder as he studies his spellbooks. (She seems to like books a great deal.) Vorzheva spends some time getting to know her, or at least trying. At no point does Ixana seem to show any remorse for her parents’ death, but she also seems to remain as much on her guard as possible around you, catching sleep only in fitful, light naps when she thinks nobody’s watching.
Your first stop, of course, is to check in with the North-Marshal at Fort Basilisk. The fort is a healthy-sized stone keep, a bit larger than Fort Manticore. There are a few outlying service buildings, including an inn (the Helm-Post) where you are able to get lodging. The keep is packed, with probably 200 men temporarily housed in the area (a little gossip tells you that the North-Marshal plans to call in more if he needs to move).
North-Marshal Ardrad and his aide Sanastarra have set up with Provost-Marshal Daelrick of the fort. The North-Marshal bristles with restrained energy as you enter, and it’s hard to initially tell if he hopes to see the Hellblade’s head or if he’s hoping you’ve failed and he can send in a military action. The question is settled when you present the head, and he cracks a wide grin. “Excellent. Just excellent.” He has a messenger dispatched immediately for Lassmuth with the news.
The travel itself is pretty uneventful, barring any player interest in causing drama or gathering info; a trek to the river, a ride downriver (once again, you manage to secure the services of Captain Devil Baylon, who is glad to see the lot of you and even admits that he requested the service).
Marshal Larnek meets with you in the war room, a wine bottle and glasses on the table in front of him. He congratulates you on doing as he’d hoped, and saving the lives of many soldiers. Catching your glances toward the wine, he shakes his head slightly. “No, this isn’t my gesture, nor is it the Duke’s. It was left on our doorstep. The Duchess has scrutinized it for potential hazards, but found nothing.”
The platter itself is tarnished silver. A bottle of wine, its color impossible to discern through the near-black glass, sits at the center of five smoky crystal wineglasses. With it is a carefully folded sheet of parchment, the color leeched from it. The note (in peerless, insectile calligraphy) reads:
“Congratulations, my bright little fireflies. You have successfully slaughtered everyone I gathered about myself, ruining a delicate work that would have produced such beautiful scarlet blossoms across all these tawdry little lands. It is always instructional to observe how creatures such as yourself, stricken with the knowledge of your own wretched impermanence, will labor to inflict such similar entropy on all other things that might endure.
“Your dogged persistence in the cause of spite has brought you victory, and it would now be fruitless for me to begin again. Therefore, please enjoy this vintage in your celebrations; it too would be a thing that could last for perfect ages, and now can be quaffed for a mere night’s worth of your mortal pleasure. I’m sure even you can appreciate the comparison.
“Unless you manage to surprise me one more time, I do not think we will meet on the battlefield again. I will be content simply to watch your further successes, until at last Time manages to wrestle you into the same gray oblivion where you have sent my own beloved artistry. Perhaps we’ll speak again then. Perhaps you will, at the last, see things from a perspective that is so much greater than what your mayfly eyes take in.
“By the stillness that catches in midnight’s throat, I remain yours in cold opposition,”
[A creeping, curling streak of ink that hints only slightly at alien lettering runs across the bottom of the paper.]
Larnek shakes his head slightly after you’re done with the letter. “I’m of the opinion that the Darkling isn’t the one to say when it’s over. Do you agree?”
Aldus nearly explodes. “That condescending SHIT! I’ll cut his ears off and feed them to Echo! Collld Opposssitiiooon, pah. He’ll be eating cold steel, soap, his teeth or anything else I can think of till he corrects that tone. My dad would have flogged me silly for talking like that to people. How bloody rude!”
“I’ll tell you that I prefer things that can stand up and take a beating. Ghosts and other spooks make me uneasy. Unnatural I tell yeah. But, this guy, well, he’s convinced me. I’ll bear that creepy heart lantern if it will let me track his snooty ass down. So, what is a Darkling and how do we kill it? You know-dead.”