Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Travels of Alistair

Ten years passed. Alistair lost count of the souls he’d sent to rest eternal. Like his youth spent chased through the wilderness, it was all blurring together. No matter where he followed the ill winds, nor how many cultists of Entropis he reaped, Alistair was no closer to finding the source of the ethereal storm.

It was like chasing a hurricane. Whenever he seemed to get close, the winds would change direction. Sometimes they’d disperse as if nothing were there. Yet every day the souls of the departed rose from their graves to cross over, only to be buffeted about and ensconced in a never ending typhoon.

The endless hunt had made him weary, despite appearing to not have aged a day. Even the pain of Lorraine had become a distant memory. He knew she was on the other side, waiting. But it was getting hard to remember those times when they were together. It was like the memories of her belonged to a different man. Such happiness was alien to Alistair. The monster he had become was not the man who had married Lorraine. Yet on some level, Alistair hoped the remaining shreds of his soul might one day be that man again.

Until then, he would be a monster, the Harvester of Souls. Death was his gift to others, and solace his only companion. Alistair occasionally had to deal with others on his quest. However, there was no point in building any lasting bonds. Those who traveled alongside him never lasted long. They kept dying.

And so it was on this evening when Alistair found himself sitting at the counter of some tavern in Brockport. In front of him was a shot glass of moonfire. It was his seventh, the other six empty glasses scattered about the counter. He still couldn’t feel much but a faint tingling about him.

Alistair had been working with a dwarf, what was his name? Gorbuk, Gorbad? There wasn’t much point in learning names. Mortal life was too fleeting. He had hired the dwarf as a guide into a nearby copper mine. The work was halted when the miners discovered what they thought a was a new vein but turned out to be a large chest made of bronze. It was seemingly melted into the stone. The workers were ordered to dig it out, as the mine’s owner thought to make a profit selling the relic on the black market rather than reporting the find to the Commonwealth’s Archaeological Bureau & Antiquities Library, or the C.A.B.A.L. as most called it.

Curiosity got the better of the foolish mine owner - the Brockport nobility were known for their arrogance - and he hired an adept to break the enchantments sealing the chest right there on the dig site. Whatever the adept had cast backfired. Workers above ground reported seeing an explosive wave of crackling black lightning surging out of the mine, and dissipating upon reaching the surface. Rescue teams were sent to search for survivors. Instead they found zombies.

The entrance to the mine was collapsed, and the dark artifact thought to be safely locked away. Alistair knew such a measure was no better than concealing a wound. Mere earth and stone was no barrier to spectral power. So he hired the first dwarf he could find in the tavern to dig a way into the mine. Was his name Gorbut? Either way, he was a cheerful fellow for a dwarf. Constantly yammering about his uncles, cousins, and nephews, all miners or smithies of some sort. Until he finished digging a passage and was immediately dragged into the midst of a zombie pack.

They took only seconds to rip into the poor dwarf’s flesh. Sadly, Alistair could not slay them quickly enough before they had mortally wounded his hireling. At least Gordo was able to distract the zombies with all the flailing and screaming while Alistair cut them down.

Rather than staying on site with the bronze chest, he took it to an empty field where the visibility was good. This way any spirits this relic might summon would not have anywhere to hide. The chest was more like a box. There was no writing on it, or hinges. Just a keyhole built into the top of it. Alistair attempted to pry it open, then to bash it. It was impervious to his might. He would just have to find the key. After finding a place to bury the bronze box, he headed back to Brockport in search of answers.

Three days had passed since Alistair had sent word to the C.A.B.A.L. about his find. Supposedly, they were sending an expert. Some part-time professor by the name of Gotwell was to meet him at the Tavern on the Rocks. This was where Alistair found himself while he waited for the professor - who was late.

It puzzled Alistair endlessly how mortals wasted so much time, especially since they had so little of it. At any moment their lives could end, and what did they do with their short time? They wasted it. Like his dwarf guide, who spent nearly as much time talking as he did digging. Perhaps if Gorgol had been focused on what he was doing instead of talking, he might have seen the multiple hands which dragged him down to his doom. While he waited, Alistair thought the very least he could do was drink to the dwarf’s memory.

“You look mighty tired, friend.” Some foolish mortal had sidled up alongside him at the bar while lost in thought. Alistair continued to stare at his seventh shot glass, still full with moonfire. He said, “Indeed,” and downed his drink, upending the glass on the table.

The man to his left wore a fashionable fedora, a button down shirt with too many buttons left open, and slacks. He flagged the bartender, “Apple Kiss, please.” Eyeing all the empty glasses he turned to Alistair and said, “Looks like you had a rough day. Need to get something off your chest?”

It was unusual for mortals to take interest in something besides themselves, but it happened. Alistair took measure of the man. Tanned skin, lean build, about the same height as himself. Despite the pistols and whip the man had at his hips, Alistair detected no threat. If anything were to happen those weapons were inefficient in close quarters, and the pistols unreliable. “Need? I need nothing.”

“Those empty glasses suggest you’ve got a story to tell, friend.” The bartender came back and delivered a green drink in a cocktail glass with a little umbrella. “Thanks, mister.” After a pause the man said, “So who died?”

“Recently? It was a dwarf I hired. Ripped apart by the undead.”

He shook his sympathetically. “Tough break. Anybody I know? What was the poor bastard’s name?”

Alistair had a far off look in his eyes. “I can’t remember.”

“Wow. That’s…” He shook his head again, this time in disapproval. The man with the fedora was so taken aback by Alistair’s callousness he was at a loss for words. The silence continued while the man finished his drink.

Professor Marty Gotwell slapped some coin on the counter, tugged on the brim of his hat and walked away from the bar. Whoever this nut job in grey was, he wasn’t getting into business with him. Marty had done plenty of jobs with shady folk. It was a necessity in getting artifacts away from certain unscrupulous owners and off the black market. His mind was made up, he’d follow this creep around to see what he had. If it was legit then Marty was going to steal it.


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