Fingal stood on a hill, looking at the sun rising over the human city. Another sunrise, another fruitless night of searching these forsaken hills and empty streets for Rosera. He leaned on a tree, willing himself not to drop from weariness. Three sunrises and sunsets had passed since the word came to him that she was missing. Today would be the fourth. He sat down at the foot of the tree, (his legs wouldn’t hold him anymore) looking down into the city below as it came to life. He felt dead inside, his hope of finding Rosera alive fading with every day that passed. He leaned his head back against the tree and shut his eyes; he needed rest. A moment’s rest...
“Lord Fingal? My Lord?” Torben’s voice sounded from the woods. Fingal’s eyes snapped open. “We have to head back to Evermore.”
The young half-ogre emerged from the woods, stowing his war axe. “My Lord, you shouldn’t go off by yourself.” He looked at the elf-lord under the full light of day and winced. He was practically skeletal!
“You look like the devil,” said Torben, with his characteristic bluntness.
Fingal scowled. “I could do without the commentary, Torben.”
“Look, all I’m saying is, you could stand a good night’s sleep-”
“I’ll tell you what I need, when I need it.” Fingal snapped.
“We’re all worried about Rosera, My Lord.”
“Then let me continue my search.”
“You’ll do her no good if you’re dead.”
The two stared at each other, both of them high-status males unaccustomed to backing down. Fingal began shaking, nearly falling into Torben.
“Perhaps some rest would be a good thing.”
“Come with me then, I know a shortcut.”
Down in Evermore, Maegan and Stella waited for Torben and Fingal to come home. They were always the last ones home every night. It was Summer vacation, so Stella would be on hand several hours a day to help the search parties. She sat with a doll she was making over, quietly putting hair into it’s bald scalp of a different color than what it came with. Stella carefully loaded her needle with hair, then pushed it down, little bits at a time.
“How is it coming?” Maegan asked.
“Quite well,” Stella muttered. “I’ve got to keep going, no matter what. My client already paid for these.”
Stella focused on her work, trying to forget about what was going on around her. She nearly stabbed herself when she heard Maegan cry out in dismay.
Stella looked up and saw Torben, Lord Fingal leaning on his shoulder, come in. Maegan began immediately to loosen the leather armor he wore, starting with unbuckling the quiver from his back.
“Maegan, let it alone, Cullen or Eardwulf will help me.”
“You look like death has touched you, Fingal. What have you seen?”
“No sign of Rosera. Something in me fears that I will not see her again.”
“You cannot give up your hope, Fingal, tell me you haven’t.”
“No, no, nothing like that.”
Stella didn’t understand it all, but she understood that hope was important to the elves. If they gave up something terrible would happen, though she didn’t know what.
“Torben, lead me to your family’s home so I can rest.” Fingal asked.
“Right this way,” said Torben, gesturing out the door.
Down in the lowest dungeon of Rycorax’s lair, Rosera lay silently. She looked around at the black pit she now lived in. How long had it been? She didn’t know. She spent as much time as she could sleeping, trying to stave off the wraiths. She was fed enough to keep her alive, and the sanitation was pretty good; clearly Rycorax was trying to insure her “investment.” Rosera rolled over on her side under her thin blanket and fell asleep again with a wish on her lips.
“Hurry, Fingal. Come find me.”
Eardwulf and Katrina helped Fingal out of his armor and into clean clothes like he was their own son.
“There, isn’t that better?”
“Mmph?” Fingal muttered. “Forgive me, Lady Katrina, I dozed off.”
“That’s alright, son,” said Eardwulf. “You’re barely functioning.”
Fingal didn’t correct the ogre’s familiarity, he was only being kind. He and Torben must be close to the same age. Maybe? What did it matter? He was now wearing clean pajamas, Eardwulf led him down to their guest room, where Katrina already turned down the covers and lit some candles. The elf sat down and covered himself with the blankets.
“Sleep as long as you want to. Then, perhaps you’d like a bath?”
“Perhaps. You’ll let me know if anything happens?”
“You’ll be the first.”
Fingal nodded his head, then flopped backward and drifted off into a deep, dreamless sleep.
“He’s an utter wreck! Is he always like this?” Eardwulf came into the family sitting room to find his son speaking to Lady Maegan.
“I have never seen him this way, but then, he’s never been in love before.”
“Geez…” muttered Torben.
Stella sat nearby, still plugging away at her doll head, a little more clumsily now. She put away her tools and scrunched up her body, rocking back and forth.
“Torben,” Eardwulf whispered. “Take this outside.”
Maegan glanced at Stella, who now had her face hidden by her knees. She looked at Torben, confused and worried.
“Stella’s having a hard time,” explained Torben. “We just need to let her rest, Dad and Mom will look after her.”
Outside in the hall, Maegan wrung her hands.
“What can we do to help him?” asked Torben.
“Other than bringing Rosera back to him safely? I’m not sure.”
Fingal woke slowly, his body protesting every move. He felt so sore and heavy, his grief sitting like a cold rock on his chest. He rose and made his way out the door. He found Katrina just outside the bathroom.
“Did you sleep well?”
“Yes, I do feel a bit better.”
“Perhaps a bath would help lift your spirits more. Eardwulf will help you with your hair if you need it.”
“No, I should be alright.”
Katrina opened the door to the bathroom and left him alone.
Soon, he did feel more himself and stood in front of the mirror braiding his hair back away from his face. He was still worried and that worry still felt like a weight on his chest, but he felt more in control of it now. He spied a small bottle of oil on the counter and out of curiosity picked it up. Inside was rose oil, just like Rhodon would offer. In fact, it smelled just like the oil made from Akasma’s Roses. Fingal “hmm”-ed to himself, set the bottle down and emerged.
Outside, Maegan waited for him. She gave him a hug, asking. “How do you feel?”
“Good, come and sit, there’s been some developments.”
Torben sat on a sofa while his mother bandaged his arm, weaving raw Elysium flowers in the bandages.
“Stop squirming, honestly, Torben!” scolded Katrina.
“What’s happened?” asked Fingal.
“I got jumped by some new kinda wraith! They’ve got like a million legs and no faces.”
“I’ve never seen anything like them,” said Eardwulf. “We are in an unknown country now.”
“Stella’s mentioned them, I thought it was just a rumor or meme, you know what kids are like. You remember the clowns, right?”
“Ugh, who could forget!” groaned Katrina.
“Anyway, we need to find out what they are and what their weaknesses are.” Eardwulf sat in an armchair and ran his fingers along the ridges of his horns. “Lord Fingal, are you up for a hunt?”
“Whatever it takes.” affirmed the elf.
Rosera awoke to find her dinner of bread and water waiting for her. She ate quickly, trying not to inhale too much wraith dust. Drinking the water cleared her throat enough to sing a bit, not too loudly, but enough to keep the wraiths away. No matter what she did, she was still getting weaker. The wraiths were taking her positive emotions and leaving the negative emotion of despair in their place. She pulled her blanket around herself and hugged herself into a ball. She could wait just a little longer.
Fingal, Eardwulf, and Torben walked up to Watchman’s Hill toward where Torben had been ambushed by the new monster. Fingal held an arrow to his bowstring, watching every shadow for the strange creature Torben described. The father and son, more sensitive than the elf to smell and better at seeing in the dark, were even more tense. Each held a war axe, a heavy double headed one in Eardwulf’s hands, a lighter bearded axe in Torben’s.
“Four o’clock.” hissed Torben.
The three instantly turned to face the correct direction. Fog set in quickly.
“These things move faster than a Baptist going for the last slice of lemon meringue pie,” whispered Torben. “Watch your back.”
Fingal spotted movement and let loose a shaft, rewarded by a wail. Then it emerged.
It mainly went on two legs, with two overlong arms and no face. It had a writhing mass of tentacles on its back, which helped it move around like an octopus. It had no face and no mouth, but it still managed to give out wailing cries and mimicked sounds from the streets below. It towered over Eardwulf’s head, at least ten feet tall.
In spite of himself, Fingal was nauseated with fear. It gave another burst of disorientating noise and charged.
“You hit ‘im high, we’ll hit ‘im low!” shouted Torben, running toward the abomination.
Eardwulf swung his axe, cutting off a tentacle at the root. It gave a howl and whirled on Eardwulf. Fingal fired his bow again, catching it where the heart ought to be. All that did was make it angrier. Fingal reloaded, shooting into the tentacles.
“Fall, you brute! Why won’t you fall!?” he growled, somersaulting out of it’s path.
“Fall down, you overgrown sushi bar!” shouted Torben.
Torben cut a leg out from under it, spilling vile black ooze instead of blood. The creature was nothing truly organic, it had no bones! It writhed on the ground, crawling with the tentacles as it continued to attack them, spewing it’s hideous, beastial, wailing noise.
Fingal aimed another arrow at the head of the creature. It screamed out noise after noise, now low enough he felt it in his chest, now so piercing it was painful, reducing his comrades briefly to their knees. He forced himself to focus, and fired. The arrow plowed through the head and brought it down. It made weak noises as it died, turning into the ooze as it did.
“Are you two alright?” called Eardwulf.
“Fine, other than a bit of a headache.” Torben looked at the thing in disgust. “Lovecraft called, he wants his abomination back.”
Fingal studied the creature closer, it’s voice almost gone. Fadingly, he heard a haunting sound; Rosera’s voice singing.
“Listen!” he commanded.
Eardwulf and Torben looked at each other in awe. “It’s Sera!” cried Torben.
The creature turned to nothing, leaving only the arrows behind. Fingal reluctantly gathered them back up, shaking off as much of the gunk as possible.
“It was close enough to mimic her voice, that means she must be near.” said Fingal.
“Yeah… I’ve got a thought…” Torben began poking around in the bushes, leaving his father’s line of sight.
“Torben!” Eardwulf barked.
“Dad, Lord Fingal! C’mere!” he shouted back.
The elf and the ogre ran to Torben. They found him next to a hole in the side of a hill, blocked by a portcullis of sorts.
“It’s an old mineshaft, and I’ll bet you a donut this is where our little friend came from.”
“Do you think we can get inside without being noticed?”
Fingal looked down into the stygian abyss with a nameless fear. His people hated darkness, even the underground cities like Evermore had plenty of light.
“I don’t think we have much of a choice but to try it.” Eardwulf applied his strength to the door, easily shifting it out of the way. “Torben, go back to Evermore and get Cullen and whoever else you can find, bring them here and be sure they’re armed.”
“Oh, Dad, come on!”
“No back-talk, I say this as garrison commander and your father, go and get help.”
Torben grumbled, but set out for home at a good clip. Eardwulf turned to Fingal. “We can’t be sure what awaits us down there. Are you prepared for that?”
Fingal looked the ogre in the eye. “Yes. I would do anything for Rosera.”
Eardwulf nodded. “Very well. Let’s go.”
The ogre and the elf descended into the dark, quickly disappearing from sight.