They rested as long as they dared before continuing on, following a well-beaten path that had a few human footprints mixed in with the animal tracks. They followed the trail to a giant bramble wall. Cronos approached the wall, curious as to what kind of magic made the brambles to grow that way. Vilhylm put his hand to the ground and attempted to contact the plants using the mask he had carved from Jorda’s gift.
Callindra had a bad feeling about the place that she couldn’t quite put her finger on. Instead of approaching, she kept her distance and called out to the man she assumed was inside. “Hey! Pierce! Let us in we need to speak with you!”
“These plants are dead. Not evil per se, but they are definitely dead. Cronos get away from there.” Vilhylm rose from where he had been kneeling. “Seriously Cronos get the hell away from the wall!”
When Cronos got close, the brambles reached out and slashed him across the leg. He yelped and drew his sword, lopping the offending branch off as it coiled for another strike. Dark green sap welled from it and the severed branch rapidly withered and crumbled to dust.
“I was just having breakfast, it’s a bit early for visitors.” An opening in the brambles appeared, the thon covered vines writhing out of the way to reveal a man of middle age dressed in a brown cassock. “I would have come sooner but your friend there was activating my defenses and I was trying to keep him from coming to further harm. Will you join me?”
Without waiting for a response, he turned and strolled back towards a sturdy cottage.
“What? No, we need you to come with us.” Callindra said striding after him. “Mili says you’re the only one who can heal my brother, we spent too much time finding you and we can’t wait for breakfast!” Her stomach growled at the enticing scent wafting out the open door.
Inside the cottage there was a table with a full breakfast spread. Eggs, bacon, fruit, fresh bread and cheese, even tea and cream. Pierce fussed around the table, smoothing the table cloth and seated himself in front of a plate of food with a satisfied sigh.
To her surprise, her brothers walked through the door without giving her more than a passing glance. Cronos began to load a plate with eggs and fruit while Vilhylm poured himself tea and cut a steaming slice of bread. In spite of the dire nature of their situation, they seemed content to sit and eat.
“Come in. Sit and eat.” Pierce gestured at the laden table, “Your brothers have already joined me, I’m sure your problem isn’t one that cannot wait until after I break my fast. You look like you could use a good meal as skin and bone as you are girl.”
“Look. My brother is dying back at The Drunken Thief from wounds Mili says only you are going to be able to heal. I need you to come with us. Now.” Callindra’s nerves were stretched to their limit and she was out of patience. “We spent too much time finding you, we can’t wait for breakfast.”
“What kind of wounds? Mili should be able to handle most minor adventuring injuries. Besides my work here is too important to simply put aside.” Pierce took a bite of bread with honey on it and poured himself a steaming cup of tea.
“He fell to The Ravenger.” She snapped, trying to keep herself calm. “He’s not breathing but his heart still beats. Mili seems to think that you’re the only one who might have the chance to save him.”
“Well if The Ravenger is involved I’m certain he’s beyond my ability to heal. Once the flames begin burning, it’s only a matter of time before the host is consumed by the corruption.” He sipped his coffee and reached for an apple. “Besides, it’s dangerous out there. Many infected creatures roam these swamps and I have no desire to leave my sanctuary except when gathering specimens.”
“It happened once before.” Callindra said, “He got … hurt by the Abyss but he recovered somehow. I saw it.”
“Callindra. If he won’t help us it’s not like we can force an old man against his will.” Vilhylm had finished his slice of bread and was eating a strip of bacon. “Why don’t you sit and have some food?”
Not paying attention, Callindra locked eyes with Pierce. “Listen up you poxy rat, I’m sick of all the gods damned cowards in this fetid swamp. First those weaklings whine and cry about The Ravenger when we could have ENDED that bastard with their help and now the person who can help my brother is too frightened of the boogeyman to leave his hovel?”
She took a step closer to the table and the Winds whipped around her, echoing her fury. “I don’t know what you’ve done to bewitch my brothers but it won’t work on me. You come with me willingly or by the GODS I’LL DRAG YOU!”
The candles in the room were snuffed out in a violent gust of wind. She slammed her hands on the table and the air stilled completely, dust motes suddenly held in stasis and the tablecloth froze in mid ruffle. Callindra’s voice was deadly soft as she leaned in close to Pierce’s face. “Do I make myself clear?”
“You. Have quite a foul mouth young lady.” Pierce was leaning back in his chair, mouth pursed in speculation. “But you have piqued my interest.”
Vilhylm broke in before she could blow up at him again, “Callindra stop making things up. Tryst has never been infected before. He was just injured and that’s all that has happened this time. I’m sure he’ll recover just like he did before. Come now, you’re insulting this poor old man in his home it’s time for us to leave.”
Callindra looked at Pierce and slowly shook her head. She hadn’t meant to say that about Tryst, she’d never told her brothers about it. Pierce’s eyebrows rose but he said nothing. “Vyl we’re not going anywhere without him. You may have faith that Tryst will recover but I do not.”
“Tell me more about his condition. Perhaps he would be a good research subject.” Pierce leaned forward looking at Callindra intently.
“Research subject?” She began hotly, “This isn’t some forest creature we’re talking about this is my BROTHER!”
Pierce shrugged, “Well regardless, I won’t be able to do anything for him without some additional mystic assistance. There is a crate that Mili sent me which was stolen by those blasted frog creatures. It had some components in it that I need. Then there’s the flowers that seem to grow wherever anything infected dies grow; they have properties that could be beneficial. Finally, the priest who taught me used a magic crystal as a focal point; its power will be most critical in the process. Help me find these things and maybe there’s a chance for your brother.”