The winds struggled against stagnant heat. Great rents in the ground spouted acrid smoke that stopped the natural flow of the air. Wind from the Abyss wasn’t wind at all; it brought with it the charnel reek of fresh blood mixed with brimstone and rotting flesh. Anything it touched died. Worse than that, when the things died, they were animated by the Abyss and so the infection spread. Some seemed to be resistant to the plague, and they set up as much resistance as they could, living in small enclaves or fighting building to building in large cities.
Rumors abounded. All the gods were dead. Jorda was dead. The Grandfather Tree was burning. Luftin had lost his mind. Ild had sided with his treacherous brother at long last and they were conspiring to burn the world. The only living people who knew the truth weren’t likely to tell it.
A dry sulfurous wind blew through the nearly empty streets of a once prosperous trading town. Although it was near Hellgate Keep and between that cursed edifice and the High Forest where a haze of smoke still clung to the tree tops, Varild had somehow managed to survive.
The ones who had been taken by the Abyss had answered some strange summons and left as a group. The others who had been living for almost a year on stored provisions, rain water and the occasional wild game that still eked out a living in the lost land around them.
Other than the obvious problems of a land cursed by the infection of the Abyss, Varild was in a lot better shape than other places. The storehouses had more than enough food for the surviving townsfolk and the well was still good.
A pair of figures wearing dark cloaks with the hoods pulled low approached the front gate. Finding it barred, they hammered on it with the butts of their daggers. “Hello the Town!” One shouted.
“Keep your skirt on.” The guard on the wall grumbled. He’d had a long night and had drawn the short straw, meaning he had first watch as well. “None may enter hooded. Throw back your hoods and show me your eyes or you will not be allowed inside.
“A wise precaution.” The taller of the two said, pushing his hood back to reveal blonde hair in a cluster of braids. The other likewise uncovered his face to reveal a face with dark skin and a bald pate. A latticework of scars covered his head and the guard could see it was in an intentional pattern. He shuddered involuntarily.
“What’s your business?” He demanded.
“We seek some folk. Rumor has led us here.” The shorter man said. “The ones we seek were last purported to be seen around this area. We have our own provisions and carry our own water. We will not be a burden upon your settlement.”
“No need to skimp here strangers.” The guard said, “Survivors are welcome, and news of the world is as valuable as clean water here.” He climbed down, inspected their eyes through a slot in the gate and then opened a small steel door to one side, barely large enough for them to squeeze through.
“You think that’s her?” Callindra heard the voice from across the tavern and intentionally paid it no mind.
“Barkeep.” Her voice rasped in her own ears, “Where’s that bottle I ordered?”
“You wanted…?” The man behind the expanse of the oak bar asked, nervously dry-washing his hands.
“Whisky. You know damn well what I asked for.”
“I just thought… It’s only nine bells…”
“Gods be damned, I care not for the cursed time of day!”
“Pardon, but are you Callindra Sol’Estin?” The man didn’t look like a warrior or a mage, but she had long since learned that looks could be deceptive.
“What. Do you want?” She turned a baleful eye towards the two men standing a few feet away. “If you are from The Order, Glarian is dead. My Master is dead.” Her voice sounded flat and dead, even in her own ears. In her mind she whispered, ‘Luftin, God of Wind is dead.’
“Here’s your whiskey lass. Your sword, could you sheath it please?” The barkeep glanced nervously at Shadowsliver lying flat on the bar, his chain piled on the floor next to her before stretching back to the Mithril cuff on her right wrist.
“He doesn’t want to be sheathed, so he doesn’t have one.” Callindra said, pouring some of the dark amber liquid into the glass he had provided.
“Ah…” The two men were nervously standing on her left.
“You’re still here?” Callindra drained the glass in one long swallow, “What in the nine hells do you WANT?”
“We aren’t from … we’re here to ask … are you Callindra?” The man cleared his throat, “We are looking for The Brotherhood of Steel.”
“The brotherhood is broken.” Her voice fell to a whisper, “Leave me here with my sorrow and my memories. You’ve chosen an ill day to mention brothers.”
The door to the common room opened wide and Vilhylm strode into the room. “Barkeep, ale and meat!” He paused when he saw Callindra sitting at the bar, “You’re still here sister?”
“Nay, they made me leave for a few hours. You’re up early brother.” She poured another glass of whisky.
“It is a day we should be observing together Callindra, and one we should be marginally sober for.”
“Sir, are you Vilhylm the Just?” One of the men asked.
“I am Vilhylm.” He said, “What can I do for you?”
“They are looking for the Brotherhood of Steel.” Callindra said, looking at him out of the corner of her eye.
“I fear good sirs that this is an inauspicious day to bring up that name.” Vil said, “Perhaps you could come back tomorrow.”
“But Sir, we have traveled for moons to beg your assistance.”
“We aren’t in the hero business anymore, especially not today.” Vilhylm said, looking at the man with a suspicious eye.
“Listen. If you want to talk you have to drink.” Callindra gestured to the barkeep and he handed her another pair of glasses. She filled them with whisky and topped off her own. “To Tryst. May his soul rest in peace until the end of days.”
“I apologize I did not realize we were interrupting- “ One of the men began.
“Shut up and drink!” Callindra said, putting her left hand on Shadowsliver’s hilt. “You had the impertinence to come and find us on this day, I fear that means you share in our remembrance of the death of my brother.”
The men exchanged glances and picked up the glasses.