Evening -- Mhed
It hurt. It always hurts when things go wrong. That's how you known that thing's have gone wrong
It started wrong admittedly. I found the old shack leaning against the curtain wall, a halfway house that contained my second ghost for the evening. She was old, older than anyone I'd ever seen before, well almost. All deep wrinkles, gnarled joints and smelled faintly of tanning. To cap it off as I stepped into the gloom she took one look at me and cackled.
“One of you?! I haven't seen one of you since I was a girl,” her voice grated like a washing board, “Finally decided to come crawling out of your forest? Or no wait, no. You're from the mountains aren't you? It doesn't really matter, you're here now and that's interesting."
I didn't like how she looked at me, her eyes shimmering with something far more dangerous than nightsight. I never liked how they looked at me, a mix of confusion, curiosity and revulsion. That she didn’t recoil would be an improvement, except I was waiting for her to pull out a knife to dissect me. I tried to carry a calm persona, to avoid curling my lips in a sneer but given her laughter I must have failed. It didn't seem to bother her though.
"Yes, yes I'm old and strange. And you are young and strange but here for a reason," She holds up her hand and continues to inspect me like a prized pig. "No Don't bother lying I don't care enough to ask. The room is yours if you have the silver, and if you don't I have work enough for you."
I didn't have the silver, not much use for coin where I'm from, but around here and every pleb seems to want it.
So I took the job, and here I am now, in pain.
The third old ghost of the evening haunts the deserted crafting yard, drifting amidst tools and timber used for making something. I hadn’t asked, maybe a cooper or a wheelwright. He’d lashed out when he spotted me, hurling hammers and a pepper of nails my way. I’d avoided those, but then one of his more ethereal mallets had slid through the timber pile I’d dove behind leaving an arm numb from the elbow down. Oh it would hurt later, I knew that well enough.
Old ghosts; I can't get away from them.
The plan had been simple: sneak past the thing, find his anchor and smash it. Simple straightforward, and a complete failure. I’d spent hours with this stupid wailing pleb moaning about some old hurt or who knows what. But the Gods are fickle, cruel and vindictive. So that meant plan B. I hate plan B. It just ends with me deeper.
Evening -- Mhed
My room in that tiny shack, if you can call it that, smells faintly of rice. I don't know why. I also don't know why the old women gave it to me.
I came back from the yard to report that the ghost was still at large and she waved me in with a droll murmur, "Well you tried, which is more than most, but I guess old Bartress was more than you could handle. You can rest up in here before trying again, I've even got some stew."
I must have looked confused at the crone's kindness, because she let out another one of those cackles, "This is no charity, you just had a bad hunt," she grinned like a wolf, "Don't worry you'll owe me later."
Resting an arm across my brow I snort at the memory: Plebs and their debts. "I won't owe you," I said to which she replied was gleam in her eye, "If you don't want to owe me then don't fail. In the meantime you need sleep and pride won't change that."
Though I kept an eye on the crone in case she tried to collect something else, I grudgingly admit I felt better for the rest, and the food. While I ate she told me of a Lurker scuttling along in the sewers. It'd eaten a child and the mother was keen on revenge.
Good money in revenge she claimed with a knowing grin.
And so out I went armed with my spear and a description of the closest sewer grate. What I needed though was something for the smell. I had no idea that pleb sewers would stink like this. And after a couple hours I realized I also had no idea that they were this big.
Everything about this was just, disgusting but I wasn't going to return empty handed again and so pressed on. By the fourth hour I'd found nothing of the Lurker but I had found a child; the reanimated remains jumped me as I crawled through a pipe.
A hideous thing, all mottled and gnawing teeth. It had died a long time ago and only found rats for sustenance. If we'd be anywhere else I would have smelled it long before it jumped onto my back but as it was the thing got the drop on me. My armor protected me from the first blow, broken needle teeth losing to leather. It gave me more than enough time to reach back, grab the thing, and smash it against the pipe.
I try not to think of what happened after. There are too many horrors in this world, way too many. And the worst part of it all was finding the thing's nest. There was a little toy, covered in grime but still working. It had been alive once, playful, but now…
I sign. The Old Man is going to be insufferable.
I’d only just crawled out of the sewer when the alarm bells started to ring. Turns out the watch needed some help and their captain was even willing to pay for it. He was a gruff man brandishing an axe and sporting an eye-patch, lost to some Alpha attack a few years back. But what really stood out was the clasp on his cloak, a charm for the Dark Mistress.
I was surprised to find a follower of the Old Gods out here but as we went out to shatter the small group of restless dead it became obvious that there was more than one. Nearly every soldier had some rune or charm dedicated to one of the Gods. One even fearlessly brandished a mark for the Crystal Maiden.
I gave him a wide berth.
When we finished the captain passed me a small purse with more of those coins the plebs like so much, and from the heft I could pay off my debts to the old woman. The man further suggested I return tomorrow for more work if I had nothing else to do, after a bath.
This time I manage to avoid sneering, I certainly needed a wash after half a day raking through the muck. I’m going to need some privacy though, for a few reasons.
Summer Day -- Mhed
The old crone actually had a bathing tub which greeted me in the yard next to the shack when I returned. Makes sense though, she was the one who sent me to the sewer and knew I'd be rank.
Eying the tub with envy I glance around the yard. The crone's shack is huddled between buildings, a nest more than a home. No windows point this way, and the curtain wall lacks ramparts. Really the only problem was the crone herself but she was conspicuously absent.
Chewing on my lower lip as I strip to my smallclothes I half expect a cackling ah-ha but only the wind's caress keeps me company. Shivering next to the tub I briskly scrub my limbs clean with a rag before tackling the real problem, my clothes. The leather armour was fine but my silks were a mess, caked in things unmentionable. Scouring things clean took time but the familiar act let my mind wander.
The elders had spoken of the great cities by the coast. Their decadent patricians wallowing in wealth and yet this seems more a tomb. All around me were the signs of decay, half repaired homes, crumbling architecture from a past age, the undead.
The Old Man fit right in.
Inspecting the trousers by moonlight I idly wonder at his silence, but then he usually left me be at times like this. A smile pulls my lips; small comfort that he's more a gentleman than most.
Eventually things are as clean as they're going to get, and it's time to brave my rice scented room. Traveling cloak pulled tight against prying eyes I carried the rest inside to dry and find the crone hunched over a stew pot.
"Finally done? Good that you know how to clean at least, maybe you'll have better luck working in a laundrette," she doesn't look up from the pot as she speaks so she misses my glare, not that it would stop her. "Did you find the Lurker? There's a reward…."
My voice sounds raw even to me, "I didn't, but I have your coin."
The crone clicks her tongue, "Bad news with good. I assume you found something else to kill rather than some, other profession?"
In response I fish out the coin purse, and the child's toy that I'd scrubbed last. Looking both over the crone scoops up one and pats the other, "You don't strike me as a governess, so I imagine you took care of the previous owner a different way. Good job, though a pity."
Running my finger along the edge of the toy soldier I turn to go but the voice calls me short, "This is a bounty pouch from Captain Egan. What good fortune, it looks like our dear Lord and Master has decided to post bounties again. You should find a lot of work tomorrow, rest up. You'll need it."
I can't tell what's worse, the sarcasm or the musical mirth.
Summer Day -- Mhed
Captain Egan had some things for me to do, well really it was the same thing every time: help his skeleton crew smash up some undead before they started causing trouble above ground.
I asked one of the Pleb militiamen about the source of the constant attacks, but he responded by muttering a prayer and flashing a sign of warding.
Not really an improvement over the crone’s leering interest, but at least it was more familiar.
After that awkward exchange we all got through the day with minimal trouble, hopping from cellar to basement all over the city. I had the nagging sense they might be connected in some way but since the others gave me wide berth I got no real answers.
By nightfall Captain Egan offered a terse thank you and more importantly another bounty purse. This would settle my debts with the crone and leave a bit extra for a hot meal that wasn’t suspicious stew.
Is this what passes for good news these days? Not owing a pleb coin and eating something that wasn’t rat. How things have changed and really I’m still no closer to finding answers.
I’d thought the search would be long over by now, that I’d find a low land temple to the Old Gods in the first collection of hovels. I didn’t. I did find a lot of stares before the local militia ran me out of town. The elders had warned me about that at least. Which is what brought me all the way to the city of Mhed. At least here the plebs knew something of the Old Gods but even in all my wandering around the city today I’ve found nothing.
I was at my wits end and so decided to ask the crone.
She didn’t cackle, she didn’t leer. Instead she got very quiet till only the fire made a sound. She claimed she knew some people, old people mind, but people who might be able to give me answers. She’d need coin though, to show I’m serious. Now I sit alone in my rice smelling room wondering just what I’d bought.