Evidence mounts that something is terribly wrong at the island monastery in this second installment of our story.
Welcome back to our adventure! If you're just joining us you can find Part I of our story here.
Eathen stalked back and forth in front of the sitting room fireplace as the others reviewed the passage, comparing it to his notes.
“I don’t understand,” he said. “Why would they lie? It doesn’t make any sense.” He looked at Pylas and Matron Underdown, almost pleading now. “Were the adventurers even here? Did anyone see them?”
“Aye,” Pylas answered, with Matron Underdown nodding beside him. “They was real as you or me. Four of them. A dwarf gentleman in armor that glittered like gold; a wizard, human lady that one was, all in black, with a staff made outta some kinda stone; a big, monstrous-looking fella, had to be one of them orogs, wearin’ nothin’ but hide pants and a fur vest and carrying a club as big as a dock post, and a little guy no bigger ’en a child, with big, strange lookin’ black eyes and horns coming from his head, a fey of some kind, I think. They got on that dragon-headed boat of theirs and went right out to the island.”
Eathen frowned and looked to Matron Underdown. “And the monster, the shadow creature. Did any of you see it?”
“No, thank the Enaros,” Matron Underdown replied. “As soon as the thing got loose, Brother Grishen rushed down and had Halie and I go to town with Pylas to get to safety and find help.”
“How long did it take to find someone to go out to the island?”
Halie shrugged. “About as long as it took us to get from the docks to the Singing Frog. When we arrived, the adventurers were there. They were talking with Gerill, the tavern keeper, telling him about some grand exploit they’d just come back from. I went straight up to them and told them the trouble. They didn’t hesitate. They just grabbed their gear and headed for the island.”
“Couldn’t it just be coincidence?” Matron Underdown offered. “It’s not like the stories are exactly the same. The story in Halie’s book takes place in a castle back before the Cataclysm, not a monastery. And the four adventurers in her book aren’t the same as the four that went out to the island.”
“No, it’s more than coincidence,” Halie replied. She had the book out in front of her along with Eathen’s papers. “Except for a few minor details, it’s the exact same tale from start to finish.”
Eathen rubbed his forehead. It didn’t make sense. “And the adventurers didn’t say anything? After the battle, I mean? No mention of what they fought?”
“We didn’t see them after,” Halie said. “We saw them go out to the island, but they were gone by morning. They must’ve left in the night.”
“Does that make sense, Pylas? That they’d sail in the dark?”
Pylas ran a hand over his gray chin stubble. “With the shoals ’round here? Not for normal sailors, no sense at all, but these weren’t normal sailors. I imagine they had all sorts of magic to help them, and dwarves can see in the dark, so maybe it didn’t much matter to them.”
Eathen stared into the embers of the dying fire. The monks were followers of Toletren. Truth was one of their most highly prized virtues. To lie outright went against everything they believed in, and yet they had lied. Unquestionably. Repeating the text from one of the uncountable number of books they’d memorized, and passing it off as the truth.
“There’s only one way I’m going to get to the core of it,” Eathen stated. “I have to ask them.”
Matron Underdown rose and walked over to Eathen’s side, placing a hand on his arm. “Are you sure that’s wise? I’ve known the monks for years, and this doesn’t seem like something they’d have done. It would take something, well—something bad to get them to go down this path.” She hesitated, as if gathering her courage, and then continued. “They say the Dark One’s hand still has reach in the surface world. I dread to think that the good monks might be under his sway, but clearly something is terribly amiss.”
Eathen clenched his fists and felt his stomach knot. All the explanations he’d devised involved mortal machinations. A power play of some kind, perhaps to keep some piece of valuable knowledge for themselves? Or maybe an ill-conceived joke, perpetrated by men and women whose minds were so changed by the crystal that their idea of humor was alien to others?
But what if Matron Underdown were right? What if there was a darker explanation? If that were true, the best course of action would be to get to the mainland immediately and send word to the High Temple in New Erinor. Let the priests of Toletren deal
with the problem.
What was he thinking? That line of thought was foolish. If Dark powers were at play, certainly there would have been some clear sign here.
“No, I don’t believe this is the work of Endroren,” Eathen said.
There was a sharp intake of breath from everyone in the room when he said the name of the fallen Enaros, and Pylas grumbled something under his breath.
“It’s just too dark of a possibility for me,” he continued. “I am certain something far more ordinary is going on, and as I’ve said, there’s only one way to find out what it is.”
Eathen grabbed his cloak from the chair and headed for the door.
“You’re not going up there now, are you?” asked Matron Underdown. “I mean, yes, you’re probably right, we’re probably just double turning the eggs, but if it does turn out to be…”
She let the words trail off, seemingly unwilling to continue.
Eathen paused, his hand resting on the door handle, and turned back to them. “If there is a mundane explanation, demanding the truth probably won’t hurt. If anything, perhaps I can shake one of them into remembering their vows to Toletren and shining a light on this mystery.”
“And if the explanation isn’t mundane?” Pylas asked, emphasizing the final word in a way that clearly showed what his opinion was.
“Then we need to get off the island as soon as possible, but the only way to know what’s going on up there is to confront them.”
He pulled the door open and before he stepped out he added, “If I’m not back before that fire dies out, assume the worst. Get off the island at once, and send word to both the University and the High Temple.”
As he stalked out the door, pulling it shut behind him, Eathen prayed he had shown more confidence than he felt. He reminded himself that his worries were foolish. Of course the monks weren’t under the sway of Endroren. As adherents of the Enaros Toletren, that was impossible, wasn’t it? Weren’t Toletren’s devoted followers protected from the Dark One’s power?
A ragged cloud drifted across the moon, and a chill breeze swept through the courtyard. Eathen shivered. Then again, what did he know? He was a scholar, not a theologian. Although he knew a fair amount about the Enaros and a bit about Endroren, could he say with certainty that Matron Underdown’s fear was unfounded? And if she was right, was he about to make the worst mistake of his life?
Eathen jumped and stumbled over his own feet at the sound of his name. Executing a clumsy skip, he barely managed to regain his balance and at least some of his composure. He turned around and saw Halie running up to meet him.
“What’s wrong?” he called, raising his voice, for the wind had picked up quite a bit.
“I’m coming with you,” Halie said as she reached his side. “If something is wrong, you may need my help. I know my way around the monastery. You don’t.”
Eathen considered her offer, then nodded. She was right. As dangerous as this might turn out to be—and he reminded himself that, in all logic, it was probably nothing—if something did go wrong, having her help might be key to his, what, survival? Again, the notion of this being any more than a misunderstanding struck him as foolish.
“You know, maybe we’re overthinking this,” he said. “I mean, corruption by Endroren? Really? It seems a bit far-fetched.”
Even with the moon almost completely covered by clouds, making it difficult to see her features in the darkness, Eathen saw enough to know she didn’t agree.
“The men and women of this monastery are the most devoted followers of an Enaros I’ve ever met,” Halie said. “They literally gave up everything that made them individuals to bind their minds to this crystal. I didn’t want to worry Matron Underdown
and Pylas, but I don’t believe for a moment that they’d easily or willingly commit such a serious breach of their vows as to lie to you outright like they have. I don’t know what is wrong, but something is wrong. I don’t think it’s wise for you to go in there alone.”
The first chilling drops of rain began to fall, and one splattered on Eathen’s nose. He wiped it away with his sleeve and said, “This isn’t one of your adventure stories, Halie. This is real. If there is something—“
Halie punched him in the shoulder hard enough to make him stagger back a step. “Don’t patronize me, you gilt. You sound like my father. Of course this isn’t an adventure story. In fact, I’m terrified, if you must know, but that doesn’t change what has to be done. If Dark powers are at work here, then time is of the essence, and you need all the help you can get.” She paused, shivering. “What’s more, I may not want one of those crystals stabbed into my forehead, but those monks have been kind to me. Some of them are my friends. I fear what evil they might be facing even as we speak. And I have friends over in town, too. If something terrible happens here, they’ll be the first ones to suffer for it.”
She reached out to him, and although he flinched, fearing another blow, this time she placed a hand on his shoulder. “We’re both here for the same reason, Eathen. The adventurers are gone, but the monster, whatever it is, remains. If we don’t face it, who will?”
Eathen observed the sharp determination in her eyes, and knew it was true. Just like her, he was afraid—very afraid—but also like her, he knew someone had to do something. He still hoped it was all a misunderstanding, but if it weren’t? Well, if it weren’t, then it was better not to face it alone.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “And thank you. I’m glad you’re with me.”
The rain started falling in earnest, so with no further words, they hurried across the courtyard toward the looming bulk of the ancient monastery.
—To Be Continued—
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