Rain falls from an overcast sky. It pours down on slate and thatched roofs alike, and onto the muddy streets below. Dawn is still an hour away, and the only light in the city comes from torches and braziers sputtering from the downpour along the main streets, and a handful of windows.
The lingering dark hides the movement of men getting under way inside the walls. The endless rain most of the noise. Blue uniforms, green armour, tan leathers. All move with an unspoken purpose.
Some distance away from the city, nearer the Estates, an orderly camp of tents has been pitched. The camp is all but empty. In one empty tent among many stands a desk, with a page in familiar handwriting on it.
I've not written much, lately.
All seems quiet in the city. Fim has not acted up, our Eastlander mage has not reappeared, nor has the Autyarch or the vampires.
Recruiting is going well, the rosters being nearly full, and there is no reported increase of crime nor outside threats.
Yet I find myself returning home absolutely beat. Can't be getting old yet, can I? I'm probably just running around far more often than I used to. The rosters might be getting filled, but those damn greenhorns aren't good for much. You leave them their orders and you come back finding none of it has gotten done. You send for them and even the man you sent doesn't return. You go looking for them, and the rest gives you vague answers that they'd seen them somewhere at some point. None of them know any specifics, though.
If that lot thinks they can slack off because Rhodes is dead, they have another thing coming.
That Cerulean Lograss seemed to hint all branches are getting this, which is strange. Not all of them are having the same influx of raw recruits.
Ah well. It's probably nothing.
I have a hard time expressing the extent to which the paragraph above disturbs me. It is my paper. It is my ink. It is my hand. As far as I can tell, I wrote it. Yet I do not remember writing it.
Could it be a forgery? Sure, though I would wonder what anyone has to gain from a forgery that tame. And there's other reasons besides that make me think it isn't.
You see, I sat down at my desk to write those exact same thoughts today. Not word for word, perhaps, but still.
On top of that, I keep getting the feeling of déjà vu. Like an itch at the back of my mind, trying to be remembered, but not quite getting there.
How many times have I thought these thoughts? The ones in the paragraph above, and the ones I am writing now. What happens when I put this paper away? Will I forget again?
Others must be going through this. It has to be why nothing ever seems to get done. So what is causing this?
I should try to get in touch with the others about this but is there really any rush? There are plenty of other things that require my attention, and I'm not sure how I even came to the conclusion that there is something wrong. Ah well. It's probably nothing.
Oy, idiot. Stop wondering about what you read up there. There's glasses in your satchel, wear them. Don't waste your time thinking it through. Reemul made them, they'll help you see. Remember to thank him and Seb. Don’t take them off. I’m not sure why it matters, though. Maybe it doesn’t? It’s probably nothing.
Writing this quickly, sat by the well near the Mermaid. I remember everything. Need to be quick before I forget. Some dog was acting weird. Going mad, in fact. Funny how there's no more dogs left. No cats, either. Aoth spoke to it, then turned to a winter wolf and started howling as well. Something is messing with our minds. The dog and Aoth just fled. Everyone's moving, write more later.
Finally I can sit and write calmly. I have decided to not remove what I've written above in case it ever happens again.
A False Hydra has been growing beneath the city. Sebrienne was the first to tell me. She'd seen the destruction in the sewers, and seen its hideous white face. Hells, she even knew its name already. She could not stay to tell me more at the time, but she pointed out viewing things through a mirror interrupted its illusion.
Yrag and I went to buy ourselves a mirror after that. The state of the city we saw was something out of a nightmare. Like nothing had seen upkeep in months. Garbage piled up, windows were grimey. People, too. Unwashed and unshaven, but only seen through the mirror. I could pick up a stone I saw in the mirror. It felt unreal, somehow. I could not really make out the texture or the temperature, but I could tell its shape. More or less. I can best compare it to trying to hear while underwater. Then when I looked at it in my hand, I could not see it, even if I could feel the weight.
Further inspection of the city was worse. There were bloodmarks on the floor of Hemrod's. Drag marks, too. When we went outside, we could see dragmarks like those everywhere. And holes. Somewhere between seven and ten feet in diameter. In the ground, but also in the walls of several buildings. The dragmarks invariably led to the holes, with the most frequented one in the center of the Commons. Part of me wanted to go down there, but instinct told me it would be the death of me if it was just Yrag and I. The men I wanted to post by the hole never showed up. Of course they didn't.
I sent word out for other adventurers, but the only reply I got at that point was Reemul's. He insisted we meet outside the city, which I understood perfectly well. Seb did say Reemul had also seen what she'd seen.
Reemul, then, had made these glasses. Double mirrored, like the contraptions you might use to peer over the wall of a besieged city. We did not need them outside the city, however. For reasons we did not understand then, the illusion lost its hold once you traveled far enough.
Reemul no longer went to the city after learning that. Hells, even Seth avoided the place.
I couldn't quite put my finger on it, but I did feel like I could breathe more easily when I left the city behind.
I am nothing if not foolhardy, however. Eventually, Reemul, Yrag and I decided we would take our chances with going back. We had to test if the glasses kept us from forgetting. We each would watch the others as we ordered something at the Ferret we would normally never drink. Complaining about the drink in front of us would let the others know we'd started to forget why we were there.
They worked, though they had a flaw. While the damn creature could not lie to our eyes anymore, it managed to snake into our minds and convince us to remove the glasses.
As expected, we forgot.
The glasses were still our best tool thus far. I remember handing them back and forth between Aoth, Rey and myself. The first time the lot of us felt the rumble of that beast as we were no longer under the illusion, we all drew our weapons, only to wonder why we were armed five minutes later. That's when we saw the dog. As it turns out, it wasn't an ordinary dog, it was a shifter. Still haven't caught her name, but she sometimes walks around as an elf. I've seen her more as various animals, though.
Anyway, at the time she was a dog, and I think this was our saving grace. The dog was losing it, running about and howling, snapping at its reflection in a puddle and disturbing the water, as though denying what it saw yhere. When Aoth tried to talk to it, it spoke to her of a song, which Aoth experienced firsthand when she turned into the winter wolf.
We all left the city when our two druids could no longer stand the sound, and with that, we lost the unnerving feeling of something trying to make us forget. A feeling we never quite noticed until it was gone. Both the shifter and Aoth had calmed down and could no longer hear whatever noise they heard before. This is what gave her and Seb the final clue.
Under the effect of Silence, Aoth went back into the city. It worked as they had hoped, and she could see the city as it was.
Most retired to the Witch and Seer to consider our options after that. I remained near the gates with Cormac. When Lograss came out, I asked the Cerulean if he had a Silence spell, but we ended up buying one off Cormac.
The three of us headed back in, and I was hoping to warn the brass, but the spell ran out by the time I got there, and it started all over again.
Luckily, H'resh has me stationed near the Estates a lot of the time. It seems your memory has no issues once you're out of range of the beast's song. Most just never learn something is wrong, so even when they leave the city, they have nothing bad to recall. I sure did by then.
I met Isolde on the road in the farmlands. She'd just returned from her trip and had picked up nothing of what was going on yet, save what I left in a letter. I just asked her for a Silence spell and told her it would be quickest if she saw for herself.
While she loathes silence, of course she does, she did have a wand that did the trick. There's something about the way she gets mad. She somehow looks as though, rather than picking a fight, she will walk up to whatever monster is threatening her and give it a piece of her mind.
She definitely got that look when we walked the streets and finally saw the beast. And what a beast.
So what is a False Hydra? Seb said it was an aberration, and it certainly fits that category of monsters. Five necks, each about the size of a purple worm, but of a white, pasty flesh rather than purple chitin. It looked like an overgrown maggot. Its face, however, is definitely humanoid. Dark sockets where eyes should be, but there aren't any. A mouth large enough to easily fit a cow with teeth bigger than my head, and a perpetual grin plastered across its face.
Like most of its ilk, it mocks the natural world by its very existence.
It seemed to sense us watching it, and peered down from over the rooftops in the city, trying to find us. While I normally dislike the walls in the Commons, they did save our hides then. When the beast could not find us, the necks retracted in search of different prey. Not knowing what we were up against, we decided not to pick a fight just yet. Who were we going to warn if we ended up dead?
As we considered our options, we saw its head thrust into a building. Even for their size, its jaws open disturbingly wide. It was chewing on something when it came out. I'm glad I was deaf at the time.
Its hunger sated, it disappeared undeground again.
We made it out of the city and parted ways. Isolde was going to warn and clear out the College first. H'resh seemed a good first choice, for me. Both because he's my commanding officer and because he was the least likely to be under the beast's spell, given that he is often at the Estates, himself.
He took me on my word, and here I am. A scant few minutes away from finding out if I planned this well enough.
While H'resh and the rest of the officers have prepared an eventual strike on the beast, he left me to oversee the evacuation.
I remember a time. Not too long ago, though it seems an eternity. I was laughing at the idea of being an officer, the paperwork and logistical nightmares that come with it. The logistical nightmare part certainly has come true.
It has kept me too busy to do much more than one more venture into the city. Isolde wanted to know if the song she once learned from a Far Realm maddened bard would have any effect on the creature's song, or even the creature itself.
While it did not go as we had hoped, we did learn three very important things.
One, just plugging your ears with wax deafened you enough.
Two, the creature had a sense of humour, mocking Isolde as her song had distracted its prey even better than it could. More than just a mindless animal, then.
Three, it could bleed. While we made our escape, we heard someone attacking the thing. Unfortunately, we were already sailing down the city walls with no way back up, or we would have helped. The way the creature turned away from us to face its attacker implied worry. By the time we reached a gate to see who was fighting it, it had fled underground again.
Once we convinced our fellows to deafen themselves, things truly got underway.
Bards, Ceruleans and Defenders started trickling out, the first two heading for the Witch, while the last gathered nearer the Estates.
I found I had my hands full not long after. The creature's tunnels span the entire city. Fighting it above ground might cause massive damage. Fighting it below ground might cause the tunnels to collapse, taking the city with it. Since the creature is intelligent, though we're not sure quite how intelligent, we have had to move carefully. Simply clearing out all its "cattle" would likely cause it to retaliate.
In these past few days, we’ve had to evacuate food stores, surplus tents and other necessities in case it levels the city, without drawing its notice. We've had to stop caravans from entering the city to avoid more victims while still ensuring their goods found their way to the markets to avoid depriving the citizens of essentials or the creature growing suspicious. Sending in our men dressed as civilians to keep up a screen of activity while we got people out piecemeal. Choosing who to save, and who to risk just a few days longer. Choosing who to inform, and who to leave under the illusion until the mass evacuation. Planning the escape routes, dealing with the Seafarers for their ships and Spellweaver for a portal. Planning contingencies for when other routes are cut off.
Deciding on the time span for the evacuation, and when to call the men back to prepare for the creature's attack. Preparing the handful of us that will keep evacuating even while the fight is going.
My friends will deal with the creature. I'm certain they will. Meanwhile, I have to get this evacuation under way at dawn. I hate that I will not be there with them. Yet, I am sworn to protect this city. At times that means cracking heads. Other times, that means making sure no innocents get caught in the middle of it.