Episode 3 – Diseased?

Destiny Deceived – Episode Three

Diseased?

Badas clung to a line half way up the ship’s rigging and breathed the fresh sea breeze deeply into his lungs. He and the others had signed on to provide security and labour for a small convoy of ships heading south, hoping to do trade with some of the more remote islands. Boris and the other boatmen had gladly provided them the contacts and the references they needed for the job, which would take them in the right direction, as well as paying well.

They had been at sea for a little less than two days, and his little Chosen companion had spent most of it flinging the contents of her stomach over the side. The four little folk – a name he was careful not to use to their faces – had attached themselves to the party, embarrassingly grateful towards Badas for saving them. When she was not vomiting, Destiny was being mad at him for not making it clearer that it had been a team effort.

His eyes glued to the horizon, Badas thought he could see something in the distance, perhaps land? They were due to reach their first port of call sometime today. His thoughts were confirmed with a cry from the crow’s nest above him.

“Land-ho!”

He slithered quickly to the deck and made his way to the front of the ship to join the rest of the party, who were gathered there trying to spot land. Destiny was looking ninety degrees in the wrong direction, as her stomach tried to hurl itself into the sea.

Now that they could see their destination, their progress seemed ever slower. The island grew slowly larger, until finally, after what seemed an age, they were pulling alongside the dock. The quiet, empty dock.

Destiny barely noticed anything was amiss as she leaped over the side and back onto dry land, but Badas had noticed the silence some way out. A dock was hardly the most orderly of places, and was never quiet, even long into the night.

The sailors tied up their vessel at the pier and lowered a gang plank. Badas was the first off, hand on sword and eyes roving for any sign of trouble. Something was wrong, this should have been a bustling place of commerce, instead it was more akin to a graveyard.

And in more ways than one he realised as he spotted a man’s body. Destiny stood at the start of the pier, eyes wide. Badas stood next to her and laid a hand on her shoulder.

“What happened here.” Badas turned at Jahra’s voice.

“I don’t know, but this man wasn’t killed by the sword or mace, or any other weapon of man. No visible wounds. Magic could have done it, I suppose, but something more likely comes to mind.”

“Disease?”

“Yes, some sort of epidemic swept through the place and…”

“So what do we do about the supplies we need?” A new voice, the captain, joined the conversation. Badas shrugged.

“We take them, and if we can find anyone left alive to pay, we do. If not, well, we get free supplies.”

“Free supplies from a disease ridden settlement. No, I thinks we weigh anchor and move on, t’ain’t nuthin’ for us here.”

“Let us look around a bit, we may find survivors, and there are diseases that don’t remain contagious for long, or that don’t infect food or water. Especially if the disease does not have a natural source.”

“You go on out there, and you ain’t comin’ back on my ship.”

“Captain,” Jahra spoke, her voice taking on the authoritative tone Badas was so accustomed to, “we can’t go on without those supplies. We have precious little freshwater left, and not much food either. There’s nowhere else to go. Let us look into it, if we don’t find anything, then go ahead and leave us here. You’ll be going to your death anyway, and I don’t imagine that dying of thirst is any more pleasant than dying of disease.”

“Very well, but none of mine is going on your fool’s errand.” He turned and stomped back up the gangplank to his ship. He stopped at the top, sighed and turned back. “But you are right. Good luck, it would appear you are our only hope.”

~*~

They wandered through the quiet city streets, the noise of a bustling city all the more conspicuous for its absence. Despite Badas’s suspicion of disease, they found no other bodies, alive or dead. The place was just empty.

Shortly, they came upon the main city square and here they found life. A seated figure was struggling to haul a bucket of water from the city well. He sat lower than the edge of the well, and every time the bucket appeared over the edge, his efforts to remove it emptied its contents all over him.

“If you stand up, it would be easier.” Badas called out to him.

“Oh really, you think? Wow – that’s some genius you have there pal. Except for one problem. See these wheels?” He waved a hand at his chair which, yes, had a four wheels, two large at the rear and two smaller at the front.

“Uh…yes?” A chair with wheels was not something Badas had encountered before.

“Well, I’m not able to stand up, paralysed from the waist down, ever since I tried to cleanse a goblin cave and the little buggers dropped a rock on my back. So, I use the chair to get around. I call it the Chair With Wheels To Make It Possible For A Paralysed Paladin To Get Around. Although I’ve been toying with changing it. Using the term ‘Paladin’ makes it a bit specific, don’t you think?”

“Uh…yes, I suppose it does. Perhaps ‘man’, or ‘person’?”

“The Chair With Wheels To Make It Possible For A Paralysed Person To Get Around. Yeah, I like it! I’m Chad, by the way, Paralysed Paladin of Porter.” He held out a hand.

“Porter, as in the god of the Easy Lay?” Badas said, stepping forward to shake the proffered hand.

“The very same.”

“I didn’t know he even had Paladins.”

“Of course! Who wouldn’t want to be Paladin to the only God who not only allows, but actively encourages promiscuity?”

“And you can still…y’know…uh…your bits are all working?”

“Oh yeah, and I’ll tell you something else – chicks really dig the chair. Makes ’em come over all sympathetic and caring.”

“Okay, before you two boys get on to discussing past conquests and growling at each other over who is the best with the ladies, why don’t you tell us what you’re doing here?” said Jahra.

“Sure, of course. I was here trying to convert the local nunnery, a small temple devoted to one of those ordinary, dull goddesses that look down on sex as if it were the root of all evil. And I was doing pretty well too. Pretty much on a promise with this one cute little brunette as it goes.” He winked at Badas and cupped his hands in front of his chest as if holding two imaginary, and very large, melons. Which, in a way, he was.

“Anyway, she and I were getting comfortable in my chamber, when she took a drink of water. Something came over her.”

“She died, like the man at the docks?” Destiny gasped and clapped her hands over her mouth.

“You’ve seen a dead man? That’s unusual. Whatever happened here doesn’t seem to have been fatal. I haven’t seen any bodies.”

“Now you come to mention it, that’s the only one we’ve seen.” said Badas, “So what did happen to her?”

“Well, her eyes just sort of glazed over, and not out of lust – that I would have understood. No, it was more like…like the lights were on but no-one was home. And then she just got up and wandered off. Still…uh…in a state of some undress.”

“So you came here to see if you could find out what had got into the water supply to make her act like that?”

“Yeah. Whatever it is, I’ve not been exposed to it, I’ve drunk nothing but beer since I’ve been here – and they ship most of that stuff in in sealed barrels. Most of the magic my god bestows upon me involves, ultimately, the removal of female garments, but I do have some of the more traditional Paladin skills, and I was hoping I could divine the source of this strange behaviour.”

“Well, let’s get that bucket up then, eh?” said Badas, and quickly hauled up a fresh bucketful of water.

He placed it in front of Chad, who got to work straight away. He placed his hands into the bucket and chanted a quick prayer and summoned the magic of his god to test the waters. It was not something Badas had seen before, Paladin’s usually wanted nothing to do with him, seeing his attitude and work as dishonest and below them.

After a short time, and a great deal of chanting, Chad removed his hands from the bucket and shook off the excess water.

“It’s tainted somehow alright, but I can’t determine exactly how.”

“Any ideas of what we can do?”

“Well, I have one idea, but I don’t think you’re going to like it.”

“Try us.”

“Well, when the girl I was with took her drink, she wandered off somewhere, like she had a purpose, or was being called somewhere. If someone else were to drink some water, we could follow them, hopefully back to the source of all this trouble.”

“And you want one of us to drink the water?”

“Unfortunately I imagine that most people in the town have already done so. We could waste a lot of time finding someone who hasn’t, or we could just use what we have.”

“Yes, use is the right word. You can’t ask any of us to do that.”

“Jahra, think about it,” said Badas, “we don’t have much choice. We need to find the source of this problem.”

“So you’ll do it then, will you?”

“He can’t and nor can you, we may need our strongest fighters to face whatever it is that’s doing this.” Chad turned to Destiny. “You could…”

“Oh no, nonono not me mister. I’m the Chosen One, if I drink that stuff and die like the poor chap at the docks, we’re stuffed.”

“I’ll do it.” A small voice from the back was ignored.

“Then who?”

“I’ll do it.” The small voice still quavered, but spoke a little louder this time, and all eyes turned to the four little folk. Jeffrey, the halfling Chosen One stood at the centre of their small huddle. He spoke again, louder and more forcefully this time.

“I will do it. Give me the water.”

“You don’t have to Jeffrey, let the big folk sort out their own problems. We never should have come on this silly quest. All because of a faint birthmark on your shoulder. And now you’re going to drink poisoned water and probably die, and then what’ll I tell your ma?”

“You said tainted,” said Jeffrey, turning back to Chad, “does that mean the same as poisoned?”

“No. Not the same, but still dangerous. I don’t think it’s potent enough to kill you, but I have no way of knowing exactly how much damage it might do to you in the long term.”

“Jeffrey, it’s too dangerous. Come on, you came here because you were convinced you were the only one who could save the world, now there are other Chosen Ones. Come on, let’s go home and leave it to them.”

“You’re right Cedric. We’ll go home, but not until I have done this. Even if I am not the only Chosen One who is destined to save the world, at least I can do a little something to help. At least I can make this whole trip not be a complete waste of our time. Besides, we owe them our lives.” He stepped forward, grabbed the cup Chad had filled, and drained it in one gulp.

Badas and the others watched as the effects Chad had described started to happen to Jeffrey. His eyes glazed over, his arms dropped to his sides, and the cup clattered to the floor.

He reminded Badas of a zombie as he shuffled off. He set a slow pace, and the others sauntered along behind him, trying to make small talk to alleviate the tension.

The little halfling led them through the city, winding his way out of the central districts, and out into the more upmarket side of town, where the richer folk lived.

“Well, I thought most adventures took place in dark, dingy dungeons, or caves or whatever. I have to say, this place looks not half bad” said Destiny, gazing wide eyed at the enormous gates that lined the street, and no doubt led up to equally oversized houses. “What’s he doing now?”

Badas surpressed a snigger. Destiny turned and her shoulders slumped as she saw exactly what Jeffrey was doing now. He was levering up one of the metal grates that led into the city’s sewer system.

“Look on the bright side. At least he didn’t lead us the whole way through the sewers.”

“Well, I’m not going in there. It’s disgusting, and unhygenic.”

“Fine, it’s not like we need you anyway, squirt.” Badas shook his head and sighed. The supposed Chosen One wasn’t really living up to her name. Why was he travelling with her again?

~*~

Destiny wrinkled her nose in disgust. She could still smell the sewer, even with the entrance now closed. The smell must have permeated her clothes or something. And they’d really wanted her to go down there!

It was absurd. They’d spent ages manhandling Chad’s chair down there too. That was going to make any attack on the other side go really smoothly, for sure.

Well, anyway, she’d refused, but now what was she going to do instead. She couldn’t just hang around and wait for them to solve the problem. She was the Chosen One, she could solve the mystery herself without having to endanger her health by wandering through a river of poo.

She wandered up the street, stopping to peer through the tall gates of each house she passed. Nothing to be seen there but long, winding driveways leading up to enormous, opulent houses.

She sighed again. Badas had been most vocal about the economic advantages of questing, but she had seen precious little of that so far.

Never mind that. Look at the next house.

She whirled at the voice, but there was no-one to there. The voice was strangely familiar though. It had a certain quality to it that brought to mind…a cow. That was it, it was the cow from her dream.

Again, I am not a cow, that was simply the form I took to appear to you. Oh, look, never mind. The important thing is that you need to be looking at the next house on your right, just over the crest of that hill. And be careful.

“Wait! What do you mean? What will I find there?” she paused. The voice was gone.

She shrugged and decided to find out for herself just what he had meant. She walked quietly over the crest of the hill, craning her neck to see the next house.

In front of the gates, one each side, stood two enormous golems. Destiny had heard of golems, but had never seen one, and had only half believed what she heard. Made from stone, iron, wood, or any number of materials, they were said to be brought to life by the magic of powerful wizards.

These two appeared to have been fashioned from whatever the mage had found lying around. Bits of wood, twine, rusty old swords, shields and armour, and many other random items jutted out at odd angles. They were human shaped, but only on average.

Neither moved, and Destiny wondered for a moment if they were only statues, built to deter intruders, but without any magical life in them at all.

Either way, she thought she would be able to scale the wall of the estate without them seeing her.

She turned to the wall. Ivy grew conveniently thickly along its length. She reached out and tugged on it. It held, and she leapt at it, grasping it high up and pulling herself up.

A cacophony of noises alerted her to the golems awakening. The metal clanked and clattered, wood scraped and twine creaked as they left their posts and lumbered towards her.

She redoubled her efforts and scrabbled for purchase on the ivy, trying to get out of their reach before they got to her.

More haste and less speed, her father had always told her. Apparently he had been right. She hit the ground on her back, the air was driven from her lungs.

Ignoring the pain and gasping for air, she scrabbled to her feet and leapt backwards as a fist made of an old spiked helmet scraped the floor where she had landed.

As soon as she was a reasonable distance from the wall, the golems stopped their attack and returned to their vigil. This time one of them stood a little closer to the ivy she had attempted to scale. So, they could learn.

She had to get in there somehow though, but how? She couldn’t fight two enormous killing machines like these, no matter how tatty and slow they were.

She pondered for a while, and formed a plan. An unpleasant plan. In fact, it really stank, but with a bit of luck it would work.

She looked around for a loose cobble and pried one loose when she spotted it. Hefting it in her hand, she flung it with all her strength at the nearest golem. It struck a battered breastplate that made up part of the golem’s pelvis with a resounding clang and bounced off. The golem didn’t even move.

Destiny ventured a little closer and retrieved her improvised missile. So, they didn’t care about damage to themselves. Or perhaps they knew she posed no threat with her cobble.

She threw again, this time at the huge wrought iron gate. The clanking and creaking of the golems movement was her reward. She scampered back a little and concentrated on the ground between her and the advancing golems. She spread her arms and gagged at the stench as a steady stream of bovine excrement flew from her splayed fingers.

The clatter of falling golem filled her ears as her would be assailants slid on the slick pool of poo. She didn’t wait to see the results, turning instead to throw herself at the ivy again, quickly scaling the wall and dropping into the garden beyond.

She landed awkwardly and sprawled in a heap. She picked herself up and looked around, gasping at what she saw. She’d found the residents of the town.

They were everywhere, hundreds of people. And all of them working. Some dug over flowerbeds, others pushed barrows of soil or manure back and forth. Still others were planting trees or vegetables.

They weren’t all working on the garden, some were working on the large manor house that stood at the end of the long gravel driveway – which was itself being raked over by a group of old men. Some scrubbed the windows, some carried out repairs, and they all wore the same blank expression that she had seen on Jeffrey’s face when he drank the water.

She wandered towards the house, dodging the industrious slaves as she went. No-one tried to stop her, even as she reached the front door and pushed it open.

More of the blank eyed slaves busied themselves inside, polishing and scrubbing the already gleaming surfaces. Who could have done this? And why? Who would need this many slaves? Sure, it was a big house, but it hardly needed an entire town’s population to keep it running.

She wandered through the big house, seeing room after room crammed with people, all working away. At length she came to the kitchen, an enormous room. Like all the others it was crammed with people, all working. Some cleaning, but most of them cooking.

Vast pots of steaming stew, soup and other dishes lined every available surface. More people were serving the food onto various plates and dishes, then carting it off to who knew where.

“Depressing, isn’t it?”

She jumped at the voice, and turned to see a gaunt young man standing behind her. His eyes were hollow, but it looked like a lack of sleep rather than any enchantment. He moved forward and collapsed into a chair, his head in his hands.

“What happened to them?”

He looked up at her, his eyes wide, pleading for understanding.

“I didn’t mean for this. I just wanted Martha and Justin back.”

“Who are they? Who are you?”

He sighed. “My name is Cedric, I live here. Martha and Justin were our servants. When my parents where alive, they were employed here. They kept the house running smoothly, kept all the servants in line and such.

“When my parents both died, I was left to run the family estate by myself. I couldn’t cope. I took to the bottle and eventually Martha and Justin left in disgust. The other servants followed them.”

“So you turned the whole town into zombies to keep your house clean?” Destiny could hardly believe that this weak, pale looking man was the cause of all this.

“No! Well, yes. But I didn’t mean to. My father was a mage of some power, and he kept a vast library of books on magic. I started reading and found a way to control people’s minds. I only wanted to persuade Martha and Justin to come back. I think something went wrong.”

“You think? And I suppose you can’t turn it around, right?” He hung his head and shook it. “Where’s the library?”

He was about to answer, but was cut off by a loud banging noise coming from outside the kitchen. Destiny wandered into the hallway to find the source of the noise. She found a door opposite the kitchen that shook and rattled on it’s hinges, as if someone were pounding on it from the other side. A key protruded from the keyhole, and she reached down to turn it. Slowly, readying her magic, she pulled the door open. As it swung open, she grinned at the sight it revealed.

“Hi Badas, about time you guys showed up.”

~*~

Badas stood in the doorway, dripping with sewage and staring numbly at Destiny’s grinning face. How the hell had she got here? How had she known where to go? How had she…just, just how?

“See, Chosen One” she said, pointing at herself. His fists clenched at her smug little grin, but he held himself back. Couldn’t go around beating little girls, no matter how angry he was or how stupid she was.

He stepped into the room, the others following, Jahra pulling Chad backwards up the stairs from the cellar.

“So, is this the guy who did this?” said Badas, waving at the pasty little man who stood at Destiny’s side.

“Yes. He didn’t mean to though, he…” Badas stopped listening, time for some hero stuff.

He lunged forward and grasped the man’s tunic with one hand, lifting his puny body and slamming him into a wall. The little man wriggled in Badas’s grip, but he held him fast.

“What did you do, boy? And how do we undo it?”

The writhing, pathetic creature’s mouth opened and closed like a fish, but no words came out. Badas felt a hand grasp his arm. He looked down to see Destiny tugging at him, trying to get him to let go.

“What’s wrong with you? This guy has turned the entire population of this town into zombies. We need to find out how, and how to reverse the effect.”

“Beating him isn’t going to help. I’ve talked to him, he didn’t mean for any of this to happen, he just wanted his two head servants back.”

“What? That makes it ok? He only wanted to zombify two people instead of a whole town, so that’s alright then?”

“Well, no. But hurting him won’t help. He really doesn’t know how to reverse what he did, or he would have by now. Let me talk to him, see if we can figure out what he meant to do, how it went wrong and how to fix it.” She turned big puppy dog eyes on him. “Please, Badas. He won’t go anywhere, look at him, he’d never get away from a big strong hero like you.”

Badas shrugged and let the man slide to the floor, where he collapsed into a heap. Pathetic. At least Destiny was right about that much, the little weakling wouldn’t be able to get away.

“Fine, have it your way. See what you can do.”

~*~

Destiny bent and helped Cedric to his feet. What the hell was Badas thinking? Couldn’t he see that this poor man was no threat to them?

“Ok then, take me to the library and show me where you learnt how to do this. We’ll see if we can’t find a way to stop it and set these people free.”

He led her through the house, up a magnificent staircase to a room at the back of the building. Soon, they came to a big oak door at the end of a corridor. A small brass plaque announced it as their destination. Cedric pushed it open and they entered.

Destiny gasped as she walked in behind Cedric. It was huge. Books lined every wall, leatherbound tomes stared down at her from the shelves. She could spend a lifetime in here.

She gazed around, reading titles at random. There were books on every subject she could imagine, and probably a few more besides.

“Over here.” Cedric’s quiet voice broke her out of her trance, and she followed him over to a table covered in open books. He reached for one. “This is the spell I used” he said, pointing to the open page.

She took the book from him and peered at it. The spell seemed simple enough. It continued over the page, and she went to turn it. The next two pages were stuck together. He had missed the end of the spell, and finished it with the end of another! She carefully prised the pages apart.

“This is what you did, look.” She showed him the stuck pages. “You cast half of Makru’s Persuader, and half of Mendenko’s Mass Zombificator. That’s why it went wrong. Now let’s see if we can figure out how to put it right.”

She went back to the pile of books and started flipping through them. It took her a while, but eventually, she found what she was looking for.

“Here we go, this should do it.” Cedric perked up hopefully. “It says here that if the caster is killed, the spell is dispersed.”

“Killed! You want to kill me? But, but I…I mean, surely…” she cut him off.

“Nah, I’m just shitting with you. Have you slept since you cast the spell?”

“Slept? How could I? What with the guilt, and with these people cleaning everywhere, all the time, I couldn’t sleep at all. Hell, there were people in the bedrooms constantly maing the beds anyway.”

“Well, that’s it. Says here that the caster taking a nap will disperse the spell.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s it” she said, nodding.

~*~

Badas clung to the rigging again, preferring to be up here and out of Destiny’s way. Her solving the problem in town hadn’t helped with her Chosen One ego, and she was becoming even more unbearable.

He sighed. Who would have thought that taking that gaunt young man away from his house so he could sleep would save a town? Magic, he was glad he stayed well away from it for the most part. It usually caused more trouble than it solved.

He peered into the distance. Was that the fuzzy line of a landmass on the horizon? Once again, the cry from above confirmed that it was.

They had reached the south islands where the ship’s owners were seeking trade with the locals. And where they feared the greatest danger. Who knew what savages might live in these wild lands?

He shrugged to himself. They would find out soon.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s


%d bloggers like this: