By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 3 - Damsel in Distress
Outside Berdusk, 1371 DR, Eleint, 8th day, afternoon
Ditalidas is out riding on Alana her riding horse together with, her father’s dog Vidya, who is running beside the horse. She is riding on a trail that runs parallel to the Reaching Woods for several miles. Vidya is running ahead, as suddenly he stops, hairs bristling and growling. When Ditalidas stops and dismounts to see what is wrong, she notices that the ears of Alana flattened and she reacts skittish. A sense of dread creeps over her, sending a chill along the young woman’s spine. Trying to control the horse, Ditalidas hears some movement coming from the forest edge. When she looks, several humanoid figures are walking toward her. Alana rears and Ditalidas losses her grip on the reins, the horse bolting away. Vidya remains close to Ditalidas, growling and baring his teeth to the figures. Something about them does not seem right. About a dozen of them approach from the woods, but Ditalidas can see more standing just within the tree line. Somehow unable to move, her vision swerves to one of the figures, a woman it seems, but hideously deformed. Through her tattered dress rotting flesh is showing, and in some places bones. When she raises a hand towards Ditalidas, a slow moan escapes from her mouth: “Daaauuuughteeeerrrr.”
Ditalidas eyes widen in terror. Her hart pounds wildly in her chest. She stumbles a few steps backwards, enlarging the space between her and this creatures a bit. “By the gods, what…” At that point, she realizes what the woman ‘thing’ had actually said. Weakness runs trough her legs when she stares upon the leftovers from, what this creature said, is her mother? “Oh no… no… nooo.” She shakes her head and lifts her arms as if she could ward them off by doing that. The pain that lances through her heart is almost unbearable as she slowly allows herself to believe that there is a possibility that this indeed could be her mother. It would explain a lot. An inner battle takes place between the feelings of disgust… and, what is it, a longing for her mother’s arms, warmth and love? Not able to decide what to do, she can do naught but wait and see.
The shambling figures crowd closer and closer toward Ditalidas. The woman – is it her mother – holds out another skeletal hand, as if to grasp her. A piece of her tattered cloak falls aside; Ditalidas recognizes a familiar symbol on the rotten tunic. It’s her families crest. Could this really be her long dead mother? Can it? A cold fear grips her heart, yet somewhere she wants to give in and fall into her mother’s arms. Ditalidas hesitantly takes a step forward when Vidya interposes himself growling between her and the undead apparition. When the undead woman ignores the dog and continues to advance on Ditalidas, Vidya springs forward and attacks the woman by going for her throat. As if this was the moment the other figures were waiting for, they shamble on, surrounding Ditalidas.
Turning about Ditalidas sees no way to escape, and panic takes hold. Screaming for the undead to go away, she sinks to the ground, arms and legs flailing about, when suddenly burst of energy flies forth from her, striking the nearest undead. Some are stunned others fall to the ground, no longer moving. Yet it buys only a brief pause… Sitting on her knees, she has little time to wonder about what just happened. She still feels the warmth that rushed trough her veins when she released the power. In panic, she tries to search in her inner self for more of this same power. While searching she yells for her only friend at present. “Vidya! Help me!” Desperate she gets a hold of her power. Tears are already pouring down her cheeks. As danger approaches, she prays upon the goddess she grew up with, asking Waukeen to aid her. Murmuring the words to herself, she unleashes her power, hoping that it does what she wants it to do…
“Vidya! Help me!” Ditalidas’ scream rings from the midst of the mass of bodies, followed by a brief flash of golden light streaming out through one of the figures attacking the prone woman. As if the light was a deadly sword, the grotesque man-shape falls to the ground, no longer moving. Yet it bought Ditalidas only brief respite, the other shambling monstrosities intensify their attack, and flailing hands and raking nails clubbing and scratching the poor girl. On the verge of loosing consciousness, she hears the thunder of hoof beats coming from over the small land rise nearby.
Scowling beneath his helm at the shambling monsters accosting the woman Telsom attempts to push Teri harder in an attempt to get to her before the tide of monsters drags her into Kelemvor’s realm. “Turn and face me villains!” He shouts attempting to taunt the creatures away from the fallen woman.
Strangely, the shambling figures do not react on Telsom’s taunting. Single-mindedly, it seems, they continue attacking the young woman, moaning sounds coming from their mouths. Poking his sword to one of them does not provoke a reaction at all. At the same time, Druth wades in with his horse and succeeds in pushing some of the vile reeking monstrosities away, creating a small opening in the circle of the decaying creatures surrounding the girl. Druth’s horse frightened by the stench of the horrors and rears, lashes out with his front hooves. With a sickening crunch, the hooves connect with a head, and one of the monsters falls to the ground. The action throwing Druth from the back of his horse, landing him precariously close to the animal’s rear legs, and next to the girl, who with her almost last vestiges of strength kicks one of her assailants away briefly.
Trying not to pay attention to the sounds that the creatures are making, and seeing that they look slow moving, Druth tries to get to his feet and carry the girl out of the abomination’s reach. While Telsom is riding to the creatures, he senses something amiss. From the corners of his eyes he sees another score of shambling humanoids emerging from the forest and heading his way, this group seems armed and lightly armored. Then his vision draws to movement close by. One of the creatures around the girl flings backward as she almost collapses from exhaustion. Telsom’s traveling companion has fallen from his horse, and has landed next to the girl.
“Vile undead! A second death awaits you on my blade. To attack a damsel like this… it… it is just wrong!” He roars hacking and slashing with his blade jabbing it into the creatures whenever an opportunity permits. “Druth!” He shouts. “There is more coming from the forest, they’re armed as well. Get the woman on my horse and get her away from here.” Shifting his focus to see the new menace, Druth tries to regain his balance. Sensing the wisdom in Telsom’s words, he grabs the girl and tries to mount his friend’s horse.
The young slender woman is easy to lift for the elf. The woman’s long dark hair looks wild and all over. Holes torn in her once beautiful – and from the looks of it expensive – riding suit, the young woman’s skin covered with bruises and scratches. The glance in her eyes is somewhat wild as she looks at the scene unfolding. When the strange arms grab hold of her, Ditalidas faces up to see what is pulling on her. For a second she does not seem to understand what happens and stares at the stranger blankly. Then her blue eyes brighten as she sees a living face right in front of her. An expression of relieve flashes over her face. She stretches out her arms to him and lets the stranger lift her away from the monsters. A groan of pain escapes her when the stranger’s actions force her into movement. It is clearly her feet have trouble carrying her and she leans on her savior for support.
“Ha!” Telsom shouts as he dispatches the last of the unarmed zombies. “Your vile presence is like blight on all that is righteous and beautiful. You too will fall on my blade!” He exclaims as he points his blade in the direction of the oncoming undead. “Uh oh.” He mutters as he takes in the full group of zombies coming his way. “Better part of valor and all that!” He says, slamming his rapier back into its sheath and bolting for Druth’s horse uttering comforting sounds to it so that it will not rear up and crush him as it did the undead earlier. “Aleey… Oop!” He shouts as he attempts to mount the creature and move away from the oncoming horrors. “To Berdusk friend Druth” He says as he spins the horse in a tight circle.
While Telsom tries to get Druth’s horse back, Druth puts as much distance as possible between him and the new-coming creatures. Once he deems he is far enough, he stops and lays Ditalidas on the ground. He examines her and starts tending to her wounds, “Don’t worry, you’ll be fine. We are here now.” His sight shifts towards Telsom, but seeing how well he fared against the initial threat, he is sure his friend will be ok on his own. Gratefully Ditalidas sinks to the ground and lets Druth do his tending. She shifts a bit so she looks in the direction of the undead monsters that lie about on the forest floor now. “Oh no… we didn’t kill her, did we?” If she had still some color in her face, it disappears as soon as she says ‘her’.
“By Hanali’s mirror, woman, what are you talking about? Well, I suppose we can talk about that later, when we are far from these beasts. Now stay still, and let me help you!” In confusion, Ditalidas glances around until she meets Druth’s almond-shaped eyes again. “Well… I… ehm… she was dead already… I think… so…” She starts to cry, not able to withhold any tears. Holding the girl close to him to comfort her, Druth says “Don’t worry, she was already dead” and then says to himself “Whoever she may be…” The ‘girl’ holds on to Druth tightly seeking for protection and comfort. “You’ll be ok now, don’t worry.” Druth tries to comfort her.
Following on Druth’s heels is Vidya, Ditalidas’ dog. The dog is growling. Its muzzle splattered with gory bits of undead. It lets Druth tend the young woman though, but seems to be watching keenly. Druth keeps tending to Ditalidas’ wounds, but he never lets the dog out of his sight. At the sound of an approaching rider, the dog flattens its ears and bares its teeth at the newcomer.
Reigning Druth’s horse in, Telsom brings it in close to Druth and the maiden. “I don’t mean to rush the two of you, but unless we are going to fight off this armed group of undead we should be underway. Should the two of you wish to stand and fight I will stay, but twelve to three aren’t odds that favor us, especially since both of you have sustained wounds.” Hopping down off Druth’s horse and leading it to them, Telsom kneels next to the injured woman.
The dog calms down almost immediately. Vidya goes to sit quietly next to Ditalidas, seemingly having lost interest in the young man treating its master. Sensing that Telsom’s healing ways are much more efficient than his own, Druth rises, stretches himself to asses how bad he was hurt by the fall, and murmurs something like “Ok, I guess that’s why a warhorse is more expensive…”
“By Sune’s grace let some of these cumbersome injuries be gone milady.” Taking both his hands he lays them on either side of her face, bending down he kisses her on the forehead and as he does, a pink glow spreads from his lips and flows into her. Smiling down at the woman, Telsom hops up to his feet and he grabs the reigns of his own steed and mounts her quickly. Turning towards the undead, he brandishes his weapon holding it at his side ready to fight the creatures or to leave should his companions be ready. With the pain gone, Ditalidas seems to get a hold of her self. She wipes off her tears, and then she looks at Telsom. Though her physical injures are removed, a certain pain still lingers in her eyes and her gaze still is not very clear. “You are right, we have to go. Guess there’s no time to bury her…” Pain flinches over her face, but she takes a distance from it. “Well, let’s be gone then.”
“Well, Telsom, I suppose you’re right again. We should be going before those monsters catch up on us.” Druth accepts his horse back with a nod to Telsom, and pats him before mounting. Ditalidas struggles to her feet and looks around. “Oh yes, I remember now. Alana took off. Hmmm guess there’s no time to track her down now is there?” She murmurs along, no longer distinguishable. “Could you please enlighten us? Who or what is Alana?” Druth asks a slight look of puzzlement on his face. “Alana?” She looks at Druth. “Oh, Alana is my horse. She took off when we encountered these… well… ehm… monsters.”
“Yes my dear we should be underway.” Gaze flickering towards the woods a slight scowl crosses Telsom’s face. “The fiend controlling the creatures is in the woods in that direction, I can sense his presence. I only wish there was time to remove the blemish from the face of Faerûn, but for now the dark one gets to keep his skin.” Looking to Ditalidas, Telsom gives another small smile, “Milady, my name is Telsom Torentshed, a paladin of Sune.” Reaching his hand down to her he continues, “Care to share my steed?”
She turns to Telsom, her eyes finally brightening a bit. “Telsom, that’s a beautiful name. You don’t mind if I call you Telsom do you?” She stops and looks a bit ashamed. “Oh, I forget myself… my name is Ditalidas Jalarghar…” She walks over to Telsom and takes his reaching hand. “Yes, please take me out of here.” When she sits behind Telsom, her eyes meet the eyes of the large black dog. With his intelligent gaze, he followed every move she made. The crescent moon shaped silver-gray spot over his right eye gives him an almost innocent look. Seeing how her friend has trouble standing on his left front leg she says: “How do we take Vidya? We cannot leave him behind.”
“But of course you can call me Telsom, Maid Jalarghar. As for your canine friend, well I am afraid he will have to try to keep up as well as possible. Luckily, this sort of undead would seem to be quite slow, we will be able to ride at a decent pace, one that Vidya can keep up with and maintain a good distance between the monstrosities and us. If we’re lucky we might run into your steed on the road ahead as well.” Placing his helm back on his head Telsom gives Teri’s reign a slight snap urging her forward at a decent pace, one that Vidya can hopefully keep up with. “On the morrow I’ll tend to your companion’s wounds with my mistress’ favor, on our next stop I will check his wounds for possible infection though. Filthy undead, it’s hard to tell what foul taints they might carry on them.”
“Okay, let’s just try than, but call me Ditalidas, or Dita if you prefer a shorter version of my name. Ride along to Berdusk. I’ll direct you to a place where we will be able to fresh up and get a decent meal.” She turns to Druth “And you good saer, let’s get introduced quickly and leave this terrible place.” From his horse, Druth crosses his arms in front of him and inclines his head towards the young woman. “My name is Druth milady. Though we fortunately arrived on time, I wish we could have met under better circumstances.”
Ditalidas glances one last time towards the fallen monsters. Pain flashes over her face and once again, her eyes fill with tears. “I wish we didn’t have to go this quickly. Maybe we can send some men to bury these poor souls and end this madness.” Her expression hardens, and suddenly she seems overcome by anger. “When the opportunity arises I will find out who has done this and I’ll punish him or her for this terrible deed. I’ll swear this on my unburied mother’s grave.” She keeps looking at the unfortunate place until it disappears out of sight.
Riding for ten moments Telsom brings his steed to a halt. “I might be able to cure your canine companion of a wound or two.” Being careful not to knock Ditalidas off the horse on his way down, Telsom slowly dismounts kneeling down beside the dog. “It’s alright.” He whispers quietly to the creature, “Let me see if I can ease your pain.” Removing the gloves from his hands, he pats the dog on the head trying to calm it while muttering a small prayer and kissing the palm of his other hand. “Lady Firehair, I beg of thee once again to grant me the power to heal, so that this beautiful creature need not suffer so greatly on the voyage ahead.” Kissing his palm, he places his hand over the worst of the dog’s wounds the same pink glow once again returning as he brings some mild relief to the brave canine. Finished with the dog he smiles at it, patting it on the head once more before returning to his steed and mounting her once again. Silently he urges Teri forward, eager to get to Berdusk and to get some decent food and drink into himself and his newfound companions.
Ditalidas holds on to Telsom, her arms around his waist. Lost in her own thoughts she has cloaked herself in silence. When Telsom dismounts, she watches him healing the dog. The beginning of a smile appears at the corners of her mouth. The smile disappears as her eyes turn hollow again and her mind shifts elsewhere, and judging by looks on her face, those are thoughts she would rather not have.
A sad smile crosses Telsom’s face as he sees the hollow look in Ditalidas’ eyes. Mounting the horse he takes the reigns in one hand gently squeezing her left hand with his as she wraps her arms around him once again, keeping his hand on hers as they ride for Berdusk. Respecting her thoughts, he utters not a word riding in silence, giving her hand a small reassuring squeeze every now and then. On the ride, he pays careful attention hoping to spot her horse should it be wandering aimlessly. Once Berdusk’s gates are in view, he turns to her whispering. “You know an enchanted rose petal led us to you. I’m ever so glad it did, although the flower wilted and blew away on the winds it brought us to an even greater treasure.”
As Telsom whispers to her Ditalidas blinks with her eyes a few times and looks at him in astonishment. Suddenly a red blush appears on her cheeks. She looks around and sees the gates of Berdusk. “Oh, are we here yet.” She says just to hide her confusion. “Let me tell you how to ride, we’ll be at my father’s place in no time now. Well ride along. I tell you left or right as we go along.” She smiles briefly.
The sun is setting further behind the horizon and tendrils of fog rise from the Chionthar and some of its smaller tributaries. The light of day is fading and nightly darkness approaches from the East. When Ditalidas, Druth and Telsom are riding toward the Woods Gate, they see four horses thundering out of the city, completely saddled yet without riders. It is as if invisible hands are holding the reins. The three travelers blink in astonishment as slowly five figures start to appear in the saddles. “By the gods… what…?” exclaims Ditalidas.
In the lead horse’s saddle, a huge black bearded man appears. On the other horses two men dressed as sailors, but apparently well accustomed to their horses, a robed and hooded person and a limp body slung over the saddle in front of one of the sailors. The hooded person turns his head toward the three travelers, and they get a feeling of a cold and deadly gaze that is sweeping over them. When the hooded figure’s gaze rests on Ditalidas, the robed man reigns in his horse, and starts pointing his fingers. The black bearded man wheels about, yells something unintelligible and grasps the robed one’s reins. Telsom spots something falling to the ground. Quickly the four equestrians ride off into the rapidly gathering darkness of the night. In absolute surprise, Ditalidas looks how the four horses vanish in the growing darkness. She glances up to Telsom. “What was that?”
A slight grimace crosses Telsom’s features as he stares after the departing riders. “Villains…” He mutters under his breath, “Were the conditions better I’d follow them and purify the darkness of their souls with my blade.” Looking back to the gate, Telsom reaches behind him holding onto Ditalidas tightly as he brings his heels into Teri’s flanks urging her forward at a fast pace, heading for something with a determined look on his face. “They dropped something milady, we should see what it is and alert the authorities to the possible mischief they were into. The taint of evil lingered about their auras.”
Her arms wrapped around Telsom’s waist again she holds on and hopes she will not fall off. Curious she looks along Telsom to see what they dropped. She turns again to the gates of Berdusk when she hears more hoof beats coming from the city. “More people arriving.” She comments dryly.
“Hmmmm… so it would seem. Friend or foe I wonder.” Telsom says over his shoulder his attention riveted upon the discarded object. Maintaining his course Telsom, attempts to reach the object before the men on horseback arrive, regardless of whether he gets to it before or after they arrive, he intends to stay out of their path. When he is near the object, he quickly dismounts to examine it. While he finds the four equestrians intriguing, Druth has seen enough bizarre things and does not interfere unless his friends are in danger. When Telsom dismounts, Ditalidas keeps a sharp eye on the approaching group, putting her sorrows aside for a while.
Picking the small object off the ground, Telsom wipes it of, and in the torchlight, he sees that it is a silver ornamental buckle for either a bridle or a saddle. It seems to depict a stylized grinning skull on a hexagonal background. Telsom quickly takes in its appearance before scowling at it. “Well the pieces of the puzzle appear to be falling together.” He mutters as he places the object in his belt pouch. Walking over to Teri and Ditalidas, Telsom leans against his horse. Taking his helm off the saddle and cupping it underneath his arm, he awaits the equestrians. Just for a second Ditalidas glances down at Telsom, before she puts her gaze back at the oncoming group. “What is it?” She asks him softly. “What is your conclusion?”
Looking up at Ditalidas a concerned look on his face he responds loud enough so that Druth can hear it as well. “Have you or your father ever angered anyone worshiping the dark god Velsharoon? His followers are quite into necromancy and a good many other dark habits; a symbol of Velsharoon dropped on their hasty retreat from the city. I’d have to say it does tie in with the undead which attacked you, and the stronger presence I sensed in the forest as we left the battle scene.”
Ditalidas also looks concerned now. “I don’t know anything about troubles in the past… I only know that my mother disappeared, when I was still a baby… nobody ever wanted to talk about her… and that…” Again, tears roll down her cheeks. The unbearable pain is showing in her eyes and on her face. “…And that… She was there… with the others who attacked me… as a corpse!” It is clear she has to force the words out of her mouth and her last words almost shouted. Ditalidas tries to dismount, the attempt looking more as if she is falling from the saddle. Sinking to the ground, she wraps her arm around her legs and puts her head at her knees. Swinging back and forth a bit she asks herself softly: “Why, oh, why, what could possibly have happened to her? How did it ever come this far?” After that, she lets herself go and cries her heart out in a relieving explosion of emotions. She has clearly forgotten the existence of the approaching men.
Kneeling beside Ditalidas, Druth nods to Telsom: “Watch out for these newcomers. We do not know yet if they are friend or foe. As for you, young lady, please go on, do not struggle with your emotions, and let them out so you will be free. And never forget: you must give time some time before it heals all these wounds.”
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