Chapter 91: Reality Check

Perhaps it’s due to the unforeseen aftereffects of utter exhaustion, or of nearly freezing to death, or just simple stress  — but that night, my dreams are intensely disturbing.  Although I haven’t thought about him in a very long time, I find myself dreaming about Roddy, my former business partner — the one who deceived me, stole ownership of my pub from me, and destroyed the life I had built for myself back in High Rock.

In the strange way of dreams, he’s no longer simply my friend and partner, but also my lover –the singular focus of all my attention and desire.  We live in the same house (which, oddly, looks like a combination of the Drunken Horker and Breezehome ) and sleep in the same bed, where we also make energetic and passionate love that leaves me begging for more.  In real life, I had never been remotely attracted to Roddy, nor had I ever wanted to see him without so much as his shirt on — but in my dreams he is utterly delicious, powerfully muscled and ardently virile, seemingly inexhaustible as he brings me to the brink of orgasm over and over.

Then my dream abruptly shifts.  Suddenly I’m no longer in bed with Roddy, but instead I’m walking into the bedroom after closing the pub — only to find him just as ardently demonstrating his virility with another woman.  Pinned beneath Roddy’s heaving body, with perspiration gleaming like pearls of light on her dusky skin, her face is obscured by shadow — but something in the movement of her graceful limbs and her moaning, delirious fervor seems achingly familiar.  In my dreams, I’m instantly filled with rage — and in my shock and anger, I spontaneously transform into a werewolf, intending to murder them both.

But then Roddy suddenly swings around at the last moment, just as I’m about to sink my claws into his sweat-soaked back.  In his hand, he clutches an ornate silver dagger — and pealing with raucous laughter, he plunges the weapon deep into my heart just as the other woman screams in exquisite climax.

And then — only then — do I recognize her.  It’s Jenassa.

Continue reading “Chapter 91: Reality Check”

Chapter 92: Beach Bums

Outside, I’m still in the middle of devouring my breakfast — and enjoying it quite a lot — when the door to the cabin opens.  Glancing around, I watch as Jenassa steps out to join me on the weather-beaten porch, wincing as the frigid wind hits her in the face.  Fortunately, it’s not quite as cold as it was yesterday evening, but I’m also not about to plan a beach vacation out here anytime soon.

Shutting the door behind her, my wife puts a hand on the porch railing and looks me in the eye.  It’s clear from the expression on her face that she has something to say, so I decide not to speak in case I interrupt her train of thought.

And also because my mouth happens to be really, really full.

“You didn’t have to leave the room when you started eating breakfast, my love,” Jenassa says.  “I know you were just trying to be polite, but you need to trust me when I say that I accept you as a werewolf.  And that means you mustn’t retreat like this whenever you think your behaviour might bother me.  It’s important that we adapt to anything that happens during the course of our lives, regardless of what those changes might be.  And above all, we must never find ourselves keeping secrets from each other.”

During this short speech, I’ve been nodding my head between sentences, trying to chew and swallow as inconspicuously as possible.  But when she finishes speaking, I have a moment of panic.  There’s no way I can reply just yet, so I settle for  making an intelligent-sounding non-verbal response to show her that I understand.  I furrow my brow to show her how seriously I’m taking all this, but the only sound I can manage is an unintelligible grunt, which, if it were spelled out, might resemble something like, “Mrrwlfm.”

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Chapter 93: Clearing The Coast

After some time by the campfire and a bite to eat, Jenassa and I are ready to resume our seaside journey.  Fortunately the wind has calmed down considerably, and the sun has risen high in the sky, shining down with a warmth that allows us to douse the fire without feeling the earlier chill in the air.  Packing our bags with anything we can find that’s worth taking, we mount up and continue on our way.

The wild north sea batters itself ceaselessly against multiple small rocky islands and craggy outcroppings that stand just offshore.   The weathered refuse of driftwood is scattered all along the beach, like old bones left behind after the meal of an ancient and voracious predator.  Tufts of ragged grass sprout up from the bare rocks, clinging to whatever sheltered nook they can find, and the warmth of the sun belies the icy blue of the glaciers, silently drifting away on their inexorable odyssey.

Just a nice sunny day at the beach.

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Chapter 94: Hidden Hazards

Passing through the entrance of the sea-battered cave, we find ourselves in the rough equivalent of a small vestibule.  And I do mean rough.  The cavern walls glisten with damp, but there’s no hint of lichen, seaweed, mushrooms, or any other substance that might lend a yielding texture to the implacable stone.  Beneath our feet, the stone floor slopes down toward a wider opening that seems to be leading into the main chamber.  It’s also pretty dark in here, but there’s just enough light for us to see.  By unspoken agreement, we decide against lighting a torch until we have a better idea of what other creatures we might find inhabiting this place.

Once past the small entryway, the cave opens up dramatically.   A velvety green phosphorescence shimmers distantly from the walls around us, and a narrow skylight pierces the roof above an inky underground river.  Our path leads us along a wide sandy bank, but in the strange light, the substance beneath our feet appears less like sand and more like soot.  It’s an unsettling scene, and for a moment I seriously consider heading back outside and taking my chances on the cold stony beach.

But aside from the gloomy view, the first thing I notice is the noise of the water.  It’s a constant cascade of murmur, bubble, and splash, amplified by the rocky walls and startling in its volume.   Surprised by the intensity of the sound, I turn to say something to Jenassa, only to find that my hasty speech is echoing throughout the cavern.  So much for being stealthy.  I immediately stop talking and make a mental note to proceed silently in here, since the ongoing reverberation of even the slightest sound makes normal conversation next to impossible.

There’s a distinctly Stygian vibe down here. Let’s hope that’s not a bad omen.

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Chapter 95: In The Crow’s Nest

If I had built up any expectations before stepping through a secret door deep in a hagraven’s lair, they would have been shattered within the very first minute.  Aside from the fact that we’re still inside a cave, the area ahead of us is a stark contrast to the space we just left behind — from a damp, chilly, shadowy tunnel full of filth and spiders, to a warm, dry, well-lit expanse with a relatively clean floor and a welcome lack of arachnids.  While it’s definitely a change for the better, it’s also a cause for concern.  It seems pretty clear that this area is the real hideout, and the cavern we just left was nothing more than an elaborate entryway, with the hagraven and spiders acting as lookouts for whatever else might be hiding back here.

The other thing I notice right away is… the table.

There’s nothing particularly special about it.  It’s just a sturdy wooden table, located quite close to the hidden doorway.  But since we’ve just been in a place where the most sophisticated construction was a rickety bunk made of sticks and rawhide, seeing an everyday table in here is more than a tad surprising.

The other surprising thing is what’s on the table.  I’m not sure what I expected, but I sure didn’t expect to see a collection of potions and shiny gemstones.  Huh.  Usually we have to fight more enemies than a single hagraven and a couple of spiders before we get to any of the good stuff, but I’ll take it.  I’m just turning toward Jenassa to direct her attention to this most interesting find, when something else happens that I didn’t expect — and it nearly makes me jump out of my skin.

Think you could you say that a bit louder?  Our horses outside might not have heard you.

Continue reading “Chapter 95: In The Crow’s Nest”

Chapter 96: Close Quarters

After emptying out the wooden chest and checking the rest of the cavern, Jenassa and I find ourselves loaded down so much loot that we’re practically dragging our packs on the ground.  Not that this is too surprising.  We haven’t sifted through our belongings since we left the shipwreck camp, and our assortment of goods has grown rather cumbersome.  All our recent activity is starting to catch up with us, and as we drag ourselves back to the lower part of the cave, I find myself starting to feel sleepy — and, of course, ravenous.  I start digging around in my pack for a quick snack, but much to my annoyance, all the food is trapped beneath our recent load of acquisitions.  It’s impossible to reach it without dumping my pack out on the ground and reorganizing it all — which, as I know from experience, takes far too much time when I’m already hungry and tired.

Jenassa admits she has the same problem.  It’s inconvenient, especially since we’re both exhausted, but if we want to eat hearty and sleep well, then we’re going to have to head back outside and empty our packs into our horses’ saddlebags.  It’s not ideal, but it means we can get started on dinner a lot faster.  So, naturally, I’m on board with this plan.

So much for a romantic starlight walk on the beach.

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Chapter 97: Secret Garden

After a restful night, I awaken the next morning to one of my favourite sounds — my wife making breakfast. She’s obviously been paying attention lately to how my appetite has expanded, since there’s evidence she’s gone into both our packs in search of adequate food supplies. It’s also apparent that she’s risen to the challenge magnificently, as once she notices I’m awake, she hands me a wooden platter of baked salmon on toasted bread covered in melted goat cheese, and a bowl of hot cereal topped with apple slices and roasted nuts.

It’s a fantastic start to the morning, especially considering we’re still in the middle of a waterlogged hagraven lair. It’s definitely past time to remedy that situation — but there’s one little matter I need to take care of first.

I’m sure this will cause me some kind of existential crisis later.

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