The Ashen Crown, the Lords of Madness, and the Queen of Death

Drynn the Corrupter

You reach out through the Coat of Eyes, tapping into the link it has to other creations of the Daelkyr. You feel them, the hearts, all beating in perfect synchrony. You feel them in the chests of the Clan of Heroes delegation. You feel them in the Gathering Stone fortress, a distant white shape of walls and battlements lit under the moonlight. You feel them, many of them, under the earth, beneath the plain, and moving upward, beating like wardrums. You feel some hidden amongst the old ruins, scattered about between the fortress and the Gathering Stone itself. It’s ambush, you realize with a chill. They are bringing their entire army to attack the Clan-Meet.

And then you hear a voice. No, not a voice. Many voices. Hushed voices. You strain to listen. They are saying something over and over again. A few words. One word? It sounds like… your name.

“Dextomoria.”

Suddenly the members of the Clan of Heroes delegation all freeze. Their heads turn and the eyes of every one of them is upon you. Their stare is blank and empty. You feel an incredible lightness, as if your body was no longer there. Looking back on this later, you are fairly certain that this was the point when you collapsed.

You feel a terrible force prying memories free from your mind like gemstones from a cavern wall. It appraises each one, muttering to itself in a hundred voices, the words indistinct or unfamiliar. Finally, it gives them back to you, shoving each memory, shimmering or dull, beautiful or terrible, back into place. The smell of a pig roasting on a spit. The sound of gnomes dancing around the fire, singing, and playing their lutes. Cutting gems with your mother as child. The night when your cousin was bitten by that boar. Yeraa and her band, their bodies strewn on the floor below the deck. Belashyrra’s smile, like a rip in the seam of a mask.

There is the briefest of pauses, before it plants something else into your mind. More memories. Memories of things that haven’t happened.

Snow is falling. The flakes gather on the frozen ground, among the black ash of the long dead bonfire, and upon the colourful clothes and still, pale faces of the gnomes. The flakes melt where they touch blood.

The painted wagons are unharmed and nothing seems to have been stolen, but there are signs of struggle everywhere. There are spent arrows and crossbow bolts among the grass and studding the back of one of the wagons. There are broken mandolins, discarded pipes, and scattered food. It was in the midst of a merry feast when they were taken by surprise.

Krimp is covered in bloodstained playing cards, his throat slit. You try not to look at their faces. You stop yourself from counting the dead, from looking for your family. There would be time for grief later. Now was the time to hunt.

If any of the enemy were killed, the survivors took the bodies with them. There are wagon tracks leading away from the campsite. Another caravan. You follow them, the others trailing after you in silence. The tracks end a mile down the road. They just… vanish.

“I’m sorry,” says Arik. The halfling wipes away tears with his sleeve. “I should have warned you. I saw this… I saw this happening before it happened.”

“I know,” you say simply, your voice dead. “Belashyrra plucked this vision from your mind when you were his captive. Then he gave it to Drynn and Drynn gave it to me.”

Darkness. Sound and sight are abruptly yanked away.

A hundred, no, thousand voices murmur in your mind, “I offer you two gifts. The first gift was knowledge, and I already haven given it. The second is in your hands for the taking.”

There is a beautiful, ruby and onyx jewelry box resting in your palms. It is warm and you can feel something inside it, beating.

“I offer you a new heart,” whisper the thousands, no, hundreds of thousands of voices. “A heart that never feels pain. A heart that never ceases. I can give this to you and to all those you love. You and they will never suffer, never die. What you have seen through Belashyrra’s Eye to the Future does not need to come to pass. Know that I do not lie. These gifts are real. I have already given them to many. All I ask is that you break the circle around the Gathering Stone and these gifts are yours.”

Your eyes open. You are staring up at the star filled sky, lying on a muddy road. The sounds of shouting goblins is everywhere. You’re not sure how much time has passed. The connection between you… and Drynn, if that’s what that was, … seems to be broken.

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