DEADFIRE part 7: Banter on the Ugly Road
“I’ll be headed there after I get to this place, Cold Run Run, that’s close. It’s my first time in the Trade Lands. What do you know of it?”
She shook her head. “I’m a wanderer myself. Looking for the next warm inn and an audience to hear my songs of more joyful times.”
I stared at her for a good minute. I then farted loudly and started walking away from her. But then I thought of something and turned around.
“You wouldn’t know a Farson Anaris, would you?”
“Strange first name, like yourself. I’ve heard of him. He’s the sellsword working out of the Mint for the Lord Proprietor. He a friend of yours? A brother perhaps?”
“Kind of. Kind of. I mean, not really, but I got something special for him that I really, really need to give him.” I winked at her.
She merely furrowed her brows.
“It’s cool. I just want to talk to him. Not kill him. That’s only a rumor.”
She nodded, then looked confused. Probably not knowing what I was talking about.
“May I join you?”she asked, her voice shaking a little. “I’ve been out here alone. The wagon master I was with became lost and I took off, not trusting his judgment. Some Halflings came out and killed them after the rising of the moon. I could see their corpses lying about like still broken statues. They stole the bodies and took them to where I do not know, friend.”
I frowned. “Well that sounds completely messed up.”
“There’s talk of ghouls and robbers on this side of the Grand Chasm.… I’m alone here. Never mind the curse itself.” She looked desperate for help.
I thought about it, and thought about how. Maybe she could come in handy.
“Yeah, that’s cool and all.”
She rubbed her shoulder. I walked forward and I noticed she was beginning to play the lute again.
“Just stop,” I said to her, not too gently. She put the lute away.
“You have any money?” I asked.
“Why would I have any gold? I’m alone here. You shot me. I’d probably give you some to spare my life.” she replied. “Isn’t that logical?”
“Right. Well. Do you know of any local cults that may appreciate the freshly decapitated — I mean, some exotic wares from the Halfling culture? Some real weirdo cult, the type that meets when the moon is right and the souls of damned scream loudest, that sort of a thing? They dance around a Stonehenge thing and ask for the return of their elders?”
She thought for a moment. “There are some tales of such a cult around here. But I don’t know details. The lands are cursed. The cursed seek the cursed, as my mother used to say. This place is a cesspool.”
I nodded, thinking that was totally fucking weird for her mother to tell her. I untied the canteen I had around my waist and handed it to her.
“If you’re thirsty and shit.”
She sipped at it and grimaced.
“Tastes like old milk and someone’s sick.” She spit out the contents onto the ground. “And something else, oh gods, what was that—”
“That’s Accadios Mead I’ve been saving, you filthy strumpet—” I grabbed it back and sipped on it.
After a moment, I spit out the contents and then poured the rest out on the stones of the Ugly Road, thinking that I totally got screwed in that transaction. This was some sick crap I had been carrying for a while.
“Wow, no, you were right. Holy, wow.… That burns. Oh man it burns. What did I have there? Oh god.… I should have gotten some water.… Packed in some snow into it. Something. Jesus H. Christ, it’s like bottled vomit.”
I started screaming and slapping my chest. “Oh god, this sucks, this sucks, this sucks.…”
After some dry heaves and a look of disgust from Alexis, we moved again forward, toward the Grand Chasm, toward the Bridge of Graves, and hopefully for me, toward Farson Anaris.
“I didn’t know it could go bad,” I said. She didn’t respond. She just walked ahead, soon covering her brunette head with a hood as it became colder out. Her cheeks were becoming red from the chill wind.
We had walked forward for an hour, getting closer to the edge of the valley that would lead down to the river, according to the map. The empty village disappeared behind us, leaving only brown dirt and snow to surround us on all sides as we walked. The land turned into a series of hills covered in dead, burnt trees, and that gave way to a regular forest covered in white snow. We stayed on the path, keeping always to the Ugly Road. The walking was tiring us both out, especially with all the hills around this place. This was no leisurely stroll. This was death-march territory. Probably the reason why the Trade Lands were left abandoned for so many years — it just tired out the traveler every time you wanted to make it from point A to point B.
“Sort of cold out,” I mentioned, my teeth chattering. She grunted an affirmative, throwing another cloak she had in her backpack. The three of us stopped, and I sort of coughed in my hand and made an apology.
“Sorry for shooting you. But, Trade Lands,” I said. “You know. I mean, I was on this beach atsthis kraken came out of the waves and if I hadn’t broken out in time, and then those Halfling killers.…”
“You’ve said that several times. I cannot blame you, though I do despise you. That was a wicked move, shooting me. I had surrendered!” she snapped. “A real man, a real bard, would not make such a strike. A real bard would call out and bring joy to all those around and if they were struck down, so be it. It is our way.”
“Well that’s stupid, that was your mistake to make, and hey, you learn from it and you begin to grow up and stop being a bitch. And that’s not a sexist comment that’s a, you were weak, and you’re a bitch, not because you’re a woman who’s a bitch.”
She didn’t say anything for a while.
“You mad, girl? Did I make you flustered?” I asked.
She said nothing but glared at me with bright green eyes that had a look of age and intensity one usually doesn’t see in people her age. We walked for, I don’t know, for wheels through the forested land, saying nothing to each other. It was something out of a painting as we trundled through, cold and bright with sunshine. But like I said before, there was something about this place that was off. Some sort of odd energy was everywhere. Always the haunted house effect even during the day, even during high noon. Just a creepiness. You’d spot something out of the corner of your eye, like a crucified wolf or a skeleton hanging from a tree limb. Or perhaps some odd, wooden charm tied to the trunk of a burnt and broken tree. Just little things to see all over that made you think “I should be elsewhere. Right now. Because I’m walking around in the biggest open air haunted house.”
Thinking that made me think of elsewhere and where I had come from. The feeling of nostalgia was a bit too much among so much cold and desolation, and I was wishing for a strong whisky or some other stiff and fiery drink that I could have over and over again.
“What is it about this place?” I asked the apprentice bard. “It feels like an abandoned amusement park in winter that only hobos live in.”
“I feel it too. Like something’s in the air. Like a bad smell.”