Deadfire part 8: The Curse of the Trade Lands
She took off her hood, tied her brunette hair back with a leather thong, and looked around the open road. She put the hood back up. I noticed she had little dimples on her cheeks. She couldn’t have been more than twenty years of age. But those eyes…
“Yeah, it’s messed up all right. Like there’s a sense that a storm is about to break out any moment,” I said. I noticed there were no birds around, no insects, and no little spunky forest creatures running around. That’s what was wrong with the place. The forested lands were quiet and barren. There must be animals and creatures about somewhere, my mind reasoned. My soul told me otherwise.
We sat down on this tree that had fallen across part of the road. I dug into my pack and took out some jerky and handed it to her. I snapped into it, gave myself a personal “Oh yeaaah” reminiscent of the Macho Man and handed her the rest while digging out a fresh stick of jerky. I’d earned this jerky. She hadn’t.
“It’ll give you the shits. Enjoy. ” She took it, paused, and then began to eat without argument because she was so hungry.
“I always thought the Trade Lands were some sort of big desert. Where’d I get that idea?” I asked. “Like Dune and shit?”
She said nothing but took out her lute and began to play it again.
I listened for five minutes before I noticed the horse was walking away.
“You see how bad you are? The horse is leaving, you pissed him off because you suck…” I took the lute away from her and she gave me a look that sent shivers down my spine.
“Wow, don’t get so defensive. I’m just going to show you how to play and give you a tip at the end, okay? Isn’t that what bards do? Hey, maybe you and me can play the inns, get some money and go out drinking and make love to strangers who will make you feel better for just a moment…”
She looked at me again.
I started to play something sweet and melancholy, like “The Fisher King’s Daughter” or “Ring of Fire.” I finished the song and gave the lute back to her.
“What’s the lesson?” Alexis asked quietly. I stood up and brushed off the back of my pants, dirty from having sat on the log.
“Stop playing because you aren’t as good as me.” I patted myself on the back for the setup of that epic burn. I called out to the horse and it came back after chewing on something or other in the bushes near the road. With my luck it would have eaten some sort of poison berries and then keel over and die after a period of painful flatulence.
“What were chewing on? I don’t know what to feed you but be careful…” I said to the horse. “Deal? Come on, deal? Don’t be that sort of horse. Nobody likes that sort of horse.”
Suddenly the sky turned a dark black and the stars came out. The sunlight of the day ended in one, abrupt cataclysm of noise and lightning. There was the sound of some sort of mirthless laugh and the beating of some giant heart.
“What the—” I asked before I saw a pack of ugly creatures, six-foot tall humanoid things with sunken eyes. Their arms were long and snakelike, with razor sharp claws. They wore only a faded blue loincloth despite the cold. More emerged from the forest, some digging their way out of the ground. Those coming from graves spat out dirt from their mouths and blinked reptilian eyes that were large and searching and yellow. They began to scream this high-pitched wail and the horse finally took off, charging down the road as fast as it could. After a moment it was long gone. Smart creature.
One creature that came out of the ground near me had grabbed me with its long, scaled arms, which wrapped around my torso and pulled me toward its mouth full of rotted, yellow fangs and smelling like pure shit and dead people left to rot in the July sun. I’m not proud—I alternated between screaming like a girl on fire or a girl watching The Beatles in concert while on fire and high on mescaline. But as soon as I was about to be chewed with poisonous fangs that’d probably eat my soul, there was another burst of sound and light and the world turned back to normal. Alexis was on the ground shaking, holding a dagger in her right hand. She had gotten away from one of things too. Barely. That was incredibly close.
“Okay. What do we got here? What the hell was that?” I asked, breathing deep and trying not to throw up. I lost the battle and did it all over the Ugly Road.
“That thing smelled so bad, holy cow, I mean….” I dry heaved three times.
She stared at me as if I had grown a human head on my chest that was shouting obscenities at her.
“The curse of the Trade Lands.” She took a moment to catch her breath. “Happened to me once before, on the Ugly Road back near Foresight. Can happen anytime, sometimes twice a day, sometimes once every other month. Never lasts too long. When I was there it lasted over ten minutes. They crawled all over those elven buildings like cockroaches scurrying over a dead body… The sky roared and turned black, and those things came out. The people who live here are all in these fort villages, cities or by themselves at the independent mines have their placed blessed by priests and paladins, and live with their doors locked at all hours. You can never know when it will come in the Trade Lands…”
I put up my hands. “Aw, what the shit. They didn’t say that when I was in West Accadios. This is the Trade Lands, the merchant’s heaven…I thought that curse stuff I read was just a bunch of balderdash phooey shit.”