Almendra, a Beautiful Psionic Wasteland

Fifty-First Day on the Surface

DAY FIFTY ONE

The mysteriously large maenad left by the time I awoke this morning. Ate a delicious breakfast cooked by both the War Chef and Cinna. When noon rolled around I trotted out into the woods to check up on Ishitari. I made sure no one followed me.

Or so I thought I had. Just as I reached the door a strange sense of peace washed over me. My body was no longer my own. Like a puppet in a puppet show I turned around unwillingly to see the tentacled mug of a mindflayer.

“Little dromite, please, enlighten me.” I heard it say in my mind. I shivered. “Tell me the words to get into this door.”

“I don’t know, master.” I replied, my voice devoid of emotion. Were I in control, I would have spat the word ‘master’.

“Did my power not work on you? You don’t seem afraid.” The flayer grumbled, somewhat agitated. It slapped me across the face and knocked me to the ground. I couldn’t move. My mind couldn’t will my body to do anything. By the Queen, my own thoughts couldn’t think. “Now please, tell me what the words are. We must get in immediately and secure this side.”

“I honestly don’t know master. I don’t know.” I said again.

The mind flayer grinned and picked me up by my throat. “Well, I guess at least there’s a good meal here.” Just as I was at its eye level its whole head burst into flame and I was let go.

I fell again and shook my head clear of the cobwebs still in my mind. “What the hell…?”

Standing above me was a forty-year old man with a familiar face. From his appearance he could’ve been a relative of Cogline. I shook my head again. But could it be? He looked too eerily similar to Cogline.

“I’ve been hunting these guys for a few weeks now.” The man said. “At least one came out. They’re trying to secure the portal down there so they can better secure Tyler.”

Tyler. He definitely wasn’t just a relative. “Is that you, Cogline?”

“It is me. Whenever I use my powers this is what happens. I look a lot younger than I am. I haven’t used them for a few decades. Not since…” His voice trailed off. “But anyways, I don’t know how safe it is out here. These illithids are wanting to get in. If they can take in the city from this side they can secure the portal for their bretheren.”

“Yeah. I hope Ishitari is okay though.” I looked over my shoulder at the door hidden by the run down cottage.

“She hasn’t reported anything to me, so I don’t know. I imagine so. Anyway, you should get back to town. I gonna see if I can track down where these guys are hidin’ out.” He leaned down and picked up the illithid’s corpse. It burned to ash in his hand, the bits of burnt flesh floated down and made a small pile. He walked past me off toward the swamp where Melest used to be.

I sighed and took a deep breath, my whole body shaken by what just happened. Illithids are trying to get in. An illithid nearly ate me. If Cogline hadn’t been where he was then I wouldn’t be writing this now. But the bigger mystery is what is up with Cogline. I mean just who is this Cogline? He went from being frail and old to a robust middle aged man. What sort of powerful psionics could possibly pull that off? So many questions raced through my mind. (Which still ached and felt funny from the mind flayer’s control.)

“This is why you were not supposed to be told.” An unknown voice rang in my head. It wasn’t another illithid. I still had complete control. An odd sense of knowing came over me. It was Thorumak.

I returned to the inn immediately and ordered myself a stiff mug of Dwarven Ale. I hung out at the bar talking with Cinna for awhile. Ith joined us about an hour after I arrived back I asked if she knew where Sandstorm went, as he was conspicuously missing. (What in the Abyss, half our party was off Queen knows where.) She said she wasn’t sure. That he might’ve gone off into the woods not longer after I had.

I’d just finished dinner when Sandstorm returned. He first, with Ari behind him, a disgruntled look on her face. Dirt coated her cheeks, and the stench of dried animal blood stained her clothes. But most surprising of all was the dromite behind them. He (I knew he was a former consort by the sight of him) strutted in last and proud, chest out and chin up high. He wore tattered clothes that smelled of mud and pine. A quiver strapped to his back. Two short swords sheathed on his right side. Almost his whole body was coated in scars. Mostly old, but some were newer.

His antennae picked up at the sight of me and he sat up next to me at the bar. “So, I heard you’re another dromite here.”

“Yes I am.” I smiled.

“Are there many dromites here?”

“No. Most of us keep underground away from the surface.”

“Yeah, I come from another continent. I was brought in by the Diamond Knights to find her.” He looked over at Ari, who sulked in one of the far corners.

“Why were you searching for her?”

“I dunno,” The dromite shrugged, “She apparently killed somebody or somethin’.”

What?” I excliamed.

“Yeah. They didn’t really tell me what she did.”

“Maybe it had something to do with that weird fire that Pe Ell was talking about.” I wondered.

I remember the Inquisitor said that she set two fires recently. One in Veseeld and one in Pollt."

A glass crashed on the floor. It was Cinna, quiet yet enraged. Her chest heaved like she wanted to scream but held it in.

“Anyway, we should stay here for the night.” The dromite continued, “Are we gonna be headin’ out in the morning?”

“We want to wait for the thri-kreen to return.” Sandstorm said.

“I see…Well, I can deal with that.” The dromite agreed.

I was so excited, so thrilled to see another of my kind on the surface. And not controlled by mind flayers at that! A bit of homesickness swelled in my heart. I’d never thought I’d miss seeing another dromite so much. I immediately jumped to talking to this curious dromite in Dromodic, but his Dromidic was rusty and he barely understood me. To my duress I switched back to Common.

“Sorry, they don’t usually let us talk in other languages.” He apologized.

“So you only know Common then?” I asked.

“Eh, I know a little bit of Dromidic, and I also know some Dwarven because that’s what I’m trained to know. I’m not very good at talking in it though. I was trained to hunt humans and dwarves, so. There are some things that are ahrd for illthids to control so that’s what they trained me with. I’m glad that I’m here and I’m staying here.”

“Lots of illithids huh?”

“That’s why I’m glad I’m here. I ain’t leavin’ this place. No illithids? Sounds great!” He grinned.

“Well, that’s not necessarily true…” My antennae drooped.

“At least only a few illithids. Apparently a few came in when they let me in, but that’s okay.”

I shivered. “I ran into one earlier today.”

The dromite had a sly smile. “Nasty little buggers huh?”

“Yeah.” I paused. “What’s it like over there?”

“Well, I mean, death is pretty common. An illithid gets hungry and if you’re unlucky enough to get close to ’em then well sucks for you essentially.”

“Sounds horrible.” I said sadly.

“It’s pretty bad.” He agreed, “But I’ve been trained in keeping quiet and findin’ people so at least I’ve been useful enough to them.”

I nodded. Our attention snapped back to Cinna. An empty glass in her hand, the former contents of it sprayed all over Ari’s face. She glared at Ari but said nothing. When Ari did nothing in response Cinna stomped back into the kitchen. Ari must’ve done something to piss her off. The fires maybe?

Ari and Sandstorm are probably wasted now. I talked with the dromite named Mirath a while longer, but I’m off to bed now. Today I got just a little bit too close to death for my liking.

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