It didn’t take long to get from Thunder Bluff to the Echo Isles – Ankona took advantage of a wyvern so she could think and plan before getting to her destination. She had information to confirm with the spirits – was Gromnor dead? Was he really in the northern part of the Eastern Kingdoms, somewhere in probably old Lordaeron? Was he really poisoned? Confirming information meant entering the spirit world, and the easiest place to do that was in the Isles, where she knew she would be watched properly, in case something went wrong in the otherworld.
Handler Marnlek greeted her at the flightpoint. “‘Allo, miss. You be stayin’ here tonight?”
“Yes, and probably tomorrow as well. Is Mishiki around?”
“Ya, she’s over by the fire. Bom’bay blew sometin’ up yesterday, so she’s been watchin’ him.”
“Thank you, Marnlek. Be well.”
He nodded, turning back to the wyvern she had flown in on and finding it a spot in the stable. Ankona walked over to where the herbalist was sitting, next to a huge cauldron and with her little jars of herbs strewn about her. The novice witchdoctor near her had scorch marks across half his face, and he was dejectedly milling some herbs together with a mortar and pestle.
“Oh! Ankona! ‘Allo! How you being?” Mishiki got up and hugged the druid warmly. “You been away too long. Come back to teach again?”
Ankona shook her head. “I’m just here for a day or two. I need the help of Zen’tabra, and your help, to make a journey, and I felt safest doing so from here.”
Mishiki nodded. “Alright. Well, you just say how I can help, and I’ll get you situated.”
“I need … well. I need adder’s tongue and ghost mushroom. I have everything else.”
“Oooh. Big stuff. You got a big journey to do then? What’s wrong?” The herbalist began sorting through jars, looking for the tiny white mushrooms and the wispy green ferns.
“A… new friend has been kidnapped, and we need to know if he’s still alive, and where he is. So I’m going to see if I can find him – or traces of him – in the otherworld. We scryed for him, but don’t know if the arcane pathways are being manipulated.”
Mishiki handed over two small envelopes of dried herbs. “Well, good luck to you. You know how to use these. Tell Zen’tabra I send my best. She hasn’t been over here in a month of Sundays.”
*** *** ***
As night fell over the Echo Isles, Ankona secured the door to a little hut near the central fire in the village. The late summer night was warm, but she built a fire in the fireplace anyway, heating a kettle of water and carefully preparing the herbs from Mishiki. The ghost mushrooms she sliced into tiny discs, as thin as she could get them. The adder’s tongue she shredded until it resembled fine grass. Three dried purple lotus sat waiting – they would steep whole. Once the kettle boiled, she placed all three herbs into a large bowl and covered them with boiling water.
She lit her pipe, filling the room with the sweet smells of apple and pipe tobacco. Shapes formed and disappeared in the smoke as it reflected in the firelight, and she began to chant, shaking her bone and shell rattle, calling on Bwonsamdi. As the herbs steeped, an intoxicating aroma began to creep into the edges of the room, and after awhile, Ankona put down her rattle.
Bwonsamdi, take this gift of chant, and half of these herbs, that I may walk in your realm unharmed.
She poured out half the thick herbal liquor, letting it soak into the soft dirt on the floor.
Stocking the fire up with a few extra logs, she settled herself down on the little cot. Before she lay down she took three small sips of the herbal brew, and then lay in the flickering firelight, waiting for the otherworld to come for her.
*** *** ***
Like a feather, floating from a great height, she descended into the ground. Beneath the sand. Beneath the waves. Beneath the foundations of the earth. Deep into the timeless darkness she descended, floating lightly as though her spirit weighed nothing at all.
For an eternity she floated.
And then she reached the bottom. In the inky blackness, an illuminated skull grinned at her. It floated off, and she followed it. Step by step, through the darkness. Eventually she came upon a parliament of skulls.
Greetings, beloved dead. I come to you seeking answers. I come seeking an orc named Gromnor. Has he come to join you?
No, No, he is not here. Their laughter rang out in the emptiness, childlike and singsong.
Then I must seek for him elsewhere. Blessings upon your heads and houses, beloved dead.
Stay, Stay, stay here with us. The skulls began to dance around her, faster and faster. Stay, stay, stay here with us! With all her might, she jumped, and they clattered into one another, falling into a pile, and she was rising.
*** *** ***
Soon the darkness began to lighten, and shadows appeared, and flickered, and she passed by them all, ever rising upward toward the flickering stars. She broke through the ground, through the waves, through the sand, through the trees, until she was flying high in the air, her spirit soaring over the waters as she flew to the east. The sea fell away beneath her as she darted through the sky, eternity falling away like the ocean waves beneath her, until far in the flickering distance she saw the land she was looking for. With effort, she conjured up Ellasa’s words – he had been through Brill. The rogue had drugged him. She brought up Gromnor’s face, and the scent of the rogue – nagrand cherries and leather boots.
She flew over the ruined town of Southshore – no restless spirits there anymore. Over Lordamere Lake. Past Fenris Isle and Silverpine Forest. In the darkness, they all passed by beneath her, the scent of cherries leading her forward. She came to Brill. Yes, they had been here.
Then the edges of her vision clouded over, and the town beneath her faded away into nothingness.
*** *** ***
When she awoke in the tiny hut on the Echo Isles, she couldn’t tell if her eyes were open or closed. Inside the hut it was cold and pitch black – the fire had long died. She sat up and her head swam and her stomach threatened to reject its contents. Ankona stumbled her way to the door, fumbling at the lock, and then gasped in deep breaths of the pre-dawn sea air.
Zen’tabra sat guard outside. “Ya be wakeful then. It has been many hours.”
The words swam in her head like visions. Many hours. Many hours. Many hours. In the east, the first flickers of golden light appeared. The other druid handed her a waterskin, and she drank thirstily. “Did ya find him?”
Ankona shook her head. “No, but he is not dead. I need rest. You may go now, thank you for sitting with me.”
“Anytime, Ani – ya know that. Walk lightly.”
As the Zen’tabra walked toward the training grounds, Ankona reached out with her mind to the blue crystal she now carried with her. “‘Tia? Are you there? I have news.”
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