Winter in Hieron 17: Undelivered Resignations

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Lem, Fero, Ephrim and Devar begin their journey from Rosemerrow to the New Archives but soon encounter a nearly-catatonic undead man and signs of a massacre.

Background[edit | edit source]

Episode description[edit | edit source]


Please read this week’s classification updates carefully.

1. For the next month, it is imperative that “textile” carpets be subdivided by specific material (“wool,” “hair,” and “fur” are not interchangeable.)

2. The ban on the classification of actors has been lifted, and new categories have been established. Use “living,” for traditionally sentient lives, “breathing” for those who retain material form despite mortal wounds, and “being” for those who have lost bodies but not selves. The “dead” remain dead, and the prohibition remains in place.

3. As part of the ongoing process of reclassifying plants by reproductive traits instead of by appearance, “lion’s tooth” flowers are now classed primarily as “Wind Blossoms.”

As always, your service is considered.

Collector-Curator Kall Fer

This week on Seasons of Hieron: Undelivered Resignations

You are the one who needs to read carefully,

Convincing those to give us what the Archive demands is subtle work. Yes, I wield intimidation, I carry violence. But those are built on a foundation of a cloud-like trust, blowing and breaking with the wind.

You want me to call dandelions "wind blossoms" and chairs "seats"? Fine. You want me to recover only the greyest couches and the most broken clockwork? Absolutely. I break arms as easily as I break promises, and promises as easily as brittle branches under my boots as I walk the world for the Archives.

But when you start to classify people, Fer, the trust is broken, and those brittle branches? They bloom.

Archivist-Collector Morbash

Cold open[edit | edit source]

You see him when you are about a day's travel north of Rosemerrow, on your journey to the New Archives. He's a man of around 30 or 35. Average build, but with runner's legs. You know this because his pants have been torn to shreds and you can see the musculature of his calves. He steps toward you, though, in not so much a sprint or a jog as a shamble, and as he gets closer, you realize that he's only got one arm, the other removed somewhere between the shoulder and elbow. His eyes are dead, but he steps closer and closer. What do you do?

Plot[edit | edit source]

Leaving Rosemerrow[edit | edit source]

With Arrell headed for the New Archives, searching for the Book of Life and perhaps other information or artifacts, the Mountain Party prepared to travel there as well, along with Devar van der Dawes, who closed up the Archives shop after Elgash Or's death.

Lem asked Emmanuel to come with them, but Emmanuel declined, saying that he knew more refugees would be arriving from Nacre and Velas and, having established himself in the city, he would be able to help them do the same. He told Lem that he will send word and visit once more people are settled.

Though asked by Chatterchin to stay and help the gnolls stake their claim on Rosemerrow's history, Fero decided to leave the city yet again. On his last day in town, Fero snuck onto the Feritas family farm and climbed up a rickety ladder into the barn loft, where he spent the day alone, just wanting to avoid being around others. While alone there, communing with nature, he received a vision from the spirits of the land, seeing a future in which he and Mother Glory helped the gnolls reintegrate into Rosemerrow society, even with Lutz gone. He saw her toss him into the air with one hand, catch him as he came back down in the form of a small animal, and toss him again. The second time he came down, she was no longer there. He slammed headfirst into the ground, and when he looked up the gnolls were gone.

Lem has also been slowly dreading returning to the New Archives with the plant Morbash asked him to care for, which he has been worried about since the day after he got it from Morbash, when he woke up and it looked different than it did before. At this point, it now looks like a completely different plant, having gone from a hemp-like appearance to something more akin to a weeping willow. At this point, the plant is a source of great guilt for him, and he puts off all interactions with it. Devar suggests that once they get to the new archives, they should take it to a guy who can "make it look like it's supposed to look."

The group buys a cart and loads it down with about a month's worth of rations each. Fero, in the form of a horse, pulls the cart. Lem rides Elgash Or's horse, which Elgash never named, and which Lem cannot find a good name for. Ephrim rides a horse he names Walter, after a horse he had as a child. Devar rides a horse named Tyler. In addition to the horses and cart, Fero and Ephrim both buy new leather armor for the trip. Fero also gets a haircut and replenishes his supply of pipeleaf.

Meeting Jeremy[edit | edit source]

A day into their journey, with both moons high in the sky, the group encounters an undead human with one arm who smells like a decomposing corpse (unlike Emmanuel or other undead from Nacre) walking down the road, staring into the middle distance. After failing to grab his attention, Lem lets him walk past him. Fero turns back into a halfling and gives the man a small push. He stumbles back and then steps forward again.

Searching the ground and taking a close look at the man for clues as to where he came from or what happened to him, Ephrim sees that he appears to have been attacked by animals of some sort, but that there are also signs of a burn on the spot where his arm was ripped off. The man briefly makes eye contact with Ephrim before looking away, suggesting that he is not mindless.

Fero takes some meat from his satchel, unwraps it, and offers it to the man, who smells it, turns back toward him, and softly grunts, leaning forward and taking some. As he eats, the man gradually regains his composure and the life returns to his eyes. After finishing, he sits on the ground, now looking in the direction he came. Fero hands him a canteen, which he drinks from and hands back, still not replying to anything.

Lem sits down opposite him and, speaking frankly, asks, "What do you wish I would do?"

"Help me," the man softly says, looking like he's crying but has no tears to come out. When asked how long he's been on the road, the man is unsure. "A week? A day? It's so dark." He says he was going to go to Rosemerrow and that people would help him there.

"I don't know if you're in any shape to go to Rosemerrow," Lem confesses, and the man withdraws in on himself, pulling in his legs and becoming unresponsive again. Ephrim tears off a piece of his cloak and wraps it around the man's wounded arm. The group debates what to do with him but eventually they put him in the cart. Devar, who doesn't think there's anything they can do for them points out that they don't have food for another person, but Fero, who doesn't need to eat, says that the man can have his food.

Ephrim asks the man's name. He does not respond at first, but on the third day of their travel together, after being asked again, he says, "Jeremy."

On the road[edit | edit source]

As the group undertakes their journey, Fero assumes the role of scout, Lem takes charge as trailblazer, and Ephrim acts as quartermaster. Unfortunately, Jeremy, who they have put in the cart with their food, is ravenous, and is eating twice as many rations as a normal person.

One night, while keeping watch, Ephrim hears the snap of a fire nearby. He investigates and notices the light of a small flame, with a cobbin sitting just outside of its light, almost as if she'd been trying to set a trap. Ephrim gets the jump on her, and through interrogation he finds out that her name is Highwater and that she is a spy sent by the Church of the Dark Sun to tail him.

It becomes clear that she is more impressed with Ephrim's power than committed to the cause, and he realizes that he could sway her with his inner fire. As he does so, it feels like a gift is coming alive in him. Highwater tells him that she was sent to observe him and kill him if he got in their way. She also informs Ephrim that currently, the sect is making moves on the Tower of Samol, believing that with the sun out of the sky, now is the time to strike, and that if they can defeat him in this moment of weakness, the Heat and the Dark will come.

Ephrim sends Highwater to tell the Cult of the Dark Sun that he is dead, and, if possible, to find him afterward and give him more information on their next moves. Knowing that Lem has had his own run-in with the cult, Ephrim tells the rest of the group about the encounter and what he has learned.

Treeton[edit | edit source]

About a week into their travel, under the light of a single moon, the group approaches Treeton, a small village that Lem has passed through a few times on the trip between Rosemerrow and the Archives, and can smell the obvious and overwhelming scent of rotting flesh in the crisp air. As the stench of death hits, Jeremy turns to look over his shoulder at the town, then looks away.

"Hey Jeremy, is it dangerous to go in there?" asks Fero.

"It's dangerous everywhere," Jeremy replies.

Fero continues to probe: "Is it particularly dangerous in there, though?" Jeremy does not respond. Devar suggest that they get through as quickly as possible and be on their way.

The group passes through a small archway in the line of wooden pikes surrounding the village and sees that there are bodies everywhere; leaning up against the well in the center of town, facedown on a table in front of a pub, lying in the embers of what must once have been a massive bonfire. The town is filled with over a hundred motionless undead people. Every once in a while they hear someone briefly wail before catching themselves. Devar throws up from the stench.

To get a better look than the lantern at his horse's bridle affords, Lem steps to the ground, and grabs one of the lit torches from the front of the cart, continuing alongside on foot as the group moves cautiously through the town. In the embers of the fire, he sees two spectral forms, lying there as if they were still physical things, blinking occasionally. Lem also sees some properly dead bodies, armored and bearing simple tattoos of two horizontal lines connected by a diagonal line, a marker of a local bandit clan. Some of the bodies around town bear wounds matching the weapons of the dead bandits, and many of the business coffers have been raided. The group continues through.

Baron's Gate[edit | edit source]

About a week later, after the group has reached the ancient brick road that stretches east from what is now the Mark of the Erasure, they approach Baron's Gate, a village built in and around a large octagonal fortress tower along the road. Again, they catch the whiff of rotting flesh, though not as strong as the one from Treeton. The group stops at a ridge overlooking the village and Fero transforms into a panther to circle the area and try to see what the situation is.

From above, Fero sees that the smell is coming from a group of ten to fifteen bandits hurling rocks and torches at the tower and pushing at its front door. From inside, people toss hot oil down at the undead marauders, with little effect. Keeping an eye out for archers or other bandits attacking from a different point, he lands on one of the narrow windowsills and sees that about seventy people are barricaded up in the fortress trying to keep the bandits away.

He reports back to the others and the group struggles to decide what steps to take. Fero chooses to commune with the whispers, as he did while in the Feritas family barn two weeks before, and again receives a vision from the spirits of the land. Flying over Baron's Gate as a panther, he sees claymation-like versions of the cart and his friends approaching the tower to help. Everyone gets out, including Jeremy, who now has his arm back, and a tattoo matching the attackers and the dead bandits from Treeton. Fero also hears, like thunder, the hooves of horses approaching from the east.

"Jeremy, you asshole, are you a bandit?" he says, to no response.

Ephrim, who has a deep nostalgia for Baron's Gate as a sort of constant during the travels of his youth, is insistent: "One way or another we need to help these people."

"I think you're making a mistake," says Lem.

Ephrim concedes that just charging in is not a bad idea, but he does not want to just leave without doing anything, and suggests trying to lead the bandits towards the Archives and allow the people of Baron's Gate to escape, an option that Lem finds no more appealing.

"Okay, sorry, so Plan A is we go to my home. Plan B is is we die miserably long before we reach my home. And Plan C is we bring them to my home." he says. "Ephrim, here's what I'll say. The Archives I knew, fifteen bandits—okay, fine. The thing that I'm mostly concerned about, is, a lot has changed since I was there last, that's the first thing. And the second thing is that I didn't exactly—I didn't leave them on the best terms. And if I return with fifteen bandits…"

"Listen," insists Fero, "Bad stuff happens all over the place, bandits kill a whole tower of people every day. But this is the tower that we're at now and those people will die if we don't do a thing."

Ephrim decides to tackle the problem from a different angle, getting off his horse and moving face-to-face with Jeremy, who he grabs by the hair, attempting to sway their feeble passenger as he did Highwater.

"You're going to go over there," he instructs, "And you're going to tell your people that they need to leave, because what has happened to you and what has happened to them is the least of their trouble. Don't go into specifics, but you need to tell them that something is coming and they need to go."

An agitated Jeremy pulls away, the hair Ephrim grabbed ripping from his scalp. Grabbing Ephrim by the shoulder, he pushes himself to a standing position and tears the bandage from his arm, revealing the bone. As he does, a ghostly arm sprouts from the spot, the bandit tattoo glowing. Grabbing Ephrim's throat with the ghost hand, Jeremy moves his physical limb through it, catching him in the throat with the exposed bone as Ephrim summons a burning brand. The sound of thunderous hooves from Fero's vision begin echoing from the east.

As Jeremy comes at Ephrim again with the bone, Lem draws his sword and slices Jeremy's head off, the brackish congealed blood splattering on Ephrim's face. Jeremy continues to choke Ephrim, a new ghostly head phasing in.

Fero, meanwhile, has turned into a giant vole and headed for the tower, burrowing in amid the screaming occupants. Turning back into a halfling, he explains that he wants them to use the hole to get away, and he begins to lead a group through the tunnel.

Devar fires a crossbow bolt into Jeremy's back. Ephrim, feeling the divine knowledge that he could push Jeremy's physical body away but it would rip his spirit from him permanently, chooses to do so, ramming Jeremy into the cart. Jeremy's body collapses into a kneeling position as his green spectral form comes out and is pulled forward, but Ephrim manages to put some distance between them. He swings his sword wildly at the ghost but it goes right through Jeremy until he grabs it and tosses it into the cart, which catches fire. Lem begins to pile snow onto the wagon and Ephrim begins to get the flames under control, but as Jeremy clutches his hands he begins to feel the fire in himself dim.

Fero emerges from the tunnel and the people with him begin to scream at the sight of a man of the cloth battling a ghost. Fero leaps out and transforms into a panther, thinking that maybe a magic bird indigenous to Nacre could harm a ghost. Flying at Jeremy, he feels his claws give a brief squeeze before passing through, phasing back into halfling form as he takes a hit from the spirit.

"Hurry up and put the fire out!" Devar yells to Lem, "My good bolts are in there!"

Lem continues trying to heap snow on with a shovel from the side of the cart, but the snow is too fluffy and is just evaporating. Reaching in and burning his hand, Lem grabs a pack of bolts and tosses them to Devar.

Ephrim tries to dig in and position the ghost so that Devar will have a better shot. Part of the fire gets sucked off the cart into Ephrim, whose face regains some color as he holds the spirit in front of himself. Devar fires a bolt, which passes through Jeremy, who fizzles away where it hit him, and slams into Ephrim. Devar fires another bolt, which does the same.

Closing narration[edit | edit source]

This bolt passes into you, Ephrim, and you drop to the ground and your blood is spilling out all across the snow and the bolt has like, sparked it, and it catches fire like it's oil, because it's your blood, of course. And as you begin to lose consciousness, the loud thundering from the east grows louder and it begins to echo through the valley. And you can see from the ridge looking down on tower a group of ten or so horses arriving.

The first one is beautiful and black and massive; it's a war steed with armor on, and ridden by a woman who's wearing a similar sort of plate armor, black & gold, and between blinks your eyes recognize that that is Ordennan armor. You can tell that clearly, in fact, she has the badge of a Justiciar. And her face is entirely covered in bandages. She looks almost like a mummy; her hands, her neck, her entire head except for her lips & dark eyes are covered in bandages.

And you're bleeding out, and you're struggling to keep your eyes open, and she is so far away but you can kind of see or sense her lips part. Maybe it happens with the sound of thunder. And her voice bellows across the valley.

"My name is Corsica Neue. I am the Sovereigness of the Unstill, the Cavalier Queen of Death, the Baroness of Broken Branches and Undelivered Resignations. If your spirit lingers, if you are what the west island calls undead, if you are curdled blood and eroded bone, hear me now: you are my kin and my subject both. Drop your weapons now and join me, or confront your final death on the length of my blade."

You blink one last time and she draws out her sword and lifts it into the sky and you can't be sure if there's a causal connection here or not, but the sun comes out. It is bright and clear and it doesn't rise, it just appears there in the sky. And it's not warm in the right way. You can see by its light and you can feel it just so on your skin but it doesn't go deeper than that. It does not orient you the way the real sun did once. It does not warm you, really. Ephrim, it doesn't feel real, and you just know this. "It's not the real sun, that's not the real sun," and you think that over and over as you're bleeding out in the snow. That is not the real sun.

And part of the reason is that you feel a different kind of heat. Something much, much hotter. You hear waves for a moment, feel a sea breeze behind you, hear the cawing of gulls. And you linger in the face of a pearlescent palace, ivory and rose with touches of red and gold. You are there now, in Nacre, and you take a step towards the staircase that leads to Her throne room but blood drips down from your chest, falling out of the wounds where the bolts of Ordennan steel still rest, and when it hits the floor, the palace begins to recede, away from you, and the breeze slips past.

You are in a black abyss and it is hot. A third sort of heat now, one that exhausts you, one that feels like it at once predates you and will outlast everything you've ever known. But that other heat, the real heat of the real sun, has not left you either, and you feel it reach for you, cradle you, and begin to draw you away from the Nothing, from the empty resting place of so many souls, from the Heat and the Dark.

And you blink again and, in rhythm with your eyes opening and closing, we hear the sound of hammer hitting anvil, being swung upwards again. Clink, whoosh. Clink, whoosh. Clink, whoosh. And then you stand up, stumbling, and you are in a forge hanging over a pit of dark liquid fire, boiling purple and black, and in its strange light you see Him. Brown, taut skin, firm chest, tools in hand, dark hair rising like flames as He works away on some new invention. And you find your footing. And then His face, a smirk painted on it as He works. And then His body turns to you. Samothes turns to you.

"My summer son." His eyes recognize you and light up. "Spring's light comes soon, and you will be its charioteer."

Cast[edit | edit source]