Turns out, Basta is very much a citizen type person. Ann found out that Basta didn't just pick up food from the market and run any other jobs necessary to keep Ann comfortable while she was sick. Basta was more than happy to help the out of place people in almost everything they did. Their first day out, Basta assisted in the patching of a roof, carrying a bucket of tar to the roof and applying it in a very tentative area where human balance probably wasn't enough. She caught an escaped horse before it ran out of the circle and was lost to the owner, and Ann even watched with wide eyes as she put out a house fire along side the able-bodied adults. She was almost better at all of it, being a full blooded elf, and still being strong enough to leave Lightfoot with his daily bruises.
As for Lightfoot, Ann couldn't tell what it was he did in a day. He usually showed up at supper, went out for the night, rocked half the manor house with his snoring until afternoon, then went out again. Ann found herself oddly angry at him. The least he could be doing was furthering their agenda. But Div and, most of all, Basta, weren't bothered by his apparent non-assistance. So ann kept to herself a little longer, trying not to make a big deal out of it if no one else found it necessary. She had full intentions of pushing it with Lightfoot when she got him alone… but it was an easy decision not to upset the others in the meantime.
So with Basta being so helpful, Ann didn't think much of the way they were treated. The raised Daven Portians smiled and greeted them with open arms. Ann was offered more free ales than she could ever hope to put away, though she learned quickly that, when offered, accepting something else was just as acceptable as putting back the ale. Basta didn't have trouble drinking them. But, then, Basta wasn't pregnant, and she was build a much larger girl than Ann, the irony of which was lost on most of the human denizens of Daven Port. Yet, as much as they reacted to Basta like she was a best friend and good neighbor, a daughter of Daven Port, they treated Ann with a reverence. Many of them bowed. Some of them stopped walking altogether an a few even fell to their knees until she passed.
"I don't understand what's going on," Ann finally managed that third day wandering the city. Now it had been nearly two weeks. Ann was feeling much better. And she was still met with awe and reverence on the street. She was sure they'd get used to seeing her by now.
"Do you know how many people lived in Davenport- before it was wiped out?"
"Ah, well… the books say last count was about 10,000. Not as large as Provincia is now. But, back in its day, it was considered one of the largest cities, and would have been comparable to Provincia. But what's that got to do with… um… what?" Ann stared at Basta, as if challenged. Why did she want this information? What was she getting at, and why was she getting to it so slowly?
"From what I've counted, you raised only about 700 people in this circle alone." Ann jumped. Seven hundred? But- she- thought… no more than maybe 200. "They all remember that something happened. They are all aware that time has passed. Every time they look at one of us, they see the difference in clothing, manner and race features. Every time they approach the circle's edge, they are reminded by the sights of the Daven Portian vampires. And, Ann, every one of them realizes that they would still be dust if not for you. They also know that you're trying to come up with a way to make it permanent. Good news travels fast, especially with Lightfoot singing your praises at the taverns every night…"
"What? He's what? I thought he was partying and pick-pocketing."
"Well, he is. But we get everything for free here, because you're their hero. So Lightfoot's pick-pocketing skill is kind of a joke, since he takes stuff and then gives it right back. Says he's just keeping his talents sharp. And he is partying, but he's doing it while the center of attention. And he doesn't like to talk about himself, so he's been talking about what he knows about your plans and why you're doing this. He- may be ad-libbing from time to time."
"Look at you! Speechless! I've never seen you shut up before," Basta began to laugh, slapping Ann a little too hard on the back. "Anyway, I spoke to Div and he said so long as he didn't have to see it, and we had Lord Talen present on the other side, I could let you try stepping over the boundaries again. By now, I think that poison is through your system entirely. Don't you think?"
"Well, yes. Probably. Though, if Lord Talen is about to help me do what I need to do next, he's not going to be happy." Basta just tilted her head down and smiled. As if she knew Ann too well to assume anything less than the trouble she was about to start. But Div hadn't been quiet about what she told him, about her time arguing with the gods.
Talen did wait for them, smiling upon seeing Ann walking so strong and steadily without help. "Ah, Lady Ann. All this life you've brought us has been a welcomed sight for me and my people. Even still, there is nothing as beautiful as you and the life you carry." Lord Talen's hand was busy, rolling a small ring over and over again in the palm of his hand, letting it dance along the movement of his skilled, quick fingers. He didn't offer it to Ann, so it wasn't meant for her. But Ann did begin to wonder, as it wasn't large enough even for Talen's pinky finger.
"You're too kind, Talen. Shall we try it again?" Ann stepped over the dividing line at the end of that sentence, and flinched, expecting to be dropped just like that. Another visit to the gods. But- no. She remained on her feet. And Ann grinned as she opened one eye, looking up at Talen. "That worked out better than expected."
"Most things have. So, Lady Ann. What is the plan now?" He took her arm, not because he had to, but because it was in his gentle nature to do so.
"You won't like it," Ann informed him, shaking her head gently. "Lloth has asked that we awaken someone very specific. And we will have to go back to the Rilian temple to do just that. After which, I have to go into the seven circles of hell to find someone else." Lord Talen nearly dropped the ring as his eyes bulged. "Well, there is more than one way to skin a rabbit. And what are you doing with that ring. Put it away before you lose it," she chuckled.
Lord Talen seemed almost flabbergasted a moment longer, finally putting the ring into a breast pocket and tapping it with that hand before continuing on, or even being able to remotely look at Ann, again.
"If you'll pardon the questioning, though I can figure that there might be something, somewhere, in that hell once called a Rilian Temple, why is it that visiting that place is not good enough?"
"No fear, my lord. I don't expect you to follow me into hell. That I will do on my own. All I need from you is for you to assist me in retrieving the corpse." Lord Talen hid his face behind the span of one hand, shaking his head gently.
"As you wish, Lady Ann. As you wish."
The temple, so Ann felt, had changed drastically in the short time she was gone. Ann felt ill at ease, and there seemed a strange grip of darkness and death here. Perhaps it was that she put a spark of life back into Daven Port, but Ann noticed mosses and grasses growing outside of her circle of life. As if at least the goddess of nature decided that this place deserved some life back, after all these long years. However, the temple had nothing. With a once vast orchard and many gardens, a huge practicing area that had once been hidden in grass, there was nothing even now, as there had been nothing before.
Not only that, but Ann felt sick to her stomach as she crossed the threshold. It was as if the very life inside of her revolted to being here. Ann didn't like paladins. She blamed them for much of the trouble she was in, and could blame them for the fall of an entire city. Now it troubled her unborn, which made her skin crawl and grow hot.
She didn't waste her time. She knew exactly where she was going. And she turned her head gently upon seeing the shadow like figure that joined her on the other side of the stairwell. He still wore the black wer-hunter's leather. It was a memory from the past that Ann didn't mind seeing. He looked good in it, that tight vest, the black silk, the way the pants gripped his fit and athletic build. Div wasn't a bulky man. Goddess knows if he had been, Ann might have thought their time together more comical than anything, considering how tiny she was. And the black leather held him in all the right places, giving even Lord Talen a run for his money in the prettiness department.
"Thanks for joining us. Lloth made me aware that she wished only a drow touch the remains of her general." Div didn't say anything. He wasn't a man of many words. She knew this already. So Ann continued. "I don't know the story, but somehow one of the Rilians captured and kept a drow for herself. I guess, before all this went down, the general spent many, many hours of his life asking for vengeance. I get the feeling that Lloth was the one who really reported what was happening here to Ril." Ann quit walking, Div stopping stiffly at her side. He was understandably upset about having to do anything for Lloth. But he would do it. Just like he paid attention to the way Ann quit stepping forward as the entered what looked like a long hallway with many, many windows. Lord Talen, however, did not pay quite so much attention.
"And, why am I here, Lady Ann." He turned to face them, took one more step back and his body rocketed with obvious pain for a second before he could stand straight again. He turned, and Ann counted seven metal bolts all shot right into his back.
"To- trip the traps? Not surprisingly, the Grand Marshal and her paladins all went a little… insane. Toward the end, they understood time was growing short for them. It seems a completely inane effort, to try to deter the gods with physical traps. But a crazy mind wouldn't have thought past that. You might want to go at least shirtless through the rest of this hallway."
"What would be the point? My outfit is already destroyed," Talen complained, pulling the first of the bolts from his back. After studying them for a moment longer, Div helped. Only touching them once he was sure they were not poisoned.
"Well, I would have seen a point to it," Ann rolled her eyes, watching as Div's eyes snapped up to look at her, dropping one of the metal bolts so that it clanged heavily to the stone floor. "Doesn't matter. It'll be over very soon. But at least hold onto that ring. I don't know what else this hallway holds. Lord Talen, if you would be so kind as to continue protecting myself and my unborn?"
Talen nodded, slipping the ring on his pinky finger, as far as it would go, and crouched in a three-point stance. He shut his eyes, took an unnecessary breath, and began sprinting down the hallway. His form was barely made out in the dark by Ann's eyes as Div came to stand next to her, watching him better than she could.
Talen stumbled over something, spun around and fell. And even Div startled as he disappeared from the hallway. A terrible screech filled the building and Ann found herself pressed against a nearby wall, Div standing nervously but ready in front of her, willing to protect her and his child, even if all he had was his daggers.
Ann began to fear for Lord Talen. The terrible screaming continued, a noise that was in no way human. Best she could tell, this was no sound from Talen's voice. Which meant either the vampire fought in silence, or he was already destroyed and devoured by what gnashed its teeth and screamed and struggled in the pit into which he fell. Ann's fingers grew white with the way she gripped Div's arm, stretching out his shirt. Then the hallway fell silent and Div startled when a soft grunt escaped the pit.
A body was thrown on the floor, flopping like a large rag doll, one with weight. With that body came a stench so terrible that Ann gagged in reflex, taking grace in the dark hand that clenched over her mouth and nose, allowing her to take in Div's natural scent over that of whatever corpse it was Talen brought to the hallway.
Lord Talen himself crawled out afterward, grunting softly as he slipped his feet back onto the hallway floor. He was very focused as he began opening the creature, and Ann gagged a second time before Div pulled her against him, letting her small face bury into his clothing, the scent of leather and man doing its best to push out the rot gut smell of the creature.
"Lord Talen, please," Div begged as the vampire dug through the creature's skin, tearing open the throat and pulling out that one simple ring again. Only now did Ann look to his hand, seeing that he was missing his pinky finger. The very finger he found only seconds later, pushing it onto his hand.
"What is it?" Talen had his booted foot on the creature's shoulder, ready to shove it back into the pit from whence it came. A pit that surely went straight into the seven hells.
"Just a grim. Though- I don't know how the creature got so close to the surface. I really didn't fall all that far." He began shoving it forward, and Ann broke from Div's grip, despite the way he reached for her.
"Let me see it." Her request spurred something protective in Lord Talen as well, the vampire coming to stand between herself and the dead body.
"No, Ann, please. It's not something one needs to see, ever. And especially while keeping up the delicate balance of life inside oneself." But Ann pushed him away, marking that Lord Talen stunk as badly as the creature.
Not that Talen's fear was baseless. Ann settled her green blue eyes on the creature at his feet. Deep wounds ebbed a sickly thick black blood. The whole thing smelled strongly of disease and filth, creating a sick cradle of acidic poison that affronted the nose in a very personal way. Large, white, pupil-less eyes glared up from relaxed eyelids, gazing at nothing and everything in particular. Wild, leonine hair sprouted in gnarled, thick blades from a scalp so white it gave the blind eyes a challenge. And the skin was thin, ripping where the creature had moved enough, exposing nearly colorless pink meat underneath, sickly pale. The lips were pulled up unnaturally, as if dried in the form of a toothy scream. And sharp, needle-like teeth carried an orange tint of grime with an underlying black gleam of decay past those thin, curled lips.
Ann turned her head, vomiting violently next to the body. Her stomach emptied of what she needed for energy. Try as she might, the whole contents of her stomach was expelled. Well, less to worry about later. And, even as she closed her eyes, Ann could still see the skin marking, that of a circle broken at the bottom, that formed a ring around the creature's chin.
She stumbled to her feet, Talen brushing past her as Div took Ann by her arm and led her around the hole in the floor. If more traps were tripped, Ann didn't seem them happen. Lord Talen seemed to push through the hallway and up a short set of stairs, stopping before a set of double doors, twice his height and probably four times his shoulder width. He reached for the handle but pulled back as a red rash passed over the palm of his hand. Ann studied the way it faded as he put space between himself and the handle. And she bit her bottom lip.
"All this death, and there is a protect from undead spell on this door? Terribly unfitting." Especially for what she was sure she would find on the other side.
Ann took up one of Div's hands, armed as it was with three of his throwing daggers. And she slid a blade across her upper arm, causing Div to jump as her blood lit the air with a healthy iron scent. The only healthy scent here.
Ann dipped her fingers into her own blood, closing her eyes as she thought about all the runes she studied, nodding her head before her fingers began to smear the symbols over the huge double doors. The wood cracked under her fingers, splintered and split. Div shifted nervously at her side and Lord Talen, the vampire, stepped well behind Ann and her drow compatriot, hiding from the stakes that might suddenly shoot out.
The door, however, was long rotten. And the splinters fell to the ground around Ann's feet, forming a pile of dry rot dust. Ann coughed it from her mouth and nose, looking into a large, splendid room. Once upon a time, it had been something to envy. The Rilian High Priestess bedroom. No luxury was spared.
A bed large enough for a family of 10 took up the back most wall, held higher than the rest of the room on a lofted floor. A regal chair stood behind a wide, large desk. Papers were weighted perfectly in place, as if she who worked there had just finished her assignments and was away for supper before bedding in for the night. A deep, dry bathing tub was built against the wall furthest from the desk, dust gathered in a thick layer, so untouched for so many years that it was hard to tell the marble white finish of the bathtub.