The world was all hazy light and noise and confusion.

I did not know where I was, but I surely wished that the screaming would stop.

It took me the span of several heartbeats to realize that this, at least, was (or should have been) under my control, as the screaming was issuing from my tortured throat. Still, even knowing this fact and consciously trying to quiet my own ragged voice accomplished nothing at all.

It hurt…Gods but it hurt, and my body seemed to have a mind of its own.

It wanted to scream, and scream it did.

There were other sounds besides.

Voices, though I couldn’t make sense of the words at the time.

“Hold him…hold him! Ahhhh Christ, cut it! No no, that one! ”

“I’ve got him…I’ve…arrrrrgh!”

“Here comes another swarm…make ready!”

Blackness.

OoO

Several Days Earlier

I told you I was going to try to leave this place, and I’m an Elf of my word, although I confess that I am conflicted by that decision.

On the one hand, it’s not hard to fall in love with this place. With the harsh and unforgiving nature of the land. With the fact that you can never quite let your guard down, or Kumala herself is likely to rise up and try to kill you, and then of course, there’s the place’s natural beauty.

Such beauty as you northern folk simply have no words for, and could never imagine.

It’s awe inspiring, it truly is.

Then of course, there’s the Christmas Ball to consider. I’m excited about that and want to attend.

On the other hand, I cannot shake the feeling that the land is cursed, and by extension, any who dwell here are also cursed.

A beautiful prison is still, at the end of its day, a prison, and I wanted out of my cage and off the island.

I wanted that badly enough to risk life and limb to attempt it.

Again.

Knowing full well what had happened the last time I’d tried (the finally tally where the shipwreck was concerned was 86 dead, by the way).

I informed my HighLord of my intentions and told him that if I made it off the island, I’d appoint a second here, and rule in absentia, and he was fine with that. I think he was curious too, though I suppose he could have been humoring me. There was something in his eyes, however, that said maybe he felt vaguely trapped also. Most curious, but of course, I did not ask him about it.

In any case, he offered to see me to the coast, expecting, I think that it would just be the two of us, but his Court was as loyal as they were protective, and those who were in the Council Chamber when I made my announcement (the Orc Prince ‘Waz,’ Lady Kleodora, Machete, and the Finn) all agreed that it was much too dangerous to go as a pair, and volunteered to accompany us.

So it was that we all set out, striking a path that led northward and east from Cerilon to the Hermitage, from there to Argenia, and thence to the small but quite serviceable port at Vestford (Velocirix finally having acquired a proper port situated toward the mainland).

The only part of the journey that was expected to be even passingly dangerous was the last leg from Argenia to Vestford, because a proper road had not yet been constructed to connect the two, but by now, we were all old hands at this. We all knew Kumala well and felt that she had few (if any) surprises left in her.

How mistaken we were!

Nonetheless, this is the mindset each of us had as we left the great city of our HighLord and rode northward, and the weather was fine indeed!

Only in the mid 80′s and the humidity was tolerable. Not a cloud in the sky, when we could see the sky, of course…a simply stunning day, and our spirits were high.

They were high on the second day as well.

And the third, when we reached the Hermitage.

They continued to be high, and the weather strangely held until we reached Argenia.

fantasy_jungle-wallpaper-1024x768

(OOC: Picture is on the approach to Vestford, which can JUST be seen peeking thru the growth)

It even held a while longer than that, letting us get about halfway to Vestford before She (meaning here, Kumala herself) turned on us.

Passing near to a low, weathered mountain called Coral (both because it appears to be made of coral, and because the trees around it are heavily infested with a kind of snake bearing that same name), the snakes began to….well, to be honest, at first it was hard to say what they were doing.

Attacking us, was my first thought, and there were thousands of them.

They wriggled and writhed and slithered out of the densest part of the jungle and made straight for us.

Of course, I think subconsciously we had all been expecting something (and at least in my particular case, there was nothing subconscious about it–I was convinced that our luck would not hold…that the island would actively try to prevent us from leaving), and now, here it was.

Snakes by the thousand, pouring out of the thickest growth and making for us.

We all drew steel and lit fires, but here’s the thing: When dealing with thousands of individuals in a swarm, these implements are nigh on useless. Something is bound to get through whatever defense you can erect, and so it was here.

What was both puzzling and troubling though, was that the snakes did not seem to care about us either way.

They were…

Oh Gods they were fleeing.

Running away from something worse, which meant…

I shouted for my companions and turned to face the direction that the snakes were coming from full on, straining to see what might be coming through all that impossibly dense growth but it was just no good, there was….

…movement!

Yes, there on the left! I could have sworn I saw….

That’s when the vine hit me like a bullwhip.

“Melders!” Someone screamed, and that seemed as good an explanation as any.

Some form of elemental earth magic was animating the vines, and not just any vine…oh no.

Whatever force was behind this was specifically animating Devil’s Vine.

A tendril as thick as my thumb wrapped itself around my throat and began pulling tight even as I thought this, and I could see that it was fairly bleeding its cursed sap…

That’s when the pain hit.

More vines encircled my legs and the knees and pulled me to the ground.

“Help!” I cried…”I need he…” My words were choked off as another vine forced its way into my mouth.

I felt spores bursting and knew I was done for.

Then…blackness.

Then, after a time, that hazy, confused light I mentioned before.

Screams and desperate shouts and voices before the blackness claimed me again.

Stormbind, of course.

It had to be.

OoO

I dreamt, and in my dream, the Heart of Corruption spoke to me.

Told me that I had been marked. Branded by the land itself, and I was to wear the mark with pride.

That I would wake from my sleep soon, and would know pain for the rest of my days. It would serve as a reminder that I belonged here now. To Kumala.

That’s when I realized that Kumala was not land…or rather, was not merely land, but a part of something else. Some great beast that we could not completely see, and could only comprehend as…this.

This place.

And if that were true (if my fevered dream/vision could be trusted in the least), then maybe the Heart of Corruption was an actual organ of sorts. Maybe it was really…literally the beating heart of Kumala, and as such, perhaps it wasn’t corrupt in the least, at least not from her point of view. True, maybe it “corrupted” the land we lived on, but if the land was merely a metaphor for some larger, greater entity, then the corruption was just a shadow of the metaphor. Not real.

I understood then.

Had a moment of perfect, blissful clarity about what Kumala was, why we could not leave (and shouldn’t want to), what the Melders actually were, and why they were so dreadfully important to us all, and I knew that when I awoke, the clarity would be gone and I’d be just as confused about it all as I had been before the dream.

Just as in the dark.

One thing I did know, however, and knew that I’d remember later, was the Devil’s Vine. When the Heart of Corruption began spreading, that’s how it did it. It “took control of” Devil’s Vine and made it grow even faster than the stuff did naturally. The two were…linked somehow. I knew that, even if I might be a bit hazy on the particulars. Still, that was important, wasn’t it?

I thought so.

I still do.

OoO

True to her (Kumala’s) word, I hurt everywhere when I awoke.

So did the others, but of all of us, I had gotten received the worst treatment at the hands of the animated Devil’s Vine (the Heart of Corruption, I told myself).

Anywhere the vines had touched, they burned, and anywhere they burned, they left a scar.

The scars stood out starkly on my pale Elven skin, and I looked rather like a monster.

I’ve never been an especially vain sort, but why did it have to be my face?!

I was dismayed, but Waz came to my rescue, and pulled me out of my sorrow.

He said it would hurt some, but only briefly, and when he was done, I’d bear my new scars proudly.

I asked him what he meant and he explained.

When he did, I agreed, and that is how I (an Elf) came to have tattoos of Orcish design on my face.

They cover the scars, and I bear them (thank you, Waz!) and the marks of Kumala with pride now, as I shall for the rest of my days.

The healers of the HighLord tell me that I’ll be able to get out of bed in another day or two, and that is good.

The angry redness will have gone out of skin around my new tattoos, and I should present quite a striking picture at the Christmas Ball.

Maybe Kleo and Sidhe will dance with me.

I think I’d rather enjoy that.

Dancing with Angels.

For now then, I will get these words into the hands of those that can get them to you, and rest.

Know this: Having tried once more to leave, and having been marked for my efforts, I’m convinced.

I have forgotten most of what came to me in my fevered dream, but not all, and I will not try to leave this land again.

A storm’s coming, and we must, each of us, decide how we’ll react when it arrives.

What we’ll do.

As for me…I’m staying right here.

Right where I belong.

The  Blind Scribe

~Scribe

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