Walnut was exhausted.
It seemed like it was only yesterday that a beautiful bard spoke a twisted message in her ear, after the “B” team thwarted her mission to protect the Doomgate Inn. Mired in defeat, potentially hounded by guards curious about a mass murder with no witnesses, Wolfnut had found a crypt… which then tried to eat the whole team. And what the fuck was K’thriss’s deal in there? She would need to think long and hard about these things to process them.
But it was yesterday.
Today, Omin, or a reasonable facsimile thereof, had sent them on a mission.
Which they also failed, having been chased from the depths by some horrific subterranean avian.
At least they got a contractually bound tiefling out of the deal?
That was a nominal positive in return for a limited up-front investment, the kind of arrangement that her “Documancy: For Druids!” textbook strongly encouraged, but now Davine was in Walnut’s bed for the night.
Even that, it could be objectively argued, might be a good thing.
Subjectively, Walnut had only one thing on her mind. That note which had been slipped through her window. That poem. Brahma’s poem. She couldn’t share it with anyone, certainly not the stranger, but something in her guts burned and twisted, and her eyes strayed to her hiding place. She had to read it again. She had to feel the paper, study every curve of every letter…
For research purposes, not because she was interested, or anything. She didn’t really care about the bard. It’s not like she was gorgeous, or super talented, or overwhelmingly skilled.
Whatever. Shut up.
Walnut was exhausted; now she was arguing with herself more than usual.
Surrendering to her fatigue, she decided to get her reverie out of the way for the evening. With any luck, she would return from her trance refreshed and clear of thought. Seating herself on the floor, arranging her legs comfortably, she closed her eyes.
Following the ancient methods, she relaxes her muscles. Misty darkness fills her vision.
Lights twinkle in the clouds behind her eyelids. Her breathing slows. The sound of her breath rises and falls like waves, filling her mind with sound. The lights pulse, and brighten, and begin to form shapes.
The color is green. Green is a good color. The shapes twist, filling her vision, and a landscape forms. Neon trees and bushes rush past, as if she is flying through a forest. The trails feel familiar, as dream spaces do, without being actual places.
Her paws beneath her, lupine, carry her effortlessly through loam and brush. She crouches low and leaps high, free in form and flowing, home in this shape.
It is the wolf dream, and it is good.
She smells the forest smells, scents of prey and predator, stone and stream, death and decay and growth and birth and millions of lives between those people defined spaces, living in the circle way, the natural way, giving and taking and dancing and dying and feeding and fucking and being.
It is a good dream.
New smells, familiar flavors approach, and an old feeling stirs. Other wolves draw close. One is blue, with black caping, and his red teeth feel wrong. One is large, and his fur is not-fur, his teeth are steel, and he smiles with arrogance, but he smells of loneliness. One is very small, like a wolf shaped fox, but she is fast, and her steps are wise: Wolfnut willingly follows this old one, this obvious pack leader…
And the feeling blooms: pack feeling, belonging, hunting together. This feeling echoes with distant pain.
Before the hurting can twist her thoughts, a hunting call is sounded. Her fellows leap toward the cry, and ahead she smells a feast.
Other wolves are there, circling a great and glorious stag, and her team joins in the old dance, nipping and herding, cutting off retreat and narrowing progress.
A large wolf, nimble, with a voice like a song, covered in fur smelling like summer and colored like light through autumn leaves, looks at Wolfnut, and draws near. They dance, together, and their steps are matched, and the deer is undone: the flaxen wolf bites deeply into a hamstring, and Wolfnut leaps high, catching the stricken spine and snapping it, drinking deeply of hart’s blood.
The red fruit is sweet in her mouth, and she rejoices, but something is wrong. There is a seem on the deer’s neck, as if someone has placed a bag over its head.
One of the wolves, this one walking on two legs like a person, steps forward and pulls on an antler. The head is removed, and beneath the mask is a vampire’s face.
Trevor moans: “Sombar? You weren’t never no real deer?”
The blood on her tongue tastes thick and poisonous, and Wolfnut vomits it up. Sombar looks into her eyes, and with vital fluid dripping from his mouth and neck, asks her “Why didn’t you protect me? We signed a contract…”
The forest turns dark, and she backs away, her mouth making noises unrecognizable.
She hears a laugh, and turns to find That Fucking Ranger leaning against a tree. He sneers and says “Maybe if you were a man, you would have been strong enough to save him…”
His voice is exactly what she needs to find her stability, and it blooms in red rage. Her knees sink, and she feels the weight of mountains in her shoulders, and she roars.
With a single swipe, Honeynut’s paw rips off his stupid face.
He is still laughing, and the echos surround her in the darkness.
She swings again and again, shredding his body to pieces, but instead of flesh, each chunk torn away flutters like a page fallen from a book.
As he is reduced to a pile, her dim eyes squint and focus, noticing a red symbol on the pages.
It is the Hated Symbol, the Betrayer’s Mark, That Which Is Not Written.
Frantically, she tries to destroy the pages, but Honeynut’s paws are too large, and the pieces too small, and the wet ink covers her like blood, marking her.
She roars, and cries, and turns from the pile to flee into the darkness.
She takes a step, and wooden boards creak under her feet.
She is in a hallway, and it leads to a room, dimly lit, like the “C” team office space. She sees a glint of blue.
As she approaches, Omin Dran is seated at an imperious desk, in the midst of some paperwork. She hesitates, and he looks up.
“Is that… Walnut Dankgrass?”
His eyes widen slightly, and a warm smile fills his face. He greets her.
“I’ve been waiting for you! I am so excited to meet you!”
Her breath catches, and she has no words. She cannot respond.
His lips turn down slightly, as if to frown, and he continues.
“I am so sorry, I simply must finish this. But… you’re a Documancer, aren’t you? Would you… I mean, I couldn’t ask, but if you would like, do you think you might help me with this?”
He takes a scroll, the last from a pile which she recognizes according to standard protocol to be his To Be Processed area, and offers it to her.
She cannot find her voice, but her feet are sure, and she takes the scroll, nodding as enthusiastically as physically possible.
She unrolls the top of the document, and it appears to be a multiple choice test.
- What is the most important component of any Acquisitions Incorporated mission?
- Trying one’s best
- Ensuring that all contracts, licenses, affidavits, etc. are properly signed and sealed
She confidently selects her answer, and unrolls the scroll further. The parchment seems to grow thicker and heavier, but she shakes her head and reads the next question.
- What color ink should a Documancer use for making corrections to an official contract?
This question seems simplistic in the extreme, but she makes her mark and continues. As she unrolls the scroll further, the top now seems to hang over her comically, impossibly tall.
- What was the most important thing you witnessed at the Doomgate Inn, Walnut?
- The cold-blooded murder of all our charges, leading to abject failure in our mission
- Golden hair floating majestically, as if in a gentle breeze that could not exist
- Some bullshit paperwork
Walnut halts, and her quill trembles. The shaking of her arms causes her ridiculous parchment sail to shake mightily, and Omin’s voice calls out: “Is something wrong?”
She stutters, and the parchment is taken from her. Omin stands before her like a giant, his desk no longer present, and his eyes narrow as he reads the page. “Bullshit paperwork? Is that how you really feel about this, our most sacred calling?”
“I didn’t write that!” Her voice feels small, and she cringes to realize the very first words she has spoken to Omin are a child’s excuse.
“Oh? But this is your handwriting!”
The giant parchment turns like a tidal wave, and she sees that the entire page appears to have been written in her script, right down to the signature stains and scuffles she sometimes leaves with her pinky finger.
She struggles to reply, but the letters grow as large as paving stones and begin to fall around her. They smash holes in the wooden floor, leaving only gaping darkness beneath.
She runs into the darkness, and the world around her is broken away, until only thin threads of candlelight remain, like lines of yellow silk through shadow.
She struggles to balance, and the lines grow thicker. They seem to steady her feet, and she breathes easy for a moment.
Walnut looks around in the darkness, and sees that the lines form some kind of platform, like a loose net.
The net begins to shake.
“Baby…” the voice grew louder.
Walnut looks toward the epicenter, and something large, with too many legs, is approaching. She starts to run, but one of her feet refuses to move and she trips, falling into the netting. It is sticky.
“I want to seize you.”
Walnut struggles, elfin hands pushing and pulling, but the web wraps her more closely. It glows softly, like sunlight through autumn leaves, and it smells like summer.
“Like prey is seized.” A giant spider steps closer, its eyes ruby like the forbidden symbol and its maw dripping with poison.
“They took my baby!”
She was jostled awake. Donaar was moaning in his sleep again, and his cries woke her up. Every night had been like this since that other Dragonborn showed up.
It was just yesterday. Or the day before?
It was just yesterday. Or the day before?
Walnut was exhausted.