The Eladrin returned from the mist. I was surprised to see him. There was something dismal and draining about that fog; something otherworldly and I was certain that it was deadly. His face was pale and colorless. I watched him consult with his fellow soldiers and the despair spread through them as he spoke. Even without hearing his words, I was certain. They were all dead. An entire battalion of Cyran soldiers along with whatever Karrnathi force was there as well.
We were too close to the danger; it made me impatient. Whatever fell force compelled that mist might renew it at any moment. A distance of half a mile was not far enough for my liking. We needed to leave.
I had insisted that Olohorn would pay them well for an escort, though I did not expect the Cyrans to abandon their post. In that way perhaps I benefited from the murderous fog. The goliath approached me, throwing a sideways glance at the halfling. I was kneeling next to Olohorn.
“There is ill magic at play; I fear that all our comrades have perished. We intend to move north, to the Metrol bridge. Our hope is that some of our countrymen will have escaped this deathcloud and that we will receive word there. You may accompany us, and we offer you protection on the way. However, we do not intend to journey to Gatherhold.”
This was a small comfort, as Gatherhold was several days off, and it was still unclear to me if Olohorn’s condition would linger, damned fool that he was. The goliath returned to his men and the halfling came over to me. He suggested that he might be able to ease Olohorn’s travels for a few coppers more. I did not trust him, but I agreed to the fee if he could indeed deliver. The goliath frowned as he saw us conversing. The halfling trotted off and returned a few minutes later with a pony; somewhat ragged and missing a bit of his left ear, but adequate for a stupefied dwarf.
At this the Halfling, he name was Garret, explained that he was headed to Gatherhold himself and he would gladly offer his protective services for the price I had mentioned earlier. Though my trust with this rogue was limited, we had virtually nothing to steal, so I agreed.
We made our way northward, deciding to keep a healthy distance from the river and the mist. Only a couple of hours of daylight remained. As the sunlight faded, the despair of the Cyrans grew. We spoke little. There was a dim realization settling upon all of us, an understanding that this mist was deep and far reaching. I began to suspect that Metrol itself was gone. Somehow the lands to the west just felt empty and lifeless.
Coming over a small hill, we spied the lightning rail tracks leading to the bridge. At the urging of Aukan, the goliath sergeant, we followed the tracks toward the bridge. The mist continued as before, a gray wall, seemingly bound by the river.
Warily, we drew near the bridge and happened upon the sounds of a man sobbing bitterly. I shifted to a human form. It occurred to me that survivors of this curse may not be too trusting and I was suddenly thankful to be in the company of Cyran soldiers.
A lone half-elf was curled under a withered oak, clutching his knees and crying. Sledge approached him and knelt beside him.
“Friend, what has happened?”
He looked up, almost startled. “I… I couldn’t find her, I…”, and then he faded back into sobs. “Friend, are you from Cyre? Have you fled this mist.” The dwarf’s voice was gruff, but there was compassion in it.
“He has been like this since we stopped.” We turned and found a sober-faced halfing behind us. “I believe he lost his wife.” His eyes fell to the ground. “There are a few of us camped just behind the hill. We were not able to continue on with the rest. Has the Queen sent you? Oh, by Boldrei’s Spear I pray that she has sent you.”
“I am afraid the she has not.” Aukan said. “We were east of the river when the mist came.”
The halfling looked down again. He was silent, but tears were darkening the soil.
“What can you tell us? Where have you come from?” Aukan asked.
The halfling raised his head, brokenness lined his face. “We were but a few hours outside of Metrol, when a number of riders came galloping frantically behind us. For an instant, I feared brigands, even though we were not so far from the capital.” His speech was slow and deliberate. “The bulk of the riders tore past us but one straggler slowed to shout something at us before going on. I couldn’t understand him, but his eyes were wide with fear.”
“I turned towards Metrol and I saw this … this wall of mist, it must have been miles wide. We turned and fled, spurring our ponies. I feared a massive invasion from Karrnath and some dark magic. Whenever I looked back, I feared pursuit, it seemed larger and closer. I knew that something was chasing us, eager to devour us.” He paused, his eyes empty and blank.
“Continue.” Aukan said.
“We…, well, when we made it to the bridge, Janasar’s pony faltered, perhaps it threw a shoe. It happened so fast. Janasar was on the ground. He was clutching his ankle. I dismounted and ran to him, the mist was a boiling storm and it must have been less than half a mile off. Mala waited at the head of the bridge. I lifted Janasar onto the back of my pony.”
“There were others, maybe a dozen or so; all headed for the bridge. We made it across and I turned again to see. Then a loud curse and a large horse blundered into us. Janasar cried out, I was on the ground, and my pony was bolting. I knew we were done. The mist was already at the foot of the bridge. I hauled Janasar off the road and then I collapsed. Mala had not seen us fall.”
He paused again, and Aukan nodded.
“And then… well, it just stopped. I don’t know why. It stopped. It didn’t cross the river, praise the Host. I collapsed and I think slept a bit after that, but I woke to our friend here, crying, calling out for Eladdra. I could get no sense out of him though. Janasar is still not able to walk, so I made camp and trusted for Boldrei’s spear to preserve us.”
“And you have seen no sign of the Queen’s armies?” asked Quarion.
“No, I had hoped you were her relief.”
The sun was beginning to sink into the west. Aukan ordered his men to prepare a camp for the night. The halflings were invited to join. Auakn instructed Sledge move the half-elf, but his attempt roused the man and he turned to run back towards the bridge.
Just after sunset, we heard a low rumbling sound growing from the east. Specks of azure were sparking in the distance. We watched in silence for a moment, uncomprehending. Then the sound of a shrill whistle punctuated the rumble.
“It is the lightning rail,” I said, “headed to Metrol… and into the mist.”