It was just after an early sunrise on Spring 73, but still town square was filled with people. They stood huddled in small groups, discussing the troubles of the times in quiet, nervous tones. Recent attempts to close tears on the peaceful Centaurs' Island and in the southernmost beaches, both of which ended in heartbreaking failure, had everyone on edge. I stood among them, listening to the murmurming voices, tension and despair so thick in the air I could nearly smell it. Only Idiot Savant seemed oblivious to the threat, as he happily babbled and smiled at his friends. May the gods spare the innocents.
Suddenly, a quiver in my mind. A moment of dizziness, as I feel the good apprentice mystic Myself fall to a Faithless... in Puddleby. What is a Faithless doing in Puddleby?! Moments later, another falls, and another. A cry rings out: "Void on the west beach!" Even as my feet carry me headlong westward, my heart skips a beat, to think of one of these terrible tears on our very doorstep. I dodge Greater Wraiths and lesser undine to cross town square, a single thought in my mind: It Must Be Stopped.
A river of people is converging on the west beach from one side, and a wave of undine from the others. The site is a madhouse. Faithless, Detached Spirits, and wraiths swarm the beach, callously trampling the bodies of the many fallen in their mindless efforts to reach the many more fighters still battling them. I heal a few fighters, wish them luck, and rush southward, where Maquiladora and others are frantically yelling for assistance in sealing the tear.
I have seen one of these rifts before, the one on the Centaurs' island, the one I lay next to helplessly as it opened into a ghastly gash in space and tossed hundreds into the black Void. My blood runs cold with fear, but my moonstone pulses with an eerie, eager warmth in my hand. My heart and mind are firm. We will do what must be done.
The next hours blend into a blur. I approach the rift, hold out my hand, feel its emptiness drawing my life spirit from me. Voices call out behind me, as if from a great distance: "Do not let your spirit fall too low!" "Back away, give the healers some room!" As my spirit strength falls, I move aside, pulling another willing healer into my place. Head down, I rest a moment, recovering my strength, then look up just as my replacement glances my way. I nod, and he pulls me in to give of myself to the great Tear. Again I yield, and another takes my place. Again, and again. I vaguely hear more swarms of undine come, and at least once I hear the ghastly shriek of a Greater Death. I spare a thought of gratitude to the brave fighters who keep those demons from us, and the healers and apprentice mystics who keep them healthy and boost their balance. I myself am lost in a haze, courting death, wooing the tear.
Only two things penetrate my concentration and fatigue: the steady encouragement of the apprentice mystics, calling out as they feel the darkness of the tear weakening, and the earthquakes. The first is the worst by far, at least for me. I stand next to the tear, steeling myself for its icy touch, when the earth beneath my feet rocks violently, throwing me to the ground. Clutching my moonstone to my heart I pour my spirit into it, healing myself in a desperate attempt to remain conscious. For I remember that terrible final earthquake on the Centaurs' island, that felled a hundred good exiles and spelled the end of that peaceful place. The quake ends, finally, and I struggle to my feet -- alas, only to stumble into the tear! My spirit depleted, I have nothing to give it but my self. The darkness envelops me with a cold hunger, casting me once more into the Void. I come to my senses and swiftly depart, to return to the west beach and once more enter my healing dance with the darkness.
It seems forever that we dozens of healers, mystics and fighters battle our foes: the tear, the many undine, and our own exhaustion. The tear waxes and wanes, drawing strength from us as we fall to its clutches and being weakened as we sacrifice our life's spirit to it. Finally, three long and weary hours later, the Darkness lifts. No mystic's skills are needed to tell us that: the tear closes as quietly and mysteriously as it formed, leaving behind a group so stunned by the sudden disappearance that for a moment we don't quite know what to do. But a fraction of a second later the jubilant cries ring out: Hurrah! We have won!
I lift my head and lower my trembling arm, nearly dropping my moonstone before I have the sense to put it in safely my pocket. Success! But our task is not yet finished. There to one side, surrounded by a sea of fallen bodies, the Greater Death I thought I felt before is waiting for us with a malevolent stare. I draw a shaky breath, then take out my moonstone once more and go to do what I may. A joy it is to use my stone to help my fellows, to feel my spirit drawn into the life of a fallen fighter rather than into that terrible soulless blackness. But the fight is not going well. The Greater Death strikes fighters down as quickly as we can raise them, and it seems none can touch it. At that moment yet another earthquake strikes, adding injury to insult. But this quake is a blessing in disguise, for the ground beneath the Greater Death opens up and to our enormous surprise and relief it disappears into the depths of the earth.
We make our weary way back to town, some openly jubilant, others too tired to celebrate. The docks saved, and valuable lessons learned. Lessons I fear we will have all too much opportunity to use again.
- Healery of Puddleby
Soulguider of the Fellowship of the Red Quill
Joyous celebration as the Darkness lifts and the tear closes.
The Puddleby Tales