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Tuesday, March 13, 2012

The Gathering Dark - Chapter 3



Jodah on his own, without his mentor.


Chapter 3 - Alabaster Potions

The elder nations from the time of the Brothers - Yotia, Ancient Argive, and Korlis - were decimated by the Devastations of Argoth, and much of what is known of those times is now lost. In their wake, small independent city-states arose under the all-seeing eye of the Church of Tal. each city-state was an autonomous entity, claiming fields and farms to supply their burgeoning population lived tightly packed within the city walls, so that plague and disease were more the norm than the exception.

-Arkol, Argivian scholar

The fifth day came and went. So did the sixth. In fact three weeks pass, and in Jodah's mind, if the fourth week goes by without any sign of Voska, the plan is to go back go back for him in Alsoor.

But there's one problem. Plague has come to the city of Ghed.

The spotted plague isn't lethal, but several consequences followed. Traders from Almaaz are banished from the city because if there were no reports of plague in the nearby Alsoor or Giva Provinces then the plague had to have come from the sea. The Church of Tal found a new influx of believers ready to pray for the church's protection against the plague. There was also a surge within the ranks of the army, for the sole fact that closed ports don't need workers and the army serves hot meals.

If one were skeptical, one might believe that a periodic plague caused by the Church itself might be a method they use to maintain their power. And perhaps the army would be a little too eager after the all clear was given, so they could seize outlying farmlands in the name of keeping the harvest on track.

But if we ignore such cynical thoughts, there is one final consequence that is an unspoken one. Talismans, potions, and charms find a surge in sales. Quiet sales, made in the dark of night. And if there happened to be someone who made such things by the name of Mother Dobbs, she would need someone to perform take her product and do the legwork. Someone brave enough to walk the dark, plague-filled streets.

Someone such as Jodah.

The clients range from the wealthy and paranoid to the poor and desperate. Each night Jodah picks up his package from Mother Dobbs' doostep and goes about his business. At each dropoff, he is to go to the back entrance, knock three times, then count to five before entering. Payment would be out, hopefully with tip included, and Jodah would make the swap with no personal contact ever made.

At first Jodah just did his job. Pick up the package, make the swap, then make it home safe and sound. But soon enough he caved in to curiosity and he started examining the contents of each potion. Next came understanding and the application of some of the magical theory he's learned form Voska to make some of his own improvements. No one had complained yet.

While no one had complained yet, on this particular night it seems like someone has taken an interest in him. A flicker in the corner of his eye, catches his attention more than once, but when he goes to investigate the shadow retreats and keeps out of sight. Someone is following him, and tracking him, and despite his initial impression he knows it's not the Rag Man who has been almost like a guardian angel to him.

Whoever it is, it is most definitely not a member of the Night Watch. They walk out in the open throughout the streets like the own the place. Not likely a thief, because there are more tempting targets elsewhere. That leaves someone who knows about the forbidden magics he carries, probably an overeager follower of the Church ready to spy and report on him.

It's time to put a stop to this.

Jodah abandons the idea of completing hsi final drop and for the night and focuses all his attention on catching his pursuer. Jodah picks up his space so the spy has no choice but to give up any attempt at muffling his footsteps. Jodah ducks down an alley with recessed doorways, and as soon as the figure comes within reach she springs forth from an alcove and makes his move.

Or at least tries to.

Jodah's pursuer is too quick and turns his own momentum against him. When Jodah tries casting his spell, the stranger is quicker to act with a spell of his own and Jodah finds himself being flung off his feet. And rather than successfully pinning the stranger to the ground to find out what he's after, it's all been turned around.

"Who in Mishra's name are you?"

Snaps the stranger, who isn't a guy at all, bur rather a pretty girl with short, dark hair.

"What do you think you're doing?"

"Doing?" said Jodah. The world still rocked around him, and it was the best reply he could manage.

"The potions, you idiot child," said the young woman. "What do you think you're doing with those potions?"

Jodah blinked. "I just run deliveries. Don't know anything about..."

The stranger is convinced that his naivete is all a pretense and presses on. Mother Dobbs' potions. The stranger says she knows that he's doing something to them. For most people the concoction of of milk, mineral oils and egg yolk does nothing at all but line Mother Dobbs' pockets. But when he delivers them... the infected actually become healthy. No more plague.

His potions work.

Jodah silently curses himself for being so stupid.

The stranger continues on to tell him that if it was so easy for herself to figure this out, the church is sure to be on to him. But she's not here just to warn him. She wants information.

"Spells. Who. Taught. You?" Her face was as stern and cold as a statue's.

Jodah leaned back "I am Jodah of Giva Province. My master was Voska..."

Now it was the woman's turn to be surprised. The dark eyebrows raised and disappeared beneath the bangs. "Voska? Where is he?"

Jodah tells her what he knows, but the conversation escalates, and their yelling brings down the attention of the actual guards down upon them. The stranger tells him to stay put and that she'll contact him later. She then waves her hand and a blue light flashes in his face. Whatever she did, Jodah finds he can't move. As the guards come across him, one of them gives him a good sniff and knows that magic has been cast, but as fortune would have it, he quite clearly announces to the other two that the Church cares nothing for victims of magic, only the sinners who perform it, and the guards continue on in the direction that the stranger fled.

Eventually Jodah is able to get to his feet and make his way back to Mother Dobbs' place just in time to spot her being arrested amongst an angry mob quite happy to see her being taken away. He realizes they're arresting her because of what he did... and he realizes that soon enough they'll understand that she had nothing to do with making real magic curatives and they begin looking into her associates, like her family, friends... and her errand boy.

The next morning, under an assumed name, he enlisted in the Ghed Army, and within the week, when the plague flag was finally pulled down, he was marching with the military north, toward Alsoor.

* * *


Now We're Moving

First of all, here Jodah's actions make sense. Either he doesn't want to abandon his friend and mentor to the mercy's of the Church of Tal and/or he's a boy lost out in the world with his last guiding hand in life taken away. Both reasons make sense, and both probably contribute... but I lean more towards the second reason being the dominate factor in his overall decision to stay within the City of Ghet.

On top of that, Voska's final words to seek out other practitioners of magic were quite vague, and it'd be hard to even find a place to start.

That leads us to Mother Dobbs and our mysterious stranger. Jodah did somewhat follow his instructions. He found someone who reportedly was dealing in magics. It just turns out she was a fraud. That leads us to the real thing in the new girl. The new girl who can hold her own, calls Jodah a child, and knows of Voska.... a former pupil of Voska's? Relative?... or something more?

Obviously she's going to be important.


Back to Alsoor

The story could have easily had the new girl and or the Rag Man lead Jodah to where he's supposed to go and be the key to freeing Lord Ith, but it looks like we're not done with Voska just yet.Where is this story heading? I'm still not quite sure. But I do know this chapter was a big step up from the previous and I'm ready to read more.


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