Days 170-172, Lucky Moon, Year 445
Duldrus's air hangs thin in Nial's chest, the coldness of the crisp autumn worsening his labored breathing. A noble evergreen appears in Nial's path, and he darts around it, firing another arrow—this one launched between two branches.
Nial finds himself running often these days, an unfortunate result of his perpetually late plans and payments. In contrast to his usual rush toward or from a dangerous beast—or to barter down a bill or settle a debt—Nial's hasty retreat stems from one gargantuan enemy.
In his moment of inattention, Nial watches in horror as the titan catches up to him.
Evergreen partially toppled. Footfalls shake the earth. Red slashes for eyes. A wall of boulders for the remainder. A low rumble like a tremor. Impact to his chest. A sound like tree limbs popping. And then pain that blinds him.
Nial grits his teeth and fires the aimed shot into the mass, anyway.
His training holds, the arrow slicing into the margin of the stone golem's "torso"...if you could call the shifting, grinding form humanoid, that is.
And then—because even Nial knows how pointless it is to fight these creatures alone—the Rogue appears, using decimate to take not quite a tenth of its health.
The stone golem stumbles for a split second—even these giants feel pain, it seems—and Nial takes the opportunity to stare down his bow, aiming a second aimed shot.
The stone golem trips toward him, no more than two paces away.
A different man would know that a second hit could very well kill Nial. A wiser man, one less concerned with archaic codes of honor, would abandon the damaging attack to drink Potions, retreating as he did so.
The Captain was also so risk-adverse. Plan before, and avoid needless danger. Do not do something foolish, something needlessly heroic.
But the stone golem nearly turned delimew into armor-clad paste, and Nial feels a silent rage that can only be sated with this aimed shot.
Short bow at full draw, Nial holds his position.
The stone golem swings, and Nial's breastplate makes a horrific shattering noise. But Nial's shot rings true, glancing off a ruby-like eye.
delimew appears again, delivering a potent decimate for a visible amount of damage.
Nial feels his muscles quake in pain, no longer able to support his bow. Without looking at the mess of his own torso, Nial can feel exposed ribs shift loosely in his chest cavity.
Even a determined Harpie could kill the Marali Ranger, at this point. Time for Potions.
Nial tosses back three Greater Heal Potions before his ribcage is magically patched together. And even after that, he can feel the sharp edges of shattered metal stab his pectorals with each step. Armor will need reps, sooner than later.
Emerging for another sneak attack, delimew and his dagger take another piece of stone from the golem. It has been three hours, now, but the murderous beastie looks half-dead.
Leading the way back to Mirith via the unusually clear path, Nial watches again and again as his attacks do almost no perceivable damage to the stone golem, and deli's gouge and tear holes in its diamond-hardened hide.
After another hour, blood flows freely from their quarry, At last, the fight will soon be over! Raising his bow, Nial cannot help but imagine the thousands of gold pieces awaiting him from the sundered body of the rock-covered creature.
The stone golem's injuries regenerate, the blood loss negated.
Behind his helmet, Nial's mouth opens, then closes. It settles into a hard line as Nial lines up another aimed shot. Nial extends his draw to an almost impractical extend, his arms straining to aim the shot.
And the arrow cuts into the golem's eye, cruelly embedded. Once again, blood flows unrestricted from the stone golem.
And Nial feels something he almost immediately regrets: pride. Yes...it's true. He's proud of his ability to fire into the eye of a stone golem, proud that the arrow stuck.
As wrong as it may be, Nial feels a sense of pride in his killing role. When deli stabs the construct twice more and it falls, Nial feels a smile flit across his face. And when he inspects crumbled remains of the SG, he feels his heart surge at the sight of several thousand pieces of gold.
... Nial remembers when he first killed a dragon. Back then, he could convince himself he respected the sentience of the creature even as his sword carved into it.
Brigands? They were certainly thinking men, but their wrongdoings were too great for him to feel any regret over killing them. It always was a double standard, then. Except...even worse. A triple, quadruple standard?
Jolted from his morality daydream (or nightmare) by movement, Nial's sharp eyes see delimew shift a step closer to the stone golem's remnants. Probably getting a bit impatient.
"A Jade Pin!" Nial announces, feeling his mouth curl into something childlike and carefree. They are an uncommon item, to be sure, but no one has ascertained their purpose. Perhaps a city or village inhabitant somewhere was starting a jewelry shop?
deli seemed uninterested in this new item, so Nial pockets it and asks if deli would like to fight a final stone golem. He assents, and the pair makes their way back to Duldrus. Laughing and joking, Nial's formal vocabulary drifts back to a younger time. Almost reminiscent of a different rogue...
As much as he finds Gasby's mode of conduct unbecoming, he wonders how much he was like her, years ago. After all, many adventures and a long rest have dulled his memories, and he can never again know what he was like.
It gives him some measure of sympathy for the young rogue.
Making their way through the first valley, Nial and deli encounter a familiar SG, the scar from a backstab just visible on its skin.
Nial wonders if this is the stone golem that they encountered when battling its companion. Second one probably heard the sound of Nial getting crushed and wanted to see what all the fuss was about.
And as deli backstabbed it, rooting it to the spot with paralysis, he told it to, "stay!" And—even more remarkably—the stone golem listened. Nial feels his face break into a grin. Hilarious.
And unlike its partner, this stone golem goes down without harming either Nial or delimew.
Stepping into the scattered boulders of the SG, Nial takes a look at the gold. His eyes widen. A true fortune, on this SG! Even if the Lady Moon was not as Lucky as he would have liked, the raw profits from this dangerous business far exceed his expectations.
Feeling jubilant only partially because of the company, Nial walks back to Mirith, delimew seeming to listen to a story Nial cannot hear. Their packs hang heavy against them.
And what a haul it is! They each receive thousands of gold pieces, and their inventories are filled with rare books and flora.
Nial feels his hands clench. This is wonderful. If he finds a worthy buyer, why, he can make easily twice what he did today. The Ancient Tomes, especially...since a man regularly trades a popular variety of black robe for a single book (the fool), he can make thousands for almost no work.
The expedition was not entirely an opportunity for him and deli to catch up, of course.
Putting a few of the items in his personal account, Nial resolves to run a portion of them up to his guild hall. They would make good decorations, and the guards can have them. For now.
As he organizes the remaining flowers, Nial feels the briefest flicker of hollowness. These are not what he was looking for: he needs weapons, rings, and silver to fight...them. The abominations. These are beautiful, but owning them is an empty victory. He's wasting his time in Duldrus.
No, that is untrue. Nial moves his head in an invisible half-shake. If nothing else, he thoroughly enjoyed himself, and he imagines Duldrus appreciates a few less terrors slowly pursuing its miners. And the Roses were a joy to find, too.
The Lucky Moon fades, and it seems his search will have to continue elsewhere. Perhaps a certain red-clad Wizard would have better methods of facing down abominations. Perhaps even Gasby would have turned up something in her searches.
The answer to his phobia will appear someday. He merely has to be receptive, and have limitless resources to buy and trade for it.
His hand still clenched, Nial walks out of Mirith's east gate. He has an appointment with a legendary wizard. What a day this will be.