Social Anxiety Barbarian Part 5: The Owl's Haunt
Join us for the thrilling conclusion of BBJ QUEST: Social Anxiety Barbarian!
- Part one: At the mouth of the caves
- Part two: Cave Lads
- Part three: Lullaby for the dead
- Part four: Deadspace and Beyond
- Part five: The Owl's Haunt
An entity known as the Owl has been poisoning the town's beloved Forgotten Dead and turning them into stone for unknown reasons. But it has got to stop! Our hero's investigation leads them from Lullaby, City of the Dead, into Deadspace, a realm made up of the final memories of the dead. They trade the memory of their long lost lover to a ravenfolk for safe passage through the Beyond, a vast mysterious crimson void that connects the final moments of all the dead. Finally arriving at a lavender pool, they jump in and are transported to a beautiful forest meadow where two little girls are picking wildflowers.
And that's where we are now.
125 ~bx @ 14:40 2021/11/30
ASK THEM IF THE FLOWERS SMELL NICE
126 ~dozens @ 15:30 2021/11/30 [edited]
The younger one has a wild tangle of long, curly, uncombed, straw-colored hair. She avoids your eyes and hangs back a little bit.
The older has black hair cut into a severe bob with short bangs. She looks at you boldly and unafraid. “I'm Nemosyne. This is my sister Heckat.”
You ask them about the flowers. Nemosyne nods and holds out the bouquet she has gathered. “Want to smell? They're really nice.” She smiles.
The younger one, still kind of hiding behind her older sister, asks in a voice barely above a whisper, “Are you here about the lady?”
Nemosyne keeps smiling but almost seems to flinch when Heckat speaks up.
There's an odd sense of familiarity to all of this. The girls, the meadow, the house. Sort of a weak pre-deja-vu.
127 ~dozens @ 15:41 2021/11/30
128 ~bx @ 15:20 2021/12/02
I SAY “Yes please” AND SMELL THE FLOWERS
129 ~dozens @ 15:43 2021/12/02
They smell really nice. Kind of sweet and heady.
Nemosyne smiles at you happily. Heckat eyes you warily.
A voice calls out from the cottage. “Girls? Nemosyne!”
Nemosyne turns and calls out over her shoulder, “Coming!”
She turns back to you, “We have to go now. Bye!” And she turns and starts skipping toward the house, clutching her flowers in her hand.
Heckat watches her go and hangs back for a moment showing no concern nor urgency about her summons, as though accustomed to being overlooked and ignored. You notice her hair again, unbrushed and tangled. A smudge of dirt on her face. Her dress is frayed and patched, an obvious hand-me-down from her older sister.
She glances up at you now and then as she talks but mostly keeps her eyes down, “Nobody listens to me about the lady. She's not supposed to be here.”
She finally fixes you with a stare and you notice her eyes are a deep golden amber.
“Are you here about the lady?”
130 ~Gaffen @ 04:14 2021/12/03
I MIGHT BE; TELL ME ABOUT THE LADY
131 ~dozens @ 10:33 2021/12/03
Heckat frowns and looks down at the ground.
“She arrived here a while ago. People act funny around her. I don't like her. She's not supposed to be here.”
She turns and points behind her to where the trees climb up a modest hill.
“She stays over the hill in the hollow in the old tower.”
She digs in the dirt with her toe as she talks and draws the same abstract owl shape that that one Forgotten Dead drew back in the village when you questioned it.
She says, “I hope you're here to make her go away,” then she abruptly scratches out the drawing with her foot and turns and runs toward the cottage.
132 ~cymen @ 06:03 2021/12/06
I walk to the hill top.
133 ~dozens @ 13:09 2021/12/06
You leave the bright, sunny meadow and enter the shadowy forest. When you make it to the top of the hill, you look down into the vale below you. You see the remains of what looks like an ancient fort and settlement. The houses and cottages that used to surround the fort are all completely gone and reclaimed by nature, save a stone chimney here and a few crumbling stones there. Most of the fort is gone too save for a crumbling stone wall in severe disrepair, and a fallen tower.
The base of the tower still actually stands in the center of the courtyard inside the crumbling wall. It's about one half to one story tall, and it seems like most of its insides are exposed to the elements.
The rest of the tower, about two story's worth, is laying on its side. A large segment of it is laying across the crumbling wall, having flattened it to the ground when it fell. This looks like the most obvious place to climb over and into the courtyard should you choose to approach the tower base.
The vale is quiet. There are fewer trees down below and more open grassy spaces.
As the sun starts to set, shadows grow long and darkness settles over the vale. You can see the warm flickering glow of a candle emanating from somewhere within the tower base.
134 ~cymen @ 16:08 2021/12/06
I will try to sneak up on the lady using the shadows of dusk. I am taking my time so as not to walk into any traps and maybe try not to take the most obvious route.
135 ~dozens @ 17:55 2021/12/06
You descend into the vale and take a circuitous route around the tower, sticking to the shadows and trying to be quiet.
You get to the smashed part of the wall and carefully climb up the sloped pile of rubble, and then down the other side.
The tower is a short distance from you now. The warm candlelight you saw earlier continues to flicker somewhere deep inside.
When you find the tower entrance, you creep forward to get a look.
The inside of the tower is basically one large room. Most of it is under open sky, but there's a large section of it, farthest away from you, that is protected by a portion of ceiling. It is in this part of the tower that the candlelight is coming from.
It is set up as an alchemist's laboratory. There are cauldrons and beakers and bottles and vials. A crude makeshift shelf leaning against the wall is full of sample jars and other rare ingredients. A long wide workbench is in the center of the room mostly devoid of any area to actually work. It is piled with books and heavy tomes.
A tall slender woman in a dark cloak stands at the table with a candle, hunched over a book, running her finger over the lines as she mumbles quietly to herself. She then quickly moves to reference a second book, and then a third, before returning to the first.
You hang back in the shadows and she seems not to have noticed you.
136 ~Gaffen @ 04:57 2021/12/07
I TRY TO MAKE YOU THE NATURE OF HER STUDIES; WHAT'S SHE DOING IN THERE?
137 ~dozens @ 09:16 2021/12/07 [edited]
As you watch, she looks away from her books toward the far corner of the room, and walks over there to a small cauldron. She reaches in and pulls out a small clump of sporeshard.
Shard in hand she walks back to the workbench and starts to roll the thing up in a long strip of leather. She looks up to the ceiling and reaches one hand up toward the rafters and a speckled owl silently flies down and lands next to her. She ties the leather to the owl's leg.
At the edge of the table is what looks like a large round mirror lying flat on its back. But when she drags her fingers across it, its silvery surface ripples and moves like water. She grabs the owl with two hands and plunges it through the surface of the mirror, up to her elbows.
When she withdraws her hands they are empty, and she goes back to puttering around with her instruments and studying her books.
As all this happens, you manage to get a better look at her. She is tall and thin and pale. Her black cloak envelops her small frame, its hood thrown back to reveal a tight short crown of curly sandy hair. Her eyes are a dark golden amber. She's grown, but there's no mistaking that this is Heckat, the little girl from the meadow.
138 ~cymen @ 09:59 2021/12/07
I try to wrap my head around things for a minute or so.
I am in deadspace. It seems to be an actual place. People live here. People live here... people live in deadspace. What? Heckat is here multiple times. She has a device to send things elsewhere. Presumably to the land of the living.
I am in so far over my head now light is filtering down anymore.
139 ~cymen @ 10:01 2021/12/07
Fuck it. If she is the bad gal here I don't stand a chance anyway. I stand up and call out: Heckat, would you kindly explain to me what you are doing here?
140 ~dozens @ 11:00 2021/12/07
You startle her when you call out. She bolts upright and stares at you with wide golden eyes. A look flickers across her face—hope? panic?—but then it's gone and her face is carefully neutral.
“You,” she says with a touch of sadness.
“I told you not to look for me. You told me you wouldn't look for me.”
You are confused. You've never met Heckat. Either of them, the child or the adult.
She cocks her head to the side. “You don't remember?” She walks slowly around the table so that she is standing in front of it, facing you.
“You don't remember, do you?” She shakes her head sadly as she steps slowly toward you, studying your face. “Tell me what memories you gave up crossing the Beyond, you poor fool.”
141 ~Gaffen @ 10:13 2021/12/08
OH NO D:
142 ~dozens @ 12:00 2021/12/08
“My... memories?” you falter as realization suddenly dawns on you.
You gave up the memories of your lover to the ravenfolk for safe passage through the Beyond.
Heckat reaches out and gently cups your face with one hand and shakes her head.
“No,” she says. “No, don't fret about it. This is for the best, really. This will make things easier.”
She withdraws her hand and turns her back on you as she walks back to the workbench.
“You were probably the last person alive who still remembered me for who I was. Now I truly am entirely forgotten.” She laughs mirthlessly and roughly turns a few pages in one of the large tomes. She closes her eyes and sighs. “Now I'm free.”
“You don't remember any of this any more. But I grew up completely overshadowed by my sister. I don't remember my parents ever even saying my name. To everybody else, whenever they bothered to think of me, I was only 'Nemosyne's sister' and nothing more. I barely even existed. And after she died, I didn't even have that to tether me to the world anymore.”
She turns and peers into the cauldron where the sporeshards are growing, and she adds a few drops of something from a bottle she plucks off the shelf.
“I felt just like the Forgotten Dead, you know. Not really of this world, but compelled to linger on. They just want to feel human again. But they can't. I relate to them so much, in fact. Them the forgotten dead, me the forgotten living.”
She turns and fixes you with a stare from across the room.
“Everybody deserves the right to actually be forgotten. Actually forgotten. It is an unkindness to make them linger on they way they do.”
She takes a step forward and places her hands flat on the workbench and leans slightly forward.
“So, yes. I am 'the owl'. I'm setting them all free. And I won't allow you to stop me.”
143 ~cymen @ 12:36 2021/12/08
I take her hands. “Explain it to me! Why are the Forgotten Dead not really forgotten? Why do they linger?”
144 ~dozens @ 14:34 2021/12/08
“My whole life, my entire identity has been based on who my sister is. 'Nemosyne's sister' they called me. As though I didn't even have a name! That's all they want. They just want somebody to know their name. As long as you keep giving them hope every year during the Festival of Remembering, they'll cling to that hope and keep coming back. The same way I used to hope people would see me for who I am instead of who my sister is. After she was gone, it was like I disappeared and I could finally be me. I want the same for them.”
145 ~Gaffen @ 03:42 2021/12/09
YOU MAY FEEL YOU ARE DOING THEM A KINDNESS, BUT HOW DO YOU KNOW THIS IS WHAT THEY WANT?
146 ~dozens @ 07:56 2021/12/09
Heckate sneers at you, “Don't you dare to question me! I've BEEN there! I've lived what they're going through. And I've felt the peace of finally being let go.”
“Now,” she continues, suddenly calm and placid once more, “you should leave here and let me continue my work. You promised, after all, that you wouldn't come looking for me. So keep your promise and go back where you came from.”
She returns to her research and her work, seeming to ignore you for now.
147 ~cymen @ 13:43 2021/12/09
I promised a little girl just over that hill I would see about the lady. The little girl thinks she shouldn't be here.
LOOK AT HER LIKE IT IS A QUESTION
148 ~dozens @ 17:50 2021/12/09
Heckate raises an eyebrow at you. “She said that? That's odd... I haven't seen any original behavior from any of the projections since I've arrived. I had in fact decided that this was some kind of feedback loop on autoplay. Nothing new has happened since I've been here, nothing to deviate from the script.”
She looks thoughtful, “But if it suddenly recognizes you and me as not being part of the simulation, then ... where is that sentience actually coming from?”
She narrows her eyes at you suspiciously, “You changed something. How did you get here anyway?”
She produces a small cloth pouch on a draw string from somewhere within her voluminous cloak and bounces it in the palm of her hand a few times as she crosses the floor toward you once again.
“Tell me, are you even really here, hmm?”
She holds the pouch out to you and then suddenly drops it, swiftly snatching the draw string as it falls through her closing fist. She flicks her wrist, sending the pouch arcing through the air toward you face. You flinch out of the way at the last minute but it still catches you in the collarbone, and it releases a small cloud of fine mist upon impact.
You breathe in the mist and you cough and your vision swims for just a second.
You feel your connection to deadspace decay further from okay to weak.
“Hmm,” Heckate nods. “Well you've seen about 'the lady', dear. Now I really do think it's time you were on your way.”
She draws the pouch back and prepares to bop you in the face again.
UH OH NOW WHAT
149 ~Gaffen @ 03:11 2021/12/10
“THAT WAS MEAN!” ATTEMPT A SWEEP KICK TO THROW HER OFF BALANCE. GRAB A BOOK. SCARPER!
150 ~dozens @ 08:03 2021/12/10
“Hey, that was mean!” you cry out, blinking and sneezing in the dust. She grins maliciously at you as the pouch arcs down again toward your face.
This time you're ready though and you crouch low and knock her legs out from under her with a sweeping kick. She squeals and falls all the way down in a heap, her puffy black cloak billowing around her.
You jump up and grab the nearest book. You know this is all basically a dream. There's no permanence here: you can't take objects from deadspace with you when you wake up. But...
You dash to the edge of the table as Heckate groans and starts to get to her feet. You bat the surface of the large round mirror a couple times like a cat to disturb its surface, and it ripples like a saucer of milk. “WAIT!” Heckat screams behind you. You glance over your shoulder. She's too far to stop you. You thrust the book through the mirror up to your elbows. It's ice cold. You open your hands and drop the book, letting it fall who knows where, and draw your hands back out. Your hands sting from the cold. You shake them out.
Heckat growls angrily and reaches both arms up toward the sky. You look up in time to see a half dozen large owls silently decend from the rafters, all razor sharp beaks and talons.
You close your eyes and try to actively feel the feeling of letting go, of slipping away. You sever your already weak connection to deadspace.
You open your eyes and see the owl, face twisted in anger. You smile, “Bye, Heckat,” and you fade away as the first owl sinks its talons into nothing.
You wake up gasping for breath on the floor cushions in the Loominary. You heave and wretch into a bucket that had been placed at your side for just this reason. Re-entry is hell. It takes several minutes to calm down.
Now, two things:
On the floor near you is a giant leather bound tome. The one from the owl's haunt.
And, at the far end of the room laid out on a stone altar is the forgotten dead, the one whose sacrifice allowed you to enter deadspace in the first place.
Only this time, you know him. You remember.
You know his name, his friends, how he died. His story dances on the tip your tongue, begging to be told.
He turns his head and looks at you weakly, imploringly.
WELCOME BACK TO THE LIVING, WHAT DO
151 ~cymen @ 11:44 2021/12/11
Grab the book and start searching through it for clues!
152 ~dozens @ 14:58 2021/12/11
You flip through the book. It's dense. A lot of geomancy, mycology/biomancy, and necromancy. Heckat has scribbled copious amounts of notes and calculations and corrections in the margains.
You think if you spend some time with it, you can learn a lot about the production of sporeshard. Including isolating the deadshroom strain if you wanted to have more expiditions into deadspace. You also think it might be possible to come up with a treatment or antidote for the disease.
Behind you, Silas groans on the altar. He's mostly stone at this point.
153 ~cymen @ 16:15 2021/12/11
Try talking to Silas!
154 ~dozens @ 21:16 2021/12/11
You approach the altar where Silas is slowly turning to stone.
You look at him and remember living through his final moments.
“I know you.”
He turns his head and looks at you.
And then you do something that by definition nobody has ever done.
You name one of the forgotten dead.
“I know you, Silas. I was there. I saw it all.”
And you tell him everything. How his friends loved him. How Lethe was with him at the end.
Silas looks at you and smiles.
He looks away and then the life leaves his body.
He looks content and peaceful.
Silas is now longer one of the forgotten dead.
He has been named. He has been remembered.
And the disease stops spreading across his body.
155 ~dozens @ 21:17 2021/12/11
== Epilogue ==
Heckat was right about one thing. The forgotten dead don't deserve to be made to linger on, desperate for recognition, desperate to be remembered.
But her conclusion was wrong. The answer isn't to kill them and turn them stone. The answer is to give them what they want.
Using Heckat's tome, you are able to isolate the deathshroom strain from the sporeshard.
Over the next couple of days, you and the Weavers use the deathshrooms to bear witness to the final moments of all of the remaining forgotten dead. And then you name them and memorialize them. And they pass peacefully and happily.
You save them all.
The dead who have already been turned to stone, who couldn't be saved, are moved into the town center as a memorial to the forgotten dead, whom you have made obsolete. There will never be any more.
The statues are paid tribute every year during the Festival of Remembering.
One day you return home to find a bouquet of wildflowers with a card. It's not signed, but it has an abstract drawing of an owl.
The two of you ultimately wanted the same thing in the end, after all.
And you respect her wishes to be forgotten and don't look for her again.