Dominic was happy to be back home in Lebsmouth. He looked out the windows from Amos’ office onto the Leben River and the three Rokis Trading Company buildings standing tall like pillars out of the water, but connected to the waterfront by bridges.
He had just returned from a long futile journey up the river, where he had visited Vieland, the first city of the Lebites, and Ardenville on Lake Nemar. The origin of the Rokis curse lay far in the past, but it seemed that it had to be uncovered to find a cure. Many Rokis had tried to find a cure in the past, and a phrase that recurred in their notes was “the Cradle of Rofin,” which they associated it with Ardenville, but Dominic had found no help there, only that the place itself was cursed with a vile history of a demon still lingering.
The Rofin were a great civilization that occupied the Leben region hundreds of years ago. Few of their artful works have been found intact and little is known of why their empire fell. Lebites inherited the Rocal language from them, but very few writings still exist from the time of the Rofin.
Dominic opened a letter that had been left for him by one of his old associates, Tendris Vay. Tendris recounted a story about a Gani witch, who had lifted a curse for a young knight of Lowenborg, and he suggested that Dominic seek her advice as well. It was far fetched that this backwater witch could help, but the Gani were known to have close ties to the fey, and fey creatures featured frequently in the hauntings of those enthralled by the Rokis Curse.
This Gani witch, Emilda, lived only a day’s journey outside Lebsmouth in a small village called Greenpond of Newfolk County. Dominic decided to go in the morning and spend the evening with Bella and Amos.
During dinner Amos told Dominic of the latest news from the Rokis Trading Company. Two unusual things had happened while he was gone. The fleet’s ocean faring flagship, the Rokis Flier, had been stolen and burned to the water line on the bay. The captain had confessed to being part of the plot to steal the ship, but only through fiendish enchantment and deception.
The story that interested Dominic more, however, was the sudden appearance of Anton Rokis’ grandson. Anton Rokis, the chairman of the Rokis Trading Company had also been severely affected by the Rokis curse. His mother had endured it for many years before dieing, but then it took hold of his wife and quickly destroyed her, and within a year his daughter, Medea, began showing signs of the curse.
She left Lebsmouth in search of a cure and had not been heard from for more than 20 years. It was clear that the curse had claimed her too, but now her previously unknown of son had returned. Dominic hoped he’d have a chance to meet this Pravus and find out more, perhaps Medea had learned something important about the curse?
The next morning Dominic borrowed a horse from Amos’ stable and rode west to find the Gani witch of Greenpond. The small farming village consisted of a less than thirty simple houses centered around a murky green pond. A kid pointed out Emilda’s house to him. It was barely a hut with a small fruit tree in the front yard with dozens of small clay wind chimes hanging from it’s branches.
Emilda was a short heavyset woman with long tangly grey hair and an ancient sagging face. The inside of the single room hut was dirty, serving as both pottery, kitchen, and living quarters. Emilda kept her pottery wheel spinning as she spoke with Dominic.
Dominic told her what he’d heard of her and why he’d come to ask her advice. She smiled knowingly.
“I cannot lift the Rokis curse, but I might set you on the course to learn more, and if you can capture hailstone in your hand and hold it, it may tell you of the cradle and tomb of Rofin.”
She paused as if to make sure that Dominic was listening closely.
“Go on your way and immerse yourself in the first stream that you cross. Baptised for your journey, the stream will carry you on course with the curse.”
Dominic didn’t find her advice particularly helpful or hopeful, but he’d heard plenty of soothsayers try to sell him homespun yarn, and this woman seemed earnest, so he pulled a gold piece from his purse and handed it to her.
She looked the gold he held out to her and shook her head.
“I cannot take your Rokis gold, but you will remain in my debt, and when we meet again, you must tell me how you have repaid it.”
It was too late to make the full journey back to Lebsmouth, so Dominic stayed at the Lone Hound Roadhouse overlooking the Black Moor, and in the morning he set back east.
Soon he came upon a small stream, probably a finger off the Leben River and running north into the Black Moor. Dominic remembered what the witch had said, so he tied up the horse and waded into the shallow stream no more than ten feet wide and perhaps four feet at its deepest.
He looked down into the water thinking that he should probably submerge entirely. The water was clear, and Dominic could see something glimmering by his left foot. He took a deep breath and dove down to grab it.
As Dominic’s fingers closed around the shiny object, he felt a strong undertow pull on him. He could not find footing in the force of the current, so he kicked off on the stream bed to lift the weight of his armor toward the surface. He wanted to gasp for air, but had not yet reached the surface.
He thrashed his arms for momentum to reach the sparkling bright surface, but again was thrust down as by the force of a crashing wave. He spun in the water, hit the bottom, and lost consciousness.
When he came to, he lay flat on his back, he was hot and wet, and could feel the flow of water by his side. Something gently touched his face, and he slowly opened his eyes. There was barely any light, but Dominic could make out a small creature near his face, perhaps a mole sniffing him. He thought he heard the mole mumble “I’m sorry,” as it set off against his shoulder with enough momentum to push him back off the bank and into the flow of the stream.
To Dominic’s surprise he did not sink but floated slowly on his back, and in the dark above him, he could make out black roots reaching for the water of the underground stream. The water was warm and calm. He closed his eyes again.
Shivers woke him from his slumber, and this time facing the maw of a big black lizard. He was certain that it was about to bite into his face, but instead it spoke. This time a language that he did not understand, but definitely a language.
Still shivering, not from cold even though he was wet, but from intense fear, he felt himself be lifted up by the lizard, which had the body of a large man. Another black lizard man stood by the first, it held a torch and wore a cloak of black and white feathers almost appearing like wings on his back. Dominic had no strength or will to struggle and let the lizard man carry him to their camp where more of them gathered around him and spoke in a strange tongue.