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We were up in the hills, in soggy Sartar. I forget what we'd been hired for this time - bandits, chaos, clan feud, something like that. But it was the usual evening after, where they feed you and tell you how wonderful their clan is to make up for how badly they'd fought. And they always bring out their special drink. Every stead around there seems to have one, usually beer. It's always the best anywhere, it's always the discovery of some great clan ancestor, and then you get told all his story and how everyone there's related to him. Yes, all of them. Talk about inbred. I never touch the drinks of course, but the stories can be amusing.
Anyway, this place, the weird drink wasn't beer. "Water of life",
they called it. Passing it around in tiny beakers - they always say their drink
is strong and this time they were right. It smelt foul, like the stuff they
were burning on the fire. Even worse than burning dung in Prax.
But for once there was no heroic ancestor story. Just a old guy called Pete who wandered down from his stead in the hills once a season and brought this stuff with him. They claimed him as part of the clan, but there wasn't the usual list of relatives. When we asked, no-one knew of any family of his, he'd just been up there producing his drink for as long as they could remember. Someone said he'd come with the founders of the clan, some said he'd been there when they moved in. But they spoke of him as a man, not a spirit. He moved slowly, they said - well, he was old. Dark, leathery skin. Didn't talk much. Maybe this "water of life" was good for the health, but it didn't seem to be affecting anyone else and he didn't sound healthy to me.
I was starting to get a really bad feeling about this. None of us there were the real specialists, the undead sniffers, but if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it's time to expect a sharp stab in the kneecaps. When I asked, none of them had ever been up to Pete's stead. No, they weren't scared. Not as such. But we let that idea work on them, and by the end of the evening several of the younger lads had agreed to guide us up there.
They looked a bit less happy about it in the morning, but that could have been the hangovers. Another time I've felt really glad I've got that geas. So we followed them up the trail, and a good job we had the guides, it was so overgrown. And damp, and misty, and boggy underfoot. Soggy Sartar. But they still love the place for some reason.
And there was the stead, of sorts - ancient and falling apart. We looked inside
and then I knew I'd sensed the Truth. There were great copper cauldrons on the
fire, with stalks growing off them into the walls, and steam coming out. That
terrible smell was everywhere. It had to be magic, but we couldn't sense anything,
and you know what that means.
Something left over from those foul meldeks who'd lived here before the dragons cleansed them.
And then Old Pete appeared, and that was it. Even worse than they'd said. Glazed eyes, shuffling, dark wrinkled skin like a hide that's been over-cured. Mumbling. Like I say, I can't smell undead, but I hardly needed to.
After the bits stopped moving, we realised we weren't too sure just what he'd been. The mouth wasn't sewn shut, the teeth were normal, if dark brown, no bandages. So we decided to burn the lot. There must have been some sort of fire spirit in those copper things, because the place went up like a hungry salamander. We'd thought anywhere so soggy wouldn't burn, but it took the entire stead out in one blast. Which was fine by us. No more undead sorcerors in that bit of Sartar, and no more of that dreadful "Water of Life".