"Just a little longer, please. My brother will be here as promised, I know he will - and he needs our help", Knonan pleaded, "We shall pay double for your extra time." Antoenius wiped away the sweat from his forehead and swatted away yet another large mosquito, clearly annoyed but enticed by the offer. "Fine, but you'll need to pay up front for the time I've already spent in this forsaken death trap", he replied glibly, not fully trusting the barbarian rogue.
This wasn't the way it was supposed to be - Antoenius remembered his days as a young paladin in Freeport, looking forward to new adventures with friends willing to sacrifice their lives for one another, to rid Norrath of evil and corruption together. With the help of his brave friends fighting beside him, he was able to earn the right to wield the mighty Ghoulbane sword that could banish the undead - even the cursed knights of Befallen would tremble at the sight of this young holy paladin blessed by Mithaniel Marr, who granted him strength in battle, and mighty powers of healing.
But those bygone days were just a shadow now, as one by one his friends would fall in battle. Those that remained were too concerned about enforcing the rule of the nobles, or became so disillusioned they joined the Freeport Militia, while others hired themselves out as private soldiers for hire. With his closest friends gone, and finding no solace or answers from his meditations within the Temple of Marr, Antoenius reluctantly chose the mercenary life to make a living - which is what brought him now to the forsaken ruins of Torsis, now known by locals as the City of Mist, hidden deep in the dangerous and overgrown Emerald Jungle of Kunark.
Knonan had witnessed Antoenius single-handedly fight off the lizardman of Cazic-Thule in the jungles of Feerott without breaking a sweat, and had approached him about hiring his services to help his older brother in Kunark. But the Emerald Jungle was far deadlier, and just getting to the ruins required facing a swarm of monstrous leeches, oversized mosquitos, and undead gorillas at every corner - and he was now regretting taking this job without bargaining for more. When they finally entered the ruins of the city, Antoenius found himself getting pummeled by sturdy golems with fists of rock at the entrance, while he clumsily tried to maintain a firm grasp on his sword. Earlier in the day he was just a moment too late, trying to use the healing power of his hands to save a young Iksar monk and necromancer that had been mischievously playing too closely with the phantom inhabitants - a mistake he would never have made in his prime.
The day was growing late, and the mist rolled in as heavy as the weariness in his legs and arms. At first Antoenius kept his hopes up searching for hidden treasure in every nook and cranny, to no avail. As the day wore on, a powerful sense of sadness washed over him, at the paradoxical sight of opulence and grandeur of the city, now decaying and dilapidated.
"Let's take a break here near these old stables. We've scouted enough to set up a safe camp to wait for my brother", Knonan said, while taking a sip from his canteen. "This city Torsis, looks like it has seen better days, no?"
"Bah, we've been killing these cursed inhabitants all day, and there is nothing of value on them. I don't know why they fight so hard, to protect such pitiful loot", Antoenius complained. "The only thing I've found are these old parchments - letters and personal diaries which I was about to destroy."
"Well let's take a read, maybe it will reveal something about what they're hiding", Knonan replied. Antoenius perked up, realizing the rogue might be right about clues that would lead to more treasure. As the pair opened letter after letter, he realized the spectral beings they had been fighting were not plunderers, murderers or pirates - at one time they were just regular city residents - merchants, housekeepers, students, priests, cooks - living normal lives, not realizing they were slowly blinded by the hubris of their leader with his opulent wealth and status of their magnificent city, forsaking the very deity that had blessed them. He thought to himself, they did not deserve such a fate - there was no worse feeling than losing your purpose in life, much less to be cursed for eternity in that state.
As nightfall set in with cooler temperatures, Antoenius wearily sat down to take a short nap, while Knonan took the first watch. Dozing off shortly, in his dream Antoenius had arrived back home at the gates of his hometown Freeport, but the city seemed devoid of color and life. Yes, there were still merchants and adventurers, yet none of them would talk to him - they only stared at him with empty eyes as if they were windows hiding a black infinite void behind their expressionless faces. He ran toward the Temple of Marr, bathed now in an eerie blue light revealing signs of decay and disrepair. Upon realizing his former guildmasters were only phantom apparitions, he kept running up the infinite maze of stairs until he arrived at the top, a lone figure with his back to him. As he approached cautiously with his sword raised, the figure began to slowly turn around - and he realized he was looking straight at a shadow of himself, now reduced to a soulless apparition, as he began to scream.
Knonan roused him awake, "Bad dream? It looks like you just saw a ghost!" It was still dark, but Antoenius noticed a halfling druid had arrived to join their party. "Greenwise here says my brother is communicating with the shaman spirits outside in the Emerald Jungle, and he won't be far behind. My brother thinks he may be able to help the spirits find a way to free the undead inhabitants of this city from their curse, once and for all."
Antoenius sat up, still disturbed by the meaning of his dream - was it a premonition of things to come for Freeport, a city now divided by power, greed and riches? Was his conscience trying to tell him to turn from his love of money, and the mercenary lifestyle he had chosen? Or perhaps this was a vision from Mithaniel Marr himself, a warning about the ultimate price of losing your purpose in life. In any case, Antoenius knew now that he had to help Knonan's brother, of his own volition, if there was a chance the curse could be lifted in this city - after all, that was the honorable thing to do.
Still distracted deep in his thoughts, Antoenius tried to pick up a fresh pie the halfling had brought from Rivervale, but it crumbled and slipped out of his hand. With cat-like reflexes, Greenwise reached out to cast a flame lick spell mid-air to quickly mold the pie and filling back together, just before deftly catching it in his hands.
"Hey, a pie's a pie - as long as it still has a filling", Greenwise quickly quipped as he stuffed the last slice of slightly charred pie into his mouth. For the first time in a very long time, a genuine smile formed on Antoenius' face, as he proudly reached for his tarnished Ghoulbane sword that began to glow once again.
/ooc Special thanks to Tilwens for the personal guided tour of the City of Mist, apologies to Cruetaxia for the missed heal, and kudos to LevelupLarry for the wonderful lore history lesson video.