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Elves in the Dale: An IWD:EE Playthrough

Hi folks!

I'll be using this thread to (gradually) chronicle the adventures of my (dysfunctional) party as they trudge their way through Icewind Dale. Enjoy!

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The Team:

Ceressa Lamah : Elven Mage/Thief

Faelyn Keravel : Elven Fighter/Mage

Nahira Kerana : Elven Sorceress

Dyrellei Lanae : Elven Swashbuckler

Aramil Caelvin : Half-Elven Blade

Sven Gunnarr : Human Shapeshifter

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StinkyJuliusBorisovkcwiseelminsterFinneousPJ

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  • TetraploidTetraploid Member Posts: 252
    edited December 2014
    EASTHAVEN Part One

    Ceressa

    Ceressa surveyed the small town, clearly unimpressed. "So, this is one of the famous Ten Towns? I think we just doubled its population."

    Behind her, Sven cleared his throat nervously. "Easthaven is well known for its local crafts, Ma'am...Scrimshaw, they call it, it's made from the bones of fish from the lake, and it’s a famous lake too, lots of tales about it, and talking of tales of course there's Jerro-"

    A glare cut him off, and Ceressa looked back at the rest of her party. "There's an inn here, at least. I suggest we spend a night in the warmth, see if there's anything more interesting than fish bones here, then head on to Kuldahar."

    "An excellent plan, my lady," Aramil assured her, and Ceressa smiled but rolled her eyes. The half-elf was a sycophant, but with good reason, seeing as Faelyn still watched him as if he hoped the force of his stare alone might pierce the bard's devious mind. She didn't trust the young singer, not entirely, but as far as she could tell he had no motive to betray them, and that was good enough for her. If a motive ever presented itself, well, then she might have to reconsider.

    She cast a glance over the rest of the group, even though they'd voiced no objections. Dyrellei stood close by, one hand resting lightly on the hilt of a short sword at her waist, her eyes bright and the trace of a smile on her lips that wavered when she caught her Mother's eye. Ceressa acknowledged her daughter with a curt nod, no softness in her expression. If the girl wanted to travel with the group, she would need to stand on her own two feet. Ceressa wasn't here to babysit.

    Over her shoulder, Faelyn stood still as stone, even as the wind tugged playfully at the corners of his robe. His expression was blank, a closed book to her after all these years, but she'd grown used to that. Behind him, his apprentice Nahira leaned against a tree, watching her hands as sparks danced at her fingertips. Feeling Ceressa's gaze, she looked up with a relaxed smile...but her flickering magic flared red as their eyes met, and Ceressa couldn't shake the feeling she was being challenged.


    Faelyn

    The group had barely sat down in what passed for the local tavern when a man approached them, his gaze filled with purpose. Ceressa turned to speak with him but he ignored her, clearly assuming Faelyn to be the leader of the party. That would annoy her, no doubt. The man introduced himself as Hrothgar, and clearly expected an equal introduction. Faelyn wasn't necessarily keen to be spreading their names around town so soon, but neither did he wish to cause a scene here.

    "My name is Faelyn Keravel. These are my companions; they are able to introduce themselves, I'm sure."

    Dyrellei glanced over from the table where Aramil was teaching her and Nahira a game of dice. "Oh, hello there! I'm Dyrellei." She looked like she could have happily said more, but the fact no one else volunteered their names seemed enough to convince her to keep quiet, though she kept her grey-green eyes focused keenly on the stranger.

    Hrothgar's next words set Faelyn slightly more on edge. "Whatever your business in these parts might be," he informed the group calmly, "while you're in my town, you'd do well to be on your best behaviour." His tone was pleasant enough, but from a heavily built warrior the words carried far more weight than a cheery warning from a plump mayor might have done.

    "We intend no harm here," Faelyn replied evenly, meeting the man's gaze. It seemed to be enough, and Hrothgar wished them well and said he would leave them to rest...but before taking his leave he asked that the group visit him at his house. He had business to discuss with them, he claimed, but gave no further details. Faelyn waited until the door swung shut behind the man, then turned to the group, who were watching him intently.

    "Well?" Ceressa asked, after a moment's pause. There was a flash of anger in her eyes, still cross at having been overlooked, and Faelyn had no intention of angering her further over such a trivial matter.

    "What do you think, my friend?"

    The change in her demeanour was slight, but Faelyn knew her well enough to know he'd made the right decision, even though her answer would be almost certainly the same as what he would have suggested. "I propose we see what he has to offer us," she announced, her voice taking on a familiar ring of authority. "Perhaps there is business worth discussing even in a town such as this."

    "Hrothgar is a good man," Sven piped in quietly from Faelyn's left, "everyone says so. He was an adventurer too, you know."

    Not good news, Faelyn thought quietly to himself. Anyone could put on armour and carry a sword, but an adventurer who lived long enough to retire probably knew how to use one, and wouldn't back down from doing so either. Ceressa rarely bothered with petty thievery any more, but her daughter had a habit for finding things that weren't hers. Hopefully she'd keep her fingers to herself, or at least not get caught. There was unlikely to be anything here worth getting into a fight over, anyway.


    Nahira

    What should have been a simple game of chance wasn't going her way, and Nahira's forfeit for losing was to purchase her fellow players each a drink. Gods only knew what kind of foul brew one could buy here, but they were about to find out. Or, not. Initially claiming the tavern has run dry, the barkeep eventually admitted that she had plenty of stock...but didn't want to fetch it for fear of the beetles in her cellar. Nahira sighed, raising a hand and letting loose a brief plume of flame and smoke .

    "You don't even mean huge, magical insects, do you? You simply have a few bugs that need squashing, hmm?"

    The woman nodded sheepishly. Nahira glanced back at the rest of the group; they were paying no attention, and she hardly needed their assistance for this kind of task.

    "I'll sort out your little problem, then, on the condition that you'll serve our drinks for free."

    Stepping down into the cellar, she quickly stopped the bugs that had worried the barkeep so much: four large beetles, meandering peacefully across the dusty floor. Nahira simply grinned: risk-free target practice. Magic was easy: it surged within her at the merest thought. Casting quickly and precisely when surrounded by both enemies and allies, though...that was a different set of skills, and while she'd lose little sleep over accidently hitting one of her companions in a battle, she had no desire to prove Ceressa right. The older mage liked to claim that Nahira couldn't control her magic safely, and while she was certainly wrong...well, extra practice wouldn't hurt. Lunging forwards, she crushed the nearest bug with the heel of her staff, fired magic missiles in quick succession at the next two then spun again to flick the fourth violently against the wall. It was over in a moment, and pleased with her efforts she promptly returned upstairs. Faelyn was watching her as she re-entered the bar, no doubt having heard her casting below, but she simply smiled and informed the barkeep she'd done as promised. A few coins, intended to buy her discretion, crossed hands, and the woman bustled off to fill their tankards.


    Dyrellei

    About to convince Nahira to rejoin her and Aramil for another round of dice, which Dyrellei had already figured out how to cheat at, their relaxation was cut short by her Mother gesturing for the party to move. With a nod, Dyrellei stood to follow Ceressa as they headed to Hrothgar's house to discuss whatever 'business' he intended. From the outside, his wooden hut was nothing particularly impressive to behold, but as they stepped into the fire-warmed cabin the young elf's eyes lit up at the sight of the things around them. Heads and pelts of creatures she'd never seen before lined the room, along with all manner of keepsakes. To the side, by the bed, a heavy wooden chest caught her attention, and she glanced cautiously back at the retired adventurer, then met her Mother's eyes for the briefest of moments. Ceressa made no attempt to acknowledge her, but striding forwards towards Hrothgar she greeted him and introduced herself, standing away from Dyrellei so that the man would have his back to the chest. Faelyn gave the slightest shake of his head, but the would-be thief had already crossed the room, and while her Mother inquired politely about some kind of expedition to Kuldahar, she busied herself with the lock. It was a fairly simple device, easily manipulated, and soon she'd edged open the lid to peer eagerly into the chest. It was empty save for a scroll of paper, which she grabbed and quickly pocketed, stepping back to join the group. Hrothgar was talking about a missing caravan now, and though Ceressa had begun to look bored it wasn't enough to stop him from asking their assistance in finding it. Making no promises, Ceressa said they would see what they could do, then promptly led the group out. In the snow outside, she looked expectantly at her daughter, and Dyrellei produced the scroll with a smile.

    "I don't know what it is, but it must be important, to have a whole chest for just one scroll! Maybe a powerful spell?"

    "It's not magical," Faelyn told her, without even glancing at the parchment, "I'd sense an enchantment. It's nothing more than paper and ink, I assure you."

    "Well?" Ceressa asked, and Dyrellei unfolded her scroll, suddenly hesitant. Her Mother leaned over to read the words herself. "If you are reading this note, you are obviously a thief…"

    Dyrellei crumpled the note angrily, suddenly acutely aware of how the rest of the group's eyes were fixed on her. She refused to meet their gaze, and after an uncomfortable pause her Mother gestured for the group to move on.


    Aramil


    Stifling a smile at Dyrellei's misfortune, Aramil slipped aside for a moment to admire the lake. Lac Dinneshere…there were stories of songs of places like this, to be sure. As he pondered, a humming man almost bumped into him, so preoccupied in trying to remember some tune or another. Aramil knew little of local folks songs, but when he asked the man about the tune he claimed it was from a dream, one that plagued him nightly. Aramil simply shrugged.

    "Dreams should be a comfort, not a curse. Especially if they bring lovely music with them!" Still, the man seemed distressed, and Aramil agreed to help the man if he could, if only to get him to stop complaining. What he thought a stranger could do for bad dreams, he had no idea, but perhaps there was a song in here somewhere...a song about a song, that drove all who heard it mad…

    There was no time at present for composing new music, of course. Ceressa was leading the party down the path in search of the caravan that had gone missing.

    "It's good of you, my lady, to agree to help these peasants with their problems," he remarked with a smile, catching Ceressa's eye. She smirked and looked away, to Aramil's annoyance. He needed her friendship, or at least her trust, but though she didn't openly object to his presence there was no warmth in her demeanour, which concerned him. One wrong word and, if he was lucky, the group would simply leave him here in the frozen North to fend for himself. If he was unlucky, they'd leave what was left of him.

    "You want to help peasants, Aramil?" Ceressa replied suddenly, spinning to face him with a grin. "There's one right here. Poor man has a wolf trapped in his shop." She gestured towards the door, beyond which Aramil could hear the movements of some sort of beast. This was a test, but he didn't dare refuse. Striding towards the door, he tried the handle carefully, blade at the ready.

    "Ah...it seems to be locked…" he tugged slightly harder, not wanting to make enough noise to attract the wolf's attention inside. He barely heard the footsteps, but almost immediately Dyrellei was by his side.

    "I could open it," she insisted, but her Mother pulled her aside.

    "I think we've seen enough of your skills for one day, Dyrellei. I'll open the door for our valiant singer, and let's see how he does." Picking the lock easily, she gestured forwards.

    The wolf, clearly half-starved, lunged at Aramil as he entered the shop, and his first strike glanced of its shoulder, doing little more than enrage it further. The beast was quick on its feet, and as he recovered his balance it sank yellow fangs into his leg. Falling forwards, however, he managed to plow his blade through the creature's scrawny neck, killing it outright, and as he staggered to his feet he could see Ceressa watching from the doorway. He braved a smile, trying not to show how much his leg now hurt. "Did I pass, my lady?"


    Sven

    The dying yelp of the wolf made Sven flinch, but he knew it was for the best. Just as nature may claim the lives of those humans who wandered too far from their settlements, there was no place for wolves in the towns. As the bard limped out of the shack, Sven healed his leg with a spell. That was mostly what he'd done, so far, on their travels. He'd guided the group where possible, attempted to share his knowledge, and healed their wounds when needed. Mostly, they ignored him when he wasn't needed. Today, apparently, he wasn't to be so fortunate.

    "Was that your last spell, Sven?" Ceressa asked, abruptly.

    "Er...no, not my last spell. My last healing spell for today. I also have a spell prepared to calm the mind and remove fear, and one to-"

    "We are about to seek a caravan that may or may not have been attacked by bandits, wolves or worse. My party needs healing, and you waste a spell here, in a town with a temple?" Sven was silent, having no answer to that, and eventually Ceressa sighed and looked away. "I suppose we should visit the temple anyway, seeing as it's the only real building in this so-called town. Perhaps they have supplies."

    As the party explored the temple, noting the artifacts that lined its hall, Sven found time to speak quietly with Everard about the messenger from Kuldahar Hrothgar had mentioned. He'd hoped Everard would have more information, but there was little to tell, only that he had arrived wounded and spoken of 'disturbances'. The idea that the Archdruid would need to send word to Easthaven for help was unsettling, but at least it seemed like Ceressa planned to take the party to Kuldahar. Once keen to show them the town, Nature's jewel amidst the snow, he was no longer certain how he felt about the party, but if they were willing to lend their swords to the Archdruid's service he could ask no more of them than that.

    StinkyJuliusBorisovkcwise
  • TetraploidTetraploid Member Posts: 252
    edited December 2014
    EASTHAVEN Part Two

    Ceressa
    Although she suspected the party had all they needed, it seemed wise to visit the local shop before they set out any further. What manner of equipment a town like this could possibly offer she wasn't sure...but at least she could pick up a sling for Nahira. Keeping the sorceress further away from combat was probably best for everyone's sakes. Perhaps they might even find some scrolls, too.

    Pomab, the shopkeeper, turned out to be an arrogant little man who very nearly lost his tongue for daring to call her a 'barbarian'...but Ceressa reigned in her temper, smiled, and asked him to show Faelyn his collection of spells while she browsed. There was no way she was giving her hard earned gold to a man like that, and she deftly pocketed some useful looking spells while his back was turned. A well made dagger caught her eye, and she picked that up too.

    As they left the shop, she handed the small blade to Dyrellei. 'Here...it's small, but light. You should be able to make use of it.' Her daughter looked surprised, and then, to Ceressa's confusion, slightly disappointed. 'Well, what?"'
    'Oh, it's just...I mean, I used to practice with swords,' the young elf admitted, then hurriedly added 'but this is fine too. Thank you!'

    Swords? Ceressa had assumed that the pair of short swords Dyrellei had brought with her were simply something she'd grabbed in her hurry to join the adventure, but perhaps she'd thought this through more than Ceressa had initially given her credit for. She was lightly built, but agile...and if the girl could make herself useful in battle, that might excuse her lack of magical talent. So long as she was more than just dead weight, Faelyn wouldn't object to having her around...she hoped.



    Faelyn
    Ceressa was distracted for the moment, talking to her daughter, and Faelyn took a moment to watch them. They were awkward around each other, neither strangers nor true family. He had travelled with Ceressa for almost all of the past hundred years, so he knew as well as anyone that she'd hardly spent any time with the girl...yet Dyrellei had insisted on coming along. If it was a closer relationship with her Mother that she sought, she was likely to be disappointed. Why Ceressa had even let her come at all was beyond him. Her claim had been that it was too late, too far to send the girl back to Evereska on her own, but bringing her to the Spine of the World could hardly be considered the safer option. Of course, Ceressa had also argued that Dyrellei was hardly any younger than Nahira, and that...was true...but one only had to look at the two of them to see the difference. Nahira carried herself with poise and certainty, confident in her abilities. Even as his apprentice, she rarely sought his approval these days. Power was its own reward; she didn't need a pat on the head every time she mastered a new spell. Dyrellei, on the other hand, followed her Mother like a dog, anxious for praise or acknowledgment, slinking around rather than standing tall.

    Of course, Dyrellei was no mage, either. She seemed to think she could handle a sword, and perhaps she could, but she had no experience in battle. Had she known a handful of spells, she might have been able to help the group from a distance, but as it was there was a real risk she'd get herself killed in their first major fight. Even Aramil was capable of some magic, and Sven was adept at healing thanks to his connection with nature. Dyrellei was just a girl with a sword and a head full of stories, and it would be a blow to Ceressa when she inevitably died, regardless of how fragile their relationship was.



    Nahira
    A tug at her robe made Nahira turn around, and a small boy stared up at her with fearful eyes. 'Quick, Miss, we have to get Hrothgar, there are monsters in town!' Initially, Nahira told him to leave the party be: they had business to attend to. The boy kept talking, however, saying monsters would eat them up just like his fish, and that they were just over the bridge. Nahira glanced in the direction he was pointing. She couldn't see anything...but, perhaps monsters might be responsible for the missing caravan Ceressa wanted to find. She glanced over, wary of telling Ceressa what to do: she hated that.

    'I suppose it won't hurt to have a look,' the older mage sighed, leading the party over the bridge. A noise over a nearby ledge drew her attention, but as she looked over an arrow zipped past her ear. 'Goblins!', she shouted, drawing her bow, 'Nahira, blast them!' Nahira froze. After her little patch of fun with the beetles earlier, she wasn't sure she had much spellpower left. 'What are you waiting for?' Ceressa shouted again and she let an arrow fly, catching one of the goblins square in the chest. Half the group were already running up the cliffside, and Faelyn had drawn his sword to hold them off, Dyrellei close behind clutching her new blade. Nahira grabbed her sling and ran to the ledge, hurling a stone over with as much force as she could. Ceressa's next arrow missed its mark, but Nahira's stone glanced off a goblin's temple, stunning it long enough for the older mage to get an easy shot. Another goblin fell to a well placed missile, but next to her Ceressa had staggered back, caught by one of it's arrows. Behind her, Sven crushed a goblin's skull with a roar that sounded more like a wild beast than a man, and Aramil sliced through another one. Faelyn's massive blade cleaved the final assailant almost in two, and with the danger over he moved to Ceressa's side with a noted urgency, even if his face showed little emotion.

    "To the inn," Ceressa grunted, and Nahira couldn't help but be glad the mage's wound was a distraction: she didn't fancy a lecture about having used her spells carelessly. She'd still done her part, after all, and Ceressa would survive.



    Dyrellei
    Dyrellei didn't feel like she'd been much use during the fight, compared to the others, and there wasn't anything she could really do to help right now, so while Ceressa rested she excused herself from the group and explored what was left of the little inn. Searching through the drawers in empty rooms was more a distraction than anything else, also she did find a pretty stone in one of them, perhaps left by a previous visitor. Picking locks was something to keep her hands and mind busy, at any rate. She liked the mental state of it, the level of awareness it required: concentration on something small and precise in front of her, trying to visualise the mechanism and how her subtle movements could open it, and yet simultaneously being mindful of her broader surroundings, of the innkeeper's voice in the next room, of people's footsteps both within the inn and in the snow outside the window. Actually finding anything worth taking was a bonus, really, though it would be nice to have something to show for her efforts this time around.

    The furthest room was occupied, the door ajar, and Dyrellei could see an elf she didn't recognise standing near the fireplace. There was a valuable looking sword resting against the wall nearby, but though she was sorely tempted to try and take it she knew it was probably safer to leave it be for now. Even if she managed to get hold of it unseen, the elf would surely notice its absence soon enough, and they might be in Easthaven another day or so yet while they dealt with the missing caravan. Walking away, she examined the gem again, wondering what it was worth. She'd stolen plenty of gems and trinkets over the years, but very rarely sold them. Daraleth had always made her return them to their owners...but she didn't think Ceressa would take the same approach.



    Aramil
    There was something strangely compelling about the song the distracted man had been humming earlier, and it had been running through Aramil's head all afternoon. With time to spare, he found himself wandering by the lake...and as he sang the song to himself, or at least his own interpretation pieced together from the fragments he'd heard, another voice joined his. Turning to see a blue-skinned woman beside him, Aramil kept singing, and in the shared melody were images and emotions. Understanding, he tried to speak to the woman.

    "You're the woman he sees in his dreams?"

    "Jho-nyn?"

    "Yes, him. What do you want?"

    Her language was strange, in places, not quite fluent, but he gathered she wanted to give the man a gift of some kind. A broken sword, apparently. In exchange, he persuaded her to sing with him again, to teach him her song. Not many bards could say they learned their music from some kind of water nymph, after all, and it was a beautiful song, even if it had no words in any language he recognised. It was a gentle, flowing melody, soft and sad, and far from the kind of music he normally played.

    When he returned to sword to Jhonen, the poor man seemed disappointed that the dreams would be stopping now, despite his earlier complaints. It seemed to the half-elf that most people thought they knew what they wanted, and most of them were wrong. Aramil, on the other hand, had always been happy to drift in life's currents, steering only occasionally to avoid the largest rocks. Right now, the biggest rock was Faelyn.



    Sven
    As they left the town in search of the caravan, Sven cleared his throat nervously to get Ceressa's attention. She glanced at him briefly and he quickly spoke up. "Ceressa, there are wolves about. I see their tracks. And other footprints too...larger than goblins. Orcs, maybe."

    The woman simply nodded. "We'll be on our guard. You don't take issue with fighting wolves, I hope?"

    There was something in the way she'd said it...did she know? He hadn't mentioned it so far, but perhaps something had given it away. Most people were used to the idea that druids could take an animal form, but many were uncomfortable with the idea of lycanthropy. Obviously, he was in full control of his bestial form, but he hadn't planned to bring it up until he knew the group a little better. Maybe she was only implying that, as a druid, he'd rather they didn't wander about killing wild animals, and that was of course true...had he imagined the emphasis on the word 'wolves'?

    They hadn't gone far before his predictions were met: a pack of wolves, startled by their presence, attacked the group. They were fast, leaving the mages no time to prepare their spells, rapidly encircling the group. If they didn't know...they would now. Sven's body contorted horribly for a moment, and then with sudden speed and strength he lunged at the pack, the smaller wolves no match for him in this form. Even in the snow, everything was richer like this...the smell of blood and fur and fear, the sound of steel and bow. He could stay this way forever, he sometimes thought...but the rest of the group were watching him with varying levels of alarm, their weapons still raised, and he knew he had to change back, to the weak body and the awkward words, to explain and plead and hope for their acceptance. As a wolf, he hated his human self, yet as a human he refused to consider this his true form. With a sigh, he relinquished the beast and stood, shivering in the snow, wondering how best he was going to explain himself.

    StinkyJuliusBorisovkcwiselunar
  • TetraploidTetraploid Member Posts: 252
    EASTHAVEN Part Three

    Ceressa
    Ceressa held the druid's gaze for a moment, then tossed him a cloak which he gratefully fastened around his bare shoulders. Druid could mimic the shapes of woodland creatures, she knew, but Sven had not resembled any natural wolf.

    "You could have warned us," she chided, "but so long as you're in control...that's good enough for me." The druid nodded in thanks, looking away, clearly relieved, and Ceressa took a moment to check the reactions of her group. Dyrellei stood close behind her, uneasy, and Aramil's knuckles were white as he gripped his sword still. Faelyn was still, a hand resting on Nahira's shoulder - the young sorceress looked tense. Keen to move on, and let the moment diffuse itself, Ceressa gestured towards the nearby cave. "We should check in here. Come."

    The cavern offered shelter from the wind, but no safety: the group were promptly set upon by a cluster of orcs. This time, as Ceressa grabbed her bow, she could hear Nahira casting beside her, and the two of them picked off some of their attackers from afar before the rest of the group met them at close range. His strength and speed gone, Sven took a heavy blow from a crudely made axe, and thinking him dead the orc turned then on Ceressa. She planted an arrow squarely in the creature's chest, but he slashed at her legs as he stumbled, knocking her off her own feet. Her party's blades made short work of those orcs still alive, however, and the battle was over shortly. Trying to catch Sven's eye for healing, Ceressa realised he was already using his magic to heal his own wounds, and she grimaced. She wasn't continuing on like this, but the other orcs would surely find them soon.

    "We should stop and recover before going on, there will only be more deeper in," she announced. Dyrellei looked nervous.

    "Here? You're hurt...what if they come this way?"

    "We'll rest long enough for Sven and Nahira to replenish their spells, then we'll continue. Help Faelyn keep watch, if you wish." Her daughter nodded and glanced at Faelyn, who ignored her. If they had a moment alone, at some point, perhaps she'd have to speak to him...Dyrellei was family, but she'd travelled with Faelyn for hundreds of years. He was family too, in a sense. Certainly she felt closer to him than to those she'd left in Evereska only to visit when the mood took her, every few years or so. She had no grand delusions that the two of them would become great friends, but the least he could do would be to acknowledge her daughter's presence.



    Faelyn
    As instructed, Faelyn kept watch while the group rested. A small patrol caught sight of them, but those of the group still uninjured were able to fend them off. As soon as able, Sven healed Ceressa and they prepared to venture on.

    The cavern opened out, and as it widened they found themselves facing an ambush, orcs that had no doubt heard their approach. At a shouted command, archers from both sides assaulted the group while a shaman began casting some kind of spell. They were outnumbered, Faelyn realised quickly, and drawing his sword he began to bark his own commands.

    "Nahira, stop the shaman! Don't let him cast anything. Ceressa, try to disable the archers. Sven, cast what ever you can. Aramil, with me!"

    Around him, the group moved quickly. Nahira's missiles, both magical and thrown, were sufficient to keep the shaman distracted, while Ceressa, rather than pick the archers off individually, cast a Sleep enchantment to buy the group some time. Sven's magic washed over the party, Blessing them with nature's wrath, while Aramil's blades flashed nearby, close enough to guard Faelyn's back but no so close that the bard ever fell in reach of the mage's mighty greatsword as he swung it in a vicious arc at any orc foolish enough to come in range. Occasionally, he caught a glimpse of Dyrellei, darting amongst the bodies as they fought. How effective she was, it was hard to tell, but at least she seemed nimble enough to avoid getting hurt in the frenzy. Aramil and himself had both taken wounds in the battle, and as they finished by dealing with the sleeping archers, one awoke long enough to loose an arrow at Nahira before Faelyn's sword severed the orc's head from its shoulders. Fighting in close combat, Faelyn always used magical Armour to protect himself, but Nahira had no such protections, and even a single arrow could pose a lethal threat. Concerned, he ran over to ensure she was not too grievously harmed - apprentices, he'd lost before, on many an occasion, but few who showed so much promise. Besides, she was his cousin's daughter, it would make future family visits awkward.



    Nahira
    Too late, she'd seen the archer rise from his magical slumber, and out of spells she'd had no chance to react in time as the arrow hit her, the force of it causing her to gasp and fall back against a large crate. Faelyn was by her side almost instantly, and she forced herself to speak calmly, not wanting to appear weak in front of Ceressa, who she knew took far worse wounds than this often.

    "I'm...fine. I just need some healing." She looked pointing at Sven, who was already lingering nearby, and the druid quickly began his incantations. As his magic closed her skin and knitted her torn flesh back together, she felt almost instantly better. No wonder Ceressa handled her injuries so well, knowing how easily magic could undo all but the worst of wounds! A grin flashed across her face as she stood upright. "See? Good as new!" she insisted, glancing back at the box she'd been leaning on. It wasn't locked, so she flipped up the top to peer inside. Two dusty gems and a scroll were all the orcs had left of what had, presumably, been a crate of food or other useful supplies. She picked them up, and examined the scroll with interest...until Ceressa cleared her throat pointedly.

    The older mage was stood nearby, an expectant expression as she eyed the scroll. Nahira opened her mouth, about to claim that she intended to keep her find, but instead she found herself handing over both the scroll and the gems with a scowl she didn't try to hide. For now, she knew, she'd have to abide by Ceressa's leadership...if only because she knew how to use a bow, and while Nahira didn't fear the other mage's magic, the memory of that last arrow still stung. Still, it irked her, following a lesser mage around like this. Why did Faelyn tolerate it? He was more powerful than Ceressa, by spell or by sword. He didn't need to defer to her.

    Sighing, she gestured over at the far cavern wall. "There are more crates over there, you know. Looks like we found the missing supplies."



    Dyrellei
    Inspecting the crates, Dyrellei looked back towards her Mother. "They're all still closed, I don't think the orcs have touched these ones."

    "Open them, then," Ceressa replied promptly. Dyrellei hesitated.

    "Aren't we returning them to the town?" she questioned, uncertain.

    "Not if there's anything of value. The food and furs, they can keep. Anything else, we'll say bandits must have already made off with."

    Dyrellei didn't want to argue, so she started the task of going through the crates, searching for anything of interest. It seemed a poor form of heroism, to take part of what you'd been asked to retrieve...but then, the people here probably didn't have much need for trinkets anyway. So long as they had food and clothes and shelter, the difference between rich and poor in a village like this was irrelevant. And they were doing the people a favour by finding the caravan at all...better to have some of their goods than none at all, right. She paused, though, at once crate.

    "What about the weapons? They might need those. If the goblins come back, or wolves…"

    Ceressa sighed, then smiled at her, sitting on the crate next to her daughter. "Dy, think about it. A villager with a sword could defend themselves perhaps from one goblin, or one wolf...but a trained fighter with a sword, why, they could defend the whole village! You've seen Faelyn and Aramil fight, yes? Far better, don't you think, that we ourselves are well equipped, than leave these people to fend for themselves with weapons they can barely use."

    "Yes, but...we already have weapons…"

    "Of course, and that's why we'll sell these to Pomab. With the gold, we will be able to buy better equipment, weapons more suited to our skills, meanwhile these ones will remain in the village, available for purchase to anyone who wants to defend their home."

    Dyrellei smiled, nodded, and returned to her searching.



    Aramil
    It seemed they were mostly finished with the supplies, but after a brief rest, Ceressa wanted to check the rest of the caverns, just to be sure. A couple of orcs here and there made little difference to their progress, but suddenly the group found themselves face to face with not merely a party of orcs but an ogre, towering above the party. It was an intimidating sight, and collectively the party faltered in their tracks. There was a moment of stillness as each side sized the other up...and then the orcs charged. Again, Ceressa managed to lull most of them into a magical sleep, but they still had the ogre to contend with. Darting forwards, Aramil was swept off his feet as the beast swung a fist at him, and when he regained his composure he saw that the orcs had woken rapidly, and the party looked about to be overwhelmed. Young Dyrellei looked terrified, and Sven had taken on his beast form again. Nahira was apparently out of spells, and the close quarters didn't favour her sling. Ceressa didn't have much space to make use of her bow, either. Fortunately, the ogre had picked Faelyn as its new target, and the magically protected warrior was holding his ground...for now.

    Standing, Aramil broke out into loud song, the cavern echoing and magnifying his voice. The bandits he'd once travelled with had mocked his singing at first, even threatening him with violence if he didn't desist, but they'd come to realise that in a pinch, sometimes it was better to smile at a song than to focus on the death around you. Sometimes, just a small amount of distraction was a help and not a hindrance.

    The party looked surprised as the ogre and his allies finally fell, and they stood and checked each other, remarkably uninjured despite having fought a battle they'd expected to claim their lives. Only Aramil was bruised from his brief attempt to help in combat. Grinning at the party, he stopped his song and let the echoes die away. "Well...shall we get back to Easthaven and tell them all about our success?"



    Sven
    With the caravan found, finally, to Sven's relief, the town's expedition to Kuldahar could begin. It had been many years since, during his training as a druid, Sven had seen the ancient tree and the town that nestled in its shelter. He longed to see the great oak, and to show it to the group as well. He only hoped they appreciated it for the wonder it was. Ceressa and Nahira showed little interest in his stories. Aramil would talk with him, from time to time. Faelyn rarely spoke, but Sven sometimes had the impression that he listened from a distance. Dyrellei was occasionally friendly, but sometimes on edge around him, especially in the evenings. He suspected his lycanthropy worried her.

    Although they travelled as part of a larger group, the six of them often kept to themselves. Ceressa clearly wanted to maintain a distinction between her party and the larger expedition, and would often lead them at a faster pace, striding ahead of the others as if to imply that she was leading the entire event. Just as well, in hindsight: as the party neared Kuldahar Pass, something drew Sven's attention, a change in the feel of the air around him, a scattering of birds from the cliffs. Threw the high pitched howl of the wind, he heard a lower sound, a rumble, and he grabbed Ceressa's arm urgently.

    "RUN!"

    Despite the deep, soft snow and their heavy packs, the group lunged forwards, trusting him even though their faces were confused. Sven felt his bestial side roar for his attention, demanding that he make use of the speed it offered, but he refused, burying the impulse, staying with the group as he shepherded them through the valley. Behind them, the rumble became a thundering climax as rock and snow filled the pass. Swept up by motion, previously settled snow billowed around them as the avalanche licked at their heels, or at least that was how it felt to Sven. Finally, when it felt he could run no more, the wave subsided, the last of the snow settling around the party in loose, messy drifts. Exhausted, Sven sank down into the snow, and he noticed that it was damp, already starting to melt away in the warmth. The warmth! It was little stronger than sunlight, yet the air was less cool, the wind less bitter.


    They were nearing the tree.

    StinkyJuliusBorisovkcwiselunar
  • kcwisekcwise Member Posts: 2,287
    An interesting playthrough! I really enjoy the interpersonal dynamics. Thanks for sharing.

    JuliusBorisovTetraploid
  • TetraploidTetraploid Member Posts: 252
    KULDAHAR PASS

    Ceressa
    The snow seemed to cling to her as she freed herself from it, sticking to her robe and seeping into her boots. Staggering forwards out of the drift and finding solid footing, she took in the scene around her. Sven was nearby, helping Aramil out from under some rocky debris. Nahira was striding through a path of rapidly melting snow. She couldn't see anyone else, though. Not Hrothgar, not the rest of his expedition…not her daughter.

    "DY!", she shouted, and filled her lungs to call out again, only to have a hand clamped roughly over her mouth.

    "Quiet! Would you bring another avalanche upon us?"

    She wrenched free, angrily, spinning to face the familiar voice. "My daughter, Faelyn-"

    "Is here," he was holding the young elf up by her arm, "and unharmed."

    That, at least, appeared to be true. Dyrellei looked exhausted from their sudden flight, caked in snow and shaking, but otherwise there was no obvious injury. Ceressa breathed out heavily, relieved despite feeling somewhat foolish. "Alright. Thank you. Now, let's get out of here." As she strode past Sven, she nodded briefly in acknowledgement. He'd probably saved their lives, after all. Again, though Faelyn stopped her. "What?!" she snapped, annoyed at having been interrupted once again.

    "Ceressa, we need to rest."

    "Here? In the snow?"

    "We're not at Kuldahar yet. We should find a sheltered spot and take some time before marching on."

    He was right, of course, which somehow made it all the more frustrating. Ceressa didn't like admitting to error. "It's unnecessary, Faelyn…but I suppose if you feel the need for a rest, we can wait."




    Faelyn
    The younger members of the group seemed more than grateful for a chance to rest while Ceressa kept watch, picking off the occasional goblin with her bow if any strayed close. Faelyn kept half an eye on her, in case she needed assistance, but primarily he wished to talk to Sven.

    "So, Druid."

    The human glanced up at him nervously, then stood. "Er…yes?"

    "You were quick to spot the danger back there in the pass. That is…commendable." His grey eyes were fixed on the druid's nervous face, unblinking.

    "I…felt it before it could be heard or seen, I think."

    "Indeed. Strange, though, wouldn't you say? The weather was still. We were not making undue noise. You, as our guide, had not mentioned that avalanches were common at this time of year."

    "It…is strange, yes…I mean, uncommon, yes. Not unheard of, I suppose, anywhere in Dale sees such things from time to time…"

    "And yet, for an event so unlikely…you picked up on it without hesitation. Almost as if you expected something."

    Sven had frozen, uncertain and suddenly wary. "…Sir? I am…in tune with Nature, you understand…"

    "Of course. That's why you were so keen to bring us here, to Kuldahar. So very keen."

    The druid looked openly panicked now. "But, I had no idea-I mean, I warned you, I saved you, you don't think…you don't really think that I-"

    "No," Faelyn interrupted, looking thoughtful, "I don't, I suppose. It doesn't quite fit, does it? But I don't think we were purely victims of bad luck, either…and if we have enemies, I'd like to rule out those close to me first of all." He glanced at Aramil nearby as he spoke. Knowing the distinction between ally and enemy was important, and the half-elf was, at best, a grey area. He didn't like grey areas.




    Nahira
    Partially resting, partially progressing, the group moved on slowly, taking on goblins as they appeared. They seemed numerous, and Ceressa was unwilling to charge into their unknown ranks…or to let anyone else do so. Those that came too close, Faelyn dealt with, but most were dealt with at a distance. Close behind the older mage, Nahira coughed lightly to indicate her presence.

    "You know, I've a sling…and multiple spells at my disposal. I could help you clear our path."

    Ceressa glanced at her, then nodded. "They have archers too. Keep a sharp eye and don't get hit."

    Apart from a couple of Sleep enchantments, it occurred to Nahira that she rarely saw Ceressa cast a spell in combat. She was a good shot with a bow, to be sure, but why settle for missiles of wood and feather in favour of magic ones? There were too many foes to waste spells on all of them, but the archers posed a threat, and Nahira wasn't about to gamble her aim against theirs.

    As they advanced forwards, she became aware of an ever closer presence behind her. Dyrellei was watching intently, and eventually it was distracting enough that the sorceress turned with a sigh. "Is there a problem, Dyrellei?"

    "Oh! No…I was just enjoying watching you cast. Mother tried to teach me magic when I was younger, but I never got the hang of it. You make it look so easy." The envy in her voice was clear, but there was no malice behind it, and Nahira smiled, feeling somewhat flattered.

    "It IS easy, Dyrellei," she replied, with a sideways glance at Ceressa, "for me at least." The other mage ignored her, though she couldn't have failed to hear. Faelyn had suggested to her that she didn't openly antagonise their leader...but it was too tempting to resist at times.




    Dyrellei
    It hadn't really dawned upon Dyrellei so acutely, until now, that she was the only member of the group with no real versatility. The others, they could flick between roles in the blink of an eye, swapping a weapon for a different tactic, be it a spell, song or even shape as the situation called for it. She had only her blades, and compared to the two swordsmen she had little skill with those. In fact, though she'd fended off a couple of orcs or goblins long enough for someone else to deal with them more permanently, she'd yet to make a single kill herself.

    Shivering in the snow, still shaken by the avalanche and the shock of losing the expedition behind them, Dyrellei felt suddenly helpless. The skills she'd practiced in Evereska seemed so futile out here. No locks, no traps, no shadowed passageways to sneak through out here. Just the stark white snow, almost blinding where the pale sunlight hit it. Besides, even if they were someplace else, her Mother was a far more practiced thief should the occasion demand one. There was no need for her here. Small wonder Faelyn treated her like a burden.

    Her despondency was abruptly distracted by a hand on her shoulder.

    "Cheer up, lass," Aramil grinned at her, as if he'd read her thoughts from her expression, "all stories start small." He was gone as quickly as he'd appeared, striding off to help dispatch another roaming goblin by the path, but Dyrellei took some comfort from his words. There was still time to prove herself.




    Aramil
    Though goblins individually were hardly much of a threat, the numbers were starting to wear the group down, and Aramil was relieved when Ceressa shouted something through the swirling snow and pointed at some sort of tower nearby. Eager to get out of the wind, the party hurried in through the unlocked door, weapons drawn in case a cluster of goblins had formed a similar plan.

    Their fears weren't unfounded…but this wasn't a goblin. How a creature so large had even got in through the door was a mystery, but towering over them was an angry looking ogre. His club lay a few feet away, and both his hands were clutching his head with a rumbling groan. Seeing the party, he roared at them, but made no immediate move to attack.

    "Why you make head hurt, skinny people?!"

    Aramil was more than eager to trade weapons for words. "We're not doing anything to make your head hurt, dear fellow. Is there anything we can do to help you?"

    Ceressa looked at him like he was insane, but the ogre still wasn't attacking. "Why it hurt then?" it demanded. "Oooh! Ghereg want to pound head through walls, make pain go away!"

    "If we could make the pain stop, Ghereg, would you leave peacefully?" Aramil asked patiently, though in truth he had no idea how to cure an ogre's headache. How many healing potions would an ogre have to drink to gain the same effect as an elf or man? Surely they would be no more use than a thimble-full to something of that size.

    "You make pain go, Ghereg go!"

    "Right," Aramil muttered to the party, "you heard him. Now we just need to find a cleric who deals with ogres…"

    Softly, behind him, Sven cleared his throat.




    Sven
    "Ahem…s-sir, Ghereg, I mean. I-I think I know a remedy that might work." The ogre's brow burrowed, and Sven hastily corrected himself. "Will work! Y-yes, a druidic remedy. You know Frostberries, yes? Red ones, and purple ones. They grow near hot springs. If you mash them into a paste and eat with tundra grass - you can boil that in the hot springs to soften it - your head will stop hurting."

    Sven could feel himself shaking, not only because of the cold. "That fix head?" the ogre asked, and the druid nodded fervently. "I give thanks. I go make head better now."

    The ogre lurched forwards, and the party hastily scattered to make way for him to scramble through the doorway, taking half the frame out with him. As his heavy footsteps died away, Ceressa's lips curled into a smile. "Frostberries, Sven? I'm impressed."

    "Ah, well…" Sven started, paused, then continued, "they aren't actually poisonous to ogres, you see. I worked with a druid once, he used to treat orcs and ogres regularly, he gave me some notes of his remedies once though I never thought I'd actually use them, I just happened to remember that-"

    Ceressa cut him off, evidently disappointed. "So it will actually work? Pity. Still, he's gone, that's good enough."

    Perhaps he should have just lied. He'd been tempted, for a moment. If he wanted to influence these people, he might have to meet them on their level. If Kuldahar really was in trouble, they may need convincing to help. Increasingly, he was getting the feeling that 'preserving the balance' or even 'the greater good' were not going to be persuasive arguments. Perhaps, though, the splendour of the Great Oak would do the talking for him. He could hardly imagine how anyone could gaze upon it and not see that it was worth protecting...or so he hoped.

    kcwiseJuliusBorisov
  • TetraploidTetraploid Member Posts: 252
    edited December 2014
    Ceressa
    Over the snowy cliffs that lined the pass, Ceressa could see the top of what must be Kuldahar's famous tree…but, the goblins were coming from the opposite direction, and she wasn't keen to lead the party down a narrow path with archers at their back. She closed her eyes a moment to focus, listening.

    "There's a group of them around the back of this tower, through that stone arch…if we take them out, they won't be harassing us from behind."

    No one offered an objection, and the party headed towards the opening. As they drew close, they could make out a cluster of goblins gathered around the body of a giant insect, eating greedily…and three archers, standing guard. Quick as a flash, Ceressa cast a Sleep spell before they could draw attention to the group.

    "Nahira! Take out the archers before they wake, and keep an eye out for any other goblin that carries a bow. Everyone else, get ready to tackle the group when they see us."

    They wouldn't have long before they were noticed. Sven and Faelyn had already begun casting their protective enchantments, and Ceressa wasn't about to waste the element of surprise. Taking aim, she shot an arrow straight into the back of the largest goblin. A direct kill would have been ideal, but even alive he was distracted from barking commands, and for a moment his companions froze, uncertain of what to do. Long enough for Faelyn and Aramil to sprint forwards, scattering the goblins from their gruesome feast. More archers emerged, high on ledges, and Ceressa looked back to check Nahira had seen them.

    She hadn't. Having finished off the sleeping scouts, the sorceress had turned her attention to supporting the others, flinging spells into the fray with a grin on her face. Over the screams of frenzied goblins, she couldn't get the girl's attention, so Ceressa turned to face the archers herself. Sven, at least, was still alert, guarding her back and healing her while she was focused elsewhere, until the last of the goblins fell and the party regrouped. He had proven useful, she'd give him that. Faelyn had initially intended that they travel as just the three of them - himself, her and Nahira - but there were advantages to keeping Sven and Aramil around. Even Dyrellei might prove handy at some point. After all, adventuring ran in her blood, didn't it?


    Faelyn
    After their detour, they were once more on the path to Kuldahar, and it seemed they were close - Sven told them they simply needed to follow the river and they'd be there in no time. As they did so, a movement caught the elf's eye, and he turned to look. An armoured goblin was stood near an abandoned mill, apparently alone. Ceressa was drawing back her bowstring already, but he laid a hand on her arm to stop her.

    "Wait, Ceressa, look."

    "What?!"

    "Look how he clutches his head. Like the ogre."

    "…so? Not fighting the ogre seemed like a good plan. I think I can handle one goblin." She raised her bow again and Faelyn was forced to tighten his grip.

    "No! I want to know what's going on." Striding forward quickly, blocking Ceressa's aim rather than argue the point, he approached the goblin with his sword drawn but hanging low.

    "Rrrgh!" the goblin moaned, spotting the elf and apparently seeing an outlet for his frustration, "what am I doing here?"

    "Ah, you speak Common?" Faelyn commented, pleased - this would make getting answers much easier, and the goblin seemed better able to string words together than the ogre.

    "Of course, not all goblins are idiots! Argh, what is this buzzing in my head?"

    "Buzzing? Could it be a kind of mind-controlling magic?"

    "I don't know what it is, but it's driving me mad! It wasn't so bad when I could follow the pull, but now I'm trapped in this pass…rrrghh!"

    "So the magic brought you here?" Faelyn wanted to know more, but the goblin was raving now, mad with pain.

    "Can we kill him now?" Ceressa muttered behind him, "it would probably be a kindness…"

    "No," he replied, "let's just…leave him. Perhaps he will recover, and tell us more if he recalls our mercy. I want to know what's going on."

    "Faelyn, I couldn't care less about the headaches of every damned goblin in the Dale!"

    "They were brought here! It isn't natural. Neither was the avalanche. There's something happening, Ceressa, this isn't just bad weather and randomly roaming goblins. Something…powerful."

    A sound from inside the mill distracted them both, and Ceressa sighed. "I suppose you're fine with killing the rest of them?"

    "As you wish."



    Nahira

    Now seemed like a poor time to mention to Ceressa that she was out of spells and almost out of stones too…at least she still had a quarterstaff to fall back on. She couldn't be the only one, either. They hadn't rested since dealing with the goblins near the tower, so it seemed unlikely they had a spell or potion left between them. Still, a few more goblins should be easy enough to deal with.

    They weren't goblins.

    A band of orcs were lurking in the mill's upper room, standing over the bodies of the former residents. The largest of them introduced himself as Chief Uligar of Bleeding Eye, and demanded tribute.

    "Are you serious?!" Ceressa snarled, putting an arrow promptly into the creature's face, apparently not willing to engage in any more conversations this day. Nahira couldn't deny a small amount of approval. For an experienced mage and deadly warrior, Faelyn spent too much time in thought rather than action. If someone more powerful was behind these attacks, it was unlikely the goblins knew who or what it was. Far better to destroy the minions and force their real enemy out of hiding. Perhaps that was why he sat back and let his former student make the decisions: at least Ceressa got things done.

    The battle was over in almost no time at all, the orcs apparently so confident in their threats that it hadn't occurred to them they might be refused. There were noises downstairs, though, and Ceressa was already striding forwards to face the next round of foes. Downstairs, however, were only a cluster of goblins, and, having expected something more akin to the orc tribe in the Easthaven caverns, Nahira was almost disappointed. She'd barely had a chance to bloody her staff.

    Nearby, Dyrellei pulled her dagger from a goblin's neck, grinning ear to ear. "Got one!" The sorceress smothered a smile. At least the thief had the stomach for battle, even if she lacked talent. She'd expected Ceressa's daughter to feel like a rival, so close in age, but it was hard to feel threatened by someone standing over a goblin corpse as if it were their first ever kill…and at least Dyrellei seemed good natured enough, compared to her Mother. The Father must have been a good influence, whoever he was.


    Dyrellei
    And that was that: she was no longer a non-contributing member of the group. Sure, they could probably have managed that one last goblin, but they didn't need to, because she'd been there! Perhaps there'd come a time that little bit of extra help would make the difference between life and death. She must have looked a little too pleased with herself, though, because Faelyn simply sighed.

    "It was hardly dragon slaying, girl."

    "Shh, Faelyn," Ceressa scolded, patting her on the shoulder, "it was a good kill. Now, Dyrellei, this looks like a storeroom of sorts. I'll take those barrels by the wall, you check the crates and the cupboard."

    "Right," Dyrellei agreed, unwilling to let Faelyn drag her down. Aramil was right: things started small.

    The crates held a few coins and gems, but when she opened the cupboard she was greeted by the pale face of a human child. "What are you doing in there?" she asked, a little more roughly than she intended due to her own shock.

    "Hiding from the goblins," he muttered, "they…they got my dad and sister."

    The bodies on the upper floor, then. Dyrellei grimaced. "I'm sorry. It…it will be ok. We're headed to Kuldahar, maybe we can find help for you there?"

    The boy looked around the room at the dead goblins, and seemed comforted by the sight. "Don't worry about me, I know the way. It'll be easy for me to get to the temple there now the goblins are dead! Bye!"

    He rushed off, leaving Dyrellei and the rest of the group stood in surprise.

    "Thank the Gods we were here," Sven breathed in relief, "he could never have stayed hidden forever."

    Dyrellei nodded. "We should get to Kuldahar too, now, right? Maybe check at the temple and see if he got there alright."

    "I think we're done here, yes," Ceressa agreed, "anything of value in that cupboard?"



    Aramil
    Kuldahar was…everything he'd hoped. The warmth, the gentle rustling of the leaves in a caressing breeze…he stopped a moment to lean against a root, and gaze upwards at the tree, his lips gently tracing some half-forgotten song.

    Sven was watching him, a smile on his face. "Of all of them, Aramil, I am surprised you seem the most enthralled by Kuldahar's splendour."

    "Why, are bandits immune to such things?"

    "I…I didn't mean that."

    "A man can love both bloodshed and beauty, Sven."

    "Can he?"

    Aramil had been on the road almost his entire life. As a travelling bard, as a mercenary, and, yes, most recently as a bandit. Throughout the years he'd found brief patches of safety amidst danger. He treasured those moments, but also the danger that surrounded them. Without one, how could you ever truly appreciate the other? Kuldahar…was nature's embodiment of the same principle. A haven where it was needed most. The Great Oak would have been wasted in milder climates, a site of mild interest only to druids, but here, it was worshipped as the wonder it was.

    So many of the people he'd met in his travels…they strived for one thing, or another. Even those like Sven who claimed to serve a balance, would rarely settle for a mix of two extremes. Aramil disagreed. A loud voice carried best in a quiet place. A sudden silence in music could be more dramatic than any number of notes. Light cast dark shadows, an act of evil would inspire heroes to step forward. Balance created itself. Why commit to any one thing? A thought occurred to him, and he smiled at the Druid.

    "You know, Sven…I've always felt myself in many ways to be a man of two halves. I think perhaps you can empathise with that, hmm?"

    He got no reply to that, as the human turned away to rejoin the group.



    Sven
    "Here it is," he announced, pointing out an unassuming little dwelling built into the roots as so many were, "the Archdruid's house. Arundel, I believe. I've never met him, but I've heard much from other druids, and-"

    "Yes, yes," Ceressa snapped, "let's see what he's dragged us all this way for."

    The six of them could barely fit into the modest home, but as soon as they did so there was a sense of peace. The Archdruid's abode had an earthy smell, and a comforting warmth, and Arundel greeting them calmly, inviting them to dispense with the formality of his title. To Sven's relief, Ceressa was civil, discussing patiently the troubles he'd noticed of late. Aside from the weather, he mentioned disappearances and unusual monster sightings. Though silent, Faelyn's expression was serious - he almost certainly agreed with Arundel's fear that there was some greater evil at play, and perhaps Ceressa was coming round to the notion too. She certainly wasn't openly dismissing it.

    The Archdruid was vague, however, talking of disturbances but giving little away of what he actually wanted from the party. Eventually, Ceressa asked him outright.

    "Alright. So what do you want us to do?"

    Even then, his answer lacked clarity. They were to investigate the Vale of Shadows, where the dead had grown restless. What were they looking for? Uncertain. Information, perhaps. Ceressa looked disappointed.

    "Honestly?" she muttered, "I'd been hoping for something straightforward. You know: my known rival is plotting against me, please go kill him and I'll reward you with as much gold as you can carry. That sort of thing. Still, I guess if the dead are already up and moving, we may as well upset them further and pay a visit to their tombs."

    "So…you're going to help?"

    "He asked us to have a look around some tombs, so we will. Whether that's any help remains to be seen."

    Well…that was good enough, for now.

    kcwiseBelgarathMTHJuliusBorisov
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