The Long Walk, a Black Lion's Tale.
The journal before you has a battered but thick and sturdy cover, and smells a bit of sweat and woodsmoke, with a few bloodstains on the thick cover, as if the person wearing it in their armor or keeping it in their pack has had a few unfortunate encounters.. or a lot of bloody victories.
The hand it is written in looks as if it were done carefully, and slowly, like someone who does not write very often, but it is legible and coherent at least. Coal pencil is the medium of choice, so smearing is fairly common, but the author seems to be slightly careful of that risk, with words re-written where they are smudged off.
The book starts with a story.
The story starts with a boy.
It starts, here.
Just like that, I'm back in it.
I'm home, and while there's surely good news about, the rumors I had heard bits of were not only true, but under-exagerrated, of all things! It appears Holmsmeade, the one I met with ever-so-briefly before I left, is quite dead. He survived one nasty encounter with summoned fire-beasties that devoured almost all of his force, only to be waylaid by Crimson Spikes.
Somehow, I find that incredibly doubtful.
There's some 'adventurer-killer' still on the loose. He seems to have a special hate for those that were pitted against the Silver Host, so I'll probably be fine if we come across him, but can I leave someone alone who's out trying to kill my friends and comrades? I get justice for the fallen, but where does that line end? I'm almost hoping to run into him, but he sounds like he might be way more than a match for me.
Speaking of matches, apparently what happens when you mix the saliva of Aoth, Karrick, Atel, and Me ... creates a clone-thing of all four of us blended together into a nearly unstoppable killing machine, that is also capable of mind magics, and oh yeah, has bloody wings. I mean, once it's paired with a gnome and 'science' apparently. It seems that his offer of being able to tell our ancestral past from such a sample, is used to create clones with said memory, which they speak, and then are ... disposed of.
We REALLY should have asked before trusting it, but it seemed like a lark, and I had just returned, so why not? Right?
We found it after it had killed two farmhands, and tried to reason with it, before Atel decided that reason was NOT the way, and hit it with some magic. Or, tried to. Which didn't go well. It took us on, and if I wasn't fully defending myself, was harming me -real- easily, with just claws. Just when I was starting to get the upper hand, it crouched, and took to the sky. Karrick can't really 'fly', but he did say he could glide, so I tossed down my sword, cupped my hands, and shouted for Karrick to jump from my hands.
Karrick is a big guy, but he's either surprisingly light, or my Roar to the Lion was heard, because I heaved with all my might, and Karrick disappeared into the clouds.
I mean, that's what I meant to do, after all. Give him some altitude, so he could go breathe some fire on that idiot, give him the chop, and use his experience with the wings that this newly born thing may not have had time to really master, and bring him down to us. Easy, right?
Well, it started raining blood, and it turned out to be Karrick's, as he spiraled to the ground, one wing fluttering uselessly.
I caught him, kinda ... more like broke his fall with ... well, me, and we both lived through it, but his wing was ... IS torn up, even after Aoth's regeneration magic. He's understandably mad at me, but really, he didn't HAVE to jump. I just offered him a way to go prove his dominance up there. Just, wish it had worked out that way.
We rested and regrouped, Atel left after some disagreement when some kid tried to claim he was gonna murder Rey with a stick, and Aoth managed to tree-walk us after where the bugger went ... a snowy island further down the Icelace. There, we took it on again, and ended up defeating it, but not easily, and no truce or sparing was to be had. Autumn gave it the final shot, and I the final chop, and that was the end of -that-. Until we went wandering in search of a boat, far from home.
It was then, that we met a halforc. A ranger, and a pathfinder, it seems ... who in exchange for gold and items of worth, would lead us home a 'secret' way. The better the payment, the rarer the path ... which ended up leading us to a fey wood, with puzzles, challenges, illusions, and finally a tower of Dobudaga the Mad, who it appears has multiple towers with random things in them, specifically to trap and kill adventurers. Charming, right? Isolde seemed to know him, and tried to convince him otherwise, to little effect, til he realized we only took a box labeled "Supplies" which he didn't seem to give a damn about, as we retreated. Did I mention we were walking UP said tower to get in? There was a path we were walking before that, that twisted as you walked, and you never seemed to get any close, but it made me dizzy. I closed my eyes while I walked, hoping to feel less sick, and a moment after I did ... doorknob. I walked right into it, and upon opening it, got us all through. So, with that knowledge, we walked back DOWN the tower easily enough, and got the HELL out of there.
The way there was fraught with peril that we thankfully didn't have to take on a second time. Talking stone faces we had to be clever at to pass, (They liked my joke about rocks!), A Giant construct we had to defeat, even a riddle, which ... even more weird, I was able to solve. I didn't figure myself the clever one in the group, but it was certainly my lucky day!
Speaking of lucky, one of the 'supplies' we got was a stone that aids in enchantments ... so I think I'll enchant my wedding ring. I plan on wearing it all the time anyway, so it seems appropriate.
Anyway, I saw Fisher too, spoke to the new "voice" Kathea, and spoke to Autmn and a few others faces since being back, but the highlight there was that Jane finally got back to me, and managed to snag one of those apartments for me! Don't get me wrong, the Bottlenecks are shady as hell, but the apartment is surprisingly nice! So, now I have a place to put my stuff, a private place to lay my head, and I'm less likely to get stabbed in my sleep while snoozing at the inn.
Overall, a rather disturbing return, but one that I think I can make myself a list for, and see if I can right some of the wrongs that occurred since I got back.
- Get the armors and stuff from Gnarl and Alvi
- Get my old gear from Norwick
- Get this stone enchanted in something before I lose it
- Get my Wedding Gift from Atel enchanted with mind protections.
Oh yeah, mind protections. I met some , I think the word Vick used was "Psionic" creature in the Underdark, hard to kill and made a noise that put Vick on his face before we even saw it ... as it was snacking on a Kuo Toa priestess that Carol seemed fond of. That was grisly, but the beast was horrible. I don't have a name for it yet, unlike the things that came after, which Carol called "Ineffable Horrors." I put down three of them, but Carol said they 'weren't even the big ones' ... which seemed like our cue to leave. Which we did. Quickly.
At least we made some coin ... which is for the best. Rent is EXPENSIVE.
Alright, enough rambling on a page for now. I'll hang onto this list, and see if I can make some sense of this poor city.
Well, I had to stop early for the night, so I may as well continue on with my tale. Some folks are refusing to let me pass without hospitality now that I'm a member of the ... you know what, I'll just put down what happened.
On the ride into the estates proper, Ashena (ever practical!) discussed costs and logistics of having a Word of Recall prepared at the temple of the Triad now and again to the nearest part of the estates, which puts my mind at ease somewhat. I had only the most vague and scant idea of what to expect once we got there, but I did my able best to prepare myself for a good deal more attention than I'm used to.
I did not prepare enough.
We were still literally in the woods, when it began. By "it", I mean the fussing. Rangers appeared, as I kind of expected from Gralam's words earlier, and their unseen proximity made me uncomfortable thinking about how many were within sight of the treehouse, and glad that we didn't get too enthusiastic with our reunion! Now, that wasn't all bad at first, them being there and all, except that they were SO very formal, at least until Ashena shooed them off a bit, and gave me a VERY fast lesson on the differences in noble decorum here from Narfell proper, and which turned into a crash course in noble decorum -period- when she was reminded how little of it I actually know at ALL.
The rangers closed in again once she was satisfied, though she didn't seem worried about me embarrassing her at all! The woman is a stone sometimes when it comes to showing worry about things! Apparently, demons and weddings phase her not. Speaking of weddings ... in the weeks I was there, one was not only drummed up out of thin air, it seems, but everybody knew about it the very day I got there!
I have to admit, I braced myself for a confrontation when we got to the ornamental estate gates, and there was a mob there. I didn't think the unrest stretched to their very doorstep! I was quickly proved an utter fool, of course, when it turns out that the gate was open, and they were being held INSIDE it's perimeter by the guards there, so as not to crowd the road.
It was rather like returning a hero from a campaign, or what that must seem like. A cheer went up, and we were quickly, but politely mobbed as we got in by well wishers, congratulators, and people simply wanting to see me! Holy hells was that confusing. Only time I've had people cheer for me was when I got my arse whipped by that Gargossan Champion guy, because I went up there at all, and lost with honor. This ... was wholly different, and despite the lessons from Ashena probably saying something about not doing that, I still don't recall that being a point in there, I dismounted, and started shaking hands and learning names.
There were ... a LOT of cousins, second cousins, third cousins, and distant cousins all in attendance ... I didn't know how many different types of cousin there were until then ... (Truth is, I still don't!) but they were all warm and welcoming, if not a little surprised that I dismounted to go greet them all.
At the second group, I was content to let them wave and wave back, with a little encouragement and a stare from Ashena that said we'd never make it to the inner estate at this rate if I kept it up! We did end up making it to the main house, if you could call it a house at that size ... and grooms hurried off with Temptest II before I could warn them not to get bitten, almost before my foot cleared my stirrup! I'm sure they have more shirts for those guys anyway ....
I checked the sit of my weapons out of habit, gave myself a shake and my cloak a snap to not track dust, and finally paid enough attention to see the people waiting for me at the top of the stairs.
Clearly our time for chit-chat and lessons was over, and this was the first of many "moments" that I'd spent a long time preparing myself for, and still found myself wholly out of my depth, and doing what I do back at home. Just marching forward, making it up as I go! Mind you, I remember her lessons. Some of them. Most of them? Maybe? Well it was either stand at the bottom of the stairs for a conference, or walk, so I walked. More specifically, I held out my elbow for Ashena to take (Which I think looks MUCH more cute than it has any right to, with our height difference!), and we ascended, stopping a couple of steps before her parents ... since I was already on eye level with her father and didn't want to be rude and tower over him at their doorstep.
There was a moment of introduction, where I was announced as "Cecil the Northman, of the Black Lion, Inquisitor of Peltarch, Betrothed of Ashena of House Teroldys" , where the last line was apparently a confirmation that caused some small ruckus among people who may not have been quite sure if it was real or rumor, behind us. Retainers were sent out of the way, everyone near the stairs was bustled off but us, and I got to meet her parents for the first time.
"Thank you for the warm welcome, Lord and Lady Teroldys. I'm pleased to finally meet you!"
I've heard tales about meeting the family you marry into, and the father was almost always the one to welcome you with a threat, or some other aggressive gesture, but her father merely took my hand in a firm grip, welcomed me, and pulled me a little closer and up a step so mutter that I am fortunate that his daughter is as stubborn as a rock. It seemed like more was coming after that, but he put on a smile, and released my hand, so that I could turn to his wife ... who had both hands clasped and beside her cheek, looking up at me and making a very informal noise that can only be described as Pleased. She took my hand in both of hers, and when I reached down to kiss the top of hers, she laughed, called me "Utterly charming" in the same tone that people say "Adorable", and ushered us in, nearly dancing in her steps as she did so.
I rather think she approves.
I was offered refreshment, which I declined thanks to the recent picnic and easy road, which earned a nod from her, a clap of her hands, and then I was beseiged! Surrounded on all sides, a flurry of questions and instructions hit me like a wave of goblins down a hill. While Ashena grinned with completely open amusement, her father began to smile truly too, and settled back to watch the show as I was given strict instructions as to where my room would be, how soon I needed to be in it, where my sword and armor would be stowed (what!?), and which squires to send for when I needed it back, and then I was bustled up some stairs and assured that I could see the Teroldys family soon, there was much to do and little time to do it in!
The next few days ... were insanity. Lunches were held everywhere within an hour's ride, at family and other nobles' estates, where everyone was already fully aware of the date and time of the wedding ( I found out from one of them, of course!), and some of them apparently got to meet me in person beforehand, as befitting their noble rank and station. I had NO idea what a prize pony I was, considering that I'm lowborn and unknown to all of these people ... which apparently doesn't count any more since I have rank and military history to satisfy those families who pride themselves on it, and being betrothed right before a wedding apparently means you get "Lord Cecil"ed a lot, even if most of the time they were delivered with a nod, a grin, or a knowing wink. Not even mockingly! Ashena was with me of course through it all, and she smiled, and laughed, and socialized in such a way that I was able to pick up on cues and not make too big a fool of myself ... except for a few notable incidents. Frankly, she seemed pleased to show me off, and we spent many quiet moments sharing what we've missed with one another between being dragged apart for this appointment or that. Appointments, and so many meals! Speaking of meals...
Have you ever SEEN how small a DESSERT fork is!? I DEFINITELY caught a few giggles and stares when trying to use one (Who takes dessert before it's barely past NOON?!), and a quickly muffled gasp as well when I not only gently bumped a metal pitcher off the table with my elbow while we were being served lunch, but I managed to reach down and catch it before it hit the floor!
Of course, then it was crushed, and I was holding a mangled former water pitcher with a very wet hand when I tried to open my mouth to apologize. Several other mouths were already open, but without comments, so I figured an apology was in order, but not only was the pitcher already removed from my hand and immediately out of sight (Seriously, where did he PUT it!?), but my arm was dry and it was as if nothing happened quicker than I could find the words to get out. Gralam interrupted the silence with a question about some of my work and training, much to the delight of the hosts, and the whole incident vanished like so much smoke in a breeze. "I hope I get used to this kind of thing soon, or I'll never make it through the wedding!", I remember thinking.
Speaking of Gralam, where Ashena has been my Rock, Gralam has been my rope out the window. That twin of hers is a King in my eyes, as he made it a point to intercept me to or more often immediately after one of the many various appointments, fittings, and luncheons, with a horse and bow in hand, to go ranging in the woods. I had to use my ballista-sized crossbow after the first day(ok, it's an actual ballista, but still technically a crossbow) after I broke one of his ... causing him to comment that they need to arrange for an ironwood one for me, but other than that we had an excellent time. I didn't get fat from the cakes pressed on me from every side, we got to hunt and ride, and I got to learn some of the stories from their childhood, as well as more of what's currently going on nearby.
I was once again reassured about people's demeanor, as the folks who seemed gruff or critical of me were merely being their protective selves, and scrutinizing me to make sure I was good enough, worthy enough, or charming enough, to take 'their' Ashena, or more to the point, apparently marry into nobility, above some of them. That thought made me uncomfortable for a moment, before I was reminded that I was not beholden to anything by it, and that Ashena and I were still going to decide when and how to do things in our lives, no matter where I was.
It seemed that the wedding arrived in the night and hit me over the head while I slept though, because the day was there before I knew it! The countless fittings resulted in a suit nearly as fancy as my armor, and a very specific set on instructions on where to be, and when, before I was bustled off for final inspection ... by her mother!
Everywhere I looked, there were Roses. The vast gardens of The Vast lived up to their name, and were harvested mercilessly to decorate for the occasion as I was taken to her in the receiving room, who started our conversation by apologizing for it being "Not splendid enough in these trying times!" I almost laughed, before remembering my manners, and assuring her profusely that it was grander than nearly anything I'd ever seen, and if it were not for seeing strange and otherworldly (literally) sights in my adventures, that it would have been the most grand thing I had ever laid eyes on. She was amused, and I was off the hook for a moment, as folks took their positions and preparations were rushed into completion all around me. It was a kicked anthill of restrained opulence, and I felt like I had finally started feeling comfortable, when the music began.
I was about to rush to where I needed to be, when someone pulled me into a side door, and I was where I needed to be in three quick turns of a dark hallway with a little shove into position out from behind a cleverly placed curtain. That was what I get for reminiscing ... and now I was at a door leading out to the garden path, which was very long, and lined with trees, every one of which had beautiful hanging lanterns in them, glowing merrily all the way to the main part of the house.
Guests were present in every room by that point, and I had no shortage of quick and polite conversation on the semi-ceremonial walk, where it seemed that everybody was invited! Tables were laid, stages were set, and simply stated finery was placed just so across the entire estate. Every family member with a shred of shared blood was there, but furthermore, even the commoners in the nearby villages arrived, one or two I even recognized from my trip here! The villagers and neighbors all cheered as I walked toward the main event, and entered the banquet hall where the proper event was to take place. Family only there, of course, but no less enthusiasm was shown, especially once the walking was done, and I finally stood before Ashena at the Altar. Symbols for Torm and the Black Lion were present, quiet, private vows were exchanged, and then a simple kiss set the place exploding into activity again! I was officially Cecil the Northman, of House Teroldys, and the celebration -really- began. I was yet again, unprepared in most ways but one. The toasts!
After the meeting and greeting, the wining and dining reception, and of course too much sweet stuff being consumed, the party spilled into the gardens where I had walked to get here, where everyone was invited. We mingled, we danced, we sang, and by the end of the night, stories were being told, and the welcome into the family was basically complete. My presence was not universally cheered of course, there were no shortage of local noble young men, of a particular age not far from mine and Ashenas, whose looks I saw from the corners of my eyes a few times, and across a few crowded spaces, but nothing came of it. I did think I heard a single instance of "...in a duel!" followed by an audible Smack!, and a "You would DIE, stupid! Did you not hear about the OGRE? How about the dragon!? Sorry, DragonSSSSS!"
I was of course, doing my best to look dignified with one of those accursed dessert forks in my hand at the time, so I had to turn away before they could see me nearly poke myself in the eye covering a laugh.
The end of the evening, was walking back to my rooms (there were more than one, now!), with Ashena in my arms, under a decorative trellis, while people got to shout ribald encouragements to the newlyweds. That was face reddening enough, but in my hurry to get through the gauntlet of very-specific-well-wishers, and not knock Ashena into it as I carried her, I did not see that the trellis had -not- been adjusted for height.
I'm sure it'll get repaired soon enough, but a couple people may need healing after laughing that hard.
I'm warm (especially in the face, now) writing this, well fed, and more satisfied than I think I've ever been in my life. I've been married a couple weeks now, and so far, it's even better than I thought it could be. But of course, duty called in the form of more of those rumors becoming concrete, and sent directly after me like fires springing up after a dragon's passing.
My WIFE and I had a laugh about duty and honor, and how one could be more fun than expected, and I set off, leaving me nearly back to Peltarch, with the news that the Silver Host that I left intact and in one piece despite some misgivings, being confirmed as utterly destroyed nearly to the man, and what's being called a "Civil War" and a "Coup" going on. It's nearly dawn now, so I guess I'll be on my way. I barely slept, but I'll press on, to hopefully try and calm things down before somebody else gets killed.
Who'd have thought that getting married would be the -less- tense part of this trip?!
As they share the bountiful breakfast, Ashena listens to all of Cecil's words with a warm and earnest smile on her lips, commenting here and there when something catches her particular interest. She also shares in brief her own experiences, which include several prolonged stays in Damara to assist the Ilmateri knights in war-torn areas, as well as a long and fruitless search for an errant sister. With her father's declining health, she was called home and soon discovered there was more unrest there than letters had implied. While Aymon handled diplomatic matters, Ashena's sword was unfortunately still all too necessary to draw the final line in the crisis that kept bubbling in the Vast.
As Cecil presents the rings, Ashena simply smiles, presenting her left hand to him for the ring to be slipped on. "Truly, I am and have e'er been yours, just as you are mine 'til you should tell me different! My family knows this also - you won Aymon's support many years back, and tis but for duty's call driving us apart that we are not already wed. If you've fears still that they wouldst not approve of you, let me put them to rest. The one complaint has been how ~long~ it has taken us to indeed make it official! Let me warn you 'fore we depart, tis entirely possible that my dearest mother is already making arrangements, for t'was far too long since she had a joyous feast to plan, let alone a wedding."
Her wide smile suddenly falters, and she presses his large hand gently tighter, adding with clear concern: "Duty, my Lion, may continue to keep us apart. I am needed here and wouldst not abandon my people or my family, for as long as they have need of me. But duty is the language my family understands best - therefore, they will understand that yours must keep you elsewhere at times. But... erm... one of our duties as a wedded couple is to add to the link of chain that is the Teroldys house - I realize speaking of children before we have e'en... erm... is premature, but I must know - will you accept that they shall live and be raised here, in the Vast?"
I kept on my face the same calm and bemused expression, I hope, for most of what she said. Mostly, because everything she said made me happy, confirmed my feelings, and put my mind at ease. Til she said, "Already making arrangements, that is."
That just confirmed my concerns!
I stopped, thought a moment, and chastised myself for a fool. She JUST said that their one concern was how long it's taken, the 'arrangements' are only going to be a good thing. Hells, with this much lead time, they've probably even managed to find a chair sturdy enough to hold me in my armor!
Her next words were more familiar to me than the sounds of the inn where I sleep most nights. Duty, of course, will indeed continue to keep us apart, and as I sought to assure her than I wouldn't hold any wild expectations just from my showing up here, she surprised me yet again.
The initial shock HAD to have played across my face. As expected, she merely said her piece, and waited for me to catch up, patient wonderful woman that she is. I composed myself, and have NO idea how many minutes passed while I processed all of that. I mean, of COURSE I'd considered it, but I guess I figured I would be expected to stay, and that her family would see me as some kind of rogue vagabond if I had to return to MY duties ... but it appears I've been assuming unfair things about her house due to my past experiences with other nobles, since I'm not one. They truly DO see duty as key, to the point that they expect me to continue serving mine, even as I came here to serve another duty entirely. The duty of the heart. (As silly as that sounds in my head.)
"Before I get ahead of myself, my love, and start planning how I'm going to afford an on-call mage to teleport me back and forth from here to there ... I think the real thing to focus on here, is that ... well, I think this is starting to sound too good to be true!"
I laughed, despite myself, shaking leaves on us out of the trees above when I collapsed back to catch my breath, and sat back up to take her hand
"Since you've been here, I've faced dragons, demons, and bureaucracy. Bandits and cultists, undead and merchants. Piles of paperwork were threatened, and even made good on til I learned to be more diplomatic, yet none of it had me as worried for my own safety as the thought of coming here to face your family, and try to convince them that not only do I love you, but share my loyalty to those I swore to protect too. A different loyalty to be sure, but loyalty all the same. And frankly, I've been a silly fool not to have come sooner!"
After a moment to think, I nodded, and glanced outside to see how far the dappled sunlight through the trees had moved while we were busy storytelling and enjoying each other's company. Too far, perhaps, for comfort.
"Speaking of sooner ... I suppose that I'm more ready than I thought to meet the family. Shall we go say hello to everyone?"
I didn't know what to expect, truth be told, but I was going to go down the tree, put my armor on, kiss that girl silly, get on my horse, and ride into the unknown waters of nobility. This time, however, I was pretty sure I wouldn't sink. As I mounted Tempest II, it struck me how he was getting old, and how I was no longer just a boy in ill fitted armor, trying to fill IT, and some big boots that I'd made up expectations for all on my own. If they've truly already decided, then this should be fine, if not outright easy! Right?
"Shall we, my love?" Newly designed armor shining, horse brushed and fed and stepping proudly, and bearing the sword that -killed- the woman I love, who then gave it to me once her killer was defeated, I wandered into the Vast, with Ashena at my side.
Since I'm already on my way back to Narfell, I'll have to continue writing this later. I'm barely halfway home, and I'm hearing reports of battles, and an uprising? I'm normally not one to dismiss peasants, but some of these tales are a bit wild. A shining host, losing to fiery fiends? Traitors to the crown, involved somehow? This can't be right, but I'd best speed up a little and make sure.
(As before, Ashena's part of the story first)
A quiet but thoroughly amused laughter comes from above at Cecil's response, Ashena calling down in return: "Breakfast is the ~original~ B-word to my mind, though as the day has passed beyond that point, your definition shall suffice! As for the tree, tis as old as House Teroldys or thereabouts! It will endure." The oak is indeed sturdy, its gnarled roots delving deeply and securely into the ground and the climb appears surprisingly sound - but for the agonized creak of the floorboards above. Still, Cecil manages to make his way up without calamity, til he straightens and hits his head, that is. Ashena watches it all with a smile, having yoinked her long braid out of temptation's way as though she read his mind.
Now, she stands before him, a small flush of pink blossoming on her fair face. She looks much as he remembers - while surely a little older, her brown eyes are as bright and warm as ever. She wears that same radiant smile, the same familiar chestnut braid, reaching down to her small waist. If anything, Ashena seems more at ease here, perhaps, than he has ever seen her in Narfell, casually dressed without armour or finery in a simple white linen blouse, neatly laced at the front, coupled with well-worn tan riding trousers and brown boots.
As he offers the basket (oh so smoothly), leaves and twigs scattered haphazardly from the recent impact, Ashena simply smiles as though what he says, or how he says it, matters not at all to the simple, irrefuteble fact that he is ~there~. She reaches out her hand to his, giving a light squeeze, her warm brown eyes fixed on his, before stepping into his arms in a close, but possibly quite awkward embrace, given the cramped space. Ashena doesn't seem to mind though - she simply holds him close, though eventually nudges him to sit - likely the sole comfortable position a man of Cecil's size can find in a small treehouse.
She takes a seat close by, her smaller fingers lacing with his, tries to speak but only ends up giving the softest, most happily baffled laugh. "I can't believe you're really ~here~! Nor that you have not always been, for this is surely as the world is meant to be for you and I." With much to catch up on and little time before the entire Teroldys clan will insist on their due, Ashena nonetheless appears prone to simply smile, staring at Cecil in doe-eyed wonder.
I have to admit, sitting there in this treehouse with her smaller hand in mine, and that look of wonder on her face, I couldn't help but laugh. I tipped my head back and simply laughed, earning me, of course, a leaf or two in the mouth for shaking the tree with the sound. I always DID laugh too loudly!
"Somehow, I am indeed. I mean, far too late I think, as I should have done this a LONG time ago, but I'm here now, and ... " I took a moment to take a breath. She was right. This DID already feel like the world was supposed to be for us. The moment was complete, and real, and felt
perfectright. "well, there's been a lot going on at home. Hells, the whole place has probably caught on fire since I left, knowing Peltarch."
We shared a laugh, and as we ate the wonderful breakfast, I caught her up on some of the intrigues that I'd encountered recently. The Knights Requietum formation, dissolution, and leading to me becoming inquisitor ... the orphanage attack by those blackcloaks, the dragons I've ended up facing, and the "archery" tournament win against Rasuil and Vick, I shared everything that could come to mind, and found myself still missing details by the time that I began to worry that the proscribed hour had passed. With that in mind, I got to the point.
"Provided all is still as it seems. I mean, as it feels, seeing you here, now, and ... feeling this, I wanted to make sure you had this." I told her, placing the rings that Val had made for me all those years ago, before I vanished for several, apparently having been turned to stone, and left somewhere til I was randomly fixed. "If I'm going to meet your parents, after all, I want to be prepared as well as possible, and this is as good an armor as any!"
We had been betrothed to one another, in our own eyes, and with our own words, for years now ... but never got to make it official. I had no family to worry about offending, but she ... well, here we were on her family's estate. That pretty much said it all, to me. So, I held out her ring. "Even if we are distant, even if it's but a dream, even if we're "Disallowed", I wanted to make sure that you had this. No matter what, I intend to be yours, even if it's only truly real to the two of us."
I never was terribly good at being anything less than a bull in a pottery shop when it came to delicate things like conversations, and that moment proved to be no different. Her family expected us soon, and I didn't want to be unsure, or blundering, or seem like I didn't have my intentions not only decided, but clear. "I'm sorry if this seems abrupt. I just, this seemed better than making a scene any more than expected in front of ... well, everyone. This is for you, for US. That's the important bit. Right?
I realize, I must have looked a fool. I'd shifted up to a knee, like the day I proposed, hunched over in the small treehouse with her delicate hand in mine, with plans to descend and march my happy ass right into her family's estates, and -finally- introduce myself. I wasn't quite a 'knight' like I'd hoped to be before meeting them, but I had a pretty good idea of who I was, and "good enough" seemed to fit the bill. Ashena was the judge in my eyes, and she'd said it best. This felt "right". Surely as the world is meant to be, right?
I waited, expecting her to probably call me silly or dramatic, but as long as she smiled as she said it, it would be a win in my book.
As Cecil hazards his guess, Ashena looks at first surprised, then delighted, chuckling as she toys with a coil of sturdy rope. Grinning, she replies: "Close enough, Northman! It's a B-word at the least, you shall pass!" With that, she lowers the rope, big knots set at even intervals to provide leverage for the climb.
Before Cecil can even start to try, however, Gralam hoists a heavy basket onto his arm, covered with a red-and-white chequered cloth. Within is a veritable little feast, a wedge of hard, fine cheese, a small container of butter, ripe pears, plums and apples, a large bottle of cider, fragrant fresh bread and a couple of sticky cinnamon buns. Ignoring any possible protests, Gralam re-mounts his horse. "No way am I third-wheeling this reunion, you two deserve some private time. I'll distract mother, but I doubt I'll last more than an hour. Don't make it longer than that, or I can't guarantee staying amicable!" With a grin and a wave, Gralam departs, leaving Cecil standing beneath the tree, his climbing hampered by both armour and a cumbersome basket.
"Ha! If that wasn't it, it SHOULD have been! Balors ... hah! Well. I suppose if I'm not to take down your Entire tree, I should probably de-armor a little." I told her, shaking my head. This was NOT the reunion I had guessed, not by a long shot. I had imagined guard posts, an estate wall or two, imposing pennants flapping in the breeze to remind me that I myself HAVE no house, no crest, no estates. Just myself, and well, a symbol of sorts despite the lack of banners to put it on. I had expected to be greeted at some point by nobles in finery, slowing down imperious noses at me, if for no other reason than tradition, perhaps, but scowling nobles nonetheless.
Honestly, this was WAY better, and the only trouble I had at this point, was believing that it was real!
My armor was, as usual, easy enough to remove. If you put the straps in the right places, a squire isn't necessary, but every second stretched, knowing she was watching, probably wearing the -exact- same amused little smile I remember, the one she wore when I stepped too close to a gelatinous cube in the sewers, and came out looking like I belonged there! I tried to set it down carefully as I removed pieces one at a time, but I wanted nothing more than to leap up that rope and reach out and touch her, convince myself that this was no trick, and -then- let the rest of the details sort themselves out.
I was patient, after all, and piled my armor neatly against the tree, my sword with it, while I tied the basket to my belt. On a smaller person, it probably would have been cumbersome, but it caused no issue on the way up. Hand over hand, I climbed the rope. Hand over hand, closer to that familiar face looking down at me, her braid longer now than before, making for an impressive rope of its own. I ALMOST grabbed at that near the top, playfully aiming to spook her as I did so, but of course I didn't. Tossing her over the edge of her treehouse would have been a lousy way to see her again!
I hoisted myself up, was about to stand at my full height, and immediately clipped myself with a branch, raining down leaves and other treestuff upon us, quite ruining my heroic appearance, I think. But hey, it's the thought that counts, right?
*I took a breath, prepared my speech ... shit. I didn't have one at all, actually. Everything just happened ... SO fast! At least I didn't have bandit blood on me anymore, but here she was, nose to n...chest with me, with me stooped over sheepishly, shiny armor tossed aside and head smarting slightly from the branch. So, what I basically did, was say, lifting the basket, "Uh, hey. Fancy meeting you here. You hungry?"
Oh yeah. Reeeeeeeeeal smooth, Cecil.
[As before but not explained, indented is from Karnivor, as written collaboratively]
Gralam seemed not the type to rush, easily allowing for any stops along the way that I wished for - though there did seem to be just a hint of hidden amusement behind his affable smile as a bit of my nerves become apparant.
"Oh, rest assured Ashena would have my head on a silver platter if you had any kind of 'bad' reception upon our own lands. As for alone..."
*He grinned, whistled sharply and then tilted his head, waiting. A short moment later, a responding call came from the east - then the west, and the south.
"We're not all that alone - it just seems that way for eyes unaccustomed to it. Our rangers cover quite a bit of land though as you could tell, not all of it. From here on out we should remain unaccosted, however. Still got a fair ways to go, so let's be on our way. We can stop by the treehouse for lunch. That's Ashena and my secret hideaway, back when we were duty-skirting little runts. I think you might like it."
I couldn't help but to like this fellow, especially since I was already looking forward to meeting him from Ashena's stories, before. He's very much like described, and his reason for amusement became apparent rather quickly.
The treehouse was set in an enormous oak tree, tucked away in a scenic clearing bathed in the mid-day sunshine. A babbling brook flowed nearby, just out of sight, and a burst of poppies and bluebells covered the ground underneath it. An instantly recognizable silver steed lifts its head as we approached, giving a friendly huff in greeting. Ashena's horse! Surely the paladin steed would not go far without the paladin herself? The treehouse loomed overhead, though there was no visible means to get up into it.
Gralam simply rolled his eyes and waited, until a female voice called down. "What's the password?" Ashena's smiling face peeked down at us far below, her long braid dangling.
I had nearly raised my hand to hail her, and was about to shout, but my mouth was dry, and then admittedly hanging open at her demand.
Okay, first of all ... could that treehouse even support me? At the VERY least I was going to have to de-armor, surely. Sure the tree was big, but I can still hear the screams of furniture that has perished beneath me, betraying my trust, bruising my pride (okay, my hindquarters) and ego alike!
That, however, was a secondary concern. A password ? How was I supposed to know a password? I'd never seen this treehouse. Was it a secret treehouse password? Was it a secret brother and sister password? Or was she asking ME? Funny, she'd never looked terribly sphinx-like before...
Recalling a memory from early on, and -almost- not saying it due to the occasional effects it had, I raised my head and said, "Balor" to her. Sure, it could have been any number of things, but ... yikes, just thinking back I remember sunshine and the smell of grass at the south gate, the sound of adventurers mingling, and me staring calf-eyed at the woman staring down at me, both of us basically kids at that point. I blinked, and remembered where I was again, looking up at her while I awaited her answer, with ... well, admittedly... only a SMALL glance over my shoulder to see if saying that word had the VERY OCCASIONAL unintended effect.
to be continued...
I took the next road slowly, and carefully, since I know what lurks just out of sight of gates and guards. As I expected, they didn't really have many scouts out, or any that I saw (Which I guess is the point!), due to the high number of scavengers and bandits out. It's too risky, with things so chaotic around here. Sure enough, I spotted the next town a couple hours into my ride, and immediately dismounted from Tempest III, a stout warhorse with a knack for kicking creatures to death that get too close, and a -serious- hunger for apples. He'd become cranky over the past few days as the apples grew scarce.
Walking him sedately along, I had just enough time to wonder if my armor, silvery and accented with crimson, was going to attract that same kind of attention as before, and make me look lootable, rather than dangerous ... when an arrow went zinging off of my pauldron. That was all the prompting I needed to don my helm, and I gave Tempest a slap to send him to safety. He paused long enough to give me a sour look, like I was stealing all of his fun, and then he trotted off, seeming in no hurry. How did I end up with a bloody horse like that?
At any rate, the arrows kept coming, but not as many as they should have used, since I basically just kept my eyes open, and skipped between them, having a little time because they were firing from extreme range. This was what I practiced, after all. Survival isn't JUST about being able to survive wounds, but avoid them. Even since I got good at that, I've seldom ended up poor from buying piles of necessary potions. Speaking of potions ... an invisibility one might just be the trick I needed, so I kept it in hand, skipping as deftly as one can in plate between falling arrows, ignoring the ones that went pinging off of the platinum and steel, and making my way for a clump of trees. I even tried to speed up a little to look like I was fleeing the fight itself. Probably not convincing, but it would get me to the trees. Could the little wooded area ALSO have bandits? Of course. But it would serve, for now. I wanted them to close in, after all.
I heard no chanting, and was hit with no spells, so this really may have been simple rabble. Perhaps not a -real- force or threat, unless they were trying to bait me, so I went with the cautious plan. I ducked behind some trees, got low, and drank the potion. I watched some arrows fall where I WAS as I slowly walked in the direction of the firing, and once I was close enough, I charged, knowing they would hear me ... but also knowing that it was be too late for them to DO anything about it by then, too.
I purposely dragged my sword through a bush far to my side just as I burst into their area, and they shot the poor bush several times at the crashing and shaking it did in response, just before I crashed into the first bandit with my entire body (Thanks for helping me slow down!), and hit the one who raised his bow at me with the flat of my sword hard enough to knock him down as I set my feet and prepared for the rest of the fighters to come out.
Several had already started moving around to my previous location, and they came running at the ROAR I let out with my charge, and two more that were close by already simply RAN, while the braver of their lot turned to face me. You would think a giant, previously invisible, roaring armored man would prove to be problematic, and maybe worth running from, but I saw the looks on their faces as they closed in, circling. They didn't care. Fanaticism? Bloodlust? Wrong mushroom snack in the woods? Who the hell knows, they simply didn't look RIGHT, and seemingly at random, they charged!
I hit the first figure square on, a testing strike to see if they were armored under those cloaks, and heard a surprised grunt as he slid wetly to the pine needles littering the forest floor where we fought. I had just enough time to be surprised at the lack of armor, OR defensive motion from him, when three more closed in. They struck ALMOST in tandem, two longswords between two men, and a pair of shortswords with the other, so I blocked what I could, and focused on the fellow with the short-swords, JUST in case he had the same kind of knowledge as Vick and Ras, for where to stick them.
He blocked my first strike, and ducked the second, and then I was done dodging. I set my feet, and swept the blade toward the ground to the side of him, then up, not even waiting to see if it hit before turning to the one behind me. I didn't NEED to see. I knew it was going to hit. The rhythm was set, the flow of the battle had started, and these men were not demons, or quaggoths, or hooked horrors, or drow. These were but men, and not trained like the Creel or the Crimson Spikes.
I knew. The blade arcing over my head to strike down at the opposite angle of where I had swung upward, trailed red and pink in the air, sizzling slightly as it crashed down on the second bandit, who to his credit, DID try to block. Poorly. I shifted my weight even before he hit the ground, and kept the momentum going, however, and the third fellow had already missed his strike, not expecting me to have turned so suddenly. The surprise on his face was clear, and familiar as I watched the reddish glow of my sword streak toward him, and he started to snarl a curse as it was clear he wasn't going to be able to block in time. The curse cut off with a gurgle, and I kicked him off the sword where it had made it most of the way through his side, his swordarm on the ground beside him, preparing myself to take on the ones who must have closed in by now.
A wobbling arrow clattered through the trees to land harmlessly near my feet, and I heard another thud into a tree nearby, but those were clearly retreating shots. Apparently, the others had looked before they leaped, and left their companions to me. Smart, but cowardly. Cowardly like the one I crashed into, who seemed to be coming to, but pretending to be dead near my feet. Or maybe he -was- dying. I DID hit him pretty hard... I leaned down to roll him over, and get a good look at his face, only to feel a knife slide up behind my knee and give me a stab. It was barely a scratch, but annoying, and made me hope that the stupid thing wasn't poisoned.
I growled at him to drop it, and he did, with a squeak. I then told him to STAY, like a dog, and surprisingly enough, he did, while I turned over the corpses around me, and checked their pockets and the like, shaking my head as I found nearly nothing of value. Some coins, too many knives, and various other obviously looted items. It would be WAY too easy if they'd had orders or information on them, anyway. But this one ...
I waved as I came near the town, my prize struggling feebly over the back of Tempest, as if he could get free of the crushing ropes that held him bound, and moments later I was giving Thad's name, providing my destination, and asking if they had reason to want any of these bandits for questioning or the like. The "like" was most likely a rope from the terse answer I got about the bandit, but perhaps they'd get a few words out of him first. Either way, I was given a direction, a meal for a fair price, and a well wish on my way to the west, closer to my destination now, close enough that there would be no point to staying the night. There was still afternoon left, after all.
One early evening, as the sun is just dipping below the treetops, a man on horseback stops him on the road. He has messy chestnut hair and calm, measuring brown eyes, dressed in unassuming earthen-toned leathers - though his horse is fine and strong, obviously bred and trained for battle. "You must be Cecil", states the man factually, obviously having studied him quite closely from afar or perhaps unnoticed from within the forest. "Well come along then. She's waiting." With that, the man gestures and sets his horse to a slow trot. Along the way, he even remembers to introduce himself, momentarily sheepish. "Oh. I'm Gralam. You know, the nice brother." Finally, with that quick grin, the resemblance to his twin Ashena is more apparant and while not overly chatty, he proves quite companionable and open as they travel together for the last mile.
Well, meeting Gralam was a surprise, though a welcome one. I expected to arrive, looking like a lost deserter or something, unannounced and barely anticipated, with how unreliable sending a letter may have been, but here I am. I'm close, now, and Gralam and I are stopping so I can clean the blood off of my armor and water my horse before we go in. I wonder how much he knows of me.
At the Teroldys family estate, Ashena has just returned from a weeks long campaign to clear out a section of forest used by bandits and highwaymen. Her armour is dusty, its tabard slashed and bloodied as her greaves clank against the cool marble stones of the entrance hall, braid swinging behind her. As usual her posture is straight and proud, though Cecil, could he see her at this moment, would note the weariness hidden behind her resolute steps. In the empty hallway, she pauses, sagging slightly and exhales slowly, eyes closing. Hurried footsteps in the distance sees her straightening at once, and a herald comes into view bearing a letter. Upon reading it, a sudden smile lights up Ashena's tired face, like warm sunshine after a grim, grey day. On feet suddenly light as air, she hurries further into the house, shouting for her mother.
As the household hustles and bustles in preparation for Cecil's arrival, his journey through the Vast soon reveals the truth behind Ashena's prolonged stay. There's civil unrest, both in the form of roaming bandit bands attacking and political tension from a broken off engagement between two great rival houses. While House Teroldys isn't directly involved, they do have long-lasting ties to one of the houses, and a more recent link to the other, making for a delicate balancing act. Cecil passes villages burnt to the ground, others barricaded shut and only reluctantly opening their gates to him. The closer he gets to the Teroldys estate, however, the more easily welcomed he finds himself through mention of Ashena.
My letter has been sent, and the road has been interesting so far.
I don't really know what to expect, after what I've encountered so far, but I pray that that Lion sees me safely to her, or more to the point, that she's safe by the time I get there. The trip to the Vast was largely uneventful save a couple encounters with goblins, a stray bugbear or three, and having to go out of my way to get around the Scar.
As I've gotten closer, however, a few things have caught my attention. Namely, the smoke. Even when you can't see it, the smell of burned wood and -other things- keeps intruding on the otherwise fresh air, and seems to show up more often the closer I get. Three days in, I saw why. An entire village, burned to the ground. Scavengers scattered at my approach. Both the winged kind, and the not-winged kind, so I kept an eye on my back now and again to make sure they couldn't circle around.
Sure enough, there were others in the ruins of the village. Those who didn't scatter at the dust and ask I kicked up as I clanked my way along, my horse making distressed noises at the smells washing over us. Some spared me no more than a glance, others brandished sticks, knives, and the remains of farm tools at me til they were sure I wasn't there to pick over their homes, or their survivors. This place had seen the worst that other men had to offer, it seems.
For a day, I helped. I lifted things that others could not, and joy of joys, managed to unearth some survivors huddled in basements, trapped by falling timbers, but breathing through wet rags, and surviving on the remains of their cellars!
That's not to say that more often than anything else, we recovered bodies. I stayed for a day to help recover what I could, then I stayed another day to help bury the dead. While there, I learned of the chaos. Ashena's family wasn't really involved, but the warring neighbors spread wanton chaos in between their lands, and bandits and looters and worse took advantage, as they always do in times of war. Worse, so little was actually known in these smaller towns. Fear is one thing. Fear and confusion is worse.
The town has been gracious, but it's been three days. It's time to go on. I learned that the next town over has seen strife too, but is better guarded. They've seen less harm, but probably because of their guard, and habit of not letting people in. Thad the builder in this village told me to let them know he sent me, and to mention that I'm heading to the Teroldys estates, and that I'll probably be able to go through the next town unhindered. I thanked him for him trouble, left them the gold that I took off of the last pack of bandits who thought my gear was for show, and now I set off to make my way there. I'll see you soon, my love. I will probably send a letter at the next town.
Things at home are ... frustrating, to say the least. That's not to say I mind the banter, the jokes, I don't even care overmuch about the silly rumors. What's getting me, is stuff like that scene in the gaol. I made every decision I could think to make, and it wasn't enough.
Today, I walk to the vast. Well, I ride, and walk, and perhaps hop on a wagon or two ... I'm just going to make my way there. I'm sending a letter ahead, though, just to make sure I don't surprise anyone, and cause a fuss. I'm less wary of nobles now, at least, having settled into my new job well enough, and getting used to dealing with them all the time.
It's going to be a good walk, too. The weather is good, I'm in good health, I've got plenty of food, and I'm fully supplied on healing and other necessities. Besides, going OUT of Narfell has GOT to be safer than being IN it, right?
A letter is folded between pages until it's passed to a fast courier to start making its way to the Vast, ahead of him.
My dearest Ashena,
I hope this letter finds you well. I know it's been a little while since I wrote, but I wanted you to know that I am still safe and sound, or at least as much as an adventurer can be with the kinds of things we get up to!
At any rate, many things have happened over the last days, and weeks, and months. Aside from being an Inquisitor in Peltarch now, I helped avert a war with the orcs, survived several 'adventures' from this Derek Underhill maniac, and managed to survive several run-ins with a great threat, known as the Creel. More concerning still, however, is the would-be ally that has arrived near town, to which half of the ODS defected to when they were banned from town from wanting to take Peltarch's own people for their own justice.
Despite all that, I know that Peltarch and her adventurers have themselves well in hand. After several events that led me to questioning myself, my approach, even my goals, but not my worth, I've decided something. In living this life of mine, I want to make sure that I live it to the fullest, with those things that bring me the most joy, being foremost in my mind. With that being said, I am on my way to you.
Regardless of the outcome, whether your family accepts me, or us, or not, I am coming to you. I walk for the Vast, and will go from village to village as I travel, helping as I can, and hoping to hear word of you and your family as I come nearer. If bandits are on the path, I will see them dealt with. If a village needs aid, I will aid them. I will walk, with the Lion beside me, til I am beside YOU once more, for that above all else is what I desire more than anything.
There is no pressure in my coming. I merely wish to complete what plans we laid so long ago now, it seems. For me to meet your family. For us to be able to speak, and laugh, and live near one another once more, even if it's for a mere few weeks, before life once more sends us on separate paths. I wish your time, and company, if you'll have me, til we must bow to duty once more.
All explanation and careful words aside, I Love You, my Ashena. I am coming to you, and may anything that wishes to survive to draw another breath move itself from my path!
Your Lion, Cecil
I'll let Underhill live. His promise on the reward being worth it came through, though I don't quite know how he always gets it just right. Clever lil jerk, he is.
Into another portal we went, into the plane of dreams and nightmares, he said, which had me expecting to meet more Fey. Yay. That did not, however, turn out to be what it was. No, instead, we were challenged, and our greatest fears, or insecurities, or some other random afflictions beset us instead. You'd think mine would have been falling in battle, or being weak, or failing to save the one I love ... But I've been and done all those things. Instead, my fear was confusion. Not just the spell kind, either.
I know it seems silly, but people look to me as a leader, more often than not. Because of that, I need to be able to know what people are saying, and doing. This is nearly IMPOSSIBLE when they have some kind of ... indecipherable accent, or mumble, or just adopt a bizarre way of speaking that I cannot get through. I find myself pausing, tipping my head to the side like a confused dog, and trying to guess which words sound like a real, actual, word ... and in a fight, that would cost LIVES. What if someone needed me to stop attacking the thing I'm chopping to pieces, because it's an illusion, and it's actually some poor washing well woman that I thought was a demon? Only Autumn seemed to get it, and she was quietly smiling at me, for which I'm grateful. She's a clever one!
It drives me crazy, and for however long we were stuck down there ... everybody spoke like that. EVERYBODY. Like bloody Chandra and her mumbling, or Thyr'quara with her strange accent that makes me spend half the time just looking at her blankly. She really must think me an idiot at this point.
I tried to explain, but nobody got it, til later. All I know is that I was losing it, and probably being kind of mean while I was at it. Not just to them, though. We were all affected strangely at some point or another... hells, especially VICK. For a time there, after I felled the GIGANTIC MONSTER that apparently had an aura of DEATH around it ... thank the GODS for my death ward crystal that I used, my last one too... they all fawned over, and praised VICK for saving them. Yes, THAT Vick. Misogynist, "Women are all crazy and trouble" Vick. Vick, the grand offender of women everywhere, and they couldn't get enough of him!
Don't get me wrong. I don't necessarily NEED praise, or fawning over, but dammit, I unknowingly risked instant death, seriously, I think only that spelled saved me from the roar of magic I heard in my ears, took it down while it was chasing everyone who was fleeing, and it as "Ohh Vick, you were so brave Vick! Vick saved us!"
Anyway, that wasn't the worst of it. Poor Lady Kathea was like a footnote in my mind. I saw her, but she wasn't ... her. Just some random nobody in the crowd. Steve was an elf ... which was hilarious if you've met the guy, and poor Syltria. I think I feel the worst for her, since I remember just loathing her. It was that "Oh Gods, why are THEY here" kind of feeling, just dripping with spite, and I wanted nothing to do with them, or anything they had to say. She was worse than useless, she was a nuisance, and wholly unnecessary. I said mean things, and often, thinking them wholly and completely true.
Then the effect dropped. Everybody started talking normally, but we all remembered everything. Which meant I remembered all the horrible things I said ... and everyone else did too.
Vick was immediately left alone, except by Thyr who thought it would be funny to hug him, and nearly got stabbed for it, I think... people finally understood why I was losing my mind, and poor Syltria, we could see the tear-stains on her face from the abuse we'd flung at her. Now I feel like I giant jerk, but she seems to have forgiven us, at least.
How does that Derek guy, always seem to have the most horrific tasks for people? I rather think he's some kind of malevolent minor deity or something, sent to our plane to see how many different and interesting ways he could incite us to put OURSELVES through hell.
Alright, next on my to-do list ... maybe find myself a new look, write Ashena a better letter, and go make myself useful for the day. I'm feeling restless for some reason. May the Lion watch over me.
A letter is written in his journal before being sent out.
I'm not sure if my other more mundane letters have made it your way, but the troubles we've been having here, reminded me of yours. Not that you're a trouble, or it's your fault, but you mentioned bandits in your homeland in your letter. Bandits began showing here too, and like yours, more organized than expected.
We've seen Crimson Spikes, ragtag types, and worse ... Creel Barbarians. I just got out of a nasty fight with a large group of them that saw me nearly die, and several others too. Luck, rage, and no small amount of skill from everyone saw us through, but it was a close thing. I hope that your bandit troubles are unrelated, and indeed quite over by now, but I am still here fighting, and will remain so, til the Lion takes me home. I have much more to write about, soon, but for now, I need to find this Derek Underhill bastard, and give him a kicking.
Blood and ashes!
I got yet ANOTHER letter! They're speeding up, somehow, as if this idea is either getting more popular with time, or some folks just waited to submit them? I don't know, this is beyond me, as to how exactly this came about! As amusing as it is, I may have to BURN this letter later, though. Bloody bards ...
Another letter is pressed between pages:
I heard you are looking for assistance. In matters concerning the arcane, I of course work for the Ceurleans. However, for other matters, I'd like you to know that I'm available to help. I consider you a good friend, especially after you took me into the Mermaid Inn room to show me your lance and let me work my magic on it. I know, after that night, that you treat your matters with long, hard thought, mindful of the stiff competition and swelling gravity.
Things got a bit heated, of course, when we both felt the tingle of your lance, capable as it is to throb hearts and race minds. The mere sight of it weakened my knees. I digress, but only because my adoration of your lance and our time together with it informs my motivation to let you know that I, Nate Wingates, am here for you, Cecil Northman.
Should you ever require any such assistance, or any assistance at all, please remember your good friend Nate and our fun times together in that inn room.
Your good friend,
I've of half a mind to find the EXACT person who started this all ... and make it so this stops, if it gets any worse than ... than ... THIS NONSENSE! By the Lion's whiskers, I don't want -this- kind of talk floating about. It's bad enough that some of those women look at me as if they think Ashena a myth. Let Wingates keep up his theatrics, and they'll start a brand new rumor about why I don't chase the skirts of any of these women with their eyes and comments and casual touches and fluttering eyelashes.
I wonder, though ... with that list of "no-go" people I started on, perhaps I SHOULD consider these letters, and go pay one of the messenger-men with their pigeons, for an "Adventurer Short-List." I KNOW Borodin heard about this, but her usual frosty silence has prevailed, naturally. Therefore, I'm sure the same rule applies as before. Do what I need or want to get the job done, with respect of the law all the while. Got it. I'll have to think on how I want to do this...
Since when am I so popular?
This gets more like people are taking it seriously, and I must admit, Caling does pen a fine application. If only I was actually ... what the hell would the word be? Hiring? Recruiting? Probably that ...
Another letter is pressed between pages.
The word is that you're interested in reliable sidekicks and associates. Since Shannon is apparently too busy to consider me as his Inquisitor right now, I'd tender myself.
I am reasonably skillful at many things, including mechanition, trapwork, magical investigation and library research. I have travelled widely in the realms, accruing knowledge and occasionally interesting items.
I have a sharp mind and a sharp tongue if needed. I can be loud, or quiet, and it is rare that I have need of corpse recovery, these days. Whilst I excel at fighting the living, when adequately distracted, I also posssess some limited healing and smiting skills as would be expected of a paladin.
Most of all, you are competent and stable without being self-important. That is a rare trait, and even if the official sidekick position falls to another - You are worthy of inspiration and accompaniment.
Safe travels, and you know where to find me, if you want to,
c/o Bardic College, Peltarch
Now how many more of these are going to come out of the woodwork? I'm not sure if I'm pleased or paranoid that my name is in so many mouths lately, while I'm busy burying myself in old caselaw and trying to pursue my own research on the planes, and the travel between them.
Between the S.T.E.E. and the Lance, I keep getting myself into these planar messes, and then when Filifred's about, the planar messes come to US. I either need to catch up, or give up, and the latter's not an option. So, back to the books. I'll have to find Caling and explain to her later, and then track down Borodin to make sure she knows that if this gets any -more- traction, I'll be buried in letters, and would like an answer from above me for some of these questions. Even IF Borodin did approve an ... assistant of some kind, I'm not sure if Caling, despite her qualifications, would do. What she told me still flickers across my memory every time I look at her. I wonder if she's made any progress ... for good OR ill.
This page, did NOT make it into Cecil's journal, but his writings about it did, and he copied it over to keep the record. Even then, there are a few stray specks of glitter on the new page, despite his best efforts to eradicate the menace...
DAMN the stuff! I've stuffed this letter into it's own bag, which I will burn at a later time, but for my records, and I guess SOME degree of amusement, I've copied down the LATEST letter I've received. Next thing you know I'll be getting fan mail, like some kind of storied bard!
Application of side kick
Name: Carol Nightingale!
Why me?: I'm great at keeping back! I'm really good at healing, both magical and mundane! I can also enhance weapons and cast protections. Oooo and I can turn people invisible!
Why did I apply?: I thought it'd be fun!
How often have I died?: Who's counting! Not me!
There are little drawings in the margins of the page and the page is covered in glitter of course. Because of course there were. I can only hope that the fire looks sparkly too when I put this stuff where it belongs. Diadne and I were discussing these exact letters when I last pulled it out, and she burned the small pile of glitter at my feet, thankfully.
As much as I love having bards around in a fight, since nothing short of letting loose my rage gets the blood pumping as well as a good bard song ... she dies entirely too much to trust as a proper sidekick, and besides, I think I'd spend just as much time trying to keep her reigned in as I would making use of her sidekick skills. Gonna have to say "no" to this one, shame as it is to say so.
As I wrote above, I can't help but be curious, and slightly concerned with this thought ... What next?"
I got another letter today!
This one was ... not from Ashena.
Aparently, there is some talk of me when I am not present, which I suppose is a bit of a compliment, since this letter didn't contain scorpions or anything else unpleasant, nor unpleasant words within. Still ... what the hell? To say I'm confused would be a bit of an understatement, but perhaps I WILL talk to the Magistrate. Heavens know Shannon isn't about to pick an Inquisitor any time soon. What if there becomes more than one inquisitor's worth of work? We may not HAVE two inquisitors, and although I've no lack of skill or reputation to attract and recruit adventurers ... some of them are as smart as I am magical.
Which is NOT AT ALL
I'll just put the letter between these pages for now ... then go see if I can find some people to talk to to figure out how this even came UP. At least the person who sent it WOULD make a good sidek-err ... assistant? Squire? Whatever. Time to go bend some ears.
I am Diadne of Kossuth, Keeper of the Sacred Flame. We have traveled together on several occasions, and I have offered service and support to your travels and quests. I hope you’ve come to know me as a reliable person of good character.
I had recently inquired of a position with the Cerulean Knights through Nathan Wingates. I was looking for a way to serve the city in some capacity, and I thought the Ceruleans would be the best fit. However, membership of the Cerulean Knights requires the wearing of a uniform. Because my faith is a symbol of who I am and represent, I will not wear one. I will not make an exception in this regard.
This morning, I was standing in the commons and I overheard a conversation. Someone lightheartedly mentioned that “Cecil should get a sidekick”. We all laughed, and amusing candidates were mentioned and snide comments bantered about, but when I went back to my room I thought to myself, “Why not?”
So, Cecil of the Black Lion, with Lady Borodin’s permission I offer myself as an assistant to the inquisitor. Sidekick if it amuses you. I offer a magical weapon to complement your edged. Should quarry become elusive I can set him ablaze. Should your quarry magically protect himself I can strip his defenses. And should your quarry turn invisible and run, I can grant you haste, and the ability to see heat in objects that pierces the veil of invisibility.
I also offer to relieve you of the drudgery of routine paperwork. Depending on your nature that may very well be the most valuable service I offer.
A letter arrived for me today, bearing the telltale seal of House Teroldys. The vellum is cream-coloured and expensive, and the neat and tidy hand instantly recognizable as Ashena's. I quickly broke the seal, and read. I've put it between these pages to keep.
"My dearly beloved! It has been too long since my last letter, and I wouldst not have your brow furrowed o'er fears of my well-being. Rest assured, I ~am~ well, if weary and frustrated at the troubles in the Vast seeming ne'er quite vanquished. The bandits I told you of were but the tip of the iceberg, t'wouldst seeem - they are more organized than suspected, and I fear have aims greater than mere robbery. While I leave the game of thrones to Aymon to play, the politics of my home is something I cannot ignore as a factor here. Whoever is backing these miscreants - and someone assuredly is - I cannot leave our people unprotected here. No more can you leave our people unprotected there, for truly both the Vast and Narfell, I consider our home."
"It warms my heart to know you are doing the things I cannot, for Narfell's innocent souls. Ne'er is such work truly done, but sometimes, one must stop and reflect on the good things that have been achieved. Look not always to the next threat, and the next, 'til trouble is all that you see, my Lion! Look at what you have accomplished and allow yourself a moment of pride - the same pride I take in all the things that you do. Ever yours, ~Ashena"
I've read it perhaps a dozen times. Maybe more. I've kept it in a sealed pouch, safe from water, weather, and blood, whether mine or another's, so that I can continue to read it, and once more feel how I do now, especially when I need it most. I will continue m work, and whether I win or lose, press on or fall back, I WILL know these words, at least, through it all.
I rather suspect Narfell's letter delivery to be about as reliable as everything else, so I wonder how many of our letters back and forth never made it to one another? Thankfully, it matters not. We know where each other are, we still clearly stand where we did the last time we were close enough to touch one another, and as ever, she says the things that banish the darkness and fear from my heart without even trying. Ashena, you do not know, nor might you ever, how much I needed this, just now. Thank you. Always. Now, it's time to gather some worthy folks, and quit my whimpering. There's glory, honor, and strength to be had out there, and damnit, I intend to GET IT.
I will always keep your name on my lips, Ashena. Right beside the Lion's.
The blood fountained to the side, as the shoulder was severed completely, with not a string of solid tissue holding the former limb to it's previous possessor. It was now a piece of meat, falling to the floor as if dropped by a careless child. A crimson spray arced toward the ceiling of the cavern like a redheaded bard tossing her hair mid-dance, and I continued my own dance. The limb was still cartwheeling through the air like a thrown axe when my formerly upward swinging sword came down on the other side of me, which WAS behind me but a moment ago, until that swing carried through the prior creature's arm, and was now crashing down upon the head of a smaller creature, who was still screaming in dismay that his sword had been turned aside on my seemingly unprotected back. His halves fell quietly to the sides of where he had been standing with a stomach-unsettling wet splat, not unlike tossing soggy clothing to the floor with some force.
This, and a hundred other moments just like it.
Sensations sometimes joined the images. Blood hitting my face. Weapons bouncing off of my armor, or striking home to hit flesh, but distantly felt ... as if I was not truly there, or simply too involved in the carnage to care.
A circle formed, corpses piling up to the point where new foes had to clamber over the ring around me, hip high on ME which was head-high on a smaller goblin already. Yes, climb the mountain, to face the other mountain, little savage. Thoughts like that skipped across my mind, stones on a pond, leaving smallish ripples of awareness that they were there, before they sank beneath the surface, and I returned my attention to the task at hand.
The circle grew. The wall climbed ever upward. Redness surrounded me, broken only by flashes of white bone, or purple organs, sometimes the color of armor or metal peeked though, but even then ... covered in red.
Light grew dim as the circle grew above my head. Somehow, the foes that fell or leaped or were pushed into the hole were ground into the walls with my constantly moving feet as I swung, seeming to magically grow the wall. I was in a well. It's grisly brickwork was corpses, and I was the welldigger, but without a ladder to see me safely out.
The flow ... did not stop. I'm sure I was injured, but I couldn't feel it, wouldn't feel it, but I DID feel the air grow thick, and coppery, before it grew stale, as if I was deep into a cave that hadn't seen a fresh breeze in a generation.
Eventually ... the foes quit coming. They had a fall before them to reach me, I realized. I knew where to strike by the sound of the scream coming nearer. How much time had passed since the battle had shifted in such a fashion? How thick was the "wall" now? Could I climb corpses? The questions started to show up, and the walls seemed closer all of a sudden. More solid. More real. Were they not real before?
The dull tickle of panic at the back of my mind made it's presence known, just barely, and it was enough to break me fully out of my bloodlust fueled rage, and really SEE, what was around me. It was still, of course, corpses ... but these ones had faces, now. Sure, this one was a goblin, this one a bugbear, that one a Kobold, the other a medusa, snakes hanging limply, staring blankly back at me with reptilian indifference.
Those faces didn't scare me. The others did. Lady Varya was one, the daughter of Anna, who I had just dueled. Half the face was missing, but recognizable all the same. That flash of bard-red hair? It belonged to Isolde. Was it her I briefly remembered? A dark patch was Vick, his accusing stare wider open than some of the rest, and he was pressed between lizardmen, irony doing nothing to dull the crimson stain that took him from ear to opposite shoulder. Roslyn was here, and also there, the two halves of her recognizable outfit a few feet from each other in the macabre brickwork of the well, and situated just below lady Kathea, whose face was frozen in expression that was somehow ... unsurprised. Disappointed, and unsurprised. I had JUST, to my growing horror, recognized a face near armor of blue and gold, please not Ashena ... anyone but Ashena...
The other recognizable faces blurred, as I scrubbed at my eyes to make the illusion fade, but it did not. It only got clearer. To get free ... I would have to cut through that wall. COULD I? Did I do that to the people I called friends? Why? Where was I, anyway? I knew none of that, I only knew, that I had to ... had to ... Gods, I didn't even know what that burning NEED that I felt WAS. Only that I was alone, and HAD to reach that goal, no matter the cost, but I couldn't figure it out, it was always on the tip of my paper dry tongue, trapped between torn lips, trapped between clenching teeth mere moments before ... or was it days?
I felt it, then. That feeling like my teeth were vibrating, and made of granite. Wild Magic. Then all was dark, and I...
I woke, possibly screaming, sword in hand, and buried in the tree next to me. Thank the Lion I wasn't sleeping at the inn this time ... I haven't had a nightmare like this in a long time. I ... I have to find a way to keep busy. Too busy to dream, once sleep finds me. I don't want to see that again. I can't help but wonder WHY ... but part of doesn't even want to know.
Not even a little bit.
Getting my thoughts together has been a pain in the tail, lately. The Lion knows my struggle, currently, and I do too, to a degree. I haven't felt this very much since ... well, since the days of the Bugbear Sack of Norwick. That was one of the last times I fell, and I can barely remember it, save for this pervasive feeling of being "Less".
So much has happened since then, that I can barely even remember feeling "less" in ANY way. I've grown, gotten better gear, got a better job, and started living someplace that more stuff actually HAPPENS. It's been ... kind of fulfilling, actually. I wonder if Ashena would be proud, impressed even, with who I've become since she went home. I hope she is well, and successful, and that her family is proud of her efforts, there.
I felt her absence most keenly, on a trip that I've just now felt like I could finally write about. I don't know if her being there would have helped, or not ... but I miss those days, and I miss her strength at my side. Yes, I'm finally going to talk about that damnable trip where I fell.
It started like so many other adventures. People wanting to go do something, do some good. The talk of demons came up, I explained to Raryldor that he was wrong, and that Jiyyd still had PLENTY of demons, but that you just had to go FIND them, holed up below the town's ruins, and off we went to go see if I was right, despite the fact that I knew very well that I was.
We brought many people, and as always, I warned people over and over, and many different junctions in the trip, that even though we had "Won" in Jiyyd, THINGS lingered still. The threat is still real, and they needed to be wary. Most took me seriously. Others assured me they'd be fine, or said nothing, despite having NO idea what they were walking in to. My words had no effect on those, big surprise, so away we went.
Things went crazy almost immediately. Larger demons such a Vrocks assaulted us from the get go, summoning their succubi, and were joined by a Hezrou, if I'm not mistaken. It. Was. Chaos. It was chaos that was ... remarkably short lived, however. Magics flew, swords swung, and I roared the name of the Lion and charged forth, to find squishy spots in demonflesh to exploit, and destroy them as they tried to get past me to more vulnerable people. We slew dozens of various demons, there, on the surface, and feeling confident in our performance ... we moved to the well.
As we descended, spells were renewed, given out, and spoken about, so that people knew at what strength we were moving forward, but we faced an obstacle that most were unfamiliar with. A magic door, that someone used ray of frost on, once, near me, and I remembered it as the key. Past it, however, were powerful undead, brought about by an image of a demon, who had manifested twice by then (Which I forgot to mention), warning us off, saying that the territory there was his.
The issue with this door, you see ... is that once the spell is cast, and it opens ... it closes shortly after. You have to get in, get through, and get everyone else through too. We could hear undead and demons behind it though ... so it had to be ME going through first, to try to clear a path, and attract attention away from it ... so I did. And it ... KIND OF worked.
I charged in, was swarmed, some others fought IN the doorway behind me, and we shoved back into the entryway when the door closed itself. I was along, and surrounded ... and WINNING. I learned better, how to defend myself these past few years, and if I concentrated on WAITING (Damn the waiting to the hells, but it's necessary) for the perfect opening, I could focus on not getting hit until they farked up and left themselves open. I very much improved my own expertise in my fighting style since I first learned to be less of a smasher, and more of a proper swordsman, and it saved my bacon while I awaited my reinforcements.
They came, of course, eventually, and spells flew in to sizzle demonhides, Raryldor charged in, magicked to the teeth and shouting challenge to the demons, and mockery to their efforts, which I must admit, was kind of well founded. With flashes of summoning magic, I assume, more demons appeared in a steady stream, first retrievers, then Hezrou, and of course, plenty of Vrocks throughout the whole thing. And Each. One. Perished. I found my rhythm, I was spelled up enough to resist the mind-tricks of the succubi, and we were progressing steadily through the cave.
The demon leader, his tone condescending, appeared again. It mocked Raryldor back, insulting his God and insulting his devotion to the God, whose name was so seldom invoked, and warned us off again. It was met with more insults and provocation from Raryldor, whose spells and sword were still going strong, but I think it was starting to run low, as he urged on on, away from the projection of the demon, and some of us went. Others ... stayed to talk with the projection. I went ahead, to hold the front, and cut down the numbers that I could hear coming, before they could get to the back line while they chatted ... and was surrounded by more than ever before.
For a few moments ... it was glorious. Vrocks surrounded me. My ring kept their diseases at bay, my blade kept their claws away, and my own roar of defiance scattered them as their companions fell. Some got by me, but I heard them get engaged, and had a much bigger group to be concerned with anyway. Those succubi were flinging their mind-fogging influences my way, nearly a dozen of them, but my mind protection spells were protecting me, allowing me to keep cutting the Vrocks down like goblins ...
Until they weren't.
The spell faded unexpectedly, and before I could drink a clarity potion, or a protection from negative energy, or ANYTHING ... my mind went fuzzy, and I found myself standing there. I barely had the presence of mind to walk away from danger, back to the group, one painstaking step at a time ... and then the next spell hit. I was drained, and that ... weakened me for the next. And the one after. And the one after that. Dammit all, but the Vrocks swarmed past me to the group, seeing me sag under the weight of my own armor, as if I was no longer a concern. Frankly, I wasn't.
Each drain hit me harder than the last, and finally, everything dimmed, my hearing went dull and fuzzy, I heard a ringing, and could only see the stone floor and clawed feet walking over me, on me, and past.
The unthinkable had happened. DOZENS of demons slain. Dozens of greater ones, Vrocks and Hezrous and Retrievers and more ... and I fell to succubi. Hundreds of smaller demons were scattered like leaves before a great wind, fallen to the strength of the Lion ... and I was lying on the ground like a puppet with it's strings cut, listening to Raryldor taunt's to the demon, turn to cries of "RUN! RETREAT!" at my fall.
I failed, and even as I slid into darkness, I tried to call out to the Lion ... and my cries were lost in the dark, Unheard.
I remember the white sand and pillars. I remember awaiting mocking, and offers, in the "between place", but I don't remember any coming for me. Perhaps they knew better.
It's been months, since, but I have not been able to recover, retrain, regain my strength. I seek out challenges to push myself to recovery, but there's two issues. One, not many challenges exist where not only can I learn, but others can survive at the same time, and two ... the list of people I can trust to hold themselves, and others, together, grows slim.
I even gave Filifred another chance. The desert and dragon teleport incident DID end up going better than expected, and we DID get home ... but we took some folks to the Worg Woods, and past, only to find some outsider summons, and their summoner, a hag. She offered to teach Filifred how to summon more things, we couldn't talk him out of it, it OF COURSE went tits up, and someone died. A black hearted new guy, who The High Priest wouldn't raise, and once again he's on "The List."
As successful as Raryldor was at first, I think that demon threw as much as he did at us, as quickly as he did, due to Raryldor's taunts. His boasts about his power. I'd rather be underestimated, and live, after all ... and as much as "most" of us survived the hag trip, Filifred is almost as bad as Rust-boy, in making fool decisions. All three, onto the list you go!
I need to get my strength back, I need to hand-pick an adventuring crew, and start enforcing the "if I don't know you, you don't come somewhere deadly" rule, and I need to start putting the fear into fools who would endanger others carelessly. I've had enough.
Another day, another delve into someplace I probably should not be. It started innocently enough. Kethro, seeming hell bent on going adventuring, was quick to jump upon my arrival into the commons as a sure sign that I would join everyone on an adventure ... somewhere. The plan didn't seem concrete, so my enthusiasm was perhaps a bit lacking, so I kept everyone waiting a minute while I organized my supplies and listened in to see exactly what I might be getting myself into THIS time.
After a while, it seemed like he truly just wanted to be out, looking for threats, and exploring, widening his knowledge of the area, so ... seeing nothing wrong with that, I signed up, and off we went. I'll have to remember her name, but a Sharran priestess was with us, and was polite enough to ask if anybody was unwilling to have the blessings of her Dark Goddess, which was ... remarkably polite for a follower of the likes of Shar. Credit where credit is due, I suppose.
A lady I've not met before, Syltria, was there too, and it's her I have to thank for most of the blessings I had in the fights to come. I'll keep an eye out for her in future trips, as she has a good head on her, and seems to be a thoughtful, careful type. Can't have too many of those. Also of note was Bronn, who joined me at the front to great effect. Kethro was up front a lot too, in a half-scout, half-stab-a-lot sort of role, but he ended up getting beat up a bit much several times. I think he could benefit on letting others get the enemy's attention thoroughly before jumping in, in the future.
Speaking of Kethro, he was leading, which I also said out loud several times, but he asked my opinion a few times, and then basically deferred to me leading for most of the trip, partially because I knew the areas we were in (At first), and partially because ... I don't know why. Because it always happens? I hope that nobody thinks I 'take over' uninvited. It literally just seems to -happen-. Anyway, I'm rambling. Onto the details I want to remember!
We went to the Windy Plains, where the first unusual thing we encountered was ... me? But not me. Someone asked me if I had a doppelganger, to which I said not to my knowledge, and they pointed up. Sure enough, in armor and coloring JUST like mine, was a large feminine figure atop a ridge, who mimicked my words and then responded to us, before flying away without further incident. Like, leaped into the air and poof, gone.
We kept an eye out for her later, but saw no other sign, so onward we went, into the ruined tower on the hill that led to the Undercaves beneath Jiyyd. I warned everyone that demon stragglers would still be there, and sure enough, plenty of them came swooping in. They were quickly and easily dispatched, Kethro and Bronn usually taking one of two out before I even got to engage, which was ... refreshing. Things went on like that, nice and normal, even past that silly magic door, til we found something new.
A Bebilith. Bronn and I saw it, he passed me a potion wordlessly, which I drank gratefully, and we charged in and started chopping! It took special interest in me, but that's how I like it. I didn't even put my guard up especially well, instead I focused on making the most of that potion that Bronn gave me, starting the fight with a ROAR worthy of the Lion, and I felt his power come as it always does, filling me with strength, and courage, and power!
The claws raked across my armor, glanced off my helm, clanged against my sword, and battered at me as if they could start picking me apart, so many legs flickering in and out of sight that it was hard to keep track of ... so I didn't. I focused on that mandibled face, the crushing jaws, hairy and horrifying, and the too many sets of eyes, all fixed on me. Yeah, this is one snack that isn't going to go down easy, buddy. The smell of singed demon hairs from it's fuzzy, spikey, carapace wafted about the cavern, joined by the acrid stench of its blood as the fight swiftly went south for it, and with a screech, its legs buckled, Bronn and I giving it a final wet and crunchy smack as it stood no more, leaking it's nastiness across the cave floor.
There was once more no sign of magic detected by Syltria or others, so I'm chalking up as just another straggler, which to me, is great news. Their numbers are finite, and if I have to fight them every day, I will, if it means that they'll soon not be able to put up a fight with their lessened numbers, and be gone from this land all the sooner.
We pressed on, then, up the well and back to the surface, moving to what I was told was an abandoned Dwarf temple, and headed in. It was a depressing scene, the temple ruined, old skeletons of dwarves out front, and delving deep showed why. Corrupted dwarves, in the far back reaches, maddened and senseless were inside, much to the disappointment of Bronn. We captured one, in hopes of learning more about this duergar thing, but as they were NOT duergar, I turned it loose as we left. It was unresponsive before I knocked it out, anyway. They may be totally mad ...
The trip was successful, and we had no casualties ... hardly any injuries for that matter. Starla didn't even use all of her fireballs, as she kept a running tally for us the whole time, heh. She sure loves them. Perhaps next time I'll lead a trip, on purpose ... I just can't shake the memory of the last one I led, to the Keep of the Fallen, that almost went SO horribly...
We'll see. By the Lion, I won't quit just because of that, but I DO need to keep people safe, and myself alive. I still expect the Creel to arrive any day now, and knowing our luck, it'll be at the same time as the Duergar show up in force.
Time will tell.