By Brian Flood
Chapter 50 - Investigations
Along the Dusk Road
Between Asbravn and Hluthvar, The Sunset Vale
Late Afternoon, 4th Day of Marpenoth; Year of the Tankard (1370 DR)
The main body of the small caravan, with its escort of four riders, moves away to the north to establish a campsite. As Lucas and Darius earlier suggested, the small band makes its way northward for about one half a mile. Then, they move off the western side of the road to make camp. As their mounted escorts move off in all four primary compass directions to establish a perimeter, the members of the Company of the Iron Wolf see to the camp preparations.
Lucas finds himself a place close to Dolak's cart to camp for the evening. Wincing as he strips off his torn and bloody robe, Lucas curses quietly to himself about the stain and rip as he sets to cleaning and binding his wound properly.
After ensuring the wound is cared for properly, Lucas removes his spare robe from his pack and dons it gingerly to avoid any further injury. Turning his attention now to his soiled robe, Lucas unstops his water flask and washes the garment as clean as possible before making a passing gesture and whispering a mystical word over the robe. The robe shimmers for a few seconds before the dirt and damage are magically cured. Nodding approval, Lucas hangs his robe off the end of Dolak's cart so that it will dry.
The conjurer then walks over and checks on Tomar's wounds, ensuring that they are properly cleaned and treated before turning his attention to the evil lady-conjurer's belongings. He removes all the items found from the wagon and walks over to his campsite by Dolak's cart. Motioning for Kjira to join him, Lucas sits before carefully opening all of the pouches and backpack.
Meanwhile, working with the soldiers, Darius helps direct the camp setup. With the amount of flammable grass here, the druid makes sure that there is a very large clearing - at least twenty feet across - for the campfire. Directing a soldier or two to gather as much wood as possible, Darius works to setup shelters that face the campfire, ensuring that there are paths out in case of an attack.
The druid also helps Ori establish a picket line for the horses and when all is finished, helps in moving Tomar to the back of his wagon. While directing the setup, Darius keeps looking down the road in the direction that Elmont and Corax are still lingering. Something seems to be on the druid's mind.
After Kjira arrives, Lucas removes all the items from their containers and studies them, passing them to Kjira to study as well. "In the morning I shall discern if any and what items may be magical. Unfortunately, I am in need of rest before I can magically discern any of these items now."
Finished his inventory of the items with Kjira, Lucas calls for the others to gather around. "We may need to rest here more than just a night seeing that some of us are injured so severely after the ambush. What do the rest of you think?"
Cy replies with, "Aye, that seems a reasonable supposition. I just hope we aren't disturbed during our rest." He then goes and checks how badly he was hurt during his trampling by Charger.
Despite his moderate wounds, the halfling elects to continue Simon's instruction with the short sword. He calls the boy over and begins to demonstrate a few basic maneuvers with the weapon.
Darius replies, "I suggest that we not worry about fresh game tonight, but dig into our rations for the evening's meal. And I agree that we need to spend at least two nights here before continuing on as Master Tomar won't be able to be healed further until at least tomorrow during the evening, so let's us make the shelters as secure as possible."
Lucas nods at Darius. "That will also allow the rest of us to recover some as well. Kjira and I shall know what is magical by morning, though we may have to wait 'til we get to town to discern what magical properties some of these items possess." He then turns to start studying the small leather bound book that the lady witch had in her pack.
As the conjurer open the front cover and begins to read the first page, an amber radiance - closely resembling the striking attack of a snake - lashes out from the book and hits him. Instantly, Lucas is engulfed in a shimmering amber field of force, seemingly frozen in position.
Cyzicus cries out, "She curses us from the grave! What have we done to anger the gods so?"
"Kruk!" Dolak bellows on seeing the magic freeze Lucas. "Is 'e goin' t' be alright?" he asks to everyone and no one.
After recovering from a brief startle as the misty figure leapt out from the book and struck her fellow mage, Kjira moves closer to inspect Lucas. He seems frozen, held inanimate by some form of magic.
Dolak looks to Kjira and Alani, "Kin ya work magic t' bring him back?"
Kjira turns to the concerned smith. "I've heard stories of magics such as this placed on spellbooks or other items of import. 'Tis why you should always be cautious "
"But apparently the schools of Silverymoon aren't producing mages of the same...caliber, anymore," she chuckles softly in spite of the situation, remembering Lucas' discussion with Elmont. "I'm afraid there's not much I can do for him.
Kjira turns to look at Alani. "How about you? Or perhaps Ori may be of some help? Do either of you know how to cast dispel magic? Hopefully that would do the trick "
She thinks for a moment longer and then looks about for Lucas' own spellbook, hoping it wasn't on his person. "If not, maybe he'll have it inscribed in his own spellbook though I'm loath to open it after this little incident."
Ori shakes his head. "Nay, I have no magical talent. Just me pick an' me crossbow, lady. Although neither of them has helped us much, yet," the gnome grumbles as he looks on helplessly.
Kjira rummages in Lucas' backpack for a few seconds and then finds what she is looking for. She removes a large tome from the ruck.
"Well," Kjira says as she finds the formally schooled mage's spellbook, "we have a bit of a choice to make here. I can open this up and hope that Lucas hasn't protected it in the same manner as the foul creature we slew earlier. Or, one of you can open it up," she grins. "That way we don't risk losing most of the party's spellcasters."
She pauses for a moment, a pensive look on her face. "Then again," she adds, "you would think if Lucas had some form of protection on his own book, he would have been a lot more cautious opening up someone else's." She holds out Lucas' tome of spells, waiting for a volunteer to step forward.
Cy steps forward, takes the book and says, "As a guardian, I must protect others. Let us hope Arvoreen will protect me." Then he opens the book.
The party members hold their breath in anticipation. Then, they slowly relax as there are no apparent adverse effects.
Cy prays to Arvoreen, "Thank you for protecting this lowly servant, o' wise and watchful one."
Kjira breathes a sigh of relief as nothing happens to the party's faithful priest of Arvoreen. The last thing they need today is a god angry and vengeful.
She steps in closer and takes the book from Cy, examining the pages to see if she can make any sense of Lucas' magical tome. She hopes the schools of Silverymoon do not teach their students to cipher their writing or otherwise make it more difficult to rescue one of them after an incident.
The lady mage quickly frowns when she realizes that Lucas, like all mages, uses a special script to scribe his spells into his book. The sigils and words dance across the pages without forming coherent words. Apparently, it will require magical aid to decipher the spellbook.
* * * * *
In the wake of the small caravan's departure, Corax and Elmont make their way northeast through the two to three-foot tall grasses that border the eastern side of the road. As they walk, Elmont takes note of the many paths that have been trampled through the tall vegetation. He also notes several bloodstains, but sees no bodies to indicate where the blood originated.
After moving for about one hundred yards or so, the pair comes upon the body of an attractive human female that lies in a drying pool of blood. The woman has obviously been killed by a number of blows from some sort of cleaving weapon - Elmont figures it to be either an axe or a large sword. She also has been stripped naked, exposing her well-formed body to the elements.
While the giff studies the area around the woman, Corax dismounts his horse. He grunts as he hits the ground and puts his hand to his side, where two bloodstains cause his cloak to stick to him. The man's eyes narrow as he takes in the woman's long scarlet hair and slightly lilted eyes. He reaches down and brushes the hair away from one of her ears. He inhales sharply when he sees that the ears are partially pointed, revealing the woman to be a half-elf.
"It is her," Corax says with a tone of urgency in his voice. "The woman that killed the mariner."
Elmont looks the body over, more with a detached feeling than one of any interest in her human / half-elf attractiveness. "Please tell me how your group encountered this woman?" he asks as he kneels by the woman.
The giff slips off his right gauntlet and presses his hand against her neck to feel for body warmth and any sign of life. He frowns when he finds no pulse within the still warm corpse.
"It was four, maybe five days ago now," Corax replies. "And it was I - not the entire group - that encountered this witch. I first saw her in a tavern in Asbravn. She had dark hair then, but I am sure it was the same woman. She left the place with a drunken sailor - which was odd, I thought, as Asbravn in far from any sea.
"After I finished my own drink," he continues, "I left to go back to the caravan I was guarding. That's when I heard a commotion in a nearby alley. I ran to the noise and saw the mariner fighting against almost half a dozen frogmen. I drew my blades and did what I could to aid him, but there were too many. I slew the last enemy moments after it had mortally wounded the man."
Corax frowns as his mind slips back to the events of only a few days ago. "The guard arrived, of course, and arrested me. They initially thought that I had killed the man. That was because the frogmen disappeared into thin air as we slew them, leaving no bodies or corpses - much the same as the orcs and kobolds that we fought in this field here did. They took me to the temple of Ilmater to care for my wounds and to await judgement. It turns out the man was part of this group of guards that I now travel with. I was eventually cleared of fault and offered my services to this band of adventurers in an attempt to rectify my failure to save their friend."
Then he brings himself back to the present, ending his reflection. "That is the last time I saw this woman - when she left the bar with the sailor. But I am sure it is the same person, even with the different hue of hair. And then she attacked us here, and almost succeeded in adding us to her butcher's bill."
"I am sorry to hear about such injustice," Elmont says as he covers the dead woman's body with the remainder of her clothing. Elmont carefully searches around the body for any items or tracks, something to yield more information about the situation unfolding around them.
The giff discerns several matted paths in the grass that lead from the road to this spot. Corax watches Elmont for a few more minutes and then asks, "What exactly are you looking for?"
"Evidence that the woman here was not alone," Elmont replies. "See those tracks," he points, "someone was here before us and either stripped the lady clean or put her here." Carefully, Elmont drags the dead woman about two feet from the supposed point of impact, he looks at the place where the body has lain.
Corax politely clears his throat. Then, a bit nervously, he says, "Uh good sir perhaps you misunderstood us when we first informed you of our predicament. We - my companions and I - killed this woman. She ambushed us with magic and attacked us with orcs and kobolds that she produced out of the thin air! This is where Dolak the dwarf finally struck her down. I believe Lucas took all her belongings and put them on the wagon. He wanted to go through them to find out the secret of her magics, or some such thing."
"The reason I wanted to come out and look at her," the man continues, "was to see her face. I only caught a glimpse of her before her orcish allies drove me away," he says, indicating the blood stains from his wounds.
"If you are finished here, I would say that we should catch up with the others. Perhaps Lucas has found a clue as to why it is that she attacked us so viciously or why she seemed to single out our employer for her initial assault."
"Ah, that would explain everything," Elmont responds. "I was under the mistaken assumption that this woman, being a mage of some power, was the bird I saw attacked while I was on patrol. I guess I was incorrect," the giff says, a scowl on his face.
"If I may ask, why was it important to see her face?" he asks Corax. "And is it your wish that we bury her or just leave her to the elements?"
Corax cocks his head at the giff's question. "I wanted to see if it was, indeed, the woman from Asbravn. If she attacked the mariner there, and then attacked us here, that might indicate some connection between the events, would it not? As for her body, I care not. You are one of the clergy - do with her as you will."
The leather-clad man moves back to his horse and sets a foot into the stirrup. Wincing, he boosts himself up onto the saddle. He groans softly and puts his hand to his side. "I am ready to depart when you are," he announces.
"Are you satisfied?" Elmont asks, as he kneels before the semi-clad body and mutters a short prayer to Helm. "May you take this woman to where she belongs," he says in an even voice.
The giff covers the woman with what is left of her torn clothing. Then he rises to stand beside Corax's horse. With a nod he indicates he is ready to move. The two begin to make their way back to the road in order to head northward and find the small caravan's new campsite.
* * * * *
"Kjira, can you make sense of Lucas' book? Is there anything in there that can help?" Darius asks.
"I'm afraid I can't tell just quite yet," the lady mage replies. "I'll need to do a little spellcasting of my own just to read the pages of his book. Hopefully he'll have a dispel magic spell of some sort available," she replies to the druid.
"Is it safe to move him or will whoever touches him be stricken the same way?" the druid then asks.
Kjira looks pensive for a moment as she considers the question. "I think one would probably be safe in touching him," she begins hesitantly. "I don't recall any sort of spell that would transfer that kind of effect to another by touch but I can't promise you for certain."
"Is there something you think you can do for him?" she asks Darius hopefully.
"No, nothing that I could do," the druid replies. "With the shelters built, I just wanted to move him out of the open air and into a shelter, laying him down if possible. But since you are not sure, I would rather leave him as is, rather then take the chance of another being paralyzed also."
Cy then adds his thoughts, saying, "Well, we could either lasso him with a rope or trust the field to protect him from the elements."
"Unless the weather turns severe, we should just leave him there till the spell wears off," declares the druid.
"I've a feeling it won't be wearing off anytime soon," Kjira laments as she remembers she can't even cast the requisite read magic spell at the moment. "I'll have to wait until morning before I can even begin to help him. Perhaps we should cover him with a blanket or something so he doesn't scare away the wildlife," she adds.
At that point, Elmont and Corax appear on the road, coming from the south. The two adventurers, one mounted and the other walking, make their way across the short stretch of tall grass that separates the campsite from the road.
When they reach the campsite, they are shocked to find that something has happened to Lucas. The mage is sitting on the ground, bending over a small leather book that rests in his lap - as if he were reading from it. But something is terribly wrong. A translucent, amber radiance surrounds the red-robed man, shimmering softly in the afternoon sun. Lucas, for his part, appears to be frozen in position inside the amber field.
"What happened?" Elmont asks the group. "Does anyone know what he was reading?"
The giff looks the mage over and tries to see if he is still breathing. He finds that Lucas appears to completely motionless - he does not breathe, blink his eyes, or even sweat.
"It was some Silverymoon treatise on not getting caught in traps," Kjira chuckles still somewhat amused at Lucas' predicament. She waits a moment before continuing, "He was trying to read the spellbook of the sorceress we slew earlier. Obviously she didn't like neophytes reading her work and took the rather sound measure of entrapping it."
"I don't suppose you can cast a dispel magic spell by any chance?" she asks the funny-helmed giff. "Otherwise he spends the night out here. Not like anyone's likely to cart him off, though."
"Speaking of spells," Darius muses, talking to Elmont, "we are pretty banged up here. I have two blessings of Silvanus left this day that could be used for helping our companions. Are any others in your company also healers? We should not use all of Silvanus' or Helm's blessing before bedding down for the night, but perhaps we could heal the most seriously wounded of the Company of the Wolf."
"No, Darius, I am the only one of my troops that have been blessed by any of the gods," Elmont replies. "I have but one healing left before I am drained, whomever needs it, I will do what I can."
Looking over the band of battered adventurers, Elmont goes over to Corax and says, "As the chain of command is important in any group, whomever the leader is, that is who I will aid." At Corax's mute - and somewhat surprised look - Elmont uses the last of Helm's graces upon the man.
The healing aura surrounds the leather-clad rogue and then slowly dissipates. In its wake, Corax breathes a sigh of relief as his wounds are reduced to a mere inconvenience.
Darius, noting that there are now uninjured guards who can watch for the night, goes over to Soft Fang and has his friend lie down. "<Silvanus blessing upon you my friend>" he growls to the wolf before using his priestly powers to grant healing to the injured beast. As a result of the druid's prayers Soft Fang's wounds close slightly but not completely.
"Dolak," the druid next says, "you also look like you can do with some additional healing today. Stand still my friend and receive Silvanus blessing."
When the dwarf holds still for a moment, Darius casts his final spell of the day on Dolak. As with Soft Fang, Dolak's wounds begin to mend under with the blessed aid provided by the druid. Because of the shear number of injuries he has suffered, the dwarf is still severely damaged despite the prayer.
Darius also digs into his herbs and tries to treat some of the minor wounds with his herb knowledge. After several long minutes, Dolak's injuries are covered in a sticky, smelly goo which the druid assures him will aid his natural healing process.
While Darius tends to some of the wounded, Kjira very carefully returns to the sorceress' belongings. Using a bit of cloth to avoid touching anything directly, she opens the large pouch containing the woman's spell components and takes a quick inventory to see if anything of use remains.
The mage's search reveals several interesting but fairly commonplace components. Chalk, ground mica, powdered iron, powdered rhubarb, a few eyelash hairs encased in gum arabic, and the diminutive stomach of some creature are among the many bizarre items contained in the pouch. The only items that are truly considered rare - for a mage - are two small clay models of a ziggurat.
Afterwards she takes a moment to rinse and clean her own wounds before filling them with wound packing and wrapping with her remaining bandages. She offers what's left to the other wounded in the party.
Darius and Soft Fang walk over to their shelter. Then, without so much as a 'good night', they lay down and are asleep. The other companions begin their own preparations for a night's rest.
"Corax," Elmont says, addressing the rogue, "I and two of my men will stand guard for the first watch, and one of your people - preferably a warrior - will stand watch with my other two men for the second watch," the giff suggests.
Corax simply shrugs, "I am not sure why you are seeking my opinion, sir giff, but that sounds fine to me."
"With Lucas incapacitated, he spoke as if he was leader and since you and I have spoken since, it seems as if you have the mantle of leader," Elmont explains to the man. "If there is another, I will make plans with him or her, it matters not to me who, as long as I have the cooperation of the one who leads your group."
Corax looks around the campsite, taking inventory of his companions and their injuries. Then he answers the armored giant. "It would appear that I am best suited for guard watch," he states. "My companions will need their rest. While I stop short of calling myself a warrior, I will do my best to hold off any danger until those with more martial prowess than I are able to join in the fight."
"Good," says Elmont simply. Next, the giff instructs two of the militia to rest while the other two set up a perimeter around the camp and get ready for watch duty.
As the first three guards make themselves ready, the rest of the small caravan settles down to get some well-deserved rest. Soon, the campsite is quiet as the battered adventurers slip off into sleep. The soft light of the fire and the pale amber glow from Lucas' stricken form provide a dim halo within the small area of the camp.
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