By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 82 - Licking Wounds
Near the Reaching Wood 1371 DR, Eleint, 14th day, morning
While Immerine and Teryn take care of the severely wounded ranger, Branith continues on his marsh towards the sleeping beast intent on killing it. Seeing that Skeen has a hard time in crawling from underneath the monster’s bulk, the dwarven cleric swings his warhammer and lands a severe blow to the flank of the sleeping monster, breaking bones and dislodging it slightly from the trapped elf.
The blow wakes the creature, but the drowsiness of the magical induced sleep and the pain of the blow, keep it unfocused and trying to readjust to the situation. Not willing to give the beast another chance, Branith’s hammer descends once more in a savage tow-handed blow, connecting solidly with the skull of the monster, breaking it like an eggshell.
With the help of the dwarf, Skeen manages to push the dead animals’ weight from her and gets back on her feet. Retrieving her bow, she shows Branith the corpse of the slain goblin, Branith’s knowledge confirming her suspicion. The goblin and the wolf-like creature – a worg according to the dwarf – were a team. Brave Areo must have been able to kill the goblin before engaging the worg. Could the goblin, worg and dragon have worked together in an attempt to kill Luna?
After a quick search of the goblin’s corpse yields only a few coppers and nothing else of value, both Skeen and Branith make it back over to the fallen ranger. Luna is still unconscious as Immerine tries to treat the awful burns and boils caused by the dragon’s acid.
As he sits down on his knees beside her Branith asks Immerine. “Is there anything I can do to help?”
“That worg-rider is probably just a forward scout for a larger group of goblins, or worse.” He adds to the rest gathered around Luna. “They are usually far ahead of the main group, and foolish when they ride their beasts. We should have ample time to get out of here before the rest shows up.”
The witch sighs when water douses her acid scored hand and helps rinse away or dilute the remainder on Luna. “You can try and gather Telsom back to us before he gets himself killed by chasing that creature alone. But for Luna, I still have healing energies and will try to give her more.” Immerine closes her eyes and drops her head over the ranger and rocks back and forth murmuring in a soft sing-song like voice. Her hand snakes up to the unicorn symbol again and the other touches Luna lightly on the forehead.
“Damn lizard was probably in league with the vermin. Any ideas where to go? The cave comes to mind but I don’t know what we might find there.”
“Did you not hear me?! It will come back! Get out of the clearing and take cover! Bows out and ready all! Tarim yells as he runs across the clearing to Immerine and Luna.
“Help me get her to cover and then you can see to her ills.” He speaks quickly to Immerine. “Though I recommend you wait till the threat to us all is done away with. Survival first, compassion after.” Tarim chides her as he grabs Luna’s arm and starts to drag the unconscious ranger to the debatable safety of the trees seeking at least partial cover for the prone form, himself as well as the woman he had come to think of as his student and teacher.
Inside the cool calculating mind of the young mage, he laughs at his own words. “If that were true then why are you dragging an unconscious woman out of a clearing when you could be raked at any moment by a dragon’s talons you fool. Kill the dragon first then worry about the rest…” Tarim shakes the thoughts away and continues the task of dragging the wounded elf out of harms way.
“Kill the dragon” Tarim chuckles quietly as he realizes that he was assuming he even could. His spell had hurt it but how badly? He knew they were magic resistant though he had managed to penetrate that defense. Most likely it was like unto a thorn in its side than a true wound. How they were going to kill this thing was utterly beyond him. He had another missile spell readied but after that… things did not look too promising. He would have to go with some less effective techniques.
All this runs thru the young Uthgardt’s mind as he pulls furiously at the woman who looks so much like Aliania, what had become of her? He shook his head again at the useless thoughts. Useless. Survival was all that mattered now.
Immerine’s eyes snap open at the feel of Luna being pulled off her lap. Immerine climbs to her feet as Tarim drags Luna. “You zealous fool!” she snaps at the young man. “Never interfere with my ministrations.” Anger blazes in the witch. “Take her then! And damned be you both!” The witch grabs her staff in both hands and heads off in the direction Telsom left.
“Ay, stop it ya fool. Dragging her around on da ground won’t solve anything” he says with a low growl in his voice. He rises up out of his squatted position and puts his hand on the handle of his hammer and says “Now put Luna down so ‘we’ can carry her to safety or I’ll put you down and carry you both. I’ll can take over the treatment once we get her under da trees. He turns to Immerine and says to her departing form, “Make it quick we need you two here not chasing around in the underbrush after that scaly thing.
“Ehm, Branith.” Skeen asks, her expression pensive as she peers deeper into the forest, opposite of where Immerine is trying to locate Telsom. “That noise that I’m hearing… could that be the goblin reinforcements you were referring to?”
As Branith stops in his tracks to listen, inadvertently causing Tarim to stop as well, he also picks up some noises… a sort of whooping and growling of some feral and exited bunch of creatures… It appears to be coming from the direction the sun rose this morning.
Branith’s face turns serious as he hears the well known sound of more worgs in the distance. “By Moradin as if the green pesky acid spurting over grown butterfly wasn’t enough. We have to get out of here now.” He turns toward Immerine and calls out “Immerine can you see him?!”
Immerine comes running back, “No. Not a trace of him. But there are some ugly, foul smelling beasts coming this way fast. The only recourse we have is head to the cave or to climb a tree.”
Teryn snaps at Tarim as he starts pulling Luna “STOP!” A modicum of control returns to his voice as he continues “She is not so heavy that I can’t pick her up and carry her, I was just waiting for Immerine to finish her emergency measures.” He then gently picks Luna up and indicates a readiness to head in whichever direction the group decides is best.
Branith looks around and says, “Ay it does look that way, and we better move fast or prepare to make a stand. I suggest we head for da trees, or higher ground where we can perhaps take down some pursuers without having to take on da whole bunch of them at da same time.” Branith offers, “Da caves are more likely home to da wyrm or da goblins then a safe place for us.”
To say that Teryn is unhappy with the situation would be to understate the sound of concern in his voice “Immerine, did you notice if they had bows? The trees are going to be useless if they have range weapons. Forget that, all they need to do is pick up rocks. Won’t those beasts just sniff us out? Damn! Neither decision is very good. Decide quick, I’m headed for the cave until there is a consensus. I’ll certainly try the trees if you think we can get Luna up high enough quickly enough.” He turns, Luna cradled in his arms as he rapidly heads in the direction of the cave “Decide!” He barks.
“I never said I saw them. I can smell them and I can hear them.” When Teryn raises his voice Immerine’s lips curls up in a sneer. “I have had it with you Outlanders and your tempers. You are worse than the berserkers in my homeland. The dragon scared off the horses, even my beloved Qwenta is gone and I will not call him back to his death. Skeen? Where do you want to face what is to come?”
“If we live through this I’ll apologize properly.” Teryn calls back to Immerine, sounding much calmer than before.
Looking out in the direction of their approaching doom, Tarim shakes his head softly before turning to the witch. “Immerine? Skeen? I think we should make for the cave, it’s the only defensible position nearby…I can cover our retreat somewhat.” The mage looks more worried than anything else but he doesn’t move away from the Rashemi witch.
“Aye, it might seem like da best option right now, but what if it’s a dead end, then we will be trapped there for them to as they like with.” Branith says with a shake of his warhammer “And I am not going down for a bloody goblin, better to send the dragon to take me.”
As if on cue, the green dragon appears further of, above the canopy, shooting from the forest and wheeling around to dive back in. The behavior almost looks cat-like and reminds Tarim of the playfulness of his friend’s familiar – Kethron…
Opening her mouth to reply to Immerine, Skeen closes it as she quickly brings her bow about, “Ware, creatures coming!” A little downhill from where the group currently is, shapes are moving through the trees. The movements reminiscent of a hunting pack… Though a bit too far away still to clearly identify, the creatures seem too large to be goblins…
“I don’t know…” Skeen offers, “…but if we make sudden haste to get to the cave, they would spot us easily…”
Immerine starts muttering curses in Rashemi under her breath. “Then I say Teryn should take Luna to the cave. Skeen you and Tarim follow in second rank. Then Branith and I will follow and keep these things from breathing down your necks. There is going to be a fight no matter what we do and we may as well pick our battles and the site where we have them. Damn that paladin for running out on us – we could really use his help right about now.”
Branith makes a wicked smile towards the witch and says, “Perhaps we should make a decoy so that the rest may make it safely to the cave while some of us are hounded by the goblins and dragon.”
Immerine gets the same type of smile and a cold light shines in her eyes, “Why Branith, my dear, I would take you to be a Rashemi Berserker if you weren’t so stocky. Let’s get ready to play.”
Branith issues a cold laugh, “I take that as a compliment my lady.” He squares his shoulders and puts his warhammer in front of himself. “May Moradin stand by our side and grants us the strength of the stone and the quickness of a waterfall rushing down the mountainside.”
“Oh hell…” the fighter mutters to himself after turning to see the approaching dragon. Not much louder, he adds “No amount of foliage is going to help now, the cave is the only option.” He cradles Luna as he turns and starts of as fast as he can for the cave.
Tarim looks at the oncoming mob and then the dragon with a simple matter-of-fact appraising glance. “Interesting twists of fate” he murmurs “I think Mystra is testing me.” He stands next to Immerine and looks at her “We are covering Teryn?”
“We are covering everybody’s asses lad, his as well as our one” Branith says with a smile towards Tarim. “Come one you smelly lot!!” he yells at the onrushing horde. “Everybody get their bearings as soon as they are in reasonable range I am gonna drop an area of fog that will surround us , hopefully that will only leave us to worry about the dragon for a few min at the most.”
Suddenly a small halfling steps out of the brush behind the group, flipping a small smooth stone in his hand. “That’s a fine plan. The fog and all.” he says to Branith. “Except, the group that’s a coming won’t be bothered by the fog. They’ll smell right through any mist. If I were you, I’d just go ahead drop your weapons. The folks around here don’t like people messing around in their woods!” he declares. The unkempt little halfling continues to toss the rock in his deft little hands.
“Oh, and if it’s the dragon you’re running from, that cave’s a foolish place to hide. That’s her lair! You’re much better off here in the shrubs.” he adds with sly grin before starting to duck back into the shrubs.
Immerine rolls her eyes and mutters aloud but to herself, “Just lovely. I knew the trees were the safer spot.” She swirls around, “Teryn! Come back! Tarim, follow the… well, the… whatever he was.”
“He…” comes a small voice from the shrubs, “…is a Hin.”
Pulling up short and turning halfway around, the warrior looks puzzled. “I hope she’s right Luna” he mutters to the unconscious woman in his arms as he turns around and hurries back to Immerine’s position.
“Okay follow the hin. Now Hin, why should we believe you since you just decided to pop out of the brush?” Immerine asks carefully as she sees Teryn turning around.
A little chuckle comes from the undergrowth. “No reason, lass. No reason. And, to tell you the truth, it makes little difference to me. But, I don’t see that you have many other choices but to trust me.”
Branith shakes his head with a hard smile on his lips “Your shrubs seems fine and all but what stops them from smelling us under there as well as through me soon to be fog.” he asks the halfling.
Once more, a hidden chuckle comes from the tree. “Oh, they’ll still smell you. But, at least they’ll have to go through shrubs and make some noise to get you. That will give you some warning. Will your fog do that?”
Branith ‘Hmm-s’ and steps into the brush. “I guess it doesn’t”
With various forms of grace – or the lack thereof – the group follows the unknown hin into the brush. The less experienced find their clothing and equipment frequently snatched on branches and thorns, resulting in an odd mixture of human and dwarven oaths… The one who is least hindered – much too her own surprise – is Skeen. Once more it seems that her elven heritage manifests itself as she moves rather gracefully after the small hin. With everyone on their knees underneath the bushes, the group halts to survey the progress of their ‘enemies’. Peeking from underneath the undergrowth several pairs of legs can be seen… legs covered in leathers and piecemeal bits of armor. The feet and shape of the legs are remarkably canine, and the size suggests large owners of the feet and legs.
Hushed growls, yips and barks issue for the as the creatures surround the area in which the group is hiding. <Small one, did you catch the humans?> The gnoll patrol leader asks into the bush where he can smell the hidden group. <Do they taste good – hah.>
Branith keeps quiet save for a few curses, especially the dwarven word <jargh!> seems to come out of him often among his mumbling. Hi grips his warhammer tighter as he waits for the enemies to make the first move.
Setting Luna down as carefully and quietly as he can and with the help of Tarim, Teryn manages to get the unconscious ranger into safety. Then he slowly unsheathes his sword. Immerine frowns at the knowledge of the creatures barely an arms length away. A hint of worry creases her brow as they continue hiding.
Skeen nearly makes a few yips and growls herself. She was upset when she had to be rescued from the Worg. She was more upset when Telsom ran off. Looking around for the smart-assed halfling, and then back at the goblins, she shakes her head; this day was getting better and better. Putting her bow away, she draws a dagger instead, in case they should break through.
Closing his eyes Tarim grips his staff tightly where it rests down by his feet. He concentrates very carefully and tries to pick out how many voices there might be and waits for the inevitable discovery. While further waiting, he tries to judge where the greatest concentration of the creatures might be if they should have to make a break for it.
The halfling chortles from amidst the brush at the barking conversation. The little Hin chokes off his laughter and gives a shrill, yipping response, chuckling once more. <Hah! Not much meat in here for the likes of you! All skin and bones!> Clearly amused, Tuttle returns to his feet and toss the smooth stone once more.
“Now, I still suggest you drop your weapons. If you’re righteous folks and honest about your intentions in our woods, you’ve little to worry as you’ll be treated fairly. If not, well, you’ll still die a better death than with the dragon.” the tiny man says, brimming with confidence.
Immerine looks balefully at the hin but says nothing. She places her staff prone on the ground and remains seated where she is.
One of the large creatures barks something back, seemingly in response to the yipping of the hin, <Then bring the skin and bones out, small one.> The patrol leader barks, <At least we can bring something home for the wives. Hah!>
A stream of dwarven curses ending with another <jargh!> and Branith puts his warhammer down, and pulls out his mace and places it on top of his hammer. “By Moradin, if you so much as touch Luna I skin da whole pack of ya”, he says in a low hissing voice.
The halfling snorts out another laugh before barking out a short response, <Ha! Skin and bones it is then!> Then, turning back he translates to those in the brush. “Ah, very good. He says to step on out into the open. We’ll get this all sorted out. And, don’t try anything funny.” Tuttle says. “Else, you’ll end up in some crone’s stewpot. Hah!” he adds with a shrill little chuckle.
“So, hin, would casting a spell enabling me to understand what is being said be ‘funny’? Or should I place my companion’s lives at risk once again based on your traitorous words? You say these are your woods and you want to sort things out. What things are these and why do you even accost us?” Immerine’s face is smooth and emotionless.
Rolling his eyes at the shortling and hanging his head down, Teryn whispers questioningly “He’s with them? Great…!” He then unbuckles his scabbard and lays it down on the ground, then moves from a crouching position and sits on the ground, looking at Luna in front of him as he shakes his head.
“Traitorous?” he asks. “How can I betray you when I’m not even with you? In fact, I saved you from the dragon’s lair. And, by asking you to lay down your arms, I’ve likely saved you from them.” he adds while pointing his thumb at the pack outside.
“Accost YOU? We could ask the same of you. I am Tuttle. The gnoll pack and I seek to protect these woods. To keep them safe and good. Now, let’s step out into the clearing and you can tell us why you’re accosting our peaceful forest.
Skeen sighs and puts away her dagger. She doesn’t lay down her weapons, but nor did she draw them. “I wish I could say I trusted you,” Skeen says. “On the other hand, I don’t seem to have any actual ability to hit anything with any of my weapons, so that shouldn’t scare the gnolls or you.”
“Gnolls eat elves, right?” she adds.
Branith smiles and says “Ay they do, in fact gnolls eat anything that is at hand when they get hungry, and they are hungry most of the time.” He calls out to the gnolls in first goblin, then orc to see if it gives any response. “Probably under educated any how …” he says to no one in particular.
“Well, I’m pretty sure I’m older and tougher than most of you. Much less meat on my bones too,” Skeen says simply.
<What? A bearded stunty talking goblin and orc? Hah! What else did you hide in there small one?> The gnoll barks while using a spear to push some of the bushes aside and peer underneath the leaves. As the bush parts, a hyena-looking muzzle sneers at the hiding group. The large bi-pedal creature is dressed in rough leathers and hides. A smell of wet fur and damp earth accompanies it.
“I wonder if that’s a friendly noise,” Skeen says. She holds her hands out palm up. “Can you understand me?” she asks simply.
“Ah, pointy ears speaks. Not only humans and bearded stunty, but also pointy ears.” The large creatures says in a somewhat broken form of common. As it speaks, an impressive set of teeth is revealed, “Nice catch you make, small one.”
Skeen looks at the hin and smiles, though it is not a very nice smile. She then turns back to the gnolls or goblins or whatever they are. “I think the idea was that we might offer a possible alliance, against others that hurt your trees. We would prefer not to be a catch, actually.” Skeen is speaking up. This is bound to be a disaster.
Tuttle grins a little bit at the gnoll’s compliment. “Yes, it wasn’t difficult. But, I’m not sure they’re edible friend. They seem a just crowd and were fighting against a common foe when I started tracking them. I think we owe them at least a chance to explain themselves and their presence here.”
Branith smiles as he balls up his hands and says “My fists speak as well if this negotiation should fail.” With a more serious tone he continues “Can we at least go out in the open this position isn’t one I prefer to discuss matters of life and death in.” He begins to rise up as much as possible in the shrub and moves out into the clear area.
“You are right hin, we are not together. But, we trusted you to aid us in protecting our injured. And you did not. Now you turn us in to the creatures we feared were with the dragon. Perhaps this is misunderstanding, perhaps not. Either way, you have earned my distrust.” Immerine crawls from the underbrush and ignores all weapons pointed at her as she straightens her clothing as sends a shrill whistle into the forest air.
“Bah!” the halfling responds with a snort while stepping back out into the clearing. “I did not mislead you. The first thing I said was that you would be better off laying down your arms and not to run into the cave. And, here you are. You’re alive and that is better off than being dead in that cave,” he retorts. “Now, provided you can explain your reasons for being in our woods, I will help you and your wounded. I’ll personally lead you to Qheldin’s Mask where the villagers can tend to your wounds. So, what are you doing here?”
“Your perception of the situation is not the one I see. Agree to disagree. And I am NOT going to this place you speak of. I am returning to Berdusk… NOW! And then I am going back to Rashemen where a person’s word is as good as it is uttered. I have had it with this horrid place and its so called civility.” Immerine whistles shrilly again calling for Qwenta.
Tarim winces at Immerine’s abrupt exit from the bushes and subsequent whistle. With a slight groan born more of frustration and misgivings he straightens leaving his staff lying on the ground at his feet. Looking at the gnoll who spoke a moment ago Tarim smiles easily, but without showing teeth lest it be interpreted as a sign of aggression.
“Please forgive our trespass through your woods.” he says with a carefully measured voice. “It is not our intent to cause you or the good creatures of the forest any harm. Our issue lies with those who use the caves here as a base of operations for ill deeds in Berdusk”
“Immerine…please. I, um, we need you.” Tarim pleads, with a soft voice and intense eyes. They speak volumes more than his words do in these close quarters and tense circumstances.
Immerine turns back to Tarim, still ignoring Tuttle and gnolls, “This foray for the Berduskan investigators has been a disaster Tarim. Now we have to convince folk that we mean no harm to the forest and be led to somewhere we don’t want to go. The graces of Khelliara are fading from me this day and I am tired of being misled by everyone I meet in this place. At least in my homeland people speak plainly and you can hold them to their word.”
Immerine shakes her head, “I want to go home. These creatures,” she sweeps her hands in the direction of the gnolls and Tuttle, “worry that we mean harm to this place. I am tired of explaining myself. Do you understand?”
“Then rest” a voice comes from the bushes as Teryn struggles to emerge while carrying the unconscious Luna “and I will explain. This…druid” he nods to the halfling, a question implied to the word “has a right to protect his forest, though I question his choice of… winged companion?” he says as he looks to the sky for the dragon while holding the acid burned and unconscious Luna just a bit closer, stressing the singular and not looking at the gnolls in case they do not understand what he means by winged.
“Fully aware that you and these gnolls may be allied with those we seek, I will take a chance and tell you why we are here. You could have had us killed by now but haven’t so perhaps it is safe to explain ourselves. We come looking for the hideouts of smugglers, murderers, and outlaws from Darkhold, suspected of causing trouble in the region and hiding out in this area. Yonder dragon’s cave” he nods in that direction “is just one of several caves we were to check out. My best guess is there are no brigands there. Perhaps you know more of those we seek?
The halfling nods and then translates Teryn’s words to the gnoll leader, <You could have had them killed by now but haven’t so perhaps it is safe to explain themselves. They come looking for the hideouts of smugglers, murderers, and outlaws from Darkhold, suspected of causing trouble in the region and hiding out in this area. The dragon’s cave is just one of several caves they were to check out. They guess is there are no brigands there. Perhaps you know more of those they seek?>
Without waiting for a response, Tuttle speaks to the group for a little while longer, “I am not a druid of these woods. But, those fine folks are my patrons and I do help patrol and protect these woods, our home, in return. My gnoll friends here patrol the trees for orcs, goblins, and kobolds. They are fierce defenders indeed.”
Tuttle looks back to the gnoll with caution, but continues to speak anyway. “Your task seems noble though. And, as I’ve been watching you for a little while and saw the fight with the wolf-beast. And, the coming of the dragon. Who do you think lured her away off into the trees?” he adds with a grin before returning to the gnoll leader one more time. <They are fearful of their lives. They are not threat to the woods. I saw them take down a foul beast myself. I will stay with them in their quest. Can you accept that?>
Immerine rolls her eyes as yet another person proves they do not understand a thing she is saying. “I give up completely in trying to make what I am saying be understood by any of you.” Immerine falls silent and digs in a pouch for her face mask and puts it on.
“I’m not sure it’s possible to make anyone here understand anyone else,” Skeen mutters softly in agreement. “I’ve never seen gnoll forest protectors, but then again, I stay out of the trees when I can. I wonder if they’re going to try and kill us now.”
The witch scoffs from behind the mask, “If so, I wish they would hurry up.”
Taking his eyes off the hin only long enough to glance at Immerine, Teryn addresses her frustration, “Immerine, I think I understand that we are not as direct and forthright as you are used to and that irritates you. Sometimes we dance with words. Something you perceive as lies and deceit, we see as the way things are and we must hone certain skills of nuance to separate fact from fiction. It is the way of most cultures I know, so I envy you your stories of your beloved Rashemen and the integrity of your people.” His eyes bore into Tuttle’s. “Our ‘host’ has not shown us much integrity yet, though he may yet redeem himself. How can I convince you to stay?”
“Ay agreed, we have Luna to take care of if we are not going to die.” he motions for Teryn to put her down while he checks her over once more. Oblivious of the hin and his gnolls. Teryn nods and squats to gently lay Luna down for Branith to check her over.
Her voice is oddly enhanced from behind the mask, “You cannot. I am not going anywhere because this is where my goddess deems I should be and the spirits need me.” Immerine fingers the carved symbol of the unicorn head at the hollow of her throat. The eyes peering out of the mask are not tired, but they show a deep weariness of spirit.
“Then I am grateful to her and the spirits, whatever is about to happen…” Teryn looks at Immerine and responds before staring down the nearest pointy spear aimed his way… “If it makes you feel any better,” Skeen mutters softly, “My god does things like this to me all the time. Well, he’s not really mine, but I’m fairly certain I am his.”
“Bah! You’ll not be killed. It is his decision,” he says pointing to the gnoll again, “but you are not a threat.” Tuttle pauses again and speaks to the pack leader in a series of yips and barks. Returning his attention to the group, Tuttle continues. “In fact, your goals have great interest to us. I do not know of the brigands you seek, but I offer my services to you as a guide and scout. There are countless caves amidst these trees. I know most of them. I have told the gnolls that I will stay with you. That will sway his decision as well.”
“But, I still suggest that you take care of your friends wounds first. She seems to be in dire need of attention. She will get the best care in Qheldin’s Mask. And, while there, I can study your map and find the brigand’s cave.” Teryn quirks an eyebrow at Immerine, and looks to the others “I don’t see any other option at the moment short of death, do you?”
There is some exited growling and yipping when Immerine dons her Rashemi mask and Mielikki’s symbol is briefly visible. The commotion draws Tuttle’s attention. <Masked bitch is forest lady friend. No harm.> After the gnoll leader’s words, the other members of the pack raise their spears and assume a non-threatening pose, with only those on he outside facing the forest, the cave and the last location of the dragon maintaining their armed vigilance.
<Small one. You go with masked bitch. We hunt goblins.> With a short signal from the lead gnoll, the pack starts moving and with remarkable silence their loping strides take them in no-time away from the small group.
A look of surprise crosses Teryn face as watches the gnolls leave. He then turns to Immerine “Gnolls that respect Mielikki? Have you ever heard of such a thing? I guess more went on during the Time of Troubles than I realized.” Teryn smiles for the first time since before they broke camp this morning. He then moves to retrieve his weapons from the bushes where they were hiding.
Immerine studies the man for a moment and judges her words before speaking, “I would not assume everyone is as their stereotypes would indicate. In the wild and world beyond we are all Bhalla’s children and fall under Khelliara’s protection and guidance.”
Before the Berduskan can answer, a crashing sound and rattling of metal comes from the direction of the cave. As all eyes turn in that direction, the green dragon scoots up into the air, a limp humanoid form hanging in its hind claws. As the winged creature circles over the canopy, its long neck swivels about, keen eyes likely peering into the forest searching for other ‘trespassers’.
An uncomfortable feeling as if the whole group is standing in the open grips everyone, sending a few shivers across spines. Yet then the dragon dives back into the canopy with its ‘prey’. Shaking his bearded head, Branith resumes his administration of Luna, the dwarven cleric’s magic flowing into the unconscious ranger with no visible result.
“Telsom?” the warrior whispers the question almost inaudibly, not wanting to attract the attention of the dragon and too sure of the answer. Skeen’s expression is stony as she sees the dragon and its catch. She says nothing, merely watches with that grim look in her eyes.
Branith gets up from his haunches and says “Perhaps we should retrieve his body. I know of more fitting burial grounds then a dragon’s stomach.” His armor rustling as he rises. Reaching out and putting a hand on the dwarf’s shoulder, Teryn again whispers “We don’t have the wherewithal to pluck him from the claws of that dragon.”
“Ay lad I guess you are right.” The dwarf looks at the others and says “Perhaps we should make a stretcher for Luna?”
“If we can get at least one of the mounts to return we may be able to gather his body for burial. But there is nothing dishonorable about his death or where his remains now lay. A dragon is a noble creature, even the ones who are likened to evil. They are ancient and they are powerful. I’m not sure we would even be able to gather his body at our current strength.”
“I never said it was dishonorable, just not fitting. I question if you would think those evil creatures noble once you seen one cut trough your clan and kin. Aye, there are some good ones out there but the rest of those scaly things might just as well be put down for good.
“He would not bid us die to save his body. His soul would be with Sune now…” Skeen finally says, though it is clear the loss of Telsom has hit her hard, despite her declarations of diffidence.
Tarim remains quiet throughout the bickering and discussion of whether Telsom’s body should be recovered, watching the gnolls depart with detached interest. He looks rather puzzled by Skeen’s obvious pain at Telsom’s passing, but again says nothing. Instead taking a quick glance at Immerine and sighing sadly he attempts to move on. In the past couple of days he has learned that in certain circles, the less said the better.
“So…Tuttle is it? Well met, I am Tarim Ravenmane. You are familiar with this area then?” The small halfling gives a toothy grin at the question. “Aye, I’m familiar with this area. I’ve lived in these parts my whole life. I was born to the north in Corm Orp. But, for some time, I’ve roamed these woods. A peaceful place.” Tuttle pauses and looks back towards the dragon’s cave. “Most of the time.”
The apparent loss of Telsom to the dragon more or less silences the small group, and they gather their gear. Immerine remains stoic behind her mask, only once in a while whistling for her horse. Despite the ministrations of Branith and Immerine, the ranger’s condition doesn’t seem to improve. The acid burns on her skin have almost fully healed, but the shock of the massive agony of the dragon’s acid has apparently done more damage. Teryn and Branith, with some help of the hin fabricate a stretcher to carry Luna in more comfort.
With the small halfling leading the way, the group makes it’s descend down the slope again, passing close by the glade where Luna fell to the dragon. Noticing something odd, the hin stops and moves a little of the path into the bush. Skeen recognizes the site as where she battled with what Branith named a ‘worg’. But the dead wolf-like creature is not the target of Tuttle’s curiosity – rather it is the small humanoid that was slain by Areo.
“Goblin.” Tuttle states as he kicks the small corpse. “A good goblin, since it is dead.” Kneeling down, the hin ranger starts to pat the dead goblin down, laying his discoveries to the side; a ring, a brooch, a small flask, a gray bag and a short spear. “Wouldn’t do to leave these behind…”
“Aye, correct you are there” Branith remarks with a spit on the ground. “Any tribal marks or similar on him?” he queries the halfling. Without a word Teryn lays down his end of the stretcher and goes over to the body of Areo. Looking him over for a minute, he quietly returns to his position at the stretcher and waits for the others to finish.
“Not that I noticed. He’s likely one of the local band of scum poking into these parts.” Tuttle gives the corpse another kick of the boot for good measure. “Damned beasties.”
“Interesting…” Tarim says in a subdued voice. “Allow me to take a closer look please?” With that the young mage begins to chant softly opening his senses to the Weave more fully, and slowly begins to look more closely at the items gathered from the goblin. Laying the items out on the ground Tarim inspects them carefully and turning them over in his hands checking over even the slightest details.
Eyeing the spear carefully Tarim notes the fine craftsmanship in the hardened oaken shaft. The balance and heft combined with the keen steel point made it the best spear Tarim had seen in a while. “This is an exceptional weapon… well made and sharp. The warriors of my tribe use spears like that including my brother. It’s a good spear. Teryn I believe this would be best utilized by you” he said laying it down next to the warrior.
Taking up the small gray sack, he notes the fine, soft cotton material and pulls the drawstring opening the bag. Looking inside Tarim smiles and says “Immerine, I believe this is perfectly suited for you. You have such an affinity for animals… It seems only natural. Here…” he offers it to the Rashemi witch. “…if I remember correctly you can pull an animal from this up to ten times a tenday. …At least that’s what the book said that I read about it in.”
Rolling the oval glass vial over in his hand, Tarim looks thoughtful. His brilliant blue eyes narrow and he concentrates on the pale, greenish liquid. Finally he nods softly and looking at Branith says “This would be best used by you I think. It should help you in spellcasting”
Grabbing hold of the simple silver brooch he pins it to his cloak muttering, “Might keep me alive…” and holds a simple gold band in the palm of his hand. With a slight smile he walks over to Skeen and says, “This m’lady is something I am sure you should wear. I would like for you to stay safe.” He looks into her eyes briefly and then holds the ring out to her somewhat timidly.
Skeen looks at Tarim dully, watching the show without any seeming interest. When he approaches her, she takes a step back, her eyes suddenly going wary as she listens to him. She very carefully takes the ring from him and says, “Just Skeen. Not m’lady. I’m Skeen.” She holds the ring without putting it on as she answers him.
“As you wish, Skeen” he says softly. He continues watching her curiously for a bit a slight smile growing on his face. Finally he turns away slowly and sees to gathering his gear up for travel, after brushing his hair again of course. Skeen nods then, apparently satisfied. She looks around the group for a moment, as if expecting someone to object to the item Tarim has given her. She slips it on finally, to her right hand.
Immerine takes the item absently, “Thank-you.” Her eyes are creased in worry and she whistles yet again for her friend. The halfling starts to giggle. “No pun intended I’m sure.” he says through a guffaw. “‘Affinity for animals… it’s only natural.’ I love puns!”
When her whistle is over she looks at the hin, “What is a pun?” With a slight roll of the eyes, Tuttle gives a little sigh. “A pun is one of the most sophisticated forms of humor. It is a subtle play on words.” he explains.
“What’s this?” the dwarf says with a smug smile on his lips “spirits?, my father always drank some pints before he went into battle with the ilk of that.” he says and points to the goblin. “Perhaps I should take the custom up, but then I never was much of a rager meself” he mutters through his beard.
“It grants insight and understanding. It should allow you to understand the will of your god better” the young mage replies. Tuttle’s snickers turn to sneers as Tarim describes the potion. “Bah. What good would knowing the will of a god do? My canteen of water will help me more than that! Bah!”
“And THAT, my diminutive friend is why it’s not for you” Tarim says with a smirk.
“That’s what I said spirits, gets you closer to your god” he says with a broad smile to the mage. His smile still lingers as he watches the passing of the ring too Skeen. He then secures the flask to his belt.
Teryn eyes the spear with a dubious look. “I don’t really have any experience with that kind of weapon so if someone else does it would be better off in their possession” he comments as he looks around at the assembled group.
While the items found on the dead goblin – a kill made by the late Areo – are distributed by the young barbarian sorcerer, the sound of hooves on the turf can be heard, moments later followed by a soft whinnying. Immerine recognizes the sound of her faithful steed and shortly after another – more hopeful – whistle the white mount appears, trailed by Darkon, Luna’s steed. Both animals wear their gear, but some of it is damaged. Twigs and leaves adorn gear and animals in several places.
A rush of unintelligible words in Rashemi come from the witch as she hurries to her friend’s side. One word is repeated often and as you listen you understand it to be the mount’s name, “Qwenta.” Immerine quickly checks Qwenta and Darkon for injuries and plucks the worst of the twigs and debris from their manes, coats and trappings.
Skeen watches silently as two horses come back. She swallows hard and puts on her most stoic expression. Then she simply waits to continue on.
Qheldin's Mask, 1371 DR, Eleint, 14th day afternoon
After the Rashemi witch’s reunion with her four-legged friend, the group makes ready to continue the journey. Tuttle, Immerine and Teryn, with some help from the others, manage to convert Luna’s stretcher into a small platform resting on Darkon’s saddle. With Teryn and Branith no longer encumbered, the group moves faster through the forest, guided by the hin warrior.
Through the group’s conversations and some questions directly asked, the halfling is able to puzzle together the bits and pieces of why these folk were in the woods. The idea of Zhentarim or worse elements using the precious Reaching Wood as a base of operations does not sit well with the ranger. Where goblins at times are a little worse than a nuisance, these evil organizations that the group is talking about could have more devastating effects on the forest.
At one point during the journey Tuttle halts and motions the group to silence. With surprising quickness the team manages to do so and eyes follow where the hin ranger is pointing. A few yards away there are some smallish creatures – they appear to be three-foot tall crossbreeds between humanoid creatures and deer or something similar. Their coloration pattern allows the creatures to blend in with the surrounding forest easily. Only because the small group of them is basking in a small glade did the halfling ranger notice them.
When Branith steps a little closer for a better look, he steps on a twig which snaps loudly underneath his foot. Immediately the creatures become attentive and within the blink of an eye they race from the spot, almost melding into the forest.
“Hybsils.” Tuttle says, “Very shy and secretive creatures. Count yourselves lucky to have seen a group of them. Though they look pretty docile, they can be aggressive – the Zhents have found that out the hard way. Apparently Sememmon took a fancy collecting their scalps. From what I heard, the Hybsils have started a similar practice… better beware and proof that you are friendly to the forest and its creatures.”
Leaving the site behind, the group travels onward. Soon the forest becomes less dense and when the sun is at its zenith, fields and pastures begin to appear at the fringes of the forest. Not far off a small herd of horses is grazing, the leader of the herd noticing the group and acknowledging the whinnies and snorts of Darkon and Qwenta, but otherwise remaining where it is.
Shortly after encountering the herd, Tuttle steers the group on a trail. Following the man made path across a low rise, the team from Berdusk is greeted with the sight of a small representation of ‘civilization’ – at least to some… Along the winding Chionthar which shimmers silvery in the noon sun’s light a small hamlet is built. The sources of income and sustenance are easily visible; fishing, farming and likely some hunting.
Entering the hamlet, the group passes a blackened ruin, which draws some raised eyebrows; besides the scorched remains, the grounds of the former building seem to have been dug up several times. The only one apparently not interested in the ruin is the Tarim. Overhead Tarim’s little black owl is circling and apparently communicating to its master as the barbarian mage is looking up in concentration.
Observing Tarim’s distraction, Teryn nocks an arrow in his bow and starts to look around and up “Trouble, Tarim?”
“This is where they caught me. The ones you rescued me from,” Skeen speaks softly, through the muted grief. “I was knocked out here and taken. Then I woke up there.”
Pausing briefly in his looking around, Teryn briefly cocks his head curiously at the hin that led them here before resuming his scanning. “How…interesting…we should be in the place you were first captured. Perhaps the brigands we seek operate more openly than we dared believe?”
“I’m sorry Skeen,” comes the subdued voice from behind the mask. “I’m sorry for everything.”
Skeen turns to look at Immerine with something close to surprise registering on her face. “You did not do anything to me, Immerine. And it is no use being sorry about fate. It could have been worse. You all could not have found me.”
“It is not simply what happened to you. It is for all your pain. I tried to find the paladin. I really tried in the forest, but he had too much of a head start on me. I did not mean to seem callous for your loss. As I am sure the others did not. There are good things in life too. It just seems you have had more than your share of pain, loss and tragedy. I am sorry, I wish I could help you.”
Skeen still looks surprised, perhaps even more so at Immerine. “I don’t think we think the same way. Things happen. Telsom…” and Skeen winces the slightest bit as she says his name, “…made his own choices. You make your own choices. I make my own choices. The gods play with us as we play at dice. For you what seems like my painful life is just my life to me. I think if you are used to one thing, it might not be so horrible to yourself as it seems to others. I think that is easier than being upset about things that might have been better, no?”
There is motion beneath the mask indicating the witch actually makes a facial expression. The tone of her words is bitter and haunted, “Nay Skeen. You misunderstand me and all people think differently. Yes, we all make our own choices but you are wrong. We are not dice to be cast by the gods. That is too random. I believe the gods know exactly what they are doing. They know our strengths and weaknesses. They know what we can take and when it is too much. You have had some serious troubles in your life, but so have we all. Some have had it more painful than others. And no, I do not think it is easier than being upset about things which may have been better. I do not get upset by those things – I regret them, and there are many. I apologize for our callous disregard to your feelings, that is all. I apologize not for anything else. We should have been a little more understanding that Telsom’s disappearance would affect you this way. And now we have come to a place which haunts your memories. Again, for that I am sorry. Places have strong magic involved in the memories attached to them. But while we are here perhaps we may put the spirits of this to rest.”
“You must feel as you must feel, of course,” Skeen says simply, still with some confusion evident in her voice. “But I am not upset with any of you. And I do feel Erevan plays with me like a toy and no one is to blame for that. I cannot even blame him, as he is a god, and that is his right. As to Telsom. He is a wound that will in time heal. Words will not make that go faster, though I thank you for your attempt to bandage the wound with them. He was like a piece of skin I didn’t realize was attached, until it was gone.”
The halfling scout says little as the group enters Qheldin’s Mask, preferring to lead and learn about his new companions by listening. But, as the discussion turns to gods and fate, he perks up his ears. “Bah! We are not the god’s playthings. You can and should challenge them. You must live your life as you wish! Bah. The gods. Pffftt.” he adds before his short rant fades into mumbles. Skeen actually smirks at this, “You have just made yourself their next target. Just you wait and see.”
“Bah. I’m guessing it will be a long wait. Do you mind if I do other things in the meantime?” Skeen shrugs. “You are not my toy,” she says simply, though there is still the slightest of smirks in her eyes.
Looking down from the skies above the mage says simply “You can always choose to honor another god if you feel that you are merely a plaything. The relationship between a person and their chosen deity is supposed to be a beneficial one. If you feel that you are…maligned or misused or abused perhaps you should seek another. My tribe’s god, Uthgar, his Tree Ghost Spirit, does not tolerate mages. But I AM a mage; it is no more a choice than breathing. So instead I honor Mystra, who has given me these gifts. Indeed she provided the means for me to survive as long as I have. Especially seeing how my father sometimes used the Uthgar’s own divine magics to save me from the fevers I so often had as a child”
“Mystra has shown me that she cares about me and appreciates my love of her gifts. I don’t presume to understand the nature of the relationship between you and your god, Skeen. It just sounds to me like there is something missing there. Of course I have often been called naïve so perhaps I do not know what I am talking about.” He shrugs and takes another look up at his familiar flying overhead.
“Oh, I think Erevan chose me for his amusement,” Skeen says simply. “Though I may be over estimating my own worth. I’m not sure any other god would enjoy me the way he does.” The she falls silent again as Tarim speaks of locating the rest of the group. She wonders if any of them will miss the paladin of Sune. With his nature, she somehow doubts it.
“I am actually rather surprised to find that you consider Erevan your patron, I would have figured for a more solitary, tough and self-reliant Fenmarel Mestarine sort. Although I suppose it is possible he places a bit too much emphasis on woodcraft for your city-elf nature.” Tarim adds softly upon reflecting for a second. “No pun intended.” he adds wryly to Tuttle.
“I know nothing of the woods,” Skeen says simply, in agreement. “I know a lot about mischief though.”
“Ened’ome has found Kethron, and I assume Kevin and the rest across the river. Immerine, do you think we should convey a message to Kevin regarding our position and status so that he can relay it to a certain ill-tempered surly fellow of our acquaintance who seems to be in charge?”
“Odd…” the young warrior comments as he watches the mage’s familiar fly about “…that the other’s path should bring them here as well. I had thought they were going in a different direction. At any rate, Mr. Surly isn’t going to be happy about our lost paladin, *or* our lost horses.”
Immerine shrugs, “Lord Ashgale is not ill-tempered, he is stubborn. There is a difference. I will agree with surliness though. Perhaps it is because he is used to having his own way all the time and lately he hasn’t. Send a message, that way he knows we are here and he can run the other direction. Oh, Teryn… they are not in the wrong place – we are. Remember?”
Immerine turns in the saddle to face Tuttle, “Where can we take Luna from here to get her aid?”
“Oh yeah…” Teryn answers in a self-mocking way.
Branith listens to the conversation with idle interest knowing the benefits of praying to gods first hand. Although a smile can be seen creeping up into his face. As the mention that the other group is near he raises one of his eyebrows and says, “Wondering if they have been as ‘lucky’ as we have”. He glances down on Luna lying on the stretcher a deep sigh escaping his lips.
Skeen, having the keenest eyes of the group peers across the river, seeing nothing but a reeds and rushes covering the opposite bank of the Chionthar. No, wait, there is some movement. Straining her eyes a bit more, the young elf can make out several figures and horses, as well as some small animal flying gracefully about.
“Actually Immerine, I believe he is both.” Tarim counters coolly as he sits down and takes out his writing supplies. He drafts a quick note to the others indicating the party’s status and asking for theirs. Blowing on the parchment waiting for the ink to dry Tarim then rolls the note up and calls Ened’ome to carry it across.
Brief status update. Ran afoul of a young green dragon. Mounts mostly lost. Telsom presumed dead. Luna incapacitated. Current position very close across the river from you. Currently looking for place to treat Luna. Found a guide, halfling ranger named Tuttle. Tell Matteo and send your status back.
Thanks – Tarim.
Branith eyes the note over and says “looks good to me mage” he says and sits down on the ground beside the stretcher.
Tuttle looks about the buildings of the village. “I’ll tell you miss, I’m not exactly sure. I’ve not spent much time in the village myself. But, this is the only point of civilization in some distance. And, if they cannot help your friend here, a quick trip down the river to a larger city is the best bet for a cure.”
The fighter grimaces as he hears this news and drops his gaze to the ground and shakes his head. Through clenched teeth he grumbles to Tuttle “You don’t know this place? You brought us all this way here, where Skeen just said she was kidnapped from, and you haven’t spent enough time here to know where to get aid? You may have saved us from the gnolls, but you might be the death of us yet.” Turning to Immerine, he sighs. “At least the others are here now. Increasing our numbers gives us a better chance to survive.”
“Bah. How was I to know she was kidnapped here? And besides, this is still your best chance for aid. There’s no other place for leagues. I’d say your pessimism will be the death of you. Not I.”
Teryn’s only response is a raised eyebrow as he turns his gaze to the other side of the river and the other party.
Immerine stares at the halfling in disbelief. “We had the means to take Luna to a safer location ... back to Berdusk. Instead we followed your advice again hoping she would find aid here. There are two of us who are capable of healing aid in this group. We could have kept her stabilized until we got to Berdusk. The only benefit in coming here is that it was closer.”
Immerine’s eyes fill with tears as she fights some sort of emotion welling up within, but they do not fall as she is able to control herself again. “I have made some terrible mistakes in my life, but NEVER has another suffered because of them. Never!” Immerine’s posture stiffens as she falls silent.
Branith casts a hateful glare at the halfling and then asks “Then I suggest we begin to search for some one or something that may aid her. The sooner the better.” He looks at the halfling “I should have known you’r a jargh after all”
Taking a deep breath the Uthgardt mage releases it in a heavy sigh. “Everyone please relax. Luna is stable is she not? We are still alive and the losses that we *have* experienced are not this one’s fault. Everyone is hurting, and saddened and sick with worry for Luna but fighting amongst ourselves is not the answer. The hin means well, I am sure of it. It is his cavalier attitude that is setting off our tempers.”
“Tuttle, if you could please remember that we have endured heavy losses today and perhaps take that into account, I would appreciate it.” the mage says softly.
“Immerine” Tarim says softly stepping closer to the witch so that his voice does not carry. “Luna’s condition is not your fault, indeed her survival is to your credit. If anyone is to blame it is I who interrupted your care of her in my attempt to keep you from harm.” The young man’s eyes meet hers, conveying a great deal of concern. “Please... do not blame yourself”
Tuttle frowns as his good intentions are besmirched and his efforts belittled. But, his scowl clears and Tarim tries to mediate. “I will do my best.” he says to Tarim with appreciation in his voice. “And, I say, I have done my best.” he continues to the others. “Recall that you could be stewing in some gnoll crone’s pot right now if I’d not vouched for you. I suggested this village because I felt it was the best chance for help. No one questioned me and all agreed. I have done my best. And, I am not a mind reader. I did not know your friend Skeen had bad memories of the place. So...” Tuttle starts and stops before continuing the thought.
“Now, I suggest we try to find help for your friend rather than continue this petty bickering and rhetoric.”
Immerine doesn’t respond to Tuttle or to Tarim. Instead she presses onward, hoping to find aid for Luna. Following quietly behind Tarim takes in the scene carefully, looking for signs of any current habitation, looking overhead and across the river to check on Ened’ome from time to time as she delivers the message… As the small bird makes it across the river, the communication flowing across the bond indicates recognition twice.
While Tarim is momentarily distracted and peering over the Chionthar to the reed-covered bank, the others move a little further down the street of Qheldin’s Mask. Immerine’s mask seems not to bother the residents of the hamlet in the least, only eliciting smiles and looks as if people try to remember something. Finally she is addressed by a curious little boy, just a little bigger than a toddler and carrying a small kitten in his arms. With a pair of big brown innocent eyes he looks up unafraid at the masked witch, “What are you wearing the mask for? No-one else is wearing them today.”
The tired warrior remains quiet as the group starts moving down the street, and while he is reasonably sure the Rashemi woman won't fry the little boy on the spot, he's not always sure about the sometimes unpredictable witch and how she might react. Teryn stands relaxed, his hands on the litter carrying Luna, though he shifts his balance to be ready to put it down at a moment's notice.
Immerine pauses then stops. She looks down at the child quite aware of the tenseness among the companions at her back. Finally she kneels and looks the child in the eyes, "I wear the mask as a reminder of who I am. Do the people here wear masks?" She reaches out and touches the kitten gently.
"Yes." The little boy replies, "When they put the flower tree up, and sometimes when the we-wedder-wedding happens. Mostly on happy days." A little excitement shows in the lad's eyes as he apparently recalls the elements of the 'happy days' that appeal to him.
The dwarf only holds the stretcher and peers about, his eyes watching and his ears listening.
"Happy days are good days," says Immerine softly. She looks at the little boy again, "Is your mommy or daddy nearby so I can ask them a question?"
The halfling listens with mild-interest to the boy and Immerine. But, soon, his interest drifts and he pulls out one of his smooth, small rocks. Tuttle begins to look about the village while tossing the rock up into the air, catching it deftly each time.
“Yes. There.” The boy points in the direction of a view huts on the bank of the river – fishermen most likely – “Come with me.” The toddler moves on in the direction of the huts, holding Immerine’s hand and almost pulling her along. The small kitten is partially perched on his shoulder and regards the witch with mild interest. Behind the odd pair, Teryn and Branith follow with the still unconscious form of Luna on the stretcher. Skeen shrugs her shoulders and follows as well.
Standing still the Uthgardt mage looks over the river with a sad little smile. He watches his familiar fly over the water with a sort of dreamy wistful gaze that alludes to much more than one might think. He seems unaware of the fact that the party is moving on.
Noticing the young mage kneeling in the middle of the street, Tuttle arches an eyebrow but does not interfere with the man. In stead he continues his juggling act with the stone as he watches the others move down the street following the lead of the toddler.
As Tarim looks out over the water it is not the sky he is seeing, or his beloved Ened’ome for that matter. It is the air itself or rather what lies within it. He had opened his mind and senses to the Weave on instinct and the faint smile that slowly grows on his features is one of understanding, or a piece of it.
As his understanding grows so too does his appreciation, and slowly he sinks to his knees to pray. His prayer is in his heart and mind and no words are uttered. It is this one single moment so strangely lost among so many others that seems to truly make him understand just how wondrous his gifts are.
That it should strike him so suddenly and so without warning was unexpected, but was his goddess not called the “Lady of Mysteries”? No doubt there would be many surprises ahead that would require him to stretch his abilities and understanding of his Art. Honestly he is looking forward to them, cautiously yes but still there is a sense of excitement and endless possibilities that brings that wistful smile back, even as his eyes well with tears.
His only regret is that he has waited so long to pay her proper respect and had not the courage to challenge the beliefs of his father and clan. Another wave of sadness passes through him at the thought of his father. How proud Hakim would have been to see his son stand in battle against a dragon. “Courage is not only for the strong,” he had often told him, “Though it may take many forms”.
Tarim remains kneeling as he pours out his gratitude to his goddess for her gifts and continued guidance. Then as he draws his prayer to a close, he asks only one boon. That he be given the patience and wisdom to guide Immerine into realizing her path to understanding The Art.
As the young Uthgardt opens his eyes, he notices that he is alone save Tuttle who appears almost bored, tossing a stone up in the air and catching it deftly. “Where are the others?” He asks the halfling. With a nod of his head, Tuttle indicates in the direction of a few huts where Immerine and the others are about to enter.
Without hesitating, the little boy leads Immerine through the open door of the hut, the leather curtain the functions as a door, having been pulled to the side through a wrought iron loop. It takes a brief moment but then the woman’s eyes adjust to the dim lighting inside. A single roomed hut with sleeping cots against two of the walls, a cooking place against another and a rickety table and three chairs in the middle of the room. Two of the chairs are occupied: two women, one young and one elderly. The boy pulls Immerine close to the younger woman, “Mommy, mommy, the happy-day woman wants to talk to you.”
As the two women regard Immerine, behind her the others enter as well, placing the litter gently on the floor. Worry and fear register at the sight of the two armed men entering the hut, but Immerine quickly eases the women, and tells her story. As it turns out the elderly woman is one of the three ‘wise-women’ of the village – and the true power behind the village council – and she offers to take care of Luna and secure a safe transport to Berdusk. All that can be done for the young ranger has been done; it is up to the gods and Luna to repair the shock.
Reluctantly Immerine finally agrees to leave the ranger in the care of the old woman. With mixed feelings, the four comrades leave the hut, giving the family some silvers and gold to cover the expenses and express gratitude. Only when they step onto the street again, Teryn notices that the halfling and the mage are not with them. Four sets of eyes look left and right to see where the two have gone when Skeen spots them talking to someone at a pier. Tarim and the stranger shake hands and something passes between them as the halfling suddenly jumps into a skiff moored alongside the wooden pier.
Making their way over to the mage and halfling, Branith, Teryn, Immerine and Skeen quickly find out that their initial thoughts are correct, Tarim has bought the old but serviceable skiff to ferry them across the river; although it means that the horses will have to stay behind on this side. With no other alternative to cross the Chionthar, the group’s equipment is offloaded and taken aboard the skiff, Qwenta neighs and tries to keep Immerine from boarding, but after a few whispered words the stallion calms down and lets the witch board.Luna’s steed Darkon and Qwenta calmly watch as Teryn loosens the skiff from its moorings. Swiftly the flow of the Chionthar takes hold and pulls the craft towards the middle of the river. Teryn and Branith quickly grab the oars to steer it back on course and start the tedious row against the stream in the direction of the opposite bank.
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