By Jaap-Peter Hazelhoff
Chapter 83 - Moody Melodies
Near Queldin's Mask 1371 DR, Eleint, 14th day, late afternoon
As Kevin squats down to pen a brief note to the others, Puddy distracts the mage pulling on the half-elf’s ear, at the same time a feeling of recognition flowing to him across the master-familiar bond. As Kevin looks up to swat the irrepressible rogue away, he notices the reason for Puddy’s ear pulling. A small black owl descends towards him, accompanied by a frolicking Kethron. The small bird is carrying a small folded package – seems like Tarim beat him to the punch.
Portia watches curiously, as the owl delivers its message. Feeling the pressure to find the mill growing, the red head turns and scans the area along the river as far as she can see, hoping to find the mill or at least a promising tell-tale as to it’s location. “I suppose there must be a ferry or something that would be able to get the group across to us,” she muses, “I’m thinking we could use all the help we can get.”
Shifting in her saddle, she stares once more across the river, toward their erstwhile companions. “What does the message say, Kevin?”
While Kevin relates the message penned by Tarim, Jez studies the surrounding area carefully while swatting away mosquitoes and biting horseflies on more than one occasion. Alanna, with all her energetic furriness, crawls out of Jez’s satchel and onto his shoulder. She sniffs the fresh country air and deeply inhales.
Dismounting, the half-elf secures the reigns and lets the animal forage. Moving slowly back along the trail, Jezbodiah pays attention to both sides, trying to find any indication of where – or in which direction – the mill might be.
The reeds are taller than even lanky Nik, making it virtually impossible to see far. Even from horseback, the view is not that great. A fact that Portia has discovered as her eyes roam over the top of the waving reed plumes. Both to the left and to the right of the trail copses of trees rise up from the reed fields, effectively limiting the horizon in any direction but the river to a few hundred feet.
Nik moves a down the old wooden construction to very end. Removing his boots and socks, he seats himself with his feet and lower legs dangling in the cool water. Puddy flies back from where Matteo and Kevin start penning a reply for the others. Alighting next to the bard, the faerie virtually drapes himself across the wood, lazily leaning backward to soak up some more rays of the late summer sun.
Finished with penning the return note to Tarim and the others, Kevin flaps the parchment gently in the air to let the ink dry. Mentally reaching out to the winged cat, he requests the animal to return to his side. Tarim’s familiar, having taken wing after delivering the note, is winging its way back across the river.
Gently the winged feline alights between Matteo and Kevin, curious cat eyes regarding the mage. As Kevin makes ready to tie his note gently to one of Kethron’s paws, a shout draws his attention. Not only Kevin looks up, but also Portia and Jez from a little further down the trail. Looking towards the source of the shout – Nik – they see the tall lanky bard, standing barefoot and with his pants rolled up to above his knees, waving across the river.
Scooping up the tressym, Kevin follows Matteo to see what the commotion is about. As the Sembian and the Silvaren wizard have arrived near the bard, they can see the reason for Nik’s exuberance. Somewhat struggling against the powerful tug of the Chionthar, Tarim and the others are making their way across the river in a small craft. Darting towards them – fully visible for a change – is Puddy.
With some encouragement from the shore, Teryn and Branith manage to arrive close to the rickety old pier on which Nik greets them with a smile. Being of a more practical nature, Portia took a length of rope and after two tries manages to land the – by now wet rope – in the hands of Skeen and Immerine. The sudden movement of the two women catching the rope sends the skiff rocking awkwardly on the river, but the two rowers manage to keep it from capsizing.
With the combined efforts of the two oarsmen and the small team pulling the rope on the pier, the skiff is soon moored and its passengers ashore. Immerine has been silent the entire trip across the river and she constantly glances behind toward her friend. She helps tow the boat to shore when she catches the rope.
Once ashore she rushes to Nik and throws her arms around the gangly bard, “Nik! Oh, Nik, so much has happened. We’ve lost Telsom, I think he was killed by a dragon and Luna is sick. We’ve left her across the river.” She points at the halfling, “We’ve got a new guide. He is a hin one of the tiny folk.”
She pauses as her voice breaks and after a great sob and finally tears she says, “And Qwenta, I had to leave him over there because he wouldn’t fit in the boat and the current was too strong for him to swim.”
As soon as she can, Skeen gets out of the skiff, making her way ashore quietly, as is her habit. She nods at the people she recognizes, more out of an attempt not to speak rather than any attempt at courtesy. She stands quietly to one side, feeling out of sorts and moodier even than usual. Well, maybe not that unusual after all.
Branith quickly scrambles out of the boat as well as soon as it has been secured. “Never liked water much.” The dwarf says and looks at the river with a glare as he stands with his feet on dry land. “So what now?” he asks the gathered ‘long legs’.
The tall bard looked remarkably like a gangly teenager as he waited with undisguised eagerness for the boat to land, pants rolled up above his knobby knees and pasty-white legs, and with his battered boots and holey socks sitting forgotten on the dock. Thick, ugly scars on both bony ankles that mirror the ones hidden beneath the bandages on his wrists, and the wariness in his sunken eyes as he notices the newcomer in the boat belies his eager smile.
When Immerine rushes up to him and pours out her pain, Nik returns her embrace hesitantly, his movements awkwardly gentle as if he fears she might shatter like glass in his arms – or possibly change her mind and hit him. His careworn face is full of mingled surprise and confusion, then finally concern as he murmurs, “I’m sorry, milady. I’m sorry about Telsom and Luna, really I am.” His worried eyes never leave the witch, and he says gently “But I wouldn’t worry so about Qwenta.” Smiling reassuringly down at her, he continues, “He seems a clever, resourceful lad. I’m sure he’ll find a way to rejoin you, and sooner than later.”
With the judicious use of his ornately carved staff, the Uthgardt mage finally makes land. He smiles at Kevin briefly and nods to everyone else, except Matteo whether in oversight or some other reason. He is quiet though and bears a quiet, wistful expression as he reaches out his arm to take Ened’ome, smoothing the feathers around her neck affectionately.
Kevin walks up to his friend, holding the note up. “A little bird told me you had a spot of trouble,” he said dryly, his eyes twinkling. “I suppose you’ve come to spread that to us, eh?”
“Of course…” Tarim answers with a soft laugh that is not truly jovial as he takes out his brush, “…I was always taught to share.”
The halfling keeps to himself on the skiff ride, looking about and tossing his small stone in the air while continuing to observe his new companions. He hops off the small ferry upon reaching the other side and gives a large grin as Immerine introduces him. He tips his hat and makes a bow. “Of the small folk, I may be, but that is only in size and not in skills, I assure you! Pleased to make your acquaintance.”
Tuttle looks as if he is about to continue when the Kelemvorite priestess pushes the group onto the mill.
Shifting in the saddle, Portia slouches forward, resting, while the skiff manages to dock. The redheaded priestess smiles as most of those that left them the other day rejoin the group. As the reunion begins, Portia looks curiously at the hin newcomer, and then glances at the sky, frowning…
“It’s good to see you all, truly, but if we don’t hurry, we’ll be coming upon the mill as the sun goes down, and that wouldn’t be a good thing – believe me.” She does not show much in the way of loss at the news that Telsom has gone missing – she never really had the time to get to know him well. Luna is another one that she has not had a chance to bond with and, since she is not dead and in good hands, well…
The hin ranger looks up to the woman. “And, please tell me about this mill? What makes this such an urgent mission?”
Puddy continues his drowsing in the afternoon sun, but the sound of a strange voice from the river’s edge suddenly startled him. “Ack!” With a strangled sound the little fey falls from his perch, vanishing from sight as he plummets downward.
Recovering being caught off-guard by a stranger in the group’s midst, the now-invisible pixie circles in the air a couple of times, before slowing to a hover behind and slightly to the left of Nik. From this vantage point, he peers out at the newcomer.
Portia nods. “We’re trying to find a haunted mill that’s supposed to be in this area. Why? Sort of a divine directive – if you can call following the directions of a dream such. From the impression I got from said dream though, there are likely to be undead of some sort about the mill. That’s what is causing my haste right now, my friend. I don’t want to be fighting undead as the sun sets…” The Kelemvorite priestess eyes the sky again…
Standing near Kevin, Matteo, who has been silently looking across the river until this point, pulls his eyes from where the other group came from and glances at Immerine then in the direction the witch is pointing. Narrowing his eyes, he glances back over the expanded group. “Are you fit to travel and possibly confront a ghost,” he asks Immerine, his voice measured and calm as though discussing the weather, “Or do you need time to recuperate?”
Skeen raises an eyebrow, guessing he is only talking to Immerine or perhaps thinking she speaks for all of them. “Certainly fitter than Telsom,” she mutters, wanting to get on with it.
Immerine’s face is implacable behind the mask, but her eyes flinch as she looks at the Sembian. Her voice is neutral in tone as she says, “I am personally well. The others can answer for themselves though I am sure we should conquer your task before dark. As for confrontation of the spirit, much depends on the demeanor of said spirit.” Immerine steps away from Nik and pulls herself erect holding her staff perpendicular to the ground.
Oblivious to the concerns of Nik, Portia, Matteo, and the others, Jez continues to wander away from the group as they gather for what will be a return message from Immerine and the eventual return of her crew. It is a bit later into the hour and Jez is returning to the camp with one arm cradling a small bundle of dry firewood. It looks to him as if the group will camp near the mill for the night. Jez’s only hope, for the moment, is that the firewood is dry enough to start a decent fire before the sun is approaching dusk.
With his stride, he can be heard humming a small tune, nothing fanciful, but given his lack of distance nothing vocal can be heard. Alanna, no longer on his shoulder, can be seen trailing him as her head is held high and her mouth gripping several dry twigs; for tonight’s fire if Matteo’s band intends to stay. As he approaches, his lyric becomes more obvious and meaningful to the ear.
“She brings jugs of mead and rolls of feed,
For the dancing night coming our way.
The joy of the day is her mirth and steed,
Aye, to keep Talona away through the night.
Her hands are smooth, her waist is firm,
Her hips subtle with our gracious steps…”
“Dum dum dooby dum a doop doop dooby dooby…”
He stops, cradling his load of dry kindling under his arm and yells aloud, “hey, everybody! I think I found a path!” Moving closer to the reunited groups, he continues. “It’s weathered and covered with shrubbery but I think it’s important.” He sees Immerine once again and chimes. “Hey, I see you and our newest companions have decided to join us.”
Jez waves with his one free hand. Alanna drops her bundle of twigs, rises on her hind legs, and looks at the hin with interest. “Who’s our new friend?” inquires Jez.
“Perhaps the path leads to the building hidden behind that small rise. The copse over there,” Immerine raises her arm and points at the area where she saw the roof from the river. At Immerine’s words, the priestess sits up straight in the saddle, her eyes glittering eagerly. She says nothing however, letting Matteo do the talking…
Quiet from the time they boarded the skiff to the landing and while tying up the boat and steadying the craft while the others disembark, Teryn steps off the boat and frowns at Matteo before asking: “How does one battle a ghost, should it be necessary? I’m not sure how effective my weapons will be against an incorporeal being. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.”
Matteo nods, though it is hard to tell exactly in relation to what. “Very well then,” he says, turning from Immerine and Teryn. “Master Wisp, would you be so kind as to lead the way? Time to get moving.” His statements short, the young Sembian does not seem particularly inclined towards discussion at the moment, though he gives Portia the briefest of nods as he moves after Jez.
“Sure,” replies the half-elf. He drops the night’s firewood and scoops up an unsuspecting Alanna. He places Alanna onto his shoulder. He speaks to Matteo again. “Are we taking the horses?”
The halfling considers Portia’s words and listens to the others while mulling over his response. “I’m not inclined to lend my skills just for the sake of a divinity if you’d like to know the truth. But, undead so near the woods is a concern I can appreciate. Count me in.” He says while flipping a stone.
When Immerine steps away from him, the gaunt bard flinches, fear racing across his haggard face. He clears his throat and looks away self-consciously, the fear replaced with embarrassment as he tugs anxiously at the scarf around his neck. Nik scuttles over to the dock and reclaims his worn boots and threadbare socks, pulling them on quickly and tugging his pantslegs down over his boots once again. The others’ discussion seems unimportant to the tall man, but he glances nervously at Matteo before hurrying over to the cart. Pulling his backpack and precious guitar from the cart, Nik slings the instrument across his back and hikes his backpack up on one shoulder. Giving the others a cheerful grin that almost masks the anxiety in his sunken eyes, Nik seems ready to follow.
Then he finally notices Skeen’s aloofness, and he ambles over to her. Offering Skeen a faintly worried smile, Nik tells her softly “I am sorry about Telsom. We, erm, didn’t get along, but…” His dull eyes cloud over with some unreadable emotion, and he stares off into the distance as he finishes flatly “But I never wanted him dead.” His haunted gaze returns to Skeen and his eyes clear for a moment. “I’m glad you’re back safely, though.” Then his mouth quirks in the crooked grin and he adds wryly “Of course, it seems you’re just headed into more danger with us.”
Skeen looks at Nik as he approaches, her eyes with their customary wariness, even though she trusts Nik more than she trusts any other person there. His words strike her oddly and she has a totally clear flashback of Telsom combing her hair for her, trying to gentle her much as he would a horse. Unable to help it, her eyes fill with tears and for a moment, she just stands there, very much caught off guard.
Then she quickly looks away with a soft a quick nod, not wanting to show her continued weakness to a group that surely found her weak already.
Tarim watches Nik approach Skeen for a moment and then looks away with a saddened expression, shaking his head gently as he finishes brushing his hair.
As in the distance clouds start to roll in across the sky, blotting out some of the slowly setting sun’s rays and carrying a promise of rain, the group sets off behind Jezbodiah. The trail the half-elf points out is mostly overgrown with vegetation, no wonder it was not spotted the first time they came past here. Tall reed-like grass, creepers and mosses make traversing difficult; and with identifying the trail this difficult, it is easy to veer off the path and into the surrounding marsh.
Jezbodiah’s familiar scoots of into the growth, with her small size and weight, navigation even off the overgrown path is simple. Kethron and Ened’ome have it just as easy, winging their way overhead, Kethron having spotted an old dead tree roughly ten yards into the marshy area. The barren branches making it an ideal lookout post to keep an eye on Tarim as well as any tasty morsels that might scurry about.
“Alanna, stay close to the trail and do not move too far ahead,” he says aloud. “Lliira only knows what you may find, and it could find you tasty.” Alanna can be heard, squeaking and chittering with displeasure.
As Tuttle wiggles his way past Matteo and Jezbodiah to move onto the path, overhead an invisible Puddy darts off to follow the two flying familiars. While Teryn – at Matteo’s request hobbles the horses near the wagon, Matteo follows Tuttle and Jezbodiah onto the trail.
Taking his newly enchanted crossbow, Jez notches the weapon and angles it in front of him, but away from Tuttle – as to not to hit him accidentally in the back if they’re surprised. Slowly advancing forward, he keeps his eyes sharp in front of him.
Eager to find the mill that featured in her dream vision, the Kelemvorite priestess hurries to follow behind the Sembian. Tarim slips easily into the marching order as it works itself out, his staff in one hand and a wand easily accessible from his pouch as he moves into the marsh behind Portia.
Following the Uthgardt mage are Skeen, Kevin, Immerine and Nik. Teryn having taken care of the horses and a grim and ready looking Branith are the last to enter between the gently swaying rushes and reeds. As the single-file group ventures along the soggy path visibility is soon limited to effectively a few yards left and right. Numerous insects buzz along and a few birds take flight as the group ventures deeper, the barley visible trail no match for the small Hin’s tracking skills.
“I despise marshlands.” Jezbodiah says to the Hin, “Too many hidden dangers. Swamp gas, Poison mushrooms, biting insects.” He swats his neck again. “Ouch. Lliira my Dancing Lady, give me cool forest any day. Frog-men, yes, I saw a few down the road aways, hiding amongst the tall reeds and bogs.”
“Quicksand,” he says in conclusion with disgust. “Tap the trail ahead of us.”
Not far from the copse of trees – willows, the tops of which rise above the reeds and can be seen even by Tuttle – a small brook intersects with the overgrown path. Once upon a time stout logs spanned the flow across the marsh banks and the actual brook, but time and weather have reduced the logs to a moldering mass that has already partially disappeared, flushed away by the steady flow of water.
Kevin leans on his staff as the party pauses. He swats at the air. “I can create illusions.” He mutters, “Move things without touching them… I can cause destruction in half a dozen ways, and then protect against them. Yet I can’t do a thing about these…” He yelps, slapping the back of his neck. “…these Beshaba-spawned bugs!”
The witch hums softly as the group slowly plods forward. When they are forced to pause because of the washed out bridge, she looks down at the logs and over at the black clad Sembian. Suddenly there is an amused laugh from behind her mask. “So, your Lordship, have you bathed today?” She asks nonchalantly.
As Immerine makes her comment, a chuckle escapes Branith, “Hehehe.” He looks at the rotten wood and mutters, “What’s wrong with some decent stone…” Matteo flashes Immerine an irritated look then moves down towards the water’s edge to check that the brook is safe to ford.
His nap time over, the little fey quickly wings his way ahead of the party – being careful to keep the person leading the group in sight – looking forward to a bit of entertainment. He decides to fly above treetop level to spy out the lay of the land, and see what lies ahead.
Immerine snorts at Branith’s laughter and sidles up toward Matteo as he starts moving off. “Don’t fall in your Lordship, I would hate for anything to get wet and shrink.” Immerine’s eyes twinkle with mischief.
The young mage looks over his shoulder at Immerine very briefly before turning his head around and keeping an eye out for threats. His bright blue eyes watch the area surrounding them thinking something along the lines of “This would make an ideal spot for an ambush…” He nods to Ened’ome and jerks his head gently toward the bank and the trail beyond.
Leaning on his staff a little while the crossing is contemplated, he coughs; an odd barking sound that issues from his throat, which he suppresses as quickly as he is able. “Not now…” he murmurs to himself.
Matteo glances at Immerine, a look entirely without amusement or tolerance. “Perhaps you should stay back where you can keep an eye on everyone,” he says in a low, hard voice, “Just in case you loose more people or horses.”
“You know, you are right. Perhaps I should. Thank-you for reminding me of my place in this… fiasco. Now that the others are here with your unyielding and unwavering ego – oh, I mean leadership; they have no need of me. It seems I am free to just step away and watch. This is exactly what I think I shall do. Good Luck with the spirit your Lordship. I am sure you can just bargain with it as you do everything and everyone else in your life. But I am also sure it will see through you as surely as I did.” Immerine steps to the rear of the party and begins humming again.
Tarim’s expression creeps into a smile which he quickly manages to suppress though it still shows in his eyes as he watches Immerine. He picks up the tune she was humming after having listened to it for a bit and without even realizing it is humming softly along with her.
The ground underneath Matteo’s feet is soft, wet and spongy; not a comfortable surface to walk upon; when the Sembian lifts his feet, accompanied by a sucking sound, the smell of rotten vegetation and mud assaults his senses. Slowly and gingerly, he makes his way forward as Tuttle and Jezbodiah immediately behind him regard the progress across the marshy bank with mixed feelings.
The clear water of the brook is cold as Matteo gingerly test the waters, but it does not run deep with the water not reaching his loins. Clouds of mud are stirred up and rapidly washed away downstream, as he crosses the stream. The opposite bank is just as marshy and muddy as the first one, negating the cleaning effect the stream had.
Once safely at the other side, Matteo checks the bank and the path. Finding nothing immediately, he motions for the others to cross. As Jezbodiah prepares to enter the smelly ordeal, he calls out to his ferret. The willful animal does not respond though, instead, it appears a little upstream where an old tree hangs partially across the water. The branches sturdy enough to carry the rodent, she skitters across not interested in getting her fur wet.
“Ssseeee. Stuck in a tree. That’s what you get for wandering away from the group,” replies an irritated half-elf. He watches and waits until Alanna clears the branches and is safely on the other side of the stream. “I could have carried you across the stream. Now get over here!”
Skeen eyes the water warily; waiting to cross until after Matteo had made it through, marking how deep the water is. Not really wanting to address the rather surly-seeming leader, she does anyway. “How strong is the current?” She calls across the stream in her odd hoarse voice. Obviously, she does not have the human man’s bulk.
“Not strong.” Matteo calls back, “Just take your time placing your feet.” Skeen nods and picks her way across carefully, frowning at the water. On the other side, she readies her bow, agreeing it seems a fine place for an ambush of any sort. The red-haired Kelemvorite follows on the lithe elf’s heels.
As Portia pulls herself out of the waters of the brook, she looks around warily. Her hand drifts to the hilt of her hand and a half sword. Narrowing her eyes, she says, “I don’t understand it, and nothing here looks familiar, but I can’t escape the feeling that this is the right path. We’re almost there…”
The priestess almost unconsciously sets her shield, but keeps her right hand free. “When we see the mill, hold up for a second Matteo. I have a couple spells that I want to make sure I cast on some of you before we have to face anything.” The red haired Kelemvorite glances back at the others. “Do any of you carry magical weapons?”
“I have a few items and I have something, well a few magical gestures actually, that can hurt undead in a pinch.” Jez stops and feels for Alanna, wondering if she notices something amiss with the group or the land. He tightens his grip on his crossbow. “Portia, something wrong?”
“Not unless you count my spells,” Kevin answers her. “I’ve my wands, of course, and I’ve prepared a spell made specifically to attack undead. I believe Tarim might be more helpful on that part, though I’ll let him speak if he wishes to.” Portia nods to Kevin. “Spells or weapons, things that can hurt undead.” Looking over to Jez, she shakes her head. “Nothing more than a feeling Jez, but I can’t help but think we’re getting closer…”
“I can magic a weapon temporarily before the battle, though the enchantment won’t last long; only a few minutes. I can also hide a few of us from the sight of any undead. The second one of the hidden attack though, all of those under the spell will become visible. If those affected don’t attack, they’ll remain hidden for about half an hour. I was thinking that I could hide those with magical weapons, so that they could get closer, while those with spells took the fight from a distance.”
“That sounds good. What type of damage does concentrated fire to undead?” Jezbodiah says. “I never seen a shambling corpse burn before… well not that I want to anyway.
Tuttle goes across just after Skeen, smirking a little at the unease with which the elf fords the cold waters. The smirk turns into a scowl however as the water reaches halfway the Hin’s chest… it is cold indeed.
Tarim nods gently to his mentor and smiles a little shyly at the mention as he looks at Portia. “My first battle was against undead, I destroyed two and wounded a third, but they were only zombies. I’m a bit stronger in The Art now and should be able to assist even better but that depends on what stands before us I suppose.”
Tarim begins to pick his way across the stream but stops as the chill brings on a bit of a cough again. After the coughing ends, he continues along, wincing at the squish of his feet in soggy cold boots. Kevin follows in the Uthgardt’s wake, leaving Teryn and Immerine yet to cross.
Skeen watches silently only saying “no” when asked about magical weapons. As usual, she is her quiet, paranoid self.
Branith plods over to the other side trying not to wet his chainmail all too much not carrying that much for his clothes. When the talk about weapons and enchantments comes up he looks up at the others and says, “Well I got a few prayers left in me to good old Moradin. I am sure he will be happy to lend a hand to bring down the spirit of this place.” As he says this, he pulls free his warhammer and grabs it with a firm grip.
As he watches all but Immerine cross while keeping a watchful eye and arrow nocked, Teryn nods to Immerine with understanding, knowing she wants to be the last to cross, if she crosses at all, after Matteo’s comment about losing people and horses. He stows his bow and arrow and removes his boots and socks, pulls up his pants legs as far as he can and makes his way across. Stepping up to Matteo he says in a low voice not sure who, if anyone, can overhear “That crack about losing people was a low blow and uncalled for. You should apologize to Immerine.”
He does not wait for an answer but turns his back on Matteo and walks away to put his socks and boots back on. Turning to Portia, he informs her, “I don’t know if you heard me when I got off the skiff but I have no magic weapons, Portia.”
Immerine remains silent as everyone moves ahead of her to cross the stream. She waits until she is the last to cross. She breathes deeply before placing her first foot into the stream. About halfway across she sways and moans, almost stepping backwards to the bank she just vacated. Anguish, pain, sadness and a feeling of malevolence assault her as she moves to the opposite bank. It is as if the clean waters form a barrier around whatever lies on this side of the brook.
Her eyes flutter for a moment and she forces herself to continue forward and climb the bank in front of her. She leans heavily on her staff as she drags her feet from the stream. Her labored breathing and her eyes show stress and worry, “There are evils, darkness and problems in this place. The spirits are screaming. Something is wrong here… we have to help put this to rest.” She falls silent and kneels to place her hand on the ground.
Portia nods. “Well, like I said, I can magic a couple weapons temporarily. Yours should be one of them. Then Matteo, then this…” She pats the massive sword over her shoulder. Looking about, she says, “I also have this…” As she unhooks a skull-headed mace that some recognize – the same one that previously carried by Tempest, the half-orc Kelemvorite that fell at the warehouse. “…It carries an enchantment. Immerine, would you be willing to wield it today?”
Immerine looks up from where she kneels on the ground. “I can try. I am not used to such weapons, though.” She rises and slowly approaches Portia to retrieve the mace. There is a look of repugnance on her face as she looks at the skull. Finally, she just shakes her head and takes the weapon to hand.
Teryn nods wordlessly and smiles. Tuttle remains at his spot on the point, his eyes and ears focused to the front rather than the discussion to the rear. The little halfling fingers a smooth stone in each hand, ready to hurl the tiny weapons at the first sign of danger.
“Damn!” The Berduskan warrior seems almost startled by his own revelation. “I forgot this is enchanted, Portia.” Teryn explains as he holds up a shortspear. “We came across this on the way here; it was in the gear of an already dead critter. I’d still prefer you cast your spell on my swords if you can though. I feel more comfortable with them.” Teryn shrugs at Portia.
Looking about, he holds the shortspear up and offers, “Anyone want to use this?” Patting his warhammer with his right hand Branith replies gruffly, “I trust on my war hammer more than that stick!”
Meanwhile, darting over and between the weeping willows, Puddy quickly spots the ruined building. It appears to be indeed a water mill, albeit in a very dilapidated form. The waterwheel that is still functioning despite the state of the rest of the building creates a soft creaking noise, accompanied by regular splashes. The mill’s thatched roof sports plant and moss growth in those places where it still covers the roof, where the thatch is gone, rotting and moldering beams show.
Circling once over the small, cramped, clearing in which the building stands the small fey feels something amiss. The balance of nature is upset and an air of maliciousness permeates the immediate surrounding of the ruin. Something the small fey – by his nature – is more sensitive to. Returning from his foray ahead of the tall folk, the little fey alights on Nik’s shoulder. “The watermill ahead is. Old I think, moves the forest has made it to reclaim. Tinged the air is, wrongness with.”
Matteo picks up the faint buzz of gossamer wings as something whizzes past his head. Following with his eyes into the direction the sound moved, he soon deducts the source as Nik cocks his head as if listening to some unseen voice – more than likely Puddy. “Anything to share with us?” The Sembian inquires after Nik, after which the later gives a brief account of what the small faerie has seen.
Cautiously moving forward, the group advances to the copse of trees – weeping willows make up most of the copse – and the hidden building within it. After Puddy, Tuttle is the second to look at the ruined mill as he pushes aside some of the undergrowth. Aside from the wind stirring leaves and reeds, nothing seems to be moving near or in the ruined building. A sudden gasp almost startles the halfling scout as behind him Portia gazes upon the scene. Open mouthed she stares at the building, the trees and the small river, recognizing it as the place she saw in her vision.
From the ruined building soft tunes of a set of pipes issues forth, the music is like a mix between a dirge and something haunting. To Nik, it briefly invokes the image of a squirming mass of rodents; both winged familiars suddenly seem to get agitated, transferring the feeling of food and abundance over the telepathic links and Alanna sends the same towards Jezbodiah. Before their masters really have the opportunity to digest and translate the feeling, rats swarm from the ruin and out of the water, moving at the assembled heroes.
The halfling looks at the swarm of rats, a shocked expression on his face. Tuttle steals a quick glance at the stone in his hand and then back at the onrushing rats. With a meek squeal of his own, Tuttle turns and starts to scramble up the nearest willow. Nearby, an alarmed Puddy hovers around the group as the rats swarm from the old mill. Nervously, he screeches in Nik’s ear, “Not right… not right this is. Does this the bad music do? Play you can to the bad music quell?”
Immerine frowns at the misuse of the creatures and moves forward and begins murmuring in soft, soothing tones. Slowly her voice reaches outwards pressing its calming lyrics on those around her. The soothing tones are in counterpoint to the haunting tunes of the pipes, and for a brief moment, a wave of hesitation seems to flow over the rats, causing some of them to stagger in their surge forward. Then the music from the pipes builds upon the witches’ song and takes over.
Eyeing the approaching mass of rodents Tarim makes a quick calculation in his head and begins a soft chant. He feels a shift in his mind as energies are loosened. Every pebble, twig and stone on the path stands out in his mind’s eye and his voice rises to a climax as he holds forward his staff. “Rats!” Teryn whispers with wide-eyed shock. “This is not good.” Steeling himself for the attack, he readies both swords to use as a fast moving, double bladed barrier in front of him as he waits for the approaching vermin.
“Aye, I hate rats” Branith sets his hammer down on the ground with a smack and calls forth the powers of the dwarf father. “O father of the earth bring forth thy allies to aid us in this battle!” While the dwarven priest starts his chant, Matteo looks briefly about for an elevated position. Finding none, he draws his sword and dagger, prepares to kill whatever rats come his way. Next to the Sembian, Skeen readies her bow, though she sees there are far more rats than she can pick off.
“Iejir vur vignar,” Kevin mutters with shock. Unfreezing, he reaches under his bandolier and slips out one of the wands he’d stored there, while part of his mind tries to place the music he’d heard. The young wizard points the wand at the onrushing squirming mass and with a brief utterance, a yellowish beam of arcane energy unerringly strikes at the center of the swarm. Like ripples in water, the energy spreads out in a circular fashion and washes over several of the rodents.
While their masters fight with their arcane powers, Ened’ome and Kethron use their natural weapons. Coming in from different angles, both winged familiars dive towards the squirming mass of rodents that rushes its way like a wave towards the group. Efficiently they swoop across the rats. When, with strong beats of their wings, they climb back into the air, each carries off a squirming rodent.
Knowing that he is obviously in their line of fire, Jez sidesteps away from Portia and Immerine and beats it three steps to their left side. Once, he has a clear shot, he fires the bolt from his enchanted crossbow into the approaching rats. Alanna, safely secured inside her satchel, covers her ears and closes her eyes hoping for the best outcome in this attack.
Portia’s eyes widen in surprise at the number of vermin coming their way. She reaches up to draw her blade, but then changes her mind. Instead, she rattles of a quick spell, which accumulates into a loud burst of unintelligible noise. Several of the rats and some of the group cringe at the noise, all the rats that swarm up to the priestess drop lifelessly to the ground, little flows of blood streaming from their ears. Unfortunately, both Tuttle and Skeen find themselves too close to the Kelemvorite priestess, and the painful scream from Portia slams against their eardrums, popping them instantly.
The tall bard seems oblivious to the others’ preparations for battle, instead he just stands there for a moment, head cocked to one side and a look of concentration on his haggard face. With nimble fingers, he tugs a battered and tarnished silver flute from a case on his belt and draws himself up to his full, towering height. With a faintly disdainful smirk, he snorts, “Rats, eh? How clichéd…”
Then he raises the old flute to his lips and begins to play, his melody a strange count-point to the tune that seems to be driving the rats.
Teryn and Matteo discover that, while they both managed to dispatch several of the rats, the nature of their blades made these not the most effective weapon of choice in the initial onslaught. The combined effects of the spells and the swords take out number of the vermin, but a good number breaks through the group’s defenses and with the notable exception of a winged fey and the two flying familiars, the wet furry critters swarm across everyone else, dealing nasty little wounds with their teeth. Only Portia’s armor seems impenetrable for bites of the swarming vermin.
Halfway up one of the willow trees, Tuttle barely hangs on by one hand as the other covers one of his bleeding ears. The escape maneuver seems to have worked though as the rats apparently ignore the hin. Tuttle looks a bit startled as suddenly three owls swoop past his perch to descend upon the rats attacking the others. Glowing as if imbued with some form of radiance, the three owls – larger cousins of Ened’ome – pick-off some of the rats.
Both arcane spellcasters find themselves against similar odds as their light clothing offers scant protection against the crawling vermin. The rats wriggle their way over and under the garments that Kevin and Tarim are wearing, dealing vicious bite and scratch wounds.
Nik’s melody is pleasant to hear – although Skeen and Tuttle find it a little difficult to appreciate with their hurting ears – the tune certainly more pleasant then the ‘dirge’ that emerges from within the ruin. A few of the rats turn tail, as it seems the lanky bard’s talent overrides the power of the mysterious pipes.
Not waiting for the full effect of the bard’s countering music, the Berduskan half-elf draws a wand and points it at the rats. With a ‘whoosh’ a fan of white-hot flame sprays forth from the wand Jezbodiah holds, immolating a score of rats that are milling about. His other hand finds an alternative use for the crossbow he is still holding and knocks off a rat that started to climb onto his leg. The fire clears a sizeable swath of soggy ground of the frenzied rodents, giving Matteo the time to deal with the remaining opponents that are still crawling over him.
Puddy screeches again in anger as the rats swarm over the tall bard. Drawing his tiny short sword, the little fey sets to work, trying to slay as many of the rats climbing on Nik as he can, while taking care not to stab the bard with his blade. The nimble faerie picks the rats off, one by one as Nik continues to play, building on his song that seems more and more to counter the controlling effect of the mysterious pipes.
Once more, Portia ignores her blade, knowing that the sword is a bit of overkill. Instead, covering her face with her gauntleted hands, she drops to the ground and simply starts rolling about, hoping to crush, or at least disable, as many rats as she can that are swarming her area.
Branith reaches into his beard, grabbing two rats at once. With a grunted oath, he throws them on the ground, quickly stomping on them with his sturdy metal-shod boots. The dwarven antics vaguely resembling a war dance to the two different tunes being played. From within the building, the unseen musician continues his song, but between the efforts of Immerine and Nik, more and more rats seem to lose the frenzy and scamper off, or are killed by the efforts of the group.
“Too… many… of… them…” The overwhelmed warrior force the words from between gritted teeth as the vermin are nibbling at him. Realizing spells meant to deal with the rats have already started taking a toll on the party Teryn realizes he should get more distance between him and the spellcasters. Shaking as many of the rats off him as he can he takes a cue from Tuttle and tries to reach a branch of a nearby tree to pull himself up.
As he sheathes his blades, managing in his haste not to cut himself, Teryn realizes that the branches of the willow might hold a lightweight halfling, but certainly not the weight of an armed and armored warrior. As he turns to face the rats once more, the comical sight of a dancing dwarf and a Kelemvorite priestess rolling on the ground greets him. Adding to that scene is Kevin’s winged cat pawing a rat as if it is only a toy.
Tarim screams as the rats bite into him, tearing through his clothes and sending blood flowing down his skin. He knows that he has to hurry, to do something quick and decisive or he would soon be unconscious from the amount of blood he is losing. Desperately he tries to still his mind and reaches within, trying to summon forth the will to still the vermin. Kevin gives voice to his pain and rage as he tries to brush off the swarming rats. He lifts his wand to try again.
As both wands fire almost simultaneously, two concentric circles ripple through the area, dropping the last of the rats around the mages. Disgustedly Tarim picks one of the sleeping creatures from his clothes. As it dangles by its tail, the handling by the wizard does not wake the rat. Ened’ome, a rat still in its beak, alights on Tarim shoulder and looks at the young barbarian’s catch with approval.
Almost as soon as it began, the fight seems over, only a few of the rats are milling about in confusion; the three owls that came to Branith’s aid, feasting on those unlucky enough to scamper back into the water or the ruined mill. With a heavy thud, the dwarf smashes the last of the rats in his immediate area, as Skeen does the same by swatting a rodent aside with her bow.
“Pothac, nuth baeshra.” Kevin hisses in a sibilant language. He shakes a rat out of one trouser leg. “Svent vur valignat thyth ur…”
Despite having lost the musical battle to control the rats, the unseen musician still plays the dreary song; a chilling reminder of the numerous bite and scratch wounds dealt to the group in the span of several heartbeats.
“Ah, shut your pipe hole!” The dwarven cleric calls out in the general direction of the mill. Muttering something about, he begins to heal himself, Moradin’s favor quickly closing the bite and scratch wounds. “Vur pok thir pothac miirik!” Kevin shouts in the direction of the shack, adding his voice to Branith’s.
The Berduskan half-elf clenches his wand with his teeth then reloads his crossbow all with a disgusted look on his face. Taking his wand into his hand again, he says, “rats. I hate rats.” Jez slides his wand down his left sleeve. Looking at the cuts and bites on his body, he fumbles through his satchel and retrieves a steel vial while a muffled squeak escapes from it and carries itself onto the air.
“No, I’m alright Alanna. Sore but I’m fine. Stay inside until I say it’s time to come out. It still isn’t safe.” He looks around and says, “Anyone else needs help?”
“I’ll take any help anyone has to offer right now.” The injured and bloody warrior answers as he tends to his numerous wounds. “And as soon as Portia can cast that magic on my weapons, I’m headed for that shack.” The scowl on Teryn’s face leaves no doubt, as to what he intends once he gets there.
Shuffling away from the sleeping rats as best he can, Tarim’s eyes tear up with the pain of movement. He leans up against the tree Tuttle had climbed up into wincing at the pressure on his shoulder. Looking even paler than usual he survey’s the scene and reaches up to stroke Ened’ome’s talons on his shoulder. “Lady of Mysteries, give me strength…” He murmurs softly.
Immerine lets her spell fade away and looks down at the various bites and scratches she received. She shakes her head, “Do we have extraneous healing from other sources? I used almost all my gifts earlier this day on Luna.”
Kevin stops his venting and rummages around in his various pockets and pouches, finally pulling out a small vial. “I’ve a minor healing potion here…” He tells her, his voice much more subdued now. “…Shall I use it, or does someone here need it more than I do?” Kevin looks around to check on the others, form the guilty expression on his face he had only just realized that others were also in pain.
He spots Kethron, a dead rat in the feline’s jaws. “No gorging!” He admonishes the winged feline, “We don’t have time for you to sleep it off right now.”
As the rat threat dissipates, Tuttle releases his grip on the branch and drops to the ground. The halfling looks at the blood on his hands, pouring from his ears and falls to his knees. As he sees Branith open his mouth to talk, Tuttle’s brow furrows. “WHAT? WHAT DID YOU SAY?!?” he shouts.
Climbing to her feet and shaking out her cloak to knock away any crushed rats that might be clinging to her, the Kelemvorite looks about at her companions and shakes her head. She is well aware of the irony of the situation – she had been the only one with an injury going into the confrontation, and she was one of only a couple that had not been harmed during the rat attack.
After a moment, Portia produces a wand and waves at the halfling in the tree, indicating that he should come to her for healing. The halfling looks at Portia, still dazed and confused at his new predicament. “WHAT? I CAN’T HEAR ANYTHING. CAN YOU HELP ME?” He shouts while wandering over to Portia, who nods and waves him over again.
Touching the wand to the halfling’s ears, Portia commands the device to release its healing energy and immediately the soothing magic cures Tuttle’s sudden deafness. While Portia repairs the damage her spell did to the Hin, Matteo surveys the scene. The Sembian is still on guard with the bloodied rapier and dagger ready to strike. “See to the others as well.” He says to the Kelemvorite, “Let’s be quick, we don’t know what we’re up against.”
While the rats have more or less disappeared and certainly form no threat anymore, the unseen piper is still playing its tune, prompting Nik to keep up his efforts: the lanky bard’s joyful tune keeping the team’s spirits up.
Once the rats have been defeated, the little fey hovers worriedly near the tall bard. “Hurt badly, you are?” he questions. “Rats act like that do not. Music like I have not heard before that is. Like scales on glade rock, it is, not soothing, your music alike. Played the flute you did! Know you could, I did not! Play the flute also, I do! But know that, you did. Play together we should! All wrong, this place feels. Wrong is the air; in the air is wrongness, too. The death priestess, this the dream she had is, think you? A ghost causing this, the source could be? I’m sorry, playing the flute with you now I feel not like doing. No! Stop do not, please! Lives the ghost, the mill in, think you?” Puddy continues his incessant chatter, his fear betrayed by the tone of his voice as well as by the non-stop queries and exclamations.
Nik seems oblivious to both Puddy’s worried chatter and the many shallow wounds on his own gangly body. His expression is calm and aloof, his eyes closed as if he is simply lost in his music. Yet a fine dew of sweat beads Nik’s craggy face, betraying the intensity of the bard’s concentration as he fights note by note to counter the unseen piper’s spell.
Wielding the curative wand, Portia moves quickly towards the more seriously wounded members of the company. First Skeen who whispers a quiet word of thanks, then the priestess moves over to Tarim and touches the wand to the weakened barbarian spellcaster.
Tarim looks up as Portia approaches giving her a weak smile. He eyes the wand with interest as the Kelemvorite uses it on him and the pain and weakness fall away. The weak smile is replaced by a much more genuine and emphatic one. “Thank you Portia…” He says with a slight bow. The bow is slight not from only cursory respect but for the fact that his people do not bow as a rule and it is an unfamiliar gesture. Somehow, though, ‘Thank you’ just does not seem to be enough to convey his gratitude.
Looking around at the group, he says, “Skeen come here please, I believe you could use a bit of protective magic… Kevin? Have you seen to your defenses?” Is there anyone else with no protective magics or armor?”
The young fighter watches as Tarim casts protective magics on himself and others, but Teryn does not ask for any for himself. “I hope you have a good supply of destructive magics too, my friend.”
Seeing that the others are being taken care off, Kevin quaffs the contents of a small vial he produces from a pocket. Within a heartbeat, the half-elf feels much better as one by one the wounds delivered by the vicious rats close and heal completely. After an approving look at the still-playing bard, Kevin answers his fellow mage. “I’ve the armor spell prepared. I also have the barrier spell, as well as my spell-dagger; I didn’t know what sort of undead we might encounter, so I felt I should prepare for the insubstantial.”
Kevin pulls out a strip of leather from one of his pouches, which he wraps around his left hand. It momentarily draws attention to the fingerless glove on his right. He closes his eyes, takes a deep breath, and begins his spell, causing the air briefly to shimmer around his body.
The halfling waves a hand in appreciation to Portia as he opens his mouth wide, hoping to bring his eardrums back to equilibrium. After a few yawns and groans, Tuttle grabs a dagger from his belt with his left hand and then moves back to his position near the front of the group, ready to move on.
“I could use some healing too.” Jez replies sheepishly to Portia, waiting for a beneficial smack from the wand. “I’ll be right with you, Jez.” The priestess says. She approaches Immerine next. “I want to make sure the spell casters are squared away first.”
Jez smiles at Portia’s comments. He listens to the others speak then he chimes in with a word, or rather several. “I have mage armor and a weak offensive spell that hurts undead,” he replies. If you wish, I can do support work and protect the lesser party members.” This is spoken with forethought and concern. Jez’s usual flippant manner is gone, at least for the time being.
He looks around at the others and says, “I have a minor healing potion, if it’s no trouble, I can hold it back for reserves, if any needs after this encounter.”
While keeping half an eye on the ruins, Portia proceeds to heal the Berduskan half-elf, followed by Immerine and the other wounded. Not all the wounds end up closed and healed fully, but given the situation Portia deems it enough to face the mysterious piper and whatever else the ruin might hold…
While the priestess tucks the wand away and recovers her sword and the team reassembles to continue, the mysterious piper suddenly stops his music. Only Nik’s tune is now playing joyfully between the willows. Despite several sets of eyes drawn to the ruin, only Matteo spots some movement in the shadowy recesses of the ruined mill; a hooded humanoid shape moving about in the general direction of the former mill’s entrance.
Though mostly obscured by a heavy, hooded cloak, a six-foot tall pale-skinned humanoid creature steps from the building. Strapped across the creature’s back is a large sword, similar to the one Portia is wielding, though in sore need of maintenance. It regards the motley crew at the edge of the clearing with gleaming black baleful eyes, before reaching into a pocket and producing something that looks like a golden chain with decorative balls.
“Evil minions of the Mad Prince, you should not have come here!” It hisses loudly as it fumbles about with the chain.
Kevin jumps slightly at the sound, taking in the newcomer with surprise, and Kethron drops his impromptu meal and takes flight, circling above the group, watching the figure carefully. The Silvaren half-elf quickly pulls out the more powerful of his offensive wands, but keeps it pointed at the ground for now.
“Um, I think you have us confused with someone else.” The wizard says his nervousness evident. He calls over to the cleric of Kelemvor, though he does not take his eyes off the figure. “Portia?” He asks, “Anyone you know?” The priestess does not seem to register the question from Kevin, as she is momentarily rooted to the spot, eyes focused on the creature.
Close the still playing musician, an invisible Puddy looks bewildered from the cloaked creature to Matteo and back. “Prince? He speaks about who? Matteo? Matteo a prince is? Lieutenant, I thought he was!”
“I’m not mad yet,” Matteo replies in a dry voice as he calmly moves forward towards the figure. “Oh, leave that thing alone.” He says to the figure in a bored voice, gesturing towards the chain with the point of his long dirk. “We are here to work against Cyric, not for him.” Sheathing his weapons, he holds out a hand in greeting. “Lieutenant Matteo Ashgale of the Berduskan city guard.”
“A follower of the Prince of Lies indeed.” The pale-skinned creature says while pulling its cloak aside slightly as it moves its arms to the side. Underneath the cloak, the creature – which looks disturbingly human-like albeit with skin tightly drawn over its bones – wears a suit of dark leather armor.
Tarim steps to the side a bit hoping to put some cover between him and the evil-looking thing. It takes a decent amount of will just to not lash out in fear and hatred of what he assumes the creature to be. Of course though Tarim will not disobey his innate nature not to harm unless necessary, but fear is making him edgy.
Reflexively glancing in the direction of the disembodied voice Teryn quickly turns back to the threat before them as he grins. The young man’s body tenses as he assesses the nature of the threat, ready to move away from it, should the creature detach one of those ‘beads’ and throw it. He seems to cringe as Matteo approaches it.
With his enchanted crossbow ready, Jez keeps his weapon ready for trouble and wearily. He remains quiet and studies the humanoid creature. Worried that if things turn ugly he and his compatriots might be caught at a disadvantage, Tarim too directs a piercing gaze at their opposition and tries to cast a spell as quietly and unobtrusively as possible.
The halfling eyes the situation with confusion and concern, his small hands turning the stone over uncertainly. His brow furrows as Matteo mentions Cyric. “Cyric, eh?” Tuttle says to the apparition. “I’ve little use for most of the gods, myself, but that one especially!” He snarls while throwing his stone at the unholy foe with all his might. Despite the accuracy of the Hin’s throw, the stone hits a billowing part of the creature’s cloak, cushioning the impact and causing the stone to drop harmless to the ground.
Feeling more than usually useless Skeen begins to move to one side, trying to keep spread out from the others and looking for a way to get at the thing from behind. Her bow stowed, it is not that weapon she will use, if she can gain find a way to flank the creature. Her every step is a verse in silence and grace, despite the threat.
Immerine frowns and steps back from the party. She looks for a possible way to circle the area and come in from behind. Noticing Skeen making a similar maneuver, the young witch takes another route in an attempt to make tracking the movement of the team’s members more difficult for the mysterious creature. Immerine’s path looks to be taking her to the side of the ruined mill where the wheel still moves through the water.
Branith watches as the others prepare for what ever is to come in their own way. Not moving and standing his ground with his war hammer in a firm grip he waits for what ever is to happen… to happen.
As the group starts to spread out in an attempt to encircle the ruin and the creature, it bellows a hollow laugh. “Fools, many have tried before, you Zhents will not succeed.” With that, the hand that holds the bead shoots forward, launching the small projectile at the center of the group. “Burn in Cyric’s hell you will!”
“Ware, fireball!” Tarim manages to shout as he dives for cover. Next to the Uthgardt mage, Teryn does the same, diving and rolling towards the tree line. Not everyone is as fast as the two, with a dry ‘plop’ the bead lands on the ground, yet almost immediately upon impact, exploding into a flaming sphere that rapidly expands, engulfing a sizeable are in white-hot searing flame.
Immerine and Skeen in moving to encircle the creature are well outside of the fiery blast, though the heat washes over them nonetheless. The nimble Berduskan half-elf barely manages to jump out of the blast’s range, landing backward on the soggy ground. Kevin as well manages to backpedal out of harms way.
Turning her back towards the enemy, Portia’s shield – strapped to her back – protects the Kelemvorite the flames battering against the protective barrier. The halfling ranger also manages to avoid the brunt of the fiery damage, though as he tumbles out of the blast area, the Hin resembles briefly a rolling ball of flames. The marshy ground quickly extinguishes the flames as he rolls onward a little further.
While Tarim and Teryn were the first to duck and dive away, the licking flames of the conflagration still catch up with them, delivering painful blisters and setting pieces of clothing and equipment briefly alight. Stopping his music to shield himself – and by accident the invisible Puddy as well – Nik tries to curl up as the flames roll over him, scorching clothes and equipment
Branith and Matteo are less lucky, both caught slightly off-guard despite the shouted warning. Desperately trying to cover exposed body parts, the hellish flames burn painfully, and the smell of singed hair and leather fills the nostrils. Especially the dwarven priest suffers from the latter as glowing threads spiral up his thick beard.
The arcane spellcasters are almost immediately flooded with a worried inquiring from their familiars. The two winged ones circling undamaged overhead as they inquire after their master’s health, and the small ferret protected inside her satchel.
As everyone is trying to regain their footing and shaking off the effects of the magical blast, the creature cackles dryly as it draws the bastard sword from its scabbard. Unfazed about the Immerine and Skeen moving into flaming positions, it closes towards Matteo. “You have the stench of evil about you! Sememmon’s lackeys will not gain access.”
Letting out a strangled cry as the flames overtake him for a moment, the Uthgardt mage’s eyes blaze with fury; spinning around Tarim rushes towards the creature, moving more or less straight ahead right through the section of scorched earth where the ball of fire had detonated.
“Evil?” Kevin mutters as he picks himself up, wincing as he stretches his burnt skin. “Just when that paladin would have been useful as credentials…” Not that this person… would be likely to listen to reason, if this one had ever been on the side of the archons, he seems somewhat off his game now.
Realizing that he still holds his wand in one hand, the wizard aims at the figure and activates it. Matteo was somewhat in the way, but that was the single most useful aspect of the spell stored inside: all three violet colored missiles coming out actually veer around the lieutenant before they shoot to their target.
All three bolts slam into the creature, yet without much visible effect. As it advances towards Matteo, it does however look briefly at the wand-wielding wizard, cold black eyes boring into Kevin’s.
Tuttle shakes his head, trying to clear the cobwebs from his mind and the ashes from his mouth. The little warrior pulls a dagger from his belt and lets it fly in a single fluid motion. Tuttle tucks his feet in and begins rolling and tumbling to his left, away from the blast site.
The Hin’s dagger flies true and embeds itself in the enemy’s leather armor. The creature gives no outward sign of recognizing the protruding dagger as it continues the fight with the Kelemvorite priestess and the Sembian lieutenant.
Tuttle’s tumbling roll brings him almost at the feet of the dwarf. Branith, having taken the blast of flame with a roar of his own, worthy of his Battle Raging kin, swats at his beard trying to smother the flames. And a few feet away Teryn is performing a similar ritual on his clothes.
Teeth gritted from the pain Teryn’s face clearly shows his rage and anger, while smoke rises in lazy curls from various parts of his body and equipment. “Portia…” He strains out through gritted teeth, “Am I gonna need that enhancement spell to slice this thing to shreds or can I harm it without that?” He pauses briefly for an answer as he keeps a close watch on the enemy.
Probably not having heard Teryn’s questions, Portia shakes herself out of a temporary daze. The Kelemvorite grips her sword with two hands and advances toward the enemy. “You’ve picked the wrong fight. Desist from further aggression or you might me your fate earlier then expected.” Portia’s bastard-sword swings in lazy figure eights as she closes the distance between her and the stranger rapidly.
“Damn, that hurt!” Teryn mutters, to no one in particular, as he realizes Portia will not answer while she is moving to engage the cloaked enemy.
Each step is agonizing as Tarim feels his skin tightening where the skin is forming blisters already. Still he presses forward, despite the pain, even using it to his advantage. Letting his pain fuel his anger the young man draws himself up and points at the creature uttering a single harsh syllable. A violet bolt of energy streaks towards the thing as Tarim glares at it furiously. Just like the result of Kevin’s attack, the Uthgardt’s magical arrow does not seem to affect the creature, this time it does not even acknowledge Tarim’s presence.
Skeen gasps at the fire’s blast, just another item in a long list of things that had gone wrong lately. She looks for the others then, trying to see if any were felled by the blast. She does not move back to the others though, instead she looks for a place to hide, trying to get some sort of angle on their attacker.
Immerine seems to focus on something besides the creature facing her companions. Instead of moving to engage it, she heads towards the mill, leaving Matteo and Portia to engage the creature in melee.
As the flames fade, the bard drops his battered flute and pulls his guitar from his back. After quickly checking the precious instrument over for damage, the bard draws himself up to his full gangly height. Anger flares in his sunken eyes, and Nik scowls. Slinging the guitar strap over his shoulder and settling the instrument across his chest like a swordsman preparing for a duel, the bard glares at the creature before them and strikes into a martial, aggressive song.
Shaking of the worst of the burns received from being at the perimeter of the blast, Matteo cautiously takes a few paces backward as he sees the sword wielding flamethrower approach. Moving his rapier and dagger in a defensive pattern the Sembian awaits the first attack as he hears Portia approach to back him up.
Off to Matteo’s side and within his peripheral vision, Jezbodiah is moving. Scrambling to his feet off the soggy ground, the Berduskan half-elf shakes his head. His satchel utters a series of muffled squeaks. “I’m okay Alanna.” Jez mutters to his leather accessory. “But hold on, this is going to get rough.”
He looks upon the others, some singed, some smoking, and the obviously insane dweller of the mill. He sees the sword-wielding madman advance towards Matteo. “Sememmon? Not likely!” Jez cries aloud. “By Lliira, if you want a fight you’ve got one. You’re dance done!” Jez moves towards the sword-wielding lunatic.
The half-elf extends his right hand and calls forth the powers in his blood. Pointing his hand, palm first, at the being Jezbodiah utters an arcane phrase. A beam of pure white light springs forth and darts towards the creature. Either Jezbodiah loses his balance somewhat, or the creature’s movement takes it out of the ray’s path, but the energy sizzles into nothingness at its terminus, a foot away from the cloaked enemy.
Seeing his attack fizzle, the half-elf silently curses and reaches for a bolt and his crossbow. Almost following on the trail of Jezbodiah’s ray, an arrow comes zipping past the half-elf to land a foot from the creature’s back. Now having gauged the distance between her and the small melee combat, Skeen pulls another arrow from her quiver as her eyes quickly scan the area for any potential new threats. Seeing none, the lithe elf stealthily moves forward through the willows and reeds.
The little fey cried piteously as he rolled to extinguish the flames covering his tiny body. As Nik’s song begins to instill its courageous magic in his little heart, Puddy flies high into the sky to survey the battle. Knowing his magics have little chance of damaging an undead abomination, the scorched pixie hopes to turn the tide of battle in another fashion, and begins to weave a spell.
Having rescued his beard from further fire damage, Branith takes a firm hold of his warhammer and with murder in his eyes heads straight at the creature constantly muttering, “No one puts me beard on fire.” The dwarf’s eyes smolder with a dangerous glint as he moves towards the enemy.
Kevin looks confused at how the bolts do not even faze the creature, and then blanches when the undead thing locks eyes with him. Swallowing, Kevin moves his left arm in a peculiar motion, and a dagger falls out of his large sleeve and into his waiting hand. He moves the blade in a pattern through the air, the sunlight glinting off its silvered edge. A harsh-sounding word later, the dagger expels a violet streak that shoots to the undead creature, forming a magical dagger, which angles to attack the undead warrior from behind.
While Immerine is off reconnoitering the ruined building, Portia faces off with the cloaked stranger. She cannot help noticing that the poor bastard is spouting off like a true Kelemvorite. Rather then putting her full force behind the attack, she concentrates more on parrying the sword swings of the creature, attempting to defend both herself and Matteo.
Having watched Portia move to attack without answering his question, Teryn rolls his eyes at Portia’s back and runs to flank the enemy and lend his twin longswords to the battle, hoping his un-enchanted blades can be useful in the attack.
With her deity’s symbol clearly visible on her tunic, the priestess addresses the creature once more. “You are misguided; we are not your enemy, and certainly not adherents to Cyric.” Being up close with the creature, a thing becomes apparent to Portia, and confirms her suspicions – their enemy is no longer alive. The light that shines from the glinting dark pools of color that resemble the thing’s eyes is unholy, a recognizable aspect of the necromantic force that animates this being.
Not stopping in his attacks against both Portia and Matteo, the creature merely laughs. “Of course that’s what you would say. But you cannot fool me, false priestess.” Underscoring his words, the creature breaks through Portia’s defenses and delivers a ringing blow to the Kelemvorite’s armor; the old and rusty sword opening a gash in the priestess side. Kevin’s mystical dagger strikes the creature at the same time as the undead wounds Portia; the magical force disappearing somewhere in the creature’s back, ripping a hole in the cloak and the leather armor underneath.
Across the fireball scorched patch ground, the small smoldering figure, cloaked in singed rabbit furs, rushes forward; bright blue eyes still focused on his enemy. Coming up on its flank the mage looks for an opening and draws a wand from his pouch. Tarim motions with his hands to indicate the sweep of the flames arc as a warning to Portia and Matteo.
Both the Sembian and the Kelemvorite do not act upon Tarim’s warning as the creature presses its attack. Snarling slightly in frustration and letting his instincts take over, Tarim instead points his free hand, palm first, at the enemy. Similar to Jezbodiah’s magic earlier, a pure white ray of positive energy shoots across the distance between the wizard and the creature.
Unlike the half-elf’s attempt, the Uthgardt’s magic strikes true, the supporting music of the bard steadying Tarim’s aim. Where the ray hits the creature, its armor and flesh smolder. Rising from the scorch mark, wisps of gray smoke twirl up in the air.
Calm, measured and unfazed by the magical attacks, the undead warrior swings the rusty sword in lunges and parries against both of its opponents, Matteo seeing an opportunity when the creature’s sword strikes Portia tries to faint with his rapier. When the stranger responds and parries the false attack, the Sembian’s dagger darts in, scoring a hit.
The feint and the true attack from Matteo cause the creature to leave his side open in attempts to parry Matteo’s lunges, and Portia’s new sword finds an opening. A telling two-handed blow slices deep into the thing’s side, cutting through leather armor and flesh as if it were butter.
While loading his crossbow with a bolt, Jezbodiah cautiously advances towards the stranger who is now in melee with Portia, Matteo and Teryn. Sighting across the weapon, the half-elf waits for an opportune moment and presses the trigger. As the bolt leaves the bow, it spontaneously ignites and flies as a fiery projectile at its target.
Though the Berduskan’s aim was true, the bolt passes harmlessly through the flapping cloak, burning a hole in the fabric and trailing smoke, flying on across the small river to disappear in the willows on the opposite bank.
His senses tuned to the Weave as a result from the arcane magic he used, Puddy’s concentration on the enemy reveals that there is indeed magic at play, probably from more then one source… In addition, Portia, Teryn and Matteo display auras.
With Teryn and Branith now opposing the undead, Portia transfers her sword to her off-hand and pulls forth the symbol of her Lord. The creature’s non-living state is now obvious to all watching the combat unfold. Though having received several hits, no drop of blood flows forth and the creature seems not hindered by the damage at all. Now opposed by four melee combatants, the battle with the undead creature is allowing little room for those relying on ranged attacks.
“Bastard!” The halfling murmurs while pulling another dagger from his belt. Tuttle eyes the conflict and considers throwing another blade into the brawl, but hesitates before making a cautious run towards the stream. His movements apparently unnoticed by the fully engaged undead.
Ahead of the Hin, Immerine moves closer to the mill. As she steps on the narrow boardwalk that runs along the side of the building, she sees something tied to the waterwheel: a well-decayed corpse of a humanoid being. The skull and several other bones are missing, presumably having fallen of into the water as the wheel continues its passage through the stream. A chain shirt keeps the remaining bones – mostly the ribcage and spinal cord together. The shirt, despite the algae and some fungi covering it, appears to be in rather good shape.
Immerine steps closer to try and pull the skeletal remains from the wheel, when she kicks against what initially looks like a rotten branch of sorts, or some other piece of wood, but what turns out to be a moss covered scabbard. The force applied against the leather of the scabbard is enough to have it fall apart, revealing the blade of a longsword in pristine condition: only the sword’s hilt is missing.
Near Queldin's Mask 1371 DR, Eleint, 14th day, late afternoon
While the bard keeps playing the fight rages on in the open area in front of the ruined mill. With now four opponents in direct melee, the shifting the flow of battle presses the undead warrior slightly back, a little closer to the mill. Metal strikes metal, as strikes are parried and blows deflected. The momentary chaos of melee and the shifting battle offering none an opening to score a hit.
Tarim felt some small bit of satisfaction as the spell he threw at the creature hit its mark, but it was soon washed away by a wave of exhaustion as the day’s casting began to truly take its toll. Picking his agonized and weary way around the creature to line up a shot Tarim prepares himself and begins to draw upon what little magics that still dwell within him.
Still though, Mystra had bestowed enough talent upon him to cast yet a few more, and cast more he does, bringing more mind numbing weariness down upon him as he calls forth the essence of life itself, amplifies and directs it at this abominable perversion of nature and the weave.
Once more, a pure white ray of positive energy arches its way towards the undead, jumping around the ferocious Branith to strike the undead, only to be deflected at the last moment by a chance movement of a blade.
Another dwarven battle yell rings across the battlefield, this one touched with a hint of frustration, when Branith fails to penetrate the undead’s defenses. Teryn is similarly frustrated, though he does not voice it as loudly as the dwarf does. With the addition of Branith and Teryn, Portia presents Kelemvor’s symbol boldly, “Rest, tormented spirit. Return to where you were destined to go and leave the realm of the living!”
The priestess’s eyes glow white with an inner light and her outstretched hand holding the symbol seems to glow with an intensity of its own. The undead warrior however does not seem to acknowledge the Lord of the Dead’s commanding power and ignores the Kelemvorite, leaving Portia slightly shaken.
Left standing for a moment, Kevin contemplates his next action as the magic of his dagger expires. While he also has some minor magic to cause inconvenience to the undead, the wizard is wondering why the magical attacks so far have resulted in only partial damage. Could it be that the thing is magical resistant? Reaching for one of his wands, Kevin moves slightly forward, looking for an opening to strike at the – potentially very special – undead.
“Sh!t unless.” Jez mutters disgustedly, whether about his self or his crossbow remains unclear. Keeping a safe range from the others engaged in melee with the undead warrior, the half-elf turns his attention towards the departing Immerine. When the Rashemi disappears around the corner of the ruined mill, he says softly, “What caught her attention?”
Alanna nudging her furry head out of the satchel squeaks and chitters with Jez’s brief prose. Whatever she finds, Jez whispers a prayer to Lliira for the greater good for guidance in their struggle and to Tymora for a little luck. Gauging the fight, and seeing his presence could hinder the fight, Jez turns away from his comrades and rushes towards the mill at a hurried pace.
Hustling along the bank of the river, the small halfling makes his way over towards where the masked witch is investigating something on the mill’s wheel. Though moving quickly, the Hin warrior keeps his eyes open for any danger that might lurk about. Being closer to the mill then the half-elf, Tuttle steps on the small boardwalk ahead of Jezbodiah, seeing with his eyes the skeletal remains and the sword freed of its moldering scabbard.
With the arrival of Jezbodiah behind Tuttle, the limited space on the wooden boardwalk along the mill’s waterfront becomes crowded. While Tuttle approaches, Immerine stops pulling on the remains tied to the wheel and cautiously lowers herself to inspect the now naked blade. The metal appears untarnished by time and weather, apparently only the scabbard and the leather wrapping around the hilt suffered that fate. “What did you find?” The Hin inquires.
“A skeleton and a sword…” Immerine answers as she lifts the blade free and passes it to the Hin. The halfling examines the sword briefly, keeping most of his attention on the fight with his comrades. “I’d say we keep this with us. I’ll not use it, but one of them might.” he says to Immerine. “At least he won’t be able to use it against us.” He adds, kicking at the skeleton.
“Tuttle! Do not disrespect the dead!” Immerine frowns when the hin kicks at the skeleton. “The ribs and spine are being held together by a fairly decent chain shirt too. I want to gather the bones, it may be important.” Immerine goes back to gathering the skeleton.
While Tuttle and Immerine busy themselves with the inanimate skeleton found attached to the waterwheel, Jezbodiah watches from their activities back towards where the fight continues; the battle still accompanied by Nik’s music. The bard seemingly lost in his own performance.
Mocking Portia’s attempt at turning by completely seeming to ignore her, the undead swordsman brings his sword to bear against Teryn. The force of the undead’s blow forces the Berduskan’s blades apart and despite the rusty appearance of the bastard sword, it manages to penetrate the enchanted armor.
The sword-cut sends Teryn reeling backward and grimacing in pain as he brings his own weapons back up to parry a following cut. The movement of his arms causes Teryn to flinch and grunt in pain. Dropping his off-hand weapon, he clutches his chest while moving his now single weapon into a defensive position.
The attack on Teryn leaves the defenses of the undead open to both Branith and Matteo, the dwarf being the quicker of the two to exploit the opening. “Father of Battle, guide my arm.” The sturdy priest invokes one of his deities as he prepares a mighty swing; too late the undead tries to deflect the dwarf’s attack and the steel head of a dwarven-forged hammer slams home, audibly breaking bones.
Realizing that her deity’s power has no effect over the undead has briefly taken the priestess aback. The sight of Teryn’s chest slashed open brings her fully back though. Letting the symbol fall to dangle from its chain, the red-haired priestess grabs her sword in both hands once more and vehemently attacks the animated insult to her beliefs and tenets. The combination of her anger and her bard-boosted self-confidence fuel her attack and she slashes across the undead’s flank, laying open its armor and skin beneath.
At the fringes of the melee, Tarim continues to pour forth the energies of life at the thing in front of him; standing his ground, because moving would require too much effort. As the burst of energy darts along an erratic path towards the undead, Tarim notices the creature moving its hand away from its two-handed grip on the rusty bastard sword, and towards where it tucked away the golden chain previously… The distraction causing the mage’s hand to waver and the ray misses its target.
Despite his wounds, Matteo’s posture in the battle has remained composed, cool and calculating, the Sembian preferring to defend and strike only at the opportune moment. When the undead attacks Teryn, and is subsequently attacked by Portia, such an opportunity presents itself, and lightning quick a rapier dives in, penetrating the leather armor as if it were mere paper.
The moment of imbalance, the undead finds itself in after the blow from the dwarven hammer and Kelemvorite sword, offers a second moment for Matteo and with his off-hand he manages to slice across the warrior’s arm, the dagger punching also through leather and undead skin.
Kevin hesitates, taken aback for a moment, as the creature seems to shrug off most attacks – even magical ones. It was not only tough, but also apparently resistant to magic itself. Which meant Kevin was next to useless in this fight. One could defeat magic-resistance, but it needed a high spell magnitude, and he was merely of the second tier, however…
Kevin lifts the wand he had received in Berdusk. Whoever had made it had been of the next magnitude. Perhaps it was strong enough. A moment later, the battle shifted in such a way as to give him an opening, and Kevin fired the wand once more. Three darts of magical force spring forth from the tip of the wand darting almost quicker then the eye can follow towards the undead. Two out of the three missiles slam home after darting around the Silvaren’s companions, burning holes into the undead’s armor the size of Tuttle’s fists.
Like Teryn, the undead now looks worse for the wear, albeit without the amount of bloodstains. It does not show any reluctance in continuing the fight as it shifts its attention from Teryn to Branith and Matteo. The dark glint within the hooded undead’s eyes promising death as it grins maliciously – the grimace grotesquely accentuated by the tightly drawn skin as it reaches with one hand into the folds of its cloak.
His ongoing observations of the cluster of combatants finally yielded somewhat useful information. The little fey examines the various auras indecisively for a moment, then shrugs to himself, and begins to weave a ‘Dispelling’. Through their links with their familiars, both Tarim and Kevin ‘feel’ that some magic is being cast into the area of the combat.
A sense of dread fills the Uthgardt mage’s heart as he sees the ‘Thing’ reach for what he dreaded was in that pouch. “Ware!’ Tarim calls out for the second time urgently, “Scatter! The fireball comes!” In his mind, he calls for Ened’ome from where she circles overhead. Thinking to her desperately, “Swoop and get the shiny in the bad thing’s claw!” Meanwhile Tarim hopes even more desperately that he is not condemning his best friend in the entire world to death to save the rest of them.
Stealthily the lithe elf moved through the stands of willows and reeds, circling around the combat area and the ruined mill. The bard’s music is comforting and steadying, even for her, and as metal rings on metal, Skeen moves further through the natural cover.
Edging back a little closer towards the clearing and the ruin, Skeen sees that on the far side one of the walls has partially collapsed. The stone used in the mill’s foundation have crumbled inward, creating a gaping hole underneath the wooden beams that resembles vaguely a grotesque toothless mouth of an old hag.
Carefully the elven rogue scans the surroundings, noticing the battle with the sword-wielding stranger is still in full swing. Only a few of her teammates are involved however and she cannot see the masked witch or the little halfling that recently joined the group.
Shrugging her shoulders, Skeen quickly darts across the clearing and presses herself against the wall of the ruin as soon as she is across. A few steadying breaths later, she looks about to see if anyone – or anything for that matter – noticed her. Nothing apparently… feeling a little more secure, she slowly puts away her bow and draws the long knife from its sheath.
Skeen edges closer toward the hole, walking carefully, ready to leap backward should the ground start to fade away from beneath her feet. Getting closer to the hole, she listens quietly, and then searches the area around it for traps with her eyes, spotting none. Peering around the rim of the crumbled wall, Skeen’s eyes take only a brief amount of time to adjust to the lighting conditions within the mill. Aside from a few small rodents, nothing else moves within the ruined interior of the former mill.
On the other side, Jezbodiah steps a little closer to Immerine and Tuttle. “I hope you two found something useful, like a really big sharp sword…” He utters aloud as he runs towards his companions. “That walking bone-bag is battling through our companions like a zealous Banite Blackguard with nothing to loose.” Immerine and Tuttle notice the usual chirp of merriment in his voice replaced by genuine concern and fear for the group. Fear being something Jez does not admit to expressing. “By Lliira, my crossbow doesn’t seem to hurt it.” Alanna, deep in the satchel as she can go, is heard loud enough whining with concern.
Immerine stops and looks over at Jez, “So you’re saying his ‘lordship’ has found something he can’t handle? So do we need to back off the platform and go help?” Immerine looks to the two people between her and the edge of the building.
“I don’t know…” He says with a look of confusion that washes over his face. “Lordship, he’s not my lordship? Since when is he my lordship? I thought he was Sembian.” Jez stops and blinks. “It looks as if what ever we’re doing doesn’t seem to hurt, or even slow the creature. It’s like he brushes it off, like flies. I figured since some one lived here, there might be something we can use against that thing out there.”
‘Out there’ the fight continues to rage on, accompanied by the bard’s music. Halfway between panting from exertion and exhaustion and muttering a soft curse in his native Illuskan tongue, the Uthgardt mage wobbles slightly, his hand dropping slightly in discouragement. Taking as much of a deep breath as he can manage he murmurs, “Mystra guide my hand… please…”
The Lady of the Weave must have heard Tarim’s; the ray strikes the undead in the back, sending it staggering towards Portia, the thing’s sword flailing wildly. Still clutching his bleeding wound, Teryn steps aside, avoiding a wild swing of the rusty blade.
A wicked smile appears beneath the dwarven priest’s singed beard as he sees the creature stumbling, and again sends his hammer in for a telling blow growling, “For Moradin!”. The hammer strike buckling the undead’s legs and it drops to its knees in front of Portia. The redheaded Kelemvorite slams her massive blade home once more, the sword cleaving into the thing’s cloaked skull. With a groan, the defeated undead topples forward.
Suddenly, a small, black shape glides through the opening between the combatants; a little black owl lands on the unmoving remains of the undead warrior, rotating its head to look around. Yellow, predatory eyes with a glimmer of intelligence looking from one to the other; then it moves down the cloaked heap, picking at the cloth as if to get to something underneath.
Branith looks down on the owl and the corpse while he leans on his warhammer to catch his breath. “Ha that should teach the damn undead beastie ta stay out af ar way far some time at least. Shoo owly this is ar kill, besides there is na meat beneath those rags only bones.”
The little fey maintains his position aloft, though he does slowly settle a little closer to the ground. As he does so, he studies the owl, trying to determine by its actions whether it might be a natural creature or a familiar or other magically enhanced beast.
Having lost interest in the sword and skeleton, Tuttle watches in awe as the battle ends. The halfling tilts his head curiously, as the owl appears, but his mouth opens as the bird starts digging in the cloth. “Hey! That bitch is going to take my skiprock! Hey!” He shouts, pushing his way past Jez and Immerine towards the gathering.
Ignoring the scrambling of the hin, Immerine looks intently at Jez, confusion obvious from her tone as she says, “What are you babbling about now? I never said Matteo was your Lordship; I called him ‘his Lordship’. Are you sure your mother never dropped you on your head? You are one of the most curiously confused creatures I have ever met. Well, what are they doing? Are you going to answer my question or not – DO THEY NEED MY HELP?”
As Immerine’s nearly shouted question filters through the cracks and openings in the ruin, Skeen steps cautiously into the mill then, knowing she cannot be of much help in any fight. Her entire being is focused on quiet and caution, trying to see and even sense things that might be there to hurt her.
Scattered about in the ruined mill’s interior are several pieces of parchment and paper. As well as a moldering tome, that lies in a puddle. Most are in various stages of decay, or show signs of gnawing from the mice and rats that make the abandoned place their home. Only a few pages seem legible enough. In a corner of the ruin, partially hidden behind the millstones, lies another skeleton. This one clothed in tattered remains of what could have been a robe of sorts.
Past the millstones and rotting gears, daylight filters into the ruin. Through the cracks in the back wall, Skeen can see Immerine and Jezbodiah, as well as occasionally a glimpse of the waterwheel as it lazily turns with the flow of the river.
As Jezbodiah turns and looks back at the party, he sees the undead monstrosity collapse under its own weight. “Uh no, not really… Portia smacked it… Uh, hard enough…” He continues. “It’s not getting up, I think… So much for being premature…” He then turns and looks at Immerine and the hilt-less sword in her possession. His eyes shine and sparkle at the sight of the naked blade. “Nice blade. Looks like it needs a hilt… Care if I take a look?”
Immerine stares at Jez for a moment before the intent of his words sinks in, “Yes, I mind.” She turns back to collect the bones and carefully removes the chain shirt from the skeleton. “You are only interested in material goods, Jez. Why don’t you make sure the ones you call companions are safe and tell them what we found.” Immerine seems to be quite upset about something and her nasty temper is beginning to erode.
At the same time, Tarim winces as he moves forward toward the corpse urging his little friend to give up the attempt at retrieving the ‘shiny’. He shoots a rather irritated look at Tuttle but says nothing as he gathers the little avian into his arms and scratches her gently behind the head soothingly. As pale and fragile as he usually looks Tarim is even more so now, looking quite ghostlike himself.
Branith just looks on as the mage picks up is familiar and as he puts his warhammer back on his right hip he says “Perhaps ya should keep yar bird an a leash mage, lest he get’s poked ar swatted at.” His face shines up in a smile, showing that the dwarf was actually making a joke. Feeling the wounds he took during the battle, Branith begins a prayer to request the powers to heal from Moradin, placing both hands over the wounds he received.
Teryn drops his remaining sword and seems ready to jump for the owl before realizing it belongs to Tarim. Gingerly bending down to pick up and sheathe one weapon at a time while his other hand holds pressure on the deep, bloody slash across his chest, he looks to Branith as the dwarf is healing himself. “Um, Branith, could I trouble you for some help?” Then he stops to try to stifle a painful cough, “I have a bit of a wound here.”
Having looked after his own wounds and seen to it that they are closed, the dwarf moves over to Teryn, repeating the ritual prayers. It takes some more energy to knit close the ugly wound the warrior received to his abdomen, but after a while, the only evidence of the sword blow is the damage to the armor and the bloodstains.
Panting, the Kelemvorite priestess gives another brief look at the corpse and the little owl on top of it and then invokes her deity for support in healing the wounds dealt by the undead. Feeling secure in her faith, the healing energies pour from her hands into her body, repairing the damage done. When she looks up from her task, she sees the almost ghost-like mage take care of the owl.
“Here, let my Lord’s touch soothe you.” Repeating the prayers, healing energy once more flows through Portia’s hands as she looks after Tarim’s burns; the soothing effect of the healing calming the young fragile mage. Then noticing Matteo, the priestess moves over to support the Sembian and cures his wounds as well.
The Uthgardt mage sighs in relief as the wave of healing magic washes over his frail form. “Thank you Portia and thanks to Kelemvor as well.” He says gratefully, the little owl in his arms offers a quiet screeching sound and rubs it’s beak against his chin, stirring a bit and climbing to his shoulder, to look around.
While the healing of hurts is in progress, Nik changes his tune to something soft and soothing; the notes recalling the gentle gurgling of a stream through a sun-dappled forest, or the blooming of the first flowers in spring as color breaks through the blanket of snow.
Skeen returns to the others, treading as lightly as she can. She speaks hoarsely, softly, as always. “There are some papers that might be legible on the floor in the mill. And an old body.” She knows she should have checked the body herself first, taken what she could, but something stops her, maybe a memory of Telsom.
The fight concluded, the little fey tiredly wings his way over to the bard, collapsing across Nik’s shoulder as a tiny moan escapes his mouth.
Grateful for the soothing healing given by the dwarf, Teryn smiles as his wound and burns heal. “Thank you and Moradin for helping me.” He nods to the dwarf before turning to Tarim. “Tarim, perhaps you should check the body over, just in case that necklace of his needs to be handled gingerly. I will check on the others by the wheelhouse.” He draws one sword as he walks over to Immerine and Jez.
Branith nods back at Tarim and looks down on his beard. He casts a hateful glare at the fallen undead corpse and asks, “Any one else who is in the need of a healing hand?” The halfling sighs and gives up looking for his skip stone. As Branith asks his question, Tuttle looks at his tattered and charred clothes. “Aye, I could use a hand. That blast still smarts.” He asks meekly. Branith looks over at the halfling and says “Of course jargh.” Branith weaves his hands and words together to form the necessary parts of the prayer to Moradin.
The pain gone and only weariness remaining the slight young man kneels next to the grisly remains of their undead adversary sifting through its clothing and belongings gingerly while Branith bestows more of Moradin’s favor on the halfling. Tarim takes a deep breath and murmurs softly to himself in the arcane tongue after having removed any items of interest from the vanquished undead. The spell complete he slumps to his knees next to the objects and sifts through with a sort of dazed listless expression.
The priestess, still standing near the former undead, carefully sheathes her blade – which she had stuck point first in the ground while she worked her healing – and watches as Tarim checks over the body. “From what I could make out, he was seriously confused, but he also seemed to be a true follower of the Lord of the Dead. Why he would be undead, I don’t know…”
As the others look over the corpse and divest it of anything useful, the redheaded priestess looks at Matteo and says, “I’m going to check out the mill. It looks like Immerine found something over by the wheel.” she nods to where Immerine and Jez are, with Teryn just joining them, “and there might be something more inside.”
On the small boardwalk attached to the former mill Teryn arrives and asks Immerine, “Have you found anything here?” Immerine was obviously placing bits of a skeleton on the walkway and holds a hilt-less blade in one hand. Her eyes are flashing in anger and she looks away from Jez. She closes her eyes for a moment. “I am sorry Jez. It is not your fault I am this way.”
“There is no fault…” The Berduskan half-elf says in soft tones. “It’s who you are and who’ll be. A leader amongst your people.” He looks at the skeleton for a moment then says, “If he or she is a Llirran, I’m duty bound by my faith to gather his remains, cremate them, and scatter them to the winds. I will not interfere with your ceremony or beliefs.” He stops for a moment and looks at the remains. “If not… where’s his head?”
“Greetings Teryn, I found a hilt-less blade in the water and a pretty chain shirt as well as the unfortunate soul who they once belonged.” Immerine hands the naked blade to Jez. “Look at it if you like.” Immerine hands Jez the blade and quickly goes back to work gathering bits of bone. The turning of the waterwheel is not making Immerine’s task easier, yet she manages to collect several pieces of the bound skeleton before she needs to resort to a different tactic in removing the chain-clad torso.
The warrior gives the found blade a brief glance as Immerine hands it off to Jez. Seeing Immerine struggle with the skeleton and chain shirt, Teryn steps closer “Allow me to help?” it is more a question even as he sheathes his blade and bends down next to the corpse.
“The skull is in the water as are a few more bones. He has a nice chain shirt I would like to pry loose but the wheel is in the way. I can probably retrieve the bones in the water with magic, but the chain shirt will prove far more difficult.” Immerine squats at the edge and peers down focusing her will to form the hand around the bones and bring them up. “And, I am only peevish because I am worried. Not because I am a leader. Leaders do not need to be peevish.”
“Hmmm… Let’s see what I can spy with my eye…” Jez studies the blade carefully flipping the blade over again, thrice, then a fourth. Sometime during his examination, Alanna squeaks loudly then scuttles out from her satchel. She climbs up the half-elf’s back and leans forward with her master, studying the blade and learning something from it, as if copying Jez’s mannerism and expressions could aid her.
When Jezbodiah takes hold of the blade and looks at it once more, he sees the subtle engraving along the length of the blade. The symbols depicted are somewhat repetitive. The Berduskan studies them for a moment, apparently ignoring Teryn and Immerine, suddenly he exclaims, “Music! These symbols represent musical notes! Get Nik!”
“Let me take my boots off and step into the water and maybe I can get better leverage there. That’s not unlike the chain shirt Tel…” Teryn hesitates, wincing at a sad memory, “…Telsom bought just before we left town.” His expression turns grim as he removes his boots, pulls up his pants and proceeds to help recover the bones and shirt.
“One problem with that idea Teryn, the waterwheel will drag you under. Considering the bones are lashed to it somehow.” Immerine points out. Looking at the waterwheel Teryn gets an idea. “There should be a way to stop the wheel from turning. How else would someone fix a problem with it? “Jez, would you mind taking a look?”
“Serves me right for skipping out on musical lessons.” Jez mutters to himself as he breaks his concentration away from the blade. “Oh… Uh what? Sure, I’ll help. Must be a way to stop this mill from turning on its own. I’m not going in the water though.”
When Teryn removes the boots from his feet, it is first Immerine, then almost immediately after that Teryn notices a pair of leeches attached to his ankles. “How did I miss those when I crossed the river before? Darn blood suckers!” Teryn goes to pull them off, hesitating long enough to ask Immerine, “Do you want these for medicinal purposes? They might have been handy when I got bit by that spider.” Looking back at the group around the undead creature’s body, he adds speaking to Immerine, “Everybody should check themselves over; we all waded into the water, except Puddy.”
“Mmmmm, leeches. Interesting creatures. No, I have no way to keep them alive. But we should check each other over.” Immerine stops what she is doing and starts undressing. When she is completely naked – except for face covering – she asks, “So, do you see anything?” The witch’s body is slender and her skin is silky smooth, with the exception of the reddened scars she has received over the last couple of weeks. The muscles ripple beneath her toned flesh and she looks at the two men waiting for their replies.
The young half-elf smiles and continues fiddling with the water wheel. “Here it comes again…” He snickers aloud then chuckles. Waiting for Immerine to reply, he turns his attention back to the water wheel. “If I can find the sluice, upstream maybe you can finish collecting his remnants.”
Teryn’s eyes widen as a happy expression replaces the serious one that was on his face a moment before though his face blushes with embarrassment, “Um, nothing any self-respecting leech wouldn’t ‘want’ to latch onto, that’s for sure, but no, at… um… first glance I don’t see any leeches.” As he glances and winks at Jez “Not counting Jez anyway.”
The undead thing fallen, Kevin silently tucks his wand back under his bandolier. Rolling up his spacious left sleeve, exposing the well-made leather and metal device strapped to his forearm, he replaces his silvered dagger in the special sheath. With a flutter of wings, Kethron appears. He lands on Kevin’s shoulder, claws gripping the thick cloth there. The Tressym seems confused, looking at Kevin and poking one pointed ear with his nose. Kevin, his face still blank, reaches up to pet his familiar, yet seems almost half-hearted about it.
Finally, some emotion shows on the half-elf’s face, as he frowns slightly and cocks his head. “Kethron…” The Silvaren mage says softly, speaking in Elven, “…did you see anything else up there?” The winged cat meows and Kevin shakes his head. “One enemy, two attacks. It doesn’t add up.” Shaking his head, he crosses over to Nik. “Excuse me…” He tells the thin man, speaking in Chondathan again, “…but I need your opinion as a bard. Do you that, that, that… thing…” Kevin motions towards the body of the formerly undead warrior “…could have summoned those rats?”
Looking over his shoulder to his mentor Tarim calls out “Kevin? I’m fairly certain that he used this…” holding up a slender wand made of dark wood with a faint filigree engraving depicting various rodents. He sets it down next to the body as Ened’ome studies the wand carefully apparently interested in the scrollwork.
“We already know what this thing does…” He says to the group at large holding up the golden necklace with four little balls on the chain and setting it aside. “Carrying that can be hazardous though as the balls will detonate under extreme heat according to what I’ve read.” He sits and looks at the last item giving it a bit of polish and examining it carefully. “This is an excellent piece…” The Uthgardt murmurs, “Ah… Nik?” He calls to the bard
“Oh.” Kevin says, apparently embarrassed that he had not thought of the undead warrior using a magical device. “Well, good… glad we don’t have someone else to worry about.” Seeming at a loss for something to do, Kevin looks over toward the building, and then does a double take, as he sees the now-nude Immerine. His jaw gapes slightly as he stares; a moment later, he catches himself and quickly looks away, his face turning an interesting shade of pink. Kethron just gives an amused ‘meow’ at Kevin’s discomfort.
Moving without pain for the first time in a while, Portia makes her way toward the mill, quirking an eyebrow and shaking her head in bafflement as Immerine starts to strip down. With a sigh, the redhead moves to enter the mill instead of moving over to where Immerine, Jez and Teryn are gathered.
Immerine rolls her eyes, “Men. I have not a clue what Jez is talking about do you?” Then, Immerine sees Portia and the others then calls out in a raised voice, “You may have leeches on you from crossing the stream. I would check if I were you.” When Teryn affirms she has none, Immerine puts her clothes back on and checks them to make sure there are no creatures inside. Immerine finds none and quickly finishes dressing, the witch still wondering what is wrong with the men on this side of Faerûn.
Teryn shrugs “I don’t know what he meant by ‘Here it comes again,’ but I can tell you something about men. When a woman takes her clothes off in front of us, we tend to make assumptions. Either the woman is sending us a message she wants to have sex with us or we think she is trashy and so more likely to have sex with just about anyone or as I believe is your situation, you are culturally uninhibited and nudity means very little to you. I basically grew up in Twilight Hall; I know some cultures are like that. Men are visual; a beautiful woman in front of us tends to get us excited.”
“I am familiar with the strange swellings of your body. I was once told that the swelling is not poison and not to try cutting it open and sucking out the venom.” The voice of Immerine sounds muffled as she re-dresses.
Jezbodiah – letting Alanna roam free – moves off the boardwalk and joins Portia as the priestess is about to enter the building. The interior of the former mill is in desperate need of repair and refurbishing, cobwebs and dust competing for space with molds and fungi. Several puddles of stagnant water dot the floor and a few rats scurry about.
At the far end of the mill, daylight streams in through a partially collapsed wall, more light filters through some cracks behind the millstones and the gears. Through those cracks, Immerine and Teryn are partially visible. In a corner near the gears and millstones, propped against the wall lies a skeleton, clothed in tattered remains of what could have been a robe of sorts.
Scattered about in the ruined mill’s interior are several pieces of parchment and paper. As well as a moldering tome, that lies in a puddle. Most are in various stages of decay, or show signs of gnawing from the mice and rats that make the abandoned place their home. At first glance, only a few pages seem legible enough.
Matteo and Skeen move off to follow Portia and Jez in the investigation of the ruin, leaving Branith and the patched-up Tuttle to watch over the arcane and musical experts. While Kevin and Tarim discuss the finds on the undead warrior, Puddy reaches into a pouch and produces a small, fey-sized vial. Downing the vial’s contents in a quick gulp, the still invisible faerie immediately feels better. Nik, in the mean time, has moved closer to the two wizards, and the lanky bard looks at the item Tarim is holding out – a set of pipes. “Hmm, interesting… Not my favorite instrument, but this one is of good quality. And you say it is magical?”
Inside, Jez laughs aloud as he fiddles with the gears connected to the water wheel. “Immerine, you’ve been touched by Lliira and you don’t even know it.” The Berduskan manages to find a sturdy crate amongst the refuse of the mill house and takes a seat. “Anyway Immerine, Ladies, Good Sirs, I think there’s a sluice a bit upstream. I can block it off and it will divert the river long enough for you to collect his remains.” Turning his attention to Teryn through the openings of the crumbling wall of the ruin, he says, “Sir, I haven’t known you long enough, but you’re like the second-place winner in Berdusk’s annual dart tossing contest. You’ll come so close to the hitting the target, but you’re still far off the mark.”
Sitting, Jez dons off his boots and socks. He examines his feet and legs for any bloodsucking leeches. Next, he works out of his pants, but not his undergarments. After a thorough check of his legs and feet, as well as the inside of his pants and boots, Jez gives a small sigh of relief, when he finds none of the bloodsuckers.
Try as he might to hold it in, Teryn cannot control his laughter at Immerine’s comment but he still cringes bodily, reflexively covering his groin with one hand as if to protect himself. “That’s true Immerine; it is not something to be cut open. Drained is another story though…” He laughs some more, not sure she even understands. “The swelling you speak if is natural to men and has been known to be flattering to women. What’s more, that swelling is necessary for procreation. Do you not know how that…um…” He clears his throat, “…that happens?” He has a puzzled look on his face.
“Fine Jez, cut it off and I will retrieve the remains. And I have no idea what you are talking about with darts.” Then Immerine turns to Teryn and shakes her head. “Teryn you are a dear man, but can be a little dense. Yes, I know how procreation occurs. I have watched many animals, just had never seen a human male until recently. I know you swell and I know you leak. I have also learned this is natural and that your penis does not distend from its sheath. I still am not sure what method you use to mount your female, nor do I care at this moment in time. This is hardly the place to have sex.”
“I have also learned some rather interesting things happen when a man suckles a woman and even stranger things happen when a woman puts her lips on you. I am naïve about many things, but sex is not one of those things. I am naïve about why anyone would want to have sex for any other reason than procreation – but I have learned it happens all the time. In fact, far too often.” Immerine’s voice raises and she gets worked up and ‘peevish’ about something. Realizing her anger is getting hold of her, she clenches her fists and stops.
Leaving the ruined mill, Jez whistles a happy tune while hoisting up his pants. “I’m heading up-stream. I’ll be back in a minute. C’mon Alanna!” The happy-go-lucky ferret ejects herself from the mill and races towards Jez. He picks her up and they are off on their own.
Kevin looks up, as he hears Immerine’s raised voice, his expression puzzled. He hesitates, and then decides that Tarim has the examination, of the body and its possessions, well in hand. “Excuse me, Tarim.” he says, and stands, brushing off his hands. He walks over to the pair, his face darkening again as he recalls Immerine’s exposure of a moment ago, but attempts to push it aside.
“Is there something wrong?” He asks the witch when he arrives at the scene. “No, not really – it is just associations of memory interfering with my sensibilities. I will get over it.” Immerine breathes in deeply. “I know a man who has slept with women simply to use them. Though he assures me, they also benefited from the relationship. Foolishness on both parts. Of course, you are coming into the middle of a discussion on sex. Can you give some enlightenment to the topic?”
Kevin freezes, the witch’s words bringing him up short. “S-sex?” He asks, all of a sudden looking like he had received a hit to his head. His cheeks were already somewhat red from just looking at the woman who had just a moment ago been almost completely nude; now the discoloration quickly spread to the rest of his face.
“Uh…” The wizard blinked. “That’s… an interesting subject to be talking about out here. Uh, perhaps you could tell me how you… um, started talking about it?”
“Well, it began when Teryn found leeches on his ankles. Then I pulled off my clothes to ask him if he could see any. Then it got around to men looking at women who unclothe themselves. Teryn thought there were three reasons. Then I made the notation of men’s swellings, and what happened the first time I encountered a swelling man. I am still not sure why it swells rather than distends but that is not a topic for now. Then we came to the topic of procreation and if I knew anything about sex. The truth is I have watched and noted how animals mate. So yes, I know plenty about procreation. I do not understand a few things about male anatomy as associated with female anatomy though. Perhaps this conversation should be saved for another time.” Immerine taps her foot impatiently waiting for the wheel to stop turning so she can gather the skeletal remains.
Having heard the call for bodily investigation for bloodsuckers, the dwarf takes of his scale mail and takes of his tunic as well as dropping his pants. As back at the ruin, the discussion on ‘sex’ comes to some sort of an end. “Bloody monsters, just as bad as goblins.” Branith grumbles as he feels around on himself in hunt of any leeches. “You see any, jargh?” He asks Tuttle as he turns his naked back towards the hin for inspection.
“Yikes! Leeches?” The bard exclaims almost jumping away from Branith and Tuttle, upsetting Puddy as the fey was perched on his shoulder and forgetting about Tarim’s question and the instrument. Quickly the bard divests himself of his battered boots and wet, holey socks, examining his pasty-white legs. Other then the thick, ugly scars on both bony ankles, the bard appears free of the blood-sucking critters. Despite the relief of not finding any, a shudder wracks the Nik’s body briefly at the thought.
As goose bumps cover his skin, Nik pulls his socks and boots back on before moving back towards Tarim. “Lemme see again.” He asks the young wizard and takes the offered set of pipes. Once more, he turns them over in his hands, studying the instrument before brining it to his lips in an attempt to coax some music out of it. Soft tunes issue forth as the air from the bard’s lungs pass over the pipes and music once more fills the surroundings of the ruin.
Tarim listens carefully for a few moments and then smiles gently at the bard before dragging his exhausted body from its kneeling position. He takes the necklace and the wand and tucks them away for later investigation without even thinking to ask anyone if it is ok. He half-walks half-shuffles to the mill and heads inside to find these books and such that Skeen mentioned. The young mage is literally numb with exhaustion and walks with all the grace of the undead as he moves.
The halfling furrows his brow at Branith, surprised and a little confused. Poor Tuttle says nothing, but checks Branith for leeches quietly. “No. None of them here, friend dwarf. But, I don’t know how I’d see them through all the hair. I’ve known centaurs with less hair on their backs. Now get dressed you hairy fool!” He chides with a snicker.
The dwarf’s face becomes a bit flustered and says, “Well you little, I am no centaur that should be obvious!” He begins to reach for his warhammer but stops short and instead turns around to face the halfling “Lucky for you I am naked otherwise you would be so ugly even a goblin would rate you at the dinner table.” When he is dressed and stands beside the fallen undead he adds, “Besides how is one supposed to survive in that damn winter cold in the North. Have you even been to the Spine of the World?”
Righting himself after tumbling from the bard’s shoulder, the little fey watches in silence as the larger party members search themselves for the waterborne blood-suckers as he drinks a tiny potion retrieved from his satchel.
“You don’t happen to know `The Tale of Baradin the stout of heart´ bard? Branith asks Nik as the man begins to play the pipes. After redressing and donning his armor, he moves over to Nik at the fallen undead. Nik stops his experimental play on the pipes and looks at the dwarf, “Though I hail from the North, I can’t say I have heard that tale. I’d be glad to hear it from you though.”
Looking up, the bard sees that only the dwarf, the hin and he are remaining near the ‘dead’ undead. “Why don’t we go see what the others are doing, it must be more interesting than standing around a corpse…” Tucking the pipes away, Nik steps towards the ruined mill, his strides taking him towards Immerine, Kevin and Teryn.
Inside the mill, Portia is examining the skeletal remains draped in a corner of the mill as Matteo bends through his knees to pick up some of the pieces of parchment and paper that lie about. Brows furrowed in concentration, the Sembian tries to make sense of what the scribbling on the pages, a task not made easier by the dirt and water staining the documents. Skeen leans back against a wall of the building, looking about as the priestess and Matteo make their investigations.
Briefly, the elven woman looks at Tarim as the young mage shuffles into the ruin. It takes a moment for the Uthgardt to have his eyes adjust to the shadowy interior of the former mill before he can take in the scene.
Tarim catches the tail end of Immerine’s statement and just closes his eyes and leans up against the wall of the Mill. “Better to say nothing. Just shut up Tarim.” He says to himself silently. He and Immerine had plenty of misunderstandings lately and he is not ready to add more to the list in his current state. Instead, he wanders further into the mill looking for the aforementioned book.
“Some of this might make more sense to you.” Matteo says without looking up as he picks up another wet sheet from the floor. “I cannot decipher the writing, but it appears to be arcane in nature. The same goes for this.” The Sembian holds up a dripping wet tome, which also shows teeth marks on the cover, where the resident rodents of the ruin likely have nibbled it; rodents that have made themselves suddenly scarce as Ened’ome follows Tarim into the building and perches on one of the two upright millstones.
Exhausted or not the mage’s eyes light up as the book is held forth and he moves forward eagerly to examine it. Taking the tome gingerly in his hands, he looks for a dry spot to sit. Oddly, his eyes now adjusted to the shadowy interior of the mill, going over it poses very little problem for him and he eagerly begins parsing through its contents. “If you could gather the loose pages, I will examine them too.” He offers, uttering his first words to Matteo since the Running Stag in Berdusk.
The skeleton in the corner of the mill reveals preciously little to Portia. The robe-like garment and some of the other partially decayed accoutrements hint at a spell caster of sorts. Something that rhymes with the findings of the arcane writing Matteo offered to Tarim. The only items of interest on the corpse are in a heavily weathered and molding leather pouch: two vials in pristine condition, albeit a bit dirty.
Nik’s lanky frame briefly blocks most of the waning daylight streaming into the inn as he passes through the doorway. A bit uncertain his eyes take in the scene of the ruined mill’s interior; atop the bard’s shoulder, a curious fey leans forward doing the same, albeit with out the uncertainty. As a creature more attuned to the magical elements in the world, Puddy spots two items that apparently have been overlooked by the others, but what he knows with certainty to be magical items. Almost underneath Matteo’s boots, covered by a thin layer of mud is a brooch-like object, and lying on the grindstone is a feather that the others likely have taken for something natural.
Outside, near the undead corpse, the halfling shrugs his shoulders and looks about to see what the others are doing, clearly bored already. Tuttle shrugs again, and follows Branith, but quickly loses interest. The poor ranger pulls out another smooth stone and flings it against a wall. Tuttle’s skill with the rock is obvious as time after time, the rock bounces straight back off the wall into his hands.
Branith having agreed with the bard’s suggestion has moved over to the mill. “How are things coming along over here, found anything?” He queries the ones who are inside the mill as he also steps through the doorway. His dwarven nature finding the deplorable state of the building an affront to solid engineering, the dwarf frowns then utters a curse and runs one of his hands over the stones of the building. “By Moradin’s Hammer. This place won’t stand for another season” Walking over to the mill wheel, he takes a closer look at it from this side.
With the dwarf making his cursory inspection, a little buzz of wings sound as Puddy leaves Nik’s shoulder. Giving in to his innate curiosity, the little fey swoops over unseen and picks up two items, taking a moment to clean them off and give them a thorough examination. As soon as the fey takes hold of the items, they disappear from view. With everyone but Nik and Skeen busy with something else, Puddy’s action goes unnoticed.
From the other side of the wall, near the waterwheel, the discussion continues and filters into the ruin. “You’re the one who said you had to be told you didn’t need to cut it and suck out the venom!” Teryn replies a bit defensively. A look of shame comes over his face and in a calmer voice, he continues, “I apologize, you didn’t say when that was, for all I know if may have been when you were a youngster. As for why anyone would want to have sex for reasons other than procreation, I can only guess and forgive me if I am wrong, you haven’t had a proper orgasm or you might understand the desire to repeat that pleasure more often.”
“Suck out… venom?” The half-elf looks shocked – and somewhat pained. He looks back and forth between the two. “Perhaps you’re right… perhaps we should discuss this another time.” Kevin appears to regret ever having come over. “I will tell you right now, though, that while I have… rather limited practical experience in this area, I can tell you that for most humanoids, ah, sex is a very… pleasurable thing. It stands to reason – raising a humanoid child is hard work, harder than anything that an animal has to go through. Animals such as horses start to walk the same day, if not the same hour, they’re born. Humanoids take a lot more time to develop. I believe it’s the same for all intelligent races, though I’m afraid I don’t know much about non-humanoids. However, anything necessary for a species to function has to be enjoyable to some extent. No? After all, if eating were not enjoyable, we’d starve. If the hardest thing to do – to raise a child – didn’t start with a very… um, pleasing act, there would be few who would do it.”
“Now you’ve given me something else to think about Kevin. Perhaps sex is so pleasurable, for men at least, is that is it a helpful tool for the woman, the wife if you will, to use to keep the male around to help raise the children? Hmmm, I’m not sure about that.” He frowns and rubs his chin absentmindedly in thought, “I need to think it through. Perhaps you are right. We should discuss this another time.”
Immerine just shakes her head, “I can think of other reasons the male/man/father should stay. But this really is not the best of conversations to have while we are on a slender board near a decrepit mill while waiting for someone to shut the water off so we can collect the mortal remains of some poor fool.” Immerine is silent for a moment and then there is a soft chuckle as she continues to think about the subject at hand.
Near Queldin's Mask 1371 DR, Eleint,14th day, approaching dusk
Straightening his legs, Matteo rises from his crouched position after salvaging the sheets of parchment and paper. Especially the parchment specimens are in a deplorable condition. “I’ll hold on to the ones I think I can decipher, but these are beyond me.” The Sembian says as he hands a small collection of wet paper to the young Uthgardt. “You or Kevin probably can make more out of those.” Tucking the remainder into pouch, Matteo looks about. Seeing the red-haired priestess examining the skeletal remains, he moves towards the Kelemvorite.
About twenty yards upstream from the ruined mill, Jezbodiah finds an old and weathered sluice. After several tries, the half-elf finally manages to turn the mechanism and divert the stream away from the mill. The water now flows in a previously unseen parallel channel, plant growth in and over the channel effectively camouflaging it. The half-elf watches the effect of his actions for a moment, then satisfied with the diverted flow, he makes his way back to the others.
By the time Jezbodiah rejoins Immerine, Teryn and Kevin near the wheel, the passage of water has slowed dramatically, and the wheel has almost stopped turning, courtesy of a dropping water level. Overhead, the sun has left most of the expanse, making way for the approaching dusk. Faint wisps of mist rise from the water as the ambient temperature starts dropping.
“Thank-you Jez.” Immerine says simply. “Let’s finish gathering this poor soul so he can be given a proper burial. Plus we need to start back to the village and gather Qwenta.” There is some stress in the witch’s voice as she mentions her mount. She continues to gather the bones.
Teryn steps into the – now lowered – water to help Immerine in gathering the remains of the unfortunate soul. The warrior is a little reluctant, not really looking forward in offering his feet and legs to more leeches – the slightly muddied water in the basin below the wheel not really making it inviting to step into for the Berduskan. However, he moves forward at Immerine’s urging.
Between Teryn and Immerine, they relatively easy remove the remains encased in a set of chain and deposit it on the small boardwalk.
Branith lowers his hammer as he suddenly hears the turning of the water wheel slow down in tempo as the water level drops. “Oh well so much for bashing this thing to pieces.” He says and looks at the construction of gears and poles that run to the millstones. “What now, do we stay here for the night and look at what we have found, or do we move to someplace less ghostlike to set camp.” The dwarf questions the ones that are close by.
“We should head back.” Matteo replies as he stands near the priestess. “No use in staying here. We can make it to Windstream Lodge before nightfall. Are you done Portia?” The red-haired Kelemvorite rises to her feet, “Yes. I could do with a good night’s rest.” In her hand, she holds a small, dirty pouch. “Not much on the poor soul to tell us anything. Other than that, I think she was a spellcaster of sorts. Just some coins here…” She tosses the pouch to Matteo and then holds up two small dirty flasks, “…and these two small vials. There were more in the woman’s potion belt, but the others have been damaged and are only shards.”
The somewhat wet warrior steps back into the water, “I’ll look for more bones, and anything else this guy might have left in the water.” Carefully looking for about twenty feet downstream, he calls out to the Kelemvorite priestess, “Portia, are we taking the bones back to town or planning to bury them here? Do you plan to try and communicate with them? And what do we do about their belongings?”
“A burial here is probably the best, just as with the remains of the undead.” The Kelemvorite priestess answers to Teryn’s question. “No reason to haul the bones back to Berdusk. Whatever the dead don’t need and could provide clues – such as these vials – we’ll bring with us. We can decide what to do with them later. If not I’ll hand them over to the temple.”
“What about those documents Tarim?” Portia asks the young wizard who has withdrawn into himself studying the salvaged pieces of parchment. “Anything useful?”
“…Hmmm?” Tarim looks up distractedly “Oh… yes very useful… found a book with some arcane writings but these are… very interesting.” He holds up some loose papers gingerly, still looking at them as though some unseen force is pulling his eyes back to them. “Lyrical and beautiful… like prayers… I can’t really decipher them though…” Tarim looks frustrated and stands up with an unnecessary groan; walking over to Portia. “What do you think? Do they make any sense to you?”
“These are indeed some sort of prayers… although they don’t seem to be linked to a specific deity…” Portia says after looking at the wet sheets. “Something here hints at somehow registering the presence of foulness and evil… and here it seems to beseech nature for help, plant growth or something… I’d need a little more time to discover what these parchments contain.”
The other wizard, his embarrassing conversation apparently over, wanders into the ruin. Hearing Tarim, Kevin speaks up hesitantly. “Um… I could… take a look?”
“Oh certainly sa… um… Kevin.” Tarim fumbles with dropping the ‘saer’ as Kevin had asked him to. It was awkward but he had promised to try. After all, he had never wanted to make his mentor uncomfortable merely to convey his respect for the knowledge that he had passed on. With that, he passes over all the materials that had been found and stands ready to offer his insights should they be requested.
It takes awhile for Teryn to scour the bottom of the mill’s feeding stream, but he does turn up a few more bones, the skull and several coins of various types. When he climbs out of the water, his feet and legs almost numb from the watery cold, he quickly inspects the lower extremities for more leeches – and is relieved when he finds none.
Not interested in the findings inside or outside, Skeen looks a bit bored, leaning against the wall or the ruined building. “I’ll go with you along this side of the river.” She says to Matteo, “I have no interest in venturing towards that forest again. I prefer cities anyway.” Wasting no more words on the matter, Skeen steps out of the ruined mill.
“Anyone else who wants to travel on this side of the Chionthar?” Matteo asks, as he also makes his way to the clearing, “Nik, the cart is likely not to cross the river. I guess you’ll be traveling with Skeen and me?”
“I will not!” The witch says, “Qwenta waits for me on the other bank and I would like to check on the ranger before heading back to Berdusk. Go your way, Matteo – I will go mine.” For once, there is no venom or irritation in her words as she speaks to the Sembian.
While putting on his boots Teryn looks shocked at Matteo. Tersely he questions the lieutenant “Have you forgotten Luna is back in the village? Would you just abandon her in an unfamiliar location? Is that how you handle your wounded comrades, just leave them and forget them?” Teryn glares at Matteo waiting for an answer.
“I see you manage to retrieve the remains…” Jezbodiah says as he rejoins the others, “…if it’s no problem, we can cross the river before night fall. I’m sure I can find a place for us to sleep for the night. It might not be an inn though…”
“I did not forget Luna.” Matteo replies to Teryn, his facial expression composed, “I recall that it was mentioned the villagers would send her to Berdusk, in that case travel along this side of the Chionthar would be faster to reach her.”
Somewhat calmer if not embarrassed, the warrior responds in a quiet voice "Since it was only a few short hours ago I would be surprised if they have already arranged transportation and moved her. I am also concerned since Skeen said this village is the area where she was kidnapped when she ended up in that warehouse."
“I will be joining you as well Matteo…” Portia says as she steps away from the two wizards, who are intent on studying the arcane and divine writings. “…Whatever we’ve found here, we can place on the cart and take back to town. Although I don’t suggest taking the two sets of remains, a burial here should suffice. With the state of the building, there are stones enough available to make a cairn.”
Strapping his hammer to his side once again the dwarf says, "If anyone is going over to see if Luna is taken care of properly I am coming along, and yes these bodies should be buried. Just look what happens to restless spirits now days." He adds with a grin and points a stubby finger pointing at the pile of clothes that once was an undead.
The halfling tosses his stone high into the air and takes a step forward. "I will go too." He says while reaching his left hand behind his back. Then, as the stone falls neatly into his palm, Tuttle continues, "I'd prefer to look about as much as possible."
After burying the two sets of remains – in separate cairns – the items recovered from the area are collected and each takes some to carry back towards the trail. With a last look at the ruined mill, a building that will not last many more winters, the group sets out through the marshy landscape again. Taking care in crossing the stream – especially Teryn is cautious not to acquire another couple of leeches – dusk finds the team near the cart and the horses.
Again, the group has split up, Matteo taking the way down the western bank of the Chionthar back to Berdusk, and followed by Nik, Portia and Skeen. Taking his place on the rear of the cart, Nik gives his best impression of an impish boy as Portia guides the draft horse in motion. Matteo and Skeen ride a little in front, the Sembian leading the spare horse.
Seeing the four off, and waving to Nik, the remaining group returns to the pier. Still secured, the small skiff used to get across from Qheldin’s Mask bobs up and down in the current. While it served fine to get Immerine, Tuttle, Tarim, Teryn and Branith across the first time, the addition of Jezbodiah and Kevin sees that is too small for the current crew.
Puddy, bored with the burial routine, had flown about a little and spotted an old but serviceable raft hidden in the reeds. Tuttle manages to steer the raft through the reeds towards the pier, using the one of the two poles to push it through the water. The craft is large enough to hold the group and the equipment. Brow furrowed as he looks from the raft to the river, to the other side and back again, clearly, Kevin is not entirely reassured on the condition of the selected means of transportation.
Anxious to cross, Immerine is the first to board the raft. After placing her pack in the middle of the craft, she walks over towards Tuttle and picks up the other pole. Tarim and Teryn follow the example of the witch and board as well, leaving the dwarf and the two half-elves on the pier. Jezbodiah tries his best to convince both Kevin and Tarim that the craft is safe and the risk of drowning minimal. The fact that Matteo and the others are already a long way off, and a night spent near the site of the ruined mill not being very attractive lend weight to the rogue’s words and reluctantly Branith and Kevin climb onto the raft as well.
Despite the rather vocal misgivings of Branith, the journey across the Chionthar happens without incident. Not much daylight is left though when firm ground on the river’s eastern bank is reached. Hurriedly the raft is secured and unloaded, and the team makes their way along a small path towards the lights on Qheldin’s Mask.
As promised, Jezbodiah is able to secure lodging for the night: a smelly, yet dry and warm stable with plenty of hay to sleep in. Sharing rations, some wine and water to create a simple dinner, the group – minus Immerine – settles down in silence to eat and rest. Tarim and Kevin soon sit together to study the writings recovered from the ruin, while Tuttle makes himself comfortable in a stack of hay and promptly falls asleep.
After counting the small amount of coins, Jezbodiah and Teryn examine the hiltless blade once more in the light of the campfire while waiting for Immerine to return. When the small hamlet is almost quiet, the sound of hooves on the turf outside pricks the ears of both men. Also Tuttle – apparently not that fast asleep – sits upright to see who might be approaching. As expected, yet somehow the three feel relieved, Immerine enters the stable. She leads Luna’s horse by the reins, while Qwenta follows. The horses looking quite refreshed having spent most of the afternoon and evening roaming free.
Berdusk 1371 DR, Eleint, 15th day, late afternoon
An early rise sees the group on their way back to Berdusk once more. Though not as comfortable as the Stag, the barn, used for the night, was suitable enough for everyone to recuperate and be fresh again. The travel back to the city turns out to be uneventful, and allows for plenty discussion on the previous day’s occurrences.
It is late in the afternoon when the group passes through the Wood’s Gate back into Berdusk. Weary and dusty from the journey, they set out for the Running Stag. After handing the horses over to the care of the grooms – or in Qwenta’s case, Immerine personally taking care of her mount – the door to the common room beckons invitingly.
Filtering in through the door, a boisterous scene greets the team. Some bawdy music sounds through the establishment, accompanied by bouts of laughter and groups of people are dancing and frolicking about. A busy Mumadar and his staff are weaving through the crowd, serving the patrons. Two dwarves, an elf – or a half-elf – and three human males occupy the large table, as well as a selection of girls. The whole scene is more akin to something more common in the Ruby Shawl then what has come to be expected of the Stag.
From out of the crowd a familiar face suddenly appears, Nik, with a big smile the bard welcomes the weary travelers. “I thought you guys would come here. Portia is at her temple, Matteo went home and Skeen, I don’t know.” The lanky bard looks around, “Crowded place today, some traveling artists came by and it looks like they can draw a crowd.”
“Anyway…” Nik turns back to face Immerine, “…I learned from Mumadar that Lord Jalarghar has sent his daughter, accompanied by servants, Emlyn, Marc and his faithful dog to Baldur’s Gate. Marc has recovered from his close encounter with death under Emlyn’s ministrations, but is no longer the carefree spirit he used to be.”
“And how are you, my diligent minstrel?” Immerine asks softly. Nik flashes Immerine a cheerful, manic grin. The bright glitter in his sunken eyes and the complete absence of his usual wary timidness are clear signs that the gangly bard already has a good head start on the evening’s drinking. He keeps his right hand behind his back in the sort of obvious nonchalance that every drunk thinks is a clever attempt at concealment. “I’m fine, now that I’ve returned to civilization with the correct number of limbs still attached.”
“So who is up to test their barak in a drinking contest?” The dwarf says with a smile towards the two standing in the doorway as he walks past and inside the Running Stag. Although, with the level of voice used he could be meaning half this side of Berdusk as well, one cannot really be sure.
The warrior moves through the doorway and stops next to Immerine and Nik to ask, a crooked grin on his face “If I guess by context what ‘barak’ means am I likely to be correct?” After pausing for an answer, Teryn offers before moving on, “If you are interested, the first drink is on me.”
“Ah, at least one who feels up to celebrating our arrival the real way!” Branith says, as Teryn moves up to him. Teryn then winds through the crowd to catch up with Branith to buy the dwarf his first drink. Accepting the warrior’s first drink, the sturdy dwarf gulps it down drenching some of his beard in ale during the process.
Beneath the mask, Immerine crinkles her nose and frowns. Nik can see the displeasure in her eyes as she watches her companions turn to drink for the night’s festivities. “I can make another flask if you like Nik. Do not let the demons of the past draw you in tonight, please.”
Crooked grin growing wider, Nik adds with a wink, “As fine as I ever am, that is. Demons all locked securely away, at least for this exact moment in time. But some more of that marvelous concoction of yours wouldn’t go amiss.” The tall man grins down at Immerine, and there is honest gratitude in his too-bright hazel eyes. “It’s truly a wonder to have a peaceful night’s sleep without a hang-over to pay for it!”
The Uthgardt mage smiles at the activity in the Running Stag, something about it reminding him of times around the fire at home. Slowly the smile turns into a sad sort of forlorn look as the homesickness sets in and he begins to look for someplace to go; away from the reminders.
After a few moments of introspection, Tarim says to the group “I am going to the shrine of Azuth…” Pausing for a moment, Tarim hands over all the papers that they discovered and says to Kevin, “Go ahead and take first look at these, saer. Ah… Kevin.” He corrects himself quickly. “I need to see to the needs of my spirit right now and I can not concentrate on these anyway.”
“I will be back later.” The young wizard says to the group, and with a moments glance at Immerine he leaves for the shrine.
With the soggy tome and the almost ruined papers in hand, Kevin looks once at the merry crowd gathered in the Stag’s common room, he then shakes his head and moves off towards the back, disappearing behind the curtain which leads up to the rooms. Either tired from the journey or wanting to study further, Kevin does not seem to be in the mood for company. Kethron however, does seem to be intrigued and jumps from the wizard’s shoulder to fly over to one of the many branches underneath the tavern’s ceiling.
His attention drawn to the others gathering at the bar, Nik seems to forget he was trying to hide a nearly-empty bottle of whiskey behind his back. The tall bard raises the bottle absently to his lips to take another swig, and then he notices the witch’s annoyance at their bar-bound companions. The bottle stops short of its destination, and he lowers it slowly, the manic grin fading from his craggy face. Nik swallows hard, and offers an apologetic smile in Immerine’s general direction. “I know I promised I’d try to stop.” He says faintly, shame replacing the cheer in the hazel eyes now fixed on the floor between them. “And I have. Tried, I mean. But it’s hard, you know, to act normal. Like nothing ever happened. This…” He raises the bottle, tilting it a little to slosh the last few inches of whiskey meaningfully. “This takes the edge off it. It lets me laugh and joke and be someone other than the miserable, cowardly bastard I really am.”
Nik sighs, his narrow shoulders slumping back into his usual stoop. “I tried sobriety, and I’m afraid it still doesn’t agree with me. All I did was brood and sulk. And then… poor Kevin. He truly didn’t deserve the way I barked at him.” Nik chuckles ruefully, glancing up at Immerine with his eyes full of his odd, wry humor and the crooked grin lighting his careworn face. “That’ll teach Master Kevin to try to cheer the likes of me up, won’t it, now? Our clever mage tries to engage me in light conversation while I’m dealing with two of my greatest fears – sobriety and horses. Guess that just goes to show they can’t teach you everything in those fine mage schools, now, can they?”
Mirth glitters in his sunken eyes as he continues, “And to top the day off, Matteo promised he’d get me a nice, safe, quiet horse. Well, you know what? The damn thing ran off with me. I thought I was going to die. Then I was afraid I wouldn’t. It’s a damn good thing we’d had a break for a piss before that demon-spawn creature grabbed its ass and ran, or I’d have ruined my new pants.” Nik chuckles again, but this time Immerine can see the shadow of remembered terror behind the humor in the gaunt bard’s muddy-green eyes.
Nik blinks and the fear is hidden away once again. He smiles cheerfully down at the witch. “And how is YOUR faithful steed? I’m sure he was as happy to see you as you were to see him, yes?”
The halfling ranger followed on the heels of the dwarven warrior into the tavern, although his enthusiasm was not nearly as high as Branith. The hin is nicely surprised to see the inside of the inn though. He had not expected to feel himself as if in a forest glade at dusk. Subtle lighting from behind the canopy of autumn colored leaves gives the whole scene the atmosphere of a woodland revelry.
Having taken in the sight wordlessly, Tuttle takes a seat next to Teryn and toasts the group. Tuttle then sips on his ale quietly, listening to the talk at his table with half an ear while keeping a wary eye on the rest of the clientele. Noting the discomfort Tuttle shows as he sizes up the crowd, Teryn turns to the ranger and tries to put him at ease, “You look tense Tuttle, you can relax. This is my hometown. There is seldom trouble in this tavern, it has an excellent reputation.” The young warrior certainly seems comfortable here.
“You ain’t finished yet?” The dwarf queries the warrior beside him. “Barkeep another ale please, for me and my friends here!” Teryn holds up his hand, trying to restrain the dwarf from ordering more, “I would not insult you by trying to match you drinking skills, my friend. I know my limitations”
Near the halfling, Teryn and Branith, a mixed group of people – although mostly clad in forest colors and leathers – is discussing the state of affairs in Cormyr, and openly wondering if the return of the Black Hand has anything to do with it. One of the conversationalists indicates the group sitting at the long table, “They’ll soon find out; hotheads, in pursuit of grand adventure. Most likely to be killed by the first orc they meet, or end up not receiving a charter at all.”
“Agreed, Phiraz…” Another conversationalist chimes in, “…Waterdhavian fools, probably whipped up by the words of that traitorous Blackstaff. Well, for now they bring some money to the town. Better spend it here than having it fall in the hands of Zhents, Tunland bandits or goblins.”
From that point on, the conversation meanders towards the local economy and to whether or not investments from the North are a good thing for the region. Their mugs of ale holding more interesting content than the ongoing conversation, Teryn and Branith focus on the task at hand, and drain their respectively second and third mug.
“You hear that?” Teryn whispers to Branith and Tuttle “That reminds me, we haven’t really accomplished anything of the reason we left on our last trip. Perhaps we should gather everyone together and try again to find those brigands?” Teryn wraps both hands around his mug and leans forward in thought.
“Aye, I hear.” The halfling responds quietly, pausing to take a sip at his ale. “But, as we must find them first, being apart is also well. Ears and eyes apart hear and see more. A confrontation must be together though.” Tuttle takes another slow sip at his ale. Without looking at Tuttle the young man answers, “Yes, together. Splitting up wasn’t exactly healthy for Telsom.” The warrior looks very sad as he remembers his brief friendship with the paladin.
“Nay it was most unfortunate, but one can’t prepare for everything. Even if some try…” He adds his tone a bit more sober. Holding up his almost empty mug save but for a few drops he says, “For Telsom, may the gods guide him to where ever he needs to go.” The dwarven priest drains the mug completely this time and puts it down with a ‘thwack’ on the table.
“And what if they find you together hin, then they will probably rip you apart. I say it is best to just smash in the gate and pick them of while they are all together. And if they try to take us on as we are en route: too bad for their heads.” Branith says and pats his warhammer.
The halfling shakes his head as he listens to the dwarf. “I think that the ale has already gone to your head my friend. I mean that we should be together for a confrontation with them. If they apart then take them as they come. But, if we are separate now looking for the rogues, then we are likely to find them much more quickly. I meant no more.”
* * *
With the soggy tome and the almost ruined papers in hand, Kevin looks once at the merry crowd gathered in the Stag’s common room, he then shakes his head and moves off towards the back, disappearing behind the curtain which leads up to the rooms. Either tired from the journey or wanting to study further, Kevin does not seem to be in the mood for company. Kethron however, does seem to be intrigued and jumps from the wizard’s shoulder to fly over to one of the many branches underneath the tavern’s ceiling.
The little fey leaves the smoke and noise of the common room below, and seeks out the mage. Upon entering the room, Puddy says, “Items two have I found; of the Weave they are, but their use determine I cannot. Skills you have in this area? Aid me, you can?” The invisible pixie drops a feather and a small item like a brooch.
The small room, containing only a simple bed and a nightstand does not seem as cramped to Puddy as it does sometimes to his larger companions. Kevin, about to browse through the papers and the dilapidated tome, startles a little as Puddy’s voice sounds suddenly out of thin air, followed by the two items dropping onto the bed.
Kevin jumps, stifling a yell. “Puddy!” He exclaims, “Knock next time or something!” The mage sits back down, attempting to compose himself. “Sorry I am…” He continues, switching to Sylvan, “…Not expecting you was I, and wandering thoughts I had. Take a look, will I, at the items of yours.”
Kevin pushes aside the book he had been reading and gives the objects a quick once-over. “Items of this – broaches…” He adds, the last word in Chondathan, Sylvan lacking such a term, “…often used are for protection magic. If this is, I am uncertain. Feathers… this also uncertain for me. Friend of mine Tarim once had a magic feather, to become a false-bird as messenger. Cannot tell if this is, of course.”
Kevin clears his throat, partly from the strain of using the language, but also because he feels as though he is speaking to an empty room. “Afraid I am that I prepared no magics for such, but if a moment you will give me, examine I will, with more attention.”
He then holds the feather as close as he dares to the light of his candle, trying to gain further detail from it. The feather is simple, affair and if a magical item, probably one of a type that often used. The young wizard strains his memory to try, and recall if has ever encountered something similar, coming up only blank.
* * *
Paying some attention to the activities in the common room, Jez slowly drinks from his tankard and listens to the gab and conversion afoot in the tavern. He smiles between sips at makes some mental notes to himself. Alanna, his ferret and familiar, normally hyper-energetic and over-active in her mischievousness, hangs from his neck, or rather dangles much like a fur scarf out of season. The often-curious ‘rodent’ rests quietly for once, her eyes half-closed. Jez’s attentions and thoughts lay elsewhere, with the sword Immerine discovered yesterday. The half-elf, curious about the notes etched onto blade, cannot quite figure them out.
He looks up and sees Nik the bard in the establishment, conversing with Immerine. “Nik…” He says. “Can I have a word or two with you?”
The cheer vanishes from the bard’s craggy face as he hears Jez call to him, and Nik visibly cringes. He offers Immerine a wan, apologetic smile, his sunken eyes bright with anxiety. “I suppose I should go see what young Master Wisp wants from me.” Nik says with clearly forced good humor. As he turns away from Immerine, the tall man lifts his bottle to his lips and takes a long pull from it. He sets the bottle down roughly on a handy table, and from the sound of it, the bottle is now empty. Nik wipes his mouth with the back of one hand and ambles over to Jez.
When he reaches Jez, all traces of fear have vanished. Nik surveys the young half-elf from his full height – habitual stoop gone, hands tucked comfortably behind his back and his angular face aloof and composed. “Yes, Master Wisp?” The gaunt bard asks, his deep voice cool and impassive but his shadowed eyes betraying his wariness. “You have something you wish to ask me?”
Alanna’s eyes snap open and she yawns deeply. Her gaze levels upon the tall lanky bard as she stretches herself awake. Wearily, she trots off the half-elf and onto the table. Once finding a new and comfortable spot, the familiar curls into a ball and dozes off into a deep comfortable slumber.
“Please, it’s just Jez. I do away with formal titles.” He says candidly, “Immerine found this blade at the water mill and I’ve been studying it since we arrived in Berdusk. See, there’s a series of notes along the flat of the blade but I can’t figure the melody.” He lays the blade onto the table close to Alanna and points to it. His finger moves from the opening progression to its final measure. “I figured since you’re a bard and had more exposure to music, you might know what it is. Maybe it is a song, or a melody? Maybe it has a name?”
Immerine is about to answer Nik about Qwenta when he moves to speak to Jez. She watches him set down the empty whiskey bottle and sadly shakes her head. Quietly the masked witch joins her more exuberant companions at the table as they drink. She waves to the waitress to bring her a glass of water and she keeps her eyes on Nik as he sits with Jez and examines the blade she found earlier.
Nik, despite having consumed the bottle of whiskey, peers concentrated at the etching on the sword. The notes run along the entire length of the blade. Flipping the blade over, the bard sees the same notes etched on the other side as well. Softly the man begins to hum a tune, though whether it is the tune on the blade or something else is not apparent.
To Nik, the notes are indeed easily recognizable, and the tune flows almost naturally. It takes him a while to recall the name of the song, the memory being elusive. Finally, he recalls the detail he is looking for. The song is dwarven in origin and is a witty verse on the stupidity of giants. Surmising from this and the perfectly crafted blade, Nik is reasonably sure that the sword’s original purpose was meant to be enchanted with powers to aid the wielder in fighting giants.
Jez just shakes his head with disapproval. “That won’t do us any good.” Taking his cloak off his body and the blade away from Nik, Jez wraps the hiltless blade in his cloak. “The next important clue in this little adventure is with the melody etched on the blade and I’m going to find out what it is.” He looks at Nik with serious intent. Jez then scoops the blade and then scoops Alanna. Irritated, the ferret crawls off his arm and into her satchel hoping the leather hidey-hole will give her some peace and quiet she wants.
Before Jez can pull the blade away from Nik, she places her hand on it to stop the half-elf. “You are not giving anyone else a chance to examine the blade young man, and you are being very rude. Remove your hand now or you will regret it for the rest of your life.” Immerine’s tone is harsh yet quiet; the witch’s eyes narrowed and focused on Jez.
Jez does not appear fazed by Immerine’s threat. The normally boisterous half-elf’s face turns hard, as stone. “Normally, I would.” He says coldly. “There may be someone I know in Berdusk who plays these notes better than anyone in the Stag and may know what they are. I plan to copy them and talk to this person. If you wish to accompany me, then you can. If you wish to keep the blade then do so. I have no personal use for it.”
Noticing the sudden tension among members of the group, Teryn nudges Branith as he turns full attention to Jez, Nik and Immerine and moves closer. In a voice just barely loud enough for the three to hear, he says, “This is not really the place to be studying that, folks. How about we go someplace private?”
In a voice as cold as Jez’s face Immerine responds, “My dear youth, you first ask Nik for his aid and then you would snatch away that which he is studying. You lack both patience and manners – but I would expect that of an outcast’s whelp. I could care less about the blade, but the etchings are of a curiosity and I did find it and I would also like the chance to examine it. You owe the bard an apology for your behavior Jez.” Immerine keeps her eyes boring into the half-elf’s face and it seems like she has not even heard Teryn’s attempt to diffuse the situation.
Jez turns and looks at the bard. “I wish to apologize for my impulsive actions, Nik. It was sorely out of character.” There is no sarcasm or contempt in his voice and his apology is genuine.
“Ay it’s just a piece of metal you know.” The dwarf adds, who had followed on Teryn’s heels, with a smile to the group. Not one of the prettiest in the company his smile is not helping that much either. “In order to use the blade for its right purpose, one must know what its purpose is in the first place.” He says to no one particular.
Without blinking Immerine hisses in agreement, “Precisely. And that is what we are trying to determine – other than the old adage and obvious use of ‘the pointy end goes in the other fellow’. I want none of the so-called spoils from the journey. But I would like to aid in the mystery of the etchings on the blade.” She mutters something harsh and sharp in her native tongue then looks away from Jez and down at the etchings.
“There. Satisfied?” He says to Immerine with no particular inflection in his voice. Jez takes a seat and says something in dialect similar to Immerine’s native language. Branith only shakes his head and says, “Murmel et agland, vorum dwarkar geddum.” Then the dwarf stomps off to the other table taking a seat again.
The tall bard cringes as the others argue and steps back quickly from the table. He watches the short confrontation, fear stark in his haggard face and narrow shoulders hunched as if he fears the others might turn their attention to him. Nik visibly flinches when Jez turns to him, terror bright in the bard’s sunken eyes and hands raised defensively as if the man thinks Jez might take a swing at him.
When Jez instead apologizes, confusion replaces the fear in Nik’s gaunt face. The tall bard swallows hard and tugs anxiously at the scarf around his neck with one shaking hand, still-worried eyes now fixed on the floor.
Narrow shoulders still hunched against the violence he fears may erupt any moment, Nik’s frightened glance flickers to the sword on the table and then back to the floor between his boots. “I… I know…I…” Nik starts hesitantly, his voice faint and thin with the fear that is still so obvious in the man’s trembling.
Nik coughs, and then swallows hard, clearing his throat nervously as he tugs once again at the gaudy scarf around his neck. The gaunt man shudders, visibly forcing back the fear. He offers the others a wan, embarrassed smile; shrugging as if to dismiss any concern. The old bitterness now replaces the terror in his eyes, and his gaze returns quickly to the floor between his boots. “I know what the song is.” He says. His voice is back to its normal deep resonance and an embarrassed flush is bringing color back to his face.
“But I don’t think it has anything to do with all of this. It’s just a snippet of an old dwarven song about giants. I think this sword was intended to be enchanted to kill them.” Nik turns away and heads over to the bar, clearly intent on finding more alcohol to wash away the residual fear and his shame at his own cowardice.
Branith glances up at the mentioning of the slaughtering of giants and calls out from his table to the others “…and good riddance of future giants it is”.
When the bard moves over to the bar the dwarf follows, his empty tankard in hand. “Mumadar is it, right” he queries the barman and adds, “Please fill it up.” He then and pushes the empty tankard toward the man while he pulls a bar stool over beside Nick and takes a seat. “You know of any more dwarven songs my friend?” The dwarf asks to the man beside him while he waits for his beer to arrive.
Walking in through the front door wearing a crisp new white linen shirt and with his hair gathered into a small silver clasp-like affair the young Uthgardt looks almost as if he belongs. Only his eyes give him away as they take in his surroundings with the clarity of a wild thing, not the jaded gaze of one born to the chaos and noise of city life. That and perhaps the carved wooden staff he bears as he walks in.
He immediately notices the tension between the gazes of Jez and Immerine and pauses, almost unwilling to be around such developments. Slowly though he makes up his mind and forges ahead, stopping at the bar to get a glass of the Berduskan Red from Mumadar that Ditalidas had been so fond of when last they were here. Smiling and nodding to the proprietor Tarim, moves on and takes a seat next to Immerine. “Hello all.” He says with a quiet pleasant tone. As he eyes the blade Immerine was holding, his eyebrow arches a bit but otherwise he lets it go.
Immerine nods as Nik reveals what he knows about the sword and finally removes her hand from the blade. “It’s yours to do with as you please. My curiosity is also sated.” She announces to no one. She steps away from the table as Tarim joins the company. She looks across at each member and sadly shakes her head and moves off to the bubbling ‘brook’ to sit beside it and keep her own company.
Branith calls out to the entering mage, “Hey Tarim! Why don’t you join us for a drink?” He indicates himself and the quiet bard sitting beside him. “These southerners are so bad at drinking they would not even scare off a goblin in their current state. Let us show them how we from the North drink!” Branith is only in on his fourth beer but for some reason he seems a bit tipsy.
Several patrons in the inn throw some dark glances at the rowdy dwarf, and Mumadar leans over the bar and taps Branith on the shoulder. “Master dwarf… Although I appreciate your company and that of your friends, I can recommend you a tavern that will better fit your drinking skills. The Flourished Flagon has a clientele predominantly compromised of Moradin’s children, as well as those of Master Glittergold and Mistress Yondalla.” The bald innkeeper’s voice is calm and polite as he addresses Branith, though the man’s eyes hold a small warning.
For a long moment Nik just sits slumped over at the bar, eyes closed and hands clenched into fists on the bar top. However, when he opens his eyes the bitterness is gone, and his bony hands relax. Nik waves Mumadar over, and asks him to bring another bottle of the cheap whiskey the bard has been slowly but steadily consuming all day.
Finally, he turns to Branith, crooked smile lightening his careworn face. “Sorry, Master Dwarf. I was still pondering the song on that blade. I’m afraid my study of dwarven music was long ago, in my misspent youth, and I hate to give the wrong information.” His smile broadens, and he adds with a low chuckle “And I rather doubt you would wish me to sing what few songs of your homeland I do know... I’ve been told by several dwarves that my accent is as melodic as a cat coughing up a hairball.”Branith looks a little bit sad for a moment before he dips down into his ale again. “Aye well we wouldn’t want a cat screeching in here now would we?” When Mumadar points out of his behavior the dwarf looks back at the man but says nothing, he does not need to his eyes are hard as stone. Mumbling something in dwarven, that none can make out but can guess the content of the dwarf says in common, “I will be right back.” With that, he walks outside and out of view.
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