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LonePaladin 2nd of August, 2002 16:26

Chapter 3 - Hollow Victory
Before anyone can take more than two steps, their concentration is suddenly broken by the skrit of a weapon being drawn nearby, and the twang of a bow being fired. An arrow slices its way through the foliage, driving itself deep into a nearby tree -- well above the heads of the travelers.

This is immediately followed by the unmistakeable sounds of melee: a harsh cry of rage, the clanging of weapon on steel, and the crash of bodies slamming against each other. The tumult only lasts a moment, then stops abruptly.

During the silence, the question springs to mind: what the hell just happened? The silence hangs heavy in the air, refusing to provide an answer.

The silence is shortly broken again by the sound of something moving through the underbrush. Everyone tenses, anticipating a new threat. Hands move closer to weapons, and all eyes are focused in the direction of the breaking twigs and rustling leaves.

After a few seconds, a human steps into the path. His armor, composed of interlocking chevrons of steel, catches the light that passes through the trees unfiltered. The visor of his helmet is down, preventing anyone from seeing his face. A heavy war-mallet hangs from his belt, and an arbalest* hangs from a heavy leather strap on his back. A razor-sharp claymore is clutched in one hand, held in place with chains across his gauntleted fist; his other hand is bereft of weapon or shield, but is still occupied -- holding the corpse of one of the canine beasts over his shoulder.

The man stops, hefting the body with his free arm, and tosses it onto the path. The body is missing one arm and shoulder, but the remaining arm still clutches the shattered longbow that presumably fired the arrow.

The armored figure looks at the group, waiting for a response.

PHP Code:

An arbalest is a heavy crossbow

Gralhruk 2nd of August, 2002 22:30

Shade remains crouched near two dead gnolls, a short distance away from the others, swords sheathed. She appraises the newcomer cooly wondering what his purpose might be. Judging from the armor and weapons he was more likely a mercenary than a brigand; the corpse slung over his shoulder indicated that he wasn't a novice at swinging that sword of his.

The dead gnoll crashes to the ground sending up another cloud of dust and reminding her eerily of Itches recent collapse. There is something vaguely menacing in that faceless, armored figure who silently brandishes both death and it's instrument. The implied threat brings old habits to the surface. She stands slowly, her body relaxed, hands within easy reach of her swords; she looks both cocky and insolent, though she keeps her voice neutral.

"Just what we need, another dead body."

itches 2nd of August, 2002 22:44

Itches lies on the ground, almost in a pool of the blood left by the nearby Corpse, still out cold. Suddenly into the darkness Drifts a figure, one dimply remember by the mind of Itches. The image of his Beloved Lily.

"Itches my love," she speaks to him in a far away sounding voice. " You need to wake up now"

"But I donít want to, itís so nice here."

"Wake up Itches"

"Just another five minutes"

"By the gods, some times I donít why I put up with you." With that the spectre of Lily reaches out a pale hand and touches the half-elf on the head, then with a slam, he is awake.

"Lily?" the slightly stunned and more then a little confused Nobel mutters as he first regains consciousness. Quickly shaking the haze that lingers over his mind, the Aristocrat, looks around him, and notices something amiss.

"Hey, you werenít here before when I.. Fell asleep. How did you get here? You have to be careful around here, there are many of these dog creatures hanging about, and they just attacked us. Still you look big enough to take care of yourself. You know you look a lot like someone I know. Who? Oh I know you remind me of Cadirus," Itches babbles, gesturing towards Cadirus. Calmly putting his dagger back in his boot sheath, Itches gets up and walks up to the paladin, a look of pure innocent curiosity on his face. He oonly get part of the way however before the former Palidin blocks his path. Not detered in the least, he proceeds to call out to the man. "Gee that is a big crossbow, I remember seeing some like that back at my fathers castl - I mean back home"

Cadrius 3rd of August, 2002 00:48

As the sounds of combat ensue Cadrius spins around in the direction of the noise. There is a slight ringing as he draws his sword free of its sheath yet again. Holding his shield protectively in front of him the man positions himself between the fight and the others. The last thing they needed was to slay a bunch of beasts only to run into a group of rivals fighting over the territory.

At last a figure emerges from the nearby shrubs and bushes. An armored man with another dead beast slung over his shoulder. But what was he? A threat? Possibly. Cadrius didn't like the way he stood with his weapons or the way he had tossed the body to the ground.

So as Itches attempts to walk up to the newcomer Cadrius extends his sword arm and bars the young aristocrat's passage. Yet he keeps his eyes on the man the entire time. His cold blue eyes are scrutinizing the armored figure, attempting to analyze his intent.

Cadrius paints a grim portrait himself: tall and muscular but battered and bloody from the last two battles. Fresh blood still coats some of his armor and his shield is dented and scratched in places. Even the symbol of a fist clenching a lightningbolt on the pommel of his sword seems worn.

"Identify yourself and your purpose," he says at last to the stranger in a cool voice.

Maeko 3rd of August, 2002 02:07

Maeko was washing and tending her own wound when sounds of combat were heard; stoppering her water gourd she puts it down and positions herself near Cadrius.

Stubborn he may be, but I won't leave him without help, in his condition

Other crashing sounds reveal someone approaching.

He moves with a yak's grace, unless he WANTS us to hear him.

Soon her hunch that the new arrival is male is confirmed, he throws down a dead gnoll like it was a sack of rice; this does nothing to tranquillize Maeko, the small woman flexes her knees slightly, ready to explode in motion.

Trying to intimidate us? Or to demonstrate he is no foe?

She remains silent, waiting for the stranger to answer Cadrius.

LonePaladin 3rd of August, 2002 04:48

The armored figure slowly removes the chains strapped across the hilt of his claymore, freeing it from his grasp. With the visor of his helm down, it's difficult to tell whether his concentration is on the chains, or watching the others.

He remains silent, which does nothing to help the tension.

Having freed his hand, he reverses his grip on the sword, so that it is no longer held in a menacing manner. With his free hand, he raises the visor, revealing piercing blue eyes and a tanned, oft-shaven face; his jawline, while strong, is marred somewhat by a wicked scar that runs from his chin to his right ear.

He slowly walks closer to Cadrius, holding the greatsword in a casual manner, with his free hand palm-outward. Cadrius sees no signs of traveling gear -- no pack, no waterskin; his only other possession is a medallion hanging on his belt.

A fist, clutching a bolt of lightning.

The stranger comes within a few feet of Cadrius, and holds the massive sword out to him. Not quite sure what to make of it, Cadrius takes the offered sword by the handle.

The warrior then turns around, leaving his back to Cadrius -- and, with one hand, indicates a series of metal-and-leather loops attached to a broad leather strap at his back. He finally speaks, in a resonant voice with a harsh touch -- as if speaking is an effort. "I'd like help stowing that, please."

Gralhruk 3rd of August, 2002 05:15

Ignoring the questions directed at him, the newcomer strides purposely up to Cadrius and Shade is forced to note the similarities between them. This reinforces the unease she felt when the stranger first appeared. She is stung by his request; Cadrius is obviously a man of some station and wounded besides. Her thoughts burn with the flame of anger.

Who are you to treat him thus? He is no squire.

Whatever her companion might think of himself, whatever burden he bore, he was worth more than that. She takes a few steps forward and meets the man's gaze, her eyes steely. She notes Maeko subtly shift her balance and, confident that she has at least one ally, allows her voice to take on a sharper edge.

"He asked you a question."

LonePaladin 3rd of August, 2002 15:32

The warrior shrugs, then takes the sword back. He plants it, by the tip of the blade, into the dirt, then shrugs off the leather harness. One loop at a time, he begins reattaching the harness to the sword.

"My apologies if I do not reveal my name. I've been given far too many epithets to claim one of the lot. If you must call me something, 'paladin' will do.

"That beast had the unmoving fellow in his sights. I felt the need to... interfere with his aim."

He then takes the harness, with the sword firmly attached, and straps it back over his shoulder. This places the sword at an angle across his back, keeping it out of the way yet still within reach. He rests his elbow across the hilt.

"I'd been following them since this morning; why did they go so far out of their way to attack you?"

itches 4th of August, 2002 01:00

Oblivious to the Tension around him Itches keeps on talking to the man.

"Oh, that is a really big sword. You like big weapons donít you. You know I have only ever seen one other person use a sword like that. He was an outlaw, and an enemy of my Father. He tried attacking out Keep once, but my father fought him off. That was back when I was just a babe. It was many years latter that I actual saw him. My father and I were out hunting, and a man came out that was wearing armour that looked much like yours. He was a really good fighter, and none of out guards could stop him. It was only by working together could mu Father and Master Samuel stop him. They were getting the better of the outlaw, when he turned and fled. He got away, because they had to stay behind to look after the wounded. He never was caught again.

Oh and I think I know why they might of attacked us. Revenge. Some of their kind attacked us last night, and we," Turning Pale slightly Itches gulps. "Well they were fought off. Say did you say you had been following them all morning? Are you sure? They most certainly knew about that trap that, umm, was there. If youíre telling the truth, then they must have had this trap here for a while. I wonder why they would have a trap. Ah well I guess we will never know now, that they are dead."

Pausing to take a breath in what seems like hours, Itches pauses his prattle.

"Oh did I say that I had seen that type of sword before?"

Cadrius 4th of August, 2002 05:08

Cadrius grits his teeth and through sheer force of will he manages to keep his feet as the world seems to drop out from under him. Another paladin. No, a paladin. He had no right to refer to himself and the Order in the same sentence. But what was this man doing here? And why? He had no apparent survival gear apart from his weapons.

The medallion hanging around the man's neck seems to shine especially brightly from the sunlight filtering through the dense canopy above. He squints and sheaths his sword as the paladin's greatsword is offered to him. Hesitant, he takes the sword with one hand and keeps it pointed toward the ground.

He does not look the man in the eyes as he speaks, but keeps his gaze somewhere off to the left at about knee-level. Despair dances slowly through his eyes and his shoulders seem to slump. He must have been sent by the Order. Being expelled from Heironeous' service had apparently not been enough. More punishment would follow, but what would it be? A trial? An execution? It seemed to matter little, Cadrius has been searching for a way to atone for his crimes, one way was just as good as another.

He murmers in a docile voice, a tone that none of the others have ever heard from him before, "Yes sir, I am certain we can find a place for it."

There is a flash of his old rage as the thinks, Your chest would make the perfect sheath, but he shakes his head and falls back into his melancholic lethargy. Killing this one wouldn't do any good, they would only send more and the others would be held responsible for consorting with a criminal and fiend like Cadrius. It would be best to go along with whatever this paladin has in mind.

Yet the man removes the sword from Cadrius grip and begins binding it himself. Odd. What was more disturbing was that he had not announced his intention to either execute or bring Cadrius before the Tribunal for justice. Could he not know Cadrius for who he is? Yet he spoke in a harsh tone earlier. What was his game? Cadrius sighs, he will have to wait for the newcomer to reveal his hand.

LonePaladin 4th of August, 2002 17:14

The paladin looks at Itches with a smile that is almost -- but not quite -- patronizing. "Yes, I've been following the brutes since earlier this morning, when they broke into my campsite and stole my goods. Been chasing them since." He doesn't seem to have noticed Cadrius's statement, nor the looks that crossed his face. Then again, it's entirely possible that he did notice, but isn't showing it.

He takes a look at the bodies lying around, scanning each in turn. A scowl of disappointment crosses his face as he looks at the last one. "By Vecna's eyepatch, the beasts went and lost my supplies. Probably dropped it in the stream."

With a heavy sigh, and a glance skyward, he spreads his hands. He addresses the group. "I am not inclined to make myself indebted to others, but it appears that I may have to, for the short term at least. All I have to offer is my sword-arm, and my faith, but -- if you'd share your own supplies a bit further -- I will see that each of you makes it to your destination safely."

Smirking, he adds, "Of course, accepting would obligate you to reveal your destination."

itches 4th of August, 2002 22:02

Scratching his chin, where the faintest signs of stubble can be seen, Itches looks thoughtful for a moment. Then Glances up at the Subdued Cadirus, with his head slumped.

"Well I am more then willing to let you join, but that really would depend on the others here. No offence intended, but I have had some unpleasant experiences with people who just burst out of nowhere. I think this is something we need to discuss on out own."

Grabbing the fallen paladin with on his upper arm, Itches firmly directs him to walk away towards the others. Motioning Shade to come over with his eyes, The Half-elf's face serious for once. As soon as Himself and the Tall Human are out of ear short of "Paladin" Itches speaks in a low voice.

" I may be a fool a lot of the time Cadirus, but even I noticed you tensing up when you saw him. Do you know him? Whatís happening? Should we prepare for a fight?"

Maeko 4th of August, 2002 22:28

Maeko wonders at the new-comer, she realizes how his self- assurance, bordering of arrogance, rubs her companions the wrong way, in fact, since he appeared, she keeps reminding herself that this is a different land, with different habits.

What the nun really was not expecting is Cadrius's reaction, yet, his attitude reminds her of something she cannot quite put her finger on; it is almost as if he knew the 'Paladin'.
Is it a name, a title, or what? He behaves like a samurai of a great house. But, from the stranger's reaction, they have never met before.

It is like he knows WHAT the stranger is, and he is expecting the worst...
Are there ronins in this land?

Itches speaks his mind in a very firm way, if the situation was not so serious it would have been funny to see him almost protective of Cadrius.
When he signals to Shade, Maeko too moves to follow.

Cadrius 5th of August, 2002 03:33

Cadrius wrenches his eyes away from the ground and allows himself to be guided away by Itches. As the other two draw closer he maintains a bowed head, unwilling to meet the gaze of any of the others. He takes a steadying breath before addressing the others in a defeated, bitter tone.

"As he has not given his name or rank I do not know him personally, but I recognize the medallion he wears," he says carefully covering the pommel of his sword with his hand, "you can trust him. Indeed, you likely have more to fear of me than him. He is a paladin and they are almost always...trustworthy," as he says the last

His eyes remain wretched and his face morose as he gazes down toward the ground with his shoulders remaining slumped. Cadrius awaits a response.

itches 5th of August, 2002 03:42

Itches looks at Cadirus as he speaks all of this. Not saying anything after the former Paladin finishes speaking, He looks up at Shade, seeking leadership in the matter.

((dont know why i wanted to post this, it is rather pointless, and a hell of a lot shorter then most of the posts, but eh. It felt like the thing to do))

Maeko 5th of August, 2002 19:19

" Cadrius", says Maeko, softly.

When he looks at her, with the face of a man waiting to hear his doom, she goes on:"I am not sure that is measure to judge on, I am foreigner here, I do not know who these 'paladins' are that you speak of.
I know, though, that many 'trusthworthy' men, in perfectly good faith, have done terrible things 'for the greater good'.

I do not know who you are, and why you look like man staring at his death, right now" She ignores Cadrius' flinching.
"What I know of you is that, without you, we would not have arrived this far, and that I would be proud to call you 'friend'."

How came I ever thought I was detached already from this world of illusion? It will take many lives, yet.

She does not give the others time to speak.

" That said, I would not leave a man here, on his own, without supplies. I say: let him join us, but be careful".

Gralhruk 5th of August, 2002 22:54

Shade listens with a half-sneer to the man's half-answers and his tale of being robbed by the now dead gnolls. His demeanor does indeed rub her the wrong way, and the marked change in Cadrius further darkens her mood. As usual, Itches doesn't help her rapidly waning patience with his incessant chatter. She scowls faintly at Itches as his eyes roll in an exaggerated fashion, asking her to join them.

Very subtly done.

Never taking her eyes off the newcomer, she walks slowly over to her companions and listens. This time it is the voice of Cadrius that goads her: that tone ill-suited the warrior and it burned her that this stranger could so damage him. Her jaw muscles bulge as she fights to keep her mouth shut. Maeko speaks calmly, reasonably even, and in her heart Shade wants to echo her words. Afraid of what she might say if she starts spouting our her feelings she focuses on the stranger.

"Trustworthy? How do we know he is who you think he is? The man hasn't answered a single question, hasn't even given his name. Let me ask: what was he doing out here in the first place? Where did he come from and where was he going? I don't believe Gnolls came and stole his supplies. They would have attacked him, he's just one person; we've been attacked twice and there are four of us."

She waits briefly for a response and is further infuriated by the relaxed manner of the stranger, standing a short distance off seemingly unperturbed by the whispered discussion. Her eyes drift to Cadrius and she is pained by his dejected posture. He won't even look at them. She crosses her arms and bites her tongue.

What is going on here?

itches 6th of August, 2002 00:52

Nodding to Shade Itches speaks again.

"Shade is right, he has not given any information about himself, yet Cadirus here recognises him from madalion he wears. The question I ask you, is it his actually his Medallion. Could not have he taken it from his original owner?"

Tuning to face shade, Itches speaks in a slightly firmer voice, if not any louder. And Maeko is correct my friend you have saved my life. That I owe you, " Itches continues with a grin, striking that large man on the shoulder, unfortunately, hitting armour at the same time."

Cadrius 6th of August, 2002 01:17

Cadrius winces as Itches claps him on his shoulder, but he manages to keep from crying out. Apparently the nobleman had forgotten that he had sustained a serious wound to each shoulder within the past day. He takes a deep breath and lets it out slowly, forcing the fiery pain to slowly ebb.

They are trying to cheer me up. I do not deserve this. He can protect them, he is likely better suited to it and is more deserving of such a task.

Cadrius knows he is right. He simply is not deserving of this sort of trust and comraderie. He had protected them, yes, but this one could save them if the situation arose. It would be best to let this paladin join them and at the first convenient spot Cadrius would slip away. Providing the paladin didn't kill him first.

His gaze still remains fixed on the ground but he clears his throat and speaks again, "No, it is not likely that he is an imposter. His speech, his posture, his manner, his equipment. He is a paladin. I recognize," he swallows a lump in his throat before saying, "his kind. My father was one," his voice falters a bit and he draws in a breath as if to continue, but he shakes his head and remains gazing at the ground dejectedly.

Gralhruk 6th of August, 2002 01:35

Her eyes narrow to slits as she regards Cadrius, remembering a moonlit night and torchlight on his chain. She is struck then by her earlier observation about his past and his current demeanor. His behavior now was an unnecessary confirmation of his former life.

So, that's how it is.

Unwilling to give up the battle so easily, she continues in her usual fashion. She wouldn't push Cadrius any further about his value than the others already had but she could take a different tack.

"Know his kind? I'll tell you what I see: an arrogant fool who's more like to take a swing at me than my enemies. And stupid enough to have his supplies stolen by a bunch of idiot beasts. I don't think that's the kind of protection I need."

Cadrius 7th of August, 2002 01:07

Still refusing to look up the former paladin scuffs his foot in the dirt. She did have a point, and he didn't like how he had his gear stolen by the beasts. That didn't seem their style. They were much more likely to have attacked him in the night rather than simply steal. They seemed all too happy to attack when their numbers were equal, why not attack if they outnumbered him four to one or more?

At last he glances up, his head still bowed his eyes meeting Shade's irritated glare. He quickly looks away, unable to withstand the intensity.

"You might be right," he says with a bit of difficulty, "but he is alone and without supplies. We should at least let him accompany us to town. I could use the rest and," he raises an eyebrow showing a bit of his odd humor, "with any luck he will take his fair share of abuse from these monsters."

He smiles wearily, "I could use the rest."

itches 7th of August, 2002 01:29

"Then are we all agreed? he will tavel with us untill we reach the town. We could use the extra sword - and that is a big sword, did I tell you i have seen one like it before. But we keep an eye on him, trusting him no more then we have to."

Looking around at the others to gage their reactions a wide seemingly mindless grin splits his face, which the somber tone of his voice denies.

"This is something we all need to agree on. One out, all out. Are we agreed that he will come with us?"

Gralhruk 7th of August, 2002 01:32

Shade relaxes a bit as Cadrius resumes a more normal posture, her scowl turning thoughtful. It seemed she was outnumbered, and truly the newcomer had displayed no ill-intent. Still he was too sure of himself by a half and, as far as she was concerned, not entirely truthful. Of course, the same could be said for her . . .

"Very well. You all seem to agree that he should travel with us; I will accept this judgement. If nothing else, it will be easier to keep an eye on him. But I say this as well: he told us very little of himself and his purpose, and of that even less is plausible."

She scans each of their faces, confident that Maeko and Cadrius will behave accordingly. Her stern gaze lingers a bit longer on Itches; the noble finally shifts uncomfortably under her scrutiny and she is grateful that he knows little about her or Cadrius. He was bound to spill any information he might have, no matter how hard he tried to keep silent. She turns and, giving a final glance at 'Paladin', returns to her search of the dead gnolls.

Maeko 7th of August, 2002 01:45

Maeko nods at Cadrius'answer.

It is the reasonable thing to do. there is much that had not been said

When Shade leaves, she follows, not saying anything to the waiting man, let it be clear from the start who the leaders are

The nun assist Shade in searching the bodies of the fallen gnolls, composing them the best she can when they are done and chanting softly a repeated phrase in a language unknown to Shade.

Pausing a moment she murmurs to the other woman :
" Shade, if I may, what is a Paladin?'

Gralhruk 7th of August, 2002 02:16

Shade looks up as Maeko approaches but returns to her work as the nun aids in searching the fallen. This time their search yields up a bag of coin. Pulling the drawstrings, Shade glimpses gold amonst the silver and copper within before thonging it shut and dropping it nearby.

She doesn't answer Maeko's question right away, thinking to herself how best to explain it. She squats on her haunches, curiously observing the monk as she carefully arranges the bodies of the dead.

"A paladin is . . . a warrior, but more than that. They claim to be the chosen of their god, and only the truest of heart are ever raised to that status. They live to combat evil and ensure that the laws of their god are upheld. In return, or perhaps because of their true faith, they have special power against evil things."

She can see the unspoken question flash across her friend's face: if they are so good and true, what have we to fear? She chews her lip, asking herself that same question. Having no idea what the monk might know or guess about Cadrius, she is reluctant to share her own fear.

"Those that follow the righteous path can be judgemental and arrogant. They might take offense to things that are none of their business, or choose justice over mercy. It is hard to be forgiving when you believe yourself to be flawless."

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