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Black Plauge 3rd of December, 2005 04:00

Chapter 9 - A Shadowy Past
While the wasteland around the wizard's fort wasn't exactly home, it was far more welcoming than the wizards themselves. Factional divides, magical devices, and heady debates held no interest for Blarth and personally, he was just glad to have gotten away from the Citadel with his skin intact and his friends as well. It was some what bothersome that Cadogan had elected to stay, since he had apparently been a stalwart companion of Shade and Cadrius, but he himself was a wizard, so in some respects, Blarth was glade he hadn't come along. His presence would have likely dragged them back to the Citadel at some point.

Not that the Citadel was all that bad. The invisible servants and near luxurious accomodations that had marked the begining of their first stay were certianly something to be envied. However, the intrigue and complications that came along with it made for a bad exchange. Blarth still resented being used to retrieve that silly box of candy and he was glad he wouldn't be going through that again.

All of that was two days behind, however, and before them lay the edge of the waste. The wizards had been kind enough to provide directions that made their trek through the waste more than just random wanderings, but Blarth expected that it was more practicality than kindness. With such directions they were going to be out of the wizards' territory that much sooner.

Evidence of that was plain on the horizon before them. Where in the days before had been nothing but baked earth, stone, and the occasional near dead tree, the horizon was now marked by a clean line of green. A forest, if the information the wizards had given them was accurate, though a different one than the one they had traveled through on their way from Karkas.

Karkas, it seemed like such a lifetime ago, so much had happened since then. Yet even the thought of that town still brought back painful memories. Trak had died there, marking the end of his family. Blarth was the only one left and he wasn't sure how to proceed. He'd always been so dependant on Trak for guidance that he was practically blind without him. He had no direction, no purpose.

At least he had companions, though. Nicos, Cadrius, and Shade were certianly not individuals that Blarth would have taken up with while Trak was still alive, but they were the only thing he had now, and at least they seemed to accept him. That was far more than could have ever been said about most humans.

Hustling a bit to catch up with Shade, who was slightly ahead of the group, scouting their route as usual, Blarth asks, "How far do you figure to the tree line?"

Gralhruk 6th of December, 2005 01:40

Shade was bitter. All that, and it would have been better if they hadn't gone at all. Cadogan never needed them to come looking for him. Their journey after that damned stone was worse than pointless, had actually done more harm than good. The rogue wasn't sure what galled her more - the fact that she'd been duped by Ysene or the fact that Gemoud had a hand in rescuing them.

Shade had kept mostly to herself and mostly quiet during the past two days. The whole debacle might be behind them, but the the repercussions weren't. Not for her, at least. She'd had more help than just Gemoud, Cadogan and her own companions. He had been the one to break her out of Ysene's cell, and he had convinced her it was in her own best interest to do him a favor.

She is shaken from thought of her shadowy benefactor by Blarth's question. It was ironic that as much as the half-orc annoyed her, Shade was beginning to prefer his simple company to any of the others travelling with them. At least with Blarth, you knew what was on his mind. She shades her eyes with one hand, not really needing another look. They'd be there tomorrow, she knew.

And then she'd be leaving them.

"If we keep on for another two hours, we can probably make it by mid day tomorrow. From there, maybe another half day south to the banks of the Chard. There are towns all along it, but you can follow it all the way to Enderin if you want."

Black Plauge 6th of December, 2005 02:15

"The Chard?" Blarth asks, still unfamiliar with the local geography, "That's the river the wizards mentioned, isn't it? So what town are we headed to? Are we going all the way to Enderin?"

Gralhruk 6th of December, 2005 02:30

Shade glances at Blarth, her eyes unreadable.

"Yeah, it's the river the wizard's mentioned."

She doesn't immediately answer his other question, though her eyes flick back to the group, linger on Cadrius for a moment and then return.

"I don't know. Enderin's a place, same as any I guess. What do you mean to do?"

Black Plauge 6th of December, 2005 02:41

"Mean to do?" Blarth replies. Truth be told, he hadn't thought about that question much, and his answer reflects that. "I don't know. It was my brother's idea to leave the tribe after our father died, and I was just traveling with him. With Trak dead now, I'm not really sure what I should do next. You, Cadrius, and Nicos all seem to know what you're doing, do you think I could just stay with you three for a bit?"

Gralhruk 6th of December, 2005 03:04

"I don't think anyone really knows what they are doing."

She pauses, debating. They'd all find out that she was leaving soon enough, but she didn't want to talk about it. She opens her mouth to lie to him, but the innocent look on Blarth's face defeats her.

"But yeah, maybe some people have a better idea than others."

Another pause.

"Look, I don't belong in the same company as people like that. I'm not like Cadrius, but I'm sure you already know that. Even Nicos has more sense than I do. Stick close to them and you'll be okay."

Black Plauge 6th of December, 2005 05:34

Picking up on some of the implications of Shade's reply, but not her hesitancy, Blarth asks, "Just them? I thought we all might stick together for a bit. Are you leaving?"

Gralhruk 6th of December, 2005 05:59

"Yes," she says quietly, "I'm leaving, heading for Tradeholm. I never meant to stay this long in the first place. I have things to take care of and -"

She breaks off, the thought unfinished, and stares intently at Blarth.

"And it's just better if I go. Don't say anything to the others. I'll tell them when I'm ready."

Black Plauge 6th of December, 2005 06:19

"Okay," Blarth replies, before becoming quiet for a bit.

Truth be told, he wasn't really sure how to take the news that Shade was planning on leaving them. She had, after all, been the one who had invited him to join them as they left Karkas. As he'd stood there watching his brother's funeral pyre burn, totally unsure of what to do next, she'd offered him something to do. Certianly the trek to the Citadel to find Cadogan and the results had not been entirely plesant, but at least it was something. Really, Blarth had no idea what he'd be doing if she hadn't invited him along, and with her leaving, he was essentially back in the same boat.

Well, not quite. He did have Cadrius and Nicos this time around. Both of them had been with Shade when they'd left Karkas, and while they hadn't invited him to join them like Shade had, neither had they refused to let him join when he'd shown up trailing behind Shade.

So what really was there to do next? Contemplating that thought Blarth falls back a bit, allowing Shade to resume her scouting, as the party continues traveling.

Cadrius 7th of December, 2005 17:37

They find Shade at the forest’s edge, leaning against an alder. She’s still as beautiful as the day Cadrius first saw her; the same day she slit the throat of a dwarf. Not beautiful like the daughter of Duke Halifax with emeralds in her golden hair, or like the girl he had seen in a brothel during his first campaign that was dark of hair and skin and full of grace. No, Shade is beautiful like a sword is beautiful: sharp and full of deadly intent.

Her features are hardly pristine, having weathered the elements for years and the scar mars her face, always standing out in the twilight. Yet he finds the mark endearing in a way. A nobleman would find a less advantageous marriage for his daughter if her face was scarred so; a whore would command a lesser price. Yet Shade seems to care little about her scar where other women would obsess over it.

Yes, Shade is as beautiful, as cold, and—most importantly—as dark as a late autumn’s night.

Cadrius pauses for a moment, recalling some of the lore she’s shared with him over the weeks and months that they have traveled together. He glances up at the broadleaf tree and then back at her.

“Water must be nearby,” he says. She watches him with steely eyes. “A lake or river perhaps. I would imagine Enderin makes use of it…but we cannot be very close. Two days is far too short, is it not?”

Gralhruk 8th of December, 2005 02:49

The steel in her eyes doesn't change as she regards him steadily. Would he ever realize how deeply she cared, or understand the real reasons she was leaving? Probably not, because she was constantly misleading him. It was easier to make him angry, make him think she didn't care, because then she didn't have to worry about getting hurt herself.

I'd only disappoint him anyway.

She nods at his words. It pleased her more than she would admit that he shared this with her, obviously seeking her approval.

"Nice to see you actually listened to me once in a while. Yes, there is water around. I place us about half a day from the Chard. You're right, though, Enderin is still a ways off - weeks, not days. A boat would make it quicker, though."

red_dr4g0n94 8th of December, 2005 13:37

He was travelling again. Always on the move. This time cause he got caught in the middle of some powergame at the Citadel. Ben wondered if there had always been those and he had simply been too young to remember, or if they were something that had started happening recently. Somehow Ben didn't see the second option as being nearly as lickely as the first.

In any case, it wasn't too different than his usual fare in life. Arrive somewhere, tell the family the bad news, maybe do a few things for them or someone else there, then leave. He'd been doing it for years now, years that seem to run together in his memory. Nothing in particular stands out from them. Just a town or fortress, a face or two, and the road.

The Road. THAT was what stood out in his memories. Always on the road to somewhere, or making his own path to his destination. Always some reason for travelling, for walking, for never stopping except to rest or to be the bearer of bad news, the messenger for Death's actions.

But now there was no place to go. No family or relative to inform. All of the towns and cities and fortresses had been reached. All the necessary persons had been informed. And now he was beholden to no one, not even his dead comrades. He could go out, do anything. Join another mercenary company, start his own, become a bounty hunter or a bodyguard or join a Knighthood or and Order or...anything.

And yet, here he was. Travelling with a band of what could only be described as misfits, oddballs, or any other derogatory or unkind description yo uwished to label them as. People who didn't seem to have anything in common except for a wish to not travel alone. Ben didn't even know how they had first met. Perhaps they had simply formed up simply to go to the Citadel. Perhaps once they reached a decent sized town or city they would all go their seperate ways.

It had happened before to Ben, travelling companions leaving once they reached this city or that town. He had gotten so used to traveling alone. He hadn't even spoken a word to these people since the Citadel, falling back into old habits. And yet, there was no desire to know the answers to these questions. Ben didn't care one way or the other if these people decided to up and leave once they reached Chard or Enderin.

But that was in the future. This was the here and now. And now they had only just reached the woods after traversing a wasteland. It was time to take care of a few necessities. He dusted off his hat, then turned to the others.

"Lets go find that water source. I know I at least need to refill my waterskin, and it the sooner we reach a town, the sooner I eat something other than trail rations."

itches 8th of December, 2005 15:33

"I can't argue with that," Nicos chimed in. The events of the past week hadn't managed to dampen the bard's spirts as much as the blisters on his feet did. "We can find and Inn and I'll sing to earn some overpriced ale."

Black Plauge 9th of December, 2005 03:35

His mouth watering at the suggestion of something other than trail rations to eat, Blarth still can't help but laugh at Nicos' comment. "Drinking and singing? Is that all you think an Inn good for?"

itches 9th of December, 2005 03:59

"Of course not," Nicos replied with a horrified look. "They also have barmaids."

Black Plauge 9th of December, 2005 06:12

Rolling his eyes, Blarth's laugh becomes all the more hearty with Nicos' reply. There was something to be said for laughter. It had a way of making everyone more at ease and could sooth the nerves of even the toughest thug. Blarth figured they all needed a good laugh after what they'd been through.

Cadrius 12th of December, 2005 11:04

Even Cadrius finds some mirth in the bard’s lechery. However, the smile feels strange on his face. They’ve spent the past few weeks with little respite from the hardships that plague him and his companions. Yet even as a young man, before the flight from his homeland, he had always been dour. Sternness and practicality were well regarded by the church and master-at-arms, but they won him few friends. His marriage had been arranged solely because of his father’s status. That he had fallen in love with her was merely a pleasant coincidence.

His younger brother had been the jovial one, pursuing life with a reckless passion. Then again, as the second heir, he could afford to. Perhaps that’s why events unfolded the way that they had.

Not that it matters anymore, he thinks. The smile falters and then dies.

Readjusting the shield and bag slung across his back, he turns to face the others. “We should keep moving if we want to make the river with enough time before dark. That it has not snowed yet is a blessing. I’d not test our luck.”

itches 13th of December, 2005 01:57

"Speaking of snow," Nicos said as they set off again towards the river. "Have any of you heard the tale of Gizark the terrible and his army of snow men?"

Gralhruk 15th of December, 2005 04:22

Shade glares at Nicos, not wanting to hear his tale but quite certain that he'll go into it regardless of how they answer. Another day, once she had them on a trail they could follow, then she could go. How to stop them from following? A bit of a stretch that they'd actually come looking for her but, after all, they'd come all this way after Cadogan.

If she just up and left, they might get worried or curious. No, they would need to know she was going. Better yet, they ought to want her to go.

"Let's hope the weather holds or we'll be snowmen ourselves."

itches 20th of December, 2005 04:35

They continued walking towards the river as Nicos told them the tale of a deranged wizard who magically animated an army of snowman and set out to war. Although initially successful - his opponents were too busy laughing - he quickly met defeat when his minions melted.

Once at the river the companions set up camp near an outcropping of rock, and settle in for a cold night.

Cadrius 21st of December, 2005 01:57

Cadrius listens to the lengthy story in silence only remarking after Nicos has finished. “Quite the tale.” He doubts that this Gizark the Terrible ever lived, but even if there was a man who bore the name, Cadrius certainly doesn’t believe that he actually raised an army out of snow. “Perhaps his conquest would have been suited to colder lands.”

The river ends up being far closer than a half-day. But two hours pass before they catch sight of the swift and clear water rushing southward. However, the sun does not stay up long in autumn and even though it isn’t quite mid-day, the it has already passed its zenith and is beginning its rapid descent to the horizon.

“Enderin lies south of here,” he says, eyeing the water and grateful that their destination doesn’t sit north of their position. Running water is rarely safe to drink when a city is upstream. He’d seen it firsthand many times during his years in the Hundred Duchies. All manner of waste is cast into the water with nary a thought for those downstream. “If we had more time, or aptitude, I’d say we build a raft. But I do not fancy drowning and I have heard none of you make mention of rivercraft.”

itches 29th of December, 2005 02:08

Sitting by the camp fire, Nicos stared into its bright centre ignorant of Cadrius' comments. Instead his thoughts were dominated by the red haired woman he had left behind and the ache that filled his chest.


Thoughts of everything he had lost flittered wildly through his mind, shattering wild fantasies where he regained opportunities and grasped a future against desperate odds. Impossible dreams of things he would never have.

-What if..-

A single night of passion. That was all it had taken to reach deep within the bard, down to depths he had thought locked away forever. One beautiful, wonderful night which had lit a fire within that burned with a terrible and wonderful rapture. A passion he carefully kept hidden behind an irreverent and humorous facade.

-Gods damned everything-

What hurt more then lost opportunities, then the yearning to be with her again, or even the pain of her betrayal was the knowledge that hurt would fade. Tomorrow he would find it a fraction more bearable. The next day it would be a little bit more and so forth time rushed past to separate him from Gemoud, until finally he would wake up to discover that all feelings had faded to a dimly lit memory.

-Why does it have to be like this?-

For now the bard held tightly to the feelings, enjoying the passion and the pain. Yet hating them just as much.


Black Plauge 29th of December, 2005 04:59

Blarth wasn't been really been paying attention to Nicos' story. Something about melting men or something. Instead, he was far more busy trying to piece together what he should do next, and that kind of thinking took alot of effort.

It wasn't until the party was coming to a stop for the evening that Blarth finally decided that all this thinking wasn't getting him anywhere. He wasn't used to it, and it seemed largely unnecessary. He'd follow along with Cadrius and Nicos like Shade had suggested until something else presented itself. Life was always easier when you followed somebody else.

Cadrius 29th of December, 2005 12:19

The fire does its best to ward the chill, but the autumn night demands its due. Cadrius rubs the three day stubble on his cheek and tries to recall the date. November, he thinks, huddling beneath his cloak. Or late October, perhaps. We are still up high and far north. His companions are gathered around as well, trying to warm themselves as he does, but none speak. Blarth stares downward, contemplating his feet and perhaps being puzzled by them. Nicos has eyes for naught but the flame, his features looking particularly hollow in the yellow-orange firelight. Shade casts her own gaze away, looking into the shadows beyond the weak circle of light, searching for something or someone. Lastly there is Ben, doing what a good warrior must, and what Cadrius is doing as well, sharpening his blade. The two sit on opposite sides, swords set before them and whetstones in hand. Shhhick—shhhick. The call and response of honing steel is the only sound heard beyond the crackle of the fire and the swift flow of the nearby river.

After a time Cadrius stops, satisfied with the work on the bastard sword. His armor is in need of cleaning but he leaves it. In the old days, when he was still a lord’s son and a Knight Protector of Heironeous, his greatest pride was found in his armor’s shine. He had taken to the habit while squired to Sir Cargyle Whitecastle—known as the Silver Knight—who was as much renowned for his glimmering plate as he was his steady arm in the lists.

On the eve before a tourney, Cadrius would stay awake well into the wee hours sitting with Sir Cargyle, polishing each piece of mail until it shone in the moonlight. Cadrius always suspected his lord father had squired him to Whitecastle in the hopes of shaking some of the dour from his firstborn. It hadn’t worked. Admittedly, Sir Cargyle was normally a fiery man; quick to laugh, quick to fight, and quick to forgive. His love of wine showed in his red cheeks, but when it came time to couch a lance and charge against his fellow knights, he became as solemn as Cadrius’s father. Some of Cadrius’s fondest memories were from those times when Whitecastle would grow serious and talk of the battles he had fought in.

Cargyle’s title was a point of pride to him, and he took to wearing surcoats featuring his house colors in cloth-of-silver instead of his namesake alabaster on blue. Cadrius recalls one such time when the Sir Cargyle took the field, with long azure streamers trailing from his greathelm. It had been a good day for him; the Silver Knight unseated four of the best riders from the nearby lands before being unhorsed himself by Sir Garan March.

But those were older days and older times, and Sir Cargyle Whitecastle met his ignoble end one morning when he set off to free a small village that had been pillaged and occupied by outlaws. They hadn’t spared him for a ransom; preferring to take his armor, butcher him, and leave his parts for the crows. Cadrius wished he had ridden with him on that last charge. Perhaps the man would still draw breath if he had. Instead, all that remains is the name and the memory of the Silver Knight.

But what of Sir Cadrius? There is not much left of him. Gone are feasts and jousts and melees and festivals in great castles. In their stead are cold rations, brutal skirmishes, and sleepless nights. No longer does he polish his armor with the same devotion. Nor does he enter into the tournaments to seek fame and glory for his house. All that remains is the duty, the etiquette, and the sword. He wonders which one will leave him next. Not the sword, I hope. I will need that long after the others have fled.

Setting his blade aside, Cadrius lies down and settles his cloak and blanket about him. It is going to get very cold soon and it will be best if they are all prepared for it.

Gralhruk 30th of December, 2005 01:40

There is little noise in their camp except the crackle of flames and the rasp of stone on steel. Better that way. Less talk meant less reason to think about her companions. Tomorrow would come all too soon and she had things to do before then.

Shade keeps her eyes on the darkness around them, wondering if he was somewhere out there. Probably not. Most like he was already well on his way to Tradeholm. As she would soon be.

First the boat. That would be a good start, toward both Tradeholm and Enderin. She could leave them after a day on the river, to pursue whatever it was they were looking for. She rolls her shoulders, trying to ease the tension there. Her mind was already made up - no sense in fighting the invenitable. There wasn't anything for her here and he'd promised her good work. In any case, she owed him.

Nearby, the sounds of sword sharpening diminish. In her peripheral vision she can see Cadrius hold the sword up to the light of the fire, sight along its red tinged edge. Regret stabs at her and she slides one hand around the hilt of her blade, squeezing as if the pressure could change who or what she was. It couldn't, no more than anything could change any of them. Briefly, she had thought it might be different, that the road they'd traveled might somehow smooth the edges on each of them, turn them into something that fit together.


Abruptly, she stands.

"I'm going to scout upriver a ways, see if I can't get a clearer picture of exactly where we are. Don't wait up for me."

Somehow she manages to look at them without really looking at any of them, without meeting anyone's gaze. Then she's gone, another bit of night in the great dark around them.

* * *

It took longer than she thought to get there. She had seen the signs of habitation while they marched to camp the previous day and she had deliberately steered them South. Whoever it was would likely have what she wanted and she didn't need any of them messing with her plans. She had guessed two hours, given the distance and the conditions. It took twice that long, the night sky having clouded over thick enough to make the darkness near impenetrable.

In the end, she found what she was looking for - several lonely looking shacks near the river. Predictably, a few small boats were moored along sagging, poorly constructed docks.

The boats didn't look like much, but they seemed well constructed and sound despite their battered appearance. Not that she knew much about boats. The dog that challenged her presence was big, wolf-like and unfriendly. Still, she approached him steadily from the side, showing him her shoulder. Firmly but without any fear or anger, she moved next to him and his barking subsided. He looked confused, head darting back to look for his master. She waited. Nothing else stirred and she laid a hand on his head. After a moment his tongue lolled and his tail wagged slightly. Then it was merely a matter of choosing a craft that suited them . . .

The trip back was uneventful and quicker than her trek out there. It took her some muscle to get moving, and a little longer to figure out how to steer, but in a short while she had the rowboat moving well. Thanks the gods (and good planning) that she was traveling with the current.

The banks slid by and she made better time than she imagined, nearly missing the campsite. Landing the craft and disembarking proved difficult, and she ended up almost losing the boat. In the end, she got the thing secured though she was soaked from the waist down. She scrambled up the bank, reaching the top only to find Surayon watching her. Shade gave her a quick nod in greeting. The elf ignored her, turning her back and disappearing in the direction of camp.

Already shivering, and too cold and tired to care what Surayon's problem was, Shade followed. No matter the attitude, she'd rather Surayon was the one awake to greet her than any of the others. She stokes the fire, then settles in, trying to dry off. Sometime before that happens, sleep sneaks up on her and drags her to restless dreams.

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