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Unread 31st of May, 2009, 07:30
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Book Two - Chapter One

The early spring rain sings across the stone and glass of Sharn's skyscrapers. The clear water rushes and tumbles down clay tiled roofs and gurgles through copper plated sluice ways to erupt from the carved mouths of somber gargoyles. High atop Morgrave tower a cloaked figure darts across the open breezeway into the shelter of the building beyond. Dripping profusely on a intricate mosaic of Khorvaire, the wet traveller stares at a door made of some exotic, well polished wood. On the wall next to the door is an equally well polished bronze plaque with a name neatly incised in flowing calligraphy:

Dr. Quentin Horatio Smythe
Professor of Xen'drik Studies

It had been over three years since Tolliver had seen his father. Besides requisite card on his birthday, and on Yule, the two hadn't even really kept in contact, at least not until day ago when one of his fathers graduate students finally found Tolliver passed out in one of the back rooms of the Vermillion.

Three years, and now he is missing.

Last edited by -J-; 25th of May, 2010 at 07:08.
  #2  
Unread 4th of June, 2009, 12:15
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Tolliver grasps the doorknob, but hesitates to turn it.

A bitter expression washes over his face. “He has no right,” he thinks as he rests his hand on the knob. “No right to just pull me back into his life like this.”

After a few deep, cleansing breaths, he tries the knob. CA-CHUNK! CA-CHUNK! The knob meets substantial resistance from the door’s heavy lock and refuses to turn. Tolliver reaches into his pocket and produces a brass key, worn and tarnished by age and neglect. As he turns the key, there is an audible CLICK and the heavy wooden door swings a few inches inward. The smell of dust and old books waft past him to mingle and become lost in the air of the spring shower.

With a heavy hand, Tolliver pushes the door open. The moonlight behind him falls into the otherwise pitch black room, leaving a column of pale, silver light to lead the way. He hesitates at the threshold for a moment, allowing his vision to adjust to the darkness.

It’s just the way he remembered it.

Stacks of books lay in various stages of use. Many share table and shelf space with an assortment of exotic, unidentifiable items that Tolliver suspects are various finds from Xen'drik. Much of it looks like the typical crap they sell to tourists, but occasionally an item catches his eye—something looking like a legitimate artifact. He briefly ponders their street value as he weaves around the room to avoid the additional stacks of books and other assorted knick-knacks filed on the floor when his father ran out of storage space.

“He’s probably not even really missing,” Tolliver muses. “He’s probably just off on another one of his damned fool quests to unlock the mysteries of Xen'drik. Not like this would be the first time.” Even in his head, there is a mocking tone as he thinks the words “mysteries of Xen'drik”.

Eventually, he makes it to his father’s desk. With a light touch the lamp begins to glow, its cool artificial light illuminating casting jagged shadows across a cluttered desk. Given his fathers inability to throw anything away, the heaping stacks of books and papers is actually smaller than he had expected. Tolliver lightly drops into his father's worn, leather chair. He lets out a single, deep sigh as he tries to push back the flood of childhood memories. Feeling collected, he goes to work. It's time to see what his father was up to.

Last edited by -J-; 16th of July, 2009 at 23:50.
  #3  
Unread 11th of June, 2009, 06:03
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Tolliver pulls on the flat drawer under the desk and finds it locked. With a thud he drops a three month old stack of graduate student research papers on the floor, sending whirling clouds of dust skittering after his feet. He grabs the newly revealed third dynasty hill giant fertility idol and flips it over. The metallic coolness of the brass desk key flopping into his hand brings a smirk to his face.

If nothing else, his father was a creature of habit.

His smirk fades as the opened desk drawer reveals nothing of import beyond handfuls of trinkets and mementos from far off lands.

"Tolliver?" a woman's voice calls from the door making him jump. The plump silouhette and matronly tone can only belong to one person.

Serena Berester, personal secretary to the Master of Morgrave University Larrian ir'Morgrave, and the keeper of the school's daily order.

"Tolliver Trenton Smythe what are you doin' in your father's office?"

And only one of two living persons who not only knew his full name, but was capable of reducing him to a blushing, stammering sophomore by uttering it.

"I'm not here," he blurts out. Serena crosses her arms and shifts her weight to one side. The weight of her gaze makes Tolliver wiggle uncomfortably in his chair. "Um, I mean... my father's not here," he corrects himself. "Apparently, he isn't anywhere. Some of his students came to me. They're worried. So here I am."

A faint sigh escapes her lips. "Ach 'tis true. Gone to Xen'drik he has, a right fine expedition to. But they've all gone a missin' and..." her voice trails off as melancholy creeps huskily into her voice. "Ach but this be no place for gossip. Come lad, lets get somethin' warm in yer belly."

"Hmm. They left that part out."

"I wonder why," he thinks to himself. His stomach growls at the mention of food. He's sure that Serena can hear it even across the room. "Food sounds good, too. Nothing like a nice hot meal after a three day--" he catches a glance of the calendar on his father's desk. "Oh. four day bender."

"Yeah," he smiles weakly at Serena. "I could eat. And maybe you can tell me what's really going on."


P&J

Last edited by -J-; 16th of July, 2009 at 23:50.
  #4  
Unread 12th of June, 2009, 03:06
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You're dressed as a tin soldier.

I know. You're repeating yourself.

But it's hilarious.

I'm not laughing.

Do you ever?

Do you?


Veit Reinstadler shifts his weight uncomfortably at his post between the Grand Ball Room and the Great Patio in a uniform blue as the arc driving the lightrail. His face sweats under the weight of the silver greasepaint. His bright red gloves grip a gilt polearm emblazoned with Ghallandha's blink dog in carnival colors.

It's a costume ball. They wanted security to be thematic but visible.

They? You mean that little ponce?

Girard is a baron.

He's still a ponce. He has you calling him Girard?


The titled halfling in question dressed as the Dread Pirate of Xendrik no less mounts the stairs easily and spins on his wooden leg to face the gathered nobles. The two tinsel shackled princesses in his entourage titter endlessly at each other seemingly intoxicated already. Reinstadler and the toy soldier who was once a Aundairan colonel lower their polearms simultaneously and grasp the far end of each other's haft. Without warning the baron pirate back flips onto their erstwhile platform without losing his tri-corner hat and its exotic plumage. To laughter and applause, the soldiers raise him above their heads where he addresses the assembled, presumed dignitaries.

"Ladies and Gentlemen. No. No...That's not right..."

The little pirate paces dramatically on the two polearms. He pauses with index finger high in the air. The tin soldiers share a glance and brace themselves.

"That greeting is not appropriate this evening. So in character, I must greet you: Avast ye scurvy dogs and wayward wenches!"

The crowd erupts in laughter. Girard allows the mood to build for a moment before tamping it down.

Putting all his weight on one leg, he raises the wooden leg and swivels it about until the crowd draws back from a tall thin man in harlequin. The two princesses on the steps below point and clap at the same man before swooning against one another.

"We're here this evening to celebrate Admiral Mindarn's glorious victory over the pirate fleet of that scoundrel Jean Lafitte." The shackled princesses rouse themselves and boo raucously at the pirate's name so encouraged the party takes up the call.

The costumed halfling quiets the crowd again. "Gladly do we salute you, able sir! And that you might enjoy your party more..."

The pirate baron whistles a bosun's pipe loudly and long. Four harlequins dressed identically to Admiral Mindarn move through the crowd and begin dancing with each other in the space the party goers clear. Led by Girard's whistle, they eventually include Admiral Mindarn in their dance spinning and changing partners so fast only the most practiced eye would be certain which was the good admiral himself.

With three short bursts of his whistle, Girard seems to dismiss all five harlequins back into the crowd.

"Be merry, my friends! Be merry!"

And with that the pirate baron dives head first into the waiting bosoms of his captured princesses. The toy soldiers resume their attention stance with only some little fumbling of the polearms.

Herr Reinstadler? The voice flits through Veit's consciousness. That's not Khostya.

Casually raising a hand to his ear he whispers to the simple silver band under his right glove, "Go ahead, Mister Reece."

Sir..um...we....aaah... Reece sputters in Veit's mind.

"Out with it man."

Yes, sir. Sorry, sir. Sir we need you in the guest wing, its a matter of some...discretion.

The toy soldier makes his way through the gentile frolic as directly as he can. He and Monsieur Grignard had been chosen for these costumes so the guests could treat them freely as peers. With only one dance spin from a Brellish matron dressed as the queen of roses, one goosing from a Zilagran covered in swan feathers, and one salute and a parade step with the harlequin admiral - the Cyrian thinks to himself this will be rougher when the drink sets in. Then his almost smile disappears. She could be anyone here. And she wouldn't even acknowledge me.

He stomps through a servants' hallway to cut to the guest wing knocking over a sailor waiter with his tray. The sailor plants his fists on his hips then notices the costume. "Sorry, sir," he says squatting down to pick up his tray.

"No, it was my fault," Veit replies. The soldier stoops and puts one of the plates back on the tray with the sailor.

"Thank you, sir," the sailor seems uncomfortable, "You don't need to help."

The toy soldier smiles somewhat embarrassed. She could be anyone. He hurries to the guest wing.
  #5  
Unread 25th of June, 2009, 00:29
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Even across the length of the hall, Mr. Reece's expression is easy to read. It is a bitter mask of shock, confusion, and impotence, a mask Veit had seen, and worn, on the many occasions when duty demanded its full measure and flew in the face of reason and civility. The young man walks briskly, but with a crispness that belied his four years of service in the Brelish infantry. Short sandy colored hair frames his wide, hazel eyes. His high cheeks crest the sharp line of his jaw, and even splattered with long mucoidal globs of golden caviar and streaked with red wine, he still carried himself like an officer.

From the far end of the hall a drunken bellow erupts, punctuated by a faint feminine yelp. Reece quickly salutes and drops into lockstep with Veit.

"It Sabine sir. He retired to his guest suite with two companions. And," the young guard's features tighten as the sounds of hysterical blubbering grows louder. "And, somehow, he got his hands on some brandy and..." his voice trails off as the rest really doesn't need to be explained. The two soldiers walk with a determined silence to the end of the hall. Another pitiful yelp brings Veit's gaze to another guard standing next to a brass hinged door.

"Monsieur Pierce," Reinstadler returns the guard's salute, "who does Count Sabine have with him?"

"Two escorts," the somewhat tattered Pierce replies. "No one else," he adds anticipating his commander's next question.

The door behind the guard is heavy wood bound in nicely polished and etched brass. Porcelain and glass are embedded in the door, the steadfast gaurd and along the floor as if someone had thrown plates, and glasses of various substances against everything.

The Cyrian nods. "And from what service, Monsieur Pierce?"

"The Vermillion, sir."

Veit pales under his greasepaint.

Through the crack in the door, Veit can see one of the escorts from the waist up, nude with her back to him. Her hands are bound behind her with various cords twined around her waist, chest and around her neck.

The Cyrian cranes around Pierce so he can see the tops of her feet bound behind her - all connected to the rope around her neck. There are several lines of red welts across her pale skin. She looks elven, with long blue-black hair tied in a bun and by the strap going across the back of her head he guesses she has some sort of gag in place. Her torso movement indicates she is breathing but having difficulty as she strains against her bonds.

Their commander seems hypnotized. Pierce and Reece exchange a glance. As Veit watches the woman he notices her breathing becoms more ragged as if on the verge of unconsciousness. He sees patches of her skin take on a pale greyish-white tone and streaks of her hair run white then flash back to the elven blue-black.

"Orders, sir?" Reece almost shouts.

His commander turns and says, "Yes. Yes. Mr. Reece, notify the Vermillion find out what contract they made with Sabine. Monsieur Pierce stand your post unless I call."

He puts his shoulder to the door and turns the ornate ivory lion handle.

Erik
  #6  
Unread 7th of July, 2009, 01:18
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Tolliver's features reflect warmly off of the copper hanging pots and pans as he digs hungrily into the heaping plate of fried potatoes. The the buttery tubers carry with them the flavors of dill weed and childhood, and he isn't sure which fills him more - the food, or the sound of Serena's thick highland brogue.

"An' I says to him 'I donna care if you're the Kind of Breland, you'll not be potting Xendrik blood ivy outside your office to keep the freshman away.'" Their laughter fades into the sounds of sipping tea and nostalgic sighs.

"We've missed ye around here," Serena says.

"Yeah," Tolliver shifts uncomfortably in his chair. "Well... I..."

"He's missed ye as well," She continues. "Even if he canna tell ye."

Tolliver sits in silence for a moment, regarding the matronly woman.

"Where is he?" He does his best to mask the concern in his voice. "It's different this time, isn't it?"

"Oh lad...." she says thickly as she pats his cheek. With a heavy sigh she stands and gathers their dishes.

"He's gone for the mirror lad," she says with out looking, "gone...for the mirror."

Tolliver can feel his heart sinking. The Mirror of Ahmen Suhl - greatest artifact of the giant empire, used by the titan king Jhansulhar to keep the dragons of Argonnessen at bay for over seven thousand years.

None who had searched for it ever returned.

J & Paco
  #7  
Unread 8th of July, 2009, 12:39
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“Oh my gods. He’s finally gone crazy.” Tolliver’s voice shakes a little as he paces the kitchen. He turns to Serena. “Tell me you didn’t know about this.”

She looks him in the eye, her gaze unwavering.

“Gods, Serena. You knew he was going to do this and you just let him go?”

“Tolliver Trenton Smythe!” The anger and frustration in her voice begin to rise. “I could na keep yer father out of the boonies of Xen'drik any more than I could keep ye out of that den of drunks and hussies!”

“What den—

“And now he needs ye. Ye know as much about Xendrik as any folk ‘round here. Hells, ye should be professin’ here. Yer father always—

“It was you. You sent the students. Told them where to look for me.”

“Of course I did.” She walks around the kitchen table toward Tolliver. “Oh, lad. There’s a few souls ‘round here who love yer father enough ta go after him, but they don’t have yer… resourcefulness. Nor do they know him the way ye do. Ye even think like him. Like it or don’t. It’s truth.”

“I suppose you already made travel arrangements.”

“I suppose I might have.”

“Fine. You win. I’ll go.”

“Oh, lad.” She hugs him warmly. “I knew ye would. Yer a good boy.”

Last edited by -J-; 16th of July, 2009 at 23:51.
  #8  
Unread 9th of July, 2009, 11:41
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"WHERE ARE MY ALCHEMICALS! WHERE ARE MY GODDAMN ALCHEMICALS!" Splintering wood punctuates the count's cry as he hurls a teak end table across the room. "Damned Karrns...damned schwarze hunde...I'll see them all in Dolurrh before they take this bridge! LIEUTENTANT!"

The heavy oak door grates through piles of shattered glass and crockery, as Veit quietly enters the room his gray eyes warily darting about. There are only four people in the room, two prostitutes - one cowering on the bed, the other bound and on the floor, Sabine - naked and stooped over in the corner muttering madly, and Veit. Soundlessly Veit crosses to the bound prostitute and slipps Khotsya under the rope around her neck. With the slightest of tugs the golden blade cuts the silk cord and the changelings head rolls forward gasping.

"YOU!" the count's voice makes Veit jump "get away from my prisoner warforged, or I'll have you melted down for scrap!"

"Sir! Yes, Sir!" Veit stands straight and salutes, "War Council sent me to bring you to the main tent. They need your advice."

"Damnable bureaucrats...." Sabine scowls. Even though he was well into his fifties, the count is remarkably fit. Hard, lean muscle ripples under a melange of silvery scars, and the bared dress sword in his hand moves with serpent like fluidity. Raking fingernail marks stand out in red, welted streaks across his chest and shoulders, and thin trails of blood spring from shards of glass embedded in his skin. He runs a sanguinous hand through his thick hair staining his white locks crimson. For a moment Veit can see the man coming back; he can see the shoulders sagging and the sword tip drooping lower in the old man's grasp.

Then the gray mists of the war find their way back. The tip of the count's sword flicks up towards Veit's face as the old warrior stares at him with wild eyes.

"Tell those pampered fools that I am engaged with two divisions of Karrnathi, with a third on its way by nightfall. Tell them that unless I get my alchemicals that they will have an hour, maybe two, before they and every other man, woman and child in Valirond will be making that final journey to Dolurrh."

The Rape of Valirond. That's where he's trapped. All the horrors the Cyrian has seen push against his mind, but he was not there when the undead Karnnathi legions crossed the bridge and took the lives of each Valirondi from crone to cradle in unspeakable ways. With a soldier's discipline Veit tamps down his own war horrors to confront the older man's consuming vision.

"Sir, the Council insists," Veit continues, "They need a justification to release the alchemicals."

A roar of frustration wracks the count's frame as he rampages through the room, his sword hissing hungrily through the air. "FOOLS! IDIOTS! CAN'T THEY SEE THERE'S NO TIME!" He furiously hacks at the bed post until the thin blade of the dress sword snaps and goes flying into the corner. Now sobbing, he stabs at it with the broken stub.

"Can't they see..." his breath comes in ragged gasps, and Veit can see an unhealthy pallor spread across Sabine's face.

"... see that..." a spasm of pain lances through the old man's body, and the broken sword clatters against the floor. Gripping his left elbow the count collapses into Veit's arms.

"...there's no time."

After a few spasms, the Count's expression settles as the anguish of his madness fades along with his consciousness.

He looks up at the changeling escort bound for punishment and interrogation. Her breath is steady, her skin color Karnathi pale but not the eerie white it had gone before. Now her hair is long and dark and severe the way he had seen in Rekkenmark. The Brellish lass looks up as Sabine's raving quiets. Her eyes dark yet still angry the way he had seen in Karrlakton.

Now Sabine's breath grows labored, but rather than shut the old general's eyes, Veit goes to his knees praying to the Silver Flame, "Keiner ist Ihr Zorn verschont. Keiner ist Ihre Gnade verschont."

The silver light fills him with its ecstasy and the Cyrian throws back his head as the energy heals the Brelish officer. When Veit opens his eyes Sabine is staring at him with a confused hatred.

Veit prays again, "None are spared your wrath. None are spared your mercy."

Standing, the Cyrian rests Sabine on the ground of his own wreckage and the man closes his own eyes breathing steadily. He supports the Karnathi woman as he releases the rest of her bonds. Placing her next to the other escort, he gently rubs her wrists and ankles.

"Don't worry your people will be here soon."

The Brelish woman takes hold of the changeling in her arms and swats Veit away.

The soldier priest stands and tugs his gloves back on angrily.

Erik & J

Last edited by -J-; 18th of July, 2009 at 08:09.
  #9  
Unread 14th of July, 2009, 02:20
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Veit shifts uncomfortably in his dress uniform, checking it over for the thousandth time. All of his medals are in place, his honor cords stiff and saffron yellow, his white jacket the color of fresh snow, and his dress sword hanging perfectly off his left hip. He can't remember the last time he had worn it.

You look fine. Khostya's thoughts rumble through his mind.

Thanks

Even mentally Veit didn't sound convincing. It had been months since Girard's party. The little ponce had seemed pleased with his handling of the Sabine incident, but afterwards the contracts seemed to dry up. He kept telling himself that it was simply that the Great War had left a glut of highly trained officers and soldiers all competing for the same sort of work.

It was simple economics, supply and demand, he told himself. But he couldn't help thinking...

"One hundred and twentieth floor m'lord." The elevator operator says cheerfully as he locks the break lever and slides the teak paneled door open. With a nod Veit drops the last of his silver pieces into the lad's hand and steps into the hallway.

"His lordship's apartment is to the left, m'lord," the boy says as he closes the elevator door. Soon the hum of magical lift vibrates into to the distance.

There's still time to make a run for it...

I like eating.

Crisp steps carry him down the short hall to a red door with gold trim and an ornately etched bronze plaque.


Penthouse A

Count Victor Gregorio Sabine

Last edited by -J-; 18th of July, 2009 at 08:10.
  #10  
Unread 18th of July, 2009, 08:24
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Long saffron sheets of light pour in through a wall of enchanted glass filling the spacious suite. From his chair Veit can see the the great gorgon headed Canith tower and the trimmed hedges of Morgrave. The two veterans had been discussing the Race of Eight Winds when the count's manservant, Charles, appears and quietly clears away the remnants of their afternoon tea.

A silence hangs in the air as the butler toddles back to the kitchen as if their previous polite conversation had some how depended on the physical presence of gold rimmed porcelain. Sabine sits in a wide backed mahogany chair with his legs neatly crossed and his hands folded on his lap. The setting sun stains his graying locks blond and warms the black satin of his smoking jacket to a rich chocolate brown. On his left breast the silver thread of his coat of arms glistens brightly - a raven holding a rose with a bee, and above it his familial motto.

Learn to Endure.

Charles returns with a large silver tray, and Veit is thankful for the distraction. An old bottle of brandy dominates the tray, its label yellowed and brittle but its fine gold script still legible.

Martell Family
Grand Sovereign Cognac
845

845, the year King Jarot began the greatest public works project Khorvaire had known, the construction of the transcontinental lightning rail. A year full of hope and promise as the five nations tied themselves more closely together, and fourty-nine years before that promise of unity was cast unto the fires of the Great War.

In addition to the brandy and two rounded snifters the tray also held a teak box of cigars, a lighter and a bulging manila folder.

"Thank you Charles. That will be all," the count says as he cracks the seal on the bottle. He pours Veit's glass first, eventually filling both of their glasses with far more than was prudent.

The two veterans watch the amber liquid soundlessly enter the crystal. They raise their glasses to sparkle in the dying light and nod them toward each other. Charles withdraws leaving the tray.

Veit sniffs the cognac. Savoring slowly one of Aundair's finest and with 150 years the oldest he has had since Cyre. Sabine's eyes are on him as they sip. The Cyrian remains silent.

The count nods towards the thick folder as prepares a brace of cigars for smoking. Long, thick and black the cigars exude the rich, heavenly aroma of Marcher tobacco.

Reinstadler examines the papers. Morgrave University is preparing an expedition to Xendrik to find and rescue one of their own - one Quentin Horatio Smythe. The bonus to complete Smythe's recovery of an ancient artifact is substantial.

As lance commander, Veit would lead a well-equipped extraction team of fifty plus souls into the deadly exotic southern jungles. One of his lieutentants, Malcolm Stolz, and the quartermaster, Anya Rabenschloss, had both been to Xendrik. Regina Clark, the other lieutentant, has a Brellish commendation. They are all certified by Deneith. They had all served in the war. He drinks deeply of the cognac. The Count adds cognac to both of their glasses.

He thumbs through the dossiers of the scholars, priests, and mages assigned to the two companies in his lance.

Tolliver Smythe. The objective's son is one of the mage. Anya Rabenschloss has filed a formal complaint.

I like her already.

Who?

Quartermaster Rabenschloss. She understands the importance of professionalism. I think I know that name.

Isn't she Karrnathi?

Rabenschloss. Ah. Northern Cyre. Kurt Rabenschloss was in the academy a year ahead of me.

What happened to him?

He died in the war like everyone.

Veit orders the papers and returns them to the envelope. He raises his glass to the Count, "Thank you, sir. Everyone wants to see the forbidden continent. I never thought I would have a chance to live a childhood dream. When do I meet my team?"

The count smiles and raises his glass.

"Tomorrow."

Last edited by -J-; 25th of May, 2010 at 07:23.
  #11  
Unread 28th of August, 2009, 10:04
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"Mister Smythe, is it?" the Denieth quartermaster asks in a tone some where between boredom and contempt.

A tone that didn't really expect anything more than a nod.

Quartermistress? Tolliver muses. The woman sitting across from Tolliver is tall, her long silky black hair swept up tightly under a gray garrison cap. Her alabaster skin is still smooth, with only the faintest hint of lines around her right eye. Her left is hidden behind a black leather eyepatch set with a small silver skull. Her features hold the strength and severity of the Karnn, but with an attractiveness that spoke of Aundaran or even Cyrian blood.

She studies the contents of the folder in front of her. Tolliver can make out official copies of his transcripts, as well as more than a few arrest reports. The corners of her mouth turn down as she flips through the neatly stacked sheets, rounding her full lips. Lips made for...

"I want you to look at something, Mister Smythe," she says as she produces a similar folder from her desk and hands it to him.

Lieutenant Marcus Greyson

Rank 3 Abjuror - Brellish Royal Academy
Rank 3 Diviner - Brellish Royal Academy

The Wroan Cross - Battle of Kenrun
The Millitary Cross - Siege of Sterngate
The Millitary Cross - Siege of Barren Keep
Distinguished Arcane Cross - Battle of Eston's crossing
Eastern Theater Star with skull


The dossier continues, page after page of gallantry, heroism and dedication to duty. It was a strange feeling reading the entirety of a man's life on neatly quilled parchment. Even stranger to think that you could fit a man's life on a few sheets of paper.

"OK, I'm impressed." Tolliver returns the packet to the quartermistress. Was this meant to scare him off? "You Denieth people really are the best. But why am I looking at the resume for a missing expedition captain? I thought I was here to get an assignment for the expedition."

"That isn't the missing expedition captain, Mister Smythe. That is the person you are replacing." Her face turns to iced porcelain as she leans a forward in her chair. "Allow me be frank, mister Smythe - I don't like civilians telling me how to run my operations, and I don't like playing nursemaid to a hedgemage with a sudden sense of familial duty. Xen'drik makes a trip to the Mournlands look like Winter Holliday," the quartermaster's eye blazes coldly. "There are things in those jungles that..."

She has Kurt's skin and the nose I think. Her eye though must be her own.

And you call me morbid.


With a wide Cyrian forehead and the high cheekbones of a defunct nobility a soldier by bearing and by purple black epaulet markings a lance captain enters the chamber after a perfunctory knock. His crisp Morgrave gray infantry uniform recently pressed, his right lambskin glove returns her salute.

"Quartermistress, pardon the interruption,"

"Captain Reinstadler," she replies, offering him her seat.

The Cyrian declines her offer with a slight gentleman's bow, "No, please continue."

He scans the dossiers in their folder and says, "You are Mister Tolliver Smythe then?"

Extending his gloved hand, the Cyrian smiles, "I am Captain Reinstadler. I will be leading the mission to recover your father and his target if possible."

"Thank you," Tolliver says as he shakes the captain's hand firmly. "You're just in time. The quartermistress was just telling me how much she doesn't like me." He digs deep to summon a pleasant tone as he addresses the quartermistress. "It's funny, you know? Denieth have such a sterling reputation as the best of the best, but all I've seen so far is a disgruntled ice queen with an inflated sense of self-importance who seems intent on spending the better part of her morning inventing new ways to insult me.

"Madam, I know what's in those jungles too. That's why I endure standing here even after you so clearly and cleverly expressed how so very unwanted I am here. I don't need a nursemaid. I need a professional. And Captain Reinstadler here looks to fit that bill rather nicely.

"Hedge mage my ass," Tolliver mutters to himself as he straightens his jacket.

The silence following Tolliver's words bears its own chill, and Veit draws up his chest as he inhales sharply the air apparently icing his lungs.

He says in crisp Brellish, "Would you like to lodge a formal complaint, Mister Smythe? I assure you that in my dealing with Deneith, I have never found its representatives less than professional. I thought Quartermistress Rabenschloss' complaint regarding your joining the mission tactically sound and quite professionally written. Your outburst does imply a certain lack of discipline and seemed directed personally toward Quartermistress Rabenschloss.

The veteran in his pressed uniform continues his eyes distant yet probing, "That is my concern, Mister Smythe, do you feel you will be able to function on this mission with the detachment a field operative needs?"

"But she started it," Tolliver began to say, but thought better of it. "You both have my apologies. I am used to a social climate where personal thoughts are more freely vented. To you, such an exchange must seem undisciplined and combative. Until I have had more of a chance to observe your customs, I will keep my thoughts to myself."

He's not a recruit.

He didn't answer my question.

Would you have answered it?


Veit tugs on his gloves though his face remains neutral. He glances at Rabenschloss. She seems stiffly detached and formal. Smythe slouches in his chair and seems sullen. He says neutrally, "Perhaps that serves in your world, Mister Smythe. We will be dependent on each other for our lives. Without discipline it is hard to rely solely on each other's personal observations. Nonetheless, this mission demands flexibility. I ask that you both please join me at Milander's this evening. Another setting might put us on better footing before we dare the jungles of Xendrik."

"Sounds good," Tolliver says as he rises from his seat and moves toward the door. "This is your show. I'll follow your lead." He has a false start at a salute, unsure if he's supposed to or not. "Captain," he finally says nodding his head, then he exits.

Veit watches the door close behind the young mange with a concerned look on his face. He turns to the hard-eyed woman still in the room and says, "Please speak freely, Quartermistress." Your family has always meant a good deal to me.

"He's brash, arrogant and undisciplined," she says with a measured crispness. "But he has some spine to him, as well as some experience in Xen'drik," she adds after a long pause. She deftly re-stacks the pile of dossiers, leaving them on the table in front of Veit. From her desk drawer she removes a thick red folder. The word "CONFIDENTIAL" is stamped across front, and right above it is the impressed crest of House Denieth. She lays the opened folder in front of Veit, pushing an detailed topographical map forward she taps a jagged looking valley with a thin finger.

"Then again, more balls than brains may be an asset for where we're going."

Erik, J, Paco
  #12  
Unread 19th of October, 2009, 22:46
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Milander's worn leather seats and lacquered cherrywood bar lend the place a comfortable air. The hands of the bar patrons show them to be craftsmen. In a red plumed hat an ageless half elf with a zither keeps the silences at bay allowing the tired men a backdrop for their stories of blown glass, uneven glazing and overheated furnaces before they drift back to their families.

Veit sits at the bar in an overly crisp dark blue tunic; his calfskin gloves cradle a single malt. Gaze upturned he listens to the stringed music reflecting on the two companies he'll be leading into the jungle the dim light reflecting off the hammer on his neck.

He rises as Anya and Tolliver show up simultaneously.

"Captain, Mister Smythe" Anya says with polite bows.

"Quartermistress," Tolliver replies. He tries to keep his tone polite, neutral, and professional. He waits for the quartermistress to be seated before taking a seat himself. First impressions are important, and he had already botched that. Maybe he could still salvage this. "This is a fine establishment, Captain. You have excellent taste. Is this a regular haunt of yours?"

Veit tries on a small smile and says, "Milander's is a good place to get away. Frau Milander also makes the tastiest speckknoedel." The captain gets a faraway look and he smoothly finishes his scotch. He calls out to the somewhat wizened barkeep, "Herr Milander. Noch ein mehr bitte und etwas für meine Gefährten."

The thinnish elderly man comes over and pours two fingers of the amber liquid into Veit's glass. Looking sideways at Anya he asks, "Na ja. What can old Milander get you to drink?"

"Artur dark stout, bitte."

"Gut gut. And you, young sir, what will you have?"

"The house ale," Tolliver replies.

Milander looks intently at the young Brell. "You sure? It's a solid ale, but hanging with expatriates like these make need for something stronger."

"Milander!" Veit says sternly half rising from his stool though he appears more concerned about Anya's reaction. Only the slightest turn of her lip indicates she even heard the elderly man.

"At ease, soldier. A house ale and an Artur coming right up," he toddles a few feet away and pours the steins. Unabashed he continues, "You know the Cyrian glassblowers have had a community here going on two hundred years now. Good place to emigrate if you had the skills and weren't friends to some rich noble or had some reason to leave that land of unicorns and princesses. I myself have been here since I was a strapling lad. Da couldn't get behind the War."

The captain stiff as a parade march stares hard enough at the glass in his hand to shatter it.

"Good folk, expatriates are by and large," Milander places the stout in front of Anya with a small nod, gives Tolliver his brew, produces a well-crafted bottle from under the bar and pours the young man with soft hands a finger of golden scotch. "On the house. Though of course they do say home is where the heart is."

He meets Veit's gaze steadily and smiles, "Let me see how the little woman is coming with her dumplings. I'll have her bring them to your back table, ja?"

Veit nods stiffly, "Danke, Herr Milander."

Awkward.

The soldier priest sips his scotch with practiced restraint and says eventually to the casual looking Tolliver, "Milander insists my lack of desire to visit New..." His demeanor darkens and his determined to finish brooks no interruption though his companions' implacable silence threatens none.

He continues to the zither in a minor key, "... to visit the expatriates' new city ... is glass too brittle to use Milander's words." The glass empty Veit pushes it away to the limit. "This is why I would not lead a mission into the Mournland."

With another pregnant pause, Veit rises and stands behind Anya without offering to assist her with her stool, "Our table is ready."

The dark haired Karnnathi takes a deep swig of her dark beer, clearing the tan foam from her upper lip with a flick of her tongue. Standing she gives a quick gesture to a soldier waiting a discrete distance away. "The scribes have turned up some interesting news, Herr Kapitän," the soldier hands her a thick folder, salutes and then fades into the surroundings.

"Something that Mister Smythe may be able to help us with."

"Whatever you need," Tolliver says. He eyes the package, hopeful for a chance to prove his worth on the upcoming expedition. It's time to show these guys that he can do more than just talk a good game.

Erik, J & Paco
  #13  
Unread 9th of January, 2010, 00:07
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Sheafs of translucent vellum darkened with pictographic rubbings covered the backroom table. A great sea of paper foaming wave like with scrolls and dotted with rectangular islands of leather bound tomes. The epeiric mass temporarily overwhelms the vibrant scents of ale and schnitzle with the pungent odor of inks and parchment. Veit sits at the far end of the table, a large full color map of a twisting river valley spread before him. The elegant gold divider in his left hand dances across the meticulously drawn dark blue length of the river, while his other hand holds open the blood splattered journal of the man who inked it.

Across from him with her back to the door sits Anya, her long fingers skimming through the pages of thick tome bound in thick, green leather. The title glints in gold ink across the cover :

Cultural Traditions of the Atur'ai Giants of Xen'drik
Dr. Quentin Horatio Smythe

It was the third book she had read through in the last thirty minutes.

Between them sits Tolliver and a battery of reference books. The disheveled youth pours over the reams of rubbings on the table his mind lost in the antiquity of the forbidden continent.

Last edited by -J-; 9th of January, 2010 at 00:11.
  #14  
Unread 16th of March, 2010, 09:52
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Tolliver sits on the floor surrounded by more mystery. Dr. Smythe had kept a significant collection of rubbings (numbering into the hundreds) which were recovered from his last known base camp. As near as Tolliver can tell, the rubbings must be placed in some sort of order if they are to make sense. Nimble hands deftly and deliberately rearrange the parchments. He studies the arrangement with a keen eye. Moments pass. His expression shifts from neutral to a light scowl as he removes several parchments from the configuration, then digs through the remaining rubbings in piles behind him. He stops periodically to record some notes in a worn leather journal, then he starts the process all over again.

He’s been at this for the last thirty minutes.

“There,” he says, sitting back to run a hand through his disheveled hair. “My father had Biggs doing the bulk of the translation work on these rubbings, but these are all wrong. These ‘giant’ glyphs aren’t giant at all. They look more like some sort of pidgin. I’d guess ancient goblin and another very obscure Xen’drik dialect that I can’t identify yet.”

He looks up at Anya and Veit, “But I can read them… well, sort of.”

“Take this one here,” he points at one of the humanoid-looking glyphs. “This image comes up routinely through the tablet rubbings. The best translation I could give it is the Sojourner.”

“Yes,” Anya interjects. “I was just reading about this figure. The Sojourner is part trickster and part wise man. He transcends both mortal and divine rules in order to teach his lessons and bring balance to the worlds.”

“Right,” Tolliver says, shooting her a warming smile. “And then there’s this curiosity.” He points toward another odd-looking glyph. “Biggs kept referring to this as the ‘Death Bringer’, but that’s not quite right. A more literal translation from the dialect would be something more like ‘Agent of the Powers’. In the more common goblin dialects it would translate as ‘Vengeance Seeker’. See here?” He points to several components of the glyph. “This is ‘action’, this is ‘blood’, and this is ‘path’. So it’s the ‘action-blood-path’, literally. Traditional translations of these glyphs carried the idea of a person of flesh walking the path of the will of the universe. It’s not entirely clear from the artifacts whether or not this is a reference to the Sojourner or someone else.

“And then there’s this,” he points to a stylized skull on one of the rubbings. “This appears frequently in the rubbings. It’s odd. Not quite like something the goblins or giants would draw, and it doesn’t correspond to any glyph in either of the languages. Its placement within the rubbings indicate that it is a symbol of some import—probably a personal glyph. For whom, I can’t tell yet. But this skull does seem connected to Jhansular’s Mirror."

Veit puts down his empty glass slowly deliberately. "How long until you can tell me what these mean, Mr. Smythe? We have been in here for a while now though you've not even touched your speckknoedel and you have told me the translation was wrong. But now we know Sojourner. He ticks his left gloved index finger with his right. "Action-Blood-Path if I recall correctly?" He ticks two fingers. "And personalized skull symbol is important?" He holds his empty hands out with a shrug.

"Yes, Captain. The skull is in the goblin style, but it doesn't relate to a particular word or glyph. Given its position among the other glyphs in the rubbings, especially the action-blood-path, I would deduce that the skull glyph serves as a marker to for the Agent of the Powers. It's his name, sir. And from the context here in the rubbings we've seen, I would say that he plays a key role in uncovering the mirror."

"This is a prophecy then?" the Captain says leaning back and signaling for another scotch.

"I believe so," Tolliver replies. "The Agent of the Powers--Vengeance-Seeker, or whatever--will lead the way to Jhansular's Mirror. Now we just have to figure out who he is." Tolliver pauses for a moment. "Well, who it is. There's no indication that this figure is male. As a matter of fact, in many cultures, key figures of death or power are often represented by feminine--


The Captain his face lightly flushed interrupts him learning forward in his chair, "What do you know about this Xen'drik culture, Mr. Smith?"

"Quite a bit, Captain. I grew up with my father filling my head full of it. I also studied at Morgrave. If I may be so bold, I can give you more specific information if I know what you're after. Is this line of questioning more about verifying my credentials, or is there something specific about Xen'drik culture that you wish to know?"

Veit pinches the bridge of his nose and says, "No, Mr. Smythe, I would not be speaking with you if I were worried about your papered history." He looks Tolliver in the eye and continues, "I need to specifically know what about this culture will aid me in traveling through giantic lands along a river apparently, despite all reason, half the length of Khorvaire to locate an artifact that you tell me must be found by a vengeance seeking agent of unknown powers. What sort of people were they? What was the mirror to them? What was their relationship to this sojourner?"

Tolliver rubs his hand through his hair and starts nervously, "Well, let me try and provide some context. According to legend and little contested by other theory the Atur'ai Giants originally built the mirror. Specifically Jhandular the First though some think he simply ordered its construction while other believe he was the crafstman in order to fight what most scholars call the Black Sleep or what some records referred to as the Darkness."

Veit leans forward and nods as the scholar mage's voice grows comfortable and confident.

"One controversial theory concludes that the 'Black Sleep' was some sort of extraplanar invasion that over time led the Atur'ai to unleash such powerful magics that it destroyed their kingdom and changed the face of Xen'drik."

Anya adds, "That is Dr. Smythe's theory. It's not commonly accepted."

"Yes, Quartermistress," says Tolliver without the barest hint of crispness, "In any case it is ultimately unclear whether Jhansular's mirror was finished or even if it played a part in the final battle or battles of the Atur'ai with the Darkness. Other more popular theories contend that the dragons destroyed Jhansular's kingdom and destroyed or hid the mirror. Some scholars insist the Atur'ai kingdom fell to the Deathspeakers a rival clan of giants. The Deathspeakers have black skin which leads these academics to conjecture that the Darkness mentioned in the records were this clan. After all our best guess for the date of the mirror is maybe thirty to forty thousand years ago; however, these goblinoid-giantic etchings are from much more recent say roughly ten to twenty thousand years ago.

"The Sojourner is a common mythic archetype in the legends of the Dhakaan goblins much like the patchwork Zilagran Jester during the Fool's Festival who makes kings servants, commoners noble for a day and binds Zilagro into one family. Some tales refer to the Sojourner almost like a god, some refer to him or her as a mortal or even many mortals endowed with great power. The particulars vary from legend to legend perhaps none of them are true perhaps they each have an aspect of truth."

Tolliver takes a sip of his ale, notes his attentive audience and continues, "One common theme about the sojourner is how he or she is a 'deliverer' or 'bringer of balance' who shows up to combat 'the twisted' or what we might call aberrations. Another Dhakaan text calls upon 'those who sojourn to come forth and deliver destruction' upon these aberrational archfoes of the Dhakaani. These deliverance stories in particular seem to grow in popularity after the infusion of orcish Gatekeeper culture into the Dhakaan empire. The Gatekeepers as you no doubt know are druids, but some claim they were trained by Vvaraak a green dragon to combat the Daelkyr centuries before the Lords of Xoriat appeared.

"What I find striking is Vvaraak's training of the Gatekeepers supposedly took place about the same time as the rise of the Dhakaan empire which is about the same time as these rubbings that Dr. Smythe brought back from Xen'drik which..." Tolliver points emphatically at some of the glyphs from his father's last known base camp, "may indicate goblins traveled to Xen'drik looking for the Mirror."

The scholar leans back his eyes off in the distance, "Of course it's utterly unclear what the Dhakaani actually did with the mirror. The sources alternatively refer to it as a weapon, a tool for communication and as some sort of transportation device. Regardless, they apparently found it and used it, but no one is clear what came of it. This fragment here says: '...and the Sojourner brought forth the 'black lance'......Jhansular's...heart of madness. Gatekeepers...sealed for...return again...'"

The room becomes quiet and the sounds from Milander's kitchen creep back into the adventurers' awareness. After a little more contemplation Veit says, "Thank you, Mr. Smythe, that was impressive." He folds his gloved hands together and tapping his index fingers asks the Quartermistress, "Is there a Gatekeeper presence in Sharn?"

"I'm not certain, Kaptain," she says standing. "But I can find out."

J & Paco & Erik

Last edited by -J-; 17th of March, 2010 at 22:02.
  #15  
Unread 19th of April, 2010, 21:59
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The Tulgey Wood

The dew drenched grass folded wetly under Veit’s boots as he climbed the last of the hills leading to the King’s Forest. Behind him he can hear Tolliver, Anya and his “security” detail of four, headed by sergeant Stoltz. He had protested, but the quartermistress was adamant in her duty.

It was a familial trait.

He pauses for a moment, enjoying the exercise after the last seven hours on the lightning rail. Ahead of him the dark, tangled border of the forest looms like a living wall, the dusky limbs of the trees an indistinct mass in the pale predawn light. The King’s Forest had been a protected refuge since the founding of Galifar, and even earlier under the Dhakaani. It was an old wood, inclement to the presence of man.
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Unread 22nd of April, 2010, 08:09
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The more he stares into the dappled forest with its reaching weathered limbs the more his foreboding grows.

How many of us might not return if the druid wishes to keep tales of the Bloodwalker secret? Will it finally be my day? No. The reply comes instantly followed quickly by the analysis am I really still bound up with the Bloodwalker and this maddening prophesy? Have I not already fulfilled my doom allowing her to walk this world unimpeded? But maybe it will be for the Flame's purpose? Would that it all have some reason.

Tolliver's musings had put some fragmented hope. She may be a weapon like Khostya aware yet still a potent tool in the hands of others

Anya her mood unchanging raises her eyebrow that they're ready.

Veit nods and surveys their readiness. He still finds Tolliver maddeningly unreadable. The young mage seems always distracted yet his penetrating mind could well hide another agenda and he catches on remarkably fast. The Deneith mercenaries are professional really no need correct them.

He clicks his heels and straightens his jacket. "All right, Soldaten, straighten your uniforms, dies ist eine diplomatische Mission. That means it's a diplomatic mission. Show the Druid we respect his Laende the way we would any Church , na ja?"

He looks them each in the eye. "Alles gut, lead on, Higgins, it's not Xen'drik yet but you can still impress me."
  #17  
Unread 23rd of April, 2010, 02:25
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From the back of the group, Tolliver stands about with his hands thrust into the pockets of a very worn leather overcoat drawn about him to ward off the morning chill. The train ride was way too long, his companions were way too quiet, and it was way too early to be this far away from civilization. Yet here he is.

He lets out a small sigh. This was the part he always hated about field work.

Tolliver nods at Veit's orders as a gesture of acknowledgment. As the men fall into formation (or whatever it is that they call it), Tolliver produces a small, somewhat thick silver chain about the size of a bracelet from one of his belt pouches. He tugs at the chain with his thumb and forefinger, rotating it in his hand for several seconds as he works to control his breathing. With the same kind of breath one takes before diving into a pool of water, he launches into an incantation. The weight of the ancient words as they bind his spell seems to draw all eyes on him as if his utterance has an actual pull.

"Just a little something to help me in case I need to make a good impression," he offers as an answer to the unspoken question written across their faces.

Last edited by Paco; 5th of May, 2010 at 12:06.
  #18  
Unread 3rd of May, 2010, 06:33
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With a crisp salute the corporal heads towards the twisted mass of foliage, the others falling in behind. A predawn breeze hisses through the dark leaves, carrying with it the damp smell of primeval wood and groaning of old boughs. Near the tree line Higgins drops into a crouch as his eyes scan the thick grasses.

“Anything?” Anya asks softly.

“Nein. Just an old dear trail that…” his words trail off as the thick creaking of the wood grows louder. Like stalks of wheat under a summer wind the massive trunks and limbs of the trees bend and twist to reveal a narrow trail heading deeper into the wood.

“Durch die Götter…”

“Somehow I don’t think the gods have much to do with this,” Anya says coldly as her hand moves from the hilt of the long knife at her waist.

“Kaptain?”
  #19  
Unread 5th of May, 2010, 07:54
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Years of practice keep Veit from shivering.

"I'd say that's our invitation. Tread lightly."
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Unread 5th of May, 2010, 12:00
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Tolliver moves with the group. Force of habit, really. When one enters a strange and dark wood, it's just common sense to keep to the center of the herd. Stray too far, and Death often awaits with sharp, pointy teeth (or worse). These woods are new to him. He does not know their lore or their customs, and can't help but feel a little bit lost.

Bright-eyed and alert, his eyes continually roam around the dark, dense wood in the pre-dawn gloom. He is vaguely aware of a feeling-- a knot that grows in his stomach with each step he takes. It's not fear, exactly. It's that indescribable blend of shock and confusion that accompanies every expansion of awareness--that primal chill that can't be reproduced by anything short of standing at the precipice of the Unknown and swinging out past the edge just enough to let your feet dangle.

He can't help but grin slightly for an instant. These are the moments when one truly feels alive. It's been a while since he's felt this way.

It's times like this when he truly understands his father.

Last edited by Paco; 5th of May, 2010 at 12:10.
  #21  
Unread 19th of May, 2010, 08:15
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No breeze stirs the damp air of the undergrowth, yet the canopy above whispers with the hiss of wind on leaf. The creak and clank of the soldiers’ harnesses sound loud and jarring in the gloom, each feeling the palpable weight of the forest’s stillness. They march for what seems like hours, hoping with each step for the bright promise of dawn but finding naught but the umbra of twilight. Even Anya’s conjured light did little to lift their spirits. If anything the cold, silvery glare of her magics breathed dread life into the twisting shadows on the edge of their vision casting them into images rank with primal fear.
Ahead of them the forest opens and parts herding them deeper to its dark bosom – behind them it seamlessly closes sealing them into a narrow emerald channel.

Lost in the green eons of time.

Then, abruptly, their path opens onto a moss drenched clearing. Through the rolling carpet the occasional rounded stone juts, their faded pictographs old long before human or goblin foot tread Khorvaire. The clearing is no more than fifty paces wide, its far side dominated by the trunk and roots of an immense oak. Sunlight dapples the ground in blinding splashes of golden verdigris, its sudden intensity both welcome and blinding. Through tear filled squints the party can eventually discern the dark outline of a man seated on one of the tree’s great roots.
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Unread 21st of May, 2010, 14:53
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Holding his hand as a visor against the light, Captain Reinstadler smartly steps forward and says crisply, “Gute Herr, we seek the Mirror of Jhansular and would speak of the Bloodwalker if now is a propitious time.”
  #23  
Unread 29th of June, 2010, 09:11
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"Come and sit captain," the figure motions to a nearby root. The mans voice is deep but edged with a raspiness that comes with age. His accent is strange, but Veit recognizes the slight slurring that comes from speaking with tusks.

Orc Khostya rumbles darkly.

Yes, but we need the Bloodwalker to obtain the mirror.

Captain Reinstadler bows slightly with a pause at the nadir as one would to a lord in his castle with unknown comparative rank and perches on the proferred root, "Thank you for agreeing to see us...Sir."

The orc smiles, the wrinkles of his aged skin folding in on themselves until they from great fissures that cut the slopes of face like wild mountain streams.

"You are kind to show a simple orc so much respect, but it is I who should thank you."

The wrinkle in Veit's brow deepens and he considers before he nods in understanding. He says, "Then please would you put my mind at rest as to the Bloodwalker's purpose."

"The Sojourner's purpose is as much her own as yours is your own. It written that she is the threshold of great power - how she uses that power depends on her."

The Cyrian captain sighs as he half expected the orc would not wish to reveal her purpose and thus his so easily.

"And Jhansular's Mirror the Bl- the Soujorner is ... connected?" he asks wanting to speak with the imprecision and evasion wisemen of every culture seem to prefer.

"The mirror is old...older than than the common races -back in the days when the titans wrought magic, earth and flesh with ease. Its purpose is lost to us, but we know that it was built for Jhansular, he who was first to be Rua'agh nan Pagh."

"And that is first to be Sojourner?"

The old orc grins, "It a complicated term, as most today have forgotten the its truer meaning. Instead they choose to simply translate it as "agent of blood". Agent of blood...Reaper of vengeance...the Bloodwalker.... Is it any wonder why some would see her existence as anathema."

Veit nods a rapt pupil and says, "And its more complicated meaning? Is it explainable in Brellish?"

"If my Brellish was as good as it was 30 years ago..." He takes a deep breath as his eyes narrow. "When you look at this tree, what do you see?" he asks.

"A trunk, many branches, some roots, bark, leaves...." Veit trails off.

"In the branches of this great tree there are thousands of creatures, and beneath its roots thousand more. They live, eat, and procreate and that generation lives their lives here, and then the next, and so on, stretching back to when this tree was but a sapling struggling to reach the sun, and forward to the end of days. This one tree has touched thousands upon thousands of lives. It has sheltered eagle and worm, bear and mouse, king and outlaw - and this is but one tree in a forest of thousands and thousands of others, which is but one small patch of green on much, much larger world.

This," he motions to the towering oak behind him, "this gloriously unique living being has, by its mere presence, made ripples in the lives of those around it. Ripples that extends out beyond the confines of its physical form and resonate with the Great Pattern, tying it to everything that is."

He pauses for a moment, his dark eyes studying Veit intently.

"Rua'agh is the ripple."

Veit strokes his chin and asks, "The ripple is a description of cause and effect then? How my actions change things which in response change me?"

"Mmmm," the old man intones "cause and effect, choice and destiny. Does the ripple start with you, or was it stitched there long ago to wait your arrival..." the orc voice drifts off with the gaze of his rheumy eyes. "But you did not come all this way to discuss orcish phrases. Rua'agh is all of that and more. It is more than the choice and its results, its the medium that choice travels through. Just as this tree carries in it the impressions of all of the events of the beings that have interacted with it, so too are the ressonances of our actions carried in the Great Pattern. What makes the Rua'agh nan Pagh...important is that he or she can learn to listen to the music of the Great Pattern - listen to it, and compose it anew."

Veit stares at the massive tree as the words seep into meaning and eventually says, "But the orcish phrasing remains my best hope for understanding what I have let run loose in the world. And so Rua'agh nan Pagh is a singer of the composition or perhaps a re-teller of the story? Will she sing an aria of destruction so horrible it could drive the Houses' prophet mad enough to kill his own?"

The soldier leans forward his gloved hands pressing on his knees awaiting the druid's word then catches himself and sits back tugging his jacket straight.

"The appearance of a true Sojourner heralds the approach of a momentous age. The real question is whether she is the cause of the approaching age or a response to it." The old orc leans forward and rests a weathered hand on Veit's knee "I'm sorry Lightbearer, you came to me seeking clarity and I'm afraid I have done little to settle your heart. Know this - the Sojourner is a creature of this world, and as such is no more inherently good or evil than any other person."

I want to believe him. I want to believe he doesn't know what she is, but how can it not be known?

You can't trust an orc.

Veit smiles, looks at the tree and says, "Thank you for your words, Herr Doktor. May I then ask her if she will accompany us?"

"Of course," he says standing. "She has returned home, to find peace. She, like you, struggles to find The Way." He sweeps his arm wide and the trees part showing the same gentle slope of dew laden grass they started from hours ago. "Travel west to the Shadow Marches. In Zarash'ak there is an inn of sorts called the Twisted Boughs - ask for a man named G'huur and present this to him," he drops an simple acorn into Veit's palm. "He will ask you if the road ahead is clear, you must respond by saying 'the way is dark but the gate is sealed'. Good luck Lightbearer."

Veit rises smoothly in response still clasping the orc's hand and the acorn, "Thank you." He strides to the team tucking the acorn into his glove, nods to the Quartermistress and falls into position.

On their way back through the dappled forest still ancient but less foreboding Veit quietly informs Tolliver, "He confirmed the location and identity of the Rua'agh nan Pagh. I have had dealings with her on a previous mission. Not sure how to convince her to join the mission apparently she is cloistered with the druids. We will find your father, Tolliver, but to complete his work and this mission we will need her to find Jhansular's Mirror.

"Understood," Tolliver replies quietly.

So he knows the Rua'agh nan Pagh--the "Bloodwalker". Interesting. I didn't see that coming, but I can't say I'm too surprised. A dog of the military deals on a need-to-know basis. Especially with outsiders. He covered it up well, though.

Bravo, Captain. Bravo.

I wonder if he plays cards.

"Thank you, Captain."

Erik, J & Paco
 

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