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Unread 24th of January, 2006, 07:08
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Prologue: Storm Knights (IC)

"It has now been eight hundred years since my greatest ancestor first led our race to Valeria. Though King Jomren's will was strong and his intentions pure, the legacy he left behind was unfortunate. We are a divided race, separated not by creed or color, but by greed and petty agendas. It is past time to put all of that behind us. In this newest century of Valeria, we must unite as one race once again, as we were when we first crossed the Sea. I intend to see this through."

-Queen Maenra of Tyrenos, giving a centennial speech at the Hall of Justice


It has been a week and a half since Davik's company of Storm Knights first set out from Tyrenos. The Queen's New Doctrine was not as new as she had implied; indeed, the Tyrenians had been expanding for the past century anyway. This was just the first time said expansion was done in the name of uniting the Valerian peoples rather than gaining wealth at the expense of others. The motivation was probably still the same, however. A queen smiles when she doesn't want you to see the vipers in her sleeves. Jack grinned in spite of himself, drawing a queer look from one of the Storm Knights.

'Knight' was a rather overly grand title for what these ruffians appeared to be, with their rusty spears and odd bits of leather studded with iron. Captain Davik Barrowyn, the leader of the platoon, was the only one among them actually wearing metal armor of any sort. His luxurious chainmail gleamed in the sunlight trickling through the leafy branches overhead; it should have gleamed, for he took the time to polish it every day. Lorek rolled his eyes at this; the foolish captain was more concerned with the appearance of his armor than whether it was functional. Every evening, the blacksmith-turned-warrior barely resisted the urge to take up the chainmail himself and pound out the obvious kinks and weak spots that Davik willfully ignored.

While Lorek pondered the depths of the captain's neglect for his equipment, Evangelyne usually spent evenings watching the three dozen or so Storm Knights spar with their spears. The previous evening, she mentally noted for perhaps the tenth time that three Dunkazhers would probably be able to kill the whole platoon without suffering more than a nick and a half...minus Davik, who actually seemed to know how to use the sword strapped to his side. Apparently nobility had some uses.

Longbaugh ignored them all for the most part. He occasionally spoke with Lem, the yeoman tracker currently leading the party to their destination. Lem wasn't too bright, but he had the fastest hands and sharpest eye of any bowman Longbaugh had ever seen. Lem was the only returning contract mercenary in the group; he had apparently worked with Davik on three other assimilations before this one. Lem was also the only one in the group who had been to Caemondale before. When he first signed up for the mission, enthusiasm took over and he went to the isolated village three months ahead of schedule to scout things out. This was apparently how he discovered the game trail that the platoon was currently traveling on. Lem had said (perhaps six times) that the trail led all the way up to Caemondale.


Jack pulled out his own copy of the contract he and the others had signed three months ago:

In the interest of uniting the eastern independent peoples of Valeria under one banner, to protect said residents from the ravages of the wild frontier, Queen Maenra, sovereign ruler of the Domain of Tyrenos, has called you to assist the honorable Storm Knights in the assimilation of the village known by its residents as Caemondale. To complete the terms of this binding contract, you are required to go to Caemondale with a Storm Knight commander and assist him or her in bringing the independent residents to the status of full citizenship. During this process, you must also help the honorable Storm Knights protect these independent residents from any exterior threats. After the period of assimilation has been completed, the commander of your assigned platoon will sign and date this contract, indicating the end of your paid service period. At this time, you may return to Tyrenos and collect a sum of no less than one hundred gold coins, plus fifty coins for every full week of service to the throne of Tyrenos. Any attempts to forge signatures or dates on this document will automatically void it, and your arrest will be sought out thereafter. The penalty for the crime of forgery in the Domain of Tyrenos ranges from severe fines to execution, depending on the nature of the forgery.

Signed,
Aelrec Harbenfyrth
Proxy to the Sovereign Court

Jack shook his head. The contract terms were generous, which made him wonder what was waiting for them in Caemondale. Lem had also mentioned seeing signs of a small tribe of nomadic orcs in relatively close proximity to the town. He did not think that there were enough of them to hassle even a remote village, much less one garrisoned by Storm Knights (Lem's opinion of Storm Knights was rather higher than the other mercenaries').

Whatever awaited them in Caemondale, there was no ignoring the raw beauty of the scenery the group had been enjoying so far. It was springtime in this region of Valeria, and the woods around them were ripe with new life. Oaks and red maples, the most common tree species in the area, were already in full bloom due to the almost uncharacteristically heavy rainfall. Right now however, the sun was shining with midday brightness. To the north of the game trail, the party could occasionally see through thick foliage the shimmering surface of the wide Zoarr River as it flowed out of Eastlake. The trail was somewhat elevated, hugging the side of a range of rocky hills that also ran parallel to the Zoarr River. Caemondale was somewhere to the east, and a bit south of the river's edge. Lem expected the trail to turn right into the hills sometime today; once they were on the other side, they'd be able to see Caemondale in a matter of hours.

Zoarr River



Game Trail



[If you look on the map of Valeria, you are in the northeast section of H8 (approximately). I'm going to let you all take this opportunity to introduce your characters, and possibly engage in some dialogue with each other or the NPCs. We'll see how that goes. After a day or three, I'll advance to Chapter 1.]
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Unread 25th of January, 2006, 09:15
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Evangelyne muttered a dire imprecation under her breath as she watched, for what seemed to be the tenth time, a "Storm Knight" trip and nearly skewer himself on the spear of the person in front of him. If this was the elite that Tyrenos could muster, than it was amazing that they had managed to extend as far as they had. She wondered how it was that they were supposed to convince any settlement that it was better to join Tyrenos than remain independent. At least the other mercenaries looked competent. Especially the one in the armor. She couldn't tear her eyes away from it. Not because it gleamed in the sun like the Captain's, but because of how elegantly he wore it, like it was a second skin.

Iscatha might have been known for its fighters, but for anyone to wear more than a suit of studded leather was a rarity. The young woman ran her hands over the leather wrapped hilts of her short swords and looked around at the surroundings again. Lem had said that there was a tribe of orcs around. Evangelyne had never actually seen an orc before, well a live one anyway. She wasn't sure if she should be as excited as she was at the prospect.

She made her way next to Lorek and asked, "So, do you think the settlement is going to readily agree?"
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Unread 25th of January, 2006, 11:45
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With a day's worth of stubble on his chin, Longbaugh trots along with the so-called Knights, leading his mule, walking in time to the cadance of his sword's sheathe beating against his leg. He didn't seem to mind Lem's company, but the majority of his contributions to the conversation are limited to "Yup", "Nope", "I reckon", and "Don't rightly know", as appropriate.

The irony of working with the men who just a few years ago might've been the ones trying to put his head in a noose isn't lost on Longbaugh, but he just trudges on, knowing that this is probably the best work he can find, considering what skills he has. The only time he doesn't appear to be staring a thousand miles away with dead eyes is when those beady eyes are staring at someone as if to size them up for coffins.

He doesn't do that often, though. He seems content with his company, mentioning once to Lem that the "Knights" seem like, "A decent bunch of folks." Admittedly, Longbaugh thinks that if he could make some coin carving up their hides, he'd at least consider it, but he sincerely doubts that any sort of offer along those lines would ever come up, especially in the present company. Besides them being decent folks, he also seems to approve of the food, and even a dog knows that you don't bite the hand that feeds you.

When Evangelyne steps ahead to speak to Lorek, he listens in. Better to know what sort of situation he's getting himself into.
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Unread 26th of January, 2006, 20:31
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Lorek makes a sound rather like a man juggling coin purses as he walks along behind the Storm Knights. So far, being a mercenary was suiting him. Less disciplined than the army, nowhere near as brutal or dangerous and better paying. Even better, the sun was shining right now.

Grinning underneath his hat, Lorek responds to the question from his fellow sellsword,
"I can't see why not, the world is a damn dangerous place. There's nothing to lose and everything to gain from stickin' together like. But if this was going to be easy then we wouldn't be gettin' paid so much."
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Unread 27th of January, 2006, 09:25
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Evangelyne shrugs. "I'm sure there is a lot to gain from it. I also know people can be a bit stubborn." She smiles at the armored warrior. "Guess its not really our problem though, but the Captain's."

She pauses looking around at the assorted "Storm Knights," shaking her head in mild disapproval.

"So you're from up North?" she asks. "I can tell by the accent."
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Unread 27th of January, 2006, 22:22
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"Born and bred just outside Meirdos. Never really been this far south before..."

Stopping for a moment, Lorek considers where Evangelyne might be from.

"You're a local from Tyrenos then, are you?"

As he asks the question it occurs to Lorek that he hasn't seen Jack for a while, turning his head he scans for his friend. It was all well and good leaving home in search of adventure together but if the little sod was off causing his usual brand of idle mischief then this pleasant little jaunt could take a rather distinct turn for the worse.

Lorek is almost startled when he spots Longbaugh walking nearby listening in. Even while leading his donkey, the man moved far more quietly than Lorek did with his patented jingling steps,
"Bloody hell, you could sneak up on night, you could."
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Unread 28th of January, 2006, 07:14
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"I reckon' so, if'n I had to," Longbaugh agrees.
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Unread 28th of January, 2006, 09:07
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"Tyrenos? No, can't say that I am," Evangelyne responds. "What about you then?" she asks, the question directed at the laconic eavesdropper. "You don't seem like a local to here either."
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Unread 28th of January, 2006, 09:18
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Lem was a creature of habit. He constantly kept an eye to the sky, checking the position of the sun (if it was visible through the clouds). If it was about an hour before noon, he'd put a new string on his bow, jump on the brown gelding that he only used for scouting, and ride off ahead of the company without saying a word. By the time the sun actually reached its zenith, he would return and ride alongside the Captain's destrier for a few minutes, telling Davik of what lay ahead in a low, conspiratorial whisper. The end of this conversation signaled midday break for everyone else. As Captain Barrowyn was the only Storm Knight who actually had a horse, midday break was welcome for more than just the trail rations.

Perhaps it was because Lem kept such a regular routine that everyone in the company soon realized he was running late today. Longbaugh looked up at the sun, and sure enough, it was past noon. But the group did not have time to become very tense about his lateness - Lem came riding back fast from the east barely half an hour after his delay was first noticed. He pulled back on the reins, causing his gelding to skid to a halt right in front of the Captain. As if nothing had happened, the lanky scout dismounted and led his apparently exhausted horse alongside Davik's, speaking in the usual low voice.

[Listen checks - Longbaugh = 23; Jack = 13; Lorek = 20; Evangelyn = 16]

Longbaugh and Lorek both overheard most of Lem's report:

"Cap'n, I would-a been back quicker, but I found the pass I done did told you about 'fore we first set out. I reckoned with orcs an' such in the area I should've kept goin' on for a little while to look for an' ambush, so I did that Cap'n. And when I got to the other side of the pass I sure did see some smoke! I reckon someone lit up at least three or four different fires on the hill where Caemondale is, Cap'n. As soon as I saw that I jumped on Juniper and galloped all the way back to tell you, yessir."

"Very good, Lem. It sounds as if Caemondale has already been attacked. ALL RIGHT, BOYS--" he bellowed the last bit, "--TIME FOR LUNCH!"

The Storm Knights settled down immediately with grunts and sighs; they didn't seem to like marching all that well. Trail rations were soon passed around, and the mercenaries found themselves sitting in their own circle (minus Lem, as usual). Lem drifted away from the group at midday break for one reason or another.
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Unread 28th of January, 2006, 09:23
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"So why do you figure Lem was late?" Evangelyne asked, slowly chewing a piece of jerky that seemed like it would make for decent housing material. Her feet hurt a bit from all the walking, though she was glad that she wasn't carrying all the weight that Lorek was. She wasn't quite sure how he did it.
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Unread 28th of January, 2006, 09:39
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At Evangelyne's guess as to Longbaugh's ancestry, he freely admits, "Nope."

After Lem's return, while grabbing his midday meal, Longbaugh pauses to try to saite her curiosity. "Reckon he ran int'a trouble up where'n we're headed."
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Unread 28th of January, 2006, 12:55
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Jack pauses, looking at the lunching group.
He looks over to the scout, and thinks for a moment.
In something of a smooth voice, he adds, seemingly for the first time in a few days.
"Caemondale, I suppose. I'd certainly dally to watch something of the magnitude of our very charge being attacked, if that is what happened. Not as if tradition is set in stone."
He looks up at the sun, squinting. "Or sun. Or am I just spouting steam, and really it was just a simple ambush by a pack. Or perhaps we're close enough to this dale of Caemon to allow a swift one to find it on his daily trip?"
After a moment, "No matter. I wouldn't want to say things that are quite false or hard to come to with simple thought, so if anything it should be wrong for me to speak."

To Lorek, "Lunch, then?"
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Unread 29th of January, 2006, 23:42
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A growl from within Lorek's armour answers Jack's question before Lorek himself can,
"Sounds like my stomach agrees with you. Bread is the staff of life, afterall."

Pausing for a moment, he decides not to start eating right away and instead lowers his voice,
"I heard Lem say something about a fire to the Captain, I did. Maybe the orcs got to them before we did..."
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Unread 30th of January, 2006, 01:57
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"Makes this whole trip out then rather beside the point," Evangelyne adds, her voice too dropping so as not to be heard. She looks across at Lorek and Jack. "If that was Caemondale, after all."
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Unread 30th of January, 2006, 11:26
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"Or it just means we'll be able to steal back the village from the monstrous orcs and cement our great reputation and standing with the Sovereign Court."
He rolls his eyes, adding to the sarcasm of his comment.
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Unread 30th of January, 2006, 13:07
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"I guess it would all depend on how much of the village was left to steal back," Evangelyne said.
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Unread 30th of January, 2006, 13:24
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"I hear that bits of charred wood, ash, and the bones of burnt people can be very appreciable."
He rolls his eyes again, taking a bit of food.
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Unread 30th of January, 2006, 23:09
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"Is he always this cheery?" Evangelyne asks Lorek as she finishes her meal. She stands up and brushes off whatever crumbs have managed to accumulate on her leather. "Whatever the situation, I suppose we'll not be wlking for much longer."
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Unread 31st of January, 2006, 04:43
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"Only when I find myself overcome by nothingness."
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Unread 31st of January, 2006, 05:53
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During lunch, Davik pulled off his chainmail and polished it again, though it obviously didn't need any polishing this early in the day. He allowed one of the other Storm Knights to help him put it back on, but only after they thoroughly washed their hands in a nearby spring. The four mercenaries all came to the same conclusion when he took out his sword and began cleaning it as well - Davik was in no hurry whatsoever to discover the fate of Caemondale. Indeed, the break lasted a good twenty minutes longer than usual. When Davik finally stood, sheathed his now-shining blade, and remounted his warhorse, the rest of the company was already standing. They seemed eager, and many of them were smiling. Davik spurred his mount forward and the Storm Knights fell in behind, this time forming up in a column instead of traveling in scattered clusters as they had been for the past week and a half. Some had taken out crossbows, and were now fitting new strings on them. They were obviously trying to impress somebody, but who? An uncomfortable silence hung over the mercenaries as they pondered the intentions of their employers.

Soon, the procession reached the long-promised pass through the hills. Lem pointed at it for emphasis with a foolish grin on his face. It was not precisely a part of the game trail, which seemed to continue on east as it had been. Rather, it was a stream that seemed to continue right on down this side of the hills, all the way to the Zoarr River. Whatever spring had been supplying it had apparently run dry in the past few months, for now it was just a muddy, pebble-strewn footpath. Davik looked at it with dismay until he remembered that he would not have to personally walk in it. He ordered one of the other Knights to lead his horse around obstacles while he remained mounted. Nobles had peculiar ways.

The climb was rather steeper than Lem had implied in his previous ramblings, but eventually they came to the peak. They walked over apparently level ground for a short time, and then began their descent down the other side.

Another break in the tree line provided the company with their first look at the hill where Caemondale lay. It was hard to miss with the plumes of smoke rising around it. It looked as if someone had started four large bonfires around the village. Lorek guessed after a moment that the fires were on the outskirts of town. This was decidedly good news, as it meant there was still possibly a reason for Tyrenos to honor their contracts.

The company continued down the hillside, and soon their destination was once again concealed from view (though the smoke cloud was still clearly visible). Before too long, they could smell the ashes as well. Lem led the company onto an actual footpath after another hour or so. Those who had paid attention to his incessant recitation of all the terrain features around Caemondale knew that they had little more than an hour of walking left before they would find themselves in the village proper. This was probably a good thing, for the cloudless sky was now orange and gray with dusk.
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Unread 31st of January, 2006, 13:26
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Leading his mule down towards the village through the wilderness down the pass through the hills, Longbaugh resumes his characteristic silence, half-wondering if he'll have to earn his pay today.
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Unread 31st of January, 2006, 15:34
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"Perfect. What a wonderful bit of pointless marching we've accomplished then. I'm sure we'll recieve many commendations for valorous feet."
Jack looks down at the fires, then over to the other mercenaries.
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Unread 31st of January, 2006, 15:50
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"I'd still keep an eye out, Jack," Evangelyne cautions. "The orcs might still have scouts about, and I don't hold much hope for these knights to last long in a fight."
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Unread 1st of February, 2006, 08:32
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Lorek smiles at Jack's whining,
"Don't worry, the place hasn't been burnt down yet, you'll still get to demonstrate just how heroic you are."

Fires on the edge of Caemondale were a better sign than the town actually being ablaze and swarming with orcs, but they still weren't a good omen. Lorek's experience with orcs in the past was limited to what he could make out from the relative safety of the camp while the bulk of the army put a tribe a fraction of their own size to death. He'd seen a few bodies as they hauled to the great pyres after a battle and of course, he'd listened to stories that the other men told. Taller than a man, twice as strong, they killed for the sheer pleasure of it, they worshipped their false gods and generally were the stuff of nightmares. Lorek was glad that his section had only encountered a few tribes, some of the other divisions weren't so fortunate.

Not yet worried enough to unsling his weapon, Lorek marches on, looking up at the pillars of smoke occasionally and wondering what awaits the Storm Knights.
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Unread 1st of February, 2006, 09:54
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"Yes, because I'm oh-so heroic. Surely, standing back and observing the possible defeat of a handful of orcs shall set my name in the great books of history."
He shrugs. "Regardless, should do something anyway. Would be a shame to see the orcs such a benefit."
He smiles inwardly on avoiding any mention of "we," then looks over to Lorek.
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