Thursday, May 17, 2018

#9: A Statue Among Men

We begin in the forest, in the aftermath of Audric’s unwitting unleashing of the ring’s power.  The girl—Faylin—is lucid, and we reveal to her that we’ve been searching for her.  Her first words are that she wants to see her mother and father…an understandable sentiment.  She asks what happened, pointing to the petrified form of Arkhen, and we give her an abridged version, stating that we’ll return to see to the hunter.  Though barefoot, she indicates that she’s able to walk, so we hasten to return to Carrock. 

Few words are shared on the trip, except for a brief discussion with Rould regarding the oddity of the wolves—the polarity of their behavior, seeming somehow protective over the prone form of Faylin, yet aggressive beyond expectations when approached.  We arrive back at Faylin’s farm before dusk and find her parents, who are overjoyed to learn of their daughter’s safety, and convince the family to retreat to the relative safety of Carrock for the night.

We arrive safely back to Carrock, and contrary to the grimness of our mood, the townsfolk seem persistent in their desire to cheer our success and celebrate our return.  They do not yet know of Arkhen’s sacrifice.  At the inn, we find a table and warm meal for Faylin and her family while we gather Tussugar and Drachus to share the dire news.  The conversation is a difficult one, and after discussing the events leading up to the attack, Audric seems to stutter and stall, as if not sure how to relate the ring’s role in the matter.

After several false starts, Tussugar cuts to the heart of the matter—and asks for the return of the ring, holding out his hand.  After several moments of not getting what he wants from Audric, he withdraws his hand.  I’m unsure if the dwarf is disappointed or just saddened at the confrontation and asks us to excuse ourselves so that he can discuss matters with Drachus one on one.  When Tussugar and Drachus return, they invite us to leave the inn with them, heading for the tower.  “I gave you the ring under the pretense that you would be its protector; both of the relic, and of those around you.  You’ve proven that’s not who you are.”  When they step forward, it’s to bind Audric in ropes to be held within the tower.  Audric must choose…the ring, or the ropes.

In an effort to deflect, Audric asks if Tussugar thinks he can do any better, as if turning into a great cave bear within town is any safer, any better way to protect it.  Tussugar attempts to punch Audric, but is clearly overwhelmed by rage at the audacity of the statement and misses.  Disgusted, Audric removes the ring and throws it at Tussugar, storming out of the tower.  After a few moments, Tussugar issues a command—stern, but seemingly not unreasonable—to return Audric to the tower.  I obey.

I catch up to Audric, and the resulting discussion—or argument, perhaps heated debate—takes place in the streets of Carrock.  Tussugar and Audric’s mutual distrust—valid or no—has clouded one or both of their perspectives, and the situation is truly a mess.  Regardless of Audric’s feelings toward Tussugar (and vice versa), I tell Audric that at the very least he owes Drachus an audience, a chance to weigh in on the matter with his own words.

Two days.  The crux of the discussion boils down to two days, and whether Audric is willing to forestall his abandonment of Carrock—based solely, at least from my perspective, on Audric’s distrust of the dwarf—is Audric willing to give me two days to settle matters in Carrock before we turn our backs on the town.  Audric relents…reluctantly…but the return meeting with Tussugar and Drachus does not go well, Tussugar issuing commands to Audric, and Audric throwing words back in anger.  At the end, we are left to stand alone in the streets.  Drachus, unsure how to react to the disintegration of whatever tentative alliance, gives us his blessing and the thanks of the town whatever course of action we decide to take, and the trio—Drachus, Tussugar, Rould—leaves us to find our path.

After some discussion, Audric is persuaded to stay at Erathmar’s camp, even to resume his vigil over the tower of Carrock, though he won’t have anything to do with Tussugar.  Satisfied with that concession, I return to the inn to consult with Tussugar, Drachus and Rould.  I apologize to Rould…the hunter has deserved better in terms of communication, explanation, and inclusion, but the heightened emotions of the day have led to some complicated situations.  I try to rationalize Audric’s actions, but unsure himself just how damaged Audric’s relationship with Mystra might be, he finds little explanation that seems to make any sense, and thus abandon my defense of Audric.

Drachus’ primary concern is whether Audric is a danger to Carrock, to which I reply that “Audric is no more a danger to Carrock than I am, and if that’s a situation that causes you worry, we will leave at first light.”  Fortunately, Drachus’ confidence in us seems unwavering, and he wishes for us to stay on in Carrock, even suggesting that we might eventually make our home here.  The statement has great impact on me, and for a few moments, I can even picture what a future in Carrock might hold for me...but after the events of the day, I fear such peace may never come to pass.

When discussing the ring, which seems ever-present in the conversations of the night, Tussugar shares his perspective.  “The artifact has proven to be unsafe and destructive, regardless of the wielder.”  Tussugar makes it clear that the ring will not be worn by any other until its power can be harnessed and understood; Tussugar is now the sole protector.  I can’t help but think of The Myrmidon in Kezia’s reading, and whether it may be a reference to Tussugar…but given the stress of the day, I abandon that line of thought, as there’s no way to prove anything, in any case.

Meanwhile, Audric heads to Erathmar’s camp to fetch Selben.  I worry, given the predilections of this strange “goddess of the hunt”, that Selben may be at risk, and wants Audric to bring the boy into town.  At the camp, Erathmar takes Audric’s abbreviated version of the events of the day at face value, and afterwards shares that Selben had been acting strangely throughout the day.  He was found sitting alone, either meditating or chanting, and Erathmar shared concern over the boy, given his past.  Erathmar seems relieved that it was our intention to watch over him through the night.

Audric finds Selben, and their conversation turns towards Selben’s queer actions earlier that day.  The teen seems taken aback but finds relief when Audric admits that Selben wasn’t being followed and was only found by accident.  Selben claims that he was trying “to get his powers back”, after which he admits that he was a mage in training, but that he lost his implements, and has been powerless since his flight from Three Streams.  They share a conversation about the source of Audric’s own power versus my own, and they decide that consulting me on the matter may be prudent.

Back at the inn, I finally get a chance to question Faylin.  Her parents are present, as are Tussugar and Drachus.  Faylin describes that there was a woman who called herself “the lady of the hunt” or “the lady of the forest”, and that she saw her as if she were in a dream.  This lady wanted to teach Faylin of the hunt, of the kill…and Faylin followed her into the woods throughout the night.  The lady left her in the care of the two wolves before eventually disappearing; Faylin after that, awoke from her trance to see the wolves, to find herself alone without her family, and was scared…and that’s when we arrived.

When questioned about tattoos, symbols, items or anything else noteworthy or identify this lady’s affiliations, she mentions that several times the “beastlord” was mentioned, as if they might be traveling to meet him in the woods…but when Faylin asked when they would see him, the lady replied, “I am the beastlord.”

Faylin’s parents seem visibly shaken, I give up on further questioning.  My own resolve is momentarily shaken…that this impostor would claim to be the true Beastlord, or to even be acting on his behalf, boils my blood.  This lady’s actions, her tactics, her targets are all antithetical to my understanding of the Beastlord’s dogma, and I’m quick to share that with Drachus and Tussugar, who seem supportive and to understand the distinction.

Rould & I meet up on the tower with Audric and Selben, where Selben’s past is shared with me.  Agreed that a half-trained, unsupervised apprentice may be more dangerous than one under my tutelage, we discuss plans to start Selben’s formal training.  It is a complicated situation…given Selben’s past, I’m sure that Drachus would not be supportive of the decision, but Selben has done nothing since our arrival to make me question his loyalty.

I take some time to meditate on the events of the day, struggling to find some sense of the many threads that seem to be in play.  If there is indeed a pattern developing, it eludes my discovery…

Thursday, May 10, 2018

#8: The Goddess of the Hunt

Morning arrives.  Joints are stiff from the night’s endeavors, exacerbated by light, fitful sleep under the stars upon the cold earth, and not enough of it.  Nevertheless, there is work to be done.  We leave Erathmar’s camp outside of Carrock, and approach the inn to meet Drachus.  The hour is early, and we find him alone at work.  He pulls a few ales, and we sit to discuss the events of the past few days.

Despite our tale of the troll and the goblins, Drachus seems most concerned that we were not able to find the third creature that attacked Carrock.  His disappointment is evident, but we spare no comfort for him as we continue the tale, telling of Ignish’s scouting of Carrock, of the true nature of the threat that razed Shadfeld, and of its imminent approach to Carrock.

Curiously, his first question is about the boy, Selben, asking what his part is in all of this.  Aside from conjecture, we share that we have no more knowledge than he does.  His second question, understandably, is about the fate of Carrock—we share our discussion with Tussugar, of our resolve to stand with Carrock so that it does not suffer the fate that befell Shadfeld, and that we plan to stand and fight in Carrock’s defense.  He seems relieved by our admission and by our plans to stand by Carrock, so we share the beginnings of our plans for the town’s defense.

Drachus, while shaken, seems supportive of our decision, and clearly has the well-being of his citizens in mind.  He grants us use of the town’s resources to arrange its defense, and we immediately start to plan.  By the time we finish planning, the town has started to stir, and we suggest a town meeting to be held at midday.  Maglarosh and Erathmar are alerted of the plans.  Still suffering from the rigors of both combats last night, I take what rest I can until then.

Drachus shares details of the situation with the town and gives a grim speech in which he shares our plans for the town’s defense.  When given the chance to speak, I step forward, sharing the truth about the situation—that I did not seek refuge in Carrock with the intention of using the town or its folk as a shield.  Not being able to turn back time or change the situation, I intent to stand—and bleed, if needs be—with and for the town, so that Shadfeld’s fate can be avoided.

Finally, we get an opportunity to discuss the situation with Maglarosh.  His response raises more doubts than answers—he agrees that the events of the past weeks all seem related.  Damyca’s premonition, the runes in Moonglow Cave and Oldkeep, the attack of Shadfeld and threat of Carcerus—is there a common thread?  In regard to Ignish’s threat of wolves attacking Carrock, Maglarosh admits that nature has seemed out of balance the past few days.  Things are not as they should be, and while he’s concerned about it, he has no insight to offer.  Maglarosh proves to be a great disappointment.  While he clearly searches for a way to explain things and tie these events together, it seems more academic than anything else.  While clearly a potent ally for the town, and though he may prove instrumental in Carrock’s defense in the case of an attack, Zeb finds little other value in the discussion.

At Erathmar’s camp, we gather the survivors of the attack on Shadfeld, and press them for details on the attack that night.  Any small detail we may learn could help in defense of Carrock.  For the most part, the attack was a complete surprise, carried out by crazed cultists with torches setting buildings ablaze.  The conversation, at least for Zeb, proves valuable in defining the scope of the threat.  Zeb had imagined dozens of attackers, but in reality, it could have been as few as a single dozen, with the advantage of surprise and panic.

Zeb, exhausted, seeks rest at the inn of Carrock while Audric investigates the tower, making preparations for defense and ensuring access to the upper floors, in the case that retreat to the towers is necessary. 

We awaken the next morning, having passed the first restful sleep in days.  The town is intact, but in our morning rounds, we encounter a woman looking for Maglarosh—there was apparently some incident in the night at one of the outlying farms.  Aibreann, helping to comfort the woman, offers to come along as we head out to investigate.  On the way, we’re told that the older of two sons killed a chicken by biting its neck out with his teeth.

They woke up in the middle of the night to the sound of screeching animals; they found the son, who was babbling about “his mistress”, and when asked why he had done it that a woman, “the Goddess of the Hunt,” told him to.  The boy, Connor, now seems lucid, playing with his brother; we decide to talk to him, to see what he remembers of the night.

“The mistress called to me in the night.  I woke up in my bed, and she explained The Hunt to me, the importance of being a predator.”  Audric questions Connor, learning that this was the first time he encountered this “Goddess of the Hunt.”  They met outside, she compelled him to hunt, and the boy says that she was gone by the time he killed the chicken, having disappeared into the night.

He describes her as beautiful, dark hair.  I show him my fetishes, asking if she wore any similar symbols, but he shakes his head, unsure.  Audric asks if she had weapons, and he says he’s unsure, but that he doesn’t think so.  Leaving the boy with his mother and Aibreann, we investigate the coop; it has been emptied except for the dead chicken, but there does not appear to be any clues there.  We investigate the shed where Connor saw the woman—we find a barefooted print—potentially that of a woman. 

We find few other clues but convince the mother to spend the night with her sons within the safety of Carrock.  We return to Carrock, and the rest of the day passes without event.  I spend time training; I have neglected my studies in the action of the past days and nights, and it does much to center me, to prepare myself mentally for the coming fight.

The next morning, we receive yet more reports of events in the night at another outlying farm.  This time, a daughter has been kidnapped.  We recruit Rould to journey to the farm, trusting in his skills as a tracker.  The daughter Faylin, 10 years old, disappeared in the middle of the night.  The mother woke up in the night, having heard something stir in the house, and saw her daughter walking outside, thinking she was going to use the outhouse.  The next morning, they found that she had never returned.

The outhouse reveals no clues, but Rould’s keen eyes reveal footprints of a barefoot woman, the same as those found the previous night.  We resolve to consult Drachus, and to ask that all children be brought into the protection of the tower.  Rould thinks he can potentially follow the trail.  It leads north, and it seems that there are actually two sets of prints—one that of the woman, and a smaller set that may be Faylin’s, headed into the same direction in the woods.  We are left with a troubling decision; if we do not follow the tracks now, while they are fresh, we may not have another chance.  In doing so, however, we leave the town at risk.

Whoever stalks the children of Carrock at night, it makes Zeb's blood boil.  This false goddess, could it be a manifestation of the "Witch Queen" of Tussugar's past?  This "Goddess of the Hunt" certainly isn't related to Korvich or Carcerus, as her tactics are anathema to Malar's dogma.  That her appearance is coincidence seems unlikely, given the stress of the situation.  Beset by foes, wracked by unanswered questions, Zeb seems unsure how to proceed.