Wednesday, April 17, 2019

#22: From the Ashes

Settled in for the night, uncomfortable though our accommodations may be, we set watches.  It’s most important that Audric complete his rest so that he may recover his spells.  Bonie hovers on the edge of unconsciousness, having nearly lost her life in the magical duel—much of our time tomorrow will be spent guarding over her until she can be restored by Audric’s magic.

Selben and I watch the entrance to the stables in silence, listening as the revelers outside continue in their celebration.  With our watch nearly expired, we hear a light thud from a nearby stable, and the horse within stamps restlessly.  I send Selben to investigate, but before he can move very far, we hear a male’s rough voice.  “Give me all ye have, toss it over the wall.”  Someone has snuck into the stable stall next to ours and reached through the slats, holding a dagger to Bonie’s neck.

I try my best to calm the man, pulling my heavy purse of coin from my belt and tossing it deep into his stall.  As soon as he moves to retrieve it I order Selben to attack the intruder while I summon forth a magical light to illuminate the stable house.  “Get him,” I call out, hoping to awaken Audric, and Selben rushes forward to tackle the man. As the magical light appears, we see a shadowy figure—a human male—scrambling in the straw for the purse.

Selben tangles in a melee with the man, both armed with knives.  Selben dodges a thrust, and we see a second figure step forward, this one armed with a crossbow.  He snaps off a shot at us but misses, and I paralyze the man engaged with Selben, drawing forth the power of Malar.  Selben puts a knife to the man’s throat as we try to determine whether the crossbowman is friend or foe.

Audric, roused to anger, charges the man, who throws his crossbow at Audric and flees, out of my sight.  I trust Audric to make the right decision as I toss my rope to Selben, stooping to make sure that Bonie is unharmed, then recover my purse.  We check the remaining stalls and find no one else.  Outside the stable is the man’s discarded crossbow along with a second loaded crossbow—I have Selben bring both weapons inside and guard the entrance until our new friend revives.

“Let me go—I didn’t hurt anyone, I don’t have anything of yours any longer.”  I ask his name—he indicates that it’s Tannor Brin.  I inform him that he and his friend made a poor decision tonight, tapping him on the forehead with the flat of my blade.  “My companion ran off to deal with your friend.  If he comes back, we’ll discuss what to do with you.  If he doesn’t, I’ll hang you right here in this stall and gut you.”  Together with Selben, we toss a rope over a nearby rafter and drag the man up so that he hangs a few feet from the ground.

“While we’re in Longsaddle, is there anything else we should do now that the celebration’s over?” I ask sardonically, killing time while continuing to tap him on the head with the point of my knife.  “There is one thing,” he says.  “Untie me.”  A few long minutes pass and I start to worry, then from somewhere deeper into town I hear signs of commotion.

I leave the stable and walk out a few dozen yards, heading towards the shouting.  When I get close, it’s clear that a congregation of people have gathered around something…or someone.  Two men outfitted as guards are leading a bound Audric towards the center of the hamlet, as the crowd around him yells “Murderer!”  One of the guards carries his axe.  I head towards the group, calling out over the crowd that there has been a misunderstanding.  I explain the situation, and at mention of Tannor Brin, the crowd seems to turn, with many of them calling him out as a thief, bolstering our story.

My eyes are drawn to a woman wearing a white robe atop a white stallion, her hair red and flowing behind her.  She has a sheathed sword strapped to her horse, and she approaches the guard and asks what’s going on.

The woman makes motions—obviously casting a spell—and approaches Audric.  I catch a better view of her, and her telltale pointed ears reveal her elven heritage.  She speaks a few quiet words to Audric, which I am unable to hear.  Outnumbered, in a foreign environment and overwhelmed by the situation, I stand there silent, unable to intercede in any meaningful way.

Unsure of what they shared or the result, the elven woman rides towards me, ordering me to take her to the stable.  I call out to Selben, letting him know that I’ve returned and to drop the crossbows.  Thankfully, he answers that it’s done, and we enter.  The guards cut down Tannor Brin at her order, and the elf bids the three of us to accompany her.

“Four of us, actually.  Our friend is in the stall nearby, unconscious, and I’m not leaving her.”  We answer a few questions about her injuries, and she calls forth a large man in chainmail.  The elf indicates that she intends to take us someplace where Bonie can be cared for better than the stable.  “Can we trust you?” I ask bluntly.

“You have my word.  I am Soliania, caretaker of Longsaddle and its master,” she shares, ushering the large man forward to lift Bonie from the ground.

“And who would its master be?” I ask, as politely as possible, given the circumstances.

“Master Brehan,” she answers, and we gather our belongings to follow.  Soliania, the large man, and a small retinue of guards escort us back to the Ivy Mansion.  We’re led to a series of rooms down unfamiliar corridors, and Soliania says that we can rest here, undisturbed.  With a truly genuine sigh of relief, I thank her, and we are left alone for the night.

When we finally awaken, we find that many hours have passed, the travails of the previous day and night seeming to have caught up with us.  We study and pray for our spells, ready to attack the day and learn more about the situation we’ve landed ourselves in.  Bonie stirs to wakefulness, which is a welcome relief, and while still weakened, she is coherent once again and we catch her up on events. 

The large man from the previous night enters our room after some time, indicating that his name is Drakkor, and that Soliania is out for the morning.  We are served a bountiful breakfast, and in a quiet moment, I share a few words with Selben.  I congratulate Selben on his composure the previous evening, letting him know that he handled himself well, protecting Bonie and watching over the thief.  Sheepishly, he lets us know that he has something to tell us.

Selben admits that he’s started to have some recollection of the time when his memory was lost—he wanted to speak of it before, but there was never a good time.  He doesn’t remember everything, but he remembers that he was kidnapped from Three Streams.  He was investigating a cave, captured by someone, and held in chains in an unknown dungeon.

The red-eyed creatures were present in the dungeon, but other details elude him for now, except that he was being starved, perhaps tortured, and one other fact—that he saw a woman with auburn hair, like that of Aibreann, and eyes of yellow fire.  He slipped his manacles and escaped, eventually ending up in the forest and found his way to Carrock.  The details are unclear.

We encourage Selben to share his experiences and memories, letting him know that his history could very well be an important part of the puzzle we’re all in.  Good or bad, we’ve all done impulsive or morally questionable things (Audric choked a man to death, and I nearly eviscerated Tannor Brin), and he shouldn’t be afraid to share his feelings and memories, especially the dark ones.

Some amount of time passes and a small boy appears, perhaps 10 or 11 years old, along with Soliania who lets us know that we look much recovered, but that she has many questions for us.

“We’re literally a captive audience,” I tell her, and she asks her questions, starting with how we came to be in the stable, and how that led to us slaying a man.

Audric answers her question with one of her own.  “Are you a practitioner of the arcane arts?” he asks her, indicating that things may make more sense if she was.  She nods, and Audric begins to explain the story of the ring, including all the gory details.  “That was in this house 100 years in the future,” Audric ends, and Soliania’s eyes widen.

The boy speaks then, brash and impudent, stating that “That kind of magic isn’t possible.”

Audric responds by calling the boy “Malchor” and lets him know that he’ll understand more in 100 years.  Soliania explains that the boy is Brehan Harpell, heir to the Ivy Mansion, and that they know of no person named Malchor.

“That’s because he does not yet live,” Audric counters, disappointed that his hunch was not correct.

“Such a story would not be easily believed by anyone,” Soliania explains, and Audric offers to submit to any magical or divine truth-seeking.  Before rational conversation can occur, young Master Brehan begins calling out insults.

“What do we stand to gain by making up such a story?  Wouldn’t it make sense to make up something more believable?” Audric asks.

“I do not believe that there is true darkness in your hearts,” Soliania says finally, looking towards me, “despite your fealty.”  Her statement disrupts the argument that was beginning to form.

“The Beastlord and I have an understanding,” I explain sarcastically.

When asked of our intentions in Longsaddle, we answer that research into the ritual is our primary concern, and I tell her that, barring that, we have a meeting with a mortem disfidare from the past with whom we are acquainted.  She seems stoic, granting us leave to remain for the day, though she bars us from the library.  I get the sense that she may wish to see us before we leave—otherwise she would have expelled us from the Ivy Mansion outright, so we return to our chambers.

Before the sun sets, Soliania does indeed come to meet us.  She seems to believe us, regarding our encounter with the thieves the previous night, and lets us know that we will not be punished with murder.  She does think it would be best if we leave Longsaddle, however, for “everyone’s safety.”

“Young Master Harpell wants us out that badly?”  I can’t help but ask.

“I wish you well on your journey,” she says coldly, and turns to walk away.

Audric stops her before she goes, asking for our weapons now, so that we might properly prepare for the journey.  She promises that our items will be restored, but when pressed by Audric, she responds angrily that his mistrust is ill-placed, and that we should not defy her. It is clear from her tone that the conversation is over.

The night passes, though despite the comfortable surroundings I can’t help but feel caged.  The next day dawns, and our gear is returned to us by Drakkor, who informs us that we’re to depart Longsaddle under his supervision.  Before he leaves, I ask if he’ll deliver a message to Soliania, and the large man assents.

“If Soliania believes us—if she thinks that there’s even a chance that we’re telling the truth, whether she believes it possible or not—we are in need of magical direction and aid.  That the ring is nonmagical now does not preclude its creation again, and there’s no telling whether the future will play out the same way.  If she cares for the well-being of the Harpell family—indeed, if she cares for the potential integrity of Mystra’s Weave at all—then we are headed for Mirabar, and beyond that, likely the Khedrun Valley.”

With little choice left to us, we conjure forth mounts for the group and begin our trek north.  Our travel is undisturbed until midday when we break for a meal, at which point we catch notice of what appears to be a lone wolf or dog.  Concerned that it might be in fact a pack of such creatures, I call for Selben to join me and investigate.

It’s difficult to make out details, but the dog appears malnourished.  It’s some manner of husky breed, grey and white, and after a few minutes I toss it a bit of dried meat from my rations.  It takes it and stands there looking at me but does not run away.  Not knowing if it’s a sign from the Beastlord or just a random mongrel, I tell it “You watch our backs, I’ll watch yours” and return with Selben to the others.  For a short while it appears that the cur may be following us, which is fine by me.

We finish travel for the day without finding a settlement.  Unsure whether Xantharl’s Keep exists in this time, or how close we may be, we decide to break for the night, leaving enough time to gather materials for a sizable fire.  We settle in for a cold eve, splitting up into three watches.  During the third watch, mine, the dog appears once again.

“You must have had a hard day’s travel, keeping up with a team of magical horses.”  I dig out a few more handfuls of dried meat and toss it the dog’s way.  “I don’t suppose there’s anything we should watch for in the woods tonight?”  No response, but it cocks it head in curiosity.  “Any chance there’s a town nearby?”  No response, but it cocks its head again, seeming to appreciate the conversation.  With nothing else to do, I continue speaking to it.  Unfortunately, the dog doesn’t have a remedy for being time-shifted 100 years into the past, and my watch concludes otherwise uneventfully.

Midway through the next day we approach a settlement.  It might be Xantharl’s Keep—there are similarities—or it could be another settlement entirely.  We decide to head into the village and investigate.  Pleasantly surprised, the dog returns again, and I toss it my last handful of rations, letting it know that we’ll be back in a little while.

The village is clearly smaller than Xantharl’s Keep, but there are many structures that are too familiar to be coincidence.  The village has a wooden palisade, patrolled by a few armed soldiers.  One wears a tabard with the insignia of Mirabar.


  1. During one of the midday breaks, before arriving at Xantharl's Keep, Zeb will approach Bonie to share a few words.

    "You've been quiet lately," he says delicately. "It was a close thing in Malchor's tower, and we've all been struggling to get our bearings. What are your thoughts? Still glad you came into Malchor's tower with us, or are you starting to regret that decision?"

    Zeb realizes that he hasn't actually shared much conversation with Bonie, at least conversation that wasn't about Zeb acting rashly or making poor decisions. He chuckles, trying to keep the mood as light as possible. "So Mirabar, huh? I think that's where we're going to end up, at least it makes sense for that to be our next destination. Maybe we'll see your house."

    Zeb is quiet then, not wanting to fill the air with meaningless words. Instead he waits, curious to see if Bonie will open up to any of the questions.

    1. "I was thinking about that, actually, just now," she replies. "My house. My mother. I know it doesn't matter here, but... I think I would enjoy seeing something so familiar, even if it isn't mine."

      She shifts uncomfortably, whether from pain of injury or emotion. Her face betrays her recent turmoil, lacking its usual brightness. Even her blond hair droops as though wilted.

      "I do fear for Elseba," she admits. "But can I, if she doesn't yet exist? It doesn't seem possible..."

      Tears begin to well in riverbourne eyes, but her countenance hardens.

      "I am glad to be with you," she answers, and the ambiguity of her words is not lost to the winter air. "I know not what the future holds—hah!—but I'll not be lost to it. None of us will be."

  2. During one of the rides, Audric will maneuver his horse over towards Zeb. He begins to speak slowly. "So... about what happened back there." He hangs his head a bit, as if shamed. "I don't know what came over me. I wanted to catch the man, but the longer I chased him the more my instincts took over. When I caught him, I knew that I couldn't let him go. That was the first point during that day that I had full control over something, and... and," he hesitates for a second "it felt good."

    After a quiet minute Audric speaks again more sure of himself this time. "I feel that I understand you more Zeb. While I will never venerate Malar, I now have an understanding of why someone would choose to follow him and partake in his rituals."

    1. "Rage, the kind that overwhelms like that, is a powerful emotion. Many among Malar's faithful are such because of their addiction to that feeling...but that's also part of what has driven me not from the faith, but perhaps from the other faithful."

      Seeing Selben hovering on the edge of the conversation, Zeb calls him over. This could be important for the young man to hear. "That savage fury is but one of Malar's aspects, though as you've learned it has a powerful draw. It lives within each of us, though many are never provided reason to draw upon it."

      "Don't let who you become in those moments define you. There is a time and place for that rage to be unleashed, and I think your actions were appropriate. I likely would have done the same. Embrace that part of your nature, that ability to call upon frenzy, for it is a powerful tool...but you're also right to question yourself afterwards."

      "That," Zeb explains, feeling perhaps more professorial than he intended, "is what separates us from the beast."

      Zeb is quiet after that, clearly fighting his own internal battle. Audric's words--specifically what he said about how crushing the thief's throat made him feel in control--makes Zeb regret not taking out his own frustrations on Tannor. Zeb finds himself gripping the hilt of one of his knives at the thought, white-knuckled, his heart pounding, wishing he had cut into the man. He bites the inside of his cheek, drawing blood, filling his mouth with the salty tang of iron.

  3. The din of the village fills their ears as Zeb, Audric, Bonie, and Selben begin to traverse the grounds. Overall, the site bears little resemblance to Xantharl's Keep, but vague familiarities - the placement of certain cottages, the decidedly steep-pitched roofs, and the bustle of the quaint winter market - lead them to believe that it is indeed one and the same, a century removed.

    Several yards to their right, a squabble broods between two men over a sack of potatoes. Further away, opposite their march, a disheveled man tends to an injured laborer, wrapping a broken arm in shards of cloth and dabbing sweat and dirt from the latter's brow. Of note, the former's left hand appears to be absent multiple fingers, though this deters not his efforts in bandaging the worker.

    To their left, further away still, stands a tall, stone building designated as the lord's hall, recognizable as the future residence of Helder Mornstone. Mounted upon the structure's heavy oaken door is a placard bearing the word (or name) "Greywind" in white, painted script.

    Amid it all, the midday populace is dotted with armed men draped in tabards emblazoned with the crest of the Axe of Mirabar: soldiers. To the north, a number of campsites are erected near the edge of the wooden palisade. Among these, the soldiers are more prevalent, intermixed with laborers carrying various picks and hammers and saddling other provisions to beasts of burden.

    A lone, dead leaf flutters a few feet above the ground in a swirl of chill wind, in the direction of their walk. It strikes Audric's mail, disintegrating into a thousand tiny fragments.

    1. The recognizable structures are comforting, though it's still not clear what the purpose of this walled keep might be, and that keeps Zeb on edge. Is it a Mirabaran garrison perhaps, or is it the holding of whoever this "Grewyind" might be?

      Zeb decides the first thing to do is to seek out accommodations. The presence of an inn or tavern, for instance, might be a sign that the keep is welcoming to visitors, more a small, walled village than a military outpost.

      As he searches, Zeb will keep his eyes open for merchants hawking food or wares, as well as for anyone that he thinks might be willing to share a bit of what they know for a coin or two.

    2. An inn, The Weary Traveler, is located without much effort. The place is small, offering only a handful of rooms, and the building itself is unfamiliar from the party's previous stay in Xantharl's Keep.

      The settlement, on the whole, doesn't look of a military garrison so much as an occupied village. In speaking with the costermonger after his dispute with a customer seems to have resolved, Zeb learns that a mining operation, financed by Mirabar, started during the autumn season after a sizable deposit of electrum was discovered in a "hole in the earth" a short way into the Lurkwood. Since that time, the Axe of Mirabar have maintained a presence amid the camps of the mining company.

      Unfortunately for residents, the extra population has strained the village's winter food stores, and the prices of food and wares have risen dramatically, benefiting merchants in the short term, but encumbering everyone now that resources have grown scarce. Some amount of replenishment has trafficked in from Mirabar, but not nearly enough.

      According to the merchant, the Lord of Xantharl's Keep (which is in fact still the town's name), one Arvnsen Greywind, is a retired Mirabar soldier himself, and as such has shown a strong bias in favor of the incursion, to the detriment of his people.

  4. O'er pastures borne
    o' fields of green
    The river I follow,
    its waters clean
    With the flow, I ride,
    'til my heart doth cling
    To pastures borne
    o' fields of green