Friday, November 12, 2021

#3: The Three

Intrigued by our new friends and their situation but unable to effectively communicate, I try my best to pantomime basic concepts, hoping for some insight as to their history.  Where are they from?  How did they get here, and how do they sustain themselves?  What danger lurks in the forest?  And, without wanting to appear rude, what is the nature of the putrefying disease that afflicts two of them?  Talas and Pyr remain silent throughout, occasionally swatting at small insects that try to land in the patches of putrefying flesh on their faces.

My pantomime produces little in the way of results, but it does incite them to have a conversation amongst themselves in their unknown language.  The discussion is heated, apparently some disagreement separating the three, but eventually Ailthar returns.  He approaches Ged, holding in his hand a deep turquoise stone with veins of copper.  He seats himself upon the ground in front of Ged, cross-legged, and gestures to Ged to do the same.  With a shrug, Ged looks to us and then takes a seat across from the warrior.

There is a moment of awkward silence between the two, Ailthar focused and Ged with a skeptical look on his face, before Ged suddenly twitches and locks eyes with the man.  The stone seems to create an empathic link between the two, allowing basic communication.  “We have connected,” Ged says.  “He says his name is Ailthar of Kamynder, and that they hail from the city of Fahl.”  Khadhras, despite his studies of the forest and its history, has never heard of the city.

“My companions and I traveled here through a forest cave.  The cave’s entry was cursed by an evil spirit.”  There is no tone or inflection in the responses Ged receives—communicating telepathically, the nuances of conversation are lost.  Ged asks if the spirit is a god, prying for a deeper understanding, remembering that one word we were able to understand previously was the name of one of the elder gods of nature, “Silvanus”.

“It is known to us as Sairy’k, death’s harbinger.”  Khadhras shrugs again, unfamiliar with the name.

Ged asks if they know where they are, trying to determine if they are from a remote barbarian tribe that Khadhras may be unaware of, or if there is something more to the story of how they arrived in these lands, suspecting magic.

“No, aside from the area we’ve explored over several days.”

Ged looks to us, asking if we have other questions to ask.  I point to Talas’ face, suggesting that Ged ask them if she is cursed.  The question seems pointed and potentially inflammatory, but for me, cutting straight to the heart of the issue seems most important.

“The curse was bestowed by the god of the one we seek amid this forest.”  Khadhras suggests that Ged ask whom they seek.

“My companions and I pursue a wichlar, a forest-druid, who severed ranks from his kin, slaying many in his wake.  This foe, Othal, took on the name ‘Silvanus’…we believe he was led here for a purpose that we do not yet understand…by someone, or something…embraced by the power of fell spirits. A dangerous adversary.”

I snort.  “It might be worth pointing out that here, Silvanus is a god.  Do they feel up to that task?”

“Is this Silvanus a god or a man?” Ged asks.  “The Silvanus we know is a god, but it sounds as if you speak of a man.”

Their reply is confusing, contrary to what little we know of Silvanus in our realm.  “He is a man, but is perhaps being led, or empowered, by something much stronger.  Before we entered the Maw of Shadow’s Breach, local druids spoke of a healer who transcended to a higher realm through this forest.”

“And how do you expect to defeat such a foe?” I suggest Ged ask.

“We have no choice.  The druids of our realm believe that Othal is gathering forces to usurp their power.”

I snort again.  “What does any of this have to do with us?” I ask.  “Either we join them in a hopeless cause, or we leave them here to rot.”  I point at the woman again.  “Aryen’s Hope will not open its doors to them, not in this condition.”  Khadhras seems to agree to an extent but doesn’t seem keen on leaving them to their fates.  Ged continues his silent conversation.

“We understand that you have no choice, but we do.  To battle a foe of this magnitude is a fool’s errand.  What do you hope to accomplish?”

“While Othal may conquer our land, he may well enact great destruction here first.”

“So what have you been doing on this rock for a week?” I ask derisively.  “If it’s praying for heroes to arrive, they’re going to be deeply disappointed.”

“Do they even know how to find this Othal?” Khadhras asks.

Ged relays our doubts, adding, “How do you expect us to help?”

“We lost Othal’s trail in the wake of the curse afflicted upon Talas and Pyr.  We seek signs of his passage, but are wary of your settlement to the south.”

“As you should be,” I say under my breath.

Ged explains, “The settlement to the south is of no concern to you.  The people there are good and honest folk.”

“Would Iphan even grant them an audience?” I ask, honestly not knowing what to do with the information we’ve been provided and growing slightly frustrated.  Khadhras seems to think Iphan may at least hear them out, but he’s unsure what the point of such a conversation would even be.

“What about the bear?” Khadhras provides a line of questions, through Ged, that seem to imply that the feral bear we encountered may have something to do with this Othal.  “Could Othal be behind such evil magic?”

Bear pun!
“It is possible.  Othal is an agent of unnatural power.  We will proceed with our hunt without encroaching upon your village.  Beware should Othal bring his power to bear upon you first.”

“So…what do we do?” I ask the others, unclear how to proceed.

“What impacts them is going to impact us,” Ged shares, indicating his desire to escort them to Aryen’s Hope to meet Iphan.  I have my doubts, but it seems like the only reasonable plan.

Ailthar stares at Ged, communicating more with the priest.  “In our realm, the Maw of Shadow’s Breach is located near an ancient battleground.  The power of the dead stirs within its darkness.  Are there any such places here?”

“The High Forest in general is littered with such places, having been home to elves and other races for millennia,” Khadhras explains.  Though no specific knowledge jumps to mind, there are myriad possibilities.

“Then it is settled,” Ged replies.  “Come back with us to speak with the leader of our settlement.  You are no match for Othal alone and your friends are weak.  You need to recover, and if what you say is true, then this is an issue that impacts us all.”

“Agreed,” Ailthar concedes.  “Lead, and we will follow.”

“Great,” I say, with little care for my sarcasm, worried about the attention a larger group traveling through the forest might attract.  “Can any of them fight?”  Ged nods, pulling himself to his feet.  Communication via the stone apparently requires contact, so as we walk, Ged and Ailthar remain close.  

“Anything within a dozen miles will have seen these fires and will be drawn here,” I say.  “We have a couple hours; we should put as much distance as we can between us and this ridge.”

Bear pun!
They gather their meager belongings and weapons, and we carefully pick our way back along the ridge, descending to the familiar forest paths.  Khadhras takes over responsibility of communicating with the stone with Talas, leaving Ailthar, Ged and I free to bear arms should we encounter any enemies.  

The first couple hours of our return to Aryen’s Hope go easily.  Fauna abounds, which is a reassuring signal that no threats lurk in the forest’s shadows.  We retread our steps to the extent that we are able to find and follow the paths we used before, but when that fails, we are able to use the river to reorient ourselves.

As we travel, there are pauses where it seems that Khadhras pauses to communicate with Talas, but I am more focused on the forest and avoiding any potential dangers.  We come upon a convenient bend in the river that provides some measure of defense while we camp and decide to stay there instead of pushing on further.  We use the extra time to prepare a bonfire and whittle points on a few large branches to use as stakes should the need arise.  We split into pairs to keep watch, one from their party and one from ours, and the night passes uneventfully. 

We awaken the following morning refreshed.  It feels reassuring to have the river at our side, and I toss a few sticks into it, watching them drift downriver towards Aryen’s Hope.  Assuming today’s travel goes as well as the previous day’s, we should arrive back before nightfall.

There is a pause in our travels however, as Talas uses the stone to communicate with Khadhras.  He explains, sharing her comments.  “She does not believe Othal has traveled through this part of the forest.  We should be safe from his influence here.”

“Why do you believe he has not been here?” Khadhras asks in reply.

“And what about creatures under his influence?” I add, knowing that the feral bear lurks somewhere in the forest ahead.

“Othal walks in the shadow of Sairy’k, death’s harbinger,” she replies, mimicking Ailthar’s response from earlier.  “There are no signs of such passage near the river.”

“Good enough for me,” I snort in reply.  We continue, though Khadhras retains his connection with Talas as we walk.

I spare a few moments to discuss potential threats with the group, and planned courses of action should we encounter the bear or any other threat.  To the credit of our new companions, while the ravages of their disease are obvious, at least externally, it seems to provide little deficiency to their physicality.  Both Ailthar and Pyr seem ready to fight, should the need arise.  Meanwhile, Talas and Khadhras seem to be deep in conversation, though the content of their discussion concerns me little.

As the sun passes its zenith, we ascend a wooded hill, and ahead we spot a silhouette near a tree—perhaps a huntsman of Aryen’s Hope, though the possibility that it could be some other creature or even an elf of the High Forest, however unlikely that may be, exists.  There being no chance that a group our size passes unnoticed, I gesture for everyone in our group to take cover as well while Khadhras hails the shadow.

“State your destination,” is the stoic reply.

“Aryen’s Hope,” Khadhras call, and we hear rustling in the brush ahead.  A man steps forward cautiously, and when he gets closer, he calls out to us.

“You’re from the party that set out seeking the lights,” he states, though clearly meaning it as a question.

We confirm his suspicions.  “How far to Aryen’s Hope?” I ask.  “We should be close.”

“Less than two miles,” is his reply, but he follows it with a question.  “Where is the rest of your group?”

Khadhras gestures and we leave our cover to greet the man, keeping Pyr and Talas to the rear to the extent that I can without being able to communicate with them directly.  The man introduces himself as Ganor, indicating that he was absent from Aryen’s Hope when we first arrived, and asked what news.

“We found…” Khadhras begins, before I cut him off abruptly.

“Our news is for Iphan first,” I say, speaking over Khadhras unapologetically.  We do, however, acquiesce to share our encounter with the wild bear.  “If you see it,” I warn, “shoot first and ask questions later.”

Ganor has a story of his own to share with us.  While abroad in the forest with a hunting companion, they ran afoul a small pack of wolves.  Most of the wolves fled, but one seemed particularly aggressive, so much so that even after its packmates turned tail, it attacked the hunters.  Its body was not completely natural—Ganor’s description matches that of the undead creature we encountered while traveling to Aryen’s Hope.

“It was traveling with the other wolves?” I ask, incredulous.

Ganor confirms the story, explaining the creature attacked after the rest of the pack fled.

“Did you kill it?” I ask.  Ganor nods.  Having suffered the attack from such a beast, I acknowledge the feat.  “We will heed your warning, and we thank you for this knowledge.”

Before long, we spot Aryen’s Hope ahead and ask if Ganor will send message to Iphan for him to meet us here, not willing to take Pyr and Talas into the settlement without sharing what we know of their condition first.  Nearly an hour passes before we see Iphan and Janna, priestess of Lathander, approach.

“This should be interesting,” I mutter.  As they draw near, I gesture for Ailthar to join us with the stone.

“What news?” Iphan asks, his curiosity obvious as he eyes our new companions.

We share what few details we understand of their story, and both Iphan and Janna look concerned.   “Does this enemy have anything to do with the fact that our scouts have encountered unnatural creatures of the forest, wolves, these past weeks?  If so, it seems that there may be much more to discuss.”  The possible connection seems clear, and with little hesitancy, Iphan extends welcome to the newcomers, granting them sanctuary in Aryen’s Hope.

“About that,” I interject, explaining what little we know of the disease that has ravaged Talas and Pyr.

“Will you see to them?” Iphan asks Janna, and the priestess of the Morninglord nods.  She approaches carefully, locking eyes with Talas, spending time looking at her festering wounds without touching them.  It appears as if she is muttering prayers during her inspection, though whether she brings any powers of the Morninglord to bear is unclear.

“This is a magical affliction,” she explains finally, “and I lack the power to remedy it.  But I do not think that it is a sickness that can be passed on as a plague.  It would take powerful magic to impart such a condition.”

“That’s good to hear,” I say, relieved, having spent the last two days in close company with them.

“Nevertheless,” Iphan admits, “they will remain isolated for the safety of all, though they are welcome in Aryen’s Hope.”  By the time we arrive, the sun has set.  Janna returns to her tent and Iphan leads the newcomers to one of the more remote parts of the settlement.  Despite the fact that we weren’t able to explain our conversation with Iphan as it occurred, it seems that Ailthar and the others have picked up on Iphan’s intent and Janna’s concern, and for now seem content to be led.

Once settled, waiting seems to be our only course of action.  I raise the question as to whether we should act as intermediaries between Ailthar and Iphan or let them communicate directly, and we agree that perhaps it will be best if Ailthar, Talas and Pyr speak for themselves.

Before long, Iphan returns alone, ready to speak with the newcomers by whatever means may make that possible.  Talas hands the stone to Ailthar, who speaks for their group.  He clasps hands with Iphan over the stone, and a long time passes as they share their unspoken exchange.  We can see the occasional passer-by hovering near the tents with curiosity as Iphan stands with Ailthar in silence. 

When their embrace ends, Ailthar hands the stone back to Talas.  “Ailthar and his friends may sleep here tonight.  I have matters to think on, and I wish to speak to you in the morning.”  Ged presses for payment, our task complete, and Iphan waves off the demand, indicating he’ll settle those matters on the morrow.

Our sleep is restless, with the fate of Ailthar and the others undetermined.  Iphan’s stoicism on the matter is not unexpected but doesn’t grant any comfort.  And for us, besides Iphan requesting our company at dawn, our lack of direction is also a concern.  We eventually find rest, however, and when we rise, we make ready to meet with Iphan.

When we see Iphan, he hands us each a roll of platinum coins, satisfying the payment promised for seeking out the source of the lights.  Iphan explains that he isn’t sure what to make of Ailthar’s story but based on our testimony of the wolf and bear encounters, and our stories coinciding with those of Ganor and the other hunters, there’s clearly a potential serious threat to Aryen’s Hope.

Iphan voices his intention to assemble a scout team to investigate a larger part of the forest than his hunters would typically range and asks if we wish to be involved.  Interested, I ask, “If we commit to do this and Ailthar and the others wish to join us, would you be opposed to it?” 

The question lingers for a moment before Iphan responds.  “No,” he relents.  “I would not oppose it.”

It seems to me that such a mission could potentially overlap with Ailthar’s hunt for Othal—whether this is all connected somehow or not remains unknown, but it remains a clear possibility.  It would provide us the freedom to explore the High Forest, deepen our purse a bit, and perhaps even help Ailthar and his companions in their quest.

Ged asks for more details, specifically how many others Iphan intends to send out.  Iphan explains that he is limited in the extent to which he can risk the security of Aryen’s Hope at any given time but pledges a force of perhaps a half-dozen trained hunters to the task.

After explaining the mission details with Ailthar, he meets with the others and the three of them approach us.  They are agreeable to assisting with Iphan’s cause, and we begin to discuss details of the potential arrangement.

1 comment:

  1. Khadhras feels an increasing sense of surrealness as he walks alongside Talas. The forest around them passes in a haze, the mage's eyes locked on the shadowy silhouettes many yards ahead that he knows to be Phelan and Ailthar. Somewhere behind, Ged and Pyr mark the tail end of their procession, though Khadhras' mind is numb to any signs of them, physical or otherwise.

    Rather, he finds that his senses all funnel to the empathetic link with the sorceress forged by the strange, turquoise stone. Her supple hand in his, the threads of his heightened awareness weave about the woman's form, her flowing strands of deep auburn hair streaked with ash and silver, and the patchwork of black, emaciated skin adorning her face and neck. When she speaks, the voice feels as a god breathing its will directly into his mind.

    "I fear that my hour grows late. I would impart my knowledge to a worthy heir, before I die."

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