The Great Hunt

Tigers vs Shirahoshi - FIGHT!
In which a (illusory) dragon is ignored.

Hana and I volunteer for first watch. Turns out, that was probably for the best. We both spot the tigers from quite the distance, but that didn't stop them from pouncing on us both.

Occupied as I was with my own tiger, I couldn't help but hear the screams of agony and rage from Hana. With my first retaliatory blow with Shirahoshi, I requested it create the image of a dragon rampaging toward us from the forest behind the tigers. Between that and Hana's screams, I think the rest of our party has awoken.

Damn, but these things can really hurt. Archimonde's voice is clearly heard as he casts a spell and I feel a surge of energy boosting my abilities. Takeo arrives and flanks the tiger with me in that same instant. Now, now we see whether the tiger has the mettle to withstand my blows.

Three blows, slicing through its vitals, and the tiger is felled. I cannot be satisfied. Renewed by the death of my foe, I strike at the remaining tiger. 

Holy crap. Hana was eviscerated! Her entrails have become her extrails. (Fonging. LOTS of fonging!) Surely fate has intervened to keep her alive. That and Mid. Mid seems to be pulling her entrails back in and healing her. 

The interesting thing is that our little rogue dealt the final blow. Didn't realize she had it in her. Gotta remember: halflings come outta nowhere. 

Healing all around and then Hana skins the tigers for Archimonde. One of Hana's compatriots offered me some bread and I made me a sandwich! Triple meat! Dragon, Wolf and Tiger! DELICIOUS! The bread was kinda stale. Ah well. At least there was bread.

Shirahoshi's manifestation seems to revel in rolling around. Might as well let it sit for the night and feel the open air…

In the morning, Hana and her group saunter off. I think Archimonde asked them to look for specific herbs or something. Kind of a shame. She and I could take down so many foes together. Have to see what we can do about that. Maybe I can convince her the next time I see her.

Our group has decided to return to our original camp out there where we killed that wolf… I think. I don't know anymore. All I know is I came here to protect the innocent adventurers from those that would prey upon them. So far, I've managed that. It's why I volunteer for first watch – that's when the party is at its most vulnerable – everyone is tired from the day's activities. 

Heading out, I sheathe Shirahoshi. But.. OW! What the? The blade is capable of frost now? When did that happen? I doubt that this is the only change at that…. Another conversation would be in order, it seems.

Somewhere along the way, we hear screams. It's not Hana! Too high pitched. I want to rush to the rescue, but Archimonde has decided that that didn't work so well the last time. I thought it went well… no one was killed! Well… except that druid lass. But she had it coming! Try and trip me up will ya? Not on your life.

It seems that this lass is meant to lead us to an ambush instead of being the bait herself. Not bad. Good thing there are those in the party that can sense that kind of malicious intent in a person. 

Don't ask me how, but Archimonde is preaching again. Tubatron. Sure, he's a god. But Moradin is the god of my clansmen, and I worship him. Though, with his preaching, Archimonde raises a good point. The wall HAS been corrupted. The Dwarves built it, but the Elves corrupted it. I kneel and pray to Moradin, and I can feel the Dwarven lass next to me. Between us, we are heard and answered. The wall must be purified. Either by destroying it, or… can the works be undone? Can it become a mere wall again? Likely, it would be easier to just demolish it…

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Mouths, Water, Basilisks
There's a joke in there somewhere, I'm sure...

The heat. It's not as bad as the furnaces and smelters back home, but it's more uncomfortable somehow. Thankfully, Archimonde has a useful spell to make it more bearable. After a day or two's travel, we find ourselves set upon by these…. mouths! That's the only word for it. They're blobs that have multiple (and only) mouths that can stretch out and attack! They also seem to emit some kind of debilitating sound and a ray that can blind a person. I can tell that my axe isn't having as much of an effect as it usually would, but I don't want to take the time to switch to my quarterstaff.

We manange to subdue the mouth-things and find a spot to settle for the night. At some point during the night, we find ourselves beset upon by a rainstorm. The storm stayed with us throughout the next day until Archimonde decided there was something unnatural about it. Sure enough, and elemental was pestering us, centering the storm upon the party and nowhere else! Again, I thoughtlessly use my axe instead of choosing my weapon wisely and we eventually subdue the elemental.

The next day, we find ourselves cresting a ridge that overlooks the shore. As we look down upon the beaches, we see what we've been searching for: the other party! But… NO! They're surrounded by basilisks! Two of them are already turned to stone! The barbarian lass is still fighting, as is the monk. We charge to their aid!

Damn my short legs! Archimonde and Mid both beat me into the fray, but I will not be denied my opportunity at glorious combat! By the time I catch up, they've slain one of the reptiles, so I move to match my barbarian counterpart. She seems to have caught on that if we flank – which means she has to move a little faster and a little farther than I can – she can get in her hits, but I can finish the beast with ease. We make quick work of three or so and look around – all are now safe.

Meeting my gaze, I quirk an eyebrow at her and motion to the treeline. Apparently, she was more impressed with my combat skills than my poor attempt at woo-ing, and dragged me to the trees.

 

We now pause for a brief moment. Imagine what you will. A true gentleman will never tell.

 

She and I cuddle afterwords. There's no doubt she's shaken and doubting her skills as a combatant. I tell her the same things I tell myself in a mantra – you cannot protect them all. The only thing you can do and judge yourself upon is whether or not you try. There will <u>always</u> be circumstances beyond your control.

My clumsy words seem to help. I manage to skate around the fact that we've found proof that the rogue from her group has fallen. Then, for the first time, we exchange our names. Hana. Her name is Hana. Perhaps, should we make it back into the city, she would consider joining us and help me keep my compatriots from harm…

When we return to the beach, their two members that had been turned to stone have been restored! It is also at this point that Archimonde tells them all that their rogue, has fallen. Archimonde and their leader have a rather long discussion about the wall. I've never thought much about it, other than my ancestors helped to build it. Apparently there's a bunch of necromancy involved with it.

Night has fallen. Hana and I volunteer for first watch, but we are both professionals. There's no place for amorous activities when doing your duty. One of these times, I shall have to have a conversation with Shirahoshi about its abilities…

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Nature Rebels...
Takeo is getting too hot

It has been several days of excruciating heat.  We received word from inside the wall via arrow message that an attempt has been made on the kings life, and that there will be no going back into the city.  But all of this falls away as Illy's white hawk, Verel, swoops into view.  My heart catches, simultaneously elated to see him and the messenger tube undoubtedly containing a message from my beloved elf, but also terror that it could be news most dire from her…or about her.

Holding my hand out, he perches, rubbing me affectionately before sweeping over to Takeo, they being fast friends of a fowly nature.  My hands shaking, I unroll the tube, and quickly read her missive. 

Archimonde,

I hope you and Takeo are both well. I don’t know if you’ve heard out beyond the wall but there was an attempt on Aelharran’s life, and the “High King” does not fair well. This would normally not be a matter with which we would concern ourselves, I know, But I believe there is a chance that the person behind this attempt was once very dear to me, and if this is the case… perhaps he may have information that could prove vital to your investigation. I am leaving the circle to investigate, and will write you with any news I may discover.

With Love,

Illaerwyn

I try to process the information, but the details that jump at me are ILLY'S IN DANGER and WITH LOVE.  Gods of Nature, I miss her.  Deep in thought, Tayla leads us to go and find Arlo's group and let them know what happened, but I'm deep in thought, obsessing over what Illy might be up to.  Looking up several hours later, I hear the beat of wings and I dive off of Takeo as an emerald green dragon swoops upon us, showering us all with acid.  I look over at the Takeo's Butler, and I see his face melt off his bones.  Cursing, I yell at Takeo to take care of the dragon, I'll keep everyone alive and I hope against hope that the butler is not yet dead, his fate sealed, as it were, as good help is very hard to <s>intimidate</s> train.  Rushing over, I see that he is yet breathing, and I pull power from the ground around us to soothe his wounds before rushing over to heal the others.  Moving from person to person, I keep the party on their feet as Trombor and Takeo finish off the evil dragon.  Nodding to me, Trombor asks if I can handle this as I have the others, and I nod, plucking the best scales as carefully as I can, and chopping it for meat.  Takeo wanders seeking for seeds or anything interesting, and he returns, agitated.  I follow him, and we find a lair, clearly smelling of acid and beast.  Clearly the den the one we faught came from, if I'm a druid.  Acid is one of Nature's most painful and potent substances, and since we've decided to clear the den on the morrow, I'll be preparing us to not succumb to it's foul corrosive essence. 

In the morning, we creep into the den, warily scanning for any signs of more dragons, or, heaven forbid, some hulking monstrosity of a parent dragon, but I've little fear for that, as the greens are not exactly maternal.  Perhaps some brothers…

Coming upon a few smaller ones, yes, we probably killed their older brother.  Trombor rushes forward, and I let loose a yodel, and we make relatively short work of them, and I return to the surface to ensure we aren't surprised.  To my great and utter surprise, jaws close around me and my feeble attempts at stopping it seem to only amuse it.  "Yes.  Cliche of all cliches, the little bard is going to get eaten," I think.  Its throat constricts, and my body slides down it as I kick and claw to no avail.  I plop into its stomach, wet with digestive juice, and it begins crushing me, but I feel no burning.  I'm suddenly very glad that I thought to prepare those protections this morning, else I'd be burned beyond even Illy's recognition.  Taking a short breath, I concentrate and summon one of Lord Tubatron's special instrument weapons to my hand, a sword violin, and I begin to stab and slash my way out of the stomach.  Bursting out, the beast lies dead, Trombor pulling his axe out of it's face and Takeo poking it to make sure he's dead.  Shaking off the acid, I stumble over, pulling more healing energy from nature for myself and the others.  We find a body that clearly is Arlo's sister, and I say a prayer to Tubatron for her.

  We rest the remainder of the day, and thankfully it is uneventful.  In the morning, a light rain sprang up, giving us relief from the heat, but it became torrential quickly, another sign that nature is displeased with the situation.  Sitting atop Takeo, I return to thinking about Illy, but this time pleasant memories to ward off the chill of the rain, sitting with her watching the sun rise, playing find the seeds with Takeo, our kiss…

Suddenly, a gibbering mass of flesh and mouths and eyes, and horror, drops from the trees atop Trombor.  Mid rears his horse, charging it and stabbing it, it's mouths shrieking horror and distraction, but Trombor cleaved it in half from below it, bellowing in rage and disgust at its weakness, and we continue on.  We seem to be catching up to Arlo, and hopefully we will find him soon.  I lay down after my watch with Arlyre, ready to rest and recover from the long, wet march.

Too soon, a whistle brings me back to wakefullness, and I shake Takeo awake.  A huge water elemental has attacked our camp, but strangely there is no body of water that could support such a creature nearby.  Yodeling my companions to action, I warily skirt the monster to see if I can see what's agitating it, but rays of fire from Aspen and Trombor's axe actually make short work of it.  Nature is rebelling, rising, even, and to what end I know not, but I have my suspicions that the obsidian wall and the necromancy used to create and maintain it are at least partially to blame….

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Here There Be Dragons!
In which a Gnome is eaten, but not enjoyed.

     Again, the gate does not open. I fear it is no longer wise to wait for the gate. Archimonde is able to do something neat, however. He located a small bird and used it for a messenger spell. While we wait for the reply, another decision has been made. If we are unable to go through the gate, we will chase after the party we helped the other day, the one with that barbarian lass.

     No worthwhile reply and we are off, using the whole day to march after the other group. I can't see where they've gone, but our rogue seems to know. It would seem they've veered off into the forest, but the day is almost spent. We've found an excellent camp site and hunker down for the night. As always, even though I'm quite fatigued from the march, I volunteer for first watch.

     Not long into the watch, there's a rustling in the bushes. Is that? No, it couldn't be! A dragon? A green dragon? Finally some action! Dragons are the most worthy foes! I blow my signal whistle and move to attack! I get in a quick hit, but… what is he doing? He's ignoring me so he can… HOLY CRAP! He's using his breath weapon on the whole camp! The only person he didn't get was me! I must keep his attention! I can't let him spray his acid all over the party like that!

     Before I can ready my next blow, Takeo sidles right up next to me and I can hear a bear roaring on the other side of the dragon. I finally have a slight advantage! I slash once more into the hide of this dragon. I've managed to get his attention. Why did I want to do that again?

    This dragon apparently isn't too thrilled with me, as he slashes at me with both his claws, both his wings, and takes a bite out of me. Thankfully, other than the bite, I manage to block everything but one of his claws. Enraged by its fumbled attack, the dragon reared back and unleashed its breath weapon again! I managed to dodge out of the way, but looking over my shoulder, I see that Archimonde is protecting his wizard prisoner and our rogue, taking a full blast himself! Gotta hand it to the bard, he's good people (mostly). Takeo, ensconced by an attack upon his master, Takeo jumps and lands a claw right into the jaw of the dragon!

     Looking around, not many of us are still standing. I know we picked up a healing potion, so I rummage through everyone's packs until I find it. Now that I've got it, I have a choice to make. Do I pour it down Archimonde's throat or Mid's? I think… Yes, Mid should do as clerics are supposed to heal people. Yes. That makes sense, right? Once Mid has healed Archimonde and the two heal everyone else, it's time for the second watch.

    My watch now finished, Archimonde offers to skin the dragon for me, which is right decent of him, considering how much he must have been hurt. I know it's healed, but still. A full gout of acid like that? Ah well. At least there'll be dragon meat for breakfast!

     After a quick meal, we have decided to track down the dragon's lair. Gotta find the loot, right? Aren't dragons known for their loot? Aspen! That's our rogue's name! She managed to track down the little cave they're using as a den. After a small discussion, it is agreed that I will lead in, but not until Archimonde has cast a spell of resist energy.

     Our caution is well deserved as we spot two dragons smaller than the one last night. It would seem we've taken them unawares as well! Takeo is quicker on the take than I am and charges the dragon on the right, leaving the dragon on the left to me. More dragons! I relish the opportunity to fight such opponents! 

     As I swing my axe into my dragon, I can feel the attack sink in, but the dragon looks like it still has plenty of pep! I manage another attack before the dragon is able to react to our charge and the extra oomph I throw into the attack deals a telling blow. As I'm readying my next blow, a streak of flame passes by my head and connects with the dragon's. Now it doesn't have one anymore.

    Glancing to my right, I can see that dragon is trying to do… something? We all manage to make an attack against it and Takeo once again makes the finishing blow. But… what is this? A roar? From the cave's entrance? ANOTHER dragon? We must turn and face it!

    Sure enough. Another green dragon. By the time I have it in view, it's bitten Archimonde and has him in its jaw. Gotta save Archimonde! He's the only one I really trust in this group. But that might just be because he can yodel… well, that and his chicken is rather impressive. Don't imagine Takeo would stick around without him.

     By the time I'm in striking range, the dragon has swallowed Archimonde. Swinging my greataxe, I throw all the strength I have behind it. It leaves a sizeable gash, but the dragon is still standing strong. What is this? The dragon is taking off? We can't let it leave! Another swing at its flank, but it's airborne. But… it's not leaving? No! It's going to… Yuck! It sprayed us all with its breath. Before it gets the chance to leave us behind, Arlyre throws a fiery lance at it and it drops back to the ground. From its hide, Archimonde cuts his way out. Don't think I want to ask what it was like….

     It takes us several trips, but we manage to haul the corpses and the loot back to our makeshift camp so that we can divide the spoils.

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Awaiting The Gate
In which a shave and a haircut are only two bits.

     A new day. A fresh day. Yet we wait. Why do we wait? Right, right, right. We're trying to get supplies from the city.

     The gate does not open. The sun is high in the sky, as it was when it opened to let us in, but does not open. Some pound upon it. Other cast spells upon it. I know it all for naught. The dwarves built this wall. True, the elves enchanted it, but it was built by the dwarves. I have a thought. Perhaps an old dwarven knock will do the trick – how did it go? Bump ba-da bump bump tap tap!

     Still the gate does not open.

     After much deliberation, we have decided that they are spacing the gate spells along the length of the wall, and that it would be smart to do so – to prevent ambushes such as the one we fended off when we passed through. We have decided to travel further down the wall.

     We make our camp. Archimonde does his thing with the lute, and we set a watch. Always I volunteer for the first watch, for it is easier to sleep better knowing I've done my duty to my compatriots. My watch passed swiftly and without any concern.

     Hmmm…. that barbarian…. that's not my axe…. huh? What? An attack?

     An attack! I jump to my feat and grab my axe and launch at…. yes, the perfidious foe that is attacking Takeo! Wait, why is he wearing feathers? This fool. Even after I've charged in, he ignores me and continues his onslaught of Takeo. Why? Any fool would recognize that I pose the greater threat! I mean, Takeo is a force of his own, but come on! The poor soul leaves his flank open to attack and Takeo and I swiftly fell him.

     Is there another foe? Yes, yes there seems to be two left. One has the stance of a cleric, the other plays a violin. I charge the cleric, but there is no need. They have laid down arms. The violinist plays a mournful tune. They have surrendered. I cannot take their lives. I am no leader. I do not feel that their lives would be any better in my hands, so I leave their fates in the hands of my colleagues, hoping that they will see that it would be better to imprison them than it would be to slay them.

     My friends. They have chosen to slay our prisoners. I weep for them.

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The Duel of the Bards
Takeo thinks we need to sing about seeds more

Bidding our new friends farewell, we decide to wait until noon to assure ourselves that the door wouldn't open.  As Takeo thought, it does not, and we have to continue on.  Nothing particular blocked our path, but we decide to attempt to breach the wall or at least find something out about it.  And indeed, we find out that it's made of souls, and pretty much impenetrable, and more than a little angry.  It rebuffs Arlyre and her attempts to damage it with her bow, and blows her back off her feet.  Helping her up, I cast detect magic to see if Takeo can figure anything out, but, lo and behold, the wall is very magical, difficult to look at with my magesight.

Daunted, but undeterred, we decide to make our way along the wall and see what happens, but there is little along its obsidian expanse.  Travelling the rest of the day, we see nothing, and decide to camp.  Not knowing the odds, we play it safe and set watch, you never know if other adventurers or monsters might be lurking along the wall, and Takeo never gets taken by surprise. 

Arlyre and I take up our instruments for our watch, and Takeo takes his unyielding guard stance.  After some time, we hear music playing, and it's not ours but really quite good.  A missile of glowing force smashes into my chest, and a man comes howling out of the darkness, crashing into Takeo.  Yodelling with all my might, I try to wake up our companions while inspiring Takeo and Arlyre.  I summon a monkey out where I think the magic missile came from, and I hear a painful yell.  Success!  Takeo and Trombor begin to wage a tense fight with the barbarian, and a woman and clearly her lover come charging in behind him.  Interestingly, she plays the violin, and I recognize another bard!  Taking up my instrument, I challenge her, and her answering grin is promising, until a scream rips out from where I summoned my monkey, and she turns, a worried frown marking her brow.  She turns to me, reluctance to give up painted on her beautiful face, and she tips her hat in concession and runs to save her wizard.   Sighing in dissapointment, I renew the spell and summon another creature to aid us.  Takeo and Trombor make too good a team, and it's clear from the arrows pincushioning our enemies that Arlyre and they are too much for them.  These hooligans know they have lost, and know the law of the jungle, eat or be eaten, and the bard and her lover sit together knowing what's coming, for they know what they would have done to us had they won.  She begins to play, a song that is a celebreation of her life, it's beauty exquisite and clearly her final and greatest opus.  Nodding in acknowlegment, I play with her, learning her final song, Arlyre's interest clearly piqued as well.  Truly this is the way a bard should go, playing her heart in her final moments.  Her song dies away, and she closes her eyes, ready, and Takeo and I end it.  Truly she should have come as a friend, not a competitor/murderer.  Tubatron take her soul and give it rest.

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Going Back the Way We Came
Need more supplies than I thought

Upon waking in the morning, I realize Takeo needs some supplies to continue his study of what's going on in this 'great hunt.'  Broaching the subject with my companions proves…interesting.  Mid is certainly interested, probably because now he has money for drugs, and Arlyre seems reluctant to return for the temptation of such.  We'll have to figure something out about that, Takeo's butler thinks we should leave Mid behind because his addiction is likely to be a liability, but I think his healing and durability in combat are more important, but Takeo will have to make a decision if anything happens, and I don't think he'll like the outcome if he chooses drugs over Takeo.


Anyway, it's generally accepted we should travel back, but that our small, sneaky friends should go to prevent any more ambushes and cut down on costs in the city.  A smart plan, I think, but hopefully nothing goes awry getting there.


Heading out, I look back at our camp, and I hope it proves safe to leave and come back to.  We need a place, I think, lest we get overwhelmed in the wilds.  I contemplate on this until something jars me slightly, but apparently it's just some food for Takeo.  I tell him to seek out more, but he doesn't seem to find it, so I direct o his butler to put this on the map as a good food area for…I look more closely and see a mangled scorpion… Slightly dangerous Takeo food.  I grab a sample, in case it proves important, and we go on our merry way.

Several hours later, we hear a scream, and Trombor and Tayla go silently to check it out.  Almost immediately she comes running back screaming about spider webs and trapped people, so we go charging in, Takeo ready to save the day, but Trombor it seems is a deadly dwarf to trick, as he has chopped off an end elf's arm.  Two spiders seem enraged by his action, and they come to get defense.  Interesting, they must be animal companions, and she may be a druid…I must learn more from her, she's clearly established here, and likely either a culprit or a direct victim!  Takeo needs her alive! 

Barreling over tiny spiders, Takeo holds her down as I begin singing a song of fellowship.  I see her eyes soften, but the madness never leaves.  I ask her what's going on, and she screams and babbles about spirits gone mad, everywhere, and I wonder if the animals are driven mad as her by some spiritual event, but she again trashes that everyone needs to die, and Takeo makes the decision to end her misery before she inflicts it upon us.  Hmm, this is worse than I thought. 

My companions dispatch the rest of the spiders and I empty the unimportant blood to sample hers and the spiders.  We track to their lair, and I continue searching for clues when we realize that one of their victims is still alive!  I treat his poison as I can, and he seems stable and willing to travel with us, so we continue on toward the city. 

As out comes into view, we see a group camped out in front, and, worried that something might be afoot, we approach cautiously, but they hail us guardedly as they have a friend severely drained by virulent poison.  I volunteer to treat him, using the power of the earth around him to bolster his body until it's partially restored and he's able to wake.  These people appear to be wealthier and more powerful than us, but also powerfully grateful.  We trade information, and it turns out they haven't been able to get into the city, nor had much success hunting.  Trombor and their scantily clad warrior seem to be getting off well, so hopefully he learns something from her, but most importantly we find out that hordes of Ba-Seel-Isks are congregating on the coast, decidedly unusual for them.  Arlyre perks up upon hearing this, and perhaps we'll both get some resolution to our Basil-isk problem…

 

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SPIDERS! WHY SPIDERS?!?
Did I forget to mention? SPIDERS!

     We woke to a new day. It would seem that this place could be improved, and as such the Elf lass and I will be heading into town to gather some supplies. After a quick breakfast – thank heavens for that wolf, I hate these trail rations – and some deliberation with the prisoner, we take what seems to be the most direct route to the city.

     Not too far from camp, we all turn and look at the cleric, who appears to be unaware that he's being followed. By a scorpion. A rather big scorpion. A challenge! I charge the beast! I manage to get in a rather nice blow, but the pathetic creature is finished by my companions. It didn't even have a chance to try and hit me! Not much of a challenge at all.

     Well, there is at least one benefit from this – my friend, Mr Fizzbang, got me a usage of the scorpion's venom. When I get the chance, I'll apply it to my axe, but for now, we must carry on our path.

     A while later, we halt. Wait… was that? Yes, it was! A definite scream! A woman's scream! Caution must be taken, though. We've seen our fair share of deception so far. The elven lass joins me as we creep towards the screaming woman.

     A quick pause at the edge of a clearing, and we see, rather clearly, a woman caught in a spider's web. There's no help for it. I take out my whistle, give it a blast, and rush towards the trapped woman. 

     As she's screaming for me to save her, I tear her from the web and she falls to the ground – maybe a little too much enthusiasm? But then she tries to trip me. Trip ME? I don't think so! A quick flick of my axe and she no longer has the arm she was trying to push me with.
Treachery! She was callouding with the spiders! Two of them – massive beings for their species – drop down on me from above. Pain! They both sink their fangs into my flesh and I can feel their venom coursing through me. Shame for them that Dwarves aren't so weak as to succumb to such pathetic poisons. 

     Another quick flash of my axe and the odd one of the couple is split in twain. Should have thought that one through, as it was apparently a mother carrying her sac. As she split, her young burst forth. SPIDERS EVERYWHERE!

     Unable to see, I squish the infant spiders then take a look around. My compatriots heard my whistle and joined me. As I glance around, I see Tow-kay-oh and Fizzbang interrogating the woman. There's a lot of gobbletygook in there about the animals screaming and things not being right. I'll have to take their word on it, as they seem to be better with the beasts than I ever will be. She must've said something that Fizzbang didn't agree with, however, as the next thing I knew, she was dead. C'est la vie, apparently.

     Late. It's getting late. We decide to search her demense and we turned up some interesting items, but better – a small shelter. A quick respite and we're able to journey forth and return to the Wall.

     The trip was uneventful, but there IS a party waiting at where the gate should be. A brief conversation later, we're helping the other group. Apparently they have a wounded colleague and Fizzbang is eager to assist them. I've no particular interest in healing others' wounds, so I do what I do best – take a guard's stance and watch for threats.

     There was some kind of talk going on about the hunt. I probably should have paid more attention. I did catch that there was quite the number of basilisks on the beach. Makes sense. Reptiles prefer to sun bathe on warm sands. Other than that? Couldn't say. Might've had something to do with their barbarian lass comin' by and giving me a sly wink…
 

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of snakes, mice, and men.
Takeo is not food.

Looking around at the cave we've found to shelter in, I sigh and motion Takeo over.  We need to remove this poor bear and her cubs before we can rest.  Such a waste!  Wanton slaughter for no purpose, even her meat was left to rot.  I gather some blood, at least I'll be able to compare it to any other bears I find, and when Takeo arrives we pull the carcasses well into the forest.

 

Coming back into camp, I begin educating our new wizard friend about take Takeo's requirements for him.  Obviously a manservant should take care of his armour, helping him into and out of it, and stand at hand to help at a moment's notice.  I also remind him he ought to research spells that will help his new master, as he seems to have lost all of his.  Silly wizards.  He looks cross, and I remind him that his alternative is considerably worse. 


Shaking my head, I hear music and look over to see Arlyre playing her instrument.  I suppose that's as fine a way to pass the evening as any other, and go to play with her. 

 

In the morning, we head out to find this camp the wizard claims to have based his operations out of.  If that's true, that might give make a good position to operate out of.  We really need to figure out what's really going on here, and the key to success might be in figuring out what's happening to the blood and minds of the animals.  Looking up, something doesn't seem right, and Takeo narrowly dodges a strike from a gigantic green snake!  I stare, as this snake is very large, but even they know it's foolish to attack many prey at once, when alone.  It's…unnatural behavior!  Shaking my finger, I let the snake know how very disappointed Takeo is in him.  If he had been by himself, well, eat or be eaten, but this was stupid, and everyone knows giant snakes are not supposed to be stupid.  He slinks his head and slithers away, clearly chagrined.  Takeo let him know what for!


However, this is interesting, and flies in the face of conventional hunt wisdom.  They can be reasoned with, and even if they can't quite control themselves normally, with a little reminder at least one of them can, which means likely others can, too.  So.  People are in fact the worst. 


Deep in thought, I barely notice anything until the wizard announces we've arrived.  Trombor easily dismantles all the traps, and we set about making the place comfortable for Takeo and ourselves.  Tayla and I pose some foolish half-elves who looked at a BaSeealisk into amusing poses and have them guard our camp, but quickly it becomes late and Takeo is tired.  Arlyre and I will have watch again later, so I go to sleep.

Hearing screams, I jump up and see Trombor murdering a wolf.  He and Takeo have it well in hand, though, and quickly they dispatch it.  I walk over and harvest some blood and skin the pelt, lest our poor friend get too cold to continue defending us in the future.  He and Takeo won't work together so well if he's cold.

 

Settling in, Arlyre and I begin playing our instruments again, to pass our watch.  Truly I am glad to have found someone else to whom music is so beloved, but I am sad that it seems to be her only respite from some horror in her life. I hope she finds what she's looking for, I'm certain Takeo will help her if he can. 

Hearing a skitter of legs on stone, I sigh, and prepare for another attack.  Clearly animal aggression is escalating, if it had been secure but days before, or the wizard lied, but I doubt he could bring himself to lie to Takeo.  A giant centipede strikes at Takeo, who is only saved by the armour I insisted he wear for watch.  Cocking his head, his eyes full of excitement, he breaks off several of the centipede's legs with a sickening crunch.  He always did love unusual insects.  I break out a yodel to encourage him and or companions, and we all managed to finish off the centipede before it could bite anyone, which is good, considering their nasty poison.  Mentioning this, Trombor asked if I could harvest any, and so I did, giving him some in exchange for a flask in which to put its gooey blood.  Hmm, I'm going to need a place to put all this, it's getting quite heavy.  Perhaps the morning will bring slightly less danger than this evening has, but I doubt it, so I imagine there will be many more samples to collect.

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The Journey to Save or Join You 2

As we walked towards the woods, I jumped feeling something move under my cloak, running across the back of my shoulders. Yelping, I reached up and grabbed the offending creature, holding it up to see…a mouse? No, a rat…so familiar…my familiar? I vaguely remembered summoning him shortly before I’d left, so desperate for company. There were those who would talk to me in the monastery, others I’d come to know, but seeing them only made me think of Elyan, memories of them almost all tied to him. I didn’t want to hear what they would say, what they would tell me to try to make me feel better. They meant well, I knew, but promises that my heart could mend seemed as bitter lies. They didn’t understand, but of course they couldn’t. They were worth something, had friends who cared about them, lovers who wouldn’t betray them, those who would never leave them….

 

The rat squeaked in my grasp, looking curiously at me. Come to think of it, I had thought I’d seen rats on the boat scurrying around me, one trying to fend the others off, but I’d thought I’d been hallucinating. I guess….I hadn’t…. I loosened my hold on the rat and he crawled out of my hand, shaking a little before trotting up my arm and coming to rest once more on my shoulder. I wasn’t sure what to think of having a companion, even one so small. Had I had a choice over my familiar? Probably, but I couldn’t recall deciding. A rat seemed appropriate though. Small, hated by most, of questionable use…what other creature would accompany me? I almost smiled faintly as I raised my hand, petting the top of his little head. Sir Edward, I would call him. As if hearing me think his name, Sir Edward squeaked and looked up at me with wide eyes, his little face undeniably endearing.

 

I let my hand fall to my side as I continued to follow the others, anxiety tearing into me with each step. I’d intended to go my own way by now, spare them my miserable presence, but just as they’d regulated, I’d realized I couldn’t possibly survive out here alone. Those at the gate preyed on us because we were smaller than most and no one seemed to expect even the strongest who’d embarked to return. I couldn’t survive without them and the others? They couldn’t possibly need me. I’d used up so much of their healing magic that could have been better spent on my companions or the elf’s horse still bleeding terribly from the battle. I’d hurt our assailants, yes, but so had they and without nearly falling. Each step was another chance for them to tell me to go away, stop dragging them down on a journey so dangerous. I just…had to prove somehow I was worth keeping, or feign as much. If I were good at anything…but my magic was limited and my spells didn’t always work as I’d intended. I’d practiced with my bow endlessly, hour after hour, day after day, but targets didn’t try to rend you in two. Didn’t nearly succeed…..

 

I brought my hand up to my shoulder, flinching when my fingers brushed where that blackguard’s sword had plunged straight through me. A little further to one side and I wouldn’t be here at all. The wound was gone, healed by my companions’ magic, but still my skin seemed to recall the injury, lurking discomfort just shy of pain. So strange that such an injury could so swiftly be “undone” in a way. My fingers tightened in my shirt, bitterness rising in my heart. Why should I have been saved when Elyan hadn’t? Didn’t we have those who could heal? It wasn’t right! Why should I live?! I would have screamed if it wouldn’t have been the death of us all, footsteps and voices often ringing from the distance. My hands shook and my body ached, crying out for a reprieve from the consuming loneliness that pervaded my existence. I needed it, could think of nothing else in my growing despair, though again I had none of what I sought. Music, music had staved off the worst of it before. Barely, but it had. Though my lyre would alert those around us of our presence. Who was to say there didn’t already know we were here? Surely not all groups would immediately attack us. Or if they did, what did it matter? These people, no more companions than those we’d just fought. They would cast me aside any moment now. Why not take them with me? But they might not…they seemed kinder than most. Why save me to kill me? Though people have done stranger things. I didn’t know….

 

Tears slid down my cheeks and I held my bag close to my chest again, feeling the outline of my lyre within. It offered but little comfort, the reminder of Elyan bittersweet. I couldn’t decide if using music to help me cope was just that or if I was moving on. The very notion of the latter seemed an insult to him, to even start that so soon as if he had meant nothing to me. The same music I had used to get over my previous heartbreak, but without it, I had nothing.

 

Sir Edward squeaked softly on my shoulder, laying his tiny hands on my cheek as he gazed up at me with his wide, dark eyes. I thought I felt concern from him, confusion, unsure of what was wrong, why I was so upset. I nuzzled his small body, raising one of my hands to pet him with my fingertips. It was all I could do to keep walking, following Archimonde deeper and deeper into the woods.

 

The sun was low in they sky before he found a place he deemed suitable to rest at. In the dim light I saw the mauled corpses of a couple travelers not so different from ourselves. Beside them lay a giant bear the size of at least ten men. Would we have met the same fate, I wondered, if we had arrived here first? The others dragged the bodies away so as not to attract more monsters, people reduced to hazards to be discarded. There was no place for sentiment, least of all for our “fellow competitors,” and I wondered if whatever it was that was making the monsters so hostile didn’t affect us as well or if in truth we were always like this.

 

We huddled in the cave, soon illuminated by a small fire Archimonde set. I’d hoped my aching muscles would find relief in the rest, but my craving wouldn’t cease. I found myself rocking in the back of the cave, scratching at my skin when Archimonde sat beside me, summoning a lyre to his small hands. Without a thought, I fumbled for my bag, withdrawing my lyre, my fingers poised on the strings. Closing my eyes, my hands moved of their own accord, creating a gentle, flowing tune. Another lyre joined mine with the most beautiful song I’d ever heard, though there was too an air of sadness and desperation to it. I opened my eyes to see Elyan leaning against the cave wall with my lyre in his hands, a look of peace on his face.

 

“Everything will be okay, Arly,” Elyan said, tears welling in my eyes hearing the nickname he alone used. “You already have everything you need. Leave the shadows of this dusk behind and take hope in the coming dawn.”

 

I wanted to say there was no coming dawn without him, but I couldn’t seem to voice as much. Clambering over to him, I wiggled under his arm and wrapped my arms around his waist, resting my face on his chest. My eyes slid shut again as I listened to his song, matching my own even breathing, but…not his? Still….he was completely still and so cold.

 

My eyes flew open and I sat up with a start, looking around to see pale light filtering into the cave, Elyan nowhere to be seen. Archimonde was cheerily talking to Takeio, the wizard we abducted yesterday looking wearily between them. Archimonde informed him that he was to be Takeio’s manservant and that he was to put on and take off his armour every morning and evening and walk beside him at all times. He looked offended at the proposition, but had no choice but to accept. Archimonde moved to untie him and I trained my bow on the wizard, lest he decide to cast a spell. He muttered something about his spellbook he’d left at the ruins they’d been camping at. I knew they needed their books for their magic, whatever notes they might have scribbled down about what they’d felt or been thinking about the first time they’d used a spell, but surely after years of study they could remember a couple spells without reference. I mumbled a comment about wizards that seemed to offend the human, Aspen, I think she introduced herself as, though I thought she was a sorceress as well. Some of her spells had seemed strange and I’d thought that was simply because they were spells I couldn’t cast.

 

Shrugging, I picked up my lyre, holding it close, my only reprieve in this place. I began trying to replicate the song I heard Elyan play, though I couldn’t seem to muster the same sound or find quite the right notes for that elusive melody. Even as we walked, I continued to play, concerns of others overhearing me lost to my need to hear that song again, his song. He must have played it for me for a reason, for I could recall no other time I might have heard the song.

 

Hearing something rustle in the trees, I stopped, though I couldn’t see anything. Sir Edward began shrieking, trying to turn my face. A flash of green suddenly struck out at Takeio, barely missing him. An enormous snake recoiled, hanging from the trees fifteen feet above us. Sir Edward dove into my hood, hiding behind my neck as I readied my bow. I had to prove I was worth more than a corpse, somehow. I wasn’t strong enough to slay it alone, but if I could be at least a little useful, maybe they wouldn’t get rid of me.

 

Archimonde walked up by it, waving his arms and…hissing at it? The snake shook its head and slithered off again into the trees. Why…? Wasn’t our purpose here to slay these creatures? My face flushed and I blinked back tears, pulling my hood a little lower over my face. Of course I messed up. How foolish to expect I could do anything else. I was no warrior, no champion, just a stupid girl lost in the woods.

 

The others said nothing and we walked on, my fingers idly running along the strings of my lyre as I scanned the trees for any sign of the snake. I expected the others to tear the lyre from my hands at any moment for the hideous racket I produced, though I couldn’t help but continue. A burden, an annoyance…I hadn’t even the will or sense to walk in silence if I was to disturb them with my presence. It was only a matter of time before I was cast aside.

 

Sir Edward squeaked occasionally, frantically hitting my cheek as he pointed out every lizard and garden snake we passed. After perhaps half an hour, he found the serpent lurking in the trees, watching us, but making no move to close the distance between us. I pet him crouched in my hood again, trying to reassure him he was safe, even if that snake was large enough to easily eat even me whole. If it edged towards us, we would slay it. Slightly mollified, Sir Edward hid in my hood for the next hour or so until the serpent stopped following us.

 

The shadows were growing long again before we found the ruins this wizard and his companions had been staying at. The dwarf, Trombor, handily took care of the traps, though only about half of the ruins still stood. We passed two statues of angry looking half elves, the wizard explaining they were that blackguard’s other sons, the first victims of a basilisk attack, along with his own rat familiar. He hurried to a small room mostly intact, his shoulders slumping as he stood in the doorway. Glancing around him, I saw the room was empty. Someone must have raided it in the two days he was gone, taking not only the money and goods they’d stolen, but his spellbook as well. The culmination of his years of study just…gone. His familiar too was gone, in a way. Not irreparably, with the right magic, but for now. It was his own fault, choosing to take advantage of others, killing for their own gain. If things had gone differently, if they had taken me instead of the other way around, I knew he wouldn’t have done anything to stop that blackguard from making more half elven sons, but…to see him now…

 

I shook my head. What hadn’t I lost? What precious little had I ever had to lose? Let him weep and know the pain that was living. Why should he be spared as none of the rest of us were? He could work to regain what he’d lost as we did. There was no place for sentiment here. He was no different than that serpent waiting to strike.

 

Archimonde, Trombor, and the halfling, Tayla, moved the statues around, giggling as they repositioned them together. I raised a brow, wondering if out situation wasn’t as dire as I’d thought, though the dull ache in my shoulder maintained it was. Maybe I didn’t have as much to prove as I’d thought? I didn’t know…I could ask how long they planned on letting me tag along or what I had to do for them to tolerate me, but I was afraid of the answer.

 

I found a corner to sit in and played my lyre, determined to mimic the song I heard before it vanished from my memory, but even by the time everyone was lying down for the evening, I still hadn’t managed to quite recreate it. The some was similar, but something was just…off. There was a beauty his playing possessed my clumsy hands simply couldn’t muster. Sighing, I set my lyre aside, falling asleep to the sound of Aspen and Trombor softly talking by the fire, the first to take watch this evening.

 

I was roused suddenly by Aspen, looking up to see an enormous wolf biting into Trombor. I scrambled to grab my quiver and bow, firing into open gouges the others had already made. The wolf slumped to the ground soon and Archimonde wasted no time skinning the beast and collecting a sample of blood for what purpose I couldn’t guess. Knowing it was nearly time for my own watch, I retrieved my lyre, idly playing. Too much adrenaline to sleep, but I was too tired to focus enough to play Elyan’s song. Archimonde joined me when he was finished, our duet nothing so perfect as I’d dreamed, but still some of the weight of my sorrows seemed to slide off my shoulders for a time. A hint, a tiny reminder that there was still light in the world.

 

Sir Edward jumped up on my shoulder and began slapping my face again. Sighing, I expected to see another lizard, only to find a centipede as large as that serpent skittering down the crumbling wall behind me, maybe sixteen feet in length. Takeio’s eyes widened and he squawked I think happily, jumping up and tearing into the centipede with his beak. Grabbing my bow, we roused the others again, carving into the enormous insect until it was a twitching pile of legs on the ground. Takeio continued to contently bite legs about the size of my arms off, crunching them loudly in his beak. Shuddering, I retrieved my arrows, what were would to be a valuable resource here, and sat back with my lyre. I ran my trembling hands over the strings, wondering if I would ever again get a night of rest here.

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