The Great Hunt

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Let the Hunt begin?
In which personal space is NOT observed.

     The Great Hunt. Anyone is invited. Anyone who is anyone will be there. I will go – I have to go. We can no longer live like this. The kingdom is no longer what it once was. If I can win this hunt, I can restore Khordenar to its former glory or better! I hate to abandon my fellow Brutes, but this is something that must be done.

      Boats. Why did it have to be a boat? I hate boats. Water is fine. But boats rock with each wave. Thank Moradin that I thought to bring ale. If I didn't have my ale, I think I'd be looking for something to take the edge off… Maybe some chicken? Mmmm. Chicken. There was a rather large chicken somewhere near the prow…

      Singing? No, better! Yodeling! (Some of the best Dwarven yodelers in the deeps can use their echos as backup. It's quite the sight to see!) Wait. It's coming from… no, the chicken isn't yodeling. His owner is though. A Gnomish lad. Must be a bard to have pipes like that. His chicken seems to dance along to the tune. Gotta admire that. I've a small talent with training animals, but that's impressive. A feat like that deserves a tribute of some kind, but all I've got is my ale… Yeah, I'll offer the lad a refreshment. Normally I wouldn't share my ale, but I do also feel bad for thinking on eating his companion.

     My conscience assuaged, I feel like this Gnomish lad would make for a good compatriot. He seems to like the Elven lass that was playing the lute alongside him, too. That'd make three of the four for the minimum adventuring party. Perhaps we'll find a few others to assist.

     The port! Finally we can see the port! But… what? Right. We have to wait our turn to dock. Ugh! I want to get off of this wretched boat! It's overcrowded! I REALLY need to get off of this boat! Has no one here heard of personal space?

     Dock! Yes! Finally! I make sure to stay next to the Gnomish lad – he has one of those long, multiple-name names – and I've only caught the first and last of them, Archimond and Fizzbang. His chicken is apparently named Tah-Kay-Oh. Don't know how to spell that proper. Might have to ask one day, when we've returned to civilization. We've an archer, a cleric, a wee lass, and a spellslinger ontop of the bard and myself. We are forced to register our party as we disembark.
People! Too many people! I'd much rather get to the gate and get out of here! There's only one thing for it – I must convince those in my way that I'd be best if they weren't. A Dwarven bellow can move mountains, or so my elders have said, and so I will bellow from the bottom of my lungs.

     I am good! It took some convincing, but I got enough people out of our way to get us to the gate in time. Not a second too soon, either. I can't stand crowds. I'd much rather be out in the woods. I need to be out in the woods. The press of bodies only increased until the gate opened and then we all rushed out.

     Sweet, sweet open air! There's plenty of room for us all out here. No one breathing down my neck – or over me for that matter. But… wait… no! An ambush! I'm not the only one to see it, either. I must protect the others! There's no alternative – I rush into the fray.

     It didn't take us long. There was a blackguard and a barbarian, at the least. A wizard of some kind was part of their group, as was a rogue. Fizzbang managed to capture the wizard and slung him across Tah-kay-oh's back. They must have been operating from a base and ambushing new adventurers as they pass through the gate. Maybe we can co-op their base for our own… 

A great hunt...
For justice, family, and a safe return home

Leaning on the railing of the boat, staring at the imposing obsidian walls as they sail into view,  I reflect upon the past ten years and how they have led me to this moment.  I have lost family, been betrayed by lovers, left all my possessions, homes, had my  freedom taken from me… all of these are things I have loved,  but to love, I have learned, is to let go.  Let go, indeed, but not give up. I will find my lost family,  I will return to my true lover, make whatever possessions I need, Nature itself is my home, and as long as I have life I have freedom. 

And as long as I have Takeo, I have a chance.  Looking over at my best friend, resting on deck, I smile, and think of all the long years we have shared.  He has more winters than most humans can expect to see, and yet he is not slowed in the least, particularly when food is involved.  I laugh, and walk over to hug him.  Such morose thoughts are not his, no, only loyalty and love and food matter in his mind.  Such a noble way to live his life, and no better friend could a gnome ask for.

  I look around at the rough company, and see the sleazy merchant who offered me "something to pass the long voyage more pleasantly."  Hah, and miss a chance to sing love songs to the sea?  And keep coming back to him for more, no doubt.  No, there's only money in his heart, not love.

Sighing, I look around to the rest of the faces, and see that most of the people are  in cliques, no doubt planning on hunting together.  With this much compeition on only one boat, I suppose Takeo and I need to find any other loners and bring them together lest we perish.  Summoning a lyre, I begin playing and singing a well-known song about silly adventurers.  Getting a few laughs, people come around to hear me play as a somber-looking elf steps up and shyly asks me if she can play along with me.  Gesturing next to me, I slow my playing so she can follow, and we play a stirring duet, and the beauty of shared music causes me to beam.  The elf plays as well as I do, it would seem, and I can barely contain the happiness that it causes me.  I knew music would bring people to me.

As I finish, I shake the hand of the elf woman and congratulate her on our impromptu duet.  She retorts quietly that she doesn't really people but loves music.  She's a bit odd, but she and her music seem lovely, so I let it pass.  A dwarf offers me a bit of mead, and I quickly take him up on his offer.  Honey-mead is my favorite type of alcohol, it's very natural, much more than wine, at least that's what I tell Illy. 

We get chatting, and a few others make their way over, an elf whom I noticed taking care of his horse when I visited with Takeo, a human who fairly drips arcane power, and a little halfling who seemed to like Takeo. 

As we wait our turn to dock, it becomes clear that most everyone who was going to dock today would be beating us to it, and I see lazy moroseness beginning to take people's excitement away in the heat of the day.  So I decide our spirits could use some lightening, and I begin to sing a rousing rendition of a famous Tubatron chanty, "Eat them First."  Pretty soon the whole ship is laughing and humming along, their spriits restored, and I smile to see their hearts lifted. 

When our turn comes, we disembark and are immediately met by the local bureacrats.  At least, I think that's what the smell on the dock is.  It tastes of blood and sorrow and city filth, so… yeah, probably the bureacrats.  We fill out our paperwork, and I list Illy as next of kin as my smile fades.  Looking out over the ocean, I think about our nascent love, sealed with a kiss as I left.  I sigh, and run my fingers over my braid until I feel her scarf, and  I miss her, briefly.  I look over, and I see that the guard was talking to me, and I direct her to Takeo for any answers she needs.  I see the elf talking to the merchant, and I force a smile back upon my face.  I walk over to her, and I hold out my hand and ask her if she'd like to come with us, Takeo seems to like her, and I like her music a lot, so she's more than welcome with us.  She nods, and the merchant walks away, shrugging nonchalantly, mentioning that they'll come back, they always come back, and I see the cleric look longingly at him.  I shake my head, and realize I vastly prefer the natural order of hunter and prey, rather than this city-dwelling kind.

I sigh, and mount up, pulling the halfling up behind me.  It's hard to be small in a crowd, and we little people have to stick together.  Takeo gives me a look, but shrugs, and continues on.  He doesn't remember what it was like to be small.  He grew a lot taller than me, even though I'm older.

I look at all the crowds and sigh.  I… really hope we get outside the walls today, but it's not looking good.  My dwarf friend looks like he hasn't had enough mead to handle adjusting to land after such a long voyage, and glares and shouts at anyone who gets close to him, and so I start shouting warnings to anyone who gets close to him that he's pretty mad right now and that they'd best stay clear of him if they value their un-punched faces, and people start letting us past.  Just doing my part!

We get outside the gate, and I breathe a sigh of relief, and start to relax, but I am not greeted by the smell of nature as I had hoped. I cough, and I look at Takeo, who gives me a "you didn't notice those friendly half-orcs last time" look and I smile.  He's always looking out for me.  So I ready a spell to summon a wolf to greet anyone who might come.  Dogs are friendly, you know?  Some people spring up out of the ground, and I see one of them hanging back, clearly too shy too approach, and I summon the wolf by him.  Hopefully that puts him at ease.  Maybe he'll know something about my uncle, so  I tell Takeo we should be sure to talk to him.  I begin a friendly yodel greeting for our new friends, and I briefly wonder where my dwarf friend got to as Takeo rushes off to pick up the man who tripped over my wolf. 

Ah, I see my dwarf friend is a prankster, he pushes over the nice man in pointy black armor with his axe who himself seems to have knocked over my elf-friend.  That won't do, elves are pretty slight, and don't take well to roughhousing.   I walk over to her and help her up, lending her a bit of nature's power to help her feel better.  I hear the horse scream, and  I wander over confused as to who would hurt a poor horse.  Oh my, another dwarf has dropped his axe on the horse, and the cleric fellow seems awfully busy cursing him out as another cleric is trying to help, but only seems able to bang his mace on my friend's shield.  They all seem busy, so I call Takeo over and he sorts out the cleric, who gets slightly worried that he wasn't helping and runs away in shame, but Takeo catches him and lets him know it's all ok. 

Takeo comes running back, and has another gnome with him!  Oh my!  I tell him that we'll overlook all this rudeness if he gives us some help getting started on our hunt, and he readily agrees.   Most gnomes are very polite if you just let them know you are offended by their actions, although now that I think about it, usually people are nicer when Takeo is around.  He must be quite the people-pleaser.

Smiling, I wave as the gnome runs away, he must have a pressing appointment.  I turn around, and I see that the poor cleric has fallen off his horse, and my dwarf-friend has pushed over the other dwarf.  He must have ignored his polite attempts to get past him to help our friend and the horse, as my dwarf-friend is a pleasant, mead-loving fellow who enjoys music.  I heal him with what little power I had left, and go check on the first fellow who tripped over my summoned wolf.  Hmmm…. he must have fallen pretty hard, he's out cold.   Takeo and I hoist him up, I suppose we'll have to carry him until we make camp.  What an exciting first day, but really, we need to get away from this wall and the bad smell of this awful city.  I think that should be our priority, so I motion to Takeo and we start walking off toward the wild beyond.

The Journey to Save or Join You 1

Sunlight beat down on me, merciless as anything else, burning my face as shivers wracked my body. How long had I been clinging to the remnants of my only hope? The rest of the ship lost to the waves, myself the only survivor after at least two days, maybe three. My sense of time was lost to staring at my hands and wondering why I still held on to the driftwood at all. I couldn’t bring Elyan back, but I could join him. He would want me to live, I knew, but I was sure he hadn’t wanted to die either. He would want me to move on as I had from my old lover. Make music, better myself, my focus, but any such thoughts seemed so hollow without him. Who would I play for? What good were my skills in archery and sorcery without his presence to soothe my soul? Moving on meant finding someone else who could love me and I knew that person didn’t exist. I would sooner find a drop of fresh water among the ocean waves and be no less grateful for it. He would want me to hold on, but…could he blame me if after days my strength failed me? My eyes were so heavy and my legs seemed as lead, impossible to move, but rather an anchor to carry me to peace. I rested my forehead on the driftwood barely keeping me afloat. It would be for but a moment, I told myself, just a precious moment to rest as I hadn’t since Elyan chided me for staying out so late again, handing me a piece of sweet bread anyway and commenting I was yet too thin. No matter how many times I told him elves were just slimmer than humans, he still fussed at me, making sure I’d eaten before he went about his day. I felt his hand close over mine and he pulled me against his warm chest, telling me everything would be okay.


Something solid met my back, startling after floating for so long, though still I felt I was swaying. Elyan’s warmth grew distant and I felt lips press against mine, my eyes flying open at the sensation. He would never…our relationship was never…so who? Before I could dwell too long on the matter, I began coughing, water as it seemed my lungs shouldn’t have been able to contain pouring out of me. A hand patted my exposed back, the gesture no longer comforting. When I could finally breathe, I felt someone drape a blanket over me, a human man. He helped me lean back against the wall and I pulled the blanket tighter around myself, though it did nothing to warm me. He regarded me a moment before holding out a pipe, my breath catching at the sight of it, ever fiber of my being begging for the relief I knew it would bring. Every day since he’d left me behind, I’d yearned for that sweet scent now so close, the only other thing to have brought me happiness. I could find no concern for what might happen if I should indulge myself now through the raw need coursing through me. What did it matter if I was vulnerable? What more could they take from me? With less grace than some part of me thought I ought possess, I took the pipe and inhaled deeply. Sighing contently, I slumped back, peace returning to me.


My eyes slide shut for but a moment when I felt a hand on my shoulder, gently shaking me. I looked up to see Elyan standing over me. Yawning, I realized I’d fallen asleep reading the only book on Draconic Elyan had managed to scrounge up after he discovered I was born with magic in my blood. I’d never really been able to study living with my parents, my mother never missing the opportunity to tell me I sounded like a barbarian hissing and growling. Perhaps it wasn’t as much use to me as those who needed to devote their life to studying magic to cast it, but still useful. Elyan often sat with me as I studied, occasionally asking how to say basic phrases while other times would simply meditate. Yawning again, I sleepily stood up and wrapped my arms around him, letting him guide me back to my room. I shivered, suddenly so terribly cold. I held tighter to Elyan, wondering why the halls were so cold. And…swaying?


I groaned, blinking against the morning light. Cold…so cold…no matter how tightly I held the blanket around me, the damp fabric did nothing to ward off the chill that had seeped into my bones. How long had I been asleep for? The gnawing hunger in my stomach told me it’d been at least a day, but it was hard to say. I’d hardly eaten in the past week. What was another day? So tired and so cold…I could lie here forever if not for my need to join Elyan.


Possibly realizing I had no intention of moving, my stomach churned painfully, demanding that I seek out what food I had refused for so long. I crawled out from what corner my body had been stashed in, my vision swimming at the movement. The ship swayed on the waves, uncaring of my unstable steps, my stiff muscles straining to keep me upright. Clinging to any surface that would support me, I slowly edged towards where there was bound to be food. The smell was none too appetizing, but that hardly mattered. Taking a full plate, I sat in the corner and wasted no time devouring it all, unsure if it was making my nausea better or worse. Elyan sat beside me, sipping at a steaming cup of tea, saying nothing.


I woke once more in a dirty corner on the deck, no recollection of how I ended up there, but I couldn’t seem to care about that. “How” hardly mattered. Reaching beside me, I found that, to my surprise, I still had my few belongings. That would be enough. Over the endless chatter of my fellow passengers, I vaguely heard an announcement that it may not be for a couple days that we docked and were allowed entrance into the city. Peering over the edge, I saw there were indeed countless ships from every nation, all vying for space at the piers. In the meantime, they suggested finding others to join the hunt with, as groups of no fewer than four were allowed out. Familiar despair crept over me at the announcement. Looking around, I noticed most seemed to already have their intended companions. Who would want me? A slight elf with a bow and not even much to look at. They could undoubtedly guess how useless I was with a glance. Perhaps I could convince a larger group to let me join them, just long enough to join the hunt beyond the city and then I could go off on my own. I couldn’t possibly be a burden to them in so short a time.


The sound of a lyre pulled me from my thoughts, a small voice singing of two lost travelers. The lyre…sweet notes gently plucked on its many strings. What hours I’d spent idly strumming until my fingers found their own rhythm, almost as a sort of meditation. I’d thought Elyan mad when he’d handed me a lyre after my lover had cheated on me, my grief at losing the first person I’d finally felt safe with, accepted for the wretch I was, somehow. How foolish I was to think someone could love like that…in time, though, I did find peace in music and many tears shed on Elyan’s shoulder. In those months, I became convinced he was the only one who could truly care about me, though I still couldn’t understand why he did, why such kindness would glow in his eyes when he looked at me, a strange, but happy look I didn’t recognize until later he told me he was proud of me.


Before I’d realized I’d moved, my own lyre was in my hand, magic flowing from my fingers to mend the waterlogged instrument. I cursed inwardly at using my magic so openly, the proof that I was a freak, my blood tainted somehow, though my parents never told me what had happened that gave me my magic. The bard didn’t say anything about it, perhaps not noticing, and instead slowed down the song he was playing so I could follow along. I picked up the tune and be began singing strangely as his enormous chicken danced, but I paid them little mind over the ache in my heart. Why had I brought my lyre? Why was I playing with him? Music was something of peace and tranquility and that I would not know again until I brought Elyan back, could not know until then. This hunt…a fool’s errand, but I was a fool and the king promised the victor whatever they desired. Anything….


My strings stilled and a crowd around us applauded, the sudden noise startling me. I shrank back, unsure of what to do. I’d never been…applauded for anything…but it must be for the bard and his animal companion, not me. I could barely put a tune together, what I knew of how to play the lyre mostly coming from hours creating random melodies. Yes, of course it was for him. That made sense, but a halfling approached me, looking up at me with awe, telling me in such earnestness that she’d enjoyed my playing. The bard nodded, complimenting me as well, though this was his profession, his trade. I couldn’t possibly have done anything to earn their praise. I held the lyre close to me, mumbling my thanks to them, what I thought the appropriate response was. Tears I couldn’t explain slid down my face. People smiling at me shouldn’t make me sad, but they must not realize how worthless I was yet. When they did, they wouldn’t look at me like that anymore. Only Elyan really knew me, everything about me, and still didn’t push me away. The bard looked strangely at me and commented that “people may fail you, but music never does” and he departed, a dwarf offering to buy him a drink.


A couple days passed before we were finally able to dock and as as the boat was anchored fully, a merchant walked up to me. I vaguely recognized him as the man who’d put the blanket around me and passed me his pipe, the heavy scent of opiates clinging to him. The moment I saw him, all I could think of were the drugs I knew he had, the relief I knew they could bring. He handed me a mug of water, what seemed to be genuine concern on his face as he spoke to me of how dangerous it would be to go out without my own supply. My hand shook as he spoke, though I couldn’t help but wonder if it wouldn’t be better to face the addiction, and impending withdrawal, in the city than out in the wilderness if I shouldn’t buy enough. I still remembered the withdrawal when I’d first arrived at the monastery I met Elyan at after months of traveling with the human who’d introduced me to opiates. I’d finally fled from my parents and at the time, it was the only thing that had brought me happiness. Withdrawal was miserable in the best of conditions, lethal in the wrong ones. Though no one seemed to expect us to survive very long and perhaps that was true of him as well. I knew that, but thoughts of logic and what might have been best were lost. I just wanted to be happy or at least numb. Just make the pain go away! Was it so wrong to want that?


I moved to follow the merchant to his shop when the same bard walked up to me, perched atop his chicken. He asked if I wanted to go with him, as we couldn’t go alone. Somehow, it had never occurred to me that this gnome would be joining the hunt. He was so…happy….so why would he risk his life like this? He told me he chose to be happy, but how could one simply choose that as if it were a spell that could be cast? If I could choose to be happy, I wouldn’t be here. I wouldn’t crave the relief the merchant offered. The gnome mentioned a terrible beast he was chasing, a basilisk he thought attacked his family. That foul creature I’d caught sneaking over the wall of our monastery one night…I’d injured it, but the beast lived, its very gaze turning me to stone. Elyan found me in the morning and he became more protective of me after that, fussing at me when I stayed out late and he never retired for the evening until after I had returned. He’d…done so much for me and I never listened to him. I…didn’t deserve him or what happiness he brought me…


Squeezing my eyes shut, I held my bag close to my chest, my eyes stinging with tears I didn’t want to shed, but I couldn’t seem to contain them. I was alone and this gnome would leave too, in time. I just wanted him back…I just didn’t want to feel so empty anymore. The bard began singing again, the song somehow reminding me of Elyan, my determination to bring him back. I wasn’t here for myself alone. Clenching my fists, I forced myself to turn away from the merchant, the escape he offered. Elyan wouldn’t want me to turn back to that path. Feeling the outline of my lyre in my bag, I asked if the gnome, who introduced himself with more names than I had ever heard attributed to but one person, if he would be willing to teach me how to better play the lyre. Opiates brought me sweet oblivion, but if anything could return even a glimmer of light to my world before I brought Elyan back, it was music. Archimonde happily agreed, marching up to the city. I noticed the same halfling as before was following as well as the dwarf that had bought Archimonde an ale, another elf leading a horse and a human trailing behind them.


More people than I had ever seen crowded the streets from the docks all the way up to the gate leading out into the wildlands and I began to wonder if we would even make it through today. Part of me prayed we didn’t and I could go find that merchant yet, my longing none so easily parted with even upon walking away from him. If I was to avoid him, we needed to get through today. The dwarf slipped through the throngs of people and began yelling various threats at the top of his lungs, his hand on his axe as he leered at those around us. The chicken squawked and spread it’s huge wings, raising a foot with steel claws on it. The human behind me muttered something and lights glowed over the crowd, distracting them. Slowly, they created a path through the crowd. I glanced at the human, a wizard I think she was. No one seemed to think poorly of her for her public display of magic…perhaps it was safe. I had little magic I could offer and we were told leaving the boat that no violence would be tolerated within the city, making my bow useless. Holding my hands out to either side of me, I focused on a faint telekinetic force to try to keep what path the dwarf was creating. It wasn’t strong, but most instinctively pulled away from feeling something touch them, especially when they couldn’t see what it was.


We made our way up to the gate just as the hour struck noon and the gates began to open, everyone trying to push their way in again. We squeezed through, barely hanging onto each other. Fighting immediately broke out on the other side, bodies lining either side of the gate without any sign of monsters in wounds inflicted or bodies remaining. Of course…what better way to ensure victory than to kill all your competition? I drew my bow and an arrow, edging away from the combat with those who would seem to be my companions. I didn’t much care to stand over corpses, some fresher than others, but it was the better option.


At least I thought we’d be safer, until some of the “corpses” jumped up, one with an axe charging at me. I narrowly dodged his assault, wishing I’d thought to shield myself when another ran up and carved into me. Screaming, I fell to my knees, clutching at the gouge across my chest. Their laughing rang in my ears as my vision swam. The elf rode up on his horse and reached out to me, my wound disappearing. I stared up at him in confusion, wondering why he would bother to help me. I had never even spoken to him and what had I done but proven myself a liability?


The two before me hardly seemed to care, raising their weapons again. I scrambled back, holding my hands out as flames erupted from my palms. They jumped away, trying to pat the fires igniting their clothing, the first signs of displeasure appearing on their faces. I looked at my uninjured hands, the tattoo covering what terrible burns had seared into my skin when I’d first tried to cast it. This time, I’d done it, hurt them and not me, spreading the flames no further than I’d intended. The others attacked the group surrounding us, but when the first fighter fell, another stepped up to me, a blackguard, I think he was. Towering over me, he plunged his great sword through my shoulder, my collarbone crumbling under the force of the blow.


My vision fell to darkness and I felt chilled to the bone again, as I had when I’d nearly drowned trying to come here. I distantly knew I was bleeding, the blood spilling from my shoulder nearly burning my chilling skin, but I couldn’t seem to move. I wouldn’t be the first they’d killed, possibly not the last either. Maybe now I could join Elyan as I’d failed to after the ship sank, a bitterness lingering in me that I couldn’t ignore, lost in the silence echoing in the slowing beating of my heart. A hand rested on the gaping hole in my shoulder, easing the bleeding, warmth slowly returning to me. Glancing up, I saw Elyan smiling at me, biding me to stand.


My eyes snapped open and I saw the human standing over me, casting a spell at the blackguard, the dwarf raising his axe behind him. Climbing to my feet, I raised my bow, firing arrow after arrow as my companions converged on those remaining until they too fell. Among their bodies, we found the wizard yet drew breath. The human pulled a silken rope from her bag and bound him for what information he may be able to provide later. The other elf hoisted him up onto the chicken, Takeio I think I’d heard Archimonde call him. Glancing at the gate, the slaughter still surrounding it, we slunk away into the cover of the forest.


The Wizard, the Wolf, and the... Centipede?
Nope. No lions. No witches. And what IS a wardrobe?

     Huh. I must've blacked out after the fight and gone into a fugue state. Apparently we travelled to a cave for the night. The previous residents? Supposedly they were bears. I'll have to take my compatriots' word on that. A quick search does tell me that this cave isn't all that deep and that there are no secrets lurking deeper in. That's sufficient for me – all that needs to be done now is to set an alarm… Thankfully I brought my cooking pot and some rope!

     Thankfully, the night was uneventful. I took first watch and was able to get plenty of restful sleep afterwards. In the morning, Fizzbang and I… well… pressured the wizard into leading us to the base camp of those dastardly ambushers. After a long slog through the forest, during which we encountered a rather large snake – but hey, Fizzbang convinced it to leave us be – we reached the camp. The wee lass and I managed to find all the traps laid out for intruders, then we all searched the camp. It seems to have been raided already.

     There is a handy little building. Two sturdy walls, a crumbling third, and an exposed fourth wall. This will do. Two statues are in the building. Poor souls. They used to be people, but now, without the proper spells, these people will remain stone. Then again… they were ambushing adventurers… Perhaps they got what they deserved?

     First watch. It's no real burden to volunteer for first watch. It's also lucky that I did. A wolf of such magnitude as I've never seen before lept over the partially crumbled wall to attack our group. With a battlecry I charge at the wolf. A few blows traded and help from the others, and the wolf is felled. Quite the fortune, too! Wolves are good eating. Plus, Fizzbang skinned the hide off, so now I have quite an astounding wolf pelt! First watch is through though. Time for some sleep…

     What? Hunh? Oh! Something else? But I just fell asleep! No time for the armor – just time to rush at the… Centipede? This thing is HUGE! Very weak, however. Looks like Tah-Kay-Oh has been… eating it? Well, I guess he IS a chicken. Chickens eat bugs. Well, this'll make an excellent treat! With my axe, starting at its head, I cleave the insect in two! The funny bird just starts to gorge himself, which is fine by me. I wanted more sack time anyway…

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.

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.

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…

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…


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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