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Zinovia is about to move closer to the fireplace when Ilya recommends the action to her. She stops mid-movement and remains in place, glaring daggers at the bard.
She then snatches the letter away from Viktor, reading it swiftly, her dark eyes running across each line. She drops it onto the table carelessly.
"Another priest," she murmurs. "Do not try to convert me," she warns Grigori sharply. As for you, girl," she adds to Katerina, "we shall see how much you're worth soon enough."
It seems as though the weather has put the wizardess in an especially bitter mood. "But we have more important matters to discuss, much though I desire nothing more than to make idle talk with our new companions," she continues. "There is the question of our next movement. I would suggest that we make for the kobold den at first light. Besides this Stag Lord and his bandits, they are the only real threat, and are best dealt with, one way or another."
Looking at Zinovia, Katerina says evenly, "I am as capable as my courage; and I have that in abundance." She waits for the Wizardess' words, hands resting light as a butterfly on her swordbelt's buckle.
To Viktor, Katerina nods, and says nothing, His suspicions are well founded. This story is dark already, but strife brings glory...
"Are all of the bandit's destroyed? Ilya," Katerina nods to the bard, "implies that they are still active here. If they are dead, and you all will accept my vote, I would say we rid the woods of the little scaly vermin as Zinovia so kindly suggested."
Grigori nods in deference to Viktor's assertion. "I assure you, Master paladin," he says calmly, his eyes meeting Viktor's, calm and deep brown, "that our only purpose is to lend our support as we best see fit."
The conversation turns to kobolds. Grigori strokes his whiskers, listening, chin tucked slightly into the collar of his robes to ward away the lingering cold he feels. "I do not pretend to know all there is about the creatures of this wild land," he says softly. "It may be true that these kobolds pose a threat, Katerina, but from what Viktor has told us, I do not think violence is inevitable. Do we not, after all, remain in possession of this idol of theirs? I hesitate to offer such a thing back to them, for the sin of deceit, even that of merely allowing these creatures to continue in their misguided belief, oft returns accompanied by its fellow ills. But it should prove valuable in allowing us a chance to speak without violence, at least."
By this point, dusk is creeping into night. Familiar faces enter and exit the house. Jhod Kavken, the wandering priest of Erastil, comes in to talk with Svetlana, bringing with him a basket of potatoes, wet from the rain, as is his bushy, drooping moustache.
Kesten Garess, the guard captain, comes in later. He nods as he sees you. "Good that you're here," he says. "You should know that two days ago a hunting lodge out in the Narlmarches was raided by bandits. Some of the local hunters and trappers formed a posse to go after them. I'd be our there now with them, but my orders are clear. They'd probably appreciate any assistance you can offer, if you find them."
"Yes, precisely," Ilya says, still sipping his drink, after Grigori speaks. "Someone speaks in a spooky voice and tells them 'Stop, my minions, your fraudulent deity commands that you shalt not harm the scaleless travellers!' Problem solved, nobody needs to get hurt," he says, looking quite pleased at the situation.
"Where exactly is this hunting lodge?" Ilya inquires of Kesten.
Tireas slowly takes care of his ale while Viktor and Ilya explain the group's accomplishments so far. When Kesten comes nearby to deliver the news of the hunters and bandits, the tiefling asks, "Is there any sort of reward for that? We already have our expedition route planned out, you see..."
Grigori gives Tireas a slight frown. It was, I suppose, foolish to think that each man comes to this task selflessly. And it is not imprudent to think as this tiefling does. And yet...
"There are likely to be bandits," the priest reasons aloud, "and so, while a reward would be charitable, I believe investigation of the situation does fall under the obligations of the Charter." Grigori goes on, possibly unaware of Tireas' ploy. "The hunters also were on their way into the Narlmarches. I have only a little knowledge of the area, but I believe our route will pass through that region rather comprehensively; it ought to be of little trouble to help out good people who require aid in seeking justice."
"The lodge is along the Skunk River, south-west of that old temple you found for Jhod, from my understanding," Kesten replies to Ilya. "I think it's an old Taldan ruin that some hunters repaired and used as a camp of sorts."
The lodge is at C5.
To Tireas' question about a reward, he scratches his head. "I don't have any gold to give you, but the hunters might. And if there are bandits, I'm sure they have things that'll sell for something. Besides," he says dutifully, "killing bandits is your job, and Restov will pay you for that when it's done."
"Our job is exploring and removing all threats in these lands, bandit or not," Tireas responds. "We'll deal with them when we are able, but we have some land in between their location to explore first. If the hunters are still alive when we find them, then we'll be sure to help. I was merely wondering if there was any incentive to get there sooner."
Tireas finishes off his ale, and puts it to the side. "Speaking of business is so... boring. So, Katerina, Grigori, why not tell us of yourselves?"
"We will see that it is done," Viktor says firmly to Kesten Garess, as if that settles the matter. We do not require a reward for doing our duty.
"Yes," Viktor says, adding on to Zinovia and Tireas' line of questioning. "You are both from Restov? How is it that you came to be dispatched here?" The man seems less directly hostile than before, but still wary.
Katerina stands straight and begins, "I am from Restov. My parents were killed by the winter there and I was forced to fend for myself for many years. I was found by the young men I now call brothers, and a great man, Sworld Lord Petyr Vyselli. I earned my keep by helping in the household and the kitchens, I was tought to fight," she pats the hilt of her sword, "and was chosen to come here under the charter and assist you to settle these lands." She pauses, seeming to be unsure as to how much she should say, It is best to be open to these people; if they are to trust me, I must trust them. "For my part, I wish only to prove myself and this journey seems to be a good place to do so." A smile plays across Katerina's face, but does not reach her eyes. She steps back, giving room for Father Grigori to tell his story.
I don't recall Petyr having a last name, so I made one up :)
Grigori seems a more reluctant speaker than Katerina. He remains seated at the table, looking down at it for much of what he says. "My own story," he begins, "is not so interesting as the one you have just heard, and so I shall at least do you the courtesy of making it brief. I have served Abadar since my youth, and was ordained many years ago in New Stetven." He stops –The details can wait, I believe. – then clears his throat to speak again. "I left for Restov nine years ago, and have been there since. I didn't expect to be called into the service of Brevoy, but I will not shirk when I am called to service by my friend, my city, and my God."
"Very well," Zinovia says curtly of the twin stories of Katerina and Grigori. "As good a pair of reasons as any for being here, I suppose." She yawns, not bothing to cover her mouth. "I believe I shall retire... Riding all day hardly makes me prone to prolonged conversation."
"Sleep well, then," Tireas says to Zinovia, who frankly looks like she could use some rest... perpetually, somehow. Turning back to the newcomers, the tiefling responds to Katerina and Grigori. "You were probably told already, but I may as well introduce myself. I'm Tireas Slate, also from Brevoy. I'll be handling all of the, ah, sneaky business. Stealth, scouting, and assassination if need be. No need to worry, though, that's reserved for our enemies!"
"Such actions are necessary, I take it? This is a grim land indeed, then. I wish that it were not so, and I pray that we may bring about change. But until then, Master Slate, I have no doubt that you will do your duty with great skill." The priest rises politely as Zinovia leaves, bowing slightly.
"I am sorry for your loss, Lady Katerina, though I am sure your resilience will be invaluable in these hostile lands," Viktor says to the young swordlord. "I fear that it will be necessary for all of us to prove ourselves in the coming days," the paladin says gravely, his stormy eyes flickering momentarily to Ilya before sweeping back to his new companions.
"Father Leonisov, I welcome you here as well, though these lands are not as hospitable to the laws of the Lord of Commerce as Restov. Your guidance will aid us all."
"Zinovia is correct, however," he says impassively as the wizardess leaves the room to make her way back to the guest chambers. "We have much to accomplish. Rest is important, and may be scarce in days to come."
"Well, I'm confident you'll both do wonderfully here," Ilya says, smiling charmingly at Grigori and Katerina. "It can sometimes be rather uncomfortable out in the wilderness, but I'm sure nothing you can't handle, what with your - er, difficult life," he says, looking slightly apologetically at Katerina. She's had a difficult life, he thinks empathetically. And Grigori seems kind, so as long as he isn't as stodgy as some of the court priests of Abadar, we'll get along fine.
Ilya yawns dramatically. "Well, I think I shall turn in as well, if that's alright with everyone. Oleg, Svetlana, you have my gratitude for your hospitality, and the rest of your for your fine company."
Turning to Svetlana Katerina says, "Can you show me where I can sleep? I would be grateful."
Following Svetlana, Katerina says goodnight, "I will see you all tomorrow. Sleep well."
Once alone in her room Katerina carefully hangs her sword belt over a hook, and sits on the edge of her bed. She opens her pouch and pulls out oil and a whetstone. With loving motions she polishes and sharpens her duelling sword. Each stroke brings me closer to perfection After sharpening the sword she gazes at it, thinking, You need a name. Will you show me tomorrow who you are? Katerina wipes the blade clean and set it point down against the headboard of her bed. Carefully doffing her sarafan and blouse she hangs them up next to her swordbelt. The bed though rough is comfortable, Katerina's sleep is untroubled.
Early in the morning Katerina wakes up and looks outside...
If it is clear
Katerina gets dressed quickly and steps outside saying good morning to anyone that is also awake. She takes her sword in hand and moves through her forms, focusing on strikes and finishing moves. I am ready, I will succeed.
If it is still rainy
Katerina covers herself with her cloak and goes out to the barn. Passing through the main room she says good morning to anyone already awake. Once in the barn she takes her sword in hand and moves through her forms, focusing on strikes and finishing moves. I am ready, I will succeed.
The next day dawns, the torrential rains of the night before giving way to clear, fresh skies and sodden ground. Estanos prays in the courtyard, meeting you as, one by one, you assemble, readying your mounts and equipment for another journey into the wilds.
The foreign priest stares at the sun that is his goddess, a sad look on his face. "It is not a happy decision," he says, turning to face you, his white robes rippling as they catch on a gust of wind. "But I am leaving. There is so much violence here, and death. I cannot endure it any longer. Perhaps one day, I will return and face the world as it is, with a smile on my face and joy in my heart. But today, my resolve has faded, and I wish nothing more than the quiet contemplation of a man who has found peace. I shall keep you in my prayers, friends," she says, drawing himself up in a solemn goodbye. He mounts his horse, turning it towards the gates of Oleg's Post that he helped to defend on a day that now feels like an age ago. His white steed turns the corner and fades from sight, heading northward to Brevoy. The sun shines down on Estanos as he makes his departure, as it always will...
30 Gozran - 4 Desnus, 4708
Your own journey takes you through the opened gates, riding across plains that are familiar to most, but present a new and untamed vision to Katerina and Grigori, verdant with grasses, mosses, and cold-weather flowers and rugged with rocky mounds and ridges.
You pass into the reaches of the Narlmarches – the forest of green conifers that loom above you as your horses clop their way through the forests. You pass by Tyg-Titter-Tut's nest, glittering with pale blue orbs of light, and then onwards through the woodland. You follow the banks of the Thorn River for a time until you reach open plains once more.
5 Desnus, 4708
After nearly a week in the saddle, you are passing back into the Narlmarches, heading eastward from your exploration of the westernmost reaches of the Greenbelt.
Spring is in the air, a warm, soothing feel on the wind. The forests sing with life around you. A cold breeze blows suddenly over you, chilling you. The horses neigh nervously. Almost without noticing, you have wandered into a scene that is highly out of place. All around you, the forest has turned frigid and white, covered by a thin layer of snow and ice. Frost has crept up the trunks of trees and formed crystalline tombs over flowers and ferns. Icicles hang from flash-frozen trees, and glittering flakes of snow fall onto the ground.
A growling breaks the wintery silence. Stalking towards you through the icy woods are a pair of huge white wolves, their fur glinting with frost, their eyes a cold blue. They bear long fangs, hackles raise menacingly as they advance. They are fast closing the distance towards you.
So the placement of the wolves on the map failed pretty hard at making it clear where they are, exactly. Consider the alphanumeric to be in the bottom right corner of each wolf's 4-square area, and I'll fix it for next round.
"They're just animals," Tireas responds, " 'Evil' or not, they seem to think we look tasty. Try and keep up."
Tireas vanishes as the last word escapes his lips, and footprints rapidly begin to appear in the snow leading up to the wolf Ilya attacked. He attacks the beast as furiously as he can, hoping to impress the newest additions to their team.
Vanishing Trick, then charging up to W1.
Hit: (1d20+10) vs flat footed
Damage: (1d8+6) + (2d6)
Zinovia shivers in the cold, her colourless skin taking on a frost-bitten blueish quality. "What they want is irrelevant, if they can burn." The wizardess draws her hands together, and manages a smile despite her chattering jaw. The beasts will afford a good opportunity to test her newest magics. She points a frail finger and a jagged trail of flame
Burning arc on W2. Unfortunately they're too far apart for it to bounce.
The supernaturally white wolves, which to most travellers would surely have been deadly, are dispatched with ease.
Ilya's arrows plunge into one of the wolves, just before Tireas, invisible, reaches it and slashes into its white coat with his sword. Viktor, bolstered and defended by Grigori's magic, charges in. He drives his blade into the wolf's jaw to the hilt, his arm drenched in the creature's cold, frosty blood as it dies.
Zinovia sets alight the other wolf, her fire even more effective than usual against the monster. And Katerina finishes it off with a clean slash of her dueling sword into its flank.
At once, it seems as if the chill has lifted. The icy ground starts to thaw before your eyes, the snow melting into the ground in a matter of seconds. Winter turns back into spring, whatever powers the wolves had passing with their deaths.
The remainder of the day passes without incident. Your route takes you through winding trails along the banks of the Skunk River, so named for the fumes that its currents draw with them, harmless but noxious. These, you discover, are the product of a clearing along the river's course, rocky and low-lying enough that the river's water spills out onto it. A cluster of hotsprings here bubble with heated water drawn up from reaches unknown, sulphurous and steaming. This mingles with the body of the Skunk as it rushes downstream.
6 Desnus, 4708
The next day is once again clear and sunny. The Skunk River continues to guide your progress through the Narlmarches as you near where Kesten Garess indicated the posse of hunters was headed.
At noon, the ground just east of the Skunk River rises into a hillock, its rising sides clustered with copses of slender, white-trunked pines and spruces. At the top rests an old ruin, evidently once a watch-post of sorts: a two story structure of crumbling stones. The ruins have been somewhat rejuvenated by a lattice of wood planks that have patched up holes in the structure. Over the threshold of the building, several poles have been raised, each with a pair of stag's antlers sticking out from a round top. At this distance, it's hard to see more clearly the features of the post. But it's quiet, except for the normal sounds of nature, with no sign of either trappers or bandits.
Your keen eyes can make out that the symbols erected on the top of the lodge are not merely antlers: the antlers are sticking out of something round.
Your first thought is that the symbols over the threshold must be icons of Erastil, depicting the god's antlered face. But then you come to the grim realization that these are actual human heads thrust onto stakes, the antlers somehow tied onto them.
Last edited by ApatheticAbacus : 11-17-2012 at 01:41 PM.
Katerina reins in her horse, grinning. She snaps her sword down to her side and with a twist of her wrist most of the blood whips free onto the ground. Using a rag, she wipes the blade clean while addressing the wizard, "Zinovia, any idea what kind of wolf makes winter?"
* * *
Arriving near the ruined watchpost Katerina sees strange antler signs. When she realizes that she has no clue what to make of them at this distance, she urges her horse forward to get a better look. Looking over her shoulder she says, "Those don't look like ordinary trophies. Anyone know what the antlers are mounted to?"