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Friday, 19th August, 2005, 01:12 PM #71
Chapter 2: Journey into Darkness Continued
“May her soul rest in peace.” Cassock stood slightly behind and to the right of Lady Anastrianna. A single, silent tear raced down Ana’s face in the darkness. She struggled not to sniffle. Gabrielle rested a comforting hand on the Lady’s shoulder.
A slam broke the eerie tranquility in the cemetery. All turned toward the wooden cottage nestled a slight distance from the headstones. Flickering candles inside the structure, cast malevolent and secretive shadows across a man exiting the home. Although the light hid much in the way of detail, the rays emphasized a blade and bow carried by the traveler. He glanced quickly about and turned away toward the forest in the east. The man broke into a run toward the woods.
“Whose home is that Lady?” Cassock questioned in a horse whisper.
“That is the home of the priest and healer, Tobus Matlick. He prefers the company of the dead, rumors used to say.”
“Damned Ara’kull worshippers. Lady, you’ll forgive me, but they’re never up to any good.” He glanced toward the cottage and the fading shadow in the distance then ordered, “Find out what that man was doing in the cottage. Aramil, lets follow him.” The priest and rogue stormed after the stranger, leaving the ladies alone by the grave.
Gabrielle sighed. Both walked toward the cottage, watching the pursuit from a distance for a moment. Lady Ana pounded lightly upon the oak door. From inside, both could hear rummaging and an elderly voice erupt, “One second!” More shifting could be heard, before the candle in the window was snatched and the door opened. “What is it now? Who? Lady Anastrianna?” A long white beard pierced the doorway, the white curls nearly graying against the pristine white robes of the clergy.
“Yes, Tobus, it is I.”
“And I’m Gabrielle!” The halfling announced. Her introduction was met with a hateful sneer as the candle was adjusted to cast light only upon Ana.
“It is poor company you keep child,” Tobus reprimanded. “Should I call the guards? Has there been a jailbreak?”
“Nothing of the sort, Tobus. Gabrielle is my…uh…prisoner.”
The light danced back toward the halfling. “I see no bonds, no chains of any type. How is she your prisoner?” Gabrielle’s face flushed in anger.
“It is not your place to question me, Priest. Gabrielle is in my custody, and I will treat her however I wish” Ana authoritatively declared. “I, however, have a question for you.” Tobus murmured something incomprehensible before nodding slightly. “Who was that man that just fled your cottage?”
“What man?” The priest quickly retorted. Lady Ana glared at the cleric. “Oh, I don’t know that man’s name. Just a traveler in need of healing,” he added quickly.
“He needed healing in the middle of the night? And then he headed toward the forest? The same forest the brigands supposedly attacked from and fled to?” Narrowing, her eyes prepared to dash any possible lies.
“It is not my concern from whence he came. He needed healing. And, he paid for the services I rendered.” The priest’s voice was adamant. “Besides,” a cool tone crept into his voice, “he was human and not a wicked, murdering heathen. Ara’kull only serves the righteous, just as the righteous serve Ara’kull. Now, if you don’t mind, Lady, I have services for the fallen to deliver in the morning. I need some sleep.”
The door slammed in both their faces. Before they could even utter a word, a bolt slid into place and the light within was extinguished. They stared at one another and then proceeded to head toward the forest.
Cassock and Aramil dashed toward the fleeing stranger. Hearing the clattering of metal, the man turned his head, mid-gallop, and caught sight of his loud pursuers. Without any seeming extra effort, his pace increased, his legs carrying him swiftly across the moon-bathed blades of grass.
“Damn!” Cassock blasphemed, as he tried to keep up. Aramil also increased his speed and began to outdistance the Priest of Cael. Cassock stopped, gasping and watched the half-elf race toward the wood and the stranger.
The stranger would not relent as Aramil tried to close the gap. The forest darted ever closer, a predator about to claim its prey. The moonlight from both Styg and Enoch disappeared within its maw of jagged branches, the first victims to its midnight hunger.
The stranger dove into the forest-beast’s mouth, branches whipping past like pulsating teeth. Lips of foliage closed behind his form, covering his path. Aramil skidded to a stop at the edge, the forest looming above and around. His half-elven eyes peered into the darkness, the belly of the beast. Moonlight, faintly pierced spots of the woods, but there was no movement, no motion to point out the stranger’s path.
Cassock jogged up to the half-elf and peered into the gaping maw of woodland. His own vision, enhanced by the darkness also failed to find the stranger. “Dammit!” The priest reasserted, vehemently.
“I don’t see him either.” Aramil added quietly. The half-elf had withdrawn his bow and nocked an arrow. With a careful release, the projectile sailed along the same path as the stranger. It clattered loudly against the many branches until falling uselessly to the ground. No movement erupted from the bush; even the night-birds remained in their perches, watching the activity silently.
“Let’s see if the ladies found anything out.” Cassock turned back toward the cottage and left Aramil to catch up with him.
Halfway to the cottage, the two pairs met in the field. Cassock and Aramil shook their heads unhappily.
“Tobus claims not to know anything,” Ana started. “I’m not sure I believe him.”
“Priests of Ara’kull are never up to any good,” Cassock claimed again.
“I don’t think he has a hand in the murders and kidnapping, if that is what you’re insinuating. Even if he is a bastard,” Ana quickly added.
“We won’t be likely to get anything out of the priest, anyway. We should pursue the stranger.”
“I’ll concede to that. Follow me,” Ana commanded. “There’s a trail, a little closer to the lake. That’s probably where the stranger was heading. If we follow it, maybe we can catch the brigand before morning.”
As the party found the path into the wood, another shadow slinked away from the cottage.
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Friday, 19th August, 2005, 01:13 PM #72
Chapter 2: Journey Into Darkness Continued
Leiban Malabrandt stood upon the keep’s battlements. His eyes shifted to the east, then south. He had relieved the guards just after the witching hour allowing them a few hours of sleep. Well-rested heads might prevent some of the tension that was sure to follow in the morning. Once the town learned of the Mayor releasing the prisoners, all hell was likely to break loose. Leiban was sure of it.
He yawned, rubbing sleep from his eyes. No rest for the Wicked, he thought. His father had always called him such. Would Leo Malabrandt, former Captain of the Guard, be proud of his son, now? Leiban doubted it. The old man had never been content. Maybe, maybe the gruff bastard found some peace in the eternal slumber of death. Leiban some how doubted that too.
The Captain adjusted his gaze again, this time turning toward the Lake nestled between the oft farmed hills. The light of Styg and Enoch danced across the watery mirror.
Suddenly, a hand slipped up and around the Captain’s mouth. He whirled about drawing his blade.
“You’re safe here, Captain,” a voice hissed. “How many times must I tell you that.”
Leiban grunted, sheathing his greatsword. “What do you want now? Did the meeting go as planned?”
“Of course.” Leiban could hear the repressed happiness weighing upon the voice. “I need assurances from you, however. And lower your voice.”
“What kind of assurances?” whispered the Captain.
“We may have a slight problem. It seems the Mayor has released the prisoners.”
“I know. The guards have informed me. The prisoners were transferred to the care of that traveler.”
“Not just him,” corrected the robed figure. “Lady Anastrianna’s care as well. And I fear they may have seen our compatriot. They’ve followed him into the eastern forest.”
“T. will have no problems with them. They don’t know where he is heading.”
“That is true, Captain. But, the traveler can see in darkness, as you and I see in daylight. T. will have to be careful. My main concern is of the Lady, however.”
“And she is why you need assurances?” Leiban speculated.
“Of course. I know you once had…feelings for the Lady.”
“Aye, and they’ve not changed.”
“Well, then I definitely need to be convinced of your loyalties. I don’t want to be stabbed in the back over some unrequited pre-pubescent crush.” The figure’s mocking tone was a solid slap to the Captain’s pride.
“She will not come between our goals.”
“Good. She keeps inexcusable company these days. If she does get in the way, she dies.” Again, repressed glee dripped wickedly from the hissed words.
“I’m sorry?” The hooded figure clenched and unclenched his hands.
“I said no.” Leiban reasserted. The robed man’s hand snapped out, fluid water in motion. His hold solidified around the Captain’s neck as powerful energy ebbed between the two. The Captain dropped to his knees, pain blossoming throughout his body.
“I’m sorry, but could you please repeat that?”
Leiban struggled for a moment, his words caught in his shuddering throat. “I said no,” he hoarsely responded. Another tidal wave of pain spread through his body, compressing muscles and causing the Captain to twitch in agony. The Captain’s flesh ripped open and blood cascaded over his armor. The man held the grip for a few seconds more before allowing Leiban to crumple against the bulwarks.
“Don’t openly display your stupidity! I’m going to ask you to restate your response just one more time. And if I have to repeat myself, it will be for the last time you’ll ever hear.” The man crouched above the Captain, one threatening hand wavering above the open wounds. “I’ll also remind you, that Lady Ana travels not only with two monstrous heathens, but with a blasphemous priest of the false-god Cael.” The last, hissed word was nearly absorbed by hatred and malice.
Leiban glared upward, the hood no longer hiding the face of his attacker, his supposed friend. He held the man’s stare for several moments before answering. “The writ to free the prisoners only transferred custody to the traveler. Lady Ana’s part is still unclear. She may yet be drawn to our side and thereby strengthen our position and our claims. Do not judge her worth by the company she may or may not keep.”
The robed figure stifled a laugh.
“When she returns, she will join us, my Lord. I swear it. Her father probably asked her to accompany the heathens. That is why she travels with them, not because of any heretical belief.” Leiban grimaced; anguish still stretched its claws through his body.
“For her sake, I hope you’re wrong, Captain. Our compatriot won’t allow any of them to return if they do intercede in his affairs.” The robed man stood again, backing carefully away from Leiban. “Now, assure me your first task was complete.”
Malabrandt sighed, shifting upon the cool stone. “The runner returned not long before the witching hour. The message was delivered to Nordus Post’s Captain on the sixth day of Brenn. The Inquisition is marching this way now. They should be here tomorrow evening or by the latest on the eleventh of Brenn. And they’re bringing an extra contingent of Royal soldiers with them.”
“Magnificent. That should allow enough time for dissent to be sown amongst the people. The Mayor should easily be removed. You keep up this good work, Leiban, and you’ll be the ruler of this small town in no time.” The man turned to leave and stopped. He looked down at the Captain one last time. “Oh and of course, no one will ever learn what truly happened to your father.” A malicious grin spread beneath the hood.
“TOBUS!!” Leiban screamed. The robed figure shuddered to a stop and turned menacingly.
“What?!” the figure hissed.
“Heal me. If my guards see I’m wounded, they may ask questions.”
“Of course, dear Captain.” The priest bowed with a flourish and tossed a vial at Leiban. When Leiban glanced up again, Tobus had vanished. The Captain popped the cork, prayed that it was a healing draught and not a poison, and downed the fluid.
Friday, 19th August, 2005, 01:14 PM #73
Chapter 2: Journey Into Darkness Continued
Cassock stopped. The forest had thinned quite a bit, allowing moonlight to spill across the ground. Several hours of trudging through the dense forest had brought them no closer to the man they pursued.
“Rest for a moment,” the priest ordered. The halfling looked exhausted. Naturally any who had suffered as much as either of the prisoners would be fatigued. Cassock, however, found himself at his prime in the darkness of night, the time of his Lord.
As the would-be heroes quenched their thirsts and snacked, a snapping branch alerted Cassock. He drew his mace and signaled for the others to prepare. As his god-blessed eyes surveyed the darkness, he caught movement behind two bushes. He raised his arm to motion the others around but four creatures charged out of the darkness.
The first orc slammed his body into the priest. Cassock held his ground and brought his warmace down upon the thick skull of the beast. In the blur of motion, he watched as another orc rushed past him. His arm flicked out to smash its skull, but his arm was too slow. He heard the twanging retort of bows releasing their ammunition followed by the sounds of fleshy impacts coupled with groans and the hiss of a wild arrow.
He raised his mace again as his opponent brought a falchion to bear. The immense blade barely missed and threw off the priest’s own attack. To the right, he saw an orc drop, several quills embedded in its chest and throat. But from behind, the priest heard a shriek. With a quick spin he saw Anastrianna fall to the ground. Her bow dropped lazily to the thick forest floor.
In horror, the priest saw the beast rapidly adjust its swing. The blade moved in reverse, cleaving into Gabrielle. The halfling seemed to float upward, lifted by the divine hands of a harsh god. Her body and her blood crumpled and spattered several feet away. Thankfully, Aramil wasn’t within range of the rampaging beast.
Without a thought toward his own well-being, the priest raced toward his fallen companions. The falchion of Cassock’s first opponent sliced through his chain mail, opening a deep gash across the spine. Blood spilled down the priest’s back as he threw his full weight into the other orc. The beast stumbled over Anastrianna’s body, sliding to a halt a distance away.
Aramil released several more quick shots, pummeling Cassock’s original attacker. The beast bellowed and dropped to the forest floor, death glazing over its eyes. Meanwhile, the priest leaned over Lady Ana, pouring divine energies into her broken body. Her eyes flickered open and Cassock clawed his way toward the halfling.
A fourth beast tore out of the underbrush and Aramil turned his attention toward it. The tripped orc was groggily rising. With a quick prayer, Cassock felt and saw Gabrielle’s wounds closing. He stood as the fourth beast slammed its blade into his leg. Cassock watched the arterial spurt leap upward from his own leg. Drowsiness gripped the priest’s mind, but he slammed his mace into the bastard’s face. The solid sound of bone crunching resounded in the priest’s ears.
A blade shredded through muscle and sinew, erupting from Cassock’s chest. The priest glanced downward, a river of blood spilled upon the forest floor. In the midst of the sea of crimson that was his torso, a thick wedge of steel hung in the moonlight. Cassock of Cael fell. 
The half-elf’s arrows slammed into the back of the orc Cassock had smashed seconds before, dropping the beast permanently. Ana and Gabrielle had leapt from the ground. The halfling fired arrow after arrow at the creature. Ana drew her blade and charged in.
The beast spun, his back absorbing several of Aramil’s arrows. As Gabrielle’s arrow pierced the thick skin of the beast’s neck, Ana drove her blade into its gut. With a twist, the orc’s entrails plunged to the forest floor. A split second later, the standing corpse plummeted to a rest beside his organs.
The group crouched near the body of Cassock.
“What the fu*k do we do now?!” Screamed Ana into the heavens. Gabrielle cried. 
 – Crit. Very, very nasty crit with a falchion. Cassock’s player (Yeti) just glared at me. First combat of the campaign…and his character was down to negatives within two or three rounds (I know it seems like longer…but really it was only two or three rounds). I smiled
 – You’ll have to remember, all of my players (except Yeti) had minimal to no experience with the d20 system. Ana’s player had been in a brief (and completely screwed up – rules-wise) Star Wars d20 game…but the other two…completely new to the system. And suddenly, their healer was down. First combat. Hehe.
Friday, 19th August, 2005, 01:15 PM #74
Okay folks, I’m looking for a little feedback. I want to know what you like and what I can improve with my writing style. For those that don’t know, I really want to be a novelist some day. That way I can escape my “real” job and just sit at a computer and write all the time.
1. How’s the dialog going? Does it sound like separate people interacting? Or does it just sound like one person talking to himself?
2. Characterization: How’s the characterization going? Do the characters seem real? Do they seem like separate entities? Can you relate with any of them? Do you despise any of them?
3. With the above battle scene…did it flow? Did it keep you on the edge of your seat? Should I use shorter sentences? Maybe some corny onomatopoeia?
4. If you’re here (and reading) then you must like my style for some reason. Why?
5. Am I consistent in my writing (verb tense…character description….etc.)??
6. Any other comments you can give would be helpful and appreciated.
This SH (and my other SH) are just practice…I’ve been out of the writing game for awhile…dealing with Real Life…and now I’m ready to leap back in…head first…and hopefully not plummet to my demise. Heh.
For those of you that give me feedback, THANKS! I really appreciate it.
And I hope that the sheer amount of updates, was worth the extra wait.
Friday, 19th August, 2005, 02:13 PM #75
Novice (Lvl 1)
- Join Date
- Nov 2004
- Leesburg, VA
ø Ignore happycat2000
Geez...whats with the questions? I feel like I am back in my high school english class. I think your writing style flows very well and you really get the reader into the drama of the story. So keep it coming. Great job.
Friday, 19th August, 2005, 02:37 PM #76
Friday, 19th August, 2005, 06:57 PM #77
Novice (Lvl 1)
- Join Date
- Jan 2002
- Roy, UT
ø Ignore OaxacanWarrior
Well I don't think I can answer all of those questions for you, but I have enjoyed the story and characterization so far. I think that the characters have been quite well developed. I think that the battle was described well. Keep up the great work. I like this SH because it is gritty and real. The characters and the situations they are in has been engaging.Originally Posted by Funeris
Friday, 19th August, 2005, 07:14 PM #78
I appreciate the praise and encouragement, even if not all the questions are answered
And I'll try to keep it real. I warn you, it will get become...imbalanced...a bit later on...but then I tried to adjust accordingly.
In the most recent session, they were all 6th level or so (obviously they're all still at 1st as of chapter 2) and I threw them up against 4 flesh golems and a high-powered cleric...not to mention a brand spankin' new creature...that they somehow missed entirely...heh heh. So...imbalanced (and unrealistic in some senses) it may become, but Epic it shall be.
Tuesday, 23rd August, 2005, 03:20 AM #79
Tuesday, 23rd August, 2005, 01:51 PM #80
Chapter 2: A Journey into Darkness Continued
“Okay…okay….okay,” Anastrianna murmured. All three were slumped over their fallen companion. Cassock’s blood ebbed out of his chest and over the sides of his tattered mail, a cascading crimson waterfall drowning the vibrant blades of grass. “You two…strip that orc of his leather armor. I’ll…um…I’ll,” she pivoted her head around wildly and then refocused her gaze on Aramil and Gabrielle. Both the halfling and half-elf sat idly, eyes firmly attached to the spectacle of death.
“I said NOW! Get up! Get that leather breastplate off that corpse, NOW!” Gabrielle and Aramil stumbled away from the verbal explosion and began hacking at the thick bands holding the armor firmly together. Meanwhile, Ana gently slid Cassock’s chain mail over the wound and off.
Gabrielle and Aramil brought the leather armor over near Cassock. The halfling grimaced and turned her head. She fell to her knees vomit bursting through her hands to join the blood-soaked forest floor. Bits of Cassock’s organs and bone pierced his chest like monstrous claws shredding prey.
“Aramil, I need several strips cut from that breastplate. Keep their widths at least an inch or two thick.” Ana grabbed her waterskin and cautiously cleaned the area around the wound with a rag. Aramil handed her the strips of leather and turned to clean Gabrielle up.
Lady Rowen leaned just next to Cassock’s ear. “I hope the god that set you on this path is watching because I have no idea what I’m doing,” she hissed softly. She looped the leather strips around the priest’s torso, tightening each as she went.
Slowly, Cassock’s blood was staunched. Ana leaned back and watched. The priest’s chest rose in a rough rhythm. His breath was deep and slow. Beads of sweat coalesced upon his brow; a fever was coming.
Ana lit a torch and handed it to Gabrielle. “Watch over him.”
“Where are you going?” Aramil seemed frightened.
“I have to return to town. Cassock needs more than I can provide. If I do not return for a draught of healing, then he will die. Stay here. Stay safe. I’ll move as quickly as I can.” Lady Rowen stood and doffed her pack, keeping only the waterskin, her quiver of arrows, her bow and blade. She caressed Gabrielle’s head for a moment then turned and fled westward through the woods.
Gabrielle and Aramil stared out at the dark. Howls were drifting upon the wind. They scooted closer together, huddling over the almost-corpse of their would-be-savior.