Midnight: A Lost Faith's Shadow. Book 1, The Awakening. Chapter 1, The Charge




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    Midnight: A Lost Faith's Shadow. Book 1, The Awakening. Chapter 1, The Charge

    Arc of Halail, Day 1 LA 99

    The blood red light of the setting sun does little to ease the spirit of Caft’s inhabitants. Once proud, mighty warriors, the Dorns of Caft are a broken lot, backs bowed by the physical toil of working in the fields and spirits crushed by the oppressive Shadow. These once mighty men speak little as they return to their families after a long day in the green fields that cover the broad valley in which Caft lies. Many in the southern realms would find Caft a blessing with its rich soil, abundant cattle, tall corn and thick wheat. With the shallow, rocky river that the small stone village of Caft huddles around, the cool pine and oak forest in the northeastern end of the valley, and no orc garrison, Caft seems a small idyllic sanctuary in a world of Shadow. But the men and women of Caft know what is coming.

    In a month the taskmaster orcs and their legate masters will return with wagons to reap Caft’s bounty and brutalize its citizens, leaving Caft’s inhabitants with meager leftovers for a harsh northern winter. The war machine of Izrador, the Shadow in the North, rolls on in the south against Dwarves, Elves, and those men foolish enough to stand against it. It is hungry, insatiable. It must be fed. Fed with the tears, blood, and sweat of Caft’s residents. The men and women of Caft know what is coming. Surrounded by such bounty, they will see little of it. They will starve again this winter. And only the strong will survive.


    Brian Brou (played by Ranger Rick)
    Perth’s wife had not even smiled at Brian today when she gave him his food, food in return for breaking his back in Perth’s fields. Potatoes and bread. Again.

    Brian relaxed under a tall pine near Perth’s small stone home and wooden barn, the red light of the failing sun falling across his dirty hands and face, the warm day cooling rapidly. He stretched his aching legs and set the heavy clay plate on his lap. Brian was an Outlander. He could understand their suspicion. In these dark times, even good friends might lie to the legates, the priests of the one god – the dark god – Izrador, to curry their favor in return for food to feed families. What could he expect being an outsider? Still, it was not pleasant to be alone and shunned, surrounded by people in this small village. People ignoring your existence unless work was required in the fields. Brian could feel his temper rising, a temper kept in check only through strong discipline. It was time to leave Caft. He had had enough.

    At that moment, Brian noticed Perth running down the valley’s broad slope toward town. Obviously coming back from his fields, Perth seemed to be running madly, dust thrown up by his wildly flailing legs. Something sure had Perth in a fluster. Perth barely slowed to throw open the door to the Plough and Stars Inn in town, a couple-hundred yards from where Brian sat. Strange. What was that all about?

    Then Brian heard it. A sound he had not heard for months. Heavy, booted feet, marching on the upper rim of the valley. Getting louder. Brian’s stomach sank. They were not due for another month. This couldn’t be happening. The villagers had been promised they would only come at harvest.

    Orcs were coming. And they were not coming to harvest Caft’s crops.


    Starhl Ikehal (Played by Krug)
    Starhl wiped his bloody, greasy hands on his worn, leather breeches. Looking up at the massive stag that hung by a thick rope from a large oak, Starhl could not but help feel remorse. Game was getting harder to find in the North. Orcs were always hungry and they had little regard for limited natural resources. And then there were the fell tales of Shadowspawn ranging the ancient Dornish homelands, hunting both man and orc. There were worse things than orcs in the cold regions of the North.

    Starhl scratched his thick beard and peered into town. Stag meat and hides were always welcome bartering items and they ensured Starhl a constant supply of ale from the local inn. The farmers had already descended from their fields for evening supper, their minds and backs overwhelmed by the demands of the Shadow. They rarely talked to him, an Outlander living in the forest outside of town. Starhl’s tiny stone and log hut stood only a few yards in the forest from Caft’s eastern edge, but physical distance meant little compared to the wide gulf of mistrust that they harbored for the huge Dorn. The people of Caft and Starhl shared the same heritage, but the Shadow had driven a spike of suspicion and mistrust between the two, ensuring the barbarian’s isolation. Would anyone ever trust Starhl? Starhl shrugged, picked up his dagger, and turned to the task of butchering the stag.

    A sudden feeling of dread descended over the large Dorn. He felt before he heard the tramp of heavy, booted feet marching on the western rim of Caft’s valley. Shielding his eyes from the red rays of the setting sun, Strahl spied a cloud of dust rising in the air. Orcs. Many orcs. And they would be here soon. These warriors were not coming for Caft’s bounty. Blood would run tonight.


    Kaela (played by Bobitron)
    “Kaela! Come on! COME ON!” A young child, its dirty face and hands and long hair making it impossible to tell if it was a boy or girl, pulled furiously on Kaela’s small, sun-browned hand. “I’ve got to show you this! I’ve been waiting all day!” Kaela smiled despite her fatigue. She had just finished ranging the slopes for herbs and all she wanted to do was rest. The young child continued to smile and laugh, pulling Kaela toward the small, shallow river. Kaela was popular among the children of Caft. The fact that the adults let their children play with Kaela was testament to her acceptance in Caft, an acceptance that few Outsiders could hope to match.

    “Look!” The child beamed up at Kaela and pointed at a small pocket in the river’s bank shaded by a tall pine. Smooth river stones had been piled to form a small enclosure. Within, a small trout balanced in the current, its green and gray sides flashing in the sun’s dying light. The child squatted down and nudged the trout with its finger, receiving a splash of water in return. The child looked up at Kaela and smiled proudly.

    Many of the children in town Kaela had nursed back to health after a fever tore through Caft last spring. Kaela had been regarded as a savior. Her skills with healing and herbs were enough to barter food and clothing from the townsfolk. She was even given her own small stone home, although exceptionally small.

    The children seemed drawn to her gentle smile and good nature. In this world of Shadow, she was a light that gave them strength. Kaela never told them that their presence, their infectious laughter made her strong, made it possible to go on. What would she ever do if she lost them? And then there was Her. The villagers had given Her into Kaela’s care. She was special, there was no doubt of that, but could her stories be true?

    Kaela’s thoughts were interrupted by a hoarse shout from the valley’s western rim. Massive, dark figures in blackened armor were descending the valley’s slope. Orcs! How could this be? Kaela noticed the farmer Perth fleeing into the Plough and Stars. “Kaela?” The young child held onto Kaela’s hand, its voice filled with fear and uncertainty at the sight of the warriors of Shadow descending the valley. It was not harvest time. Had they come for Kaela? Or had they come for Her?


    Reznik (played by Elapse)
    The Plough and Stars Inn was cool and shaded, its masonry walls offering a nice respite from a warm day working in the sun. Days like this were rare, the sun usually hidden by haze or the dark clouds of the Shadow’s will. Reznik wiped the ale from his lips and sat glowering, staring absently into his clay mug. Nearby sat several of Caft’s men, farmers returned from their fields, huddled around small tables discussing the day’s events.

    The men sitting nearby kept their voices low and occasionally shot Reznik dark glances. Reznik knew why. He was an Outlander and not one to be trusted. Reznik’s scars of Shadow and gravelly voice were also a reminder of the cruelty the Shadow’s minions could inflict. Best to keep the Outlander at a distance than invite him into their confidence lest he betray them to Izrador’s legates.

    If those fools only knew that Reznik was here to fight the Shadow. Then again, if they did know, they might drive him out of town for fear of him attracting orcs or worse. Still, Reznik did not even know why he had been sent here from Port Esben on the Pelluria months ago. The insurgents never told him anything other than he would be contacted. But who would contact him? These farmers? Bah. There was no one else in town that seemed to have the will to fight the Shadow. Except for maybe the large Dorn that lived in the forest to the east, but he had had plenty of time to communicate with Reznik since his arrival. Most likely, the informant had been apprehended somewhere in the North before he made it to Caft. If that was the case, it might be best to leave Caft now since torture would most likely loosen the informant’s tongue and Reznik’s position would be compromised.

    Reznik’s dark thoughts were interrupted as the wooden door swung open and slammed into the stone wall. Breathless from exertion, the farmer known as Perth stood in the doorway, his eyes wide with fear. Shutting the door quickly Perth cries, “Orcs! To the west. A war band, just a few minutes behind me.” Chairs are knocked over and fearful looks are exchanged as the men stand up. Perth swallows hard. “And they have a legate with them.”

 

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    Starhl, Barbarian
    Starhl thought to himself.Why should I care for Caft? They all think I am a simpleton. Making me pay double what they charge others for a drink! But the barbarian had been shown kindness before. A wee gal, who had come to him and handed him a red-petaled flower, possibly the only treasure that she had ever found. The orcs... they will take everything. Caft cannot last another winter like this. They will not even leave enough for a palm's worth of grain for each day. But why were they so early? But one thing the simple minded barbarian knew, wherever orcs went, they would leave carnage and slaughter behind.

    Completing his butchering of the stag, and taking a bit more to offer to the villagers, the barbarian went back to his hut and prepared his gear. He examined the edge of his axe, and his javelins. The Shadow was falling over Caft, but it would be a deeper darkness if men like him did nothing.
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    Reznik, Rogue
    As the men at the tables stood, Reznik sighed deeply. He looked into the mug of ale, cupped in both hands, and raised it to his lips. Tilting his head back, exposing the ugly scars on his neck, he took a long swallow, savoring each moment as the drink trickled down his throat. He took the now empty mug from his lips and placed it on the table, at the same time lowering his head.

    A small town, a shadow legate, an orc host...Reznik knew this story, how it would play out, how it would end. The scar across his back and neck both tingled as he remembered. Reznik almost felt a pang of guilt as he entertained the idea that the host had come to Caft on news of the resistance. But no, "Guilt is a weakness, many have died and many more will die before Izrador falls", he thought to himself. If his cover was compromised then he would leave. Maybe he would trail the host and kill them one-by-one over the course of their ravages through the north lands.

    With that, he rose from the table and rushed from the inn. He cared little for most of the residents of Caft, but he was a fool to think that they would just lay down their lives and die. Surely they would fight. He thought of the young woman from the South and the quiet woodsman. As much as he hated to admit it, he cared if the woman was hurt. Images of his own wife's rape and murder at the hands of the orcs raced through his mind. He put those thoughts aside as he scolded himself, "Harden yourself weakling. Forget the past. You are no longer the pitiful farmer of Port Esben."

    He ran as fast he could for the barn. He slept in a loft, and there, hidden in the hay, were his blades and sling-bag. Whether he could find the woodsman and engage in open conflict or just observe the plunder from afar, he would need his belongings.

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    Kaela smiled her gentle smile at the youth. "Well! Looks like your family will be eating trout tonight! WHat do you think? We'll wrap it up and give it to your mother?" The grinning child nodded its head vigorously at the idea, but the plan was interrupted by the shout coming from the valley. Seeing the dark figures and the running farmer, Kaela froze with fear. Her eyes wise with shock, her mind ran wild. Orcs! Perhaps with a legate! I can't let them find me! Why have they come so early? I haven't had time to prepare! She set her jaw with determination and turned to the youth. "Child. Run home to your family. Be quick, and don't stop for anything." Turning back to the town, she made her decision. I won't put these people in danger. If the legates knew I was here, all would be lost. Even though these people don't know of my powers, they would certainly take some blame for 'hiding' me.

    Her thoughts turned to Reznik, the gravelly-voiced young man with the violent past. He seems adept at hiding, she thought. If I can get to the barn and meet him...

    She turned towards the barn and ran as fast as her slim legs could carry her.
    Please, Kermie, don't hurt 'em.

    Kaela, from A Lost Faith's Shadow
    Chapter 5
    OOC Thread

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    Starhl Ikehal
    Starhl's strong, swift hands make short work of the stag, its red meat smoking on fresh pine boughs and hide hung over a makeshift rack. Starhl pauses to look west again. The sun is barely visible on the western rim of the valley, long dark shadows already shrouding the valley in darkness. More than thirty orc warriors with their black scale mail, heavy vardatches, and mohawks have already begun to spill into the western end of Caft. Blood Mother Orcs. Cruel and vicious. And among them, his body seemingly wrapped in shadow, a black-cloaked legate astride a massive jet-black destrier. The village of Caft seems deserted, the inhabitants hidden behind closed windows, praying the orcs or legate do not come calling.

    Starhl rummages in his hut and returns with his weapons, his massive battleaxe resting easily in his powerful hands. From his vantage point in the woods, the orcs have little chance of seeing him. The men of Caft do not seem too eager to protect their village. Why should Starhl?

    Reznik and Kaela
    Reznik's quick feet bring him to the barn rapidly. Clambering up the ladder, Reznik leaps into the loft, throws aside the hay and pulls out his belongings. The sight of his weapons is reassuring to one who has fought the Shadow before. Sliding down the ladder to the barn floor, Reznik turns and is confronted by the slim young woman Kaela the town healer as she runs into the barn. Her eyes are wide and frightened; it is obvious she knows what is coming.

    At that moment a hulking figure appears in the darkening door. Uriel, the town's spokesman and understood leader, his massive Dorn frame blocking the dying light, looks at you with panic in his eyes. He is only in his mid-thirties, but the look on his face gaurantees his crushed spirit can take no more.

    "Outlander, we need your help." Uriel pleads to Reznik. Behind Uriel stands Tadc, Uriel's younger brother. "Uriel! No! He could be a minion of the Shadow! Don't-" Uriel turns on his brother with is a snarl, "Tadc! She is my daughter and I will decide!" Tadc fumes with anger, his eyes smouldering as he looks at Reznik and Kaela.

    Uriel turns back to Reznik. "We know why the orcs are here. We have tried to keep it a secret, but we have failed. You are familiar with the world outside of Caft, Outlander." Uriel looks Reznik and up and down. "Help us. Flee from this village and take our most precious secret with you." Uriel looks at Kaela. "You know of whom I speak. You nursed Her back to health! She thinks of you as Her sister!"Tears begin to run down Uriel's cheeks. From the west comes the low pitch blat of a orc black horn. Uriel shakes with fear and his eyes lock on both of you. There is no time! Will you help us!?"

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    Starhl
    Starhl growls to himself when he sees the legate. He keeps from charging towards the legate, knowing that a flurry of arrows would probably strike him dead before he could even reach the vile leader. He follows behind the orcs, wondering what they are up to. Who will they slaughter now? he thinks to himself.
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    A Dorn asks an Erenlander for help?

    Reznik
    Reznik was surprised to see Kaela as he descended the ladder. He was even more surprised to see the Dornish men standing inside the barn with such a look of earnest. Since he had been in Caft, the residents had never looked at him let alone visit him in the hay-loft.

    He listened to Uriel's plea; and as much as he hated these Dorn's, he hated the shadow more. Reznik nodded his head to Uriel, accepting the man's plea for help.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Hrothgar
    Uriel looks at Kaela. "You know of whom I speak. You nursed Her back to health! She thinks of you as Her sister!"Tears begin to run down Uriel's cheeks. From the west comes the low pitch blat of a orc black horn. Uriel shakes with fear and his eyes lock on both of you. There is no time! Will you help us!?"
    "Of course we will. Where is she?" Once Uriel answers, she turns to Reznik with gratitude in her eyes. "Are you ready to leave? I can go now. There are a few things in my cottage I could use, but it's not critical." SHe puts a finger to her chin in thought. "Who else would help, Uriel? Have you asked others?"
    Please, Kermie, don't hurt 'em.

    Kaela, from A Lost Faith's Shadow
    Chapter 5
    OOC Thread

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    One other...

    Reznik
    "I know of one other", Reznik croaked. His hoarse, gravely voice grating upon the ears of those who heard it. He motioned to the door with his head, signifying to Kaela that it was time to leave. To Uriel he said, "If you want your girl in my custody, you had best place her there soon."
    Last edited by elapse; Monday, 12th September, 2005 at 03:40 AM. Reason: clicked the wrong button

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    Starhl Ikehal

    Starhl slips through the dark shadows, his acute hunter instincts in tune with the woods around him. His woods. As Starhl spies out of the dark forest, the orcs begin to spread out through the western end of the village. Within a few minutes, they will be on Starhl's eastern end. Will they enter the forest?

    The orcs scowl savagely and blat on black horns. Heavy, wicked vardatches are carried in their powerful hands. Rather than rampaging wildly, the orcs station themselves throughout the village as if they are waiting for something. Waiting for orders. The legate.

    As Starhl decides what to do, he hears movement in the forest behind him. Something heavy is coming through the forest and taking little effort to hide its presence.


    Reznik and Kaela

    Uriel's face washes over in relief, but hardens quickly. "Quickly, follow me! The orcs are almost here!" The blat of an orc horn sounds from the west, uncomfortably close. Taking the time to fetch items around Caft would prove disasterous. Turning quickly, he runs back to the Plough and Stars. Uriel's brother Tadc follows, his face red with rage.

    The door to the Plough and Stars swings wide as you near, Perth holding the door open. Other men in the inn display a mixture of anger and disbelief when you enter. "Quick!" Perth shouts, ushering you in and shutting the door behind. Perth opens the door . Uriel runs behind a counter, throwing back a rug and fumbling with the floorboards. "There are no others to offer help." Uriel grunts, answering Kaela's earlier question. "Or at least no time to ask for help. The orcs won't miss Outlanders, but they will know if one of us leaves Caft."

    Lorne! That bastard! He is with the legate. He betrayed us! Perth spits in disgust. The other men in the inn curse.

    Uriel heaves and a section of the wooden floor rises. Beneath, steep steps lead down eight feet to an earthen floor with barrels of ale backed up against stone walls. The small cellar extends a few feet under the main floor and a small wooden door sits in the stone wall opposite the common room. Sitting between two of the barrels is a young girl, barely in her teens. Long, brown hair washes over her upturned face, her milk-white eyes staring blindly up at you.

    "This...is Aislinn. My daughter. Please see her to safety. The wooden door leads to a tunnel that emerges behind a barn near the western forest. Go now!" Uriel pleads. "She may be our last hope against the Shadow!"

    Perth tenses near the door. "They're here!" He hisses.

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