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The Kalarian Precipice - Chapter Six

Jeovanna

Villager
Jeovanna grimaced, yet conspicuously, said nothing. Had she heard Metea and Magaw? Perhaps, perhaps not. It was easy to get distracted by other things, such as the noise of dangerous creatures, out in the wild.

She had to admit; she'd tuned the sorcerer and warlock's little interactions out for the most part. They were just too... cute.

Instead, she'd lick her teeth and focus on Dain. Jeovanna clearly didn't much want to head towards a farmhouse, but the others did, so she'd relent. If they saw carrion birds... then they should pass it by. "Very well. A farm house. Let's go," she grunted in return.

Still... she still seemed out of sorts, and it wasn't the displeasure at a night spent mucking some stables for a meal. "The pack told stories about a twisted tree. Some of the pack traveled near there, long ago by their reckoning," but gnolls did not live particularly long, so it was not 'long ago' by their reckoning, likely.

She left the comment just hanging there, as if it spoke for itself, though it really didn't. Jeovanna did not think a strange gnoll pack would be a good thing to run into, especially if it were not 'her' pack.
 

97mg

Villager
“Ah, lovely!” Magaw mentions, as Metea’s ice carving floats off downstream. “I doubt I’m the only romantic in these parts though,” he notes as Otiroth moves in for a squeeze of the tiefling.

“Mage hand? I have heard of such a thing… a summoned body-part to do one’s bidding? Is this something you can perhaps teach me, as we toil through these long walking days? Mayhaps in thanks, I have a little something arcane to offer in return.”

There was more to this than just the opportunity to carry objects or properly touch the surrounding world. Hand movements, waves, gestures, painting strange symbols in the air with a finger… it would allow access to old spells, previous arts that required components of a somatic nature. Magaw smiled. This was an opportunity not to be missed!

Sniffing the air, the half-orc can be comfortable with the ranger’s choice of direction. The smell of recently baked food is not far off now, probably much closer that Dain’s farmhouse thankfully. If all goes well and Suru smiles upon you, there is a chance you can arrive there before nightfall, with proper shelter for the evening as a reward.

For Jeovanna, with every step northwards comes opportunity. Gnoll tribes once lingered at Viro’s south where a mix of plains and forests provide both protection and easily-hunted meals. She might wonder if later, closer to the mountains, there is a possibility that she might be able to locate the old pack, family and their territorial home. Though her furry kin might be considered devious and brutal, their ability to track, recall and share truths about the land is unquestioned. The tree most certainly would have existed. What meanings had the gnolls placed on the circular growth? This is perhaps, something for the barbarian to remember, as the group plods on through the undergrowth.

It takes the party a little while to find a way through the thick thorny weeds on the river’s edge, but eventually an old animal track makes itself known. Some time later you step out from the bushes and back into forest, leaving the sounds of running water and fish-tickling bears far behind. A mere half an hour later you stop.

The air becomes hazy from a smouldering campfire. Through the trees, you spot an old linen shadecloth stretched between two branches. Behind a fallen log there are two outstretched legs, the rest of the human currently concealed. At his feet, an old hound, shaggy and grey, appears to be sleeping peacefully. This is the source of the ad-hoc bakery aromas, you are sure of it, as you can almost make out a small assortment of cooking implements laying beside a slowly dying fire.

<Stealth checks for any attempting to move closer, unnoticed.>
 

Metea

Villager
"Sure thing, Magaw," Metea replied. She clearly saw no problem- he was on their side, right?

As they walked along, Metea falling a bit behind the rest of the group though still in front of Carthum, she'd demonstrate mage hand for Magaw on Otiroth's undefended backside. Although honestly, if Magaw acted on that particular demonstration, he'd probably be smashed into component skull bits... regardless.

Before too long they'd arrive at the camp site. Metea looked it over quickly- it looked like just a normal campsite, but if there was a Wolf in Sheep's Clothing around, she'd like to know...

<Investigation= 12>
<Spell casting-mage hand, cantrip>
 
Dain continued on, the smell of the bread beginning to mix with that of a fire. Behind him, the conversation Magaw was having with Metea drifted through his thought.

He has a loose tongue for being a disembodied skull...I preferred Annit's company, she was quieter. And had nicer eyes...

His musing were cut short at the sight of the camp. And the hound. Sneaking up on a dog was almost impossible, and maybe sneaking wasn't the best course of action anyway.

Despite this, Dain attempted to approach the camp with some amount of quiet, if for nothing else than to be polite. The wilderness had its unwritten rules, after all.

He whistled quietly, to wake the dog in as non-threatening a manner as he could muster. Moving forward, he bent his knees and got down low, his right hand gesturing in a slowly turning manner that seemed to come to him from a half-remembered dreams. Muttered words followed, whispered under his breath. "We are all kith and kin, under the same stars."

A low whimper started in Dain's throat, and then it became a hushed howl of greeting for the hound. They came in peace, and were simply a pack that was moving through. Was there danger nearby?

<Spell: Communicate with animals>
<Stealth roll: 8>
 

97mg

Villager
Moving closer to the campsite, the occasional twig cracks under the ranger’s boots because his attention is elsewhere, as he works himself up for some canine dialogue.

The site is definitely temporary the party might assume as they linger a safe distance off behind Dain. A dying fire, some quickly erected shade-cloth, a few basic necessities laid out at the slumbering human’s side. A pot and pan, a few wineskins, a bedroll and a pack. A middle-aged man with long tangles of salt and pepper hair sleeps soundly beneath the cloth’s shade, several loaves of fresh flame-licked bread resting nearby on a small towel. He murmurs in his sleep and snorts, before rolling to his side, head resting against a small half-filled sack.

The old hound’s daydream of wild grasses under-paw, and the winking of a white cottontail as it darts down a burrow, are interrupted by a welcoming howl. It's eyes open, before the mangy head turns to look at Dain. A long yawn, rows of yellowed teeth and a few drops of slobber hit the earth, before it sits up on its front legs.

“We same. Pack. Move through. Soon people, long sleep, and much meat, maybe my own blanket. Your pack, smell strange! Master always walking, I keep him safe. Master calls me Masto. Masto kills ugly thing for Master, then we run.”


Masto gets up then, and the rest of the group watches as he circles Dain, gets a good sniff of a ranger-shaped bum, and then quietly barks a few times.

“I smell jerky. And fox. Fox annoying!”


It has been a while since you’ve seen the vixen, probably not since crossing the river.
 

97mg

Villager
Interlude: Cold Fingers

“Oooh, Pomth got tasties.”

A stubby thumb and index finger held a tiny stone up to the hazy daylight. The discovery was smaller than a pea, but semi-transparent, and quite beautiful to behold with it's blue across one hemisphere, shifting to orange at the other.

It rattled in a bucket as the gnome confidently tossed it a couple of yards, across to shore.

“What do you think, Redeye?”


Pomth’s companion arrived quickly, tiling his head to regard the little rock with curiosity. Redeye remained quiet, but tapped on the bucket once to signal approval.

“Tonight we bury the stash, you pass on the message, and the next morning we collect our reward,” the gnome decided. This was the way they worked. Pomth got his feet wet. Redeye did the messaging.

Turning back out across the river, Pomth contemplated where to try next. Where to submerge his bottomless iron mug, dig up some gravel, and then sift it out with an old pan that hung from his belt? Then something unusual caught his eye. A flash of white on the water’s surface, a reflected glimmer of sun. Something was bobbing along, riding the current downstream.

“Look, Redeye!” He pointed at the object, which was sliding over the top of a large water-covered rock, picking up steam as the rapid tugged at it.

Pomth made a run for it, trying to intersect the mysterious thing before it flew by out of reach. He ran as quickly as he could, but it was too late. Redeye was already there, and had scooped it up. In seconds, there was another tinkle emitted from the bucket of collectibles.

“What is it! What is it?” Pomth called out as he hurried back.

It had looked like a fish of some sort, when his friend had picked it up. And a fish it was in shape and form, but not in soul. The gnome was confused. He stared at it for a long moment, before looking to his friend and saying, “upstream, upstream! Go, go!”

With Redeye gone, Pomth held the ice-cold and glassy little fish up to the light, and studied it just as he had done with everything else the river had gifted him. It was wonderful. Impossible. It was a mystery he’d not leave unsolved.

Little did he know that before the hour was up, the treasure would be gone, the heat of the day returning it to water. Water in the bottom of a bucket, mixed with the salt of a little man's tears.
 
Carthum watched the display- magic in action. There were so many different sorts of the mystical, and Dain's was very different from the flames and crackling pain energy of their other companions.

But for the moment- he would hang back, letting Dain work his diplomacy on the hound. There was, of course, a concern that if their unwitting host awoke, he'd be afraid they were bandits, and that held potential for danger.
 

Metea

Villager
"Aww," Metea fussed, though quietly. "What a cutie!"

She was definitely looking at the dog, not Dain's bum, but one could protest too much. Metea, in general, wasn't pro animal- especially not compared to Dain, she was sure. And she didn't fully get what he was doing, but could grasp the arcane nature of it- and watched with great interest. Any mystical ability was useful. Any was worth showing her master. Perhaps, with time and study, she could learn this from the ranger as well...

<Arcana check=22... but Metea does not have the invocation yet!>
 
Dain listened to the refreshingly simple and uncluttered words of the hound. He gave a slight growl in his throat, and then twisted his head back and to the side, motioning towards where they had come from. He refrained from sniffing the animal's backside.

His answer to the hound sounded like a mixture of growls, whines, and sleepy howls. "My pack is going where you have come from, and we have been to the place where you will find meat and a blanket. It will be good." With that, Dain pulled a piece of goat jerky from his satchel and tossed it to the dog. "We are friends, Masto. Please wake your master." These final words were just shy of a bark.

Standing up, Dain looked back at the others briefly. "They might have come from the wastes, or at least from far enough north that they have encountered unnatural evils. The man may have more information."

What unknowable dangers lie before us? Will I travel far enough that I find myself at last?
 

Otiroth

Villager
Otiroth had watched the interaction between hound and man with as much interest in the others. It was very foreign indeed- but he had a strange method of communication to call on as well. The sorcerer nodded to Dain. "Then let us offer him dinner," he said. Presumably, there was enough snake-meat for all!

He set one hand into his pocket- gently- until his fingertips brushed Whisper. His delicate red stone- could she whisper in her own voice? Or only his? With his other hand, he pointed towards the sleeping man.

<"Awaken, friend!"> The voice whispered in his sleeping mind, <"a fair meal and interested company awaits!">

Since the man was still dreaming, perhaps he would think it a spoke voice, or a whisper from a dream nymph! Either way, Otiroth endeavored to make it as friendly a voice as possible to the sleeping man. Otherwise, Otiroth would wait, to introduce them!

<Cantrip: Message 1/day with Whisper!>
 

Jeovanna

Villager
Having watched the process, Jeovanna is still filled with a bit of skepticism- odd for someone that had recently witnessed demons and walking skeletons, maybe. Or maybe this struck a different sort of measure.

"Good," she muttered- a conversation they could all understand. Not that she was particularly chatty with anyone, pack included.
 

97mg

Villager
The priest’s consideration of bandits was a valid one. Crime was a rarely reported activity near Kalair and upon its most-travelled roads, but times were changing. Fear was blowing in on a Sandsborn wind, bringing with it the anxiety and unstability that criminals might feast upon. Surrounding a stranger and awakening him, wasn’t going to breed much trust. Praise Suru though, Dain and Otiroth were treating the situation gently.

Magaw was silent and still too. He’d pretend to be little more than a macabre staff ornament and watch the interaction unfold. The skull wasn’t watching as closely as his mount however, Metea’s inquisitiveness drawn to the ranger’s unusual ability. Beast magic. Communication with nature’s simpler creatures. How heart-warming and… potentially devious!

The old hound chewed on the offered slice of salty dried goat flesh, waddling back to his master’s side. The man was already stirring, a strange dream fading from memory, as a woman reached out to touch his hand and declare that she’d return later, but for now his company was required by some strangers.

“Oh,” he muttered, opening his eyes and then leaning upwards, Masto giving Master’s face a slobbery awakening lick. The stranger patted and ruffled the shaggy tuft of fur upon the dog’s head, and then turned to take in the surroundings.

Where had they come from? It was quite a sight. Five people, of many race and taste in traveling garb too. They looked young and fit, armed and well-supplied. These weren’t riffraff he decided. It was all quite unusual.

He raised a hand and nervously greeted the visitors.

“Hello! It appears I've slumbered a little... These hot days sap a man's strength.”
 
Dain had kept his distance from the man, having gone no further than where he had interacted with the hound. When the man awakened and addressed them nervously, Dain simply nodded. There was a hint of pride in the ranger's face, borne of youthful arrogance and the strength of traveling in numbers. Had Dain been alone, his interaction with the man would have been very different.

Otiroth, or Carthum perhaps, were better suited to converse with the man. Dain looked over at Jeovanna, as if ensuring that she was at ease. Or perhaps to show her that he was at ease.

I cannot blame the man his nerves. We are a fearsome company, right out of a bard's tale. Essithea...Essithea...do you see me?!
 

Metea

Villager
"Hello!" Metea called back. "Your dog is a fine beast!"

She was clearly greatly enjoying appearing like a scary demon mage, with Magaw perched proudly on the top of her walking stick. Metea was not even trying to hide that fact. And maybe in a dark tavern or spooky cave she would've turned up the theatrics even more... but it seemed silly to try while the sun was shining. Of course, there was such a thing as going too far the other way...
 
"Good day, sir," Carthum greeted the man with a formal-looking nod. "Blessings of Suru upon you on this sun-blistered day."

The man did not rush for weapons, or look furtively around for back-up. He seemed an honest man, or at least, honest enough to share a slice of meat and bread with. If their own group could be the same, little more could be asked of two groups of strangers meeting upon the road.
 

Otiroth

Villager
Otiroth greeted the man cheerfully enough. So that their group seemed confident, but not psychotically so. There was something to be said about those that wandered the wastes with too much joy.

"You are the first traveler we've met recently," Otiroth continued, "we're currently heading north, and it appears you are trailing the path we were taking? Perhaps we could share some stories of what lies ahead and a campfire for roasting a meal to contemplate it over."

They were not exactly starving of course, but the hot overland travel was hungry work. Rock-hard rations were a sufferance for leaner days.

Whisper's spell had worked a treat! Indeed, she was something amazing. A fine addition to their team.
 

Jeovanna

Villager
Jeovanna glanced back at Dain and... a nod, if a terse one. Sometimes she thought Dain was the only one with any sense, talking to dogs or no. Carthum too most of the time, but he kept quiet enough for the most part she couldn't tell.

Otiroth and Metea? Well... they were good at talking to people, at least.

Otiroth at least seemed eager to cook up some snake meat... so she had to admit, that did fill her with a bit of pride that she'd thought to bring some along...
 

97mg

Villager
The polite introductions of two young men and a pretty-faced tiefling’s compliments on the good nature of the hound, begin to set the stranger at ease. His tenseness fades, probably coming to a conclusion that robbers and bandits aren’t well known for respectfulness or manners. Nor would they speak of Suru with such reverence. The skull carried on the head of a staff catches his attention for a moment of course, but it does not trouble him.

Perhaps an ancestor being brought to a true resting-place, or just a fashion of the day.

“Masto is a good soul,” he comments, giving the old dog a final pat on the head, “saved me more than once.”

“Blessings upon you too,” is said with a nod in the half-orc’s direction.

So unusual, and varied, this pack of hikers. Interesting indeed!

It is then that a bright young fellow speaks of lunch and news from the north. To this, the man stands and waves a hand towards the dwindling fire.

“Please! You are most welcome to camp with us a while, I have fresh bread and hard cheese should you desire some? Viro grains, stone-ground, and mixed with a little milk I managed to procure from small farm on the outskirts. It is no Kalair-bakery loaf, but warm and soft nonetheless.”

As he unwraps some provisions and tidies up the camp a little, “apologies, I never expected company in these parts, well not such fine company anyway,” he makes space under the shaded cloth for a few of you to rest, and moves some small branches and stones out of the way such that the remainder of you might sit easy upon the forest floor.

“So what takes you to the northlands, are you headed to Viro? I’m from Eyne River way.”

The man’s tale is a sad one. For many years he has lived alone on a small plot nestled between the branches of Viro’s main riverway, a veritable lifeforce for the surrounding ways of agriculture. The land though small, lay at the river’s edge and allowed him to survive an almost self-sufficient lifestyle. Nothing fancy. Just the basics. He admits that his home was inherited, and being an adopted son of two cattle merchants, his brother of course claimed the greater stake. A large working farm somewhere out to Viro’s west. But he was happy enough. You sense that there is much more to this story though. An air of loss and pain seems to emanate from his face as he speaks.

“It became terribly dangerous there. Can you imagine? The quietest and prettiest little parcel of earth, ruined. Horrible creatures were seen from time to time, and quickly I found myself even more alone. Distant neighbours packed their carts and left. Several families mourned losses of the young and weak, and prized stock as well. I was probably the last to go. There were too many, on the way, as hill-dwarves sent us word of what was coming. They were our friends in trade. Our timbers and plentiful fresh nourishment, in exchange for stone-chipped building materials and a good deal of labor too.”

“I headed south along the road with no great aspirations. Folk would let me ride in the back of their carts for a time, or other days I simply walked. Then, when met with the choice of Kalair or an old dusty track to the coast, I chose the latter, thinking that a man such as I might have more value to tree-adoring elves, than to city folk. So a half-circle I have come, and for now, with the little stream nearby and the cool of leaves and shade, I rest here until the next decision is made. Soon, the roads will be filled with armed men, and should the rest of Viro fall into The Sand’s fate, then they will have to march through an army of refugees, bless their souls. Thankfully, I have learned to survive on little, and hope to stay distant from what downfalls may come. Perhaps you think me… a coward?”

He smiles then, draws a small knife, and begins to slice everyone off some cheese.

<Feel free to use Insight to glean more, or do whatever else you’d like to do :) >
 
Dain listened to the man, slowly walking forward towards him.

So it begins. The frontier is the first to feel the effects of this...invasion. Will we be the only ones heading towards it and not from it? Are we mad, or are we possessed by the words of the underworld queen?

The man was obviously hiding something, though whether it was because of a hidden agenda or because of trauma, it was hard to say. Was it fear or deception?

<Insight check: 18>

Looking to his comrades first, Dain replied for himself: "I do not think you a coward. You run from a coming fire...for you have no way to stop it. That is just good sense." Would Dain have run? He liked to think he would not. Good sense was no substitute for courage in the face of Essithea's gaze.
 

Metea

Villager
"There might be a fine line between cowardice and discretion, but it's even finer between bravery and idiocy," Metea seemed to be distracted as the others gathered around the fire- she was looking for- ah!

A nice place to prop up Magaw's staff, so that he could see the proceedings. She certainly didn't want him falling skull-first in the dirt because a branch shifted!

Once that was settled, she'd approach and settle in across the fire, curling her tail around herself.
 

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