Muddy Respite - 5/2/2021
(Special thanks to Ryan 'The Blade' for introspective writing)
A peal of thunder sounded across the sky as the clouds above flashed with light. As the group stared at the distant wavering wall, a warm damp gust of wind blew through them as the rain began to fall.
“We need to get to Denning,” Sage said simply. “If there is a horde coming for them—
“—And what exactly are we going to do against an army of vege-thingies?” Doxx retorted. “We aren’t one. How are we going to stop them?”
“No, we cannot,” Sage agreed. “But we can help them defend the town. We have information about them; use fire for example. That has value on a battlefield, especially on this eye rot disease they have.”
“It will be worse for the townspeople,” Rosa said sadly. “If we don’t get there in time the cure is worthless. We have
“Why even bother? Why don’t we just find our way back to Cattbron?” Bookshelf asked.
“That’s the problem,” Doxx said as they glared at the warforged, “Without a raft or boat, the river is too fast for horses to swim across to get there, let alone people.”
“And how do you know that?” The Blade asked with a note of doubt in his voice.
Doxx shrugged, “During the war I had some…training about the local area. Never came here though, just notes really. But the town of Denning defended a bridge crossing it. The only other crossing is Salenhold higher in the hills.”
“So, we could go there?” Bookshelf asked.
“Possibly, but we have to go all the way to the river anyway to get there. Might as well just go to Denning.”
“Sorry…I have a question,” Adressa suddenly asked, and the group turned to look at her. “So where did this person you were talking about go?”
They looked around for a moment in confusion before The Blade spoke up, “I don’t see her, although this rain is going to make finding her a problem,” and he bent down as did the quiet Mobad looking at the earth. And it was the orc that found the tracks first. “The vegetables don’t wear boots, and don’t sink deep. She headed down to the river valley.” Mobad grunted.
“Why that way?” Bookshelf wondered.
“That’s easy citizen,” The Blade beamed. “She doesn’t want to use the open road.”
“Why not?” asked Rosa.
“Because that army is using it. Faster to move large groups,” The Blade continued. “Walking into the back of a column is probably not a good idea.”
“He’s right, I hate to admit,” Doxx responded.
“Well then citizens, let’s at least find Myrai. We cannot leave her out here alone.” The Blade said with bravado.
The continued following her trail, and Mobad was relentless in his search. He didn’t speak more than grunts as he followed a trail that was becoming less and less obvious as the rain fell around them. By midday, they finally descended into the canopy of trees that grew within the valley. But as they got close to a large oak, Mobad stopped suddenly with a look of confusion.
“This…strange,” the orc muttered. “The tracks…stop.”
“Well it is raining,” Rosa said sweetly as she leaned against the oak, sheltering herself against the rain.
“No. Not lost. Stop.” Mobad continued. “She not walking straight, but boots stop here.” And he stood, under the tree and pointed between his own two feet.
The Blade bent over to look and traced the prints back to the base of the tree. “She sat here…for a while., unmoving.”
“She took a breather…much like us,” Doxx slipping his voice back into the tone that matched the woman’s visage. “That’s not a startling revelation.”
Mobad frowned, and then knelt by the prints. He then looked back and forth at the ground, before he straightened up suddenly. He then started to circle an area about two paces wide shaking his head.
“This not make sense,” he said. “She mounted a horse.”
“How do you know that?” Adrissa asked, bending down to look at the boot prints herself.
“Right print deeper, because all her weight supported briefly on foot,” Mobad said pointing out the differences to the girl. “She mounted on a stirrup with left and then…gone. Not make sense.”
“Well, a horse out here is a lucky find,” Bookshelf said. “Well…unless…” the warforged then took out a slender wand, one that was found on one of the shelves in the cave they had departed and waved it. The warforged eyes started to glow blue as Mobad continued.
“Horse stood here, but didn’t walk to here,” and the orc pointed to his right as Adrissa studied the ground where he pointed, and then followed where he pointed next. “Distance between hoof tracks are far apart,” and he pointed deeper into the valley. “It then ran. But distances between track means it galloped. But no horse can move…that fast.”
“I see it!“ Adrissa said excitedly following Mobad’s finger. “I know the magebred cattle have long gaits based on their size. But this is…a really
long gait.” Mobad nodded in agreement still puzzled.
“This Myrai is very skilled,” ookshelf said looking at the ground. “And her belief is strong.”
“What?” The Blade asked. “You aren’t saying she summoned a horse here are you?”
“Not a conjuration. An illusion of one,” Bookshelf replied. “She made an illusory one and believed in it enough to ride it.”
“Told you. That makes far more sense,” The Blade nodded confidently.
Rosa and Doxx exchanged glances of skepticism at each other at The Blade’s words as Bookshelf continued. “I am familiar with this spell, although I do not possess it.”
“I know of that one,” Sage Redoubt said nodding in agreement. “I have used the illusion in my training, and it is used by the Phantom Knights in Aundair although I also didn’t know the spell. Not useful for groups, unless everyone can cast it.”
“Eh?” Doxx turned to ask. “Why not?”
“You can only create a single horse. It can be created with a ritual and maintained as well. But a single wizard can only create perhaps five or six at a time with great effort. But it is
useful for a scout.”
“Or a single woman running for her life,” Rosa said sighing. “How far could she get on this…illusion?”
“Miles. If she kept at it, many leagues,” Bookshelf said.
“Well. I guess catching her is out of the question then,” Doxx said sardonically.
“No…we follow her,” Mobad said. “She not well. Stumbled to here. She will need to rest.”
“We’re going to need a place too…its what four days to Denning?” Doxx said.
The two warforged looked at each other and shrugged, unsurprised, while The Blade muttered, “Justice doesn’t sleep and nor do I.”
Rosa rolled her eyes, “Let’s get going then.”
The rain started to lessen, but it left a fog in the warm air, making it difficult to see clearly. They followed the horses’ trail. It was an effort between Mobad, Adrissa and The Blade to find the hoofprint spread across the floor of the valley. But suddenly, Mobad stopped, and gripped his great axe tightly.
“What’s wrong now?” Doxx asked annoyed.
“She slowed down. Then horse moved uncertain, and then erratically, “ he then turned to look at the old woman. “And then there are new tracks. Not seen these before. She was chased.”
“By what…exactly?” and Bookshelf’s voice trailed off as they asked the group as they slowly turned their head around. Then they all heard it. A rhythmic pounding of something heavy running towards them from somewhere in the mist.
“That can’t be good,” Doxx said gripping their staff tightly.
“No it can’t,” said Rosa as she bent down on all fours and slipped into the shape of a bear. Everyone now could hear the rattles of bone on bone, growing closer. And just as Rosa changed form, from the mists charged a half dozen figures. That they were vegepygmies was clear, but what wasn’t were their steeds. Their heads were broad and flat, with a toothy maw. Their bodies were vaguely frog like, but with lupine legs. The vegepygmies that sat astride them, had a single shield on one arm, while the other had a long sharp spear.
Both the warforged yelled, “GROUND!” and each quickly moved to take cover behind a tree. One of the mounted opponents tried to lance the juggernaut as it passed the tree, but the lance splintered as it struck Sage’s shield. As it passed close Sage swung and swiftly knocked one off its mount, to the sound of sizzles as the green flames died. Meanwhile Bookshelf simply pointed his finger at the mounted vegepygmy and a beam of frosty light struck and knocked his opponent to the earth well before the lance could strike them. But to both of their surprise, the mounts stopped and hissed.
“I don’t think they like us,” Bookshelf said as he dodged away from the hissing plant. It snapped at the worforged failing to injure him. Sage faced the same problem, as one of the plant like beasts clawed and chewed on his shield to no avail.
“They aren’t bright enough to run though,” Sage noted.
Mobad gave out a shout, as a lance struck the orc in the thigh. But the retaliation was fierce as Mobad cut down through the rider and into the mount. The mount hissed at the orc and it quickly snapped and grazed the orc with its teeth. But like the pygmies he could see that the fibers that made the ribs section already growing and closing the rent in its side. Bellowing in anger Mobad roared, “Need fire!”
“If I only I could,” said The Blade swiftly firing arrows and knocking off two more riders to the ground. “But fire tends to warp the shafts. Keep chopping citizen!”
“GGGRWARRR,” yelled the ursine Rosa, as she sunk her teeth into one of the mounts, following up with a swipe of her claws. The Vegepygmie fell flat onto the ground, which allowed Adrissa to run up and stab it with her sword, and then slashed at Rosa’s prey.
Another beam from Bookshelf froze a corpse of a Vegepygmy. “You will have to keep hacking at them,” the slender warforged said. “So, I can catch up and freeze them. Or you can use a torch or something.”
Doxx nodded and pulled off of their pack a torch. Smiling a second, it quickly turned into a frown. “This might take a moment to light.” The old woman said annoyed.
“This might help,” and a gush of red flame spread out from the Juggernaut, catching the mounts, the riders, bodies of both, and at the edge of conflagration it clipped the torch held out by Doxx.
“Yes…that does,” Doxx nodded with satisfaction, and then with a staff in one hand and and a torch in another, they proceeded to run among the group, setting fire to the unmoving bodies that lay on the earth. The old woman ran like the wind, searing fallen bodies, and several of the mounts alike, while evading snaps and lances. But once the old woman pressed their torch on the final unlit Vegepygmy, the remaining mounts, turned and ran, quickly disappearing into the fog. The group, not eager to pursue, stopped and caught their breath.
“Think they can talk?” Doxx asked, as the creatures disappeared from view.
“Gww….No,” said Rosa, returning to her normal self. “Those were thornies, but I thought they were smaller, and slower. Whatever the Children of Winter have done, they have learned to make these bigger….if not smarter.”
“Then they cannot report our location,” Sage said. “But we will need to rest soon. We have been moving all the prior night and most of the day, And while we do not tire, we must rest to recollect ourselves,” he said looking at Bookshelf who nodded in agreement.
“Where, are we going to be safe out here?” Doxx exclaimed in frustration. “And wont Myrai just gain more distance.”
“She evading patrols will slow her,” Mobad said simply. “We try after we rest.”
“Doesn’t change the problem of where is safe.” Doxx retorted.
“I know a place. Its not far,” Adrissa said and she started to walk down the hillside. The group looked at each other quizzically, and then the Juggernaut shrugged and followed the girl, with Mobad, Rosa, The Blade and Bookshelf in tow.
“What? We’re going to follow a little girl now?” the old woman said in disbelief.
“As you said, you know only what you read,” Rosa pointed out. “She actually lives here, so come on., and bring the flame so we can make a fire.”
Doxx stood there with the sputtering torch before muttering under their breath. “I don’t know what Moranna was thinking when she sent me. But I bet Melisandre is at fault.” And then they trudged after the group.
Before long, Adrissa came to a small creek leading down from the mountains and followed it into a wash. She followed the banks, which had during spring thaws the floodwaters had cut deep into the hillside. After a while they arrived at a stand of trees that sat at the bank’s edges, and Adrissa bent down and crawled past a wall of weeds, disappearing from view.
They stared for a moment, when her head appeared out of the brush, “Come on, its dry down here, and you can even stand. Might want to bring a light first, its dim.
Bookshelf took out their driftglobe and lit it, and then on all fours crawled into the weeds. Below, the river had cut open an earthen cave, with some rock on the sides, preventing it from cutting deeper. The bare earthen floor was dry, and descended downwards, indeed allowing Bookshelf to stand hunched in the hidden cave.
“How did you find this?” The warforged asked, as Rosa climbed in next.
Adrissa was quiet for a moment, and as The Blade climbed inside, she answered reluctantly, “My…father liked to hunt, and we setup a deer camp nearby and I found it exploring. It’s flooded normally after the spring thaws, but…that hasn’t happened yet.”
Bookshelf stood there and looked at the girl, and opened its jaw to say something, before catching themselves. Finally, it said only, “I see” quietly under their breath.
The Blade stood up as best he could, and nodded in appreciation, “Resourceful. I approve.”
“Of course, you do,” Doxx said climbing inside. “For someone that skulks on the dark rooftops in Sharn—”
“Compared to someone hiding under a pile of ‘Inquisitives’ in the alley?” The Blade said mildly.
“Do you …know each other?” Mobad asked as he squeeze inside looking at the pair suspiciously.
“No!” both The Blade and Doxx said emphatically as Mobad sat on the floor and looked back and forth at them, eyes squinted.
“Well…I guess I’m last. Just pull me if I get stuck,” Sage said as the bulky juggernaut blocked the dim light outside. “Or not. I can be a door…or a cork I suppose.”
Doxx still glared at the elf, “So what were you doing on the roof?”
“Probably the same thing as you in the alley,” The Blade said mildly.
Mobad still squinted at the pair before his eyes settled on Doxx. He then raised a hand as if to shield his vision and see only a part of the old woman. His eyes grew wide, and he jumped to his knees with his axe at the ready. “You! You were in MY ALLEY!”
Doxx glared back, “Yes…uncomfortably.”
“Why were you watching us?” Mobad said his temper seething.
“I wasn’t exactly. I was waiting for The Blade so I could watch him,” Nodding at the masked elf.
“You really are a terrible spy,” The Blade responded. “That pile of newspapers was an obvious cover. And yes Mobad, I knew where your gang was hiding, and I was tipped off that the Watch was coming to pick you all up. Turns out I was wrong. It was the Dark Lanterns.”
“Looking for me,” Doxx said annoyed.
“Us actually. I could hear them talk. They were looking for two people, and not his old boss,” and he pointed at Mobad, who knelt there confused. “Which begs the question on why you were there looking for me.”
“I just follow orders,” Doxx snapped.
“Like when Melisandre called for you?”
At the sound of her name, Doxx moved close to The Blade, “No, and what do you know. Who are you?”
The Blade sighed, “Well, I don’t know what was in your letter, but she seemed to know a lot about myself. And rather than be exposed, I choose to expose myself.—”
“That sounded wrong,” Bookshelf whispered to Rosa.
“Shh…I want to hear this,” Rosa said.
“My name is,” and the Blade removed the domino mask he wore constantly, “Adrian Seinessa,” The others looked at him blankly as he turned his head expectantly. “Come on…of the trading good stores in Sharn? You must have heard of us.”
Mobad raised a finger and then it drooped, his hand resting on his chin. He thought deeply before saying with certainty. “No.”
The Blade turned to Doxx and looked at him waiting, and the old woman shrugged, “No…I…no.”
“You are a terrible spy,”
“Now, now dears,” Rosa said soothingly as she stepped between the pair…rather than fight about this, why don’t we rest, find the girl, save the town and whatnot. Like it or not, we’re all we have. Let’s not try to kill each—” and she glared at Bookshelf before looking at Adrissa. ”—each other.”
Sometime later, the center of the small cave held a small pile of torches, near burned to ash, surrounded by the seven reluctant partners. Aside from the larger juggernaut occupying the entrance, everyone had claimed a space against a wall. Their unspoken effort to put as much distance between each other as possible, seemed to be a result of their recent experiences and revelations. Each of them in their own way was struggling to reconcile the things they've learned. The first was that no one inside this cave would be wise to trust any other. But the second was that possibly no one outside this cave can be trusted at all. For the foreseeable future, this collection of people were the only allies they were each likely to find.
The newest addition to this wary band was also the first to have fallen asleep. Her new short sword lay close at hand, the girl seemed either completely unafraid or too exhausted to worry anymore. Such a spirit was a rare thing to find in someone so young. She clearly had a heroic future ahead of her. But first she had to survive this.
The Blade pulled another tiny capsule from a pocket under his cloak, and carefully attached it to the arrow in his other hand. He studied it for a brief moment, before slipping it into the quiver with the others. He like the others sat with his back against the wall with one hand holding the bow across his lap. He allowed his hood to droop down slightly, which blocked his eyes from view and left his mind to wander.
The small room is bathed in late-afternoon sunlight pouring through the single window. A young elven boy, who appeared to be twelve human years of age, sits alone on a wooden bench. His normally fine clothing has seen better days, and as he stares patiently at his feet, an occasional blink is followed by a wince of irritation from his swollen right eye.
Footsteps down the hall catches his attention, but he doesn't look up, even when a man's voice comes into earshot. "Some of the children have said that he started a fight with two older boys, but I don't know much more than that. He hasn't exactly been talkative," the voice of the headmaster explains as his and another pair of feet seem to be approaching the room.
A woman's voice responds tersely, “I see. Well, I'll take it from here.”
When the elven woman appears in the doorway, if she has any reaction to the sight of his black eye, it is undetectable. Her pinned-up blonde hair, sophisticated dress, and humorless expression portray a woman of class… a severely inconvenienced woman of class.
She says nothing but stands expectantly with arms folded. He stands up from the bench, picks up the satchel of books next to him, and quietly follows her down the hall, ignoring the headmaster as they leave. Stepping out to the street, they both quietly climb into a waiting coach, which then begins to roll away.
The rhythm of the trotting hooves on the cobblestone road seems to count the seconds as the two silently watch the city roll by, each through their own window. Minutes pass before the woman patiently breaks the silence. "How did it start?"
The boy looks away from his window. “I punched him.”
With the slightest shrug, he replies “The one on the left.”
Her response is a soft sigh, tinged with a hint of disappointment. “Why?”
“They were picking on Byron, and he gets scared easy, and they know he can't fight, but they—"
“No,” the one word, soft as it is, instantly stops him. “Why the one on the left?”
Perplexed, the boy searches for an acceptable response but finds nothing.
Her next sigh forgoes all disappointment, in favor of a new hint of exasperation. “You left your right side completely undefended. You can't do that with two targets. You hit the target on your right first and keep your left arm up to guard against the other.”
Mildly embarrassed by how obvious it seems now, he simply mutters “Oh… yeah.”
She gives him only seconds to dwell on it before she asks, “Did you widen your stance like we talked about?”
“And what happened?”
His eyes tilt away as a sheepish smile crosses his face. “I ended up on my ass.”
A sudden chuckle escapes the woman's stern lips, and a louder laugh from the boy follows almost immediately. Eventually the laughter gives way once again to the rhythmic cobblestone clock, and a long moment passes before the boy speaks again.
“Will Father be mad?”
“Probably,” she says bluntly. After a side glance in his direction, she adds “But more at me than you.” Her lips briefly form the closest thing to a smile he's seen today.
“He doesn't want me to fight.”
“He just doesn't want you in danger.”
The boy's focus drifts toward his feet with a long, pensive sigh. “I really thought I could win.”
Her eyes spend a few silent seconds on him before they shift to the world outside her window. “Is your friend all right?”
“Then you won.”
A new smile slowly spreads across his face. He turns back to the view through his own window, his swollen black eye entirely at odds with his satisfied grin.
“Yeah. I did.”
The Blade’s smile went unnoticed by all, as the final embers burned away to ash and the soft sound of snores echoed in the darkness.
It was much later when the others awoke and stretched. It was dark again outside and the group ate a berry provided by Rosa that morning. As they ate, Doxx turned to Sage and asked “So, did we miss anything?”
“Two patrols, mounted. Didn’t even slow down. They were searching with their eyes, but the fog makes things hard to see. But it settled down now.”
“Can the the Vegepygmy things see in the dark?” Bookshelf asked.
“No,” Rosa said. “They need light.”
“Then moving in the dark makes the most sense. We will have an advantage as Mobad and I can see in—”
“—I can see in the dark,” Adrissa pointed out.
“—see in the dark with Adrissa,” The Blade continued. “Now we need to—”
“Pardon Rosa?” The Blade said confused, turning to look at the druid. She in turn was looking at the entrance to their hideout. There, blocking the exit, sat a black cat, looking around bored.
“Well great hiding spot,” Doxx said gesturing at the intruder. “Any smart animal can find us and…” his voice trailed off as the cat stretched itself, arching its back. As it did so, a pair of black glossy wings unfurled and flapped lazily for a moment, as the cat sat back down on its haunches and began to groom its face.
“That…that’s…” Doxx said stammering.
“Myrai’s familiar,” Rosa said looking at the rest. “We’re close.”
I was actually talking to 'The Blades' player, Ryan last night about his writing, complaining about tenses. Right now, events written here are from December 2019, and there is a lot of memorable dialog, and a lot of forgotten context. So reconstructing it is a challenge. It helps to have 'The Blade', 'Sage Redoubt' and 'Adrissa Tannoch' close at hand for memory jogs.
Fortunately, The two POV's will finally meet. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it gets any easier. It never does.