Well another post, and then after this things well get very interesting. Interesting indeed it would seem. I hope you all enjoy this little post, have fun, and of course there will be more Buttkicking for Goodness in the future.
North of Quell, somewhere in the mountains:
Thev pulled his horse to a stop as the heroes gently slowed their gallop to a trot. Everyone was alive and accounted, that at least they were sure of. The party proceeded through the snowy mountains, and evergreen forests and made camp in a clearing. Rhea tended to the wounds of her comrades, while Thev and Aust stood guard. The night was chilly, another chance to sleep in a warm bed missed. The party began to settle in, Tom taking a nice warm spot near the rudimentary fire started by Talindra. Kyoko contemplated kicking Tom into the fire, but thought better of it. He may have been a badger, but he seemed to have a few tricks up his sleeve.
She laid back and played her flute while Thev thought over the words that Josiah spoke earlier. The corruption of the Knights of the Black Horn, the dealings with the Shadis Masin, why was all of this centering on himself and his allies, boiled in his mind. Was it fate, which brought him into contact? His companions, they had stayed true even in the face of adversity, all of this brought on them because of himself, it was a heavy burden to carry. Even for a paladin, Thev sighed, not sure which path to follow. He glanced at Rhea, and smiled inwardly. These past few months she had become his closest friend, not that he ever showed it, he had his oaths to abide by, of course. He couldn’t admit how he felt about the enigmatic drow, maybe it was better that way, seeing he was a hunted man. His other companions were close to him as well, even if their faults brought them short of the code of the Black Horn, they were all good people. Even Xenon, in his own arrogance showed some, albeit tiny, amounts of compassion and seemed to work in their best interests. For how long remained to be seen.
Aust gently cleaned his blade and conversed with Blak-Fang on a number of various matters from combat to past opponents. They seemed perfect for each other; they both enjoyed fighting and combat. Kyoko continued to play her flute and relax, still contemplating whether to kick Tom into the fire or not. Talindra once satisfied with the fire decided to go and clear their tracks, Rhea followed wanting to be useful and to hopefully avoid the forces that attacked them in the village.
Talindra and Rhea walked through the forest covering their tracks in the snow, noticing Tom trotting up behind them to join them. The incorrigible had a smirk on his face, that seemed to only hint at the strange twisted sense of humor in that furry skull of his.
Talindra sighed, “This has been quite an adventure, and we have not even arrived at the citadel yet.”
Rhea chuckled, “Aye, never a dull moment for us. Not that I would have minded sleeping on a soft bed and having a warm blanket about me. Sleeping on the snow is quite bothersome.”
“I have to agree with you there, I enjoy the outdoors as much as the next ranger, but this cold is just a bit much for me,” Talindra spoke shivering.
Tom laughed, “You mortals, always complaining, it isn’t like you can’t make it through.”
Rhea sighed, “Not everyone can be as saintly as you are Tom,” she replied sarcastically.
Talindra gave Tom a not quite so trustful glance, “So why is it that you can talk Tom? I mean, are you a mage?”
Tom laughed, “No I am a badger.”
“I mean really, badger’s do not talk,” she continued, “not unless they have been enchanted.”
Tom snorted, “Have you ever spoken with a badger before?”
Talindra paused, “No.”
Tom smiled still following, “Then how do you know.”
Talindra hissed, “Why am I arguing with a badger, and why did you follow us anyway?”
Tom smiled, “I wanted to talk to Rhea about the second soul in her body. When I channeled my powers through her, to heal her I could feel two very distinct souls in her body. Although the second is dormant, not sure why though.”
Rhea shook her head; “I do not understand what you are saying? A second soul, inside me, why me? How could something like this happen?”
Tom shrugged as much as a badger could shrug, “I don’t fathom the ways of gods and man I just know what I felt. It was a Mauroth Tausoth soul, a lost race. Strange to find one of those in this day and age.”
Rhea blinked and stuttered in her steps, “I am not quite sure what you are talking about Tom. How could you possibly know all this? I mean you may be a talking badger, but…” she trailed off confused.
“So you are saying, there is this Mauroth Tausoth soul inside of Rhea? What is a Mauroth Tausoth?” Talindra countered.
Tom thought for a moment, sitting on his hind legs tapping his head with his furry paws. He smiled with a wink and there was a bright flash as Tom changed shape right before their eyes. His size growing tall and slender about Rhea’s stature in size and build. His fur disappeared into dark black smooth skin and his face became feminine and enchanting. His hair long and silvery, he looked every bit a drow except for a long black monkey like tail swishing about slowly. Tom’s new form smiled, dressed in a long diaphanous gown; “This is a Mauroth Tausoth, the lost ones.”
Both Rhea and Talindra stared in amazement, unable to utter a word at the display of sorcery. What kind of creature was Tom, a playful wizard, a demon, or a demigod as he has so playfully mentioned at times? His knowledge and power were far beyond a badger to be sure.
Rhea was still in disbelief, “Impossible it was a dream, wasn’t it?”
“So you have seen them, I thought you had,” Tom replied, “this has become very interesting indeed.”
Rhea nodded, “In a dream I visited their world, a city of crystal. The crystal glowed, and they had ships that flew in the sky. It was a place like nothing I had ever seen. And the people there, they looked like you, Tom. I was not sure how I had arrived there; it was a strange vision. But I could not believe it would be real. What does it mean?”
Tom smiled, “That is what we intend to find out yes?” His form reverted back to his badger self, and the trio continued on in silence. Rhea thinking of the ramifications of the events and Talindra trying to soak in the elements of the conversation. They returned to the camp and decided to get rest, Thev took the first watch, while the rest went off to sleep. Xenon and Talindra stayed up to talk and go over a few details from the night’s events.
Xenon sat and poured over his spell-book barely acknowledging Talindra’s presence. Talindra sat for a moment in silence waiting for Xenon to show a sign that he noticed her before simply speaking aloud, “Xenon could we talk?”
Xenon thumbed to a page to study a spell, “What do you want to talk about Talindra?” he sighed, slightly annoyed.
Talindra tossed some tinder into the fire, “I have been thinking about some things, about the Eye, about our current mission, and about Rhea,” glancing nervously towards Rhea, as she slept.
Xenon sighed, “Will this take long,” he turned the page, “I do have spells to prepare in case our enemies decide to come hunting us in the night.”
Talindra scowled, “This is serious, I just learned that Rhea has some kind of second soul in her body, not sure what it is, besides the name. The mauroth tausoth, you ever heard that name before?”
Xenon sighed, “If I said yes would you go away and sleep and leave me be?”
Talindra hissed, “I am being serious, do you think this is something we should talk to Owen about?”
“Fine, I can see you are being earnest. As much as it pains me, I will humor your request. He gave you a ring yes, one that allows mental communication over any distance?”
Talindra nodded, fingering the plain silver ring on her left hand. She touched it lightly then began to concentrate, “Owen, Owen can you hear me?” she thought.
There was silence for a moment, “Ah, Talindra, was not expecting to hear from you so soon, is everything well?” Owen’s mental voice replied. “Ah and Xenon as well, good evening to both of you, well morning now I must say.”
Talindra looked surprised concentrating on the ring and her own mental voice, “The same to you Owen, I have a few questions, if you have time?”
Owen replied, “Why of course, what can I help you with?”
“I just had an encounter with a strange badger named Tom, he talks you know. Well he seemed to say that Rhea, the drow female, had a second soul in her body, a mauroth tausoth, do you have any idea what he could have been talking about?” Talindra questioned, nervously rubbing her hands.
“I am not quite sure what this Tom means by that, but possibly Lucas may have an idea his knowledge is abit more thorough then my own. How is the drow doing, has she had any ill effects from this second soul, as this Tom claims, inside her, “ Owen replied quizzically.
“Not that I can see,” she replied.
“Hmm, Talindra,” a second voice replied, Lucas’ voice, “you said the mauroth tausoth, that is interesting.”
Xenon smirked inwardly, “I take it you are aware of them old man?”
“Well I have done study in various areas of arcane study, I have stumbled across this name a few times in my work. From what I have gathered, the mauroth tausoth were an ancient race of what can be best called proto-elves, they are not true elves, but a very distant and distinct off-shoot, a progenitor species possibly. Though I suspect they were something else all together. Not much else is written about them and few, if any of their structures or artifacts have survived, which leads me to believe that they were wiped out in a cataclysm. I am not certain, though I have come to the conclusion that the Eye is connected to this race of beings, and may open up some clues to their existence and possibly insight into Rhea’s condition,” Lucas sighed slightly.
Talindra nervously nodded, “What should we do then Lucas?”
Xenon sighed, “Isn’t it obvious my half-elven friend, we should make haste to this citadel. The Citadel of Honin Tau I would believe as Lucas does is connected to the Eye, which in turn is connected to the mauroth tausoth. I am sure this all boggles your mind, so simply leave these pursuits of higher thought to more astute minds, and focus on tracking and setting fires,” he turned smiling to Talindra.
Talindra hissed, then continued her mental speech, “Lucas I have a quick question, how does Rhea know you, she seemed to know exactly who you were back in Quell at the festival have you two met before?”
Lucas paused for a moment, “Not that I am aware of, I have never seen her before though her manner seemed very familiar, don’t you think Owen?”
Owen replied, “I know what you are thinking Lucas, and that is an absurd thought, I am not even going to humor it.”
Talindra furrowed her brow, “Well it just seemed odd and now that I think about it, there is a picture in the Beltaine manse that resembles you Owen, and well on one occasion I think I heard Thev say that you were Rhea’s father. I didn’t think she wanted that to get out though, and Thev quickly went silent.”
Xenon sighed, “Ha! It seems that Owen your wayward daughter has been found though a half-elf she is no more, but a drow, such a delicious irony. Amusing to say the least.”
Lucas laughed, “I told you Owen, the clues are insurmountable, I could tell that mischievous girl anywhere, it seems after all these years she has been found.”
Owen replied, “Well I am glad she is found, although how she came to be a drow is beyond me, but if what you say is true then I am pleased. Though alarmed that I had not a moment to properly introduce myself, I am happy she is alive,” his mental voice full of emotion, “she is all I have left, of my family. Keep her safe Talindra, and you as well Xenon.”
Talindra replied, “That shall not be a problem Owen, I think Thev has kept her safe for some time now. He wouldn’t dare let anyone harm her; they seem to have a firm bond of friendship. Though that does not explain your picture in the Beltaine manse Owen.”
Owen replied with a fatherly tone, “And who might this Thev be, hmm?”
Talindra laughed, “He is a paladin and a tiefling and a firm stout friend, you need not be worried.”
Xenon echoed her statement, “Yes stout and strong, what he lacks in the mental disciplines he makes up in brawn and,” a belabored sigh, “goodness.”
Owen sighed, “As far as the Beltaine family is concerned I was born Owen Vanten Beltaine, but left the family in my youth. I was not one for staying in a single place; my heart belongs on the roads of travel. But in the intervening years I have learned that my family has had less then scrupulous dealings with dark forces, among them these elusive Shadis Masin. I have no need to bring my presence to the fore, although I am by birth and blood Beltaine, I do not claim the name.”
Talindra nodded, “That would make Rhea a rightful heir to the name then wouldn’t it?”
“That is correct Talindra,” Owen replied.
Talindra smiled, and relaxed, her curiosity for the most part satiated. Xenon laid back as the two of them shared a blanket for warmth. The snow fell softly upon the heroes as they drifted to sleep, the mental conversation had been draining for both Talindra and Xenon, before he feel to sleep he kissed Talindra lightly on her forehead and let the morning come. At least they had survived another night.
Over the next two intervening days the party took a wide circuitous route to avoid any enemy patrols, as they blazed a trail through the mountains towards the citadel of Honin Tau. The party had nary an encounter besides the occasional wild animal. The group was cold and miserable though, winter travel, in the mountains was not especially fun, nor glamorous. By the third day from the map Xenon had received from Hadrian, his patron, the party was about a day’s travel at most.
The group had come to a small clearing in the snowy evergreen forest and decided to rest before pressing on in the morning, in search of the citadel. The party was weary and frozen, and some quite miserable. Tom entertained the group as best as he could with his lowbrow humor while Rhea and Thev went to scout around their camp to make sure it was safe. The forest was old and the trees grand, untouched by the grandeur of civilization.
Rhea and Thev stalked through the forest, until they reached a ridge, about a mile north from their camp. The ridge was actually the edge of a large crater though smoothed out over the centuries with pillow-like white snow filling the interior. Inside the crater towards the northernmost side was a structure, a fortress or citadel of some type. The walls were forty or so feet high, but on its four massive walls had collapsed. There was smoke wafting out from three different fires, which lit the structure up like a beacon.
Rhea turned to Thev, “I think we found it, and a not a moment too soon.”
Thev nodded, “I agree let’s get back to the others and quickly.” The duo quickly made their way back to the camp, planning a possible assault since it seemed that the forgotten citadel, was not so quite forgotten. They arrived back at the camp and explained what hey had seen, the party was elated, and their mission was nearly over. They all sighed a breath of relief when Aust noticed shadows moving in the woods; he turned to Talindra who also noticed the movement.
Aust grimaced, “We are not alone, I see movement lots of movement.”
The party began grabbing their weapons and preparing for conflict as the shadows and figures slowly stopped. One of the figures approached the camp, a tall willowy figure dressed in a drab white cloak, and he withdrew the hood to reveal an elven face. He smiled as he approached his palms up, a sign of peace. The group was still wary, and kept their weapons close to them, not wanting to let their guard down. The Elf had wild black hair about shoulder length, his eyes a pale silver, and his skin was swarthy, but not overly dark.
He smiled and spoke in lyrical Elven towards Aust, “Welcome brother, we of the Li’nai’ken mean you no harm. Unless you claim allegiance to the miscreants who have taken residence in the citadel to the north.”
Aust shook his head no, “We do not, brother,” he replied in Elven, “they are our enemy, we claim no allegiance to them or their ilk.”
The elf nodded, “I see, I am Ki’nida, leader of this band, we claim these mountain forests as our domain, you passed into them a few days back. We have followed your progress and I have yet to see anything that alarms me as out of the ordinary with your troop.”
“Thank you, I am Aust, we meant no disrespect, but we were not aware that you claimed this land,” Aust replied, “we seek only to find the Citadel of Honin Tau, and then we shall be on our way.”
Ki’nida thought the words over for a moment, “Well, then we should be friends and not enemies” he waved his hands and twenty of his elven companions moved into view from the surrounding shadows and trees. “My men, we are on a hunt this night, to hopefully remove the humans from our holy place once and for all this night. You seem to have quite a few warriors at the ready if you could assist us; we would be in your debt. You aid us; good brother Aust and your companions will have safe passage in our lands. A bond I shall not break upon pain of death.”
Aust smiled, “Then our aid you can have, hopefully we can be of assistance.”
Before Ki’nida could reply Rhea spoke up, “Yes it would be a show of good fortune and brotherhood to work together, despite our differences,” as she drew back her hood, revealing her drow visage. “We will assist in anyway we can brother Ki’nida.”
Ki’nida leapt back drawing his longsword, the other elves in his band mimicking his actions. Plenty of murmurs of hatred and curses were uttered. Ki’nida glared, “A drow, curse you witch, you will not stand for long in this place. Aust, have you willingly traveled with such a foul creature, or has she bewitched you,” he said warily to Aust.
Aust glanced at Rhea, “She… she is a worthy ally and friend. Despite her drow features she is of good heart and a worthy companion, I trust her implicitly. She has proven herself a hundred times over a worthy ally, that any of my companions can attest to.”
Ki’nida glared at Rhea but sheathed his blade, “I will trust your judgement, brother Aust, hopefully she holds true to your words.” His men followed his motion, sheathing their blades, though many are not happy with doing so. And most eye her with hateful suspicion. Rhea simply sighs and draws her hood up, but stays silent.
After those few tense moments, Ki’nida begins to explain his plan of attack, hoping for suggestions from the party. After a brief overview of the terrain, the party devises a plan. Kyoko has the brilliant idea of causing an avalanche on the north side, which will hopefully smother most if not all of the warriors. The group is pleased and decides to split their forces with half of the Li’nai’ken forces staying on the northern ridge to rain down death on the men in the citadel while the party and the remaining elven warriors assault the citadel via the collapsed wall. Hopefully everything goes off without a hitch.
The war party, the elves and our intrepid heroes, move into position. The party along with the Li’nai’ken stalk slowly across the snowy crater floor towards the citadel, they approach within sixty feet of the citadel and wait patiently for the second half of the war party to make their move. They do not wait long as thunderous horn is sounded, then a rumbling, a great rumbling of snow crashes down the side of the northern ridge and washes over the northernmost wall. Screams are heard before the avalanche plows through the walls crushing any its path. The party and elves rise up and move to attack. So far so good, it seems.
Rhea kept her eyes open before spotting Sevak standing on a large statue; he leapt down to face the invading war party. The elves fanned out to attack as arrows from heaven poured down on the frantic warriors inside the citadel. It was brutally ugly, but very efficient; this would not be a good night for Sevak and his allies. Aust waded into the fray, Blak-Fang in hand parrying and slicing pitiful warriors left and right. Xenon stood back and prepared his favorite spells, Mage Armor and Cat’s Grace. Rhea charged towards Sevak once more to best the drow in battle, Talindra following Rhea’s lead. Kyoko drew her rapier and stalked into the fray her blade dancing not as well as Thev or Aust but enough to keep the enemy warriors at bay.
Rhea engaged Sevak in battle the two meeting in a clash of swords and fury, while Talindra flanked the vicious drow. Sevak struck first stabbing his rapier into Rhea’s chest, missing with his dagger though. Rhea reeled and spun her bastard sword finding its mark, but the blow being slight as Talindra flanked Sevak dealing a vicious slash with Midnight, her magical longsword. Sevak growled and dipped low he slashed Rhea once again evading her swings with a flurry of rolls prepared to take on both Talindra and Rhea. Talindra swung her blades while Rhea stepped back to prepare True Strike, uttering prayers to the Dancer. Talindra struck her mark twice dealing serious wounds to Sevak. Sevak was torn but tried to finish Talindra off, then Rhea. He slashed Talindra but the wound was slight. It was too late, Rhea dove into the fray her blade guided by divine forces, and she slashed through Sevak sending him screaming to the afterlife.
In the meanwhile Aust and Thev were chopping their way through the warriors with ease, Aust putting his Cleave abilities to good use. As the two warriors overpowered the men, two Knights of the Black Horn charged over the snow from the avalanche followed by a cloaked figure. Aust and Thev finished their respective opponents and clashed with the knights. The battle was vicious neither giving quarter, nor asking for any either. Xenon finished preparing a shield spell after unleashing magic missiles on an unsuspecting warrior. Aust was the first to raw blood, slashing across the Knights chest drawing blood. While Thev was having a tough time trying to fight one of his own, a Knight of the Black Horn, despite the deathly serious nature of the battle, he was torn. The cloaked figure unleashed magic bolts at Talindra pounding her, but she still stood. Kyoko moved to engage another nameless warrior dueling for life.
Aust sustained a quick slash across his left arm as he slashed the knight again across the chest, evading a clumsy strike. He impaled the Knight with a roar as went into a frenzied rage, the Knight screamed as he died. Thev struck a powerful blow on the knight attacking him, hoping he would yield. While the cloaked mage launched magic bolts at the Xenon, which were deflected by his Shield spell, Xenon grinned arrogantly. The lone corrupted Knight of Black Horn yielded to Thev’s demands and dropped his greatsword. The cloaked mage turned to flee, but was struck down by arrows from the Li’nai’ken as the battle came to an end. The battle went better then expected, much better.
The party cleaned up their wounded as the Li’nai’ken gathered there own, with a curt nod and salutation they departed into the snowy night. The heroes had once again carried the day. Of course the looting of the bodies began as well. Xenon gathered a warded spellbook and a ring of protection from the mage, while Rhea kept Sevak’s dagger and handed Kyoko Sevak’s enchanted drow-made rapier. Talindra took his Sevak’s chainmail, of even manufacture and the group sat down to heal and prepare their next step.
The interior of the Citadel courtyard was at the moment littered with dead bodies and snow. Towards the main structure along the eastern side there were two large statues of elven warrior, each statue about twenty feet tall. They flanked a raised dais that leads up to massive ten-foot high double doors with a red eye painted on them. What lays within they can only fathom. A story for another winter eve I suppose.