Game Thread Chapter 1B: Veils and Mirages - Page 8 - RPG Crossing
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  #106  
Old Mar 6th, 2023, 01:49 AM
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Aric Armitage
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Out of the darkness, life.

Aric's rapid breathing in the gloom of the cavern gave a sudden hitch as he felt the fragile eggshell crack in his hands. He could not stop the sudden gasp as he realized that, in his frantic and paranoid panic, his freakishly long fingers had crushed the shell, the only protective covering keeping the as-yet unborn bird from the horrors of the world without. His fear of having destroyed the very thing he was trying to protect was just another sign of how unprepared he was for this journey, both mentally and physically. Viscous amniotic fluid began to drip between his fingers as the shell continued to crack apart – wait. Continued? Aric held his breath in the darkness, afraid that any movement on his part would sever the thin thread between life and death. There was movement, was there not? Or was that simply his own panicked trembling. Only he wasn’t trembling, not anymore. The rocking had stopped. Almost everything had stopped as he tried to remain motionless and silent. Only his heart continued to make noise, beating loud in the still dark. No, it was unmistakable. There was movement coming from within the shell. Aric couldn’t see in the darkness. He did not have two free hands to light a torch with flint and steel, but there were other ways. Thank you, mother, he thought as he fumbled to open a small leather pouch, from which he grabbed a pinch of the phosphorescent moss he had collected earlier in the sewer tunnel. ”Lux,” he whispered, and the egg shell began to glow with a soft white light, a beacon in the darkness that began to break apart into triangular chunks of illuminated shell. The vulture was alive. He hadn’t killed it. Nestled within the silk-wrapped facsimile of safety inside Aric’s buckskin pack, the egg - against all odds- had survived the heat of the desert, the shock of cold water, and the perils of the sewers below the city. And with apologies to William Butler Yeatsnow this indignant desert bird, its hour come round at last, had finally slouched towards Pashin to be born.

For his part, Aric’s panic attack at being underground had been halted as surely as though it had flung itself against a brick wall. In its place was a new worry, a fear which had lain dormant for as long as the egg had continued to gestate - what to do with it now? Aric and those same companions can feel free to tweak what I have put here as much or little as they wanthad earlier asked those companions who he still traveled with what birds ate and had gotten a slew of different answers. Tegan had asked where he had gotten the egg and Aric admitted he had found it, but he had been so ashamed of his lie - his second lie, in fact; he had lied to Tegan the night he had found the egg also, saying he was just going to the latrine - that he had said never mind and walked away. Talia had gleefully told him he needed to chew up worms and vomit them into the bird’s mouth. Xihue had said he was more experienced with tending to sheep than birds, and Isandril had simply told him he had no idea. And now there was no more time; the thing was born and it would need to be fed.

”I feel you, Aric. How can one not feel suffocated in here, with the weight of a whole city over our heads?”

The voice came suddenly from behind him – or rather, it only seemed sudden. He had been tunneled in on watching the vulture break free of its calcium carbonate cocoon and had been completely unaware of the elven woman’s approach. Laramielle Clearbrook, the sister of Ariellan, a refugee and survivor, had emerged from Lady Shaylin’s tent and was now studying Aric with worn out eyes. She still held her brother’s bow, the string dangling limply from her thin fingers. All the haughtiness and fire which she had greeted them with had turned to cold ashes with the news that her headstrong sibling had fallen. Aric continued to hold the glowing shell in his left hand while his right gently picked away tiny pieces of shell debris which clung to the bird’s wet feathers. As he tended to his new avian companion, Laramielle walked to his side – the vomit free side – and sat next to him.

”I miss the forest, Aric, my forest, as I am sure you do too. Contrary to you, I cannot bring life to the world. I only deal death, though apparently not enough for the cursed bull-men to board their ships and return to the Abyss that spawned them.”

Aric listened thoughtfully, though his eyes continued to watch the vulture slowly moving about in the concave remainder of its formerly protective orb. As rapt as he was, he could not fully ignore the mournful tale Laramielle was sharing, yet he did not feel it was his place to interrupt.

”I sincerely thank you for bringing me the news of my brother’s demise and for taking care of An’quesse. I have known her ever since she bonded with Ariellan as a young griffon barely able to fly. I thank you even more for the tears you shed for a stranger. I can see that your heart is kind, Aric. I respect that. But I fear that it will get you killed. This world is cruelest to those with kind hearts. I would not want our roles reversed, bringing ill news to your sister or mother.”

At this last Aric sighed. She couldn’t have known. It wasn’t her fault. He let a moment pass, and then another, before finally he spoke.

”I was five years old when my mother was slain. She was a kind person as well, but she had a secret, one that even my father never knew. She was killed for who she was, for being a sorceress, all because some people who worshipped Beryllinthranox decided that she was a threat – or at least, that’s the story I’ve pieced together. My father was maimed trying to defend her, and after he stopped the bleeding and chucked my mother into the clay he set about drinking himself into a stupor and making my life a living hell for the last decade. He’s dead now, stabbed in the guts over an argument about a bar tab. I was an only child and have no family left. I know exactly how cruel this world can be.”

He resumed his silence and began to gently pet the newborn bird on the top of its sticky head. The dietary quandary gnawed at him while the tiny offspring quietly chirped in his hand. He felt his heart ache with a shameful joy. He had slain the bird’s mother and sibling with one stupid, careless arrow. Now the survivor was literally within his grasp. She was beautiful, but he could not fully enjoy the tiny and feathered gift because he knew what he had taken from her. That weight on my heart will always be there… but it’s not about me, not anymore. I need to put that aside and take care of this little one.

It wasn’t clear how much of Aric’s own story had impacted Laramielle’s grief and anger. It certainly didn’t seem to have done much except enhance her desire for bloody vengeance. She continued to sit beside him, quietly thinking, or perhaps just seething? – he couldn’t quite tell. Whatever she was doing, she eventually seemed to snap out of it.

”Will you do something for me, Aric? The men who are truly responsible for my brother’s death are still at large, enjoying the wealth they have stolen from elves unable to defend themselves. I would like to see them die screaming as my arrows pierce their flesh, but I will not make the same mistake my brother did by facing them alone, especially with a mangled arm. Would you grant me justice, Aric? Would you avenge Ariellan? I can see that you are a talented archer. Not many would have been able to wield an elven bow otherwise. Your companions seem like capable warriors as well. Strike the bandits down, one after the other, and I will be forever in your debt. You will be granting my brother eternal rest, something I am unable to give him by myself.”

The weight of what she was asking seemed, if possible, even more pressing upon him than the thousands of pounds of stone and dirt above Aric’s head. She doesn’t want justice, she wants vengeance – and nothing good ever came out of vengeance. The silence between them stretched on, even as she kneeled before him, the ornate longbow outstretched in her one unwounded hand.

”Take it, Aric. Let this be the weapon that will forever close the eyes of these vicious men. Return it to me seeped in the blood of Ariellan’s murderers and you will have done me a service so great as to be indescribable by mere words.”

Aric fetched a deep, deep sigh. I knew it. I'm a precog.
Dice * Persuasion vs Laramielle:
1d20 4
This was not going to go well.

”Laramielle. Among my many shortcomings I include knowing little of your people. I have had the good grace to learn and study under Isandril Moonsilver, and he has been a kind and, more important, a patient teacher. I am… I am poor clay to mold, but I have still learned from him. One of the things that – well, I would not say he has taught me, but one of the things that I have learned by my interactions with him is that yours is a proud and noble race of people. You are strong, too, and would certainly have to be to remain unbroken despite all that you have endured. I admire you all for this strength.” Again a deep breath. ”And yet… oh boy… And yet at times I think your pride makes you do things that end up being not very smart. I never knew Ariellan in life, I’m sorry to say, and I would tend to agree with your assessment that he made a poor choice in going alone to fight his foes. Clearly it was the wrong choice because it got him killed. If I had a brother or a sister who had died like that, I think I would be angry at them for dying like that – but since they were no longer alive to yell at, then I’d probably turn my anger toward those who killed my sibling like you’re doing now. I’d probably want justice as well” He turned his blue eyes up to look at the elven warrior woman. ”But there’s a fine line between justice and vengeance. I was too young to avenge my mother, but the reality is that I lost both of my parents that day. Any sort of relationship I might have had with my father was cut off along with his arm. And yes, I might have grown up and found the men who destroyed my family, and I might have put an arrow through their eyes and seen an end to injustice. But I’ve had a long time to think. Even if I did kill those men, their deaths would never bring my mother back. Their deaths wouldn’t give my father back his arm and his health. I’ve already lost enough in my life. If I spent my time trying to hunt down those who took my loved ones, I’d just end up losing myself as well. I’d lose my soul, all in the pursuit of bloody vengeance.” His fingertips brushed the small head of the tiny bird whose life he held within his palm.

”It is a beautiful bow. If I were a proud elven warrior I would be honored to wield it… but the one who did wield it has fallen. It should lie with him now. I am sorry, I cannot accept your gift. I take no joy in refusing, but I cannot be an agent of your bloody vengeance. I am not a killer-

(liar! You’re a liar and the proof is in your hand!)

…. Or at least, this world hasn’t fully made me into one yet. Who knows, maybe that will change sooner rather than later. Perhaps these men you revile will cross my path like the Nerakans did earlier, and justice will be meted out anyway. I can’t say. Only the gods can.” He gently put his right hand on her outstretched left hand and nudged the bow back in her direction. ”Take… take some time. Mourn your brother. If… I suppose if you decide this is still what you want – what he would want – then perhaps we might talk again come the morning. And I think you do not give yourself enough credit. You say you cannot bring life to the world. Well, I think you might be wrong. Your strength, your refusal to give up, even with everything you have faced - that gives strength to your people, strength they need to get through another day. So, I guess in that sense, you are bringing life to the world. But you need time… and right now, I need to find out what baby birds eat. …and I guess I need to find out if I have to chew it up and vomit into her mouth. Ughh.” The thought made him shudder. ”Maybe fruit? I think I saw some fruit in Lady Shaylin’s tent. Please excuse me, I need to go do something gross.” And then, standing up and avoiding the puddle of vomit - a sign of things to come if there ever was one, he re-entered Shaylin’s tent, unaware that it was now just her and Isandril who remained within.

Sorry, sorry, just getting some fruit, got a bird to feed, excuse me… he said quickly, grabbing a small pinch of whatever fruit was available. He quickly mashed up a date in his mouth into a disgusting, mushy paste. He grabbed a small portion of this and held it in front of the bird’s beak.

I sure hope vultures eat dates. Bleahh, he spat, as he realized he had not washed the amniotic fluid from his fingers. ”Uh, enjoy,” he said sheepishly to his new avian ward.

 
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Last edited by Noquarter19; Mar 6th, 2023 at 01:23 PM.
  #107  
Old Mar 6th, 2023, 12:31 PM
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Talia Dawnstar
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It was a rare moment when a kender is struck speechless. Usually, in a desperate attempt to fill the aching void of silence, a kender will talk ceaselessly, lest they be forced into the discomfort of introspection. Just such a moment befell Talia as she stared wide eyed at Shaylin, caught completely by surprise by the mage’s probing questions.

Completely unbidden, Talia’s mind was filled with a litany of pointed barbs she had shot at Aric since they had met as complete strangers at the standing stones.

“Tell me, what truths do you harbor in your fearless heart? What is the one truth that shapes you? Truth is very much like a sharp sword, you know. It can win many battles for you, but it will also cut you or your friends deeply, if you do not wield it carefully,” she had said and immediately, and completely unbidden, the small thief’s mind was filled with a litany of pointed barbs that Talia had recently shot at Aric since the two had met as complete strangers at the standing stones.

“You should probably stick to theater and drama. You cry easily, I don’t think there is a market for abstract maps… people seem to want maps that look like real things.”

“I mean… who would have guessed an elf couldn’t make it across a river. I would have bet he could have done it blindfolded and drunk. I also would have bet Aric couldn’t make it across on a boat.”

“We should have the knights battle each other! With luck they will injure each other and then both will die of their wounds… and our hands will be clean. Or… one will win… and hopefully he will be injured and we let him battle Aric. This way Aric has a chance at winning. Otherwise… it might not go so well.”

“Maybe Aric should go first? You guys could give him pointers? I’ll throw in some extra gold for Dove’s troubles.”

“This is a brothel where people pay money to have sex with people. So Isandril and Tegan are going to teach Aric how to do it, build up the kid’s confidence. Shouldn’t take that long though, I wouldn’t get comfortable.”

The words rang loud in Talia’s ears and she found her face turning red in embarrassment as her eyes fell away from Shaylin’s, as if the majestic elf could hear Talia’s thoughts in her own mind.

The Dawnstar… that was Talia’s truth. It had fallen from the heavens, its path traced through the stars by her father. He knew the significance… the Dawnstar heralded the end and the beginning of everything. Chasing its truth for the rest of his life, Talia’s father believed that the Dawnstar held the key… As Above So Below.

Talia stood silently until she finally found Shaylin alone later that night.

“As above… so below,” Talia said softly, her eyes sad but hopeful.


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  #108  
Old Mar 8th, 2023, 08:55 PM
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Xihue of the Alan-Atu
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Behind Xihue's almond-shaped eyes, the cobwebs began to part as if burned away by the mental fire of a clarifying thought. Perhaps it was a very small spiderling that had crawled in one of his ears to befuddle his mind with the sticky strands of confusion, of slow-minded silken dreams, or the paralytic poison of inattention. Whatever had caused him to miss the connection between the plight of these elves in their sequestered exile and starvation, and their forceful evictions by first Minotaur invaders and now Nerakan knights, Xihue started at the realization that these proud people were no longer able to live on their ancestral lands. The Alan-Atu were forever tied to the cloud topped peaks that soared above and the wide, grass-filled plains that spread out below. What would his people be like were they to suffer a similar fate? Fingerless tingles shuddered across his shoulders and down the monk's straight spine as he took a deeper, more mindful look at his hosts and heard his master's voice...



"Get up Xihue. There is no more time in this day. You cannot sleep while others work in your place."

"I spent this whole last week watching four flocks single-handedly and not ONE person here thanked me for that. I'd like to see any of them guard so many sheep at once! Ha!! I deserve some consideration for that valuable skill."

- Confucius.The old man intoned, "It is not the failure of others to appreciate your abilities that should trouble you, but rather your failure to appreciate theirs. Now, get up!"

Cold morning air slipped past the doorway furs as Xihue emerged from his bed and quickly dressed. Goosebumps prickled along his arms and the winter air promised to fully color his wide, flat cheeks with the rosy flush that inescapably bloomed under its icy breath.

"Yes Master." responded the dutiful student. Xi knew better than to talk back to his teacher.

There were two or three dozen unfamiliar faces that had joined the circle of bators at some time during the night. The encampment had almost doubled in size and Xihue felt a little guilty at having slept through their arrival. Most were stout, younger men and women, some women carrying smaller children, and several of the women were in tears. "What are they mourning, Master?" Xi asked, intuitively surmising that some tragedy must have occurred to displace so many.

"These are all that remain of the village to our East. Their clan was much larger than ours and were beginning to return up the mountain to their springtime camps when an avalanche burred many. Most of the old and many of the children were swept from the mountain. It was unwise of their leaders, now dead, to have tried to go back up the slopes so early in the season. We must help them. Maybe some will choose to stay and make our clan stronger. Others will want to go back to their familiar meadows and rebuild."

"Why must we give them what little we have, master? The winter has been long and it will be hard to feed so many."

The Master looked down at Xihue with reproach, raised an eyebrow, shook his white whiskered chin and Confucius againsaid, “Good People are generous without being wasteful; they are hardworking without being resentful; they desire without being greedy; they are at ease without being haughty; they are dignified without being fierce. How you choose to behave when others are in need will tell the world who you are. One must be a good person to Ascend.”



Shaylin Moonborn was as beautiful as any young elven maiden that Xihue had ever seen. Not even a single line or wrinkle upon her eye or brow told of her age and yet Xihue could sense the centuries on her. The all-knowing wisdom that shown as starlight from her large, penetrating eyes suffused his perception and the shepherd monk met those depthless pools with a placidly respectful gaze of his own.

"I am considered well read among my people, but I must admit that you are a mystery to me, Xihue.

I am not aware of your people, nor of any people who make use of names similar to yours. Why have the gods brought you to us, traveler? Or is it fate that you believe in? Or perhaps the only thing that brought you here are your own two feet and a conscious choice you made. What is it that you seek among the Silvanesti, the people who have nothing to share but memories of the past?"


Xi placed his right fist within the cupped grasp of his left hand and bowed with respect. "Peace be with you, Lady Shaylin. I seek only what the world would show me that I might earn enlightenment and follow my Master to Ascension. Be it fate, personal choice, or random chance that brings me here, I seek only to help in the tasks which I have accepted: to return the griffon and his rider to your people, to deliver a letter, and to protect, defend, teach or study those who have chosen to share this journey with me.

If you have memories, you are truly wealthy though you have naught else. That you might share your wisdom with me is a greater gift than steel."


These were not the vicious ghosts of the woods that Minotaurs had spoken of on his long voyage. Xihue had imagined long-fanged, sharp eared nightmares, larger, faster and more vile than the Tamiri elves back home. There was a lingering bigotry that did not match what he was seeing here. Isandril and Blainneth had already begun to re-write the story he had learned of the Elven people of Ansalon. These elves did not lack for courage, but they were far from being at home, with little to sustain them but for their faith in this woman. Where Naelathan had nearly tarnished the new image Xihue had begun to build of the Silvastrini, Shaylin had re-polished the silver lining of their character.

Xihue bowed again as she moved away from him and motion from the corner where Aric had secluded himself briefly won his attention. The boy had naively refused a great gift from the fallen Ariellan's sister. At least his words left the possibility of a favorable resolution. Isandril would know better than Xi himself, but it was Xihue's impression that very little could change an Elf's mind once it was set and the refusal of a gift, especially one as significant and precious as the bow of Larimielle’s fallen brother, seemed rather crude.

Talia's tale was little better. The diminutive Kender had been stunned into silence, mouth agape, and momentarily frozen by whatever Shaylin had said to her. Xihue hadn't been able to hear a single word that was whispered to her. A few steps in that direction didn't close any distance between them as Lady Dawnstar slunk away deep in thought. Maybe he could comfort her later but she didn't seem to trust him enough for that to be possible yet. Tegan had tried to explain the disjunction between Ansalon's customs and those which Xihue had practiced for nearly two decades. There had to be consistency in intent if not in practice between the logical customs of his own culture and these alien people.

Am I intended to teach or to learn here? Should I give of what I know or embrace their ways?

Internal conflict required meditation. The shepherd found an open space and began his evening athletics check = 14forms. Steam rose from the man as he completed the exercise and his half-nakedness glistened in the cool sewer's dimly lit tunnel. He asked Isandril for the same blessing that had been given to Tegan. It would not do to carry the refuse of Pushin into slumber. Xihue accepted their hospitality as they led him to a place to rest and sat there for a while in meditation, legs crossed, hands posed. He lit his mother's candle and stared at the flame as the music of the Standing Stones begged to be played once more. Bidden or not, the monk's fingers found his flute and he indulged the impulse. Nat 20 +2 performance check - 22Perfectly rendered, lilting sound emanated from the Allan-Atu's flute and softly wafted through the chambers.


 
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Last edited by Black Jim; Mar 9th, 2023 at 10:58 PM.
  #109  
Old Mar 11th, 2023, 12:53 PM
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Elven Ways
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Shaylin Moonborn
As Lady Shaylin spoke, heads were lowered and gazes sought the darkness, instead of meeting her eyes, eyes so full of memories, so full of sorrow, so full of wisdom. Only Xihue stepped boldly forward and bowed before the elven mage like the supple reed bends before the wind, recognizing that the one in front of him spoke with the voice of many different lifetimes. The lady listened carefully to him, her features unchanging, until in the end a smile appeared, soft and silvery like Solinari’s light.


"Your path is the path all of us are walking, but you travel it with your eyes open, Xihue of the Alan-Atu. Brace yourself, wanderer, because Krynn usually passes on her wisdom through lessons that are harsh and painful. That does not make them less valuable, only harder to embrace. I do not know if I am wise, but I am grateful that people would choose to undertake a journey into the unknown and brave grave danger to honor the living and the dead. Peace be with you, traveler from afar. I am glad that our paths have crossed."


The elven mage returned the human’s bow with a nod of respect of her own and walked away from him, her movements so fluid that her robes appeared to glide upon the dark cobblestones like white mist. The light around Xihue seemed to diminish with her departure, though the false stars of the ceiling continued to twinkle playfully in the darkness.


Feeling the thorny touch of uncertainty, lesson and experience clashing inside him, the Alan-Atu sought balance in familiarity and repetition. The forms he practiced did more than just keep every part of his body awake and conscious of itself and soothe his mind so that it could better seek truth and wisdom. They anchored him to the place of his birth, the high mountains with the green slopes and the vast plains filling his vision. They connected him with his people, those who still lived beyond the shores of Ansalon and those who resided among the stars. They reminded him of who he was and who he sought to become. They were his roots, and they had to remain strong and vibrant, especially when his branches stretched further and further in an attempt to encompass the whole world.


Even as he meditated on such and other matters, Xihue became aware of elven eyes staring at him. Most were curious, some looked at him in awe, a few with resentment. It was the way of mortal beings to stand and stare at the one who was different, fear and excitement mixed in their hearts. The Alan-Atu didn’t pay any more attention to them. He was not responsible for the elves’ actions. There would be those no doubt who would frown and call him a barbarian. But perhaps there would also be some who would be intrigued by his ways, some who would seek to know more. He too was intrigued by them, he too wanted to know more about them. It seemed a fair trade.


As things quieted down, the elves still attuned to the rhythm of sun and moons even in this underground hole that received no light from the heavenly bodies, Xihue placed his flute upon his lips and started playing. The song of the Standing Stones, as he called it, was alive inside him and eager to escape through the hollow reed, seeking a way into the elves’ hearts. The notes were heard loudly and clearly, the underground chamber amplifying the flute’s soft music until it seemed to fill the elven sanctuary.


At first all other noises died down, the refugees stopping whatever it was that they were doing to listen to Xihue’s song. Soon tears started flowing and the elves too became part of the melody. Some were humming softly or swaying in response to the music. Others joined in the song, picking up musical instruments of their own, treasures they had brought along from the houses they had been forced to abandon, things they valued more than food and steel. For the duration of a single song there was no difference between elf, human and kender, all of them brought together by the magic of the music, a bond that was stronger than religion, history and desire. For a short time all of them were as one.




Xihue put down the flute and suddenly became aware of Lady Shaylin standing beside him, her eyes sparkling with unshed tears.


"Quinari’s promise…", she whispered. "The wife of Silvanos Goldeneye and first queen of the Silvanesti, as gentle and beloved as the light of the stars. This is her song, noble wanderer, thousands of years old, but still sung to soothe the fears of the little ones as they surrender themselves to the dream. How is it that you know of it?"


*****


Talia parted the flap of Shaylin’s tent, half-expecting to find the white robe asleep. Instead, the mage was waiting for her, her face calm and completely devoid of surprise, as if the two of them had agreed upon meeting at this particular place and time. The elf didn’t speak, but neither did she send the kender away, which was unusual.


Does she stay up the whole night?, Talia wondered. The bedroll and blankets inside the tent seemed to suggest otherwise. Even Isandril slept or “meditated” in that creepy way of his, his eyelids half-open, sitting unmoving like a statue for hours. Shrugging, Talia put such thoughts behind her. Elves were strange people and elves who were mages, stranger still. In any case, she hadn’t come to talk about the lady’s sleeping habits. She had come to answer her question, though why that was important to Talia was beyond her.


One might have started with an apology for sneaking inside another’s sleeping tent or at the very least made small talk first, but that was not the way of the kender.


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The lost Stars and the pale Moon
"As above… so below", she exclaimed, as if this statement explained her presence inside the tent, as if it explained everything.


For a few long moments Shaylin looked at Talia perfectly still, reminding the kender of Isandril’s trance. Had she listened to what the kender had told her? Was she perchance sleeping with her eyes wide open? This was even more unsettling than Isandril’s unnatural slumber! But then the she-elf nodded. And spoke.


"It was Vedvedsica, an ancient elven sage, advisor to three Speakers, both blessing and bane of the Silvanesti, who is credited with these words, Talia, star of the dawn. As above, so below. Everything that happens in the heavens is reflected upon the face of Krynn - war, famine, natural disasters. The leader of the Brown Hoods has been proved right more than once. Didn’t the constellations of PaladineE’li and the Dark Queen disappear from the sky during the War of the Lance? Are they not forever lost to us, now that one is walking the earth as a mortal and the other has passed on to the Beyond?"


Lady Shaylin looked at the kender’s face, knowing that a history lesson was not the answer she was looking for. No, the kender’s truth was of a different nature, more personal, closer to the heart.


"I believe that this is only half the truth, however", the white robe continued calmly. "The sun and stars and moons affect our lives, but our actions affect them as well. As below, so above. Mortal hands bring about change too, in all eras, but especially in this one, the Age of Mortals. Do not wait for the Dawnstar to make its appearance in the sky for you to take control of your fate, brave Talia. It is your choices and your actions that will make it shine brighter than any other star. Here", the elf pointed at the kender’s heart, "and here", and then upwards, towards the unseen heavens. "I have sought the silver moon’s guidance about your path, seeker of the star. Do you wish to know what was revealed to me?"


Shaylin stayed silent for a few moments, for not everyone wanted their path revealed, but when Talia didn’t object, she continued. Closing her eyes she took a deep breath and started speaking, her words strangely distorted as if a second voice, one belonging to a man, intoned the prophecy along with the white robe.


"Gone are the stars of the alien skies,
tiny flames in the endless void with none to see.
All doomed to be forgotten.

Only one shall shine brighter than ever before,
the star of dawn, the star of change.
The star of hope realized.

Twice it will be seen.
Twice it will be felt.
Forever remembered.

First it will shine upon the earth,
in the heart of flame, in the land of ash.
And old chains will break and fall.

Then it will shine in the high heavens,
up in a tower that lies between worlds.
Bringing an end to winter.

Twice it will shine.
Twice it will guide.
Forever remembered."


The white robe exhaled, her face now as pale as snow, but the fire in her eyes still strong. No, stronger than before, for the prophecy was one of hope.


"I do not know what this means, Talia Dawnstar, but I do know that this prophecy concerns you. The dawnstar will shine when you decree it, when your heart lends it its light. Tend to the light, fearless one. Don’t let it be consumed by the dark, even as the shadows grow deeper. The dawn must come eventually. For all of us."


*****


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Larimielle Clearbrook
Had Aric slapped Larimielle with all his strength, he couldn’t have expected such a quick and radical change of her mood. All lines of sympathy and sorrow immediately hardened into sharp angles that jutted out from her beautiful face like rocks from the barren ground and her gaze turned icy. She straightened her back in a pose of wounded pride and rose to her feet in a sudden movement, her brother’s bow kept close to her chest.


"I shouldn’t have expected a human child to understand. What would you know of being looked at with suspicion or even undisguised hatred everywhere you go after losing everything? The the Silvanesti ShieldSylvan Veil may have cost us many lives, but at least it kept us safe from your kind."


Turning her back to the Abanasinian youth, the elven warrior took a few angry steps away from him, but suddenly stopped. Without turning her head to face Aric, she muttered a few last words, more for her own sake than for his.


"You believe that the killing of one’s enemies is a luxury, a whim to temporarily soothe one’s aching heart by shedding blood, but the truth is more complicated than that, boy. The bandits who killed my brother have robbed, even killed, many of my people, defenseless men, women and children escaping the cruelty of the minotaurs. Do you think that Ariellan was so foolish as to strike unnecessarily against an opponent much stronger than him? It was his sense of duty that blinded him, not his pride. He wanted to rid his people of an ever-present threat. He failed and now his duty is my own. I will slay the bandits or die trying. Perhaps you will find my corpse one day and bring it back to my people. Serving the dead rather than the living seems to suit you better. Worry not. You will have plenty of work to do in the days to come."


Each word she spat like poison, hoping that it would reach the human’s heart and give it a taste of the bitterness that resided in her own. For a moment she had believed that this group of strangers consisted of honorable individuals, people who would help her people in their time of need. Fool!, she reprimanded herself. I should have known better. When did humans ever care for elves? The Silvanesti and their cousins will live or die on their own.


Unstrapping the pouch on her belt, she threw it at Aric’s feet. 35 steel, 8 silver and 15 copper coinsInside was all the money she had, but she didn’t care. She probably wouldn’t be living long enough to spend it.


"For the return of my brother’s bow", she announced proudly, refusing to even look at the young man.


I didn’t picture Larimielle as being so unfair and harsh, but Aric’s Persuasion check was particularly bad and she is proud…Without another word she disappeared in the darkness.


*****


Alone with Isandril within the confines of her tent, Lady Shaylin Moonborn changed. She seemed to grow, not in size but in power, and her expression became even more serious, stern even. The young mage had allowed her to probe his mind and now the powerful white robe intended to do just that. Her eyes glowed with a strange blue light and for a moment Isandril was surprised to see himself inside them. A strange sensation, not painful, but intrusive, seized him and he had to shut his eyelids in order not to be overwhelmed by a wave of dizziness. It was like his thoughts and memories had all been neatly tucked away in cupboards and drawers and someone was now ransacking his house, emptying all of his hiding places and throwing his belongings to the floor in order to find what they were looking for.


normal image without text wrap
Probing the Mind


"Isandril Moonsilver of House Mystic, you come here to return the body of a warrior to his people, your people." Lady Shaylin’s voice was soft, but Isandril had the impression that her she speaks in Silvanesti elvenwords came from all around him, like an echo that was repeated again and again and again, until all there was were her words.


"Why is it only now that you seek your own kind, knowing that there are many in need? Why do you choose to keep your fate separate from that of your brothers and sisters, your elders and the children who are the hope of our race?


What about your oath to the late Speaker and the living land kept prisoner by the minotaurs? What about your loyalty to your House and the silver moon? What about the Art?


Have you turned your back to everything that gave you meaning, everything that made you what you are? Speak the truth Isandril. Are you a traitor to your people? Are you a traitor to the order of the white robes? Are you a traitor to the gods of light?"



As each question was asked and even before Isandril was able to reply, Shaylin rummaged through the other mage’s jumbled thoughts, found the thread she was looking for and tugged at it firmly, appropriating the answer before it had a chance to be altered. The young wizard resisted the urge to raise his mental defenses and evict the trespasser from his most private sanctum, his mind. He had agreed to her request and even though he hadn’t expected her presence inside his mind to be such a forceful and disturbing one, he couldn’t rescind his permission. He had nothing to hide. To try to keep her away was to raise suspicion, blame himself. No, he just had to endure a little longer, just a few moments longer…


Isandril wearily opened his eyes, finding himself on the floor, resting his throbbing head on a pillow. How much time had passed?


"Forgive me for using such crude methods, Isandril, but I had to make sure that you had not been lost to darkness. Lady Starsinger cast an augury before your arrival and even though the omens assured us of your pure intentions, I could leave nothing to chance. Even in my sleep I hear the Dark Knights’ boots patrolling the streets of the city and I often wake in terror, believing that they have finally discovered our camp. I realize my mistake and instead of being relieved, I dread the coming day, knowing that the longer we remain here, the weaker we grow."


Gone was the strength the lady had displayed minutes ago, her face now showing all the weariness of her heart. Being responsible for hundreds of refugees was incredibly taxing. To see them wither before one’s eyes, however, truly eroded the soul.


Lady Shaylin offered Isandril a small silver cup with a dark orange liquid within it. Even as the young mage brought it close to his nose, its powerful aroma made his whole body tingle. It was nectar, a concoction of several fruits and flowers native to the Silvanesti forest, that rejuvenated the mind and the body. From the looks of the almost empty bottle next to the white robe, this was probably the last she had.


"Our situation is worse than you might imagine", Shaylin continued, relieved to have finally found someone she could talk to sincerely. Before the young mage she could be herself, not the revered leader of the elven nation in Pashin. "Almost all of us have been afflicted by a strange illness. Our skin grows pale over time and our eyes weak. Sunblight Lady Starsinger calls it, for the cruel sun of Khur burns the skin and blinds the diseased. She has been praying to Quenesti Pah for weeks now, but no poultice, potion or blessing is able to cure this strange malady. Why are we being punished, Isandril? Is it for falling prey to Cyan Bloodbane’s lies and putting our trust in the One God? If so, I fear we suffer justly."


The elven matron sighed and slowly massaged her temples to relieve them of the constant pressure.


"Forgive me for placing this burden upon your shoulders, but you are the only one of our House in this camp. I recently lost my student, the owner of the spellbook you retrieved. My dearest Telannia was as gifted in the Art as she was brilliant. She was about to take the Test of High Sorcery and don the robes of white. How proud she would have made me! How can a creature as lowly as a spider end such a promising life?"


Shaylin’s voice wavered and a tear flowed down her cheek. To let emotion get the better of her, Telannia must truly have meant much to her teacherShalafi. The woman wiped away the tear with a swift move of her hand and cleared her voice. When next she spoke, the pain could no longer be heard in her words.


"How far along your own studies are you, Isandril? Without the resources of our House it must be difficult for you to expand your arcane knowledge. Do you have a Shalafi, someone to guide you?"


She didn’t ask the question in words, but Isandril heard it all the same.


Do you want me to become your Shalafi?



Calendar8th Day of Aelmont (Winter) 422 AC / 38 SC, Night

Solinari: 2/36 (Low Sanction)
Lunitari: 11/28 (Waxing)
Nuitari: 8/8 (Low Sanction)

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White Robes -1 spell DC, DIS on spell attack rolls | Red Robes - | Black Robes -1 spell DC, DIS on spell attack rolls


 
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  #110  
Old Mar 13th, 2023, 05:40 PM
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Xihue of the Alan-Atu
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Shaylin Moonborn
"Quinari’s promise…", she whispered. "The wife of Silvanos Goldeneye and first queen of the Silvanesti, as gentle and beloved as the light of the stars. This is her song, noble wanderer, thousands of years old, but still sung to soothe the fears of the little ones as they surrender themselves to the dream. How is it that you know of it?"

"Peace be with you, Lady Shaylin. My Master taught me that truth is revealed when one allows themself to be open to learning what the universe intends to teach. I learned this song only a few days ago during the Khurish Festival of the Standing Stones. I have played it four times now.

The first time this melody came to me, I was in meditation by one of the stones near a raging bonfire. The notes simply seemed right, correct, true.

A friend of mine, a gnome nicknamed Pnoah, revealed through his experiments that there are people trapped within those crystalline pillars. I cannot be certain but it might have been one such trapped soul who taught it to me. The Festival was held to allow those present to connect us to the spirits of the dead. I was near Isandril while I played. Perhaps the spirit of one of his passed kin gifted the melody to me. I had hoped to learn from the spirits. They have existed longer than I may hope to live. They know more of what I must learn.

Just now, as I sat in meditation, I was once again urged to play Quinari’s promise and I am grateful to you that I now have a name to place to it. You and your people are like me, on a journey of discovery although mine is by choice and yours has been forced upon you. It is plain to me that you and your people suffer unjustly. I hope my music has brought a moment of overdue peace to this place but I fear that it is insufficient in the face of your troubles.

There is much that I must learn before I may Ascend, as my Master did. This feels to have been a necessary part of that journey. Like the spirits of Ascended ancestors, you have seen more than my short life will allow. Do you know where I must go next?"
Xihue's hopeful eyes looked pleadingly toward the banished Speaker and searched for answers, in fear that there were none.


 
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Last edited by Black Jim; Mar 13th, 2023 at 05:42 PM.
  #111  
Old Mar 16th, 2023, 08:53 AM
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Talia Dawnstar
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“As below, so above. Mortal hands bring about change too, in all eras, but especially in this one, the Age of Mortals. Do not wait for the Dawnstar to make its appearance in the sky for you to take control of your fate, brave Talia. It is your choices and your actions that will make it shine brighter than any other star. Here"

With only a few words, Lady Shaylin had completely rearranged Talia’s perspective… her entire worldview. It happened so swiftly that the kender felt physically disoriented as if she were taken out of herself. She had spent her entire life staring skyward, tracing the stars along the constellations with her heart. She had thought that it was the stars themselves that would give her life direction, that if she followed the path the Dawnstar blazed across the sky, it would lead her to a greater purpose… one her father could be… would be… proud of.

“As below, So above.”

Always Talia had looked to the stars. The twinkling lights were distant… yet constant and reassuring pinpricks in the dark fabric of existence. She felt that she was one with the tide, acted on by invisible forces that were greater than herself and against which resistance was futile. Talia believed she was tidal locked in a pattern of existence that was preordained from above.

But Shaylin’s words… “As below, So above,” had opened the kender’s eyes to a delicate yet profound truth. She… Talia… tiny and insignificant as she may be… she could influence the stars above. She could chart her own path through the heavens. Talia smiled as she imagined a new constellation of brightly shining stars forming in the night sky… a kender skipping through the cosmos.

She was the Dawnstar.

Only one shall shine brighter than ever before,
the star of dawn, the star of change.
The star of hope realized.


“I am the Dawnstar,” Talia whispered in amazement as she looked at Lady Shaylin. “I think I understand… I don’t know if I need to find it anymore… if I have to go to the heart of flame, in the land of ash? Maybe I just need to follow my heart? Could it be that simple?”


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Last edited by Begon Ugo; Mar 16th, 2023 at 09:00 AM.
  #112  
Old Mar 16th, 2023, 09:06 AM
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Isandril Moonsilver, Wizard of High Sorcery
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To say that the sensation of having his mind read in such a forceful way was not entirely pleasant would have been an understatement. Still, Isandril prided himself on his discipline, or at the very least his composure. Thus he endured it, intending to hide nothing, until it was finally over. And although he felt he did so admirably, he could not help but acknowledge a wave of tiredness washing over him, one he attempted to chase away as he pinched the bridge of his nose and then rubbed his temples and his eyes. As the sensation abated, for the moment anyway, the elven mage turned his attention to the Silvanesti wizardess in front of him.

"It is understandable," he replied, waving away any notion that there was anything for him to forgive. "You, all of you, have found yourselves in an almost untenable situation. Taking any and all precautions is simply the responsible thing to do. And it does fall to the one with the mantle of leadership to do so." He sighed. "I do not envy you, Lady Moonborn."

As he smelled the drink's aroma and recognized it, noticing also the empty bottle, he graciously put it back down in front of her. "I thank you, but I cannot accept it. I will be fine. I would much prefer if you saved it for yourself or another of our kin that might have need of it."

He listened intently as she spoke, not interrupting her with questions or theories but instead allowing her to unburden herself, at least in a way. "This... disease," he finally said, his head bowed in thought, "cannot be a natural occurrence. It sounds more like a curse or the product of magic, be it arcane or divine, rather than a mere sickness. And if that is true, I cannot accept its chosen victims as being random. Someone or something must be responsible." He looked at her. "Which are things I am sure both you and Lady Starsinger have already considered." Not a question, but more of a statement really. On the matter of Cyan Bloodbane and the Shield, as well as his own experiences that were the result of its influence, he said nothing. Shaylin might already know thanks to her reading of his mind, and even if she did not, such things were neither here nor there.

"I am sorry about your apprentice, my Lady," he continued. "Despite the power we can wield, even the mightiest of us can fall victim to some of the lowliest of creatures, it seems." He paused for a moment, silence seeming appropriate, at least for a while.

"As for my own skill in the Art..." The mage started, but found himself unsure of how to answer. "I was an apprentice when the Chaos War engulfed our lands. Thus, it stands to reason I had a Shalafi. But..." He stopped again, as if searching through his memories of that time. "But I recall no such person. No face or name come to my mind when I try to remember." Despite having no memory of such an event, he knew what that meant. "After that and with the disappearance of the Moons and their magic, I practiced no longer." He shrugged. Although he controlled his feelings and expression well enough, it was not difficult to see that the subject was far from a pleasant one. "Primal sorcery... was not for me. But thankfully, the Gods returned. And with them High Sorcery."

His eyes, rather unusual for an elf, looked into hers. "Decades may have passed since the last time I cast my spells, yet it feels as if time has stood still. I am now that I have my magic as I was when I lost it. An apprentice without a master."

He did not speak either. There was no need to. The choice was easy, the answer simple.

Yes.

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  #113  
Old Mar 19th, 2023, 12:16 PM
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The Path Ahead
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Shaylin Moonborn
Shaylin Moonborn looked intently at the human in front of her, a man unlike any she had seen. Being a mage and the scion of a people who had dared to cross the oceans long before the minotaurs had even built their first skiffs, she was aware of many lands beyond Ansalon’s shores, with the continent of Taladas being perhaps the most noteworthy among them. Never had the people of this faraway, almost mythical place played a significant role in Ansalon’s history. And yet Xihue was different. He had a rare connection to the world even though it was one still unfamiliar to him. And he possessed power. The mage didn’t have to touch the skin of his cheek with her fingers to become aware of it. It was different from the magical spark within her, but it was equally intense, perhaps burning even brighter.


"I cannot see the path stretching in front of you, traveler, but I can tell you something about the nature of the so-called Standing Stones."


Sitting down next to him with a nimbleness that defied any estimation of her true age, the white robe picked up Xihue’s flute, twirling it in her hands and examining it closely as if it held all the answers to its owner’s fate.


"Your gnomish friend was right, child of the Alan-Atu, there are people trapped inside the Standing Stones, though their existence is no longer any that you or I would recognize as life. Balif Thraxenath, father of House Protector and close friend of the first Speaker of the Stars, was tasked with defending the newly formed nation of Silvanesti from the nomadic humans of the plains. Urged by the sage Vedvedsica for reasons of his own, he sent men to the hills and mountains north and west of the Silvanesti forest. It was they who discovered these formations of stone that are now known as the Standing Stones. Vedvedsica could immediately sense their great power, a power akin to that of the gods, for it was the gods who had formed them. It is said that he was the only one to discover their true nature and many of the secrets he held have been lost even to my people. What is still known is that the Standing Stones were used to imprison beings that we cannot even begin to imagine during the All-Saints War. This was before the creation of the elves, ogres and humans, when the gods discovered that the very stars were alive and populated by spirits."


The era the Silvanesti mage spoke of, known among the Aesthetics as the Age of Starbirth, was older than anything human minds could comprehend, preceding even the three moons of magic. The fact that the elves retained knowledge of something so ancient even by their standards was astounding, though the act of them sharing that knowledge with a human stranger was perhaps even more so and would have been unthinkable a few decades ago. It seemed that tragedy and loss had changed the Silvanesti not only for the worse.


"The Stones are slumbering, but the magic that sustains them is still intact. Some of Balin’s men were inadvertently imprisoned by them, as were no doubt many different individuals over the centuries. I believe that your mind touched the essence of one of these soldiers, Xihue, and somehow the memory of this melody was passed on to you. Queen Quinari was very much alive in these days after all and honored and beloved by all, as far as the stories claim. What I cannot tell is why this song is of such great importance. You can feel it as well as I, there is purpose and design behind it. This song is meant to accomplish something, though neither here, nor now."


The lady stopped talking and silently regarded the Alan-Atu for a long time, so long in fact that some of the other elves started looking at her worriedly. Suddenly she rose to her feet, her mind made up.


"Come with me, Xihue of the Alan-Atu. Let us see if the light of the silver moon can guide you forward."


The two of them headed towards Shaylin’s tent. The white robe entered it and once more commanded her magical orb to bring light to the darkness, more for the human’s sake than her own. Briefly searching the baskets and small boxes inside the tent, she procured four strips of ivory with depictions of the different phases of Solinari and a pouch of aromatic incense more intoxicating than anything Xihue had inhaled before.


"The dried seeds of emkath i nethel, the smoking bush, found only deep in the forests of Southern Ergoth, though I fear few if any have survived the dragon’s frost", Shaylin explained, burning the precious substance in a small brazier. Almost instantly the tent was filled with heady fumes, the silvery light of the mage’s orb revealing patterns in the smoke - strange lands and meandering rivers, distorted faces that were howling or laughing, slithering serpents and flying dragons, and shapes that were too fantastical to even resemble anything real. The elf took hold of Xihue’s hands, holding them firmly but without causing them any pain. Closing her eyes, she started chanting.


"Solinari, god of magic, part for me the mists of the future. Lunitari, goddess of magic, show me the shifting paths. Nuitari, god of magic, reveal for me the dangers ahead. Take me through the River of Time so that I may know more about Quinari’s promise. I follow the silver light, the path of prophecy. I respect the crimson light, the stuff of dreams. I acknowledge the dark light, the force that brings an end to all. What is the significance of Quinari’s promise? Why was it granted to the human, Xihue of the Alan-Atu? What is the path he must take?"


Again and again Shaylin spoke the words, mixed with long texts in a language Xihue didn’t recognize but made his skin tingle, both hot and cold at the same time. This was powerful magic, much stronger than any he had seen Isandril or the Thorn Knight conjure. One part of him wanted to turn around and run as far and as fast away from the tent as possible, but another was fascinated by the magic he could feel all around him, a moth captivated by the seductive majesty of the flame.


Suddenly the light of the magical orb grew stronger and the human and the elf found themselves at a glade, surrounded by ancient trees, the three moons -yes, three, for Xihue could see Nuitari too- directly above them in the night sky, looking larger than they had ever been before. It was as if they had come closer to the pair in order to whisper to them secrets no one else was allowed to overhear.


Shaylin’s lips parted and she spoke with two voices - one her own and one more ancient and powerful than a mere mortal should have been able to master. Xihue’s knees started shaking, but he willed himself still, not wanting to miss a single thing the magic would reveal.


The Prophecy

The song of life is the song of death,
it opens the door to the place in-between.
It echoes in the hearts and minds of many,
but has now fallen to greedy hands.

Claim it. Take it. Free it.

Let it lead you through the sands and over the dunes.
To the shattered temple of PaladineE’li, guardian of the Gate,
the place where promises were broken and oaths forgotten,
a place sealed by stone and the Cataclysm’s wrath.

Seek it. Find it. Understand it.

So that the key may be turned and the song heard once more.


Shaylin exhaled and with her breath all power left her body. She slumped forward, her fall only halted by Xihue’s strong arms, who gently helped her to sit down. The light of the orb was now as feeble as that of a candle and the smoke had almost completely dissipated. Shaylin opened her eyes with difficulty and spoke, her voice so faint that the human had to lean towards her to hear it.


"Hurim. The ruins of Hurim. It is there that you must travel."


*****


"I am the Dawnstar. I think I understand… I don’t know if I need to find it anymore… if I have to go to the heart of flame, in the land of ash? Maybe I just need to follow my heart? Could it be that simple?"


Shaylin laughed softly at the kender’s words, though there was no irony or derision in it. It was the sound a mother makes when she sees her child take their first steps, one full of excitement and wonder.


"It often is, Talia Dawnstar. Our heart usually offers better advice than even the wisest elven white-robed mage can."


The smile widened and there was the slightest hint of mischief in the Silvanesti’s eyes. It was gone as quickly as it had appeared and the elven woman’s face grew serious once more.


"My people revere the stars for their light and the things they stand for. They believe them eternal and never-changing, but in this they are wrong. Stars are born and die every day, Talia, most of them so far away that only the gods can hear their sighs and cries of joy. If you are to be this age’s Dawnstar, think about how you want to be remembered. Bright and cheerful, sharing your light with those around you or cold and distant, keeping your radiance for yourself until it is nothing more than the memory of heat inside the heart of a piece of fully spent coal."


The mage’s eyes sought Talia’s new boots and cloak and stayed there long enough for her to understand what the elf was saying without using words.


"Your path across the firmament is your own, but it need not be a lonely one. Some things we love above all else we lose, but others we gain. Do not make yourself smaller than you are. Shine brightly for all to see what I see before me. Be true to yourself, your real self, and your path will be one of wonders, as any kender’s should."


The silence that followed seemed to seal a pact between the two, a pact only they understood. Both were hesitant to disturb the silence, for fear that this special moment would go and never return. In the end it was the elf that spoke.


"I will be looking at the skies for the Dawnstar, brave one. But now you must rest. And once you wake, shine in the way that you choose."


*****


"Do not decline a gift offered from the heart, Isandril Moonsilver", Shaylin insisted, refusing to pour the contents of the small cup back into the almost empty bottle next to her. "I have little to give, it is true, but what I still own is mine to do with as I please. This nectar is precious to me, for I do not know how many years shall pass before I am able to taste it again, but even more precious is your forgiveness for my methods. Sometimes it is hard for me to keep my white robes unsullied, these days more so than in the past. Please accept the drink with my apologies."


Watching Isandril as the young elf partook of the nectar, the intensity of the emotions birthed by flavor clearly written on his face, Shaylin pressed her lips together to keep herself from sighing. The mysterious malady weighed heavily on her mind, as did her inability to counter it or divine its source.


"No divination I have performed has revealed anything of substance and even MishakalQuenesti Pah remains silent on the matter. Lady Starsinger is one of the most accomplished healers I have known and yet even her most powerful miracles are only able to alleviate the symptoms for a few hours, a day at most. And yet, as you say, there must be a reason for this… curse. There must be a way to lift it, even if none of the spells I know of are able to counter this affliction. Perhaps the answer is right in front of me and I am too tired to see it. Perhaps you would be able to find a new perspective. This disease first appeared here, in Pashin. Why is that? What is so powerful that it can resist the will of a white robe and a priestess of the true gods? Eventually all of us will grow blind and our skin will be too frail to be able to resist the Khurish sun. What we welcomed as a sanctuary will become our prison. Until the Knights of Neraka discover us…"


The mage rubbed her eyes, first softly, then with increasing fervor, though whether it was due to exhaustion and lack of sleep or due to the strange malady was hard to say. Still, the Silvanesti didn’t allow emotions to reign over them for long, a mage of power even less so. When Shaylin looked at Isandril her eyes were red, but her expression calm.


"Telannia was everything I could have wanted from an apprentice...", Lady Moonborn started. Suddenly, she stopped. What was the use of bemoaning what had been forever lost. Telannia had had incredible potential. She could have been a great mage, a member of the Conclave, a defender and leader of the elven people like her Shalafi was. But no more. Her death had put an end to all of that.


Normally she would have grieved for her lost friend for months, maybe years, refusing to take another apprentice until she had fully paid her respect to the fallen wizardess. But this was a luxury a homeless people couldn’t afford. Though still deemed the most powerful of arcane magic-users on Krynn, the Silvanesti Shield and the minotaur invasion had decimated the members of House Mystic. Primal sorcery was fickle and unreliable and only the return of the moons had brought back the power of the spellbooks and scrolls of old. Even elves who had once commanded unimaginable power had to tread carefully after decades without the magic of the moons, relearning the arcane secrets they had once mastered. It was a slow process and with both the House’s own libraries abandoned and the Conclave of Wizards until recently disbanded, things were more difficult for young mages than they had been even in the dark days after the Cataclysm. Shaylin could not refuse a new apprentice, not when a suitable candidate appeared before her as if by magic.


"You are undeniably intelligent, Isandril, your will is strong and your bloodline worthy. It would be an honor to take you as my apprentice, but…" The elven woman halted, unsure about how to put a feeling into words. "But there is something about you I cannot readily name and it unsettles me. A certain… influence? A shadow", she decided and waited for the young elf to decline or confirm it.


"I sense the eddies the River of Time makes as it passes through you. As a diviner, my connection to the River is strong, but even I have never encountered anything similar before and it frightens me."


The lady frowned, but only for a moment. She couldn’t base her decision on a feeling she couldn’t define. It was childish and irresponsible. Besides, if Isandril was unfit to wear the robes of white, the Test of High Sorcery would make it clear.


"For me to become your Shalafi, Isandril Moonsilver, you must swear your allegiance to me, the Orders of High Sorcery and the gods of magic. Moreover, you must promise me that you will put the good of the elven nation above your own. Our people need us, Isandril, more in these uncertain times than ever before. We must help them, lead them, keep them safe. It is our duty and I would have you acknowledge it before me."


Caressing Telannia’s spellbook a final time, Shaylin offered it to Isandril.


"This spellbook and the knowledge within it now belong to you, apprentice. enduring spellbookI have woven spells around it to make it resistant to cold and heat, water and the passage of time. It served my last apprentice well, may it serve you even better. Accept it and seal our pact, a pact which shall persist until you pass the Test and earn your robes." A soft smile eased the sternness of the mage’s features. "Hopefully, even afterwards."


The smile widened I assume that he willas the younger elf accepted the book. Shaylin nodded proudly. Yes, this was the right decision. Isandril would be a worthy apprentice. One who would bring honor to himself, his Shalafi and his people.


"From now on your allegiance belongs to Solinari, the silver moon. You must declare it openly for all to see. Let me see if I can find a white robe that will fit you. Even half-blind our tailors and seamstresses are the best on Krynn. I doubt it will be a difficult task for them to create something suitable for my new apprentice."


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Isandril’s new spellbook


*****


Three small tents of traditional Khurish design were lent to the companions, none of them particularly sturdy, but since there was neither sun nor wind in the underground chamber, it was of little importance. The first was meant for Aric and Xihue, the second for Isandril and Tegan, and the third for Talia alone, though whether that was because she was the only woman of the group or a kender, it was unclear. Naelathan passed several times close to the trio of tents, which were pitched some way from the main camp, giving the companions a glance or two, but remaining silent otherwise.


Their accommodations were completely lacking in comfort, but still the travelers found that sleep claimed them very quickly. They had experienced so much during the past day that it was truly no wonder that they could barely keep their eyes open. Even Isandril lost himself in the strange realm of elven dreams, picturing himself studying Telannia’s old spellbook -his spellbook, he was quick to correct himself- and practicing the spells and rituals that the precious tome contained. Shaylin Moonborn was one of the most accomplished Silvanesti mages still alive and the apprentice was incredibly eager to see what arcane secrets she would teach him. His Shalafi, however, had bid him to restrict his studies for the time being and fully master the spells explained inside the spellbook before being admitted to rituals of greater power. Mages who were hungry for magical knowledge often overreached, causing great harm to themselves or those around them. Structured and responsible mastery of arcane spellcasting had been the main reason for the founding of the Orders of High Sorcery and the white robes were especially cautious with their apprentices, believing that one had to grow in wisdom as they grew in power.


Talia wasn’t concerned with spells and magical tomes, though she would have dearly wished that she had taken a better look at Telannia’s spellbook. In her dream she flew among the stars, shining so brightly that the people below stopped and pointed at her, knowing that the Dawnstar brought along hope and the beginning of a new era. Even as she flew, scowling back at Morgion’s crown that looked at her suspiciously, the kender thought she heard a noise. Sargonnas and Kiri-Jolith weren’t fighting for a change, thus she looked around her, looking for the source of the noise. Majere’s rose was growing as silently as ever and the planets of Sirrion and Shinare were too far away from each other for the two gods to be arguing. Talia opened her eyes and realized that… she was inside a dark tent and not glowing at all. The noise came from outside the tent. It was as if someone was trying to sneak around and did a particularly bad job of it.


Xihue too, stirred and opened his eyes, having the distinct impression that someone had just bumped against his and Aric’s tent. Waiting a few moments to see whether the tent’s flap would be opened, he realized that the stranger was moving away from his tent and towards that of Isandril and Tegan. What their purpose was, approaching the sleeping companions, was anybody’s guess…



Calendar8th Day of Aelmont (Winter) 422 AC / 38 SC, Night

Solinari: 2/36 (Low Sanction)
Lunitari: 11/28 (Waxing)
Nuitari: 8/8 (Low Sanction)

Boons/Penalties:
White Robes -1 spell DC, DIS on spell attack rolls | Red Robes - | Black Robes -1 spell DC, DIS on spell attack rolls


 
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  #114  
Old Mar 19th, 2023, 10:32 PM
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Aric Armitage
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The frigid castigation he received from the slighted elven warrior woman was clearly no less than he’d expected. The fact that it was also what he felt he deserved was a sad testament to how downtrodden he had begun to feel. His new responsibility helped him get over the sting of Laramielle’s anger. He’d had a moment’s brief joy at seeing that the small bird had survived despite his care, but that feeling was clubbed over the head when he realized he didn’t know how to raise a bird or even what one might eat. He recalled that vultures were carrion eaters and tried to imagine chewing up bits of dead flesh for the young bird. The thought made him gag, and he shook his head. Dates it is.

The spread of food outside the tent was a meager affair, and he tried to mash up a date in his mouth to then feed the bird. She plucked at it a little but didn’t seem thrilled by it, until he recalled having a few small bits of venison jerky in his pack. A little is better than none at all. His teeth worked the dry meat up and down like some terrible machine, chunks of bone masticating dead flesh into a morbid paste. The jerky mush proved to be a big hit, and the feeling of pride at doing something right was a welcome presence for the emotional numbness and the cold pit in his stomach which he’d felt ever since Laramielle had stormed off. To die, she said she was going off to die, it’s all your fault.

No. It’s not. You can’t save these people. She said it herself, you’re just a kid, a human, you don’t understand. And it was wrong of her to try to put that on you. So let it go. You returned her kin and her brother’s griffon, now let it be enough.

”Yeah. Yeah I guess it’s going to have to be.” He idly patted the pouch of coins which had been tossed unceremoniously into the dirt at his feet. Coins he could take. Coins were impersonal, a monetary reward for a service rendered. He’d performed a service by returning her kin, and she’d tried to reward him by assigning him a task: go kill for me. And he’d refused, and she’d felt rejected, and so she’d left in a fit. And that was fine. Probably for the best anyway. He was no warrior, and with the state of her arm, neither was she. It didn’t matter whether her brother had died from pride or recklessness; dead was dead. The not knowing had been what hurt Laramie the worst, and Aric had closed that chapter for her. That had been all he had set out to do. I’m not a warrior. I can’t help these people, I can’t even help myself. He might have only been 16 years of age, but he’d already learned a valuable lesson about how destructive pride could be.

A short distance away he saw some tents being assembled. His other companions had been speaking to Lady Shaylin during the evening, and while he was glad that their consults with the elven woman seemed to be fulfilling, his own botched interaction with Laramielle had left him feeling raw. He didn’t really want to talk with anyone after that, as though the slight he had caused her was somehow echoed across the mass-consciousness of the rest of her people, until their rage would rise like a hammer and bash him into the dirt. It was ludicrous, but that was the nature of anxiety – to live every day feeling like you were disappointing people who were barely even aware of your existence. There was only one way to survive, and that was to cloister himself away both emotionally and physically. He didn’t make eye contact with the elf who had assembled his tent, didn’t say anything beyond a mumbled thanks. His tent mate Xihue was somewhere; they were all somewhere. He was beyond tired after the events of the past several days and didn’t feel like he would be much fun to be around. Besides, he needed to figure out something for his bird. Now freed from her thin, protective shell, she had stayed in his cupped palm for the last 45 minutes while he sat on the dirt in silence. He’d finally made a soft little cloth bowl nestled on the top of his pack made up of the remains of the bedsheet and had gently placed the baby bird into the cloth depression. Now, as he lay on his bedroll and listened to the tiny figure quietly chirp, his mind tried to puzzle out the dilemma. A bucket. I could line it with straw or something soft. It would keep her from wandering off but she’d still be able to get fresh air and be fed. Yeah, a bucket…

Still puzzling out the bird’s housing situation, Aric fell asleep.

 
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  #115  
Old Mar 22nd, 2023, 08:57 AM
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Talia Dawnstar
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Talia fell to sleep quickly, Lady Shaylin’s words warming her soul yet at the same time she felt a lingering rebuke… cold and distant. Again the elf had reminded the kender of her lingering sharp edges and Talia resolved to herself that she would be more mindful in the future… soon… surely it was an imminent change.

The small woman slept and dreamed and in her dreams she frolicked through the cosmos. The gods were no more than neighbors in town… some fascinating… some annoying. Her mind was filled with thoughts of the amazing things she would find when she finally got a chance to meet them all. Morgion, the God of Decay, thought himself to be terror incarnate but Talia knew that if she got inside his dark closet, she would find all manner of interesting things… rainbow cloaks… unicorn dolls.

Talia was more than happy to continue her star lit journey but then she was rudely woken by someone or something sneaking about outside her tent.

Now that was not a good idea. Talia was immediately indignant that someone would even attempt to snuck a sneak. It was just not professionally courteous at all. The kender silently stood up, wrapping her cloak tightly around her as she wiggled her toes in her new boots. With a smile, Talia stepped backwards into the deep shadows of the tent and worked her way towards the entrance flap.

She slipped out of her tent, her eyes squinting as she adjusted to the darkness, her hoopak in hand.

"So... have you find anything interesting?"


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  #116  
Old Mar 23rd, 2023, 01:01 PM
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Isandril Moonsilver, Wizard of High Sorcery
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As Isandril exited Shaylin's tent, the book and stone and robes held tightly against his chest, he stopped and simply stood there, only a few steps away from it. Taking a deep breath, he centered himself. What he was feeling could best be described as contentment. Contentment and pride. For not only was he an apprentice without a mentor no longer, but his Shalafi was none other than Shaylin Moonborn, one of the most skilled Silvanesti White Robes alive. He smiled as he brought her words to him to his mind. He would indeed prove himself worthy of her trust.

He was still smiling when he finally set foot inside the tent he was to share with Tegan. It was only when he opened his new spellbook that his smile finally started to fade. Not out of disappointment though, but because he realized he was too tired to do anything more than simply leaf through the tome before retiring for the night. His last thought before entering the trance that refreshed his kind, where elven dreams of new magic to be mastered and of promised knowledge and power waited for him, was about Lady Moonborn's words about an influence.

A... shadow she had called it. When she had asked him about it -even going so far as to admit fear, which certainly gave him pause- he had not denied that sometimes he would find his thoughts troubling. Perhaps even foreign, as if they were not entirely his own. But he did not elaborate further. Not out of a desire to hide it, but rather an inability to define it in more detail. He had his suspicions, but what his sister had done to save him and what she had used to accomplish her goal... Not only was it a painful memory and one he did not relish revisiting, but it was also an incomplete one, so close to death as he had been during that momentous event. Still, even if he had not been able to shed too much light on it, he nevertheless pledged himself to her. He pledged himself to their people. And he pledged himself to the Art, perhaps even more so than anything else.

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  #117  
Old Mar 23rd, 2023, 10:25 PM
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Shaylin Moonborn
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Tegan
Shaylin was unlike anyone Tegan had met on his journeys. Where most people were either difficult, confusing, or proud, Shaylin was more... meek; not weak, but power under control. She talked to them about the items they retrieved, then she spoke to Talia. Tegan looked up and all thoughts of his missing companions were gone. She was staring at the warrior, a studious furrow in her brow. Tegan felt weighed... measured. It wasn't a cowing look, and Tegan felt he couldn't turn from her gaze. The moment passed. She raised a logical question.

"A man of Solamnia in Khur is a rare occurrence. I dare say that it hasn’t happened since the days after the War of the Lance. Morgan di Kyre is still remembered as a freedom fighter and a hero by the people of this land. An unconventional knight far away from a traditional knight’s post. What about you, Tegan uth William? Are you affiliated with the Knighthood that brought about the birth of Solamnia and has been defending it and its people ever since? What do you seek in this land which is so different from the one of your forefathers? You obviously have the mien and the trappings of a warrior. Have you fought in Sanction against the Knights of Neraka? Would you fight again for people who are in need, people left without a home?"

Tegan mulled over the question. He began to answer, never once thinking to lie to this woman.

"Lady Moonborn, you honor me with your knowledge of my people when I have such limited knowledge of yours, outside of Isandril that is... I am a squire of the Knights of the Sword, sworn to courage, honesty, and faith under Kiri-Jolith. I seek to help those in need and that is how my story has led me here." Tegan had a quick intake of air and continued, openly sharing his story with this woman. He had no reason to distrust her. "I am not here on official business of the Knights. I was given a temporary leave to manage a personal matter. My father was a Knight and following the Knights deployment, I began to have disturbing dreams of him... and his death. I had stayed in Solanthus with my grandfather, to support him in his last days. Following his passing, I received approval to come to Khur; I had heard of a festival where you could communicate with the dead. I had determined that my father was leading me there. It was there that I came to peace with his passing, but also prayed for guidance on my next steps from Kiri-Jolith. He has graced my steps thus far and led me here, with my new companions."

Tegan considered the rest of her questions, slightly embarrassed at his lack of combat experience, and wondering how to phrase it. He decided the best path forward was transparency. "I did not fight in Sanction. I have... actually very few combats under my belt. We did face the Knights of Neraka on the road. They attacked Talia and we were forced to defend ourselves. One of them fell and we had to leave half our number behind to guard the other two... I hope they are okay..."

Tegan steeled himself, setting his face like flint as he looked at Lady Moonborn with resolution on his face. "To answer your question: Yes, I would fight for those left without a home. I can think of no better cause. I know the strife of living underneath the thumb of the Knights of Neraka. I can see the suffering of your people. Your strength of character has gotten you thus far and the loyalty of your people is unwavering, but this cannot go on. Justice must prevail. If there is a way I can help you, please share it... I am honor-bound to help those in need, but I would need guidance on how I could intervene against a whole Nerakan army." Tegan remembered living under the Nerakan's as he stayed with his grandfather. He remembered the shame of being unable to fight back. The shame of being left behind when the Knights of Solamnia went to Sanction. If he could he would help.


Later that evening, Tegan sat outside a Khurish tent, his doffed armor lain nearby as he enjoyed a break from the mail's heat. His skin still felt slightly flush as trace amounts of the poison lingered in his veins. Isandril, his bunkmate, was still communicating with Lady Moonborn. Tegan decided this was his chance to recollect himself. It had been a long, trying day. This was the closest he had been to death. If it weren't for divine intervention, would he even be here?

As was his training, he withdrew his whetstone to hone the edge of his sword. It wasn't until he drew his sword that he realized his folly. The blessing of Kiri-Jolith had made the edge of his sword pristine. He tried to remember everything that happened in the fight, but it was just a blur. He ran his thumb along the runes now present on the blades face. Kanna. Courage. Is this a boon for being courageous in a difficult place? Or a charge to uphold courage? The warrior recognized that realistically, the answer was both. Tegan rested the sword across his lap and dug through his pack. Luckily the sewer water hadn't permeated throughout the pack and he began to peckishly eat the remainder of the ration he was eating earlier.

As he finished the nuts and dried meat strips, he retrieved the bison horn from his pack. It was, besides his sword, his prized possession. He held it close, repeating a sacrament of the Knights, then began to pray. Thank you for protecting me today. I don't know if it was grace or a rewarding of faith that led to that, but I know this was a near thing. I must also state my thanks for the boon of my sword. Your touch has made it... special. I pray that you would reveal to me it's effects, if you would allow it. Please grant me the courage that this sword demands. I don't feel that I have earned any such thing, but with your help, I know I can live up to this. Please show me how I can help the elves... if there is a way. Last, I just pray that you would protect my friends. I pray they are okay and that, if it's possible, our paths would cross again.

The warrior continued his meditation for some time. His body needed rest, but his soul needed more rest. He continued to rest his hand on his blade...

Tegan's eyes fluttered lazily. Had he been asleep a long time? It didn't appear so. Things didn't seem to be any different. Yet he felt different. The warrior glanced around. His belongings were still there, but something felt like it was missing. It continued to elude him for several moments until it clicked. The poison. It was gone.

Tegan rose, Kanna still in hand. He rolled his tight shoulders and considered the sword further. He felt a... Tegan has attuned to the sword.connection with the blade and he began to understand what it was capable of. He didn't know how to explain it, but he knew that Kiri-Jolith used the blade to purge the blight in his blood. Tegan closed his eyes and soaked in the feeling of the sword in his hand. A true extension of his body. He let the moment linger, then decided it was time to pack up for the night. Sheathing the blade, Tegan retired to his bedroll. It was time for some hard-earned rest. He could catch up with Isandril and the others later.

 
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  #118  
Old Mar 24th, 2023, 09:23 PM
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Xihue of the Alan-Atu
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Of all possible experiences, the most undesirable was to become the focus of prophecy. Such burdens are heavy, onerous, often dangerous and always fraught with tribulations. Xihue, possibly still under the influence of whatever pharmaceutical gas had been generated when Lady Moonborn had burned the seeds of emkath i nethel, retired to his provided makeshift domicile on shuffling feet. One of the harshest curses known to the Alan-Atu people was ancient: May you live an important life. Xihue knew himself to be a man of low stature. He had never been good with the shield or the shildor knife. His Master had often laughed at his simple-mindedness and at the literal way that he would, as a boy, receive and interpret his lessons. Had this important song been passed to an itinerant monk so that it might find its way to the ears of the one intended to use it for its true purpose? Xihue hoped so.

The shepherd had remembered Tegan's instruction that he should remain clothed at bedtime and the discomfort of this new practice made it difficult to reach restful sleep. It didn't help that Aric tended to make strange noises in his throat. The lad's neuroses and tears undoubtedly produced blockages in his nose, throat and chakra points that impacted his body as it slept. There was also a baby bird nesting nearby.

Large, round, black fledgling eyes stared back at Xihue as he rose from his tiger-skin bedroll and sat upright, suddenly aware of movement outside the tent. Someone was unartfully trying to sneak past his tent. Quickly wrapping his sash loosely about his body, the monk quietly stepped out to see Talia in the process of confronting whomever had been skulking about.

"So... have you find anything interesting?", said the Kender mapmaker as Xihue collected the crosier leaning against the front of his tent. His bare feet made no sound as he took a few steps to casually join her.


 
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  #119  
Old Mar 25th, 2023, 10:07 AM
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Shaylin Moonborn
"Courage, honesty and faith…", the white robe repeated, looking intently at Tegan as if she were able to peer into his heart. "Yes, I see these things within you, Solamnic. I see Kiri-Jolith’s mark." Her gaze briefly touched upon the ancestral sword sheathed at Tegan’s waist and she smiled softly. "Don’t feel bad for not having proven your worth in battle, young squire. War is not to be actively sought out, though one should be prepared for it when the clarions call and the cries of dragons fill the skies."


The smile wilted and died, leaving behind it a drawn face and haunted eyes. Considering her age, the elven woman must have lived through many wars - the Dragonarmies’ invasion of Silvanesti and Lorac’s Nightmare during the War of the Lance, the Chaos War and the disappearance of the gods and the magic of the moons, the fall of the Sylvan Veil and the minotaur conquest of the elven kingdom. Each time armies clashed, her people suffered, each time losing something of themselves until they were left with nothing, grateful to find refuge in a place they normally wouldn’t even have considered suitable to lay the dead to rest.


"I fear that not even your stout heart will be able to prevail against a Dark Knight army, Tegan uth William. But I accept your sword and am grateful for the honor you do me by allowing me to point it at an enemy of my people. Still, we have talked enough about war. You are wounded and weary and deserve a night of peace. Rest now, squire, and once Lady Starsinger has finished tending to the Khurish youth, I will have her pay you a visit. Come morning, we shall talk further of how you could help us in our hour of need, elf-friend."


The lady took a few steps away from the squire, but suddenly stopped, turning her graceful neck to look at the Solamnic.


"Where are these companions you spoke of, Tegan? If you want, I could attempt to magically locate them, though much effort would be necessary, since these individuals are unknown to me. A likeness of them would be useful, as would be a personal possession or a small body part like a strand of hair. There is a conjunction of the silver and black moons tomorrow that will counter the fact that in its current phase Solinari’s light is weak. If the spell is to be cast, tomorrow would be the right time for it. Think about it. The elven nation could use all the assistance people are willing to offer it."


*****


Like a shadow Xihue slipped out of his tent, leaving Aric to sleep and fight against the nightmares that plagued his nights, just like an army of fears plagued his days. His shoeless feet made no noise as he carefully stepped on ancient flagstones, his human eyes trying to locate in the eternal twilight of the underground chamber the source of the noise. The Alan-Atu thought to see a figure and he tightened his grip on his crosier.


"So... have you found anything interesting?"


Xihue stopped immediately, fearing that he had been discovered. A few moments passed before he realized that the voice didn’t belong to an intruder but Talia, her impish face with the glistening eyes appearing out of the darkness to confront the shadowy figure.


The shadow screamed in surprise, a woman’s voice so shrill with fear that it woke the companions who had up to this point not been aware that someone was trespassing. The mysterious woman dropped something, her fingers growing numb with panic, and Xihue swiped with his crosier the item she had lost out of her reach, expecting it to be a dagger or a phial of poison. He found out that it was a leather pouch and from within it came the sound of clinking coins. A softly glowing fire poker appeared, held like a sword in Aric’s hand, who came out of the tent, his longish hair tangled. The magical light illuminated the pale face of a blonde elven woman, her elegant features twisted with terror.


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Nelessa Wideleaf
"Don’t hurt me, please!", the woman cried out hysterically, her red eyes full of tears. "I wasn’t spying on you, I swear. I heard that among you is a Solamnic Knight and I thought - I thought…"


The woman was shaking so badly that she appeared to be about to collapse at any moment. Only when the weapons were lowered and she was offered a place to sit, did she seem to calm down, though her eyes still darted this way and that at the faintest sound.


"My name is Nelessa Wideleaf, originally from Sithelnost", the woman introduced herself, her voice still shaky. "My husband and I were forced out of our city by minotaur soldiers wielding axes and torches. Despite Naelathan’s warnings, I believed that we would be allowed to remain, if we swore obedience to the bull-men, but they would hear none of it. The forest no longer belonged to us, they said. The Silvanesti name would be reduced to ashes and in its place Ambeon would rise, domain of the minotaurs. My husband dared say something about this land having belonged to the elves since the beginning of time and they struck him savagely, kicking at him even as he fell to the ground. They dragged us out of our home and made us watch as they set it on fire, destroying our lives and the memories of our children…"


Sobs interrupted her tale of woe and the woman covered her eyes with her hands, ashamed that she was crying in front of non-elves. Eventually she found the strength to continue.


"A minotaur company led all of us that still remained in the city to the kingdom’s border, only stopping briefly for the soldiers to rest. About one third of our numbers passed away from exhaustion and lack of water, my husband among them. Internal bleeding, a minotaur said, and left my Cerillon’s body behind to be eaten by beasts. I wasn’t even allowed to pray over him, much less bury him, so eager were they to drive us out of our forest, curse their black hearts! Some escaped and the bull-men gave chase, returning with several heads they made us carry. I was spared this horror, but not the one of looking at their blank eyes, eyes of customers, neighbors and friends, people I had known for hundreds of years."


Nelessa tightly shut her eyelids, but that didn’t make the multitude of dead eyes in her mind disappear, eyes that were always watching, always judging.


Why did you survive and I didn’t? I had a small child. I was of noble blood. I struck a minotaur dead before the brutes overcame me. I, I, I… What did you do that your life was spared and mine wasn’t?


There were no answers to such questions, no explanation to appease the anger of the dead and the guilt of the living.


"We were happy once", the woman whispered, swaying gently back and forth, seeking shelter in memories of the distant past. "I bore three children, two boys and a girl who filled our home with laughter. We praised BranchalaAstarin and danced beneath the stars, my heart so joyous I thought I could soar straight up to the heavens to share my happiness with them. Thrice-blessed the people called me and invited me to their houses, hoping that I would bring them luck."


The elven woman stopped moving, but kept her eyes closed.


"One by one I lost all of them, my children, my stars. My eldest son was killed by a green dragon as the Dragonarmies broke through our defenses. My youngest fell to the nightmarish creatures born out of our mad king’s delusions. I thought my daughter safe, but she too wasted away, her life consumed by the sickness we had no name or cure for. All I had was their memories and the jade figurines my husband made for me. A raven for my eldest son, for he was wise beyond his years, a cat for my younger son, the nimblest, most capable ranger, forest fighterkirath in his company, and a snake for my daughter, one of the harmless and gentle ones that are considered lucky, if found within one’s home or garden. She used to leave a bowl with milk and honey at our doorstep every evening and left the door slightly ajar, hoping that it would attract the sacred serpents to bless us with their presence."


Suddenly Nelessa started hitting her head with her hands and wailing like a woman possessed.


"Why? Why? Why were they taken from me? Have these hands ever harmed anyone? Have I not always prayed to the gods of light, asking for their blessings and their guidance? Why was I left with nothing? Why!?"


Out of the shadows Naelathan appeared, his face as cold as always, but beneath it… something. Pity? Sympathy? Understanding? His gaze briefly met that of the companions, but he did not speak. Instead he turned his back and left, disappearing in the darkness.


Nelessa would not calm down, no matter how much time passed, no matter what words of solace were offered to her. She would not calm down no matter how many scratches her own fingers inflicted upon her pale skin, her nails jagged and bloody. She cried and screamed and hurt herself and then she punished herself once more. Until gentle hands were placed upon her head and soft words were spoken to MishakalQuenesti Pah, the only one who could temporarily ease the woman’s pain.


right-aligned image
Angelyn Starsinger
The grief-stricken elf exhaled and collapsed, the only thing that managed to support her were Naelathan’s strong hands. Angelyn gently caressed her shoulders, then her hair, without stopping praying to the goddess. Each caress, each phrase spoken seemed to calm down the woman, who leaned backwards towards Naelathan. Suddenly, however, her eyes grew wide and she almost jumped at Tegan who was in front of her, attempting to kiss his hand.


"Sir Knight, please help me! Bring me back something from my children, my husband. The jade figurines my Cerillon carved, I retrieved them with the help of a Khurish scout, finding them among the ruins of my home and getting out of Sithelnost undetected. We thought ourselves safe from the minotaurs once we left the forest behind us, but we were ambushed! Cruel men surrounded us and Hekim fought them, asking me to leave. I did as told, but dropped the satchel with the figurines - my children, I abandoned them…"


Tears threatened to overwhelm her once more, but she blinked them away. She had to talk to the Solamnic Knight, she had to ask for his help.


"They killed the young scout, thrusting a sword between his ribs. I should have stayed behind, I should have died with him, but instead I ran and ran until I could no longer breathe. I know I don’t deserve your mercy, Sir Knight, but please, please, bring me back these figurines. They are all I have."


Remembering the pouch she had dropped, she searched around her frantically until she located it near Xihue. Picking it up with a cry, Tegan may accept it or notshe offered it to Tegan, her hands trembling.


"It’s not much, I know, but I have nothing else of value. Hekim knew it too. He agreed to help me because he felt sorry for me, not because of the steel I promised him. Please, Sir. I know Knights of Solamnia to be men and women of honor. Will you help me? Will you return my children to me?"


"Come, Nelessa." The priestess of Quenesti Pah put her arms around the poor woman’s shoulders and immediately she seemed to grow calmer. "You must rest now. Let the goddess comfort you, my child. What you need now is sleep, only sleep."


Gently leading Nelessa away, Angelyn seemed to regard Tegan with confusion for a moment. All traces of weariness had disappeared from his face and he was standing tall and proud once more, as if the giant spider’s poison had never affected him.


"The youth will make a full recovery", she announced, her voice soft. "Had you brought him to me but an hour later, it might have been too late. He is resting now, but by the goddess’ grace he will be strong enough to return to the city above by tomorrow."


Naelathan stayed behind, watching Angelyn and Nelessa slowly walk towards the main camp. Without turning his head to face the companions, he spoke to them, his voice not as icy as it usually was.


"Forget about Nelessa’s request. It is a fool’s errand. She lost the figurines months ago. Even if you were to defeat Pegrin and his bandits, you would never find them. The scoundrel must have sold them a long time ago. Don’t throw away your lives for nothing."


Without another word he swiftly followed the two women.



Calendar8th Day of Aelmont (Winter) 422 AC / 38 SC, Night

Solinari: 2/36 (Low Sanction)
Lunitari: 11/28 (Waxing)
Nuitari: 8/8 (Low Sanction)

Boons/Penalties:
White Robes -1 spell DC, DIS on spell attack rolls | Red Robes - | Black Robes -1 spell DC, DIS on spell attack rolls


 
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Running Dragons of a Broken World: A Dragonlance (Age of Mortals) 5e DnD campaign
  #120  
Old Mar 25th, 2023, 11:51 PM
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Aric Armitage
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Aric awoke with a start. He had been dreaming again, dreaming of his mother, of her screaming in her final moments of life upon this earth. Only now, sitting up in this unfamiliar place, did he realize that the scream he’d heard had carried through the thin bubble of sleep and into the waking world. The darkness around him was disorienting, and in the lonely confines of the elven tent he could have been camped under a dark and cloudy sky anywhere in Ansalon. Only… that wasn’t true at all. There was no sky to be found, not without tunneling upward through layers and layers of sedimentary rock. The reality of where he had lain his head came rushing back to him like an arrow, but he had no time for the paralysis of fear. Something was amiss. The tent he was supposed to be occupying with Xihue was empty, and Aric did not believe the Alan-Atu man would choose to take a naked stroll among their elven hosts.

Gripping the nearest weapon at hand (a fireplace poker), Aric poked his sleep-addled head out of the tent flap. There was a trio of trespassers just beyond the thin veneer of safety which the tent offered. Aric squinted but couldn’t see who the figures were. He stumbled through the darkness over to his pack, mindful of the quietly chirping young bird, and grabbed a thin pinch of phosphorescent moss. Lux, he whispered, pointing at the cold iron of the poker. The rod glowed angelic white around the young man, and as his pupils quickly contracted from the sudden glow, his field of vision expanded to reveal his missing bunkmate Xihue, the perpetually problematic kleptomaniac Talia, and… a third figure. In the white light her blonde hair looked like spun silver. She lay sprawled on the cavern floor where she had stumbled. A few feet away was a fallen coin purse. For one shameful moment Aric looked back into his tent to make sure that his own coin purse remained, but whoever this elven woman was, she had not robbed him.

As Aric exited the tent in his underclothes he could hear the stirring of others throughout the cavern. The elven woman’s shout had awoken more than just himself, apparently. Kneeling in the dirt he was about to retrieve the woman’s fallen pouch, but in her frantic panic she suddenly scrambled forward, snatched the coin purse up like a bird of prey grabbing a fieldmouse, and then thrust it into the hands of the newly arrived Tegan. In his foggy mind Aric had only gotten bits and pieces of the woman’s tale, a story of loss which might have rivaled any of their own. She had no family; he had gathered that. That was not all, he was starting to surmise. There were missing talismans, carved pieces in the shapes of different animals which had been taken or lost along the way. Somehow, in her grief, this woman had gotten the impression that Tegan and the others would be able to locate these missing objects and return them to her. A good night’s sleep had done much to clear Aric’s head, but he had not forgotten the final interaction he’d had the previous day. I have already destroyed relations with one spiritually wounded elf; I will not do the same only hours later. Aric had no destiny to fulfill, no path before him. All was darkness. Tegan and the others were his guiding light, and if they decided that finding this woman’s baubles was the best use of their time and resources, Aric would not bemoan the decision. He did have a bit of input in the matter, however.
”Tegan, a word, if I may?” he said quietly to the knight-to-be. He waited for the golden-haired Solamnic man to politely extricate himself from the desperate elf and stood in the cloth dome of his tent. Once he had the man’s attention, he signaled his friend to sit.

”I obviously owe you a great deal for everything you have done. You protected Dove back at the brothel, and you’ve always been there to support me, even when I make mistake after stupid mistake. I’ve really come to trust your judgment, and if I’m being perfectly honest, I find myself trying to be strong and steadfast like I see that you are.” He sighed. ”It’s not easy, though. Trying to do the right thing… I’m having a hard time discerning what that is anymore. I thought I was doing the right thing yesterday, when Laramielle talked to me, but I seem to have done nothing but put my foot in it. And it breaks my heart because she was the whole reason I came here. She… she offered me her brother’s bow, the one I have carried since the river where we found his… his body. She offered it as a gift, but… Tegan, it felt more like an obligation than a gift. Maybe I am just mixed up or wired wrong or something, but I ended up refusing the gift. She wanted me to take it and deliver justice to the bandits who laid her brother low, and who have harried her people. And now, a day later, I think I made a mistake in refusing her. She wanted me to kill these men who have done so much wrong, but she caught me in a very strange moment.” He gestured to the small, chirping bird which lay nestled in the sculpted folds of the bedsheet he had taken from one of Jabbal’s tents so many days ago. ”You remember the vulture, the one which ate the donkey’s eyes? That was shortly after our party split. Anyway… well, there’s no way to soften what I did. I tracked the vulture to its nest and put an arrow through it. I was angry at what I felt was a desecration of a sweet, harmless animal. I shot it dead, but the bird was a mother, and she had two eggs. One fell with the mother to the ground before I could do a thing. The other…” He gestured at the chirping bird. ”I have lashed myself a thousand-fold for what I did, but no amount of self-castigation will make up for my action. I took two lives out of anger, and now this bird has no family to raise her save for this sorry soul. Laramielle approached me outside the good Lady Shaylin’s tent just moments after the little bird’s hatching. I had just seen this tiny thing survive days and days in my care – a river crossing, the heat of the desert, even a nasty trek through a sewer and a battle with a group of poisonous spiders. I had done all that, and then there she was asking me to kill yet again. And I just… I couldn’t accept. It was a generous offer, the bow was well-crafted, but…” He looked at the Solamnic man with a plaintive expression.

”…but I think I have erred greatly, and in so refusing I have caused her even more pain. She took a chance in speaking to me. A might warrior, wounded, and I refused her. I don’t know. Maybe my reluctance to kill is admirable. After all, I saw how violence and anger ruined my father’s life. But at the same time, I can see how she’s right. How can I call myself good if I know that evil is going on, but rather than take a stand against those who cannot defend themselves, I turn a blind eye? I say I’m afraid of corrupting my soul with vengeance and bloodlust, yet how can a soul survive by curling up into a little ball in the face of injustice and ruthless aggression?” His voice had started to rise in the stillness of the tent, and he didn’t know if those without could hear his words. He took a deep breath and tried to continue.

”Maybe I am as weak as my father said. I never enjoyed hunting, but I had to. We would have starved otherwise. And the other day, when I shot that… that Nerakan, the battle was… well it was terrifying, but also… exciting? But then after, when we were faced with the reality of what we had done, I felt sick. Not to mention, the man I shot, he ripped my own arrow from his flesh and stabbed that poor messenger with it. I mean, what kind of brutal monster does that?” The memory made him gag, and he spat into the corner of the tent. ”I’m sorry, I know this is a lot and it’s unfair of me to unload my burdens onto you, especially when you have your own to bear. I just… there’s no one else here to talk to. Xihue’s culture is so different, and if I’m being blunt, a lot of the time I’m not quite sure what he’s saying. Isandril has… well there’s a lot going on here that I’m sure he’s occupied with. I just don’t know how to proceed. I don’t think talking with Laramielle myself would solve anything; with my luck, I’d only muddy the waters even more. But hearing that lady Nelessa talk about going after the men who took her figurines… and Laramielle’s story of how the bandits have taken so much from her people…” He sighed. ”I guess I have to grow up sometime. I wish I had the courage to face her and say this myself, but… oh boy. I don’t know what your plans are, Tegan, but I don’t think I can turn away from this stuff anymore. Someone must put these men down, and it’s clear no one in Pashin is about to. I guess I’m asking, well, one, for your advice, but two, would you be able to do what this coward cannot and tell Laramielle she has her warrior?” He patted the coinpurse at his side. ”But tell her I meant what I said about burying the bow with her brother. Besides… I already have a bow, and this one’s traveled all the way from Abanasinia. Now I guess it’s time to put it to some use.”


 
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