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  #16  
Old Jun 2nd, 2024, 02:27 AM
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The Captive
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Elven wine
With every gulp Zendra took, Pegrin’s smile grew wider until it was almost impossible for his face to contain. It wasn’t a malicious grin. On the contrary, if Zendra had to guess, she would have said it was very similar to the grin of a child that visits an illusionist’s magic show for the first time - full of wonder and sparkling, unadulterated joy. When the archaeologist finally let the slender bottle, now empty, slip from her hands and land with a faint noise on Mathúin’s pelt, taking a short bow afterwards, her impressive accomplishment was greeted with enthusiastic applause.


"Amazing!", Pegrin exclaimed, his face flushed as much with excitement as with the effect of the spirits. "You are a wonder, my precious Zendra. Never have I seen a woman drink like that and still keep her wits about her. You truly are one of a kind."


He gently pulled her towards him, planting a passionate kiss on her lips, before protectively - or was it possessively? - putting a muscular arm around her shoulders. The grin slowly vanished, but the admiration in his eyes remained.


"I would love to know what is going on in that pretty little head of yours", he said calmly and even though Zendra could see him make no move to retrieve his hidden sword, she shivered. The bandit smirked, believing it was the nearness of their bodies that had this effect on her.


"I saw the way you looked at that elven figurine earlier. It’s really valuable, isn’t it? Magical, perhaps? I am sure that’s the reason that elf begged for its return earlier. She wanted to trick us, make us think that it only had sentimental value. But she didn’t know that it takes more than a sad story to fool people like you and me. Anyway, she learned her lesson now."


Pegrin shifted until his heavy body was over Zendra, their lips only inches apart. Every time he spoke, the woman could feel the sweetness of the wine on his breath. It made her nauseous.


"What do you say we pay her a visit? I am sure that you can trick the secret of the figurine out of her. And then, we spend the night enjoying ourselves."


A smile was quickly succeeded by another kiss and then Pegrin stood up, somewhat shakily, and gently helped Zendra to her feet. His sword remained hidden beneath the pelt of the bear, apparently forgotten. Or was this all part of a devious plan?


"Follow me, my lady", the bandit leader beckoned Zendra, making no attempt to cover his bare torso or arm himself. After all, what could harm him in a camp where everyone followed his orders? "And take that figurine with you. It’s sight might refresh the elf’s memory."


Opening the tent’s flap, Pegrin stepped outside. The chill of the night made his skin crawl, but he paid it no attention.


"Derg? Derg!", he cried out, but received no answer. Pegrin scowled. "Where in the name of the Abyss has that half-elf gone?"


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The elven captive
Losing no more time, he headed towards a nearby tent, his steps fumbling and uncertain, and gallantly held open the flap for Zendra to enter. Inside it was a slender figure, lying on the ground, dressed in what must have been a simple dress. The fabric had been forcibly torn in so many places that it now resembled little more than rags. The woman, for indeed it was a woman, shivered so badly that her teeth chattered. Whether it was from the cold or fear was anybody’s guess.


Pale moonlight entered the tent, allowing Zendra to get a better look at the captive. The elven woman would have been pretty under different circumstances, possessing the everlasting youth of the firstborn. Her skin was exceedingly fair, though bruises currently covered her whole body, and her tangled and dirty hair was the buttery yellow of petunias. Her eyes had the color of the tranquil sea, but appeared dead, utterly devoid of hope. Her lips were thin and a crust of old blood covered parts of them. Did she bite them to keep herself from screaming?, Zendra wondered.


The moment Pegrin entered the tent as well, leaving the flap open so that he could see inside, the woman’s eyes widened and she anxiously crawled as far away from the bandit as possible. Her hands and legs were bound with thick rope, but that did nothing to diminish the speed that fear granted her.


"No, no, no!", she cried out, between brief bursts of hyperventilation. "Not again. Not again."


Pegrin made no move towards her. He merely gave her a smile as dark as the heart of the Abyss.


"Shtop your sssquirming, worm. There’sss nowhere for you t’go unless I allow it. My lady has a fffew queshtions to ask you. Anssswer truthfully and you might j’st sssee your beggar fffriends again."


Pegrin’s speech was slow and slurred and the words were spoken more loudly than the man intended. Zendra had seen enough people unable to hold their liquor who spoke and acted in a similar way. That didn’t make the bandit leader any less dangerous, she knew.


"Come, Zendra. Asssk her. Or I will ask her inssstead."




 


 
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Old Jun 4th, 2024, 01:29 PM
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Zendra Zantir
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Zendra


Zendra was dumbfounded. Of course she might have guessed Pegrin and his crew kept captives - she'd ended up as one herself of course - but it had never occurred to her she'd actually find one here and now.

Pegrin obviously couldn't speak Silvanesti Elvish. Unless... was this a trap and he'd know if she said anything untoward? For a moment Zendra found her breath catching in her throat at the thought.

Don't be paranoid. He's too drunk for that sort of thing and he did call for Derg.

Trying to project a calm she did not come close to feeling Zendra sat down crosslegged, removing her coat and offering it to the Elven girl.

"Take my cloak Firstborn," she urged in Elvish, "you need it far more than I. I am a friend who had the misfortune to stumble into this beast's camp. I'll help you escape, but we must mislead him for a time."

Zendra paused and smiled gently at the prisoner, regretting not for the first time that she'd been more of a bookworm than a people person. She could only hope the elf believed her. "My name is Zendra and I a scholar and explorer. The beast wants to know more about the artefacts he has stolen, especially this one," she held up the jade bear statue in her palm.

"I know enough of magic to tell there is something to this beyond just art but Pegrin cannot know the truth. I can spin him a tale but say something to make it sound like you are explaining it to me so can give him an explanation. I'll be back to help you soon I promise."

Zendra leaned back and turned her head to Pergrin. It was a struggle to keep how devastated she'd been by the elf's appearance off her face but she had to make Pegrin think she was being dispassionate. "I ordered her to tell us all my Captain."



 




 



 


 
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Old Jun 9th, 2024, 08:36 AM
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Revenge
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The elven captive
Even as Zendra approached the captive, she saw the woman’s eyes grow narrow with suspicion and her body become as taut as the pulled string of a bow waiting to be released. The elf didn’t trust her, she realized. And why should she? Hadn’t she just appeared at the side of Pegrin, the hateful man who had robbed this once-proud Silvanesti woman of her freedom, her self-respect, her future?


As the archaeologist spoke, however, the mien of the elf changed. She never fully let her guard down - how could she ever do so while in Pegrin’s presence? - but the tension in her face grew markedly less and her lips seemed looser, ready to reply to her unexpected ally.


The bandit leader noticed the change, but due to his inebriation thankfully misjudged Zendra’s intention. Amicably placing his heavy hand on the archaeologist’s shoulder, he slaveringly complimented her on her ingenuity.


"Goood idea, Zzendra, ttalking to the elf in her own shhavage tongue. You’re a treas’re, my sssweet." The cruel laughter that escaped the man’s lips caused him to inadvertently tighten his grip, but Zendra stopped herself from crying out in pain. "Nnow make her ttalk!"


The elf tightly covered herself in the cloak the human woman had offered her, her feeling of shame urging her to accept it even more than the bitter cold she experienced. Ignoring Pegrin’s drunken words, she talked only to Zendra, her eyes momentarily free of fear, pain and madness.


"You call him a beast, but no beast would have done to me what he has", she replied in a rasping voice, the melody of her elven tongue in harsh contrast with the rawness of her words. "I wish he had killed me like he did that young Khurish warrior. The poor youth tried to protect me first with his sword, then with his own body." The elf started shaking, tears flooding her eyes. "But… but he didn’t stand a chance. Not against that many. The monster made me watch as he…"


The tension was suddenly released and the elven woman wailed like the banshees of legend, her cries chilling Zendra to the core. How much she had suffered, she thought. How much she had seen others suffer. And it was all Pegrin’s fault.


Eventually, the cries turned into a soft sobbing and even that stopped after a time. When the elf raised her head to look at Zendra again, her eyes were consumed by the twin flames of hatred and vengeance.


"He must die", the elf announced with unexpected calmness as if stating the obvious. "I prayed to the gods of light to help me escape and the gods of twilight to end my suffering and my life. But only SargonnasKinthalas has answered my call. In making you appear. Give me the jade figurine. It is magical, one of three, crafted by my late husband. He taught me the words that activate the magic. It will turn the statuette into a real bear, one that will tear him limb from limb. It’s better than he deserves, but I want to see him die all the same. Please, give me the figurine. Grant me my vengeance. It’s all that I have left."




 


 
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Old Jun 11th, 2024, 06:11 AM
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Zendra Zantir
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Zendra


Zendra felt a dryness at the back of her throat. She wondered if her shock was evident on her face and she hoped Pegrin was too fermented in his wits to be paying attention. She was no theologian but she did know who Kinthalas was even if she knew him better by other names.

The jade statue felt heavy and hard in her slender hand, almost as if was a weapon in itself rather than an artefact that stored a weapon. Would it really be so different to braining Pegrin with a skillet or smothering him with a cloth before she made her escae? Hadn't this woman earned some measure of vengeance?

Yet could she really risk letting a woman soaked in grief and anger let loose a mad bear?

But... it won't just be a bear will it? What about Mathúin? He'll be in control,' Zendra thought to herself. 'Mat! I don't think you can hear my thoughts but I hope you are nearby and feel this magic! Take this body my friend, and you'll be free and so will the two of us!'

Feeling resolved at making her decision Zendra turned back to the elf. There were still limits to what she could do with Pegrin hovering right by like a vulture over a dying horse. Zendra could not take the other woman's hand or hug her or really do much of anything to comfort her that would involve changing her expression.

"We'll have to be clever about this. Drunk as he is he'll still see me just hand it to you in the open. In a moment slap me across the face," Zendra instructed in Elvish. "Make it hard and convincing so he's fooled. I'll push you back, tear my cloak back off you - and drop the bear into your hand in the scuffle."


 




 



 


 
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Old Jun 13th, 2024, 03:46 PM
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The Figurine of Power
"Well?", Pegrin asked impatiently, taking a few threatening steps forward. With moonlight streaming inside the tent from behind him, his shadow now fell on the prisoner. This time, however, the elf didn’t shrink back. Instead, she raised her head and looked at him defiantly, her beautiful, almond eyes reflecting the evil festering in him.


With a cry, the elf attacked, growling and showing her teeth like a wild beast. The bandit leader raised his arms, ready to punch the insolent woman into submission, when he realized that he wasn’t the target of her attack.


The Silvanesti leaped upon Zendra, who was crouching in front of her, one bloody hand going for her hair, the other for her throat. To her credit, the archaeologist reacted lightning fast, instantly pulling away from the crazed woman. She almost succeeded too. One of the prisoner’s hands swiped at thin air, while the other struck Zendra on the face. Her cheek burned and when she placed her hand on it she found it throbbing.


The archaeologist’s eyes narrowed with indignation. How dared she attack her? She was the only one in this camp who had treated the elf like a sentient being. She had tried to help her. She had given her her cloak to cover her nakedness.


The cloak!


Pushing the prisoner back, Zendra grabbed the cloak, forcefully tearing it off her shoulders. She was about to say something when she felt Pegrin’s strong hands on her own shoulders, forcefully pulling her back.


"You *****!", he cursed, spittle flying out from his open mouth. "You’ll regret this!"


The elf rose to her feet and Pegrin saw that she was holding one of the jade figurines in her hands. His eyes widened.


"H- how!?"


The Silvanesti didn’t respond. She merely looked at her tormentor proudly, hatefully, and spoke words that made Pegrin’s skin crawl.


"Elem shardish, dari tanah-mayat ke keawetan!"


The words echoed like thunder inside the small tent and they were followed by a burst of brilliant green light. Rubbing his eyes to clear his vision, which was still blurry after the unexpected flare, the bandit howled in rage, inwardly vowing to stop hitting the elf only when she had breathed her last.


His challenge was met by another howl, a truly bestial howl. Though Pegrin was able to see once more, his mind refused to believe what his eyes registered. A bear. A living, breathing bear with a hide that resembled some kind of green stone and fangs and claws large enough to tear to pieces the bandit leader and anyone else who tried to come between it and its prey.


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The jade bear attacking

"Ulsian!", the elf commanded the bear and even if Zendra had known not a single elven word, she would have had no difficulty guessing the woman’s intention. The animal immediately obeyed, losing no time in attacking its mistress’ captor.


The man tried to call for help, but the bear’s paw slashing through the air mere inches from his face made him reconsider. Even if his men were to hear his cries and come to his aid immediately, something that seemed unlikely after a night of wild celebration, they would never be able to reach him before the beast sunk its fangs in his throat. He was alone in this. Or was he?


"Zendra!", he called out, his voice taking a tone of desperation when he realized that he had left his armor and his sword in his tent. "Help me, please! We can be together. I can change. I can be the one you want me to be." There was no deception in Pegrin’s words, though Zendra knew that his newfound candidness was born from fear and his desire to survive. Would he remain true to his word once the danger to his life was no more?


Evading two more of the bear’s attacks, the man found himself pressed against the tent’s wall. There was no more room to maneuver. Should the bear attack again, as it was sure to do, there was nowhere else to go.


"I beg you! Help me! I will give you an elven treasure more valuable than you can imagine. Only I know of it. Only I know where it is hidden. Save my life and it is yours. In Takhisis’ name I swear it!"


The bear’s growling covered the man’s words. One slash with its claws was all it would take. One slash and Pegrin would die once more, this time forever.


And take the secret of the mythical treasure he had discovered with him to the Abyss.




 


 
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Old Jun 14th, 2024, 08:16 PM
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Zendra Zantir
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Zendra


Zendra had taken a step back as the bear had been conjured to life. Even knowing what would happen she'd been shocked to her soles at the sheer size and power radiating off the bear. It was a sort of magic she'd only ever read about and thought about, never really expecting to experience it.

Her eyes were drawn to the creatures hide that might have been worked from polished jade yet was at once marvelously life like. Part of her wanted to reach out and touch it, wondering whether it was the warmth of a living creature or the coldness of stone. Then there was the beast's ferocity. Zendra had felt her own blood turn to iceflow at that howl!

"Mathúin?" she half-whispered. "Are you in there?"

It took the blonde woman many moments to realise Pegrin was talking to her. Cornered by the bear, weaponless, shocked sober the sellsword cut a diminished figure. There was something suddenly pathetic to his appearance, his good looks suddenly seeming more a costume to cover weakness than anything. She was reminded vividly of Derg, even if Pegrin's fear perhaps had stronger cause!

An elven treasure? Really? Zendra immediately dismissed the idea as a lie to save his skin. There was no treasure. Doubtless he'd use the opportunity to escape, or alert his men.

Turning to the bear - and gods she hoped it was Mat - she said: "Knock him down and then some but leave him alive. I'm no murderer but I can't risk letting him survive unscathed." She turned back to Pegrin: "Consider yourself very lucky. If you survive leave Khur and never come back or you'll lose the other hand and more besides."

Turning back to the elf prisoner her face softened, now sad and now tired."You are free. Let's get as far from here as possible. Can you walk? Here, take my cloak back. We'll need to hide those ears."

Zendra knew they had to move quickly but she also knew the other woman might not be to it. Gods grant them luck for once!


 




 



 


 
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Old Jun 21st, 2024, 06:46 AM
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The Folly of Mercy
The great bear growled furiously, its large paw ready to strike at the cowering bandit. Whether Mathúin was able to listen to Zendra’s instructions, there was no indication. In fact, it was difficult for the archaeologist to picture the easygoing bear spirit residing inside the body of the jade beast about to maul Pegrin to death.


Seeing the runaway Nerakan squire, bandit leader and scourge of the elves alone, weak and defenseless caused something to stir inside Zendra. She still hated the man with all her heart, this could not change, not after the way he had treated her, but there was also something new. It wasn’t exactly mercy or compassion. It was the realization that it wasn’t worth the effort to stain the desert ground with his blood. He could live, for all she cared. He could slither away and hide inside the earth like the worm that he was. He no longer had control over her and the elven prisoner. He was simply too little, too craven, too broken.


Pegrin cried out in pain and fresh blood splattered against the fabric of the tent’s wall, looking alarmingly bright in the light of the single moon. The man fell to his knees, clutching the torn flesh of his chest. Zendra could remember resting her head against it, the soft hairs teasing the skin of her cheek, Pegrin’s smell defining the borders of her world.


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Pegrin’s torn flesh

How long had it been since the two of them had shared a night and dreamt of a common future? Days? Weeks? Years? Or had it all been a dream and what Zendra experienced now was the only reality worth living? She couldn’t be certain.


"No, no, please! Spare me, please! I’ll do everything you ask of me. I’ll give back all that I have taken from the elves. I’ll leave this place, leave Khur forever. You’ll never see me again. Just, please, please, don’t kill me!"


The man’s tears mixed with his blood, but even so, they were unable to quench the fire of vengeance burning hotly inside the elf. It seemed that the woman had been right all along. It must have been Kinthalas who had answered her prayer and sent Zendra to her.


The elf took a step forward, her pointed finger sealing Pegrin’s fate.


"Shak."


The bear raised its paw a final time, but the blow never landed.


Shak. Halt. Stop, Zendra recalled, only now realizing that the elven woman had ordered the jade bear to cease its attack. She felt a slender hand on her back. Turning around, she saw her face, dirty and angular, but beautiful in its determination.


"You are right, Zendra. I am now free. His death would only make me a prisoner again and my new master would be much greater than this one could ever be. I will not betray the light for the fire, even now. I have you to thank, both for my freedom and my soul."


The elf placed her arms around the archaeologist, her limbs as thin and frail as reeds, and embraced her heartily. Zendra could hear the elf weeping softly, she could feel her body shaking each time a sob escaped her thin lips.


"Men! MEN!"


Hearing Pegrin’s shouting, the two women looked around them. The bandit was no longer inside the tent, a trail of blood leading through the tent’s flap.


"To arms! To arms!", his cries went on. "The elf escaped. We are betrayed. TO ARMS!"




 


 
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Old Jun 24th, 2024, 03:41 PM
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Zendra Zantir
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Zendra


Zendra glared daggers at the tent flap. Of course trying to be merciful would immediately come back to bite her in the bottom. For a few pregnant moments she waited on the off chance the drunk Pegrin would trip over a stray rope or stone in the dark and fall and break his neck (if wishes were horses...)

Shifting a little to look at the Elven woman - and Zendra realised to her chagrin that she had yet to offer her name - Zendra said: "The camp is sleeping off their drunken celebrations. They'll wake up but if we have any luck at all it will take them time to get their addled wits together. We have to go... or at least you do."

She moved towards the jade bear, still trying to keep the weight of the other woman. "The bear will carry you free after it rips through the tent. I can't imagine it will be a comfortable ride but if you cling on you can ride free for a bit to get out of camp. After all you can see in the dark and they can't."

I can't either, an unhappy thought crossed Zendra's mind but she ignored it. "Find somewhere to the North to hide. If you don't catch sight of me in an hour keep travelling on." Zendra paused, trying to keep a note of the fear she was feeling from being voiced. "I have to get a bear rug."

There was no time to dally, no time to collect anything else, not even really enough time for this plan but she had to go to Pegrin's tent and get that bear skin. Whether Mathúin was in the jade bear or not (and she suspected 'not') she couldn't leave the bear skin here.

Taking a deep breath she raced for the tent flap, and hoped to the gods Pegrin was still running all over the place like a headless chicken.


 




 



 


 
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Old Jun 26th, 2024, 11:08 AM
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Due Punishment
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The elven captive
The elven woman looked at Zendra without speaking, torn between hope and terror, freedom and punishment. Their eyes met and suddenly the elf’s invisible bonds were shattered. She was free of fear, free of captivity, free of Pegrin’s power.


"Thank you, Zendra, thank you!", the elf whispered in the woman’s ear, their two bodies close, her arms wrapped around the archaeologist’s waist and back almost in adoration. "May the gods bless you as they have blessed me by sending you!"


One more moment of intimacy, of gratitude, of friendship and each of the two women took a step backwards, both of them now stronger. Though the signs of torture, physical and mental, were still obvious on the elf’s face and body, in her smile there was a self-confidence and determination Zendra had not expected.


"I will follow your advice, but first I need to retrieve the rest of the jade figurines from the monster’s tent. They are all that I have to remind me of my children and I would sooner die than abandon them. Worry not, no one will be able to harm me as long as I have my faithful companion at my side."


The elven woman gently caressed the bear’s head, though the magical animal didn’t seem to acknowledge the loving gesture. That’s definitely not Mathúin, thought Zendra and in her heart she knew she was right. Her friend’s spirit was probably still bound to the pelt in Pegrin’s tent. Even if she risked her life for a spirit, an animal, a dream, leaving Mat behind felt like a betrayal - and betraying a friend was something that Zendra could never do.


At the elf’s command, the jade bear started slashing at the tent’s wall repeatedly until nothing but threads of thick fabric remained.


"I will wait for you in the north, as you suggested. Then, we can escape from these thieves and cutthroats together."


Easily passing through the opening, the gaping hole large enough to easily accommodate the slender elven woman, she suddenly stopped and turned to look at the person who had granted her freedom.


"I never gave you my name, elf-friend", she suddenly realized. "I am Nelessa Wideleaf of House Artisan. Beware, Zendra. May the stars shine upon your road - in elvenMorgoth, Zendra. Quenta solari nen heth y mori."


With these words, both she and the bear vanished, hiding in the darkness from the malice of the bandits, leaving Zendra alone to face Pegrin and his men. The two women could have left together, but had they done so, the whole camp would have been on their tail. Not even Nelessa’s jade bear would have been able to deal with all the bandits at once. No, Zendra’s original plan offered the elf the best chance of escape. As for Zendra… she would have to make do.


The archaeologist gulped almost audibly. Her heart was racing, each beat threatening to make it burst. Could she count on her luck for Pegrin’s men to keep on slumbering instead of rushing to aid their captain? Had her life been a fairytale, things would have turned out alright, she knew. Pegrin’s cries would have attracted the attention of a wandering Solamnic Knight, who would have easily defeated the bandit leader, bound his sleeping men and freed the damsel in distress. Then, the two would have fallen in love and Zendra would have found herself the lady of a castle in Solamnia nursing twins under the watchful eyes of Paladine and Mishakal.


But this was not Zendra’s life. This had never been her life or her luck. She was the woman who had been born under a different name. The scion of mages who lacked the spark of magic. A dutiful niece who had been cursed by the land of Khur. An adventuress whose ability to dream had been stolen by a mysterious evil entity. Luck would never be on her side. She knew as much and had accepted it. She had to work with the cards she had been given and either bluff or fight her way out of her predicament.


Turning her hands into fists, she stepped out of the prisoner’s tent, expecting the worst.


She was faced by eight hard-faced men, holding swords and bows, Pegrin among them.


"There she is!", the bandit leader cried out, his finger pointing accusingly right at Zendra. "I treated her like a queen and she betrayed my trust, our trust. I don’t know how she did it, but she helped the elven ***** escape. A giant bear appeared out of nowhere and I had to fight tooth and claw for my life. She is responsible for it - Zendra! Seize her and once I am over with her, she will never betray anyone ever again!"


A few of the men moved forward, their moves menacing, but a new voice made them stop.


"You expect us to believe that you fought against a bear, but you are unable to tame an unarmed woman?"


Cole’s voice!, Zendra realized and hope was reignited inside her. He is here too! He will help me.


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The Dreampath Cole

Indeed it was Cole, but this was not the young pyromancer who had adored the ground she walked on. This was a Cole who looked at her with contempt, having never gotten over the fact that Zendra had chosen Pegrin over him. His lips resembled a thin hard line and his eyes smoldered with a need for revenge - against Pegrin and her.


Many voices joined the pyromancer’s and the captain had to raise his hands for everyone to calm down.


"Enough! Enough, I say! Don’t forget your place or what you owe me. I made you what you are. I gave you food, drink, a purpose and more steel than you have ever seen before. You will do as I say and you will do so gladly. Derg! Derg, come here! Now!"


But Derg didn’t respond. Derg was no longer there.


The voices grew louder and angrier. All it would take to break Pegrin’s control over his men were a few well-chosen words. All Zendra had to do was deliver them.




 


 
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Old Jun 30th, 2024, 09:56 PM
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There was a time for talking and then there was a time for escaping. Clearly this was the moment for the second option.

As Pegrin defended his authority and fruitlessly called for Derg (and Zendra had no idea where the ugly half was and didn't care) and Cole pressed his own new found confidence Zendra slowly, very slowly edged her way back into the shhadows. She was no professional thief or street magician, able to become as one with shadows in the way even a wizard might have envied, but she was nimble enough and had been in tight corners before. Once when exploring a series of burial mounds Zendra had been forced to hide statue still for an hour in an alcove barely big enough for a kender while a hungry troll snuffled about. Another time after a... misunderstanding about certain recovered artefacts she had been forced to escape under guard from Baron Tristar's dungeons clad only in her undergarments (which were duckshell blue and to put it mildly not built for camouflage in the bushes outside Tristar Keep..)

It was all about getting yourself into position to know when to move and when not to. She watched the argument trying to judge the when.

Careful, careful... now, she thought. At the exact moment when everyone was focused on the war of words between captain and sorcerer when magic and swordplay might really start flying Stealth = 20!she made her move.

Silent as a blonde flightless barn owl Zendra slipped away moving swiftly to Pegrin's tent to grab that damn bearskin and then finally gods willing, escape this camp. As she entered the tent she picked up the bearskin, hesitated for a second, then picked up Pegrin's sword. It was heavier than the blades she preferred but without any of other weapons it would do in a pinch - and it served Pegrin right to rob a robber.

Heart thumping painfully, scarcely able to breath with her nerves Zendra tried to slip out of camp and head north trusting the stars - and the one Moon - as her guide...


 




 



 


 
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Old Jul 2nd, 2024, 02:05 AM
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Evil turns upon itself
Voices rose further and weapons were brandished menacingly. Like all tyrants, Pegrin would never willingly relinquish his power and like all who had recently shattered the chains of fear and submission, Cole would never willingly back down. The clash between them was inevitable and was bound to be violent.


It wasn’t long before the rest of the bandits took sides. Some supported the former Nerakan squire, believing that his ruthlessness would earn them the steel they dreamt of. Others backed the pyromancer, trusting his fire magic more than they did Pegrin’s plans or hoping that they had a better chance of controlling the young sorcerer than they did the experienced warrior.


Zendra didn’t wait to see the outcome. She knew that no matter who won, he was unlikely to treat her with kindness. She knew well that she couldn’t count on the mercy of others. Her wits would see her through. As had always been the case.


As angry words gave way to angry deeds, the archaeologist slipped away, a sane woman in a world that had grown mad. No one paid any attention to her. No one considered her a threat. And yet, it had been her who had faced Derg and his hound, her who had tricked Pegrin, her who had freed the elven captive and turned the bandits against each other. Even without magic, even without a weapon, she was the most dangerous, the most powerful individual there.


But no one realized it. No one but her.


Pegrin’s tent was nearby, so close she could almost reach out her hand and touch it. But the last stretch between her current hiding spot and the place where the bandit leader kept Mathúin’s pelt was utterly exposed. All it would take was for one of the bandits to turn his head by accident and she would be spotted.


And then, suddenly, the world grew dark. A cloud passed in front of the single moon, dimming its light and plunging the bandit camp into deep shadows. Zendra smiled. It seemed that the single moon was as fond of her as she was of it. And how could it not be so? Weren’t the two of them misfits that still hadn’t found their rightful place in the world?


Taking advantage of this unexpected stroke of luck, Zendra rushed inside the tent and quickly closed the heavy flap behind her. And then she gasped. It was as if a whirlwind had ruined the tent’s interior. One of the tent’s walls had been almost completely torn off. The desk and the chair had been shattered along with Pegrin’s chest, the brazier had been knocked down and the carpet cut to shreds by long, sharp claws. Zendra’s equipment, including her armor, her weapons, her tools and everything she had so painstakingly collected in her days as an archaeologist, was strewn all over the place. Thankfully, nothing seemed to have been damaged. Mat’s pelt too appeared to have escaped Nelessa’s and the jade bear’s fury. The only thing that was missing were the jade figurines.


With a sigh of relief, Zendra quickly picked up her equipment and placed it haphazardly inside her backpack. It would take forever for her to find anything inside it, but she knew that she didn’t have the time to properly sort her belongings. With every fiber of her being, she felt that the end was fast approaching for the bandits and was determined not to be there when the proverbial fiery mountain struck. Mathúin’s pelt and Pegrin’s gigantic sword were the last things she picked up. The archaeologist groaned under their combined weight, but she didn’t give up. She had to save the friendly bear spirit and she had to make sure that Pegrin was left without a weapon. Even if he managed to survive like a gully dwarf hiding in the gutter, the absence of his massive greatsword would make sure that no one would ever forget what happened tonight.


Zendra was about to leave, when her keen eyes noticed something strange. With the chest turned to firewood and the carpet beneath it torn to pieces, she could see that the ground where the heavy chest had rested had been recently disturbed. Someone had dug a hole there and subsequently filled it up. Though she hadn’t believed Pegrin’s words at the time, she was instantly reminded of his promise. Was he truly in possession of an elven treasure he had decided not to share with his men, but keep to himself? A treasure he considered so valuable that he hadn’t consulted Cole or Zendra about it? Or was this patch of earth filled with nothing but empty promises?


The strong smell of burning fabric and acrid smoke reached her nose, making her cough. At least one of the nearby tents was burning, possibly more. The noise from outside the tent had turned into a cacophony of shouts, curses and cries of pain, along with the sound of steel striking steel and the whooshing of pyromantic magic at work. Zendra’s time was almost up!


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A burning tent

What was Zendra to do? On the one hand, an elven artifact of immeasurable value possibly waited to be liberated from the bandits. Zendra was no stranger to digging and all it would take to free it from its earthen prison would be a few moments of hard work. On the other hand, there was nothing more important than survival. Could she afford to tarry? What if the bandit leader’s tent caught fire too? What if Pegrin - or Cole - suddenly appeared, wanting to make an example of her?


Would Zendra’s luck hold? Would her wits be able to save her from the next impossible situation?




 


 
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Old Jul 3rd, 2024, 09:21 AM
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It was a tantalizing mystery... but it would have to remain that. A mystery. Leaving the hole behind her Zendra made her escape.

She was certainly tempted but it was clearly insanity to stay in such a perilous situation for what could easily be nothing at all. A tent pole. A clump of grass, anything could have made that hole and been filled in. And even if it was a genuine Elven magical treasure how would Pegrin know? The knight seemed no scholar and he'd been unlikely to know a well made blade with some minor enchantment from the sword of a wizard king of old.

Perhaps though it was something more, a genuine treasure. Then what? Zendra ignored the nagging question.

It hurt more to give up thinking about it like that but she was in a tent that was probably going to catch fire with hostile bandits soon to turn her way. Zendra had had quite enough of Khur to be killed for a "maybe".

Struggling under the weight of the bearskin and sword she left into the night.



 




 



 


 
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Old Jul 4th, 2024, 04:34 AM
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Lost
Dawn came.


Zendra had been walking all night. She didn’t have to see the sun’s golden disc rising to her left to realize that she had lost her way. She had come to this conclusion hours ago. She had instructed Nelessa to wait for her in the north, roughly one hour away from the bandit camp. It was a most sensible plan, an almost infallible plan. Unfortunately, the two women never met.


At first, Zendra had been forced to head to the east, walking in the shadow of a natural ridge that kept her hidden from anyone who might have attempted to follow her. Once absolutely certain that was not the case, she corrected her course, confident that she would find the elf without difficulty. Her sizable companion with the jade hide was, after all, especially hard to miss.


And yet, she could find no trace of either the woman or the bear. It was as if the earth itself had swallowed them both. Or as if she had been walking in an entirely different direction, which seemed more likely.


It was not that Zendra had no experience finding her way in the wilderness. She often boasted that she had visited almost every place in Ansalon, which for the most part was true, and many of these places had been snow-covered mountains, vast swamps, verdant jungles, rocky badlands or sandy deserts. She knew well how to read the skies and the traces on the ground, foretell the weather and find out where the north lay. And yet, Khur was different. She had lost her way once, before meeting Pegrin and his men, and now she had lost her way again. She would have gladly given voice to her frustration, cursing this inhospitable land as loudly and as profanely as possible, had not her mouth felt like the inside of her boots - dry and full of sand.


Panting from the exertion of carrying her backpack along with the pelt of an adult bear and a sword designed no doubt for an ogre, Zendra climbed a low hill and looked around her, hoping that she would see something - a nomad encampment, a small caravan or possibly signs of vegetation that might have hinted at a source of water. Even a group of minotaurs or centaurs might have been better than nothing.


Unfortunately, Zendra’s hope remained unrealized. The desert went on and on for as far as her eyes could see - hard, hot and featureless, a blemish upon Krynn’s skin.


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The seemingly endless desert…

Zendra felt tears of despair come to her eyes, but she quickly blinked them away. She had to preserve water at all costs. No one knew when she would get the chance to replenish it and what little was inside her waterskin would only last for one day, possibly two if she was really, really careful.


Sitting down, she tried to think. She still had her wits, her skills, her experience and her equipment. She had survived more difficult situations than this. Khur would not beat her. Not in the Dreampath and not in the real world, not today and not ever. This was just another riddle she had to solve. The solution was probably already there, right under her nose. All she had to do was find it and one day she would tell this tale and laugh, all traces of hopelessness, sorrow and exhaustion gone and forgotten.


Like some untamable beast, her mind returned to Pegrin’s tent and whatever the bandit leader had buried in the ground. Her curiosity nagged her. What if he had been right about it? What if it had been an artifact of legend like one of the all-powerful Dragon Orbs? What if this item, whatever it was, could have helped her find her way or survive?


Zendra shook her head, clearing it of these poisonous thoughts. It was too late to wonder now. Whatever Pegrin had hidden might as well have been in the deepest pit of Thorbardin or at the bottom of the Blood Sea for all that she cared. She had chosen her safety over the satisfaction of her curiosity and her desire for power and she was sure that she had made the right choice.


Now, she had to be practical once more. She had to move on. She had to become whole.


She had to survive Khur.




 


 
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Old Jul 7th, 2024, 06:12 PM
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"I'm sorry Mathúin," Zendra said to the bearskin. "I might have led us to to a dead end."

It seemed to be entirely in keeping with Zendra's usual turn of luck that she'd mastermind an escape from a brigand group only to end up in exactly the same mess they'd plucked her from when Pegrin had 'rescued' her. For one terrible, mad moment as the realisation crept in that she was lost in the endless deserts she contemplated crawling back to the camp and throwing herself on the mercy of Pegrin - or maybe Cole.

It passed swiftly like morning dew in the summer sun. There could be no going back.

Shelter. Even more than water I need shelter or this sun will cook me outside in. I'll have to find somewhere to sleep during the day and travel at night, Zendra thought to herself. She felt a wry smile at the thought. Lucky I have a friendly bearskin with me to keep me warm under the stars.

The arid golden wastes offered no such promises of natural shelter but she had to try. Crouching down in the lee of a sand dune she rifled through her backpack and pulled out several wooden stakes wrapped tightly around with canvas. Once assembled they would create what was - allegedly - part of my Archaeolgist Background equipment!a two man tent. Truth be told Zendra was a slender woman and found it on the cramped side even just by her lonesome but right now she was grateful she just had some shelter.

Tent erected and crawled into she considered her options as she rested.

A map. She could make a map.

It might be asked just what good a map would do in the middle of the desert but (Zendra reasoned) it would at least tell her where she had been so she didn't find herself walking in circles. When night fell she'd start moving using the stars as a focal point - and her explorer experience of course.

Taking out a sheaf of parchment and a neat quill she lay them to one side then took out a small ceramic jar, used to collect herbs but currently empty. The Right Tool for the Job to create Cartographer's ToolsShe poured a tiny ration of precious water into the jar, then retrieved a cork from another empty bottle and a steel needle from her repair kit.

Time to make a compass and judge where north was.



 




 



 


 
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Old Jul 10th, 2024, 02:40 AM
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How to map a dream?
Zendra tore up the map she had been working on for the last couple of hours in frustration and threw the pieces of paper in the air. They were immediately claimed by the wind, which had been steadily gaining in intensity, and were scattered all over the place. Zendra glared at them, more than happy to never lay eyes on them again.


This was her second attempt at making a map of her surroundings.


Zendra was methodical in everything she did and map-making was no different. Contrary to Talia’s fanciful and Aric’s amateur attempts at cartography, the explorer knew perfectly well what she was doing. Her makeshift compass could be counted upon to always point to the north and Zendra took great pains to calculate exactly how long she had already traveled and towards what direction. Finding a place high enough to give her a good view of her surroundings was no problem either and despite the wind constantly blowing sand in her eyes, Zendra had done her very best to put to paper the almost featureless, shifting sands around her. It should have been enough to act as a reliable guide of sorts.


It wasn’t.


Not because Zendra’s reasoning or the execution of her plan was faulty. It was because the land itself had apparently gone mad.


Zendra had the distinct impression that the dunes wouldn’t stay put. One moment she was climbing one of them, panting from exertion, and the next, turning her head around to look at it after reaching the other side, revealed that there hadn’t been a dune at all. It was the same with the various rock formations she spotted. They appeared and disappeared randomly or changed form when Zendra wasn’t looking. She had even tried carving her initials on one of them, hoping to ‘claim’ it for herself, but then realized that the letters were soon gone, replaced by the claw marks of some nameless beast.


What was even worse than the sand and the rocks was the sun. It was clearly mocking her. As any Khurish nomad would have done, the archaeologist was determined to rest in her tent during the day and travel during the much cooler night. But the sun would simply not set. She waited and waited until her throat grew parched and when she finally decided to exit her tent and look at the sky, she saw that the sun hadn’t moved an inch in what must have been many hours. She was instantly reminded of the stories she had heard about the Summer of Chaos, when the sun had indeed refused to relinquish its place to the moons - or moon, in Zendra’s case - and had instead roasted Krynn with its fiery rays.


Cursing her luck and the cruelty of the Dreampath and whatever power was behind it, Zendra knew that no piece of paper would help her navigate this hellish realm. She had to find another way to reach Silvanesti and the thief of her dreams.


Contemplating on a practical solution to her problem, Zendra suddenly became aware that the wind had grown so strong that it threatened to destroy her tent or tear it off the ground - heavy fabric, poles, rigging and all. And suddenly, the world grew dark. But it wasn’t because the sun had finally decided to head to the west as it should have done hours and hours ago. It was because the desert had decided to devour it, along with everything and everyone in Khur.


Zendra’s stomach dropped when she realized that a sandstorm was fast approaching, the biggest, fiercest sandstorm she had ever seen.


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The desert’s fury

This enemy couldn’t be tricked or intimidated. This enemy couldn’t be magicked away.


Zendra would have to find a way to survive it or she would soon end up like her map, torn up and scattered all over the desert.


And that was not a prospect the archaeologist was looking forward to at all.




 


 
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