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Old May 17th, 2024, 12:59 PM
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Chapter 3: The Valley of Bones

The Cursed Valley


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alking between the high, sheer walls of the mesa cliffs marking the entrance to Hurim and into the canyon that eventually led to the cursed valley, was possibly the most courageous thing the companions had ever done. Both since and before their meeting at the Standing Stones, they had had to face terrible dangers, but that had been due to chance or the schemes of others and rarely a conscious choice. This time, however, they traveled to a place that was shunned by all people of Khur, a cursed valley supposedly reopened by the hand of a god. They didn’t know what to expect. They barely knew what it was that they were supposed to do there. As always, the gods were cryptic in their guidance and the spirits who begged for the companions’ assistance provided none in return.


The heroes were alone. More alone now than ever before.


No beast would willingly enter the valley, Alakar had warned them. And indeed, Shari and Sundancer would not even get close enough to feel the shadow of the high cliffs touch their hide. The same was true of Thunder. She made plenty of saucy jokes and passionately reassured Redwaters that he wouldn’t be able to get rid of her even if he tried, but when the plainsman passed through the natural gap and into the canyon, the legs of the black mare would still not budge. It was as if Chislev herself was holding her back and no amount of swearing and cursing seemed to be able to change the goddess’ mind or, more likely, overcome the terror Thunder felt flaring inside her heart.


This place was clearly not meant for the living and anyone who disregarded the warnings the people of Khur had painted and repainted over the centuries all around the canyon’s entrance and, most importantly, the warnings of their heart, had only their own foolishness to blame for whatever harm they invited upon themselves.


There was plentiful evidence of numerous landslides and collapses, the sharp and irregular debris of stone and dust making the supposedly ‘opened’ passage incredibly difficult to traverse, at least for those who wanted to do so without scraping a knee, bruising a shoulder or having their boots and clothes ruined by sharp stones. The rays of the sun above appeared incapable of reaching the valley even when Sirrion’s ever-burning ball of flame was directly above the group and the companions soon found themselves adding cloaks and new layers of cloth to stave off the chill, not the oppressive heat. This would have been a welcome change for everyone, had it not been for a supernatural breeze that didn’t stir the clothing, but seemed to strike deep into the companions’ bones. The dusty valley itself stood shrouded in a strange, nebulous fog that crept around the ground, giving it a sinister look even during the day.


The going was slow, partly because of the rocky ground and partly because the valley seemed to drain all the enthusiasm of those who walked inside it. There were no animal cries of any kind, whether that of birds or beasts of the earth, and the only sound that seemed to accompany the heroes was that of shifting rocks and of their own footsteps. Even the stones seemed as brittle as chalk and if one exerted any amount of pressure they shattered into a sticky, white dust, very similar to ground bone. The dwarves claimed that the earth was alive, the greatest living being of Krynn, but even they would have readily admitted that the earth inside the valley of Hurim was not only dead, but also completely drained.


The deeper the companions headed inside, the more acute the darkness in their minds and the heavier the weight on their chests became, making even the slightest of moves feel like an ordeal. If Zendra had been feeling even a fraction of this horrible sensation outside of Hurim, it was no wonder she occasionally behaved testily or impatiently. Whatever the case, there was absolutely no doubt whether the curse of this valley was real or imagined.


After a few hours, the companions reached the valley proper and were welcomed by the impressive sight of a dark watchtower perched atop the mesa, looming ominously overhead. The mesa itself consisted of two stone pillars, the smaller one, with stone steps roughly hewn around it, rising about 25 feet above the ground, while the larger pillar rose up sharply to about 75 feet. A fragile-looking bridge of stone, which had nonetheless endured both time and the many earthquakes that had hit the valley in the past, appeared to defy both gravity and common sense, arching between the two pillars.


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The stone bridge looks somewhat like this

One didn’t have to be the brilliant strategist that the Golden General was, to realize that the ones manning the watchtower would have had a remarkable tactical advantage against any invaders coming through the canyon, as well as an amazing view of the whole valley.


Beyond the large pillar of stone that served as the watchtower’s base, the valley opened up, though the gently descending slope and the permanent fog didn’t allow the companions to see what exactly lay beyond, at least not from their current vantage point.


Two options presented themselves, each with its own advantages and disadvantages. The companions could climb the staircase leading up to the top of the smaller pillar, brave the stone bridge and visit the watchtower, which could offer them valuable clues as to what exactly happened in Hurim all these centuries ago and allow them to get a better overview of the whole valley. Alternatively, they could bypass the watchtower altogether, assuming that it was not currently manned, and explore the valley proper, choosing to head either to the east, west or north.


Whatever they did, they would have to hurry. If the curse’s effect was so obvious during the day, what would happen once the sun set?



Calendar23rd Day of Aelmont (Winter) 422 AC / 38 SC, Morning

Solinari: 17/36 (High Sanction)
Lunitari: 26/28 (Low Sanction)
Nuitari: 7/8 (Waning)

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


 
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Old May 18th, 2024, 05:49 AM
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Talia Dawnstar
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Before the group readied itself for their plunge into Hurim, Hope had asked Talia if she had any hidden info about Hurim. Truthfully, Talia knew next to nothing and in fact hadn't much listened to any of the stories that had been told about the cursed place. But Talia didn't want to seem ignorant or unlearned in front of a fellow Aesthetic.

"Well… actually… once the head… umm… Aesthetic came and he was like Hurim is a bad place. And I was like sure… okay then. And then he gave me a book called Everything You Wanted to Know about Hurim but Were Afraid to Ask. I gave him a lamp I found that lit up just by clapping. I read the whole book three times but only once the normal way, the other time was upside down, and the last time backwards."

Talia looked at Hope and she could tell that the cleric was not much impressed with her tale. Anyone besides a kender would have retreated from the obvious lie but Talia just doubled down. "Okay… so… uh… yeah… it was the Dawnstar! Yeah… it crashed in Hurim and this is why the valley fell apart. My father was trying to find Hurim and we just have to find the Dawnstar and then the curse will be over. No… seriously… that's what happened. Like… really."




The group had finally reached Hurim and as they passed into the supposedly cursed valley, Talia moved to pull her cloak tighter around her tiny frame… except her cloak wasn't there… at least not the one she wanted… her magical elven cloak. The kender's brow furrowed in frustration as she wondered what possessed her to give up her cloak and boots to the sleeping beauty.

Peer pressure… it had to be peer pressure.

She huffed and puffed as she continued along, looking all around the steep canyon as the group pushed deeper into the valley. It was clear that something queer was going on here and the pack animal's fearful reactions affected her much more than her own. Talia was not one to be afraid, nothing usually more than a slight tingle in her stomach, but Hurim had the hair on her arms standing up at attention.

Eventually the group came to a decision point. High up above sat a watchtower. In order to get to the tower, the group would have to place itself in plain view and cross a possibly treacherous bridge.

Talia came near Tegan and tugged at his elbow as she whispered. "Well… If we pass by the tower, maybe no one knows we are here. Maybe… but… we could also be leaving ourselves open to getting attacked from behind."

The thief shrugged her shoulders but the mischievous glint could be seen in her eyes. "Of course, you know that the watchtower is going to be full of cool stuff… maybe a magical cloak and boots."



OOC15 athletics and 4 religion. Talia is now Dex 20!(No Aoo - fancy footwork and she has alert)
 

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Last edited by Begon Ugo; May 21st, 2024 at 04:34 PM.
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Old May 18th, 2024, 01:55 PM
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Spiritual Afflictions
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Redwaters had not returned until the wee hours of the night, wordlessly setting up his goat-hide blanket a bit from the fire. He nods to Aric on watch and gives a friendly wave before she settles in, clearly to much on his mind to have much of any conversation.

Instead, he lies upon the white fur, arms clasped behind his head, staring up at the clear twilight, just processing, well... EVERYTHING, and wondering what it all means.

But before he puts much thought into it, it seems the efforts of his exertions quickly took it's toll as he drifted off quickly to merciful sleep...

... into the Dreaming, seemingly where he last left off. This was not the same as the dream he had of the deathly Devari, more prophesy and metaphor. No, this was the cold, empty space where he remembered The Mistress was snatched from him. A place, detatched from his body, where he does feel a very real fear and sorrow. For what he has lost, and for what could still linger here and take him as well.

The Crow, Redwaters flutters and hides within a Dark Forest of oneric memory, now sure how much of it is in his mind or how much of it is outerrealm. In terror sweat, he desperately tries to track her while not being eaten in these silent woods, holding his breath everytime he caws her name "MiSTrESs!" ... "QuINaRi." ... "My QUeeN!"

At times, he thinks he has spotted a clue and swoops down silently to peck and claw at releasing it from wherever it is embedded. But given the ephemeral nature of Dreams, anytime he thinks he can get ahold of some pertinent detail and remember, it simply slides from his beak like an inky liquid, causing him to forget over and over.

To the point he doesn't even realize he has had this dream every day now, since they set upon Hurim. Always searching in the dark to no avail; A reflection of his own yearning soul.

__________________________________________


It seems the general tension within the group has calmed down by several measures, now that the sword of damecles that was the trial has been resolved, more successfully than could have expected in fact, especially since he knew with certainty that Stareyes had shown far more mercy than she let on.

Everyone has seemed to have kissed and made up. Those who were maddened have calmed their nerves, and a lot of the blame that had been hoisted upon Tegan's shoulders has been taken back. He even managed to offer the knight his own "Well done. All will be fine, in time," along with a distant hearty pat on the back as they ride alongside one another atop Sundancer and Thunder in calm, contented silence. Aside from the chatter of the mare and stallion themselves, who seem to be getting along smashingly.

He does occasionally ride alongside the wagon, checking in on Aric and his patients, Zendra and Kay, asking probing questions about their conditions and giving advice. He also supplies them with fresh water and sweetgrass, to ensure the ritual continues without a hitch.

Nirmandor has gone above and beyond the call of their agreement, seemingly willing to help scout ahead by his own volition, delivering valuable intel of some of the layout and the spotting of the Legendary One known as the Dunemaster, wandering as a ghost in her once living lands. He tries to hold a conversation with the great eagle, even while holding back an overly excited Talia.

Like the Mikku, Redwaters does his best to avoid and simply observe Devari, concerned for her wellbeing and monitoring her demeanor from afar. There was nothing he could say that would bring comfort, but unlike Tegan, he does not regret his judgement, nor how the verdict came about given how hard he fought to reduce her sentence. To be devoid of emotions was far from a death sentence, and is pretty much how he lives every day of life.

Knowing this state was temporary, he wonders if she would ever appreciate looking back to these days. To be finally free of her sadness, her fears, her suicidal inclinations. Mind you, her hopes, her joys, her chorus song as well. He had never known any of that, and wonders if he is missing out. Whether the good of emotions outweigh the bad. He will have to ask her at some point in the future. When they've gained more trust for one another.

Still, it seems like him, her morality is more than a feeling: It's a drive. A neccessity. She trudges ever forward to save the world in spite of her deep losses, and to him that is what shows the TRUE core of who she is, underneath all of the noise and chaos. Devari IS a good person.

Xihue's overprotectiveness of both her and Hope does distract him from his musings, his smooth words and attempted conspiracy actually upsetting their newest member, Hope. And culturally speaking, he wonders why of the Alan-Tu. Redwaters has only known strong women in his life, and these women here are no exception. If anything, he was the one always protected, so he has not reference to the idea of misandry or misogyny. The idea of a weaker sex does not compute.

What does draw some concern from him is his constant insistence to sleep by Devari's side, one he finds questionable given the current circumstances. Isandril also strike him as being unintentionally cruel when sparing with her, to the point where she cracks under the pressure to ruin her newfound contentment.

"Why are you two on her like gnats?" he demands to know of them both after drawing them aside out of earshot, because from all appearances, he sees two men who are taking advantage of a woman who is not in full control of her faculties.

Hope. Ever since she has joined the fellowship, the atmosphere has been lighter somehow. He was meaning to chat with her, but he has been far too preoccupied with other matters to have even had the opportunity. Days later, better than never, he supposes, though he remains one of few words and considerable social awkwardness, given his life as a hermit.

"Hello, Hope. I've been meaning to thank you for your efforts. I've noticed you have been mingling well and helping soothe the others concerns, really lightening up the mood."

"Alas, I wish I had that same ability. But I am more a tender of the soul, and a poor tender of the spirit."


__________________________________________


There are far too many physical symptoms his body is experiencing to fully classify what it is that he feels when he looks across the expanse of the dead valley. But it as a thoroughly yucky, unholy feeling, like being trapped under piles of rotting meat. Though the land itself is sterile and dusty, the spiritual stench of the place haunts his nostrils with its horrid history and ghosts of its atrocity.

Even his vision seems to sense an ethereal fog filled with tormented faces and the distant cries of vanquished beings, be they hominid, animal, and even verdant, all quenched in unison. He is violently shuddering atop Thunder, and she too feels the instinct to flee.

Yeah. We should run. Very far away from this place, she shivers.

Breathing in deeply, he steadies his nerves, sliding off her back and assessing the nightmarish landscape.

But here is where Chislev cries out the most, he calmly replies in spite of his screaming nerves.

Thunder considers and snorts, still trying to weasel their way out. Well, we've been such good little followers, haven't we? Surely we deserve a hallpass, just this once?

Still, seeing her ward wander forward, picking his way through the jagged rock, she sighs and steps forward...

... and suddenly freezes. Not in fear, no. But from something Supernatural.

So she begins to snort, and bray, and tries to trample foreward to no avail, panicking from anxiety, not wanting to leave Redwaters side. Redwaters turns to observe, and they lock eyes for am moment, before looking about her. He sees the other horses in their troupe too at ill-ease, fearfully avoiding the threshold, where Thunder fights with all her might to cross it. Within seconds, they both understand who is pulling the strings.

Fret not sister; it is the Earthmother's will that we part ways for now, he strides forward, gently rubbing her cheeks. Have faith she will keep me safe. Be strong for these other horses, and keep up morale. I don't think they are as wild as you, so you may have to teach them how to forage.

Thunder is angry, and filled with sass, but she too is of the faith and would never question Chislev. Understanding, and relenting with a huff, she lets her boy go. Yeah, well, if you're not back in 10 days, I am starting a new herd with Sundance.

Redwaters forces a chuckle. That's the spirit, he smiles, as he places his head against hers for a brief, but solemn moment before he turns and departs into the deadlands, toward destiny. And soon he is swallowed whole by the shadows of the canyon...

__________________________________________

The journey into the interior valley was fraught with chill, pain, and that ever oppressive weight of whatever had befallen these lands like a palpable film that spiritually covered everything. It is only when they come into eyesight of the bridge and watchtower, now out of the shadows, does the party stop to strategize and lick their newly formed wound, including himself, given his myriad new lleg lacerations.

He is quick to kneel and dig a small hole to plant a mistletoe twig, accompanied by faith and a prayer. And soon, it grows into a bountiful bush, for which to nourish and mend his companions. He takes but Health recovered to 29, bleeding stoppedone himself, still somewhat sick of them from when he last had to gorge himself to bring himself back from near death. The rest he 9 Berries, +1 HP eachleaves for the others to divvy as needed.

As he chews the fruit Redwaters is silent, pondering the situation. Casting his eyes through the spiritual mist and the rocky deadlands, he can feel the crushing weight of the curse. Isandril too seem to be evaluating, though he comes up with much more meaningful insights.

"Protection magic the only thing I may eventually be able to offer," he replies to the sagely elf, "but the magic is fleeting. I guess our best chance is our Faiths. Let those of us able, pray."

A new manifestation of Chislevs will in Redwaters is his ability to now command the swathes of soil.

Hand outstretched, a patch of dirt before them churns and twists like quicksand, until he digs deeper and deeper unseen into the ground with the lowering and twisting clawing of his hand, almost feeling what lies below the earth. Only when he seems to find what he is looking for does he seem grip and to pull up, bringing soft clay and scattered rock to burst forth from the loosened soil. Like a far sculptor, he begins to shape the claystone with both hands at a distance, before it takes the shape of a crude and basic altar, one with a hollow indent and a small circular platform with an opening in the middle. It's not a creation that will last ages, or even weeks given standard weathering, but it is functional for his purposes.

He places his feather juju on the altar, and removes another twist of sweetgrass, now having to light it the old-fashioned way with flint and tinder, before he places the sweetgrass in the hollow, allowing it's smoke to encompass the feather as he kneels to pray.

Listen to the land. It cries for me, for thee. he hears Stareyes in the back of his mind. " The good shepherd guides their people according to their needs, not the needs of the shepherd."

"Listen to the song of Nature, her winds and waters," he hears The Mistress in long remembered lessons. "Her children will always be willing to help you, but you must respect their lives as precious as your own."

"Listen to the Spirits, Sonny-Boy," he remembers the words of his beloved cookum. "The dead need your guidance as much as you need theirs. It is a blessing and a curse you were born between two worlds. But I believe Chislev chose that you would survive against all odds."

He was blessed to have been advised by so many powerful women. And for once, he sees a common theme to it all. Instead of mutterings, asking for things, and pouring out his soul, he bows forth, digs his fingers into the earth as roots feeling a surge of connection.

Letting go of what he used to be, finally he just Listens...





TO ALL: Altar is there for use if you want. The smoke and the setup is symbolic if you want to use at as means of "enchanting" an item to serve as your Curse Ward.



 


 
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Last edited by Elanir; May 20th, 2024 at 03:10 AM. Reason: Removed the crossed out part of the post. Also, you forgot to use a spell slot for the goodberry.
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Old May 20th, 2024, 01:48 AM
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Xihue of the Alan-Atu
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Xihue
Danger lurked in the immediate future. A danger both subtle and overt, it was insidiously an inherent part of Xihue's reality but it plagued him like a waking nightmare. So many threats presented themselves, each one trying to disrupt his inner peace, each one a threat to the stability of grounded thought that was the bedrock of his philosophy. Before the final departure, Xihue meditated in earnest. A slow, full drawn breath that completely filled his lungs gathered the dry desert air within his chest, only slightly moisturized during its passage through nostrils and throat. The exhalation was equally slow and smooth, cooled and humidified within his chest. The air was warmer than body temperature, a stark contrast to the mountain air in which the shepherd had learned this technique.

Xihue felt his pulse slow and felt the weight lift from his worldly concerns. He sought and found the oneness, the stillness of the solitary moment, the inner peace. Well, I guess that's one way to do it., mocked the strangely reptilian voice. The voice didn't shatter his calm but it didn't contribute to what Xihue was trying to do, either. Smoothly rising from the comfortable seat he had prepared, Xihue stepped into the familiarity of stances which alternatively generated an antithetical peace through balance and exercise. The forms worked better because they allowed Xihue to better ignore the monologue within his mind. Muntrie tir ti waph drong aurthon ekess kampiun tivol. Coi ui zyak frustrateg ekess ocuir wux mavorge wer teikilt di bafoidrihal batobot wux tepoha creolsvanoa coanwor yscik ekess itrewic ekess kagh hak ekess sohkivik batobot wux tir ti tepoha aurthon tairais ekess tir tivol zahae coi! Si jatil, svanoa kiarf tobor tir wux mahhn tepoha persvek wux? 40 usv 50 eorikci? Nuri sjek wux itrewic doutan amida persvek creol iill tav? Batobot ui ergriff filki aurthon tairais ekess ahfven vi ifyoev vdri. The shepherd had to Humans don't live long enough to understand anything. It is so frustrating to see you achieve the level of awareness that you have somehow been able to get to, and then, to realize that you do not have enough time to do anything about it! I mean, how much life do you still have in you? 40 or 50 years? Less if you get yourself killed in some violent conflict (battle)? That is only just enough time to take a nap (short sleep).translate the thoughts when he was finished. They still echoed in memory as Xihue wiped sweat from his brow and turned to see Hope approaching him.

She seemed superficially pleasant but there was a clearly disruptive undercurrent to her demeanor that mirrored his own internal angst.

“Peace be with you, Xihue.”, the Ghan Shen intoned with exacting perfection. She had even properly bowed with the right degree of mutual respect, an impressive display for someone who had not grown up among the Alan-Atu. "And with you, Hope. May peace be yours as well." How long had it been since he had been able to properly use the traditional response? Xihue enjoyed the moment but that pleasure quickly evaporated as the youthful God Mother continued.

“You asked me to think of what you told me last time we talked. You told me of visions showing you dragons speaking to you. I do experience visions too but mine do not speak, at least not directly to me. They are visions of past lives and are brought about by calling upon the powers of Gilean. Other than that, I don’t recall anything that might explain what you are experiencing. Can you tell me what these dragons look like and what they tell you? Is it alright if I take notes, in order to study this at a later time?” It was disappointing but everyone experienced elevated states of awareness in different ways. Xihue reasoned that her commitment to a specific deity would naturally shape her experienced revelations.

The tirade that followed was rife with anger and suppressed indignation. There were clearly some misunderstandings here that the Shepherd had a very hard time following. She spoke of her frailty as if it were an insult to her. She was angered by Xihue's commitment to her protection, by his friendship and in the way that he had shared his perspective with Tigan and Aric. She accused him of making decisions without her consent, as if such accedence was a requirement. Then she launched into some kind of tutorial or hypothetical that pre-supposed circumstances that might arise with conclusions as to how Xihue would naturally respond with detrimental outcomes. She added another outlandish accusation, “Do you know what I believe in? Free will. That means the freedom to make mistakes. I let you be yourself, even if I don’t understand your customs, because doing otherwise would be wrong. Don’t deny me the chance to learn. I am a scholar, learning is what I do." and then launched into a display of power that was impressive. Xihue was actually jealous of the fact that she had an intact staff and drew out the broken pieces of his own crosier with a frown as she continued, “You see, I am not helpless. And more than that, I enjoy finding solutions to new problems. If you insist on protecting me at all costs, you rob me of my purpose. I can’t let you do that.”

Xihue's furled brow knitted tightly above his olive shaped eyes as he looked around confusedly trying to grasp all that had just been said. Oh, For Paladine's sake! She doesn't know you, Xihue. Explain yourself or she won't ever understand.

The images that flooded into the monk's recently emptied mind gave him some perspective and made him smile. The grin broadened and Xihue bowed before the Ghan Shen. "Peace be with you, Hope. I mean that. There are quite a few misperceptions that you have made that I was unaware might affect you this way. Please, may I better acquaint you with my way and culture? Such understanding might calm the discomfort I have inadvertently caused.

Firstly, The dragons I have seen are ancient skulls upon pedestals within a temple. They are, I assume, trapped spirits who's ancient knowledge and wisdom were revealed in order to set me upon this course, this quest that we find ourselves on. However, another, louder voice has awakened that seems to be a self-aware past life and it has begun to speak clearly only since Devari's trial concluded.

As for my conversations with others, they are mine. My honesty is not impugned should I choose to discuss anything of substance with anyone I choose. I have not hidden, nor have I asked others to hide, the content of my conversations. If you happen to be the subject of that discussion, it is no more your business than if I had spoken with them of the weather. It has nothing to do with privacy, rightness or wrongness. You said that you believe in Free Will. Does your statement then, that I should restrict the topics of conversations, and limit them only to those that you approve of, not conflict with that professed ideal?

I observed on the way to Khan's Rock that you have limitations, as do we all. I can't wear the armor that Tegan dons and still be myself in battle. It makes me differently talented, not greater or lesser. I cannot use Aric's bow as effectively as he does. My staff cannot be summoned as yours is. What I AM able to do is to defend the people that seem to need defending. I can aid those who seem to require my hand. I can give them the uniqueness of what I am in support of their own unique gifts, gifts that are naturally different from my own. We are each, individually abled. We each possess a self that is free from direct experience by anyone else. I will not live your life. You will not live mine. Together, we share what time is spent when those lives intertwine.

I do not seek to prevent you from learning or making mistakes. I seek to be a supplemental force that will intercede when some threat would deprive you of that opportunity. I am insufficient in, and of, myself to accomplish that and asked my brothers to assist. Is it not prudent to know one's limitations and to seek help from others when needed? I would, even for myself. I shall never impose myself upon you without reason. If an arrow is headed for your skull, I shall attempt to intercept it. If I notice that a scorpion is in your sandal, I shall not wait until you attempt to wear it before removing it. It is the same for all those here that I care for. You, as the Ghan Shen to me, must survive to fulfill your purpose. If I can do anything to contribute to your survival, that is one of my purposes.

I view you as a peer, not as someone lesser-abled than myself, but certainly differently capable. May I not count upon you similarly?"
Xihue paused to see if there were understanding before continuing with quiet calmness. The monk did not speak condescendingly, nor did he seem to be authoritative as might a teacher or mother or master. He simply, matter-of-factly, tried to explain himself.

"The Alan-Atu are a solitary clan. They distrust outsiders, discourage interchange beyond necessity of commerce. We do not wish to become like the Minotaur empire, the warrens of the Wretched Ones, the horse clans, the wild elves, or any other race or society. We are confident in the truth and benefit of what we know, of our own truth. It is not desirable for me to know what other cultures believe. That is for them. The Free Will you speak of is an illusion in some ways. I am not able to practice my customs on this continent without inadvertently offending even you. I do not consider you to be helpless. I recognize the FACT that you, like myself, will occasionally require help and I wished to ensure that both Tegan and Aric were like-minded. Is that offensive, or is it a difference in perception?" Xihue bowed again, still smiling kindly, before leaving the cleric to consider his response. He departed with the Mikku who had witnessed their discussion.

Theirs was not the only drama unfolding before the journey began. Isandril had taunted Devari into an outburst that seemed out-of-character for the white robed arcanist. Xihue came upon the aftermath of the event and intervened by stepping between Isandril and the rapidly retreating bard with an outstretched, open hand. "Peace be with you, Isandril. It seems unlike you to provoke a situation like that one. I am not immune to angering those I care about either. What happened just then?" Xihue did his best impression of the Ancient Master's countenance as he listened intently to the magician's explanation. Wux jalla qe ukrisir throdenilt ekess batobot aesthyr loupon ekess wer ti gareskel Ghan Shen, You should be talking more to THAT woman than to the ungrateful Ghan Sheninterjected the voice.

It was a good idea. As Xihue finished his preparations for travel, he pledged himself to find quality time with her.

Just then, Redwaters approached Isandril and Xihue with concerns of his own. "Why are you two on her like gnats?", the mystic demanded. Peace, Redwaters. There is no true conflict here. Why is everyone so insistent upon explanations today? Can not the world simply be what it is with each person acting according to the demands of their own volition? Please do not feel that you are alone, Redwaters. I do not understand the reasons for much of what anyone here choses to do. Thankfully, such knowledge is not required for me to be content and in pursuit of peaceful oneness that will bring Ascendence. Seek to understand yourself. Only then will you be able to understand others."

The time to spend in conversation with Devari materialized unexpectedly as she agreed to Xihue's request to share warmth with her in the evenings.

As the caravan stopped on the first day, Devari approached Xihue's tent and joined him. "...you know the ground rules. And I do trust you." Xihue related Hope's admonition from earlier in the day and asked Devari's advice.

"This place is like a different world to me. There are similarities to my home but I still do not understand the customs here. The Alan-Atu are a society of equals, much like the Centaurs professed to be. We try to recognize whatever it is that each person does well and then we encourage them to contribute their best self to our mutual benefit. Here, "sharing warmth" seems to have additional social connotations that I still haven't grasped. In the mountains, this custom has many purposes. Yes, it often leads to children when a woman chooses to become a mother with her selected consort. That is only one of the functions. It is also a practical way to survive the chill of winter. Additionally, when a group of people are so close that they are willing to lay beside another at their most vulnerable time, in helpless slumber, it builds a sense of family and closeness that could not be duplicated in any other way. No one would betray that gift of trust among my people. Ideally, our whole party would sleep in one large tent, unclothed, beside each other every night, aside from the time that is spent on watch. Your willingness to lay beside me binds us in a unique way to one another. People talk unreservedly when they rest intimately and learn a greater trust. There is no expectation, no commitment, no obligation. There is none needed. The simple act of surrendering one's vulnerability is enough to create a social contract that is deeper and truer that any overt promise. It brings peace. Thank you for giving that to me. Let me know if you ever want children. You would make a fine mother. As you trust me, so I trust you... even if I have to wear clothes while we sleep."

At camp on the second day, Isandril approached Xihue and collegially asked to have the conversation that the monk had requested two days earlier. "Peace be with you, Isandril." It took some time but Xihue told the mage the full story of his progressive draconic evolution. He recounted the original vision of the Ancient Dragon skulls and the temple, the presence of dragon memories and memories of the War of the Lance, and finished with an honest and open admission. "I fear for my own sanity if this new voice remains as an un-integrated aspect of my conscious thoughts. As a near-immortal, an elf, do you have insights into what the presence of a dragon's soul from my original incarnation might... how it might... could it take over and dominate ME? Maybe it's just another of the restless spirits that has attached itself to me but, if it is an aspect of my previous incarnation, how can I assimilate it?"

Xihue didn't expect to have any ultimate solutions to his predicament and so he continued on, watching over the party, keeping an eye on Hope without making his presence either forced, obvious, or onerous, and talking with each of them in an effort to build a sense of family. He helped to prepare meals, tried to teach them all Quinari's Song so that each one of them could hold the Key in some way. After a few days, the travelers had become a passingly proficient choir. Even Blyne's sweet voice joined in until she announced that Besimeh needed to return to Pashin and that the shapechanger would also depart.

The party finally arrived at the entry to the Cursed Valley. It was every bit as ominous and daunting as Asmara had described it. Warnings abounded and the "passage" that had been created by some cataclysmic force had not gently engineered a passable road for them to use. Half way through the gap, the voice in Xihue's head suddenly screamed and the monk spun around, searching for whatever might have startled it. In that moment, he stumbled and fell. He felt the impact as a sharp, jagged shard of basalt pierced his thigh. The blade-like stone knifed deeply into thick, hard muscle, tearing and ripping at the tissues with merciless, mindless malice. When Xihue tried to stand, he found a meter-long needle of granite had speared him and he could not draw it out by himself.

Tegan obliged with Talia's help. Having endured a similar injury recently, it appeared that the Kinder had become an expert at these kinds of injury. Blood gushed forth as the offending miniature obelisk was removed but a strange thing happened. The blue periapt flared brilliantly at his throat and the wound closed quickly. There was obvious and severe damage to the outer, upper muscles of Xihue's left leg. The bleeding stopped as the blue light of the periapt faded and Xihue clapped his hands together, moving his undamaged leg into a balanced, supported, one-legged crane stance. Instinctively, the monk dropped his mental focus to the central chakra of his inner-most being and allowed his consciousness to reside there for a moment as he summoned Ki from the other energy points throughout his body. The cells remembered what was right, what his true condition should be. As Xihue released the captured energy, he guided it to the wound and the injury began to knit. What would have taken weeks to heal became hale once more. Within two minutes, a grievous injury was reduced to a minor irritation. He could still feel stiffness and his leg was red and itchy where the puncture had been, but there was only a slight scar remaining on his leg.

More caution would be needed. Unfortunately, in the fall, Xihue had landed on the two pieces of his broken crosier that he had been inspecting at the time the accident occurred. Both were irreparably shattered into several pieces that made the former weapon look more like kindling. Maybe Hope would lend him her weapon, if she wasn't still angry at his attempt to responsibly guard her.

A watchtower rose from the wall as they finally cleared the dangerous channel and entered the valley's broken edge. "I would like to see the path before us. I would choose to go up there." He pointed to the watchtower.


 
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Old May 21st, 2024, 11:26 AM
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The entrance to Hurim was as imposing as the Mikku had led them to believe, and Shari refused to go any further.

"It's okay," she reassured the mare, pulling her around so that she faced away from the cursed valley. "You wait here with your new friends, I'll be back soon."

She unloaded some of the gear from the saddlebags and stuffed it into her backpack instead, then hefted the now much heavier pack onto her back.

"There's still another tent here," she called to the others, "somebody should grab it, we'll probably need it."

"I have received news…" Besimeh's words stopped her and she turned back, already suspicious of what was coming next. Sure enough, Blyne confirmed that the two of them would be separating, going back to Pashin of all places! Blyne took her aside and assured her that she was still her friend, and that she would rejoin the party soon, but it all sounded hollow to Devari.

You were going to be my mentor, she wanted to protest, but what would be the point? Blyne and Besimeh had been inseparable lately and the sorceress had little time for anyone else. She didn't begrudge her friend some happiness, but she couldn't help but feel a little… nothing. She felt nothing. Once again she was grateful for Stareyes' spell.

"Okay," she said, hugging the shapeshifter. "Take care then. And, if you see Romira please twist the knife a bit more for me."

Without watching them leave she turned back to Hurim and set forth, reasoning that the sooner they began the better their chances of finding a decent camp site before it got dark. She would either see Blyne again or she would not, only time would tell.

The going was difficult and Devari was glad that they had left the horses behind, it was more likely than not that one of them would have broken a leg on this terrain. Head down as she scanned the path ahead, Devari picked her way deliberately through, occasionally backtracking a little rather than taking a route which appeared dangerous. At one point Xihue cried out and Devari spun around and found the shepherd lying in pain, a long shard of crystal protruding from his leg. Fortunately Tegan and Talia were able to help, and it seemed that Xihue himself had discovered some magic within himself, as he seemed to will his leg to pull itself back together.

"Show off," she called in a jeering tone, her face scrunched-up like a child. "If I had any emotions I'd be so jealous right now."

She waited for Xihue to catch up, noticing the uncharacteristically lost expression on his face, and it took her a moment to recognise what the slivers of wood falling from his hand must have been.

"Your crosier?" she asked softly, knowing what it meant to him. "Even Zendra won't be able to repair it now, huh?"

She let him put some weight on her while the wound was finishing healing, thinking that he would probably appreciate the opportunity for a hug.

"I was thinking about what you were saying last night," she went on, hoping to take his mind off his loss. "About what, uh, sharing warmth means to you and your tribe. It sounds nice. I mean, a whole tribe of people as close and comfortable as that? It's hard to imagine."

He pointed out some loose scree a little ahead and so they adjusted course and took a slightly longer route.

"Things are different here. I've been thinking about the differences, and I think there are just too many of us on Ansalon. You couldn't exactly have a full-on Alan-Atu sleepover in a city, could you? I mean, most of your neighbours are strangers. I know what you're gonna say… 'they don't need to be strangers, that's their choice', but I think most people only have room in their hearts for a few close friends and family."

She took advantage of a stop to take a swig of some water and looked back to see how little progress they had actually made from the valley entrance. Best not to remark on that right now.

"For us intimacy is precious, like diamond-precious, you know? It's a rare thing, and that makes it all the more valued and treasured, but people get really… defensive? They're scared that somebody is gonna steal it, or something."

She sighed and looked him in the eye, wondering if there was anyone else on the whole of Krynn who could listen the way that this man could.

"We don't give our intimacy lightly. It has to be earned, but that just makes it even more valuable. 'Nothin' worth havin' comes easy,' that's what mama used to say."

Looking ahead she saw that the others were gathering by a fork, with one route climbing to an ominous watchtower on a bluff. She and Xihue caught up with them and Xihue agreed with Talia that they should visit the watchtower before attempting to traverse the valley.

"Yeah, that seems like the best plan," she agreed, turning to Tegan and Isandril, and smiling slightly at the dark bruise marring the latter's usually pale cheek. She hefted the crossbow taken from the minotaur several days earlier. "I'll bring up the rear, but if you find someone willing to talk give me a shout. I might not have my magic now, but I can still string a few words together."

 
 
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Old May 22nd, 2024, 04:17 AM
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Isandril Moonsilver, Wizard of High Sorcery
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Earlier...

"Mind your words, Plainsman. I fail to see why I should explain myself to you."

As he was about to answer the Alan-Atu's question, Isandril instead turned to address Redwaters and while he was not taller than the human, it nevertheless felt as if the elf was looking down on him. His eyes and tone were ice cold and for but an instant fire danced between his fingers. Despite his usually courteous manner and his general kindness, especially as of late, the mage was, when all was said and done, Silvanesti born and his people's arrogance and sense of self-importance and infallibility were almost the stuff of legend. And it was those traits the shaman's accusatory words, unlike Xihue's more peaceful intervention, had stirred, albeit briefly. For Isandril managed to rein them in quickly enough, his expression calm once more, if a little weary.

"I... I apologize. It seems between the exertion from the sparring and the pain from Devari's admittedly justified strike, my usual self-control is found... lacking." A deep sigh preceded the wizard's next words. "When Devari's magic was... taken away? At the same time her emotions, her ability to feel, followed it. This was hardly a coincidence. The two are linked." He spoke matter-of-factly, looking at both men intently. "Yet, were they gone? Are they no more or are they suppressed? Stareyes' intent was, supposedly, to deprive the one found guilty of her darkness, her power. I find it somewhat cruel if her desire was to also leave her unfeeling. And the centaur shamaness did not strike me as cruel." The elf paused, letting the others absorb what he meant before continuing. "Thus, a simple test. An... experiment, if you will. I thought to try and stir some of Devari's emotions, or at least an emotion. And given her history, I thought anger or sadness would be the best candidates." He shrugged. "I would call my attempt a success, would you not? But not any simple feeling will do. It requires... intensity. I did not simply have to annoy her, I had to anger her." A wry smile formed on his lips as he pointed at his cheekbone. "Thus, this. So... strong emotions. Fear, not trepidation. Aversion, not dislike. Happiness, not contentment. And so on. And once it is done and her emotional equilibrium is restored, so too, I believe, will her magic return."

Having finished his explanation, he looked at Xihue and Redwaters. He had nothing more to say on the matter, not at the moment. And he made no mention of the bird that had informed Devari herself of the reality of her situation; he found little reason to do so. Admittedly, he was curious as to its origin and master, but, much like Blyne had said on more than one occasion, even Isandril had to admit that gods were watching. To say the least.



Later...

"I may seem immortal to you, Xihue, or close to it, but from my perspective, it is you humans whose lives appear to be all too brief."

Having shown his companion a glimpse of the elven outlook on life and other races, Isandril then listened intently as Xihue explained his admittedly rather unique experiences. The wizard took his time before answering, searching his knowledge and his memory for any insight he could offer the shepherd monk. Yet, in truth, this did not seem like an arcane matter.

"You speak of reincarnation," he finally said. "However, this belief of yours, of the Alan-Atu, is not one shared by either my own people or any I have come across. Not only that, but it does seem to contradict the most basic of the gods' teachings regarding the path souls take after the body's death. Even so, I seek to diminish neither your faith nor your experience with these... draconic spirits. And if you are indeed right about this being some past self of yours, there is little I can offer you. But I will say this." The mage's tone took on a cautionary quality. "Assuming that you are, after all, wrong about this dragon being a past incarnation, to use your own words, then I can think of two possibilities that may explain your latest experiences, neither particularly desirable. Possession and madness."

Isandril allowed the man enough time to both digest the potential implications and think of any questions he may have before changing the subject somewhat.

"Xihue." The elven mage's voice was soft, as if he was unsure whether he wanted to share his thoughts with the Alan-Atu or not. "You and Devari..." He almost left the question unspoken. Almost. "You two are... close?" There was curiosity and uncertainty behind the words, mixed with a hint of... Was it envy? "If I could ask a favor of you?" He paused, considering what to say next. "Could you... speak to her? About the way I acted? I fear I may have damaged my... hmm... relationship with her and she would not be particularly willing to hear me out at the moment." He sighed, offering the other man a weak smile. "Even in her current more... emotionless state."



Now...

"Agreed," Isandril offered succinctly once talk of visiting the watchtower first began. He had already shared with them what he could deduce about Hurim after taking into account all they had heard about it. How the curse afflicting the valley not only weakened the living, but also bolstered the dead. And, more importantly, that there were ways to at least counteract parts of it, such as with protective spells and miracles, or by drinking water blessed by a cleric. Or even by praying to one's patron deity, as long as the prayer was genuine and there existed some sort of protective talisman for the god's blessing to flow into.

Noticing the bard looking at him interrupted the wizard's thoughts on the cursed place they were about to enter. He did not return Devari's smile, even though there was no anger or hurt feelings found on his features as he turned to look at her. If there was anything as he simply nodded at her, it was more akin to curiosity. Curiosity whether she had been able to see through his charade after her anger had subsided. Still, regardless of whether that was the case or not, he did not regret his actions, even if the words he had uttered still tasted bitter in his mouth. At least it distracted him from the injury he had suffered while traversing the canyon. A minor one, to be sure, especially after partaking of one of Redwaters' magically conjured healing berries, but a little soreness still remained.

"Let us see if we can find the path forward by looking at the whole picture," he remarked as he turned his gaze towards the watchtower.

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Old May 23rd, 2024, 12:10 AM
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Poor Things
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Back then...

"Mind your words, Plainsman. I fail to see why I should explain myself to you."

The Sylvanesti's demeanor turns feral, and he even steps up to the shaman with a primal, threatening look once confronted on his actions, perhaps in a manner that tries to make the He doesn't appear bigger at all. Do not assume Redwaters response (That's right, FCaster. TWO can play at this game )smaller elf appear larger than he is.

But all he sees is a bully, caught in the act. Redwaters tips his head to the side, unafraid as he looks down upon the elf with a certain understanding. "So THIS is who you are?" Intuitively, he feels this is not the only time the elf has Lied about the time-rippledisrespected him. "It's because I'm HUMAN, isn't it?"

Xihue breaks their stand-off with a much more gentle approach, causing the wizard to rethink and reformulate his approach, completely changing his demeanor.

The conversation opens up to an entirely new venue, one where Isandril opens up and explains his plausible theory. And Redwaters listens, with much interest, and much confirms what he knows already. There is not hint of bitterness toward the sage elf, and he nods approvingly. "That makes perfect sense. Stareyes has said as much. She never intended Devari to lose her abilities. Only impart a lesson. I just never knew the key."

Next, Xihue offer his own justification for his actions. Or rather, a reverse accusation, accusing Redwaters instead of impropriety.

"Peace, Redwaters. There is no true conflict here. Why is everyone so insistent upon explanations today? Can not the world simply be what it is with each person acting according to the demands of their own volition? Please do not feel that you are alone, Redwaters. I do not understand the reasons for much of what anyone here choses to do. Thankfully, such knowledge is not required for me to be content and in pursuit of peaceful oneness that will bring Ascendence. Seek to understand yourself. Only then will you be able to understand others."

All of that, answered nothing of his inquiry. Instead, it was like catching a holy priest stealing from the offering plate. Just a smoke-screen of philosophical catch-phrases, and a projection of wrong-doing on Redwaters to distract from the query. Even if unintended, he sees through Xihue's octopus ink of avoidant behavior.

If Redwaters sees through this so should Devari, he thinks as she approaches his side, given her newfound lack of emotions, for no amount of pretty words should seduce her. And given she no longer has emotions to play upon, he can only conclude that she spends her time sleeping with him as her own rational choice. And it banishes his concerns, as a decision two adults make.


 


 
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Old May 23rd, 2024, 01:53 PM
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Hope
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When the Mikku saw the entrance to the valley, they stopped their advance, prevented from going further by a wall of faith and beliefs. Hope felt a certain melancholy as she gave some final embraces and goodbyes. The wall didn’t exist for the young priestess, her God had not only granted her passage but also showed her a path where going into the valley would be a first step toward the truth. The first step Hope took beyond the invisible wall carried with it a confirmation, one that she had fully accepted the choice Gilean had offered her. And with the realisation of that confirmation, the half-elf was made aware she had concluded a chapter in her life and started a new one. For a brief moment, she wondered if the book of her story within Gilean’s library would reflect that change. And perhaps, she hoped, the God of Knowledge was reading that book right as she approached the valley, smiling at her choice.

Hope had another book in her hands as she came into the canyon, her precious journal. She had promised Zendra she would write down every detail of the journey, and she intended to keep this promise And she had a lot to write about. To the novice Aesthetic, the canyon looked as intimidating as it was exciting, a promise of discovery. The members of the group were pioneers of sorts, and as a student of History, she had dreamed of such a moment. But the sight of the previously closed valley was not all she kept her eyes open for. She was also looking for the special wood Fehriud requested of her. As expected, she didn’t have much luck during the travels with the Mikku, but considering Hurim had not received any living visitor for a long time, it was worth keeping this other search in her mind.

The very first note the novice Aesthetic made in her journal was of the treacherous terrain that made the canyon. It was not a surprise considering how it was opened. But the thought of it made Hope go back several days in time, when she felt the earthquake on top of the Khan’s Rock, with Uleena. Her reaction to the memory was not strong, unlike the day the centaurs’ hooves stomped the ground when they came to meet the Mikku, but it was enough to make her legs just a tad weak so that she slipped on debris. Instead of trying to keep herself away from the stones that were only waiting to injure any limb that would come close enough, Hope reflexively protected her journal. The half-elf let out a sharp shout of pain as her hand ended up being Athletics check: 2 - 4 HP lostsliced open by the no less sharp rock.

She took a moment to dress her wound, trying to prevent any drop of blood from spoiling her journal. After making sure she was ready to continue, she saw that she wasn’t the only one who fell to the trap of the unstable ground. Xihue suffered much worse than her. Before she could get to help him, Tegan and Talia were already on his side. And she was even too slow to call upon the powers of her God to heal the Alan-Atu, as he seemingly was able to close the injury by himself, leaving only a scar. Doubt started to invade her mind. Doubt that she might not bring anything useful to her new companions, that maybe she was a burden. It was as if the gloom surrounding the place was able to whisper words in her ear.

When Isandril shared his observations with the party, Hope nodded. The wizard had put into words what she was feeling. Trying to get a better grasp at this sensation, the young priestess called to the Casting Guidance to help for the Arcana and Religion checksguidance of her God. As soon as she did, it was as if a veil in her mind lifted. The words she could feel were blurry suddenly appeared to her clearer. Feeling as if she didn’t have the authority to address the whole group, Hope shared what she learned with the elf, that not only the dead were strengthened but also that any magic drawing from such dark energy, spells of the necromancy school, was also empowered. They would have to be quite vigilant if they were to cross paths with a foe commanding such magic, a situation of which the likelihood seemed higher than she would have liked.

Among the advice Isandril had shared was to pray. Hope felt a tad guilty about doing so. She had called to Gilean only a moment before. But she resolved to not put too much weight on her own doubts. If He felt she asked too much, and wanted to show she needed to find solutions on her own, then He wouldn’t respond and Hope would simply continue without His help. With her decision made, the priestess knelt, joining her hands before her lowered head, and started her prayer.

“From the pinnacle of the Heavens,
To the deepest pit beneath the earth,
Knowledge guides my path.

Where enervation and death reign,
From rising dawn to crimson dusk,
Creeping mendacity be banished by Truth.

I pray to your Wisdom,
Blessings of Gilean descend,
May the Balance be my shield.”


A wave of calmness and certainty washed over her. The doubts that were growing in her mind immediately vanished. The air felt lighter and breathing was made easier. As a smile returned to her face, Hope felt herself once again.

As the group continued to walk forward, Hope approached Xihue. “Peace be with you, Xihue.” She said with a bow. “I would like to apologise to you. You didn’t deserve the way I talked to you before. If I may make a request, the next time we make camp, would you be amenable to share a watch with me? I would like to use this opportunity to offer a more proper apology and, if possible, continue this discussion.” The guilt she was feeling toward the Alan-Atu made her talk in a more formal way than her usual tone. She realised she was building a wall between the two of them and hoped clearing the misunderstanding that she created might break this wall as well.

Once the canyon was left behind and the group entered the actual valley, they started debating which path to follow. But quickly a consensus was reached, climbing the watchtower in the distance appeared to be the preferred option, in order to get a better picture of the task ahead of them. While she didn’t talk on the matter, Hope agreed with the idea. Of course, the more knowledge they possess, the better they would be to reach their goal, in her opinion. And yet, there was an apprehension in her steps. She tried a couple of times to look directly at the tower, only to find herself lowering her head before her eyes could see its highest point. She did her best to not let her fear of height submerged herself. There was also a relief in her mind, relief that she had received Gilean’s protection against the heavy atmosphere of the valley. It would not help her legs during the climbing, but it would help keep her mind focused on the task.

The priestess walked alongside the rest of the group, trying to find confidence in the eyes of those she came to know, and readying herself for another trial to come.


 


 
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Old May 24th, 2024, 12:34 AM
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Death on (tiny) Wings
The followers of Chislev knew well that there was no land that didn’t enjoy the goddess’ blessing. From the bleak Northern Wastes to the icy wilderness of the Icereach and the fire-belching maws of the Lords of Doom to the vast underground world of Thorbardin, life had found a way to populate even the most unwelcoming environments. Whether phosphorescent moss and humble fungi, beetles that tirelessly dug the earth and small, furry mammals that made their homes beneath the snow or sand, the goddess’ children could be encountered everywhere on Krynn. There were no lands the deity of nature didn’t consider as part of her, no places that she didn’t love as much as she did the verdant forests of the elves.


Except perhaps for the valley of Hurim.


This place was different and no matter how high one looked in the sky or how deeply one dug in the earth there was no life waiting to be discovered, no insects buzzing noisily around, no worms living in the warm, welcoming soil. Hurim was cursed. Hurim was evil.


It wasn’t merely the fact that the canyon was full of sharp rocks and treacherously shifting dirt that made crossing it both difficult and dangerous. The companions felt that the land wanted them to stumble and bruise themselves. It wanted to hurt them.


Xihue’s misstep was rewarded with a grievous wound, one that only the Alan-Atu’s incredibly mastery of body and mind could counter without it resulting in serious bleeding, infection or permanent injury. When the warrior-shepherd turned around to warn his companions and make sure that they wouldn’t suffer the same fate, he realized that there was no blood staining the ground. Like a hungry stirge, the earth seemed to have drained it. Not a single drop remained, not the slightest trace of life.


Instinctively sensing this threat to life as a whole, Redwaters felt an urge to change things, to defy the shadow of death that weighed so heavily upon all of them. Gently pressing his palms against the ground, as if comforting a wounded animal, he dug the earth with bare hands, placing a small twig of mistletoe inside the hole and calling upon the power of the goddess to bless it. Chislev heeded the plea and what had formerly been a small piece of still green wood with only a memory of life, grew roots and leaves and produced fat, juicy berries, ready to be picked and enjoyed. The plainsman smiled and silently thanked the goddess. There could be no greater proof of her favor and power than that, restoring life to a valley where it had formerly been utterly wiped out.


Elated by the triumph of nature over the unholy curse that afflicted Hurim, the plainsman went further still, relishing the bond he had forged with the very earth. With bold moves of his hands, he called to the mother of all and the ground obeyed, dirt, sand, pebbles and larger stones dancing to his song, rising and falling to his tune and giving shape and substance to a makeshift altar dedicated to all the gods, Chislev first and foremost among them. Redwaters’ smile widened, knowing that he, the goddess’ messenger, could make a difference in this cursed place. The strain in his arms and the sweat on his brow felt like blessings and his heart fluttered like a fledgling bird trying to leave its nest and become one with the endless sky.


He fell on his knees and placed on the altar his makeshift charm consisting of a variety of feathers, all of them sacred to Chislev the Beast, asking her to imbue it with her power. The smoke from the slowly burning sweetgrass traveled to the heavens, carrying Redwaters’ prayers to divine ears. A breeze came out of nowhere, stirring the hair on the plainsman’s head and bringing a freshness and vitality that had not been felt inside the valley for over five hundred years. The feathers moved, their colors brighter than before, the patterns on them more distinct.


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Feathers, Chislev’s sacred symbol

And then a hollow noise was heard, like a bone breaking in two, and cracks appeared on the surface of the earthen altar. Within moments, the cracks deepened and widened, causing sand to spill out of the gaping holes like blood out of a wound as the foundations of the altar broke and shattered. Redwaters’ tribute to the gods collapsed. All that remained in the end was an irregular mound of decrepit soil and stones that looked like the bleached bones of some forgotten creature.


Nausea replaced the feeling of content and Redwaters snatched the goddess’ holy symbol, fearing that it could have been desecrated by the valley’s curse. Thankfully, he could feel Chislev’s breath surrounding it, as comforting as a steady heartbeat. She was still with him, even in this godsforsaken place, now and as long as his faith in her proved strong.


The plainsman looked back, towards the entrance of the valley, beseeching the goddess to watch over Thunder, his most faithful friend. By accident, or perhaps by godly design, his gaze fell on the bush he had summoned out of the dead earth. It stood before him twisted and gray, the leaves brittle like old papyrus, all goodberries that have not been already consumed are ruinedthe berries shriveled like the husks of long-dead beasts. Though his heart did not feel grief as acutely as most men and women did, fiery tears burnt his eyes like drops of acid. It would take much more than a few answered prayers to lift the curse from the shattered temple and to restore life and beauty to this dark stain upon the earth.


Ever conscious of the aura of defilement that blackened the air they breathed, the companions looked to the lone watchtower to obtain the knowledge that would shield them from Hurim’s evil. They sought knowledge of the valley’s layout, but also knowledge of the atrocities that had been committed here and of the true cause of the tragedy that had cost the lives of hundreds of souls, possibly more. The truth wasn’t always beautiful, they knew. In fact it was often uglier than sin, but according to Gilean’s teachings, it was the only path forward.


Hope knew this well and she kept this most vital of her god’s doctrines close to her heart, together with her medallion of faith. It gave her the power to endure the hardships and the courage to keep on going no matter what. No true servant of the Balance allowed themselves to be blinded either by light or darkness. They remained always watchful and open to the world around them. Evil had to be experienced alongside good, death had to be studied alongside life. One didn’t have to embrace both, but they had to accept their existence.


Drawing strength from the faith the gods had in their mortal servants and the protection they graciously provided to the ones that asked for it, the companions approached the smallest of the two pillars of stone, both of them jutting out of the fog like islands in a sea of gray. The stone steps that had been carved at the sides of the rock had once been wide enough to allow heavily armored warriors to quickly climb them up and down without difficulty. Time, however, and the ravages of the Cataclysm had brought ruin to what the skill and patience of the people of Istar had created. Some of the steps had broken off completely, others were so badly damaged that they appeared likely to collapse as soon as they supported the slightest of weights. All of them were covered by gravel and a thick layer of dust. It was clear that no feet belonging to a living creature had stepped upon these stones for centuries. Climbing them would not prove easy.


Atop the stone stairs was the first, smaller plateau. Only a little more than 50 feet wide, the ground was rough and uneven with large cracks reaching from one side to the other. To the north, the ground rose slightly, creating a narrow land bridge that arched up towards the higher mesa. How this frail-looking bridge didn’t collapse during the Cataclysm or even the more recent earthquake was a mystery. Perhaps dwarven masons had somehow managed to strengthen the stone the bridge was made from or Istaran engineers had utilized techniques, now lost to time, to give it the kind of immortality they had been unable to grant their city. The bridge was narrow, no more than ten feet across, doubtlessly meant as a defense mechanism that would be able to stop any number of invaders from reaching the larger plateau and the watchtower. A few good soldiers with an ample supply of arrows or crossbow bolts should have been able to stop a whole army.


With the far too vivid picture of an attacker in mind, a bandit or ogre perhaps, being shot with arrows and sent falling to the ground, crashing into the jagged rocks that had accumulated over the centuries, the companions started crossing the bridge. Realizing that a single wrong step could be their last, they walked slowly and with extreme caution, fearing that even the slightest of breezes could upset their balance and send them over the edge. Thankfully, the wind seemed to be as devoid of life and energy as everything else inside the valley and even the stone beneath their feet showed no signs of weakening.


The companions sighed with relief. They had managed to cross about two thirds of the bridge without incident. In just a few minutes, they would reach the larger plateau and then the watchtower. All they had to do was put one foot in front of the other and keep walking. Just a little longer.


Suddenly, the deathly silence of the valley was replaced by a strange noise like a thousand shrieking voices, shrill and inhuman, coming from all around them. Talia was the first to see the countless black spots rapidly approaching them from front and back, right and left, above and below. The closer they came, the more distinct their forms became: leathery wings, small, desiccated bodies, large upright ears like that of a dog, red eyes and tiny fangs as sharp as needles. Bats, hundreds upon hundreds of bats, flying towards the companions, attracted by the blood that still flowed in their veins.


Fighting this sentient cloud of flying vermin would have been difficult under any circumstances. Doing so while crossing a narrow bridge 70 feet above the ground was almost impossible. Three options seemed viable: Reach the watchtower as quickly as possible and seek shelter inside, find a way to drive away the bats or trust luck and the companions’ skill that they would be able to survive this newest threat they faced.


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A swarm of bats, one of many



Calendar23rd Day of Aelmont (Winter) 422 AC / 38 SC, Morning

Solinari: 17/36 (High Sanction)
Lunitari: 26/28 (Low Sanction)
Nuitari: 7/8 (Waning)

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


 
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Old May 24th, 2024, 03:41 PM
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Talia Dawnstar
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Talia knew that her friends were the thinking type, have a long debate, weigh the pros and cons type. Talia was none of those things. As soon as she saw the swarm of bats in the sky… she was gone.

As fast as her nimble little feet could move, the kender scrambled up the pillar steps, taking some two at a time, and for others, scrambling on all fours like a cat. Within seconds she had ascended the pillar and from her high perch she had a better view of the incoming catastrophe and just how bad it was.

"They're dead!" She screamed as she noticed that many of the bats had holes in their wings. Talia swung her hoopak with all her might around and around. She hoped to create a high enough pitch that she could distract, possibly scare away the bats but seeing that they were dead, that idea quickly went out the window.

"They see by sound!" Talia yelled down below, remembering everything she could about bats, a subject she never needed to care about before. "Make enough noise and it might confuse them?"

Talia had no clue if her idea was a good one but having offered her opinion, she peered down at her friends.

"How can I help?"



OOC(No Aoo - fancy footwork and she has alert)
 

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Old May 27th, 2024, 09:55 PM
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A bridge too far
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With the crumbling of the altar and the withering of the goodberries, Redwaters processes how the hungry lands seems to swallow everything and even in spite of himself is fully taken aback, confused with the stinging in his eye. In mild annoyance, he goes to rub the cause, only to find the back of his hand wet with moisture, and he understands once more his body is trying to tell him something. Much like when he had lost his coocum, this was yet another travesty.

The Earthmother has called him to be here for a reason. Somehow, some way, he must find a means to lift this curse so that these dead lands may flourish once more. More than unholy, it is sacrilegious to EVERYTHING he stands for. But HOW?

More questions. Never any strightforward answers. His nature and upbringing has taught him to be a patient man. But there is only so much a man such as he can take. As the others settle upon what path they want to move toward, he is Mold Earthalready shifting the collapsed mini-monument of clay and stone into a pile of rocks that point toward the Watchtower, so that Zendra and Aric may know of their journey, once she awakens from her Vision-quest.

Soon, they are all standing at the precipice of the stone bridge, discussing yet again the path moving forward. Redwaters stands staring out at the vast rocky expanse with his arms crossed, lost somewhat in his own thoughts as the others offer their theories, nodding at Talia as she passes him by, acting on instinct like the free spirit she is. He watches after her to make sure she made her journey safely. As she picks her way up the rocky alcove, his vision is drawn slowly up, up and more upwards, regarding the watchtower, and theorizing upon what other undiscovered horrors and dangers lie within. Finally, he hears the last little bits of Devari's plan, involving a careful traverse of the chasm with a rope and two groups of threes.

Redwaters nods approvingly. "Sounds good. Xihue and I take lead. I'll go first and take Isandil behind me and Tegan at flank," Weight issues, but Tegan has athleticsThere is a logic to it he states, taking his portion of the rope and tying it into a simple but large loop, intending on draping it about his waist.

It is then he hears the distant screeching of creatures and the thunderous flapping of many wings.

At first, he is somewhat relieved that not ALL life has been wiped out from the valley, and he steps forward in anticipation, confident in his abilities as an Earth-speaker. "Relax. I got this," he says with almost an egotistical rizz despite his lack of ego.

"They're dead!" cries a far more perceptive Talia, who spots what Redwaters did not. "They see by sound! Make enough noise and it might confuse them?"

"Oh crap. I DON'T got this. Guys, we must HURRY!" he mutters as his mind goes into overdrive. What should've been a careful shuffle across an iffy bridge has now become a risky, mad-dash to safety.

""How can I help?" Talia Shouts.

""Sling stones at any rocky outcroppings! We need sound diversions!" he shouts back, and focuses his attention on the winged death squad aproaching them. At his very core, he detests what they are. Yet another abomination against Nature Herself.

Huntress, NOW what? he begs his Goddess, knowing he must BE more. Something stronger. Something faster. Something LOUDER.

And with his unconscious prayer She shapes him into what he needs to be.

In sudden transformation as those gathered now desperately securing ropes to themselves to make a risque traverse along the narrow bridge, Redwaters turns inside-out before their eyes as he becomes The Wolf, grey and gnarled. Wasting no more time, the creature takes the loop with his teeth, and forces his team ever forward, glancing at the encroaching swarm with Isandril and Tegan in tow.

Even rushed, they make good time, and soon the druid is on the other side, possibly sans both wizard and warrior. The wolf looks confused and drops the loop and turns to look back across the bridge, silently praying for the success of Xihue and his Team, ready to spring into action, lest the worst occur, wondering where the wizard is...


 


 
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Old May 28th, 2024, 02:20 PM
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Hope
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As the consensus was reached for the group’s immediate destination, Hope tried to distract her mind from the task ahead. Walking alongside Isandril, she decided to share some questions she had with him. “Excuse me, Isandril? If I may, I have something of a concern and would be interested in hearing your thoughts on the matter, if that’s alright with you.”

Hearing no refusal, she continued. “Regarding the attack of the dream eater several days ago, I have asked myself why it happened, and can’t find even an inkling of an answer. From your examination of the mask, specifically the ‘master-servant bond’ you described, we can assume someone intentionally attacked the camp using that dream eater. If your group was the target, then it would stand to reason to think another attack would have occurred, and since being in the middle of the Mikku camp didn’t stop the first attack, I wonder why another one hasn’t happened yet. I would have thought something would have tried to stop us before entering the valley.”

She stopped there for a brief moment, trying to sort her own thoughts, and make her words as clear as possible for someone who couldn’t read her mind. “I know I can only see a very small part of the whole picture, which makes the situation all the more frustrating for me. Maybe this is my inexperience talking, because frankly I’m very new at this adventuring activity, but I would appreciate any thoughts you could share. I’m not trying to find the whole truth behind it, at least not yet, but I feel no matter how I approach this issue I’m facing a big wall that I can’t overcome from the books I have with me, like I'm used to do.”

The novice Aesthetic let out a quick sigh. She was so used to finding answers in books around her, but now in the wild where there was no library to be found. She had to find a new way to solve the issues she faced.

At least sharing her concern with Isandril proved enough of a distraction. Hope hadn’t realised they had reached the foot of the stone pillar until the conversation was over. Unfortunately her worry came as strong as before as soon as she looked at the ravaged building. The climb was going to be a difficult one for everyone in the group. Well, except for a certain fearless kender who slipped past everyone and rushed toward the top as if the stairs were in pristine condition.

Thankfully, as Talia made her way to the vantage point, the companions demonstrated they worked well together to find solutions when facing a problem. Devari proposed a solution, tying together people using rope to be able to rely on each other during the climb, and Isandril offered a suggestion as to how to make the group. What mostly impressed Hope was the use of sound arguments to present their idea, a very nice sight for a scholar. Quickly, Hope was given a rope to join Devari and Isandril, and her mind became a little less worried about her own trouble, reassured that two dependable persons would help her.

For the most part, her fear of heights was kept quiet in her mind. Until Hope tripped on an unstable portion of the stairs. Feeling herself losing her balance, she readied herself to fall down to the ground, but it never came. Instead, she felt the rope she was attached being pulled just slightly to keep her on the solid part. In front of her, Devari was gripping the rope, and Hope quickly gave her thanks to the woman. “Thank you for your help, Devari.” She said with a shy smile. Hope remembered the last time she tried to thank the songstress, it didn’t go very well. She hoped this time she didn’t make the woman uncomfortable again.

Hope’s almost fall wasn’t the only incident observed during the climb. Isandril too stepped on an unstable part. Unlike the priestess, he was not lucky to prevent a fall, despite the rope. Seeing someone fall from the ascension, even if it was not as high as the highest point of the Khan’s Rock made Hope freeze. There wasn’t anything she could have done to catch the elf. Just as fear was about to overwhelm her, the white robed wizard made a swift return, with a much more confident step. Relief washed over the half-elf. The white robe Isandril was wearing stood out in the ambient gloom that engulfed the region. But this made his return all the more comforting, as if he was a beacon of light in this land of darkness.

Eventually, everyone was able to reach the top of the stone pillar. Hope let out a long breath that was stuck in her throat from the anxiety. She knew it wasn’t the end of the climbing, but at least this first part was over. Looking at the companions around her, she saw that Isandril was injured, probably from his fall. Coming to his side, she touched the wound and said her Casting Cure Woundsprayer. “O Gilean, Let me heal my companion’s wound.” After the usual images of past lives flashed in her mind, she could see the wound was closed. The elf was not in full health just yet, but at least he was in a slightly better condition, and he would need it, given the threat that was coming their way.

Thanks to Talia’s warning, they knew the creatures were undead bats. The kender even advised to use noises in order to distract the potential foes. It was sound advice, unsurprising coming from an Aesthetic, and once again Hope appreciated the sharing of knowledge. But the novice Aesthetic was concerned about a possible side effect of such a strategy. She gathered her courage in order to make her opinion known to the rest of the party. “This is a great observation indeed, Talia. And while I fully appreciate using sounds against such creatures, I worry of a potential outcome. Noises may attract the attention of other creatures, perhaps more dangerous ones. There is something I can propose but it comes with a risk, I believe. Gilean is, among His duties, guardian of the past, therefore I can try to call upon His powers to Proposing to use class feature Channel Divinity: Turn Undeadrepel dead creatures, like these bats. But, considering the effects of the curse of this valley, it may not work on all the bats and perhaps not for a long time. I hope I haven’t overstepped in sharing my opinion, and since you’re all much more experienced than I am, I will absolutely follow your decision.”


 


 
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Old May 29th, 2024, 10:34 PM
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Xihue of the Alan-Atu
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Isandril offered Xihue good council and the monk appreciated his perspective. Yes, the very reason that reincarnation was a certainty for the Alan-Atu was the brevity of human life. Without the Wheel's work, there would never be enough time for any human to ascend. Maybe humans were never intended to? The simple shepherd resolved himself to meditate upon those words. It seemed to Xihue that, perhaps, not every soul reincarnated? Was it only those who needed to? Were some souls satisfied with one, limited, lifespan and then sought eternal rest in some other, underdeveloped, simpler way? That sounded right. Maybe some souls were destined to be limited to one material existence while others, certain individuals of every race and all Alan-Atu, returned to advance beyond what was possible within a single lifespan.

"Peace, Isandril. I hear what you say but would it not also be possible that your people live long enough as not to require reincarnation before the soul can learn what it needs to know and Ascend? You speak of "gods" but the Alan-Atu see those powerful beings as creatures who have achieved enlightenment and, through their Ascendence, great power which comes from knowing the truth of reality. We do not view them as you do, but revere each as an aspect of immortality, the product of ultimate Ascendence. I do not know which holds more truth but i DO know that many of the Alan-Atu have been reincarnated and only a few have Ascended after several, short, human lifespans. There would be no other way for one of us to attain that purpose.

If I am mad, so be it. I shall content myself in being a useful lunatic. Whether this dragon's voice is a part of me, a symbiote, or a parasite, I must learn from it. Thank you or your help.
Xihue bowed deeply and reverently to the white-robed arcanist. He was truly appreciative of the Sivanesti's perspective.

Redwaters, however, seemed less appreciative of Xihue's contribution to their earlier conversation. Although the plainsman was generous and selfless, he seemed to only superficially examine the deeper meanings of what Xihue intended to convey. Ideas and aphorisms were more than just platitudes. They gave pause to contemplation which had always led Xihue to meditation and deeper understanding of truth. It centered and balanced him. The monk was careful not to reflect that practice in his own mind, nor did he assume that this immediate impression was factual. Xihue resolved to avoid being dismissive or closed to the mystic's contributions. The man had much to offer that was valuable to everyone. That was plain enough. It was, like some medicine, more difficult to swallow than others. That did not negate its benefit. It was clear that he and Redwaters did not understand each other yet. That would need to change. I shall listen more and speak less. Maybe that will reveal what is needed for me to understand this man. thought the Taladan traveler.

"And with you, Hope." Xihue intoned as the beautiful cleric approached him unexpectedly. "I would welcome your company, Ghan Shen. I will look forward to the opportunity to reach a better understanding with you." It wasn't only Redwaters that Xihue was having a hard time understanding. There were so many concepts that had never been a part of life on the Ulsi Ilquar.

Entry into the Cursed Valley had been painful. Xihue's thigh still throbbed stiffly and he limped a little, favoring the injured leg. He tried to hide it as much as possible. An injury displayed to an adversary is an invitation for an opponent to induce additional damage, whispered the Ancient Master's voice. Xihue knew, as every good shepherd did, that any display of fear or weakness was echoed and amplified by the flock, but so was courage and confidence. It was much better to convey those, motivational qualities than to inadvertently contribute to disadvantageous deportments.

Devari saw through the ruse. She walked beside him, feigning affection, in order to help obscure the discomfort and pain from the others. This woman was smart and observant. Xihue was glad to have her as a friend. Her explanation of the social customs of Ansalon had shocked him, at first. Jealousy and possessiveness were natural qualities among children. Before a youngling learned to share, before they understood that their only true, personal possession was their own thoughts, they would be covetous and self-serving. These feelings gave way to the understanding of peace as the child matured. There was only conflict when someone purposefully sought to deprive another person of a mutual desire. Competition was valuable. It was a way to demonstrate skill so that the entire community could benefit in knowing which talents resided in each person. Everyone had talent. No one had all the skills that another possessed. In search of peace, Xihue's clan freely shared the best of themselves in the hope that others would provide whatever they lacked.

"...most people only have room in their hearts for a few close friends and family. For us intimacy is precious, like diamond-precious, you know? It's a rare thing, and that makes it all the more valued and treasured, but people get really… defensive? They're scared that somebody is gonna steal it, or something. We don't give our intimacy lightly. It has to be earned, but that just makes it even more valuable."

"Yes, I see. My people distrust outsiders. Our hearts are fearful of those that do not share our ways but I do not know the limit of love. Does it have one? There have been as many as two or three hundred Alan-Atu in my clan and every new child extends the that boundary. Maybe the limit is reached when there are so many people that it becomes impossible for each one to know each of the others? Maybe it is fear of the unknown which restricts peace? I shall meditate on this.

If you have it in your heart to forgive Isandril for his earlier outburst, I know that Isandril did not mean to alienate you. From my understanding, he wished to assist you in regaining your connection to normal, human emotions but his methods may have been too direct.

I do not doubt that what you say is true, and I am very thankful to have earned your trust. Peace be with you, Devari.


" 'Nothin' worth havin' comes easy,' that's what mama used to say."

That made Xihue smile, "As with most mothers, yours was very wise."


It was quickly resolved that the companions would try to reach the Watchtower and Talia was even more quick to ascend a rough-hewn, weathered flight of stairs. Tying ropes to one another, the rest of the assembled adventurers also reached the landing, prerequisite to a precarious span crossing that would allow them to attain the tower. Xihue assisted others as best he could but as they were crossing that bridge, a crawling sensation along the monk's spine announced a hostile presence that was almost immediately confirmed. Undead bats were swarming toward them, making horrible sounds.

Talia's voice confirmed his own observation. The Valley had sucked the life out of these flying vermin and they were blind, using sound and hearing as alternative guidance. The noises they had all been making in movement and conversation had attracted their attention and they were obviously hungry. How many years had they starved here without food in this lifeless wasteland? "If they need sound to see, there must either be too much or too little. Making noise will attract them. Doing nothing will allow them to see us clearly. Being silent, prone, and still would make us become part of the landscape unless they retain a sense of taste and smell. Our best bet is to reach the tower before they get here!"

Xihue tumbled forward toward the Watchtower, following Talia's path to an obviously safe position but he had neglected to remember that he was still tied to two other people and soon reached the limit of his available movement. Only the other three options remained. Noise, combat, or stealth. Xihue untied himself from the chain and prepared for the coming onslaught by pressing himself tightly to the plateau, still too far from the protection of the tower. If he were wrong, he would need to rise quickly and engage in battle with the blighted bats. The monk held his breath and watched as he lay as still as death.


 
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Old May 30th, 2024, 10:19 AM
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Why did it have to be batsAs they had entered the valley, Tegan had found himself loathe to leave behind his new friend, Sundancer, and their companions, Aric and Zendra. Still, he steeled himself and initially led the way into the valley. Immediately, Tegan felt the cold. It was bone-chilling and set his every nerve on edge. He had felt his hairs stand up completely on end and his every instinct told him to flee. Yet he did not. He resolutely and firmly continued his march with his shield up, Kanna loose in its sheath, and his horn in hand, a firm glow surrounding it. He had prayed to Kiri-Jolith for light in the darkness and his deity had relented once again. He resented becoming a beacon for any potential foes, but they could not traverse the darkness without being able to see.

As they had marched, Tegan could sense the malice in this place. This completely desecrated land had more than just an aura of evil. It was an oppressive and suffocating bond that wearied the soul in addition to the body. There was no life, none besides them. Hurim seemed to prefer it that way, and they were the trespassers here. This was evidenced as the rocks themselves found ways to attack. Tegan did not enjoy removing what could only be described as a rock skewer from Xihue's leg, but the Alan-Atu did show some new powers. He actually closed the wound himself. Tegan had started, staring at the warrior. He hadn't prayed nor appeared to cast some spell. He simply closed the wound. This man surprised Tegan more than anyone he had met thus far.

Tegan found himself seeking protection from the dark, invasive thoughts. As they took a brief respite, Tegan dropped to his knees, missing his prayer book, and instead prayed genuinely for protection from the darkness around them. He felt a comforting feeling as the cloak of his salvation was drooped over his shoulders. Kiri-Jolith's kindest boon was to protect him from the malice around him. He could feel the weight of the curse lifting. It was still all around, but Kiri-Jolith could prevent the darkness from at least penetrating Tegan's light.

Eventually a watch-tower came into vision. Tegan could envision how this valley was protected from invaders, clearly seeing the architectural decisions that would greatly favor the defenders. He had learned much of military strategy and fortifications in Solanthus. The stairs in front of them, albeit completely devoid of their original strength, showed the characteristic defensive shaping. One swordsman would have been able to hold this for a considerable time regardless of the number of opponents. Many of these kinds of chokepoints were leveraged in defensive design to generate time. In all but the longest of sieges, which Tegan had experienced firsthand against Mina, time was often a boon to the defenders. Tegan reflected that as they were the invaders of this valley. The longer they were here the more attention they would garner, the more the defenders could plan and enact strategies. Time was not on their side. They needed to be effective and efficient.

As Tegan contemplated, the team formed a strategy for the destroyed stairs. With ropes attached, Tegan anchored his team. It was a double-edged sword. He was the most competent anchor, meaning if someone in his care fell, he was the least likely to let them drop. In contrast, if he dropped, he was the most likely to bring others down with them. With a focus and vigilance firmly rooted in not letting his companions down, Tegan's careful steps found no issues. He confidently and gracefully wound up the steps.

Next came the bridge. It wasn't that skinny, but again the defensive mindset was on display. One could walk across this bridge, but an army walking two-abreast would find difficulty, especially when harassed. Furthermore, a few could hold many on the bridge, especially with the assistance of ranged support from the the party's destination, the watchtower.

The bridge was quiet as they walked, a sphere of light in the darkness. Their orb of light rolled across the bridge cautiously, keen for any hint of danger. Danger was not far off.

It started as a sound, outside their canopy of light. It was a leathery rustling sound that was quiet at first. The sound grew expontentially, starting in one direction, then quickly encircling them on all sides, including above and below. It was the beating of wings. As the first foe crossed the light, Tegan could see that it was a bat. There were legions of bats. Talia had already begun to dash, and was screaming about how they were dead bats and that they couldn't see. She suggested creating noise to distract them and Hope countered that sound could attract worse things. Hope suggested calling upon Gilean to hold back the swarms while they reached refuge in the tower. If they could get to the tower, they could at least stem the flow of opponents. Hope was hesitant in her suggestion, but Tegan thought it was a great idea. He briskly stated, "Hope, do it! Everyone, follow Talia!"

As the companions took off, Tegan was still holding the rear. He let his horn go and the leather strap that kept it bound to his chest created a rhythmic thump as the horn jostled and bounced, hitting his armor. Tegan did not care, this enabled him to draw his sword. His comfort in this darkness and his one tool to defend his friends. He ran, maintaining rearguard and ensuring that everyone reached the safety of the tower before him. He would not allow any to lag behind him as he ran.
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There is no shame in defeat so long as the spirit is unconquered. - Praetor Fenix
A sword wields no strength unless the hands that holds it has courage.

Last edited by Tommyk382; May 30th, 2024 at 10:25 AM.
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Old May 30th, 2024, 12:48 PM
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Devari watched Talia scrambling on ahead, noted the way that many of the steps seemed to crumble only moments after the kender’s foot brushed them, and looked doubtfully at Tegan, who had to weigh about four times what Talia did.

"We need a plan," she stated simply. "If we all try that half of us will fall, and we’ve already seen how bloodthirsty even the rocks are around here."

She pulled the rope from the side of her pack and looped the centre of it around her own waist then handed one end to Hope.

"Tie this to yourself so that we can keep each other steady," she offered, then looked at the others. She doubted she or the Aesthetic would be able to hold Tegan if he fell, and they would probably even struggle with Redwaters or Xihue. That left the slender elf. She quirked an eyebrow at him as she held out the other end.

"Any more comments about my sister and I’ll drag you off myself," she said, but with the ghost of a smile on her lips. She had found some time to think about Isandril’s odd behaviour as they walked, and it seemed so out-of-character that she had decided that either he was possessed by whatever voice was invading his mind, or… and this seemed more likely, he was deliberately trying to rile her up to ‘save’ her from what Stareyes had done to her. She knew that she would forgive him but she was going to let him stew for a little while first.

The climb was as arduous as expected, and at one point Hope tripped, looking certain to fall, but Devari just had enough time to pull the rope taut and the half elf kept her balance, before offering a sincere thank you.

"Don’t mention it," Devari replied, taking the opportunity to loosen her shoulder muscles which had become as hard as rocks during the climb. "I think we’ll all need each other sooner rather than later in this place, you’ll get the chance to pay me back."

She checked on Isandril, who seemed to be struggling, and decided that she should try to take everybody’s minds off of the task, and what better way with these two than by asking academic questions?

"So I was wondering," she announced as they continued, "who was the greatest mage of all time? I mean, the old stories say that Fistandantilus’ power was rivalled only by his own lust for power, but wasn’t Raistlin Majere just as powerful? And why did both of them start out as red robes then turn to the black? Weren’t there any white robes who could rival them in power, but who maybe just chose not to use their power so much and so were forgotten by history?"

Smirking to herself she left it at that and let the mage and the Aesthetic duke it out between them, satisfied that her plan was working until Isandril slipped and almost took her down with him. Her right foot slipped back as the rope yanked her, and she had to brace hard, teeth gritted against the pain from the rope digging into her waist. She took a moment to make sure that her footing was firm, then turned to see Isandril sprawled in a very undignified manner, his face screwed up in agony.

"Sorry, that’s my fault," she said, offering a hand to help him to his feet. "I shouldn’t have distracted you with stupid questions. Let’s keep our focus on the task at hand."

After what seemed an age they made the summit to find Talia itching to dash on ahead.

"I’m surprised you haven’t crossed there and back five times already," she said grinning, but then she narrowed her eyes at the kender. "…or have you?"

Crossbow loaded and cocked, she followed others as they made their way across the bridge, trying not to look down the whole time. It was nerve-wracking, never knowing whether the ancient structure would hold under their weight, but they were almost at the other side when the shrieking started. They all froze, and then Talia shouted out a warning; bats. Hundreds of them. Thousands. From all around they came, their flight made all the more erratic as very few of them had intact wings.

Talia suggested making noise to confuse the creatures, and immediately followed her own advice by making a din with some pots. Redwaters’ body seemed to twist in on itself, fur drawing over what had once been skin and clothes, until a wolf stood in his place. He howled, adding his voice to the racket. Isandril, too, joined in, using his magic to conjure a sound from thin air, much to the consternation of Hope, who pleaded with them to remain quiet lest even more deadly creatures be lured to the battle.

"It’s too late for that, I think," Devari offered with a shrug as she slung the crossbow over one shoulder and pulled her Kimanjah from the other. "Let’s just try to survive the next minute and then we can go on from there."

The noise didn’t seem to be deterring the bats at all, but Devari had an idea that maybe it wasn’t just the sound which was needed, but to match the notes that the bats themselves were using. She readied herself, trying to listen but unable to make anything out over the din, and as the bats swarmed closer and closer she had to admit that Hope, Xihue and Tegan probably had the right idea; they should have pressed on no matter what.

"Well, at least I don’t need to worry about them getting tangled in my hair," she muttered grimly.

 
 
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Last edited by Lazer; May 30th, 2024 at 12:49 PM.
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