Prologue: Winter's Shadow

The meal was one of the better he'd had, that much was certain; and it was one of the more filling as well, and he briefly sensed the great cat's approval before it faded away; it, no doubt, was seeking out some suitable feast for itself. It was impossible to be warm in the North on an empty stomach, and so, those watching Ruln might very well conclude he was absolutely determined to be warm after he had left, consuming substantial amounts of various foods, with red meats and succulent fruits foremost among them. Still, even he nears his limit eventually; yet even so he is not quite done, finding several of the tarts quite close to bite-sized morsels, and thus sampling several.

For now, though, he does not touch the drink, rather leaning forward attentively as first Eisa, then Thoven, speak. His eyes narrow thoughtfully at the half-orc's speech, even as he continues consuming the occasional piece of this or that. Even when that speech is finished, and the warrior, Gareth, begins speaking, he continues watching the man. His totem was silent, for once, and he felt nothing. Well, then, let come what might. Only as Eisa sets the cup down does he turn towards her, reaching for a cup of the black liquid - now having had at least some time to cool - and raising it to his lips, downing it at one go and setting it down with a thump... signalling, to what few might recognize it, both his satisfaction with the meal and his full stomach.

What to ask, then? Why the groups were divided as such? Why an artifact of old was valued over the lives of the Archmages comrades? What was meant by barbarians? For he had heard the term applied to outcasts from the city, to his own people, to even the ice-men who had warred with the city all those years ago... Or why it was believed a mere four people could avert disaster in either case, though certainly he expected some of the people present were capable. No. He questions, only, "What men, and what warriors, are these 'barbarians'?" Tactics, breed, weaponry... he left the specifics up in the air, but any knowledge about who one dealt with could not hurt.

While the Queen addressed everyone at the table Garn had a sip of this black liquid not knowing what to expect. Sharp with a bitter taste he felt like adding sugar to it. He differently enjoyed the boost of energy and mental prow less that went with it. Making a mental note to ask about it later, for now listened to the Queen and The archmage speak of long forgotten ruins and ancient script. Now realizing why the Archmage had requested him on this mission. Hoping he will be able to shine some light on what the others had found and where they had gone. Garn waits for them to finish speaking before he speaks "Your Majesty I am humbled you have asked me to look out for your interests in the ruins. I will do my best to find out what happened and continue the research at the archaeological dig. I have studied for years and this is exactly what I have been waiting for. It would be my honor to put my knowledge to the test and to find out the wisdom of the past. " Garn gives his best nod of respect to the Queen and Archmage waiting to see his groups reactions.

Anton politely ate and enjoyed conversing with the others, though he did not eat very much, even for a halfling. Anton spent more time talking than eating, as he always felt being full slowed his mind. Being hungry keeps you sharp and ready, so he mostly muddled with his food when he did go to eat. The food was indeed delicious, but Anton had the self control to keep from gorging himself. During the meal, Anton inquired each person near him about their job, interests, and anything they wanted to talk about.

When the prominent individuals addressed the group, Anton listened intently, particularly gearing in on the expedition to the supposed 'major discovery,' finding it especially interesting. Well that certainly sounds more practical than this other issue concerning military. Anton had never been in a military before, though he did a little studying and found tactics and military history interesting.

Feeling his skills were better suited for the task out to the ruins, he spoke up in agreement, It would be my pleasure to assist in the investigation of this new discovery. He wanted to add, "I find the whole scenario fascinating," but thought better of saying it since it was quite possible those out of contact might never be reached again.

L'lef hadn't touched anything that he was unable to identify and despite the two next to him he had hardly if at all spoken a single word. His dark blue eyes fell upon the queen, while he tilted his head slightly to listen to her. A smile slowly crept over his lips before he said, "Of course, I was sent here to save you. I will work towards your benefit and your will, until I am no longer needed here."

With that said, he then grabbed another slice of baked fish a dropped it into his gaping mouth. He enjoyed the sensation of it, as it slid down his throat.

Moving on from the dwarf, Deresk takes to the bounty offered by the Queen. He notices those assembled with some interest, particularly the Knight and the half-human. Due to the remoteness of the Redtusks and their inclination to infighting over raiding villages, Deresk's tribe has never had much to due with the legendary Knights of the Iron Glacier. Seeing this large man, armed well but without gaudiness, he is glad they have not. They have a reputations as fierce fighter who will fight to the last man in the coldest, most hostile terrain if their divine quest leads them there. This one in particular strikes him as an experienced fighter, with plenty of scars but a proud bearing to suggest he has often been the winner.

The half-human archmage is another matter. He has no prejudice against those orcs with human blood, though their softer features always struck him as rather dainty. It is the magic part that makes him uncomfortable. He does not understand the magic of these types, as it comes not from spirits or gods but from some stranger source. He has seen spirits and felt the presence of the gods, but only his foes have embraced this magic. For an orc to have become a master of it is something of concern. He sets a weary eye on this Thoven and sets to eating.

He takes more than a healthy serving of his favorites, from duck to goat to beef roasts, then adds on an assortment of potatoes and fruits, and finally grabs the fish and crab. These last meats he has had little experience with, especially the crab covered in armor. He devours the fish in several bites, but proceeds to have difficulty with the crab. At first he tries using his tusks to break through the shell, only to have the cracking armor lodge between his teeth and uncomfortably poke at his tongue. He then loudly smashes it on the table, and once satisfied he has taken off the shell, tears into the succulent meat. Quite good, he thinks, but perhaps not worth the effort.

He is still tucking away at a pork pie when the servants start to take the plates away. They eye each other apprehensively as Deresk remains chewing, only taking his plate away when he stops eating long enough to take a drink of ale. He wasn't done, but as he is now too full to move with his own power, so decides to leave the servants alone as he finishes another ale. He decides to let the black liquid remain. He prefers not to drink anything the same color as his blood.

Deresk slows as the half-human speaks, occasionally sipping instead of taking in wide gulps. He looks into his eyes for danger, but finds the more he talks the older he seems. He has assuredly embraced his human blood, as no orc could tell a story with so much detail yet so little scapegoating or bloodshed. He scowls nevertheless. It is a tale he feared hearing when he ventured south. Humans he knows are none too fond of secrets, especially those kept by history. The wars of old he knows from old stories, usually blaming one human nation or another for dragging the Redtusks into pointless conflict. Pointless as in the Redtusks never got much out of it. Those dark times, even by orc standards. To go into the secrets of those times would yield only ruin, as it has now.

The great captain speaks of another, yet more familiar story of tribal folk going against the settled people. They usually do so under leadership of one warlord or another. The tribes of the west might be different form his own people in the east, but if the unsettled spirits he has felt in the mountains and the tundra are the same back home as they are there, more than simple strong hands are at work.

Rising with his ale mug in his left hand, he adopts the persona of a shaman, always full of questions and never satisfied with easy explanations. "A west blowing wind brought me here," he says. "And with what you say, perhaps it will keep pushing me west. The spirits say you are wise, and I will follow your path. Yet speak more of it. I do not know towns, but I know what guides my kind. Who leads these tribes attacking your town, or do they not unite? Do they fight as one, or alone? Ill winds blow from the northern seas and across the mountains. More than hunger drives them I fear."

Corynn passes on the deserts, having eaten far to much already, and instead settles for a cup of the black liquid, which he carefully sips as he listens to the Queen and her people speak. Every now and then he finds himself nodding in agreement with the decisions made, such as splitting them into two groups and having himself and the other 'less civilized' people looking into the attacks. And he even finds himself agreeing with the questions they have, even if they seem to have very roundabout ways of asking them. But for now he really didn't have much to add to the conversation, so he leaned back in his seat and watched the others for now, still not quite sure what to make of everyone.

The Archmage grins, an unnerving sight at best.

"I am sure you will do your best, Brother Garn, which, judging from your work on the Gorenth Stone, will be top-rate," he says. "Just keep in mind this may be dangerous. An ancient, mostly unexplored ruin in the middle of a desolate and hostile wasteland is not the same as studying an artifact in the comfort and security of the Tower."

"And with your meticulous nature and attention to detail, Anton," Prince Aelfgar says, speaking to the group for the first time, "I am sure the cause of the team's loss of communication will be made evident."

At Ruln's question, Gareth pauses with his mouth open, as if Gareth had said something wrong. But the queen smiles and says, "That is what many people call the native peoples of the North, who continue to live apart from our society, governed by their own ways which are foreign to us. It is a broad generalization, which includes many races: orcs, your kind - neanderthals, or Old Humans as some call them - goblins, Urskans, and such."

Having had a chance to collect himself, Gareth adds, "But to more specifically answer your question, these invaders are of many different species, including goblins, orcs, ogres, and wild humans. They are clearly not all of the same tribe; indeed, normally, they should have been killing each other, instead. Their kind do not mingle freely with each other."

"Which brings us to your question," he says to Deresk. "We do not know who leads them. Whoever or whatever has united these creat- er, people - has declined to show itself to us. But the reports indicate that none of the members of the usually friendly tribes have been among their number. That is why we think a small group could go there and possibly determine who their leader is, why they're attacking, and why the other tribes are staying out of it. We don't expect you to start or resolve a war by yourselves, but rather just to see what the situation is and what may be done about it."

Corynn scratches at his chin as the Queen and Commander speaks.
"Odd.. someone or something powerful enough to get all those tribes and races working together? Can't say I like the thought of that." he can't help but wonder if the enemies from his childhood could have something to do with it, but he keeps that thought to himself, having no foundation for it anyway.

He's also no expert on the subject, but in his own opinion he's seen enough in his past to be pretty sure it'd take one heck of an argument to get more or less all of the people joining up. But the lack of contact with the friendly tribes is troubling, if no one's heard from them and they haven't been seen, even among the enemies... well that really can't be a good sign if you ask him.

Remembering there are lost researchers Garn subdues his excitement. Hoping theres a good reason for being out of touch with them. He doesn't want people thinking he's insensitive. Garn gives a respectful bow to the archmage when he's done speaking to him. Listening politely to him address the others.

"Strong leaders can bring these warring folk together," Deresk say aloud to the scarfaced human. "Or sorcery. I do not think this is a fight for survival, or else they would be fighting first themselves, and then attacking your towns. Your choice is wise then, Warrior Chief, as sending in an army first would have led you into a war you would not know. We will find what fell spirits drive the wilder folk out of their homes and into yours."

Deresk returns to his seat. There is much more to learn, he thinks, but that he doubts the warrior leader knows. His left hand leaves the mug and starts twiddling the totems and charms on his chest and belt. The spirits will know, most likely, though there are none here to answer the call. He wonders how city folk can get used to this existence with no beings but each other to rely on. He is glad he will soon return to the wilds, where he need not rely on the knowledge of mortals.


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