Chapter 8: Reckonings

Chapter 8: Reckonings

The night is spent fitfully, whether because of the strange indoor-outdoor setting, the unsettling presence of the strange dark-skinned seeress, or the gnawing worry that comes with having no safe haven. Dawn comes all too early, unable to be blocked out by roof or curtained window, breaking sleep and trance with its beams of ruddy light filtering through the woodland canopy.

Your reluctant hosts bring breakfast, more of the same foods from the previous night. The cause for the lack of variety is not explained, as the bearers bolt for the safety of their own ribbon-homes the moment anyone even thinks of asking a question. Despite the lack of physical barriers between spaces, sound does not seem to carry through these open chambers, as not even the sharp-eared elves can make out a word of what the grey-skinned "elves" of this land say to each other as they walk away, heads close together like lovers or confidants.

Come morning, the unease that Narnae had felt all night remained with her. These grey elves were neither kindred to her and yet looked familiar that she said little and avoided them almost as much as they avoided her. She pitied them, that they had not seen the sun and lived amongst the people in the same way that she had, and yet their scared faces and hushed whispers told her that to try to bridge the gap in the short space of time available to her was a waste of time. They were too skittish to trust in any case.

Not long after the sun rises, Narnae pauses after her morning ablutions to offer up a prayer to Corellon Larethian, her voice calm and steady, neither loud nor overly hushed for she is not trying to hide her actions. With this done, she nods to the rest as they awaken or greet her, a wry smile on her lips.

"Time to move along, I think. We can do no more here until the blighted curse is lifted from this land."

As soon as breakfast is eaten, she is checking her weapons: testing bowstrings and looking for burrs on her blades that need to be worn away with a whetstone. The sooner they can leave this strange camp, the better, as far s the elf id concerned.

Tistlelandalon, lost Elf and weary guide, speaks very little when the dawn - as gloomy as it ever is - comes. Like Narnae, he completed his pre-journey ritual of adjusting his armor and gear, checking his weapons, and preparing for the march ahead.

Looking over to Narnae as she speaks to their huddled group, his own reply is muted.

"Does that task lead you back to the Baron? Unless he is a Wizard of great power, no one man can curse a land, no matter how vile. You too heard Betty's tale. A stranger who arrived without warning, and assumed power through his own guile and skill. That tale sounds familiar to my ears now."

The Elf sheathes his exposed short sword.

"Slaying an evil man will not undo what has transformed this place. Yet if he is powerful enough to have lain a curse upon all living things here, you nor I possess the skill to end one such as him. Not armed as we are. Not few as we are."

Narnae casts an eye towards Thistle and arches an eyebrow. "You speak as though you have given up. As if you deem the task impossible and any action we take now will be ineffectual." She turns back to her tending of her bow, oiling the wood with a loving care and respect.

"Whether it be the work of one man or many, I will strive to weaken and undermine the influence until the day comes when it is possible to defeat him, or it, whichever proves to be the case." the elf shrugs, not caring much either way. "Our task now is to seek out how we may best achieve this, either through severing that which gives him power or gaining allies which will aid us. Such is my task now."

The crack of dawn finds Kyle facing the Easter horizon. As the first of the sun's rays break through the canopy, the Halfling sinks onto his knees and – with his eyes firmly shut – begins his daily devotion to the Smiling Lady – a small silver coin held up towards the sun. The prayers are spoken softly, so as not to disturb conversation or those still in the realm of dreams.

A short distance away from the young cleric is Arco. The Labrador seems to have no residual ill-effects from yesterday's encounter with the leonine creature and is lying languidly on his belly, head resting on its front paws as it curiously eyes its small companion. Every so often a muffled whine escapes the young canine, followed by a quick waggling of his tail.

Kyle's prayer goes on for an hour, by which time the sun has steadily made its way up the sky. The group can hear him conclude with the words “... humble servant I beseech thy smile, to grant me the serenity to accept that which I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the boldness to make the difference.”

Only at this point will the Halfling acknowledge his companions and join them for breakfast, if any is left.

Collin slept restlessly with his sword close at hand. It was peaceful enough but he was still uncomfortable with the land he found himself in. He was a castle knight, well not a knight but still not accustomed to this kind of life and it didn't sit well with him.

He heard the comotion from the elves. He stood quickly. There wasn't much for him to pack, he was ready in a moment.

"You must all choose your own path. For me there is no question. These people live in fear of their ruler. This injustice must be set to rights, and if it is to be I will lend what aid I can."

Rhyoick yawned wildly and propped himself up on his elbows. Although he was an Elf and had no need to sleep, he had acculturated to the Humans and often found himself inadvertently mimicking them. He could hear Narnae as she prayed to Corellon Larethian, the Elven deity. He knew nothing of the Elven goddess, aside from the snatches he heard from travelers. His faith was weak at best, though hearing Narnae's prayer had intrigued him. He would have to ask her about Corellon another time.

He had slept on a bed of leaves, covered with a thick winter blanket. He rose from it and dusted off the cloak he had used as a pillow. He fastened the cloak about his neck and set to gathering up his meager belongings. A knife, his sword belt and crossbow, a leather backpack, and an empty waterskin. He had "slept" with his leather armor, which made up the rest of his gear. When the others began conversing, he moved to join them.

He took the beggarly food with a frown, but ate it all the same. The young Elf listened to the conversation as he ate, but felt no need to add to it. By all rights he was still a guest among the group, and in truth, he did not fully understand the party's errand.

Naomi slept surprisingly well, wrapped in her blanket and a fold of gossamer ribbon, as snug as a proverbial bug. Exhaustion might account for it, but she seems more than merely rested upon the dawn. She carefully lights a red candle and affixes it to a small flat stone with a few drips of wax, the better to see her book in the morning light that filters weakly through leaves and cloth. What follows is a mixture of meditation and study. She turns the pages slowly, sometimes focusing intently on the closely written words, sometimes allowing her mind to expand beyond them, almost daydreaming, barely seeing what is right in front of her face. The sense of inner tranquility is new to her, but with it comes a hard certainty, a truth that lights the way.

When she does at last close the covers of her book as gently as a mother tucking in her child, her unsmiling face is resolute. The candle is snuffed and diligently stowed away and her studying materials packed and ready before she joins the rest of the group at the simple breakfast, which she eats without complaint or comment.

"The Baron is abusing power that he has no right to wield. To what extent remains to be seen, but the scourge he uses to inflict his will is blasphemous enough. I will find a way to stop him." When Naomi speaks her voice possesses a rare clarity and directness of thought. At the same time she doesn't seem to be addressing any of them in particular, but rather some unseen person wholly separate from the group.

Thistle listens to his fellow companions, each of them as equally lost, frustrated, and driven to find answers as he is. Yet the normally quick-tongued Elf is still muted and sombre. Looking to the group as they either consume or avoid their meagre morning meal, he studies their faces before regarding the silk village about them.

"If we are all fallen Naomi, and you are the last of us to stand, will you pick up one of my blades and run it through the Baron's heart? I ask this not to doubt your conviction, or dismiss your bravery. I ask this to know if you have ever slain a man? Have you Kyle? This is not an easy task you set yourself."

Kyle digs into the offered breakfast with gusto – after having fed both Arco and the pidgeon he still carries – devouring nuts and berries alike with such alacrity to make one almost suspicious of his small size. Munching away, he pays close attention to the ongoing discussion, giving due consideration to each argument as it is put forth. His own thoughts on the matter, however, are not voiced... until Thistle's query.

The nut he was about to eat remains frozen a few inches from the waiting mouth, before being slowly lowered. A haunted look descends on the usually sparkling green eyes, and they seem to dim. The jovial expression on his face is replaced by sobriety. “Yes.” He answers in a small voice. His left hand closes unconsciously at the painful memory, stubby fingers locking into a fist; the ends have all been hacked off at the last joint, all save the thumb.

The young cleric meets the Elf's gaze. “Once, in cold blood. It is not an experience I relish.” Leaving it at that, Kyle falls into a pensive silence, his mind focused on events in another land, of another time. As if sensing his master's turmoil, the black Labrador approaches the Halfling, giving a sympathetic whine and shuffling close to give a measure of comfort.


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