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Michael-TLH

The Darakan Chronicles, Part 2

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The tiny grig on Cuchullain's shoulder hops down and rests upon the neck of his horse. His hind legs weave tiny braids in the mane of the elvensteed as he bows, sweeping a woven hat from his head.

 

"I am called -----" a high-pitched squeaking and whining follows the first few words, rising and falling, trilling and clicking before finishing by placing his hat back upon his head and bowing once more.

 

"But... you can call me Thistlefen... or just Fen. How can I aid you, Bright One?" He smiles and cocks his head to the side awaiting an answer.

 

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

 

As Cuchullain converses with his tiny stowaway, the rest of the party grows anxious as they continue upon their cloudy path. Higher and higher they climb, yet the words of Tanaar carry easily to every ear.

 

"Ahead we will find the Devastation. Caused by whatever necromancy Jesset's brother has been working, it slowly expands. It acts as a gateway for foulness, blighting the woods. It poisons the rivers and streams, kills the fauna and flora... we must stop it." For several minutes, the companions are higher still, clouds around them they continue on their aerial path.

 

Slowly they begin to descend and it is as they leave the cover of the clouds that they see what lies before them. A ring many miles across, ash blackens the ground, centered around a volcano, belching smoke into the sky.

 

Faster and faster they drop wheeling around to the west and landing a mile into still-untouched forest. Tanaar staggers as he lands, wiping sweat from his brow.

 

"The way is ahead... into the heart of darkness. I suggest we leave the steeds, they will be fine out here and will shy from the edge. They will need to be at full strength if some of us need to be carried out."

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It is not until they have landed and Tanaar begins speaking that Warrick finally opens his eyes. It was all the Scout could do to keep from screaming the entire trip and he is sure that he has fractured his steed's ribs from clutching the poor animal so tightly. He would be amazed that the horse apparently did not suffer in the same manner except for the fact that his mood has only darkened with the unannounced magic.

 

"While I appreciate the speed with which you bore us hence, Tanaar, I do not do so well as my horse, it appears, when it comes to flying. A word of warning might have been courteous. Those of us that do not regularly transform into flying things are not as accustomed to such an experience," he grouses. His frustration only worsens as he realizes that he was not nearly as gruff as he inteded to be, but the edge of his recent fear cut much of the energy out of his statement.

 

Warrick walks away from his horse a bit as if unconsciously blaming the poor beast for the harrowing ride. Coming to the edge of the devastation he touches the ground and rubs the dead soil in his hand. His anger refocuses to the task at had as he hopes Jesset has somehow not been made to witness the hideous damage that has been done to her former home, but he suspects that and worse awaits her. Again he hopes that her measurable fortitude will carry her until they are safely into each other's arms, but...

 

No! Such thoughts must be banished! She is alive and well. Her brother will delight in torturing her by keeping her alive to witness his evil. Fool that he is. For if I do not manage to kill him, she surely will.

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Once back on the ground, Stern nods grimly to Tanaar as the druid explains the situation. The distinct smell of burning wood hangs heavily in the still of the forest. Hammer whines gently at her master's feet seeming to sense the nearness of the great evil that has befallen the land.

 

Whispering he comforts his powerful wardog, "Ye stay close now girl, all will be well ma four-legged defender."

 

Kneeling, the huge paladin tightens the straps and buckles of Hammer's studded leather armor while scratching her thick fur lined neck.

 

"The way is ahead... into the heart of darkness. I suggest we leave the steeds, they will be fine out here and will shy from the edge. They will need to be at full strength if some of us need to be carried out."

 

Stern stands and moves quickly in response to Tanaar's words. First, he removes his gear and weapons from his giant elven mount patting the mighty beast's flank as he does so. Then he removes his horned helm and, taking a knee, begins to hastily string his Mighty Composite bow just as Jesset and Robert had shown him shortly after he had acquired the magnificant weapon. Once completed the deadly missle weapon is placed securely on his back along with his Aegis shield. Then placing his helm back upon his head, Stern checks that the Aegis short sword is firmly in place on his belt ready to be drawn with dagger like quickness if the need should arise. However, Karamor, Stern's trusted and majestic greatsword, remains drawn and ready in his armored hands. It's keen blade hums and crackles with enchanted energies as it awaits a chance to strike down any creature with evil intentions.

 

"I am ready Tanaar", rumbles Stern in a low steady tone, "may we show this vile enemy no quarter from this moment forth..."

 

Stay with us St. Marcus, light our way n' let this be not our dying day...

 

The mighty Aegis of Rockfist exhales deeply and glances around at the small group of determined Companions as they dismount and prepare to leave on foot. Silently Stern wonders if they will be able to rise to the challenge before them as they have so many other times in the past. And it was then suddenly that Stern longed to see Ametrine, Shan, and Eldon amongst their ranks, but Jess' absence hurts most of all. Somewhere deep in Stern's mind he suddenly feels he may never see her again. Yet most were here, Robert his trusted friend and experienced ranger, Myka the always beautiful and ever powerful sorceress, Cuchulainn the wise sun priest and boy-healer, Warrick the charasmatic and masterful rogue seeking vengence for his kidnapped partner, Ilde, the newcomer, warrior woman destine to join the ranks of the Heros of Searoad, and of course Stern himself.

 

"Ta battle ma friends, Jesset n' tha world o' men hang in tha balance. May St. Marcus bless ye all n' hold ye in his light, now n' ferever..."

 

With weapon at the ready, Stern falls in line next to Tannar and Warrick.

 

SK

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Robert feels the steeds unease and agrees silently with the Elven druid that they would best be left out of the desolation.

 

"Stern? We'll have to fight, I know, but let's try and sneak in as far as we can before you start bashing heads. Once they know we're here, all the foes in hel will be on us.

 

"Warrick? I don't know how useful these cloaks will be against undead. They may sense our life force but perhaps we should be the vanguard again?" And that will keep your mind off other things

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"Stern? We'll have to fight, I know, but let's try and sneak in as far as we can before you start bashing heads. Once they know we're here, all the foes in hel will be on us.

Stern nods in agreement to the Ranger's suggestion, "Aye, Robert tis' a wise choice... But I shall remain on guard n' me weapon at tha ready. Those blasted dark elves are a cowardly lot n' will surely hit us when we are most vulnerable, so I'm thinkin' we should stick tagether as much as possible. I'm guessin' those dark rats will be on us a'fore we can do much sneakin 'bout... But ye have ma word no skull crackin', dark elf er' otherwise, til it's time."

 

Stern reaches out and firmly clasps the rangers shoulder while whispering to him in a low and dead serious tone, "St. Marcus Bless you... Fight well ma friend."

 

SK

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Warrick nods determinedly to Robert's suggestion. "I would like to be at the front, and I agree that these cloaks may be useless against the dead. Though there are those among the living that may hunt us as well. So I will be wearing my cloak just in case."

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"Tanaar? I assume we need to head toward that belching mountain in the centre of this desolation? Unless you have any reason why not, Warrick and I shall take the van. Does anyone have anything that might help hide us from undead?"

 

Under the pretence of moving to secure his own cloak, Robert drops so only Warrick can hear him. "What I said to Stern goes for you to, Sir Greywynd. Don't let your anger and grief give us all away. There'll be vengeance enough for everyone once we rescue Jess."

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"Well then master Thistlefen, if you would be so kind, I'll ask that you keep watch of the horses and calm them with you music." Cuchulainn says as he eyes the tiny violin case strapped to the Grig's back.

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Ilde never truly took a liking to the brief experience of flight, though she understood that it was necessary in order for she and her comrades to effectively pursue those who stole Jesset.

 

Once on the ground again, she first sees to her mount, hoping to calm and reassure the horse that she would return soon as though she herself would have not also welcomed some reassurance. She then unburdens Kiire of all her own gear and prepares herself for what is likely to be a long journey on foot through hostile lands to face an enemy of great power.

 

"The dark-elves have made war upon the Mother-Creator by scorching Her earth and trees. May She give me strength to avenge."

 

Taking her place in marching order near Stern, she tries to keep her attention focused on her immediate surroundings and makes little effort to engage in conversation.

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Tanaar nods to Robert.

 

"Your plan is wise, Ranger. Just give me just a few moments, as I brew up some more fortifying tea for Warrick. As to hiding from the undead, I have no such magics. As you can see, the land ahead is twisted and brutalized... all life was leeched weeks ago and it's probable that our very life force will be detected the moment we move within the boundary."

 

He kneels and quickly fashions a small fire-pit, placing a small iron cup and sprinkling in various herbs and grains.

 

"We do move for the mountain, there." He says, pointing to the great cone spitting ash and soot into the sky. "It was better here, once. All of this was Woodland Wild... every living thing... it is all lost now... but as your priest could tell you... nature can survive. Adapt. Change. Flow from one thing into another... but only so long as one blade of grass survives... or one flower seed springs forth... here... there is nothing."

 

He finishes the tea and hands it to Warrick as everyone fixes their packs. Softly, Fen fiddles a song to the horses, who seem to stare in rapt attention. His high piping voice sings of a longing for home and comfort, and the elvensteeds ears twitch and follow as he finishes his song.

 

As the last note fades into the deepening sky, he takes his place once more upon Cuchullain's shoulder.

 

"Home is burned for me, Bright One. But these manylegs will know how to find theirs." He nods and places his tiny fiddle in the case upon his back.

 

Hammer keeps a wary eye on all the Companions, clearly not eager to enter the area of devastation. She stops and leans into Garr, who stares forward intently. Never wavering and fixed on something only he can see or feel... facing ever on into the gloom ahead...

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Stern steps into line with other Companions and Tanaar as they prepare to move on foot toward the undead vortex . The Aegis' heart pounds with anticipation of the coming battle as thoughts of finding Jesset swirl his emotions into a controlled frenzy waiting to be unleashed. The mighty paladin can feel the heavy air itself bristling with the dark energies of the evil.

 

Then a familiar nagging voice whipsers somewhere deep within his mind.

 

Come and meet your true master young Aegis and bring your friends so that they too may join my dark legions... Together we shall enslave the world.

 

Blinking his eyes rapidly from behind his horned helm, Stern pushes the manacing voice from his thoughts and tightly squeezes the grip of his greatsword with both hands. Then the mighty Aegis utters a soothing prayer of St. Marcus...

 

St. Marcus guide us from this hour on...

Let me be your weapon to drive these undead back...

Back from whence they came and help lay their souls to rest...

Let fear be a stranger to this group as we face the horrors of battle...

 

I am the Aegis, Protector, Defender, I am the Guiding Light...

 

SK

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Cuchulainn takes a moment to converse with the Grig away from the group. Hushed sylvaan comments are exchanged before the priest and his companion return.

 

"Allow me one more moment in the undefiled land...." he says, motioning the rest of the group to follow. Cuchulainn takes a moment to dig through his pack before withdrawing a tiny leather pouch. The contents is worth twice its wieght in gold; dust captured from the winds of The Beastlands, the home of the great Earthmother. Puting his thumb in the bag, Cuchulainn puts a small smear of the dust on each of the Companions' heads and finally himself and Thistlefen. All the while, he and Thistlefen chant in a slow and rhythmic cadance.

 

"The undead are blind, deaf, and dumb to our presence. But know this, if any one of us draws a sword or casts a spell against one of the unsent, the spell will be broken." Cuchulainn glances at Stern for a moment before continueing. "That includes turning undead. We'll be left out in the open. The longer we can travel under the cover of faith, the more unprepared our advocary will be. "

 

Cuchulainn then turns to Robert. He approaches Robert's hand in his. He speaks in the low rhythmic chant. "Now you can sense the undead ahead of us in our path. With focus, you'll be able to sense the number and stregnth of the undead ahead of you. Steer is towards the mountain; avoid danger, but know that speed is of the essence."

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"Your gift is welcome... brother" speaks Robert as Cuchullain bestows the spells upon him.

 

Hefting the cloak of invisibility around him, and nodding firmly to Warrick, Robert starts to move purposefully toward the desolation.

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Warrick nods non-commitally to Robert's warning but sees the wisdom in his words if a distinct lack of empathy. But Robert's tender side is for Mykayla only, he figures, so he shrugs off the comment easily enough.

 

The Scout's faces twists into disgust as Tanaar provides again the concoction that is supposedly helping against whatever unnatural aging that is taking place within him and does his best not to taste it as he drinks. After drinking it, he tries to offer Tanaar a look of thanks mixed in with his revulsion at the taste of his medicine.

 

Now prepared, Warrick actually smiles determinedly as Robert offers his confirming nod. He may not be long on graces, but he's as good a hunting partner as I've had...

 

The frown returns to Warrick's brow as Cuchulainn offers his warning. He fixes a glance at Robert that suggests, "I'll kill if I have to, faith's covering or no," but says nothing as he and the Ranger melt away from sight.

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feeling even more out of sorts, Mykayla looks ahead with grim eye. Ahsking heer head she wishes just once...their destination could at least look nice. With a sigh, she takes her place amoung the ohters, her staff in hand and sword by her side.

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