25 Jenue, Summer 509 PE (Year of the Ravens)
two weeks before the summer solstice
Logistics and admin had taken up much of the beginning of summer. But the hard work had paid off. There was a stable, and a barracks for the new cavalry unit The Marauders. Their leader, Ragnoc, a Korsic barbarian much like Shylent, had sent his second to set things up and make all the arrangements. During the talks, the topic of whether the Marauders would remain mercenaries or become a permanent fixture had come up, and was currently unresolved. Mercenaries were quicker and easier to hire, but usually more expensive in the long run. The bulk of the Marauders were due to arrive tomorrow.
Messages and notes from Blend had led Nitram to believe that part of the difficulty he had experienced in firming up the security of the local area had its origins in the town of Pike, with a merchant family called Boringfeld. That was all Nitram knew at the time.
Fredrick received another letter, saying to expect Ser Darius to arrive during the summer solstice. Frederick and Dast, after further research, discovered that there were multiple legends of magical spears throughout the history of Kells, and most of them had to do with something vaguely termed “The Light”, although none of the legends were a direct match for Dast’s spear.
Rumil had spend a lot of the time honing the skills, precision, and overall deadliness of the wilderness scouts. The scouts themselves had begun to make a name for themselves among their foes the goblins and the worgs, with many a goblin likely losing sleep every night, if not his life. (free unit upgrade for RP)
Blend had spent much time on the road, and was due to return to Fort Farhills any day now.
Overall the situation in the area was much the same as it had been for the spring and early summer. The grain shortage was worse, and much of Falconaire owed a great debt to Toreador, and to a smaller extent Rivendeep and its capital Highkeep.
The areas around Aerie City, Castrel, and Tennyson’s Tower were relatively safe, as were armed convoys and patrols between each of them. But hte area around Dodge’s Fall, both eastward and westward were extremely unsafe for farmsteads and smaller villages, many of which had evacuated to one of the cities. Talk among the keep at Farhills implied that some of the refugees from those areas were sheltering at the fort.
The king of Falconaire was discussing a joint offensive with Toreador to push from the trade road and Capone eastward, clearing and securing the area as they went. While effective, this strategy would tax the already thin Falconaire forces, and would rely heavily on the assistance of Toreador. There was also talk of requesting assistance from an Imperial Legion of the Varencian Empire.
Oddly enough, there were rumors of a ghost haunting the walls of Fort Farhills. Many claimed to have seen a ghostly woman, who when noticed, throws herself off the walls to the ground outside the keep, presumably to her death.
Rumil, ever on the alert for such things, as were the bulk of his people, noticed that there seemed to be a preponderance of spiders this summer. Messages back to the capital brought back disjointed news, some helpful, some…distracted. It seemed there was a conflict between the natural spirit worship of the treespeakers, the veneration of the philosophies/heroes, and an older more martial sect.
Frederick, with his new found senses for realm magic, felt what could be best described as “an awakening” to the west/northwest. He began to have dreams of large billowing jade colored fogs.
As the group considered meeting together for lunch, Shylent called them to the walls on the north side of the keep. She said nothing, merely pointed. In the distance, in a lone tree, was what appeared to be an unusually reddish in color wildcat of some kind. It appeared to be stuck on a branch nearly 30 feet off of the ground.
Frederick attempted to recall if he’d ever seen a wildcat like that in his readings, or heard legend about them. “Is it dead?” he wondered aloud.
The wildcat began to pace back and forth on the branch, coincidentally answering Frederick’s question.
“For some reason, I doubt it’s actually “stuck” Nitram said. Nitram looked at the creature, trying to remember if he had ever heard or seen of it before. Still thinking, the ranger whistled for Serre and a moment later the large griffon was standing next to him on the wall. Some of the villagers seeking safety and shelter in the fort yelped in surprise and fear at Serre’s arrival. Still not used to seeing a griffon, they pointed at the majestic beast from behind any cover they could find. Nitram leapt into the saddle and within seconds was dismounting on the ground out side the wall. He slowly began to approach the tree, continuing to observe the cat and wondering why it was there.
“It’s as big as a large dog,” Blend called out to Nitram as he stepped from behind the tree. “Looks like it climbed too far up and doesn’t know how to get down. I was about to climb up there myself to help it out, but now that you’re here, I figure I’ll let you take care of it,” he smiled at the ranger. “Ten to one it jumps down itself as soon as you get close.”
“There’s no way I’m taking that bet. Welcome back…I think.” Nitram paused as if caught by a strange thought, “Yes, I’m pretty sure I haven’t seen him around lately. He must have be away…was he?”
The ranger approached the tree and began to speak to the cat in a soft, non-threatening manner. animal handling for now to improve its disposition towards Nitram
Blend sat down on a nearby rock and watched the ranger work his “magic”. “Is this going to take long? I’m not going to catch you if you fall.”
Rumil was proud of his fellow elves. They had progressed faster in the art of war during a season than most elves do in an entire cycle. War, of course, tends to do that. That is why Defenders are required to search the globe for experiences – as no amount of training at home can replace the raw emotions that come from fighting for your life and the lives of those near you.
While Aeron’s reclusive nature of late was strange to many in the keep, Rumil had heard stories of senior magisters that would disappear for centuries to hone their art or create an item of legend. He would dine with or bring food to him on occasion, but otherwise, left him to his own devices.
Of greater concern were the spiders and the restless spirit. The spiders posed a threat to all that ventured too near and the spirit on the wall could be an omen. He was no priest, but he would help the spirit find peace if he could.
The problem of the spiders he brought to Nitram and Frederick. The trade route could be affected if the spiders spread – something that would probably cause trouble sooner than later. And the bard seemed to have a vast knowledge about the strangest things – so h sought the opinion on why they were multiplying and how best to combat them and their deadly bite.
As the problems continued to manifest throughout the season, Rumil actually envied the humans and their short lives for a second – live, experience, suffer, die. He grinned for a second when he thought no one was looking, as he wondered if he could get someone to stitch that in elven on a banner as a gag gift for the human brigades. He quickly regained his composure.
As entertaining as the wildcat’s rescue promised to be, Frederick had more concerns that took priority.
“If I am needed, I will be with my books.” He said to his companions not currently involved with the beast, then made his way back. On the way, he thought about the power that had awakened in the west/northwest. While it might not be in response to his own awakening, and also might not be malignant, there was a reason that green was an evil color in stories, and he doubted this would be different. Once he arrived back at his room, Frederick began hunting for anything on the connection between spiders and supernatural portents. He also tried to remember anything useful about supernatural spiders. After a brief pause, he tried to see if there was anything between his notes and the Book about realm magic and its effects on creatures near it.
The one thing that stood out for Frederick concerning the “power” to the west was all those rumors about a sleeping dragon that no one had ever seen in recent times. It was rumored to be green in color. Spider infestations were rare, and usually associated with omens and plagues, just as Frederick suspected. It certainly had nothing to do with The Spider. Most certainly. Better talk to Rumil in case. Realm magic had no obvious affect on creatures, other than the fact that magic attracts magical creatures, so any place or source of power was likely to have mystical or magical beings in close proximity, although not always.
Frederick sighed, closed his book and rubbed his temples. Dragons. Because blood magic and spider omens and titanic forces beyond their comprehension weren’t enough. Making a note to research green dragons at a future point, he made his way back out to inform Rumil of what the spiders could pertain to.
Upon hearing Frederick’s assessment and confirming his own suspicions about the spiders, Rumil sighed deeply. “Good bard, it would seem that two sleeping beasts have been awoken. We elves grow up hearing stories of dragons. Some of us are even taught to read and speak their language. Unlike the stories told to children, however, dragons do not just chase shiny trinkets. They covet magic, power, and of course the thrill of a battle. The spiders may portend to something even more menacing, but the land’s recent awakening at your hands, combined with the dragons are not likely coincidental.” With that, Rumil listened to all that Frederick had to further offer, walking him towards the elven area of the keep. He would inform him scouts, prepare for the coming chaos, and more importantly, did through this human’s brain for knowledge on combating this new, yet ancient threat.
“Would it be possible for me to learn the dragon’s language from some of your people? If not, I can understand. Humans are not tolerable at the best of times; to teach one may be seen as demeaning. As for the land’s awakening, between myself, this dragon and whatever is behind the evils that we’ve been combating, I fear that the realm may well be torn apart before this is all over. Though I will do my damndest to maintain it.”
“Sadly, I am no teacher of languages. I can read and speak, and am one of the only elves here that can that I am aware of, but to teach draconic would be difficult on us both. It took me months to learn the sounds and years to formulate a phrase. There are those who could teach you back home, but that may be for another time. If you come upon draconic and need it translated, I’d be happy to assist.”
The question of teaching the language brought up horrible memories of his own time spent learning that difficult language. The language was tough, but his assigned tutor was the true menace. The memories…oh, the memories.
He shook himself back into the present and agreed with Frederick’s assessment of the current state of the world and its possible future. The bard had certainly grown since they had first met. From tales of sharks on land to saving the realm — Rumil was beginning to see the value placed on gaining experiences on the road by the Defenders. He wondered if he too had grown…
Frederick wondered aloud “So why is there a strange cat stuck in a tree, and why does it sound like the beginning of something considerably strange?”
At Nitram’s approach the large wildcat began to arch its back and hiss in a low menacing manner. After watching Nitram speak and motion in a calming manner for a moment, the wildcat calmed down. It sat back upon its haunches, and with a semi-intelligent gleam in its eye, grinned a large toothy smile at the two figures below. It’s tail, showing faint gray circles much like a raccoon’s, began to twitch back and forth.
Nitram looked to see if he could climb the tree. Is the branch the cat is on big enough to support him too? How big is this cat? he thought.
Nitram climbed the tree, continuing to do whatever he can to keep the thing calm. He’ll attempt to get the cat to let him pick it up and, at a minimum, move it to a lower branch where it can make it’s own way back down. Or, if necessary, he’ll try to take it all the way back down. Once the cat is down, Nitram will look around to see if he could determine what brought it up there.
The wild cat did not appear inclined to let Nitram touch it. It did however like the idea of using Nitram’s neck, arms, and back as a human ladder. With an amusing “hiss” it lunged at the ranger and clawed its way down his back and the trunk of the tree, leaving minor scratches and cuts as it went.
It paused for a moment, leered slightly at Blend, and then began to run off into the distance, heading vaguely southwest.
“I think Blend should follow it to see where it goes” Nitram mentioned.
“Well…that was very…anti-climactic,” Blend said to the ranger when he climbed down from the tree. “I wonder what the others expected to happen? Perhaps they though the cat was really a transformed maiden out of some fairy tale. Or better yet, it was the key to all the blood magic plague! Hurry! We must go after it!” Blend started walking toward Fort Farhills. “Most of the time, what you see is what you get and a cat stuck in a tree is just a cat stuck in a tree. Let’s go Nitram. We have much to discuss. And in this case, the cat stuck in the tree is definitely not what it appears to be.”
“I though you were the ranger with the tracking skills?”
“No doubt,” the ranger responded to nothing specific. “I trust your travels were productive then?”
“Yes, very productive, but there is still much more to be done. We need to gather the core group to discuss next steps. Do not invite Jonas.”