Shadows of the Mercenary Part 3

06 Jannissary (Winter) 509 PE (Year of the Ravens)
4pm, Starday

The party continued their travels towards Septcygne, perhaps somewhat more apprehensively. Expecting to meet an elven patrol somewhere near the bridge like before, they were surprised to meet Tanagran Thelandira Belcadiz, a Tanagran Woodswalker, about half way there. Explaining that the shaman had sensed a disturbance in this area, he had rushed to meet the party to ensure the protection of the princess. Once he heard the story of what had occurred, Tanagran dispatched a falcon and another patrol rushed to meet them as they hurried towards the bridge.

Once at the bridge and an extra two patrols strong, the party quickly made their way to the capital where the princess was whisked away to safety by a trio of eladrin dressed in formal attire, along with her swordmasters.

At the Tree of Life, the group was escorted directly to the bluish gray haired elf named Treespeaker, who asked them to follow him. They were led to an audience chamber overlooking the queen’s throne. Treespeaker motioned the party to silence and bade them observe “a ceremony most rare and very secretive, which they were allowed to watch in honor of protecting the Princess.”

The queen was upon her throne and both sides of the open air platform were filled with members of the court. To the party’s astonishment, when the elevator platform raised level with the throne room floor, a dark gray (almost black skinned) elf with white hair stepped off of the platform and approached the throne. It was a dark elf, a druas.

Strangely enough, nobody in the room seemed to exhibit the normal animosity that was usually seen between the two races. There was a more solemn and expectant hush to the air.

As the druas approached the throne, he dropped to one knee and lowered his head in a formal manner, waiting for the queen to speak. And speak she did.

“Svart alfar, why have you risked your life to approach our throne?” she questioned calmly, almost as if she suspected the answer.

The druas replied, “Mother, I had lost my way in the darkness and forsaken the light. But I can no longer tread that path. I claim the right of the prodigal, and I wish to come home.”

The queen spoke slowly “Then rise enlightened one, lios alfar, and be welcomed back into the bosom of Gaia.”

The elf rose slowly, tears on his face. As he stepped away from the throne, the members of the party had to blink and look twice, because while the elf had the same features, he was now an eladrin. There had been no transformation, no shifting from one form to another, merely he was a druas, and now he wasn’t.

The shaman and the treespeakers, clothed the eladrin in a yellow robe embroidered in white, and led him away.

After he was gone, the queen and her advisers left, the queen nodding to the group as she departed. Treespeaker had refreshments sent in, light bread and wine, and conversed with the group about the events of their journey.

Blend looked at Nitram and shrugged slightly. “Escort the princess back. Inform the elvish royalty of our predicament. Then decide what and how to go about our business,” he said as if it was the only logical conclusion.

Nitram attempted to garner more advice on their peculiar situation. “Treespeaker, I am concerned about the Spider’s threat. While I cannot begin to imagine its interest in the druas and their ruins, I do believe it may be able to reach both Septcyne and Farhills with these deadly spiders, if not something worse. Since it came to us, I feel we need to at least make a strong effort to prevent this bloodshed. While I’m not necessarily tied to either party, I would expect the eladrin to abhor the death of many elves, druas or not. After what we were privileged enough to watch, do you not hope that all druas will return to the light? Might this not be a small step in that direction?”

Treespeaker replied, “You are wiser than you appear Lord Nitram. We would abhor the death of so many elves, although what you saw today is very rare. Sadly, most druas are blinded by the darkness.”

The Treespeaker suggested that, if the party intended to investigate, the Queen had recommended that one of the swordmasters, and a fellow eladrin from one of the more mystical orders accompany you. In return they would provide Farhills with a ritual protection versus the minions of the Spider, such as that which protects Septcygne. Sadly such ritual protections cannot be established as borders, and only protect lived in residences, so to speak.

Nitram thanked Treespeaker for the assistance at Farhills. “We would be more than honored to bring a swordmaster and eladrin with us. I am concerned with the time requirement. While I don’t think the mercenaries can do much with the remaining light today – and I doubt they will attack at night given the advantage to their enemies – I do think we need to get there as quickly as possible. Do you think the Queen could spare the use of a few eagles to transport us quickly to the edge of the forest containing the ruins? Or is there a way to magically transport us near our destination – I heard Aeron mention something about that?” diplomacy check

“Alas, I feel that our friends the eagles are not suited for the task at hand. As far as magical transport goes, if you mean such legends as teleportation, those secrets have been lost to the ages. Perhaps the Eldar Elves of long ago, or the mythical Ancient Ones knew such magics, but we do not. However. I can think of a suitable means of transportation we can lend you. The solchevalle, or horses of the sun have been bred for speed and can traverse any elven land as if they were enchanted with a woodland stride”. Riding such a mount would allow you to reach the area of the ruins within five hours, instead of the ten it would normally take. Your thoughts?"

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“I think that would be amazing. We are truly grateful. As the sun is nearly gone, we should plan to leave at first light. I assume the solchevalle will be ready, as well as the swordmaster and eladrin that shall accompany us. I thank you for your time and wisdom. I must ensure my friend, Serre, is fed and comfortable before I make a quick stop at the Epee l’Arc.”

Aeron accepted the offer of the horses and spent the evening researching the druas ruins in the Tower of Life library. Before midnight he visited the stables and cast a spell upon his horse, Magus to shrink it to the size of a small stone statue. In the early hours of the morning Aeron prepared for travel and made his way back down to the stables to meet the others.

Aeron research at the Tower of Life’s library found several bits of interesting information. He was able to gather four books from the Local History section, two from the Legends: Local section, and as he was returning to his table to begin his research, he noticed a book titled The Kingdom of Kell in the Geography: Local section.

Aeron sat down to begin searching for knowledge concerning the ruins when he remembered he had a copy of the Traveling Journal of Pedapus. After securing that item from his belongings, he began researching his questions. With Aeron’s intelligence, and the research he had gained from the relevant books, he pieced together most of the story concerning the ruins of Faerfell.

There had been a small kingdom named Kell in the area north of Aelvinwode, extending past the area known as Harpy Peak today. This kingdom existed before any of the human kingdoms had settled in this area. It existed when the Wensharian Empire first met the Ogre Kingdoms, and went to war with them. Unfortunately for the kingdom of Kell, their lands became the central battlefield for the war, and their people were killed or driven out. The kingdom never recovered.

The castle of Faerfell had been built in an area where the Veil of Worlds was thin, and inhabited by a clan of seers and prophets, who reputedly used its location to communicate with greater powers. After the Wensharians defeated the ogre kingdoms, the castle at Faerfell remained abandoned until a coterie of druas moved in, about 100 years ago.

07 Jannissary (Winter) 509 PE (Year of the Ravens)
5am, Sunday

The party gathered together and was led to the stables by the Treespeaker. There he introduced the group to the head quartermaster, a forest elf who looked at the party dubiously then escorted them towards the paddocks.

At the paddocks the group was met by one of the swordmasters from the princess’ entourage, the one who had been injured by the lightning bolt. He bowed gracefully to the party and introduced himself as Servantes Sanquillar Red Arrow, or Servan Red Arrow.

He spoke to the party, stating “The Clansmaster of Celedryl Forest spoke rightly. There is value in putting aside our xenophobia. Humans can indeed be worthy companions.” As he led each of the group to the solchevalle they were partnered with, he explained that he came from across the seas, from the Celedryl forest to test his prowess against the minions of the Spider. His Clanmaster had warned him that he would need to see with eyes unclouded and accept other races as equals. Which he has found to be true. “Normally” he explained, “we guard and protect the forest by slaying any who would trespass its borders. Perhaps when I return with a more worldly view, I can convince others to see this may not be necessary.”

There was also a cluster of high elves (eladrin) conversing with each other off to the side, dressed in ornate and shimmering clothes of white and gray. When the party was ready to depart, the youngest of the group mounted wordlessly and followed the group into the forest, himself followed by one of the elven stable hands.

Those riding the solchevalle followed Servan’s lead. The elven horses needed hardly any guidance, and effortlessly understood their rider’s intent, moving gracefully through the forest. As the sun rose, the glittering dew sparkled and mist like rainbows arose around their path as it evaporated. Although still winter, the forest looked like it a snow or frost had never touched it, and some flowering petal even emerged into the morning light.

The ride was almost hypnotic, and soon the group had traveled nearly four hours and burst out into the plains past the boundaries of the forest. A little later, Servan pulled into a grove of trees and pointed toward the hills ahead. “We must decide our path, find the mercenaries or find the ruins.”

07 Jannissary (Winter) 509 PE (Year of the Ravens)
10am, Sunday

Aeron told the woodsman that, “Being afraid of just dark elves is too short sighted…we should fear ALL those that are trying to kill us. We are now in the enviable position of having to hug the dark elves and the mercenaries while trying not to be stabbed by either. The only thing more dangerous than a frontal assault…is a diplomatic mission.” Aeron spurred his horse into an uncontrolled gallop out of the capital, revealing the many hours spent neglecting his horsemanship. “We ride to the ruins of Faerfell in the kingdom of Kell!”

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After pointing at the hills from the grove of trees that the group had entered, Servan began helping the elven stable hand and the eladrin hide the solchevalle from casual observation. He then moved cautiously up to the edge of the grove, peering across the plains towards the hills. The group had traveled to within just over a half mile from the forest that the ruins if Faerfell were reputedly located in.

To the west was one of the large lakes found in the area, also a little over a half mile away. Northwest of that was another lake, barely visible amongst the rolling scrubland and patches of trees. Between the two lakes was a tree and rocky outcroppings filled passage of land that led towards the Faerfell grove.

Servan adjusted his coureblade and looked back over his shoulder expectantly towards the group.

Nitram looked to the northwest to see if he noticed any smoke or dust – anything that would have highlighted the mercenary location. “I think we should follow the edge of the forest to the northwest and see if we can either intercept the mercenaries or find their trail. If we’re lucky, they aren’t here yet. If we aren’t, we should at least be able to find where 200 troops entered the forest.” Nitram did not notice any signs from their present location that would mark the location of the mercenary company. Reviewing the timeline in his head, he quickly surmised they could easily have been in place as early as last night. He looked at his young friend and gave him some food from his pack, “Did you see any soldiers while you were flying around up there?”

Serre gobbled down the snack, and seemed focused on catching his wind. Keeping up with the solchevalle had been quite tasking.

07 Jannissary (Winter) 509 PE (Year of the Ravens)
1030am, Sunday

After thirty minutes the horses had been carefully hidden from sight and the stable hand sequestered with them. A strong cold wind from the south had begun to blow, and a faint cloudy haze obscured the sun.

Servantes sat on a fallen branch and began cleaning his weapons. While it appeared that he had a hatchet and several long knives, the most time cleaning and tending was spent on his coureblade. Overall the weapon seemed similar to the other elven curve blades that the group had seen, however the handle on this one was slightly longer, and made of bone. The blade also had a faint red tint to the metal.

Servan nodded approvingly at Shylent, who was also cleaning her weapons, and said “Preparation is the better part of valor, ehh mon amie?” He sheathed his weapon and continued speaking, apparently to the sky and the ground; “Gaia’s will on my destiny, and Corellon’s guidance on my sword.” He then looked around to see where he could help anyone else prepare.

Before departing to find the mercenaries, Nitram asked Servan about his weapon, “That is a magnificent blade. Is it steel or some other metal – why does it appear red? I, too, have a blade with a bone handle. I wonder if yours has similar properties.” Nitram drew Kinslayer and presented it to the elf. “Kinslayer’s hilt is made of an ogre bone. The blade seems especially effective against those vile creatures.” Nitram spit into the ground as if he had a bad taste in his mouth, which he did.

Blend smiled to himself briefly, overhearing Nitram and the elf’s conversation. The steel of his blade often had a red tint to it, he wanted to say. He decided to keep his dark humor to himself, however.

Servan did not know why the metal had a faint red tint, something about how it was forged perhaps? The type of bone was also indeterminate, and the weapon so far had not shown any special properties, other than the lightness and ease of use common to coureblades in general.

Once everyone was prepared, Nitram began leading them to the northwest, keeping a bowshot distance between them and the edge of the trees. “Keep an eye on the tree line. Rillifane only knows what has occurred in there.”

The party moved off to the northwest, keeping a fair distance between the forest and the lake as they traveled. It took about 30 minutes to travel about halfway along the narrow strip (1/2 mile wide) of land between the eastern edge of the lake and the western edge of the forest.

Up to this point no one had seen anything out of the ordinary and Nitram had not encountered any tracks. The tall grass and brush rose about knee to waist high, and obscured the view of the very sharp thorny vines that trailed through the brush. The vines were very tough and when encountered unexpectedly, very uncomfortable. The group also had to cross the occasional foot deep stream that meandered out of the forest towards the lake.

Upon reaching the halfway point, the group discovered a path hacked through the brush and the vines, coming from the northwest along the lake edge, and heading eastward towards the forest. The trampled grass was smashed and crushed and there was no way to determine an individual’s path.

Nitram gestured in the direction of the trampled grass, “It looks like they went this way.” Nitram changed course to cautiously follow the “path”.

Wizard Aeron followed Lord Nitram along the newly crushed path. He cast the whispering spell upon the party and shared the results of his research on the ruins as they cautiously followed the trail. “This kingdom of Kell existed before any of the human kingdoms populated this area. This land became the battleground between the Wensharian Empire and the Ogre Kingdoms. The war decimated the area and the kingdom of Kell collapsed. Before the capital of Kell, Faerfell, was abandoned and fell to ruins, it was rumored that the boundaries between planes was weak here allowing communications between worlds. Perhaps for this reason, the dark elves moved into the ruins about 100 years ago.”

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As the group followed the trail and headed towards the forest, it was apparent that the terrain was riddled brush and covered with clumps of rock and briar patches. It was only 15 minutes to the edge of the forest. Along the way the group could see the tops of ruined buildings poke out of the tree here and there. About one to two miles away in the depths of the forest. At the edge of the forest, the heavy foliage, dense even in the winter, and the trailing vines of the torn bushes caused the area underneath the trees to be very dimly lit. The kind of terrain favored by druas.

Just prior to entering the forest along the trampled grass path, both Blend and Nitram simultaneously noticed spots of red on the ground at the very threshold of the forest line.

Nitram held up his hand for the group to stop and whispered, “It looks like the mercs have already engaged the druas and are taking losses. There’s blood on the ground. Hopefully, the mercenaries have drawn the druas complete attention, but I would still assume we are being watched as soon as we enter these woods.” Nitram continued to follow the mercenaries’ path, his eyes constantly scanning the surroundings.

“So who are we killing? Or are we talking? Of course, the way we talk, usually ends up leading to killing. In any case, what happens when we run into one of the groups?” Blend looked expectantly toward Nitram.

“The High Councilor of Magic requested that we ascertain if the druas are in league with Spider Bramble. Regardless, He did not want the mercenaries to slaughter the dark elves as this will supposedly raise tensions of Aelvinwode against its human neighbors.” Aeron gave the party a moment to realize the futility of their limited options.

“So we need to kill or divert the mercenaries away from the druas. Then we have to discover through investigation or detection spells if the druas are corrupted by Spider Bramble. Then we can either return with this information or attempt to root out the corrupted druas ourselves. None of these options will be easy and probability of survival is low.”

“That’s usually the case,” Blend said under his breath.

“Our primary goal is to prevent the slaughter of the dark elves. Ideally, this will involve talking. I’m not sure that we should take on the mercenary company ourselves. It is unfortunate that this purpose aligns with the Spiders desires,” Nitram added.

After listening to Nitram’s statement, Shylent just snorted and stared at him for a moment, then prepared to enter the forest, shaking her head and grumbling under her breath the entire time. Those with keen hearing may have heard “unfortunate…no shit”

Shadows of the Mercenary Part 3

Unconquered Kingdoms xLucix