Art, Writing, and Learning: The Clerisy Quarter => Writing, Poems, AARs, and Stories - The Storyteller's Hall => Stories and AARs => Topic started by: Phoenixguard09 on March 28, 2020, 02:16:40 PM

Title: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
Post by: Phoenixguard09 on March 28, 2020, 02:16:40 PM
Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow: A Norbayne Campaign Log

Welcome once more, my friends, to a campaign log set in the world of Norbayne. With our previous main game, Three Coins, Two Birds and a Gilded Sword now complete, our attention turns swiftly to the next chapter of the story. Over the course of who knows how many years, I will be posting 7 Stones here, a full two weeks before anywhere else, giving Exilian members exclusive access to the chapters as they are completed.

I hope you will enjoy our story as much as we do.

Table of Contents:
Prologue: Many Paths Converge on Stonebridge
Session 0.1: The Swordsman and the Idealist: In which we are introduced to the southern town of Stonebridge and witness the meeting of Michael and Ailbhe in the Pallid Mare inn…
Session 0.2: The Shadow, the Healer and the Woman From the North: In which we see the haunted Viltshaws north of Stonebridge and meet Shadow, Brynhildr and Marwolaeth…
Session 0.3: The Minstrel, the Hunter and the Smith: In which Syntherion leads his companions, Hadrina and Ignus, to Stonebridge, to experience the Festivale…

Arc 1: Another New Beginning
Session 1.1: A Dark Night: In which the companions meet each other in the streets of Stonebridge, Marwolaeth suffers an unfortunate accident and the Chéserquine comes and goes…

In the next post, I will introduce our players and their new characters.

Also, while you're at it, go check out the game's Instagram page. There's heaps of artwork and photographs which will surely keep you entertained or something like that.
Title: Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
Post by: Phoenixguard09 on March 28, 2020, 02:45:06 PM
Dramatis Personae

I must beg your indulgence dear reader. A few of the following profiles are absent the stat-lines of the characters they detail. I will be providing these soon, but I have not gotten around to it yet. Rest assured, it will be attended to very soon.

My lovely partner in crime, Ladyhawk is the first of our players for this chronicle. Having been a founding member of the Three Coins group, Ladyhawk has now developed quite a significant mastery of the system, even running her own one-shot, Old Timers in early 2019. True to form, she is returning to the Mage class for this story, however this new character will be quite different from any of her previous ones, despite them all being primarily casters. Ladyhawk played the Danann Mage, Maebh Preachain-Eite in Three Coins, the Dunscarth Necromancer, Mathlynn Cild-Ailith in Great Maw and the Danann Warlock, Bedelia Ceanndorcha in Forgotten Glories.
Spoiler: Ladyhawk95 (click to show/hide)

A very old friend of mine, Dev’s been with us from the beginning as well. With Whispers in the Dark, Dev became the first person other than myself to attempt to run this anal retentive trip to hell of a rules system. He provides a strategically clever and innovative mind to the party. Has a tendency to prefer more martial characters, and for the most part his new character, much like his previous one, will lean into this, particularly early in the game. Dev played the Invarrian Duellist, Harold Oakenshield in Three Coins and the Midlander Shaman, Angus McFyfe in Great Maw. His character in this story is Angus McFyfe’s nephew.
Spoiler: Duke Dev (click to show/hide)

My sister, LD is also one of the founding members of Three Coins. Greatly matured from the early days of that first campaign, LD transitioned from a child to an adult as we played, and views the campaign as being a significant factor in her own growth as a person. Her new character has a neat little link to her old one, and has been described as being just like that character, minus the trauma and angst. LD played the Leathe Assassin, Breanna Blackrose in Three Coins and the Invarrian Ranger, Assar Eilert in Great Maw.
Spoiler: Lady Darkmoon (click to show/hide)

The last of the founding members of Three Coins, Sins is also a good friend of mine from many years ago. A major factor in building the system itself, Sins has been a constant help and friend over the years. Unlike the previous three, Sins’ new character is a vast departure from any he has played in the past, though it is fair to say that the mysterious layers which have been a hallmark of Sins’ play will probably emerge sooner rather than later. Sins played the Danann Ranger, Kel’Serrar Naya in Three Coins and the Midlander Binder, Whylith in Great Maw.
Spoiler: Sins of Dusk (click to show/hide)

A good friend of mine from our school days, Yohan and I fell out of touch for some time, but reconnected when Sins suggested he approach me about joining the Three Coins group. Yohan was the last player to join the original group, his character joining the party in Arc 5 of the campaign. A wise and protective presence in the group, Yohan provides a wealth of experience in table-top gaming and a keen mind for strategy. Yohan played the Feartarbh Guardian, Xander Wrothgar in Three Coins and the Bruin Artificer, Uday Ramirez in Great Maw.
Spoiler: Yohan Yorrvaskr (click to show/hide)

Initially a friend of Ladyhawk’s, LaPD has become a great friend of mine too over the past few years, even living together for a year in 2017. The significant other of SgtPugsley, LaPD runs the Libra’s Will campaign and, as such, is one of a very select few who have GM’d Norbayne, and one of only two to GM it for a group comprised entirely of players not part of the initial group. She also runs the Norbayne Campaign Instagram page, a link to which can be found below, where she regularly posts artwork and photographs from our sessions. LaPD has a tendency to play larger than life characters with pretty out-there personalities, but her aim for this character is significantly more subdued. LaPD’s first foray into Norbayne was with the Dunscarth Berserker, Aracaeda Cild-Ailith in the Great Maw episodic campaign, but she is probably best known for the Invarrian Alchemist, Kari Folgesvard in Forgotten Glories.
Spoiler: LaPimpDaddy (click to show/hide)

Sins’ significant other, Redshirt has been with us for quite some time. If Three Coins were to continue longer than it did, Redshirt probably would have been invited to play in that game, but alas, with it starting to wrap up when she was introduced to the group, I was hesitant to introduce a new character at that late stage. Redshirt’s first foray into Norbayne was with the Feartarbh Warrior, Aella in the Great Maw episodic campaign.
Spoiler: Redshirt No.482 (click to show/hide)

Our final player, Pugsley is one of mine and Ladyhawk’s oldest and greatest friends and LaPD’s significant other. Late to join our gaming group, Pugsley followed the Three Coins story loosely for several years and took the group photograph, which features everyone in this group save, sadly, for himself. While Pugsley has been playing for the shortest period of time amongst everyone in the group, his system mastery is impressive, as is the thought and care he puts into his characters. Pugsley’s first foray into Norbayne was with the Jeleni Ranger, Harper in Forgotten Glories. 
Spoiler: SgtPugsley (click to show/hide)
Title: Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
Post by: Phoenixguard09 on March 28, 2020, 02:54:18 PM
Session 0.1: The Swordsman and the Idealist

”Michael…. Michael….

Go on Michael. I’m waiting.

Set me loose on your enemies Michael.

I hunger…”

Welcome, one and all, to the very first session, if you will, of Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow. Our two players for this session are Lady Darkmoon and Duke Dev.

Our story begins in the year 1731, in the Pallid Mare tavern, a relatively small establishment in the large southern town of Stonebridge. Situated on the swift-flowing Adhainn River, Stonebridge is quite prosperous, all tall buildings and ordered cobblestone streets, having sprung up around the Main Thoroughfare, the first bridge which was constructed over the river, centuries ago, back at the height of the Bovus Empire. The populace is rather varied, though, as a town in the Southlands of Norbayne, Midlanders, mainly Southrons and Lowlanders at that, are most common.

In the Pallid Mare however, on this afternoon, it is to a Leathe our attention is first drawn. Sitting alone in a booth, is a small, young Leathe girl, wearing finely-tooled boiled leather armour. Her fur is a mottled grey, black and brown merle and her long hair, dark brown, is done up in a loose ponytail. She looks around the establishment, a tankard on the table in front of her, still full. Her long tail twitches with nervous excitement as she sits there, taking in all the sights, sounds and smells to be experienced. The seat is too tall for her, so her legs swing freely as she sits.

“This is it Ailbhe. You’re a real adventurer now. Just like her.” – The Leathe, in an excited whisper to herself.

And surely, there are many experiences to be had. The Leathe has been in Stonebridge long enough to understand what the locals believe is going to happen in the next few nights. Stories of the Chéserquine have been circulating since she arrived in the town. Apparently, on one night, when the stars and the moons align in the heavens above, the great unseelie fey lord will ride out from the Viltshaws, that haunted forest to the north, with all his court, wreaking havoc across the countryside under the silvered light of the twin moons.

Or so the people have been saying anyway. Apparently anyone who did not have shelter for the night would be taken by the Hellequin’s host, never to be seen again. Ailbhe was reminded of a story she had heard, of events from more than eighty years ago, of a village assailed at night by a horde of spectral foes which would drag unfortunates off into the night, and of how a brave Leathe girl and her friends helped defend a tavern full of frightened villagers. She positively couldn’t wait for night to fall.

“Can I get you anything else?” – Mallida, the innkeeper.

Ailbhe’s attention is snapped to the short, portly Southron woman.

“Just the usual please.” – Ailbhe, with a winning smile and handing over a copper.

A short time later, a young, skinny Lowlander boy in an off-white tunic runs out to the Leathe’s booth, a small wooden plate in hand, and upon it, a single piping hot potato.

“For you.” – The serving-boy, placing the plate upon the table.

“Thank you.” – Ailbhe, grinning cheerfully at the boy as he deposits her food and runs back to the kitchen.

She then proceeds to burn the roof of her mouth on the hot vegetable.

* * *

A heavily-built man, armed and armoured, stops in Tamrend for a quick drink. He intends to press on towards Southbridge, the town he can see, maybe another hour’s walk away. He’s been walking for so long, it feels like it is all he can remember now, just the dull monotonous action of putting one foot in front of the other. His throat hurts, and he wipes the sweat from his brow and runs his hand through his short, russet brown hair. For the south, it is not a particularly hot day, but this man is not from the south, and he is used to significantly colder climes. He stops at the village well and sends the bucket, hanging on its chain, swinging down into the water below.

An old man, olive skinned and dark haired, though age has begun to shoot streaks of grey through the black hair, approaches the traveller.

“Friend, do you have a place to stay for the coming nights?” – The old man, offering a hand to the traveller.

“Ah no, why?” – The traveller, thickly accented voice cracking slightly from recent disuse. He returns the old man’s handshake. 

“You don’t look like you’re from around here. Have you heard of the Chéserquine?” – The old man. Indeed, the traveller’s russet red hair and beard and his pale, though now somewhat flushed, skin mark him out as a foreigner, likely a Highlander from the far north.

“Vaguely, but it is not an issue where I’m from.” – The traveller, somewhat dismissively.

“It certainly is an issue in these parts friend. Definitely recommend finding yourself a place to stay, inside, safe. Unfortunately, the inn here in Tamrend is completely full, but if you press on to Stonebridge, you should be able to find a place there.” – The old man, rather fervently.

“Thanks old timer. Appreciate it.” – The traveller, retrieving a partially filled bucket of water from the well and refilling his own waterskins.

They part ways, the traveller continuing south and on to Stonebridge. He looks out over the settlement ahead, marking the wide fields, home to both crops and livestock, and dotted with hamlets. Beyond the fields, lies the stone-walled town of Stonebridge itself. He can see the road, leading to a fortified and seemingly well-guarded gatehouse. To the left of the gate however, the northern curtain wall of the settlement is damaged, in some places not a wall, but merely piles of stone rubble, clearly the detritus of some siege the town had weathered in the not-too-distant past. Finally, as the sun dips into the horizon and shadows begin to creep across the land, the traveller arrives at the northern gates of Stonebridge.

“State your business.” – The sergeant of the gate-guard, a tall, yet relatively lightly-built Feartarbh, dark-furred and clad in chain, over which sits a dark blue tabard. Behind him, in the gateway, and above, upon the wall itself, stand a handful of other guards, similarly attired, mainly Midlanders by their appearance.

“I seek shelter for the night. I heard there was an inn here, in town.” – The traveller, coming to a halt, careful to make no false moves. Immediately he can perceive the wariness of these guards. They are on edge, and he does not wish to provoke them.

“I trust you intend to cause no trouble? You are certainly heavily armed.” – The sergeant, gruffly, gesturing to the swords the traveller carries, an arming sword at his side and the claymore slung over his shoulder, the greatsword bundled in rags and the traveller’s spare cloak.

“It would do no good for a mercenary to cause trouble in the lands in which he seeks work, and I would not be much of a mercenary without my weapons.” – The traveller, with a somewhat tired smile.

“True enough. I will trust your word. You may enter. Also, if you’re looking for work, the guard may have some for you. If you are in need, come to the guardhouse on the south-bank of the river, west of the keep. We are always on the lookout for a sturdy sword. May the Triad protect you.” – The sergeant, waving the traveller through the gate and into the town beyond.

The mood within the town is frantic as folk hurry to their homes, locking the doors behind them as they scurry inside. The sun is still up, though only barely, but the streets, which, in almost any other town of this size in the south, would be bustling with activity at this hour, are empty, almost silent. A little ways away, he can hear the faint sound of hammers beating steel on anvil, the tell-tale signs of Stonebridge’s industry. The traveller hurriedly makes his way through the streets, and as he does so, he comes to the realisation that he knows where he is going, or perhaps, that he knows where he is being taken.

He knows, for a fact, that he has never been in Stonebridge before, never even ventured anywhere near this far south before. Yet despite that, he navigates the streets as if he had lived in the town for years.

He comes upon the tavern in short order, a tall but narrow building, largely stone and wood in construction, as are most houses in the town. A sign hangs from above, depicting a rearing white horse and the name, emblazoned across the top, The Pallid Mare.

Upon entering, his eyes drift over the room, full of people. A fire burns fitfully in the corner, as do a handful of oil lanterns hung upon the walls, providing illumination to the many patrons within. The mood is relatively quiet, sombre even, and he notes that many of the folk within the tavern are likely families from outlying hamlets, seeking the safety of the larger settlement.

But it is one figure in the tavern which draws his eye, even as he stands in the doorway. A small figure, sitting alone in a booth, her fur a peculiar grey-brown mottled merle. A Leathe girl.

Go there. That’s the one. – A strange, haunting whisper it seems the traveller, and the traveller alone can hear…

“Can you close the door if you’re coming in? Don’t just stand there!” – Mallida, the short-tempered Southron innkeeper.

Without saying a word, the man enters the establishment, letting the door close behind him. He looks around the room briefly, his pale blue eyes taking in everything around him at a glance, then sits himself down in the booth, across the table from the Leathe girl, who continues to smash down her hot potato.

“Hey.” – The Leathe girl, trying desperately to appear cool and collected, but her furiously twitching tail and nose betray her excitement. She looks up at her new table-mate from her potato.

“Can I get you anything?” – Mallida, having approached the booth to serve the newcomer.

“Just an ale, thank you.” – The traveller, handing over a couple of coppers, and Mallida moves back behind the bar, pouring a generous measure of ale for the man, and bringing back a hunk of bread on a small wooden plate too.

“On the house.” – Mallida, leaving the bread and drink on the table with hardly a glance, and sweeping back to the bar.

“You should try the potato.” – Ailbhe, her mouth still somewhat full with her last bite.

“Maybe I will. You’re a long way from home little one.” – The traveller, taking a draught from his flagon of ale.

“Just a bit. What about yourself, where do you hail from?” – Ailbhe, trying to keep her voice deeper than its natural pitch.

“Crowpeak, to the north.” – The traveller, staring at the girl.

”I don’t understand. What is it about this one?” – The traveller’s thoughts, trying to address the whispers he keeps hearing. There is no response.

“Ah, yes. That’s a, ah, fair distance…” – Ailbhe, who clearly has no idea where Crowpeak is, trying to appear knowledgeable. Her statement sort of trails off into a question.

Spoiler: Crowpeak (click to show/hide)

“Yes, quite a way.” – The traveller, taking another draught of ale.

“Would you, by chance, happen to identify yourself as an adventurer of sorts?” – Ailbhe, in a sidling sort of way.

“Ah, a mercenary sure. Adventurer? Well, in a way, yes, I guess. Why? What do you see yourself as?” – The traveller, a little taken aback.

“A rogue, of the dashing variety.” – Ailbhe, a note of pride creeping into her voice.

There was a fair bit of laughter around the table at this exchange.
“Oh god, describing yourself as your class in game.” – Dev, laughing.
“To be fair, she totally would.” – LD, who is completely right. Ailbhe is the sort of character absolutely would do that.

The traveller just gives the Leathe a confused look, to which she shrugs, and finishes off her potato.

“I missed your name earlier I’m sorry.” – Ailbhe, holding out a small, furred hand.

“You didn’t. My name is Michael. Yours?” – The traveller, Michael McFyfe, grasping the girl’s hand and giving it a firm shake.

“Ailbhe. Ailbhe Blackrose.” – The Leathe girl, smiling and returning the handshake.

* * *

There’s a heavy thump as someone outside hits the wall next to the door of the tavern. Most of the chatter in the tavern comes to a stop, and most eyes turn to the source of the noise. Muffled voices can be heard from outside, raised and angry.

“You haven’t paid us yet! What are you going in there for when you haven’t paid us?” – A rough, raised voice from outside, which Ailbhe alone, with her keen Leathe hearing, is able to pick up.

“I haven’t got enough to pay you. I’m just going in there for a bite to eat. It’s all I can afford.” – A quieter, higher pitched voice, which even Ailbhe struggles to hear.

“Michael, can you hear that?” – Ailbhe, in a hoarse whisper to her companion.

“I heard the thump.” – Michael, leaning forward to hear the Leathe a little better.

“There’s someone outside, young man by the sound of it. Sounds like he’s getting a shake down. Should we do something about it?” – Ailbhe, her nose twitching with excitement. 

“Look, you’re coming with me. You can explain it to the boss yourself.” – The rough voice from before. There’s another thump and a muffled groan of pain.

“Let’s go see what we can do then.” – Michael, standing with his shield in hand and striding to the door.

“Yes!” – Ailbhe, excitedly but quietly to herself, drawing a dagger from her belt.

* * *

Michael opens the door to the Pallid Mare, and the two companions emerge into the late afternoon sun. Before them, walking down the street, each carrying various weapons and clad in studded leather armour, are three men, all relatively large, Midlanders by the look of them, and held limply between two of their number, a slender Jeleni with a sack over his head.

“Oi, lads, what are you doing?” – Michael, confidently striding forth into the street.

The leader of the band turns to look back at the Highlander, while the other two continue on their way, hauling their prisoner with them.

“Hold up boys.” – The leader, who starts to stalk back to where Michael stands. The Highlander can tell just by the way he moves that this is a trained swordsman, and while he carries a thick, iron-banded cudgel in his hand, there is a well-worn arming sword at his belt. He is not particularly tall, but heavily-built and the lower half of his face is covered in a short, patchy black beard.

“Where are you taking him?” – Michael, not backing down. In his left hand he carries a light, spiked roundshield, and his right hand rests upon the sword at his own belt.

“No concern of yours friend. I suggest you go back inside and enjoy your evening.” – The leader, now right up in Michael’s face. He is a big man, heavily built, and imposing, with several scars testament to a life of conflict, but Michael has seen tougher. Hell, Michael is tougher.

“How much does he owe you?” – Michael, standing firm.

“A friend of yours then, is he? Very well, his debt is 30 sulvers, but there is a late fee as well. Normally we would double the price, or, if he cannot pay, we will take it out of his flesh.” – The leader, menacingly.

“What a **** metaphor.” – Ailbhe, under her breath, too quietly for anyone else to hear.

“You have a lot of questions for someone with no affiliations to the business.” – The leader, sizing up Michael. It would seem that he hasn’t noticed Ailbhe’s presence.

“Call it a morbid curiosity.” – Michael, gruff.

“Morbid in that it will get you killed. Again, I suggest you clear off and put this out of mind.” – The leader, turning to leave.

“How about you let the man go?” – Michael, squaring his shoulders.

“Can’t do that. We have our orders.” – The leader, turning back to Michael, a murderous gleam in his eye.

“Orders? Who from?” – Michael, head cocked to one side as he absorbs this latest piece of information.

“Ha, get a load of this boys! Friend, if you need to ask that-“ – The leader, laughing to the rest of the band. His two lackeys have approached slowly since the beginning of the conversation, and they laugh too. The leader turns back to Michael, and is interrupted by the Highlander’s terse reply.

“We’re new to town, don’t have many contacts.” – Michael, his voice a deep growl.

“I don’t care if you’re new to town or not, last chance. Walk away.” – The leader, drawing his sword.

Michael punches him in the throat and the man stumbles back, struggling for breath. The Highlander draws his sword and readies himself behind his shield.

Chaos erupts in the alleyway. Ailbhe sprints across the cobblestones and launches herself at one of the bruisers holding the captive Jeleni. Knife in hand, she leaps into the air and just about wraps herself around the man’s neck and upper body. She holds the knife to his throat and stares at the other bruiser holding the captive.

“Let him go.” – Ailbhe, in as threatening a tone of voice as she can manage.

“Oi, what the ****?” – The bruiser, shoving the stunned captive to the ground and hefting his cudgel.

Sword in one hand, short cudgel in the other, the leader strikes at Michael, but it is ineffectual, the Highlander’s expert shield-play keeping him safe.

Ailbhe manages to maintain her seat as the bruiser she has grappled attempts to extricate himself from her grasp. She clings on desperately to his curly blond hair, as he furiously attempts to pry her off himself and throw her to the ground. The other man takes his cudgel in both hands and delivers a heavy strike to Ailbhe’s back, the hardwood impacting the Leathe with a loud crack.

“Ow! Look, tell me who you received your orders from, or I’ll slit his throat! Tell me!” – Ailbhe, grabbing her captive’s hair and wrenching it around to face his ally, her knife still held tightly to his throat.

“You wouldn’t. Look at you, you’re just a girl!” – The man who hit her, hefting his cudgel for another blow.

“I’m not just a girl, I’m an adventurer! Now, I’m asking you again, for the last time, who are you working for?” – Ailbhe, proudly exclaiming as she jabs her captive’s neck with the point of her knife, keeping the man’s body in between her and his ally as best she can.

“You wouldn’t do it, but if you did, you’d be in real trouble.” – The bruiser, trying to take another swing at Ailbhe without hitting his friend.

“Who from?” – Ailbhe, ducking under a wild swing of the cudgel.

“The Black Hand.” – The bruiser, trying to grab the nimble Leathe girl.

“Right. I feel like that might be enough to go on for now.” – Ailbhe, taking her intricately carved dagger and smashing the hilt into the side of her captive’s head as hard as she can.

“Ow! ****!” – The captive bruiser, trying to get his head out of the way of the Leathe’s wild bludgeoning strikes. She is still just about riding his shoulders though, clinging tightly, and she is able to land the blows with something approaching impunity, though they are largely ineffective.

“I’m sorry, I was trying to knock you out.” – Ailbhe, who genuinely does sound relatively remorseful.

While all this happening, only yards away, Michael and the leader of the band exchange a flurry of blows, neither man able to land a telling strike. The opening exchanges are swift, glittering blades clashing together in the late afternoon sunlight, with neither man appearing to hold the upper hand. Suddenly, Michael sees an opening, his sword flashes, and the leader of the band of ruffians falls to the ground, the top half of his head landing separately with a somewhat wet thud.

Several rounds pass with both Michael and the leader either missing with their attacks or parrying the ones which did hit, before Michael finally lands a 00 Critical, causing a sum total of 22 Damage to the head after Damage Reduction.

“Drop your weapons or I’ll kill all of you!” – Michael, roaring in rage, his eyes flashing with bloodlust as he turns towards the two bruisers still engaged with Ailbhe.

“I don’t want any trouble, just doing-“ – The bruiser, just about to hit AIlbhe once more, before dropping his cudgel to the cobblestone street with a clatter and letting his sentence trail off. He turns tail and begins fleeing rapidly away.

“No, please don’t hurt me. Please don’t.” – The other bruiser, the blond one Ailbhe still clings to. He too lets his weapon fall to the ground.

“Last chance. Who is the Black Hand?” – Ailbhe, trying her most menacing voice once more.

“I don’t know who it is. We work for them! Please, get off me. Just let me go.” – The bruiser, nearly reduced to tears as Michael slowly stalks towards him.

“Fine then, off you go.” – Ailbhe, disappointed, dropping to the ground. The man bolts into the streets, swiftly disappearing from view.

The two companions turn their attention to the young Jeleni man the bruisers had been attempting to abduct. He is young, small and slightly built, maybe twenty years old, with sleek, sandy-gold fur and small black horns, and wears a simple green woollen shirt over brown trousers. He sits on his haunches, his back against a wall on the side of the alley, wide-eyed and fearful. As Michael and Ailbhe approach, he stands, a little unsteadily, and wipes his mouth with the back of his hand, smearing some blood through the sandy fur.

“Thank you so much. How can I repay you?” – The Jeleni, clearly still fearful.

“You can tell me something. Why do you owe them money?” – Ailbhe, clearly curious.

“Probably borrowed from a loanshark and couldn’t pay it back, not an uncommon story.” – Michael, dismissive, turning away from the Jeleni and moving to the corpse of the band’s leader, rifling through the deceased man’s pockets for any loose coinage or other items of note.

“Racketeering actually. Supposedly you pay for protection against damages, but they’re the ones causing the damage, so you can’t really win. You either pay them and they might not attack you or your store, or your clients, or you refuse and they definitely will, and take the money anyway.” – The Jeleni, to Ailbhe, with a somewhat hurt glance at Michael’s back.

“Who is this Black Hand they were talking about? Do you know who it might be?” – Ailbhe, fishing for further information.

“Oh, it isn’t a person, but an organisation. I think so anyway. I’m pretty sure it’s what they call themselves. If you’ll pardon the term, it’s like a thieves’ guild. Silly concept I know, but that’s what it is.” – The Jeleni, with a somewhat sad smile.

“Okay then, let’s get this man’s body in the river before anyone else from the guild turns up.” – Michael, having finished stripping the corpse of valuables.

“Thank you again for coming to my aid. I am so grateful. If ever you need anything, come to Brandin’s Coopery on the south-side of the river. Obviously my resources are limited, but I would do whatever I can to help you.” – The Jeleni, Brandin, shaking Ailbhe’s small hand. His slender hand is not strong, but for all that, his grip is still firm.

“If anyone asks, they attacked us.” – Michael, nodding to the cooper and then taking the corpse under the arms and beginning the arduous task of dragging it to the river.

* * *

The afternoon sun is just dipping beyond the horizon, leaving the streets of Stonebridge shrouded in shade, and two figures are dragging the slowly stiffening body of a man to the northern bank of the Adhainn River. Or rather, one figure, the larger of the two, is doing the majority of the dragging and just allowing the other to feel useful, while the smaller one is carrying the feet and, admittedly, every now and then forgetting her assigned role and just letting them fall to the ground.

“Hey Michael, what’s your star-sign? You’re not a Stallion are you?” – Ailbhe, her reedy voice suddenly breaking the relative silence.

“Uh, Dragain? – Michael, not entirely sure off the top of his head.

“Aw yes! Nice, yeah, me too. How good is that?” – Ailbhe, excitedly dropping the corpse’s legs and holding up one of her furry hands, palm extended towards the Highlander.

“Um, yeah, sure?” – Michael, stopping briefly, lowering the corpse to the ground and wiping his brow free of sweat with the back of his hand.

Ailbhe grabs Michael’s other hand with her left and forces him to give her a hi-five.

“You’ve never seen that before? I’m pretty sure it’s an adventurer thing. It’s okay though, I’m sure you’ll get the hang of it soon enough.” – Ailbhe, cheerfully grabbing the corpse’s legs again and waiting for Michael to take up his load once more.

Together, they make their way to the Main Thoroughfare, avoiding the scarce guard patrols on the way, and pitch the corpse over the edge of the great bridge before making their way back to the Pallid Mare to clean up. 

And we left it there…

The Wrap-Up:
And there we have it, welcome to Stonebridge! What a great way to enter our new campaign. As the GM, I personally loved the dynamic between these two characters and the way their players saw fit to portray them.

Our next session will see us meet three new characters, as we leave these two in the Pallid Mare for now, and see just what the Viltshaws are like.

Thanks for reading, and see you next time,
Title: Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
Post by: Phoenixguard09 on June 03, 2020, 02:21:37 PM
Session 0.2: The Shadow, the Healer and the Woman From the North


Looking for young and able bodied assistant to aid with duties pertaining to both the apothecary and matters of a private nature.

Assistant will be trained and paid as both apprentice and carer, with more details on the latter to be provided upon successful application and participation in a clinical trial.

No prior medical knowledge required, but will be taken into consideration.

Lodging can also be provided for an applicant if required.

Please send enquiries and applications to the Or’Saer Emporium, or alternatively, request an appointment with Marwolaeth Plendyn Or’Saer.

We look forward to hearing from you.

- Job Notice for the Or’Saer Emporium, an apothecary on the northern bank of the Adhainn River in Stonebridge.

Welcome to this, the second session of Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow. Our players for this session are SgtPugsley, Ladyhawk95 and LaPimpDaddy.

It is early morning in the autumn of the year 1731, and a single figure makes his way south to the town of Stonebridge along the Old Hill Road. He walks swiftly, clad in well-cut black and dark grey clothing and dark leathers. A chill breeze wafts past him, ruffling his long, tasselled cloak, and he pulls it up around his shoulders a little more, trying to retain as much warmth as he can in the grey, dawning light. He is a rather handsome young man, clean-shaven, with pale skin lightly tanned from his time on the road and his short blond hair, which would normally be well-maintained, messy and windswept. At his belt sit two blades, one short, the other longer, of somewhat unusual design, both slightly curved and absent a cross-guard of note.

Directly to the east, the foreboding peaks of the Dragain’s Tail, the southern-stretch of the Wardenfells loom in the distance, barring the passage of the sun’s direct light, leaving the land swathed in their shadow.

They have an oppressive presence.

The Wardenfells however, are a fair distance away, and much closer are the Viltshaws, a thickly forested hilly expanse which make up the foothills of the southern slopes of the Dragain’s Tail. The thick tangle of briars would be a nightmare to clear, and, as the traveller surmises, is probably why it has not happened to date. Other than the intermittent whistling of the wind, all is silent around him, no birds, no other creatures of the forest, and no sign of locals or other travellers for miles around.

He has never been this way in the past, or at least, not that he remembers, and is not entirely sure of what he can expect, though the silence unnerves him slightly.

He does know however, that he needs to get to Stonebridge, and thankfully, it is not too far now. He has been walking for many weeks, with only short periods of rest. He looks down at his well-worn boots as he puts one foot in front of the other, inspecting them. They are incredibly well-crafted, and despite the abuse he has put them through, they’ve held up spectacularly well.

The black-cloaked traveller keeps walking.

* * *

Some hours later, the traveller is still making his way south on the road. The sun has finally broken over the peaks of the Wardenfells, and the soft golden light provides a little more warmth. The traveller has taken off his cloak, wrapped it up and placed it in his pack now, no longer uncomfortable in the seasonally chill morning air. The light is a welcome change, however the silence is still oppressive.

To his left, he hears a noise, a little distant, but almost ear-piercingly loud in the silence. A dull sound, almost like an explosion, then muffled yelling and a strange, almost trumpeting sound, like an animal in distress. A little unsure, the traveller stops on the road, and tries to listen more closely. He can hear a sound like steel clashing together, and then more muffled shouting followed by that same panicked trumpet.

The traveller knows that this, the outskirts of the forest overlooking the road, would be a prime place for brigands. He dashes into the woodland at full speed. It doesn’t take long for him to find evidence of passage, someone or something moving at speed, with no care for concealing their way. Swiftly, he finds the source of the commotion.

Before him, a band of brigands have cornered a very tall, pale woman. Three of the brigands remain standing, two Midlanders by their appearance, one, dark-haired and sporting a long, thick black beard, armed with a mace and shield, the other with long red hair, clean-shaven with pock-marks all over his face, bearing a deep gash along his forearm, with a spear held threateningly in both hands. The third is a small, slight Woodsman, standing about fifteen yards beyond the other two, nocking an arrow to the string of his bow. A fourth man, also a Woodsman, is on the ground, crawling away to shelter, clearly grievously injured.

Of the woman, she is barely a hair off seven feet tall, well-built with long, platinum blond hair with loosely-tied braids all through it. She wears a blue-grey leather jerkin and dark grey trousers under a long coat, with long sleeves which turn into fingerless gloves. Her arms are outstretched, one hand empty, the other holding a bloodied war-axe, and behind her stands the source of the trumpeting. A creature the height and length of a moderately sized dog, but more heavily built, with shaggy brown fur, a long, prehensile trunk and small, ivory tusks. It is fearful, and clearly quite young, relying on the woman for protection.

Seeing the source of the commotion, the traveller makes to duck away, behind a tree, but the movement draws the eye of the archer, who, having nocked his arrow, raises it in the direction of the traveller.

“Ah, there’s another one over ‘ere boss. What do you want to do?” – The archer, eyes darting between the woman and the newcomer.

The black-bearded Midlander steps forward, mace and shield still in hand, but his arms held out in a non-threatening fashion.

“It doesn’t have to be like this. Hand over the money you’ve got, and your little pet, and you can be on your way.” – The leader of the bandits, attempting a winning smile, but all it does is reveal his crooked and rotting teeth. The smile never reaches his cold eyes.

“I cannot. I need it, I’m sorry.” – The woman, from the north by her accent.

“Not good enough. Shoot the-” – The leader of the bandits, interrupted while signalling to his archer.

“Hello there my dear friend! What is going on here?” – The traveller, emerging from the woods into the clearing, his hands raised.

“Hold! Who the **** are you?” – The bandit leader, irritably, signalling to his archer as he turns to face the newcomer.

“I’m Shadow, you haven’t heard of me?” – The traveller, smiling widely and slowly walking towards the leader, his hands still raised.

“No, I can’t say that I have.” – The bandit leader, holding his mace outstretched so that the head pushes into Shadow’s chest as he walks closer, stopping the man.

Behind him, still being threatened by the spear-armed bandit, the woman looks confused, but stays ready, keeping her companion safely behind her.

“Well Shadow, do you have any money on you?” – The bandit leader, poking the traveller’s chest with the steel head of his flanged mace.

“Not as much as you I would think. Nice boots you have there.” – Shadow, his gaze flicking down to the bandit’s boots. They are ragged leather, maybe a size too small for the man, probably stolen. There is a smudge of some white dust-like substance on the toe, possibly chalk.

“What do my boots have to do with anything?” – The bandit leader, confused.

“Nothing. What are you doing with this woman?” – Shadow, gesturing to the tall figure behind the bandit.

“None of your concern, ‘Shadow’. Get ‘em lads.” – The bandit leader, nodding to his men.

The woman growls an incantation and her eyes glow an icy-blue. Frost rimes around her, solidifying into a softly glowing shell of ice on her flesh. A long sliver of ice forms in her free hand and she hurls it at the archer, hitting the Woodsman in the leg, the razor-sharp ice ripping into the man’s unprotected flesh.

The leader of the bandits takes a wild swing at Shadow, but does not connect.

“You’re not very good at this are you?” – Shadow, mockingly.

Growling in frustration, the leader swings again, this time drawing nothing but a lazy dodge from the still unarmed Shadow.

“That wasn’t even an attempt.” – Shadow, feigning boredom.

The dodge however has put him in range of the wounded bandit on the ground, who lashes out with a hatchet, delivering a light wound to Shadow’s leg, the heavy blade carving a furrow across the man’s calf.

Shadow hisses in pain, drawing the shorter of his two blades, and thrusts at the leader, the slightly curved sword easily punching through the tough leathers the bandit wears and into the flesh beneath. Shadow withdraws the blade and slashes down, his steel biting through the flesh of the bandit leader’s upper arm as the man screams in pain.

The other bandit strikes at the woman with his spear, the long blade punching towards the woman’s torso, doing naught but scoring a deep gash in the layer of ice surrounding her. The archer too, growling at the pain she caused to his leg, looses his arrow at the woman, the projectile pinging off the ice covering her throat. There is a moment of silence before that same muffled explosion Shadow heard earlier emanates from the woman, as the ice shatters, sending a storm of shards ripping into the face and arms of the bandit spearman. He falls back a little, bloodied and screaming, clutching at his eyes. Through the storm of ice and sleet, the woman steps forward, her axe held in a two-handed grip, and the heavy blade strikes a fearsome blow, taking the bandit’s leg off at the hip.

“Get the woman! Get her!” – The bandit leader, swinging at Shadow with his mace, which the black-clad man lazily dodges.

The archer shoots again, the arrow punching into the woman’s upper arm, which draws a surprised cry of pain from her, and a panicked trumpet from her animal. Growling, Shadow strikes at the leader in retaliation, ducking under a wild mace-swing and behind the man, cleaving the heavy blade of his shortsword up the bandit’s thigh, leaving a grievous, bloody rent in the flesh. The leader falls to his knees, an arterial spray of crimson blood painting the forest floor as he loses consciousness.

“Pathetic.” – Shadow, kicking the dying man to the ground.

“There’s still more!” – The woman, her eyes locked on the wounded Woodsman bandit with his hatchet, who has staggered to his feet and is now stalking towards her. She hefts her axe in both hands, growling with the pain.

“Right, yes, of course.” – Shadow, mostly to himself, as he darts towards the archer, drawing his second, longer blade as he runs. His strike is slightly wide, and the archer uses his bow to push the blade entirely off-course, the heavy blade carving through the wood of the weapon in the process.

“Man, 69 to hit.” –Pugsley, disappointed.
“Noice” – LaPD.

The hatchet-armed bandit trades blows with the woman, landing a heavy blow on her, the blade biting into the flesh of her arm. He grins as she cries out in pain, his rotten teeth exposed by the expression. The tall woman’s own axe flashes too, once, then again, and his grin fades, as the heavy weapon sinks into the flesh of his own arm, a matching strike, though a more significant injury. He falls back a little, bleeding profusely, overborne by this fearful enemy.

Shadow lashes out at the archer with a swift kick, but the man ducks back and away. The black-clad traveller follows it up with a quick thrust into the side of the man’s neck with the shortsword, the steel blade cleaving easily through flesh and ending the man’s life. He turns back in time to see the last bandit cut down by the woman, her axe coming down on the top of the man’s head in a mighty strike from above.

Almost immediately, she turns and murmurs quietly to the small animal, comforting the clearly panicked creature with a combination of kind words and gentle patting. Shadow takes a few moments to inspect the bodies of the fallen, searching for any goods of worth amongst them, and any signs of life. He finds precious little of either.

The mid-morning light filters down through the dense canopy overhead as Shadow approaches the woman, on the surface at ease, yet ready to draw blades if this dangerous individual proves aggressive.

“Howdy.” – Shadow, friendly.

“Thank you, for stepping in as you did.” – The woman, standing and turning to face him.

“Shadow. Don’t worry, the knife’s in this hand. Wait, what knife?” – Shadow, offering his right hand to shake, as his left produces and then sheathes a dagger with a flourish.

“Brynnhildr. Thank you for helping us. I’m not sure what would have happened if you didn’t come across this.” – The woman, returning the hand-shake with a small smile at the man’s antics. Her smile fades somewhat as she sweeps her arm to indicate the fallen bandits.

“Oh, I didn’t do that much. They were pretty poor bastards. I mean bandits.” – Shadow, his gaze surveying the battlefield. He looks somewhat rueful, no doubt dwelling on the lack of valuables he was able to strip from the corpses.

It would seem Brynnhildr isn’t sure what to say to that, and she moves to pick up her pack from where she dropped it to the ground when the bandits accosted her. Doing so, she grimaces in pain, her arm badly wounded, an arrow still lodged firmly in the flesh.

“You’re a big woman. Tall, I mean. I have no doubt you could have handled yourself.” – Shadow, giving Brynn an appraising look.

“Uh, yes, I do tend to be a little taller than most people. I guess. And I do not know if I could have, not with Venn here at any rate. I worry for him.” – Brynnhildr, a little taken aback. She gestures to the creature with her uninjured arm with her last statement, and the shaggy brown animal gives a little toot of greeting, waving its trunk at Shadow, whose gaze turns to it now instead.

“That’s a weird looking dog.” – Shadow, brow furrowed a little.

“He’s a mammoth. Don’t worry, you look fine.” – Brynn, glaring at Shadow for a moment, before leaning down to mutter the last bit to a rather oblivious Venn.

“How did you get that here anyway?” – Shadow, still intrigued by the creature.

“We walked.” – Brynn, simply.

“So did I, but not with a mammoth.” – Shadow, blithely. Brynnhildr swiftly begins to realise that Shadow is a somewhat unique conversationalist.

“Where are you headed?” – Brynnhildr.

“Stonebridge. You know, you should really get that arrow out and the wound treated. A bandit’s arrows are not always clean.” – Shadow, checking all his gear, before indicating the arrow still protruding from Brynnhildr’s arm.

“You know, I’d almost forgotten about it.” – Brynn, absently.

“That’s either shock or the rush of battle. Either way, it won’t last. Best to remove it now before it becomes a problem. I can help you, if you like?” – Shadow, taking a step forward to assist.

“It’s okay, thank you. I will take care of it later. We should probably get moving. No knowing what lives in these woods which might be attracted by the scent of blood. Though, it will probably be quite awkward to continue like this.” – Brynn, grimacing as her strong fingers curl around the shaft of the arrow. The wood snaps in her grip, leaving the arrowhead embedded in her flesh with perhaps two inches of shaft protruding a little to help her remove it later.

Shadow shakes his head slightly, with a little admiration for the toughness of the woman before him.

“Suit yourself, the offer stands. You are headed for Stonebridge too? We shall travel together then. Can your horse keep up?” – Shadow, turning to make his way back to the road, calling back over his shoulder to Brynn as she and Venn start to traipse along behind him.

“We’ll manage. Do not slow on our account.” – Brynn, gritting her teeth. Shadow had been right. Adrenaline or shock, it hadn’t lasted.

* * *

The late afternoon sunlight streams through the canopy overhead as a small, stocky figure prowls through the undergrowth of the Viltshaws. A Woodsman woman, her shoulder-length black hair almost blue in the golden light, is on her hands and knees. Her pale face is pressed close to the ground, and her dark grey eyes inspect an orange moss-covered stone with great intensity. 

“Hmm, rebis perhaps? I think I will take some.” – The forager, taking a small silver knife and scraping it over the stone, collecting the moss in a small glass vial.

Finished, she stands, packing both the knife and the vial away and swinging a heavy leather pack over one shoulder. She brushes the dirt and dead leaves off her long, leather coat with both hands and then takes off one heavy leather gauntlet to run her fingers through her straight hair.

“Oh no, not again.” – The forager, quietly to herself.

Deep in the woods, under the thick canopy, time is easy to lose track of. It is starting to get dark, and her home is yet many hours away.

“****! Caitrin’s going to be so worried.” – The forager, hissing to herself.

This doesn’t happen often. The forager is a very punctual individual, ferociously independent. She doesn’t lose track of time often at all, and she gets physically lost even less. She’s a professional after all, an expert in her field.

And then, she hears them. A howl in the distance. She knows woodwolves inhabit the Viltshaws, packs of the creatures which emerge at nightfall from their dens in the crags of the foothills of the great Wardenfells beyond, and stalk their prey amidst the forested hills under the light of the moons.

Another howl, this one closer, and then another. She feels a thrill of fear down her spine. They are hunting. She is the prey. With a surge of panic, she realises she cannot recall the direction back to the main road, consumed as she was in her search for reagents. Looking around, she can see no sign of the correct path to take, and the dense woodland obscures any landmarks beyond the bounds of the immediate woodland.

“****!” – The forager, cursing and running off into the woods, away from the howls, as the darkness begins to close in around her.

* * *

The day passed relatively uneventfully after the strife of the morning, the two companions walking side by side in a largely companionable silence, their pace slowed somewhat by their wounds. Venn happily ambles beside Brynn, every now and then trotting on a short distance to inspect some new scent or sight. As darkness begins to fall however, Venn’s excursions grow shorter and the almost irrepressible mammoth-calf finally shows signs of fatigue, swaying slightly as he walks.

“We will not reach shelter before night falls completely. We will have to camp for one more night.” – Shadow, speaking for the first time in at least an hour.

“Indeed. Should we move off the road?” – Brynnhildr.

“Yes, definitely. We’ll cut into the woods a little way, just to hide the fire from any unfriendly eyes passing by on the road.” – Shadow, leading their little group off the road and into the eaves of the forest.

They find a suitable location and start to lay out a campsite of sorts, laying out bedrolls and crafting a fire. After a brief meal of watery stew which Shadow provides, Brynnhildr and Shadow stretch out on their respective bedrolls, each gnawing on a piece of hard biscuit which Brynn produced from her pack. Venn sleeps curled up beside her, the calf thoroughly exhausted after the day’s exertions.

“Oh, I almost forgot.” – Shadow, flicking a handful of coins in Brynn’s direction.

“I’m sorry?” – Brynn, a little confused.

“Your cut of the loot. I grabbed some hatchets as well, the only weapons any of them had which might be worth a damn. Do you want one?” – Shadow, proffering two of the small axes towards her.

She takes one, her fingers grasped around the unfamiliar grip. It is not particularly well-made, especially compared to her own, much larger axe, a commoner’s tool more than a real weapon. Still, she takes it with a grateful nod.

The peaceful quiet of the night is broken suddenly by howling from the north-east, a pack of woodwolves hunting for something. Both Brynn and Shadow leap up from their bedrolls, reaching for weapons. Venn awakes from sleep with a start, and lets out a short, panicked trumpet.

“Climb!” - A young woman’s voice, slightly accented, ringing out in the darkness.

A short Woodsman woman in her early twenties sprints towards the firelight, leaping over a fallen branch and into the ring of light. Brynnhildr immediately grabs the panicked Venn and puts him over one shoulder, and starts to climb the nearest tree. It is tough going, and swiftly, unable to get high enough, she comes to a decision, taking Venn and depositing the mammoth in one of the lowest branches, his little legs hanging down on either side before trying again to haul herself up on another branch. She looks back to the fire, where Shadow still stands, just watching her with a slightly incredulous look on his face.

“Shadow, get up in a tree!” – Brynnhildr, slightly panicked.

“Can’t believe it, basically a tree climbing a tree. And she carried that thing up there too. It’s practically the size of a horse.” – Shadow, to himself, shaking his head.

The black-clad man makes for another tree, and swiftly tries to climb it, but with a crack of wood, the branch he was using for a handhold snaps, and he falls back to the ground, flat on his back.

“I used to be good at that.” – Shadow, groaning.

Stopping at the fire, the newcomer draws a sickle from her belt and uses the curved blade to try and spread the coals towards her pursuers, hoping to illuminate them, and perhaps scare them away, or at least give them some pause. There they are, dark shapes in the tree-line, slinking in the shadows, only vague, powerful shapes and glowing eyes, the glint of ivory fangs. The newcomer reaches into a pouch at her waist and pulls out a small, spherical metallic object and holds it in her hand, the other still clenching the sharp sickle. Turning her head slightly, she sees out of the corner of her eye that neither of the others have managed to get into the trees yet.

“I said climb.” – The woman in a low hiss, her somewhat melodious accent still somehow being carried in the terse statement.

“****.” – Shadow, who closes his eyes and fades from view, now just an indistinct shadowy shape on the ground. There is a slight rustle, and the shape flits away and disappears behind a tree, into the darkness.

Redoubling her efforts, Brynn manages to claw her way up into the tree, then sidles along the branch a ways, to get closer to Venn. She helps the little mammoth adjust a little, ensuring the creature is safely straddling the bough she placed him upon.

”Safe here. Don’t move little one.” – Brynnhildr to Venn, through the mental link she shares with the mammoth-calf. He gives a small, scared trumpet in response and then wraps his trunk around the branch to help maintain his grip.

Watching the wolves, the newcomer stands her ground, standing on the edge of the fire. Her dark eyes remain diligently on the tree-line, but for now at least, it seems as if the wolves are wary of the flames.

“Are you both in the trees?” – The newcomer, calling out to the others, not once looking behind her to check on them. Her gaze remains firmly on the darkness beyond the light of the campsite.

“I am.” – Brynn, clutching tightly to her branch. She’s not particularly high off the ground, unable to get much higher, and unwilling to move any higher than Venn’s position.

“Me too.” – The voice of Shadow, from somewhere in the darkness. Despite Brynn’s best efforts, she cannot pick where he has gone.

“Word of caution, these aren’t regular wolves. If I tell you to close your eyes, close your eyes please.” – The newcomer, fiddling nervously with the metallic sphere in her hand.

“What do you know of them?” – The disembodied, slightly muffled voice of Shadow.

“Not the time. When I tell you to close your eyes, close your eyes please. It won’t be pleasant if you don’t.” – The newcomer, her gaze still firmly focused on the shapes lurking in the darkness.

The minutes drag out in silence, and the woodwolves continue to circle the campsite. The howling has ceased, replaced now by nothing more than quiet snarls and the faint sounds of several large creatures moving through the undergrowth. Finally, even those sounds fade, and the shapes melt back into the darkness, retreating away from flames, and the alert woman who stand over them.

* * *

Finally, the newcomer places the spherical object back in her pouch and the sickle in a loop on her belt and turns to look at the others. Brynnhildr comes down from the tree, helping the exhausted Venn down with a cracking of branches, gentle murmurs in a foreign language and some quiet, grateful trumpeting.

Brynn sees a short Woodsman woman, but well-built and muscular, with messy, black hair and pale skin. She wears dark clothing under a thick leather coat of an unusual, diagonal cut and a black cloak, replete with a mantle of what looks like raven feathers over her shoulders. She has many small pouches hanging from a handful of belts across her body, and at her back she carries a heavy leather pack.

As Brynn approaches her, the newcomer’s expression flickers for a moment, before returning to a stoic and calm poker-face.

Blimey, she’s tall. – Marwolaeth’s thoughts as Brynn approaches, and she can come to grips with the scale of this grey-clad woman.

“You mustn’t be familiar with these lands if you’re out here setting up camp for the night. You can’t camp this close to the Viltshaws.” – The newcomer, crossing her arms over her chest, her brow furrowed.

“First time in the area.” – Brynnhildr, nodding.

“Well, I suppose I shouldn’t say too much, as I’m out here too. I did lose track of time myself. I should know better.” – The newcomer, looking up to the sky, taking note of the position of the stars and the twin moons.

“Thank you for the warning. It would have been difficult to get through them with the little one.” – Brynnhildr, turning slightly to indicate the shape of Venn, who has curled up on Brynn’s vacated bedroll and immediately fallen back asleep. His little trunk twitches as their eyes fall on him, and he smacks himself in the head with it, startling awake.

“Is that… that’s no dog…” – The newcomer, a little taken-aback by the creature. She had noticed it, briefly, earlier, but did not pay too much attention before.

“It’s a cow!” – The still disembodied voice of Shadow.

“No, he is neither a dog, nor a cow.” – Brynnhildr, with a slightly irritated glance towards the darkened tree she believes Shadow to be taking refuge within.

“What is he then?” – The newcomer, her wide, dark eyes still studying the little creature intently.

“A mammoth. I brought him with me from the north. I am Brynnhildr.” – Brynnhildr, quietly, extending a hand to the woman to shake.

“Ah yes, my apologies, Marwolaeth.” – The newcomer, pulling her hand from a heavy, black glove and returning the greeting.

“That voice you can hear is Shadow.” – Brynn, sweeping a hand out to indicate the still-hidden man somewhere in the darkness.

There is a faint rustle in the top of a tree and a faint thud of impact, then another quiet rustle amidst the leaf litter on the ground. Then, suddenly, the shape of a blonde, black-clad man materialises before them, at the base of the tree, kneeling on one knee, one fist pressed to the ground, the other arm swept out, causing his black, tasselled cloak to sweep out in a flourish. He looks up, and the piercing eyes under his hood meet those of Marwolaeth, as he slowly stands.

“Is he always this dramatic?” – Marwolaeth, to Brynnhildr, her face expressionless and her tone unimpressed.

“We did only meet this morning, but yes. Yes he is.” – Brynn, smiling slightly, revealing canines just slightly too sharp in the process.

“I don’t even know her. Who is she? I’m Shadow. What’s with the big knife? Don’t worry, the knife’s in this hand. Wait, what knife?” – Shadow, striding confidently towards the newcomer. He extends his right hand in greeting, then suddenly flicks a knife from hand to hand, a knife which did not appear to be there a mere second ago, before sheathing it in a quick flourish.

“Okay… I’m Marwolaeth, I co-own the Or’Saer Emporium, an apothecary in Stonebridge.” – Marwolaeth, shaking the proffered hand, her face expressionless, but her tone somewhat confused.

“Stonebridge? That is our destination too. You are more than welcome to travel with us in the morning if you choose.” – Brynnhildr, quietly.

“Eh, I was just going to walk on. I think we might be less than six hours out. Unless I miss my guess, I could be back by midnight.” – Marwaolaeth, looking up at the sky once more.

“Not with the wolves out there, surely? You wouldn’t walk on alone in the dark, even if you were on the road, no?” – Brynnhildr, surprised.

“They’re scary sure, but if you know how to fend them off, they’re not too bad. That said, there’s safety in numbers, and with all of us walking together, they’d be unlikely to make the attempt if we were wary.” – Marwolaeth shrugging.

“I do not think the little one could do it. He’s had a long day already, and must rest. I can ward the campsite against intruders though, and make it safer to stay here.” – Brynnhildr, fishing around in her pack and withdrawing a long length of slender grey rope. 

“Okay then, it would probably be safer to do as much.” – Marwolaeth, shrugging and placing her pack on the ground at the base of a tree.

As Shadow tends to the fire and builds it once more, Brynnhildr takes the rope and lays it out in a circle around their campsite. She then sits in the centre, next to the fire, and starts to chant softly under her breath. The rope around the campsite briefly glows soft with a pale white light, then fades and returns to its normal appearance.

“There, it is done. Try not to touch it if you can. Hopefully it will ensnare anything which seeks to cross it. Should make it a little safer.” – Brynnhildr, dusting her hands off and standing. She walks to her bedroll and gently shifts Venn enough to be able to lie down herself.

 “I won’t take any chances.” – Marwolaeth, swiftly climbing into a tree within the bounds of Brynnhildr’s circle. She huddles up in her cloak in a high branch. She gives a loud whistle, and moments later, a small black, feathered shape alights on the branch next to her.

“Good night, little reaper.” – Shadow calls up to the shape of Marwolaeth. There is no response, but, unbeknownst to him, in the darkness beyond his vision, his statement elicits a slight, genuine smile.

* * *

The night passes uneventfully and dawn breaks over the forest. The little clearing campsite was undisturbed during the night, and when Marwolaeth awakens, somewhat stiff and sore from the night up in the branches of the tree, she looks down to see that both Brynn and Shadow are stirring below. The black-clad man stokes the fire back to life, beating away the dawn chill. All through the woods lies a thick, heavy fog, giving the forest an ethereal feel.

The Woodsman swiftly descends, and shares some mushrooms she foraged from the forest the day previous with the others, cooking both the mushrooms and some preserved meat over the fire to make a simple, but hearty, breakfast. In the pale light, she can see the wounds both Brynnhildr and Shadow sustained recently, particularly the heavy bloodstains soaked into the arm of Brynn’s coat, and she makes a mental note of them.

After breakfast, as Brynn and Shadow begin to pack up the camp to move on for the day, Marwolaeth carefully approaches the tall woman.

“Would you like me to have a look at that arm there? I noticed it briefly last night, but didn’t think anything of it. This morning though, I can see it better, and I’m worried it might get infected.” – Marwolaeth, holding out her hand expectantly.

“Ah, no, thank you, that’s okay. I’ll see to it myself. Perhaps if you had some bandages or salve or something, I’d be grateful.” – Brynnhildr, shaking her head. Huddled on the ground beside her, Venn glares up at Marwolaeth from around Brynn’s leg.

“I’m afraid I don’t have too much on me here, but there will be plenty of supplies back at the Emporium.” – Marwolaeth, a little confused, but unwilling to push the matter.

“The Emporium?” – Brynn, curious.

“Yes, our apothecary in town. I’m sure I mentioned it last night.” – Marwolaeth, a very slight edge to her voice.

“It had been a long day, and a trying night. Forgive me if I did not pick up on it, I was likely distracted.” – Brynn, frowning, taking a little offence at the herbalist’s tone.

“I heard it!” – Shadow, interjecting from the other side of the campsite, standing there with his belongings packed and an unusual black, tasselled cloak around his shoulders.

“It’s quite alright. I’m not usually the one talking with people, I do the cleaning and the stitching and then send them on their way. Caitrin does most of the talking. I meant no offence.” – Marwolaeth, her tone a little softer, but her expression remains unchanged.

“I am sorry, it seems I’m holding everyone up. Come on Venn, up you get, time to move.” – Brynn, gathering the last of her things and slinging her pack over her shoulder with a wince of pain which she does her best to hide.

“Good, if that’s everything, let’s go.” – Shadow, taking the lead out of the woods.

* * *

The morning passes uneventfully, and when Shadow’s pace in the lead lessens a little, the hastily bandaged cut on his leg troubling him, Marwolaeth overtakes him, driven by a desire to get home as swiftly as possible.  She drives them onwards steadily, not deigning to make small-talk with either of her erstwhile companions, and, five hours after setting out from their woodland campsite, the three companions and a young mammoth enter the small, walled settlement of Tamrend.

Even now, at this relatively early hour, still a couple of hours before noon, the village is busy, and the modest tavern looks to be full to capacity. There is a low hum of music emanating from within, and the sounds of conversation of clattering of food and drink being served.

An older, dark-haired, olive-skinned man approaches the companions, his eyes on Brynnhildr. Neither Shadow, nor Marwolaeth particularly stand out in a crowd, but Brynn towers almost a full twelve inches above most in the village, and her long ash-blonde hair catches the bright late-morning light, as do her pale, well-cut clothes. The dog-sized, shaggy brown mammoth calf beside her also draws some stares. Venn’s trunk sneaks into Brynn’s hand as he huddles against her side, seeking comfort in the cacophonous village.

“Another newcomer! What a week this is proving to be. Welcome to our humble village.” – The old man, friendly, offering a hand to Brynnhildr to shake. The tall woman does so, with a wary expression on her face.

“Other newcomers? From the north too?” – Shadow, interjecting himself into the conversation.

“Indeed, yes, there’s been a few in recent days. Midlanders, a Leathe, even a Feartarbh, all heading to Stonebridge. We had a caravan from the south move through as well a few days ago. They’ll be back after the Chéserquine apparently.” – The old man, nodding his head.

“The what, I’m sorry?” – Shadow, a curious expression on his face.

“The Chéserquine. You haven’t heard of it? You’d best be well acquainted with it lad, especially in these parts. Any night now, the fey court will ride through these lands and steal away any in their path. You make sure you’re safe inside when night falls. I hope you weren’t planning on staying here for the night either, the tavern’s all full-” – The old man, warming to his theme.

“That’s okay, they won’t be needing it, they’ll be staying in my apothecary in the town. Now we must be off, there really is no time for idle chatter.” – Marwolaeth, interrupting the old man.

“Mistress Or’Saer, I didn’t see you there. Please pass on my best wishes to your sister and let her know that Maisie has recovered fully. How lucky you are to have such a friend in town, and a place to stay as well. Take care friends, and don’t go out after dark!” – The old man, smiling at Marwolaeth and turning back to Brynn and Shadow.

Driven by Marwolaeth’s uncompromising pace, the companions venture out from Tamrend, through the open stretches of farmland, vineyards and orchards which lie on the northern edges of the town. There is a fair bit of activity out in the fields, and soon enough, the bustling community of Stonebridge is open before them. They note the damage to the northern curtain wall, evidence of some kind of strife in the not-too-distant past.

“What happened there?” – Shadow, calling to Marwolaeth and indicating the damaged wall.

“Border skirmish, maybe three years back. They managed to bring part of the wall down, and caused some damage throughout the northern districts, but they were thrown back swiftly. That said, many of the northern districts are abandoned now, and cordoned off from the rest of the town.” – Marwolaeth, briefly as they approach the gates.

Upon approaching the well-fortified and guarded northern gate, the sergeant of the guard, a tall and slender dark-furred Feartarbh nods at Marwolaeth, and with that the three companions, Venn in tow, pass through the port without challenge.

“Good to see you Miss Or’Saer, we were worried when you did not return last night. I’ll let Adelle know you’re back when I see her next.” – The sergeant of the guard. Marwolaethe responds with a friendly wave, but otherwise continues to stride at a gruelling pace. 

Accustomed as he is to cities, Shadow takes in the sights as he follows Marwolaeth through the cobblestone streets. The northern parts of town definitely seem to be less affluent, no doubt, the buildings squat and largely wooden, though a few are supported with stone pillars, reinforcing the corners, the rooves usually thatched. The sounds of industry can be heard coming from the riverbank, the clang of metal on anvil, roaring fire, the rush of water powering waterwheels and the raised voices of people plying their wares. Columns of smoke rise into the late-morning sky, evidence of the forgefires which provide so much of Stonebridge’s material wealth.

Crossing the Adhainn River is done via one of three bridges which span the swiftly flowing water. The central bridge, the Main Thoroughfare as Marwolaeth calls it, is a prodigious thing, perhaps a hundred yards wide, carved from hard, grey stone. Crossing over, the difference between the structures and dwellings on either side of the river is stark. Where the buildings on the northern bank are squat and wooden, many of those on the southern bank are grey stone two or even three storeys high. The rooves too are different, not thatched, but rather shingled with slate-grey tiles. The streets, still cobblestone, in some places are lined with small trees which grow in tiny gardens cut out of the surrounding stone. Despite the greenery, Shadow and Brynnhildr’s first impressions of the town are of its colourlessness.

Situated on a slight rise on the southern edge of the town, a tall keep, itself constructed of smooth grey stone, rises above Stonebridge, watching over it. It would certainly be quite a defensible position, Shadow thinks to himself, and he knows that this keep must be the seat of Marquess Rodelle. 

The companions continue onwards towards the keep, and then turn down an alley and come to a fairly large, two-storey, eccentric-looking dwelling, a composite structure of grey stone and dark-stained wood. Unusually for Stonebridge, this place has an extensive garden out the front, hemmed in by stone and wooden barricades, the greenery tracing up and around the house itself, even hanging out windows on the second floor and off the edge of the roof.

A wooden sign hanging over the black-painted wooden door gently sways in the breeze.

The Or’Saer Emporium

It is a dark, messy place, seemingly overgrown and a little foreboding. There is no sign of light or life from the windows, and Marwolaeth takes a small ring of steel keys from her belt and fiddles with the lock for a moment. The door swings open, and Marwolaeth enters the building, propping the front door open. Shadow and Brynn follow, the tall woman having to duck slightly to fit through the low doorway, but once inside she is surprised by how spacious it is, and how tall the ceilings are.

“Caitrin, I’m home! We have guests!” – Marwolaeth, calling up the stairs as she moves to the counter at the side of the room and strikes two oil lanterns into life.

One lantern she leaves upon the counter-top to provide a little more illumination to the storefront, while the other she takes with her into a back-room of sorts. While she’s gone, Shadow, Brynn and Venn take the opportunity to wander around her store and marvel at the collection of goods stocked there. Brynnhildr notices several concoctions which purport to be arcane or otherwise aethyric in nature, and she feels a little doubt as such. These things are unlikely to be properly magical, however the effects would possibly seem as such to the uninitiated, and she knows there are many out there possessed of more coin than knowledge of such things. 

Marwolaeth places the lantern upon a central table in the backroom, and takes off her cloak and coat, hanging them from hooks upon the wall. She also removes her heavy leather gloves and places them on the table, then obtains another pair of almost identical gloves from a drawer and puts them on. She takes a few moments to collect various supplies, salves, fresh bandages, a needle and thread and leaves them on the table beside the lantern.

“Brynnhildr, when you’re ready, there’s equipment here to see to your wounds.” – Marwolaeth, calling out, her tone businesslike.

The apothecary removes her gloves once more, puts them back in the drawer, and waits in the doorway as Brynn approaches, trailed by Venn.

“The salve has a powerful numbing agent, so be sparing with it. A little goes a long way. The bandages are just normal, but they don’t deal well with moisture, so do your best to make sure they don’t get wet. I’ll be outside if you need help.” – Marwolaeth, slightly awkwardly. Brynn nods, and the apothecary leaves, and closes the door behind her.

Alone, save for Venn, Brynnhildr removes her coat and starts to properly inspect the damage to her arm…

* * *

Closing the door behind her, Marwolaeth comes face to face with Shadow. Her eyes flick briefly downwards, and she takes in the wound to his leg.

“Hmm, maybe you should get that looked at too. You have no problem with someone seeing to it?” – Marwolaeth, a little preoccupied, already looking in her stocks behind the counter for further medicaments.

“I’d appreciate it.” – Shadow, nodding his thanks. He takes a seat against the wall, removing a splinted greave and rolling the right leg of his trousers up, revealing the dried blood and hastily bandaged gash in his lower leg.

Marwolaeth removes the bandages and, with a damp cloth, dipped in some kind of anti-septic solution, expertly wipes away the blood and cleans the wound. She is swift and efficient, and swiftly has the flesh cleaned and the wound sewn up with thin, silver thread. She applies a light coating of a grey-green salve and wraps a clean bandage around the injury. Shadow, for his part, barely even flinches as the sharp needle passes through the flesh.

As she works, she can’t help but notice the three small ‘X’ marks, raised scars, the memory of deep cuts carved down the back of Shadow’s calf, deliberately made. The apothecary takes them in, taking a mental note, but does not mention them.

“Might be best to keep the trouser leg rolled up for a few hours, just to let it settle. Maybe stay off it for a little too, just let it heal a bit.” – Marwolaeth, tying off the bandage.

“So I’ll need someone to carry me.” – Shadow, nodding sagely.

“No, no, no, you can still walk, just not with all that sass like you normally do.” – Marwolaeth, putting her hands up.

“Not my normal strut then. I see.” – Shadow, with just the hint of a sardonic smile and his usual humour.

“I do not understand you.” – Marwolaeth, packing up her equipment and shaking her head.

“Seriously though, thank you for your help. You were very gentle.” – Shadow, his eyes glinting a little with amusement, but his tone and expression otherwise sincere.

“No, that’s, well, quite alright. I’ll be -” – Marwolaeth, her pale skin flushing slightly. She is interrupted by a slight ringing, almost like a small bell from the doorway of the apothecary.

A tall Southron with wavy black hair, his skin heavily tanned, enters the building, ducking slightly to get through the door. While tall, he is light and lean, athletically built, and not unattractive with dark eyes, a neat beard and a slightly hooked nose. His clothing is well-tailored, dark browns and greys, light cottons and leathers under a thick, dark grey woollen cloak.

“You must be Marwolaeth Or’Saer, is that right?” – The newcomer, his eyes landing immediately upon the small woman behind the counter.

“That’s right, how can we help you?” – Marwolaeth, her entire demeanour immediately business-like.

“It is a delicate matter, I’m afraid. To put it bluntly, I require some acid, just a few ounces worth, strong enough to devour flesh.” – The newcomer, walking to the counter, his voice lowered, almost conspiratorially.

Shadow, seated behind the counter and obscured somewhat by both the counter and the uncertain firelight, lets out a snort of amusement.

“Five sulvers.” – Marwolaeth, gently placing a glass vial upon the counter. 

The newcomer looks like he is about to object when Brynnhildr emerges from the backroom.

“Marwolaeth, ah, selling more acid of the finest quality I see. Quite the effect you know, I used some just the other night and, well, it did the job very nicely. Little to no residue, only the faintest scent, well and truly worth the cost.” – Brynnhildr, who continues into quite the impressive spiel on the qualities of Marwolaeth’s acid, all the while her brilliant eyes remain locked on the prospective buyer, ensuring he is well aware that she could recall his face with vivid detail.

The effect is a little unnerving, as is the way in which Marwolaeth’s gaze remains fixed as well, her expression expectant and unwavering.

The newcomer thinks better of it, and hands over the silver coins.

“Very well, five sulvers then, on the recommendation of…?” – The newcomer, gesturing to Brynn.

“Brynnhildr, from the north.” – Brynn, a little cold.

“Well then, I thank you for your assistance. Also, I would ensure that word of this does not spread.” – The newcomer, holding up a sixth sulver before placing it on the counter.

“Apothecary’s confidentiality clause. No word will get out.” – Marwolaeth, taking the sixth coin and pocketing it.

The man takes the vial and nods to the two women, secreting the acid under his cloak. He is about to turn to leave when his gaze falls on the figure of Shadow, still sitting behind the counter, appearing for all the world to be bored with the whole affair.

“My word… So it is… Olivar Flint, is that you?” – The Southron man, looking closer at the black-clad figure of Shadow.

There is a faint flicker of darkness around Shadow as he stands. For a brief second he is wreathed in shadow, but then it fades, and there he stands, still partially obscured by the darkness behind the counter. He looks vaguely disappointed for the barest instant.

“No, I am Shadow. I’m afraid you must be mistaken. Who are you then?” – Shadow, seemingly confused.

“I am Alred, but you are… Shadow? What’s this about? You, are Olivar Flint, I’m sure of it.” – The Southron, Alred. He too sounds a little confused.

“Who is Olivar Flint?” – Shadow, mockingly.

“You. I’ve seen your face before.” – Alred.

“Where?” – Shadow, genuinely curious.

“I am not sure if I should share it in the present company. Do you honestly not remember?” – Alred, quietly.

By way of response, Shadow crosses swiftly to the other side of the counter, a hand taking the collar of Alred’s shirt in a vice-like grip, and he pulls the taller man out the front door of the Emporium, Alred making no effort to fight against Shadow’s grasp. Marwolaeth and Brynnhildr watch from the Emporium as the two men disappear from sight into the stone streets.

* * *

Okay guys, if you’re playing in 7 Stones, and you’re not Pugsley, please don’t read the following spoiler. For all our other readers, please do, it’s cool stuff.

Once the other man leaves, Shadow spends a few moments standing in the alleyway, dark thoughts racing through his mind. Eventually he shakes his head, draws his tasselled cloak around his shoulders and begins to head back to the Or’Saer Emporium.

* * *

“So how long have you lived in Stonebridge?” – Brynn, attempting to engage with the smaller woman in a little idle chatter.

“Ah, three years, eight months and twelve days.” – Marwolaeth, busying herself behind the counter, secreting the silver she collected from the mysterious customer and pulling out display items.

“And is it a nice place to live?” – Brynn, quietly.

“How long is a piece of string? I suppose it is nice enough. Sufferable I guess. What about you? How long have you been travelling?” – Marwolaeth. It is painfully apparent that Marwolaeth is not particularly used to making small-talk, nor is she very adept at forming relationships with strangers. The last question she asks as she awkwardly turns back and looks over her shoulder at Brynn, with a slightly confused look upon her face.

“I’ve been on the road for about six months now.” – Brynnhildr, quietly bemused by the apothecary’s strange behaviour.

“I’d like to travel. One day, anyway.” – Marwolaeth, turning away and continuing to set up the store.

Thus dismissed, Brynnhildr finds Venn and sits down with him. She pulls out a large pinecone from a pouch at her belt and rolls it along the floor for Venn to fetch, the little mammoth happily trotting after it and picking it up daintily with his trunk before setting it down beside her.

Only a short time later, Shadow returns to the Emporium, the black-clad figure striding inside, his face clouded, and for just about the first time since meeting him, his good humour seems to have evaporated. He sets himself down heavily in a chair and takes a long draught from the flask he keeps at his belt. To Marwolaeth’s trained and experienced eye, there is no sign upon him of any untoward dealings in the alleyway, no new injuries or bloodstains.

“Can I trust you both down here for a little while? I have something I must attend to upstairs.” – Marwolaeth, calling to the other two.

“Of course, we’ll mind the store.” – Brynn, calling from her spot on the floor in the corner. For his part, Shadow just nods at the apothecary.

“Excellent, thank you.” – Marwolaeth, and the next thing Brynn and Shadow hear is the heavily booted footfalls of the apothecary tramping up the staircase.

* * *

Panting slightly, Marwolaeth sees the first door on the left is closed over but unlatched and she knocks on it gently. She hears a chesty cough from within.

“Marwolaeth, is that you?” – A gentle voice, a little weak and sharing the same lilting accent as Marwolaeth herself.

“Yes, Caitrin. Are you alright?” – Marwolaeth, a note of concern in her voice as she speaks to her sister.

“Not feeling all that well today I’m afraid.” – Caitrin, coughing as she finishes the sentence.

“Oh, no. Maybe you should come downstairs? I might be able to give you something for the cough?” – Marwolaeth, gently swinging the door open, revealing a simple, yet homely room.

Lying within a bed against the right wall is a small, diminutive figure. She is practically identical to Marwolaeth, save her black hair is a little longer. Well, she would be if it weren’t for her slightly sunken and dull eyes, her somewhat frail frame and her pale complexion, even more so than Marwolaeth herself. At the moment she lies in bed, a soft, forest-green blanket all the way up to her chin, obscuring all but her face.

“That should be okay. I already made myself a little something earlier in the morning. It isn’t the cough today so much as this terrible tightness in my chest. I just need a little rest and I’ll be strong as an oak.” – Caitrin, sitting up a little in the bed with a weak laugh.

Marwolaeth rushes to the bedside and holds the palm of her hand to her sister’s forehead. It is a little warm, and a little clammy, but not too bad. She has been far worse.

“I’m okay sister, I’m okay. It is good to see your face again. I was worried last night until you sent Aderyn with the message.” – Caitrin, taking her sister’s hand in a gentle grip and squeezing it.

“That’s good. I’ll get you some water and food. There’s some people downstairs, patients I guess, but not really. It’s okay, you don’t need to worry about them. Don’t forget to ring the bell if you do need anything.” – Marwolaeth, squeezing her sister’s hand in return before turning and retrieving the silver pitcher from Caitrin’s bedside table.

“Of course, of course. Food sounds lovely, thank you, and I can’t wait to meet your friends.” – Caitrin, with a small laugh.

Marwolaeth gives her a bit of a lop-sided smile herself as she leaves the room.

“I’m leaving the door open a crack. Come on down whenever you feel ready.” – Marwolaeth, over her shoulder.

* * *

With Marwolaeth upstairs, Shadow takes the opportunity to peruse the Emporium’s front stock. For the most part it is herbal remedies and cures, perfumes and other scents and purported hedge magic. He is largely unimpressed with most of it, seeing most of it as the purview of those with too much coin and too little sense.

“I wonder if there’s anything more interesting around here…” – Shadow, to himself, but loud enough for Brynn to hear.

“Is there anything in particular you might be looking for?” – Brynnhildr, tossing the pinecone in the air for Venn to catch as it falls.

“No, not really.” – Shadow, settling down in a seat with a bored sigh. He looks down at his leg, the wounded limb tightly bound with a fresh bandage. He grunts with a little approval at the way the salve has numbed the pain of the gash, and has to admit that the apothecary’s work is tidy, and that the remedies and salves the Emporium provides are of high quality after all.

A few minutes later, Marwolaeth has re-appeared from her sojourn upstairs, filling a silver pitcher from the clear water within a stone basin in the far corner of the store-front. She disappears upstairs once more and returns shortly after.

“Marwolaeth, a question. Do you have anything a little more dangerous on display?” – Shadow, raising a hand to get the woman’s attention.

“Likely not for you. Did you have anything specific in mind?” – Marwolaeth, dismissive.

“Well, let’s say poisons? You would be in that business, would you not?” – Shadow, a peculiar glint in his eye.

“Not too many, no, and not for you. Next question.” – Marwolaeth, not liking the way this conversation is headed.

“Just a little one. A little bit of poison. Like, one dose of poison.”- Shadow, the beginnings of a slight grin casting over his features.

“More Caitrin’s area of expertise than mine. I’m not particularly well-versed in poisons, but there may be something for you out the back.” – Marwolaeth, holding her hands up in mock surrender.

“Maybe some kind of sleeping draught. Or paralysis.” – Shadow, warming to his theme.

“Ah, sleeping draught. Or paralysis? What one would you like? Or perhaps you want sleeping and paralysis?” – Marwolaeth, as Shadow simply shrugs by way of response.

“That’s a thing?” – Shadow, genuinely curious.

“Perhaps. Two separate concoctions mixed together. One could adjust the dosages and work from there. It could be done.” – Marwolaeth, herself starting to warm to the idea.

Not well-versed in poisons indeed.

“The way you’re talking suggests that you have both of those concoctions on hand already.” – Shadow, questioning. His face appears thoughtful, but his eyes betray a sense of mirth.

“Well, we do have a sedative we use on rowdy patients, or those so badly injured they need some kind of assistance to rest and escape the pain. I do not think it is as effective as you’re hoping though. It simply induces drowsiness, it does not instantly knock the patient out.” – Marwolaeth, shaking her head ruefully.

“And the paralysis?” – Shadow, leaning forward in his seat.

“I think I remember Caitrin making something a little time ago. It may still be in the back. Let me check.” – Marwolaeth, immediately turning on her heel and striding into the backroom.

* * *

The apothecary searches amongst the stock for a short while before finding a small vial filled with a viscous pale green liquid. Attached to the glass is a short note written on slightly yellowed parchment, the text written in black ink in Caitrin’s spidery hand.

Draught of Living Death : )
Causes intense paralysis,
Effective for short period,
Possible side effects,
Don’t use on self.

“Gods, I don’t know how smart he is. This could go very poorly.” – Marwolaeth, thinking it over for a moment. With a shrug, she takes the vial and walks back out to the storefront.

* * *

“Okay, here it is. The Draught of Living Death, as crafted by my sister.” – Marwolaeth, placing the small vial down upon the front counter with a flourish.

“I have a feeling I will be making this up to you one day.” – Shadow, having left his seat to stand by the counter. He reaches a gloved hand out for the slender glass vial.

“Uh-uh, I don’t think so. You’ll be paying me if you want it. Twelve sulvers.” – Marwolaeth, her hand snatching the vial back of the counter like lightning. She reaches her other hand out, palm upwards.

“I don’t have that much on me I’m afraid. Put it aside for me, I’ll collect it when I have a little more coin.” – Shadow, a little crestfallen.

“How much would you be willing to part with for it?” – Marwolaeth, countering.

“Twelve coppers?” – Shadow, with a slight laugh. The apothecary’s face is stony and unmoving, and she seems entirely impervious to the man’s attempt at levity.

“No, that’s not nearly enough. I will hold onto it for you then.” – Marwolaeth, turning back to the backroom to secret it away in there.

“Okay, but just think if there’s a time in the future, and we’re in trouble and I could save your life if I had it, but you didn’t give it to me…” – Shadow, grinning at the retreating form of the apothecary. She doesn’t deign to respond.

“You mentioned staying here to the man in Tamrend?” – Brynnhildr, calling to Marwolaeth.

“Ah yes, we only have one spare room, but I spend most of my nights down here anyway, so one of you can take my room. I will show you upstairs if you like?” – Marwolaeth, returning from the backroom and gesturing to the staircase.

* * *

As the three enter the upstairs hallway, they hear persistent coughing coming from the first room on the left, the one with the door slightly ajar. Marwolaeth immediately enters the room.

“Caitrin, please let me look you over. That cough isn’t natural.” – Marwolaeth, concerned.

“I’m okay, see?” – Caitrin, pouring herself a drink from the silver pitcher with a weak smile.

“Oh, look, she’s drinking water, the magical elixir of life!” – Marwolaeth, sarcastically, throwing up her hands in disbelief.

Caitrin simply flips her the bird and takes a long draught with a smile, finishing the water and laughing a little at her sister.

“If you weren’t just like me I’d smack you in your silly little mouth.” – Marwolaeth, with mock anger.

“No, Venn, no!” – Brynn, desperately trying, and failing, to prevent the little mammoth from sidling into the room, intrigued by the raised voices.

“Oh, is that a… That’s a weird looking dog.” – Caitrin, looking at Venn with a smile.

“It’s a mammoth. So sorry to intrude, I couldn’t stop him.” – Brynn, from the doorway, watching on helplessly as the little mammoth trots on over to the bedside before sitting there expectantly waiting for the unwell woman to begin petting him. He lets out a small trumpet of contentment as she does so.

“No trouble at all. You must be Marwolaeth’s friends. It’s a pleasure to meet you. I am Caitrin.” – Caitrin, sitting up in bed, resting her back against the headboard. She smiles at them both, and when she does so, the weakness of her form and the dullness of her eyes recede, and her resemblance to Marwolaeth is stark.

“I am Brynn, and likewise.” – Brynnhildr, inclining her head respectfully.

“Shadow.” – The black-clad man, crossing the room swiftly and offering his right hand to the woman. She takes it, and they shake. He notes the frailty of her grip, and how pale her skin is, almost translucent.

“Neither of you are sick are you?” – Marwolaeth, staring intently at Shadow’s hand, measuring the strength of his grip in case he hurts Caitrin inadvertently. Both Brynnhildr and Shadow shake their heads, and she relaxes. Slightly.

“What brings you both to Stonebridge? Are you in the area for long?” – Caitrin, smiling pleasantly.

“Unsure at this stage. Trying to find my way I guess.” – Brynnhildr, quietly from the doorway to the room, still a little uncomfortable at the idea of brazenly walking straight in like Shadow. Caitrin nods by way of response.

“Here on business. Hard to say how long I will be here.” – Shadow, thoughtful.

“What do you do for work?” – Caitrin, curious.

“Cobbler.” – Shadow, coughing awkwardly into the back of his hand.

The way Pugsley actually said it on the night, it honestly sounded like he might have said, “Killer for hire.” Now I’m not sure if it was intentional, but even on recording it was hard to tell.

“Cobbler you say? Is there much work in town at the moment for you?” – Caitrin, honestly curious as to why a cobbler would travel for work.

“There’s always someone looking for new shoes.” – Shadow, non-committal.

“Well then, next time I am in need, I will get in touch with you.” – Caitrin, smiling at the man.

“This one here needs new boots actually.” – Shadow, gesturing to Marwolaeth. She looks down at her footwear, taking in the battered heavy leather, stained and weathered after years of constant use.

“They’re fine, they’re… No, actually, I think you might be right.” – Marwolaeth, resignedly.

“Give me two days and I’ll draw up an order for you. Eight to ten sulvers I reckon should cover it. You’ll never find better.” – Shadow, studying the apothecary’s boots intently, his keen eyes taking in every detail.

She shrugs and nods in agreement.

“I’d offer to make some for you too, but I don’t know if I can go up to size twenty-six.” – Shadow, a glint of amusement in his eyes.

“Her feet would be pretty big yeah? She’s like seven foot tall.” – Pugsley, laughing.
“Definitely, but she’s a bit self-conscious about her appearance.” – Ladyhawk.
“More concerning is that Shadow has standardised shoe-sizes, but no matter.”

“Come on Venn.” – Brynnhildr, with a sharp intake of breath. She looks hurt by the comment, and turns and leaves, the little shaggy mammoth following her out into the hallway with a longing look at Caitrin, who waves at the little creature as he leaves.

“I’m sorry, I’ll make it up to you. New boots, free of charge!” – Shadow, immediately regretful of the jibe.

“I don’t need new boots, especially not from you.” – Brynnhildr, hissing at the man as she leaves.

“Brynnhildr, wait!” – Marwolaeth, pushing past Shadow and catching Brynnhildr in the hallway. The apothecary opens the door opposite Caitrin’s and reveals a small room.

It is small, significantly smaller than Caitrin’s, with a small bed in the centre of the room with a locked chest at the foot of it. Other than those two pieces of furniture, the room is unadorned. The room is clean, and the bed is made and in good condition, if very small, but it still projects a sad picture. Unlike Caitrin’s room, there is no window.

“Never mind. Shadow, this is your room.” – Marwolaeth, looking Brynnhildr up and down, swiftly deciding that the northern woman’s large frame would not be comfortable on Marwolaeth’s small bed.

“Oh this is great.” – Shadow. He doesn’t even seem to be lying as he takes in the room.

“Is that sarcasm?” – Marwolaeth, eyes narrowing.

“No, not at all. I won’t have to bunk it with anyone, will I?” – Shadow, putting his pack down on the floor and draping his cloak over it.

“No, just, keep the sheets clean, yes?” – Marwolaeth, rolling her eyes.

She leads Brynn to the other door in the hallway, and opens it, revealing a much larger room, with a significantly larger bed. The room is similarly tidy, but a little better furnished, with a wide dresser against the left wall and a single window, high on the opposite wall, letting in a little light.

“Here, the guest-room. I hope it will be to your liking.” – Marwolaeth, a little awkwardly.

“It is great, thank you for your hospitality. With that said, if you wish to use the room, Venn and I could seek shelter elsewhere, or camp outside or something?” – Brynnhildr, genuine in her appreciation.

“No, you can’t do that. The Chéserquine is coming, either tonight or tomorrow. You must be inside when it does.” – Marwolaeth, insistent.

“The man in Tamrend mentioned it yes. What is it?” – Brynnhildr, curious.

“There’s an astrological event which stirs up the local unseelie sidhe court. It has something to do with the stars I’ve heard, but it happens like clockwork every few years. It is very dangerous if you’re outside, but if you’re inside, you’re usually safe enough.” – Marwolaeth, dismissively.

While the two women talk, Venn trots over to the side of the bed and puts one forelimb upon the edge before looking back at the two of them with a questioning look in his eye. As they watch, he slowly clambers up onto the bed, and before long is prancing happily back and forth along the length of the bed, trumpeting with joy.

* * *

Shadow, having divested his equipment in Marwolaeth’s room, changes his shirt to a non-descript one of wine-colour and moves to leave the Emporium, looking for all the world like a middle-class merchant out for a stroll. About to leave, he is startled by a loud voice, alike to Marwolaeth’s as he approaches the threshold.

“Where are you going?” – The disembodied voice, startling Shadow as he prepares to leave. He looks around, but can see no sign of Marwolaeth, and after a moment, realises he can still hear her speaking with Brynnhildr upstairs.

“Where are you going?” – The voice again, insistent. This time, Shadow sees the offender, a pitch-black raven sitting in a nest of sorts constructed upon a windowsill, tucked away in overgrown greenery.

“Where are you going?” – The raven asks again, it’s beady black eyes inspecting the man as it cocks its head to one side.

“I thought you had a mammoth…” – Shadow, under his breath with a small grin. He leaves the Emporium, striding out into the midday sun.

“Where are you going?” – The raven calls after him once more.

And that’s where we left it.

The Wrap-Up:
Well then, I apologise for how long it took to complete this write-up but there was just so much detail to cover. First, I must thank the three players for their efforts in this one, LaPD in particular, who had to wait a fair while to introduce her character into the game.

That said, it was fantastic to see the players slowly find their characters as the session went on, and by the end it certainly felt as if everyone had a fair grasp of what they wanted to be and do.

So good in fact, that they requested a second prologue session the following weekend, to which I obliged. I originally intended to post both sessions as one write-up, but the sheer size of this particular piece was something I did not anticipate, and as such, I discarded that plan pretty quickly.

At any rate, stay tuned. We’ll have the third prologue piece posted soon hopefully, introducing our final three players and characters.

Cheers, and thank you for reading.