Author Topic: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log  (Read 12251 times)


  • Megas Domestikos
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Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« 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 - Stonebridge, a small, busy town situated upon the Adhainn River on the northern marches of Arhaut is about to welcome some new residents. Some come with good intent, others ill, but all have a story of their own to be told.
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…
Session 0.4: The Watcher, the Potion-Seller and the Ice-Maiden
In which Shadow checks out the keep of Stonebridge, Marwolaeth receives some mail and Brynhildr makes some friends in the Pallid Mare Inn...
Session 0.5: The Good Brother
In which we are introduced to Charlie and receive some insight into a slice of his life before it is all turned upside down...

Arc 1: Another New Beginning - When Charlemagne Gwyn Valdemar's life is turned upside down, he turns to a misfit band of new friends for assistance. Together, they venture into the haunted hills of the Viltshaws to take vengeance upon the Hellequin, though what they find there is not at all what was expected.
Session 1.1: A Dark Night
In which some of the companions meet each other in the Pallid Mare, Marwolaeth ventures into a burning building and the Chéserquine comes and goes…
Session 1.2: The Day After
In which the companions come to terms with the events of the previous night, the investigation begins and more introductions are made...
Session 1.3: The Red Star Rides:
Session 1.4:
Session 1.5:
Session 1.6:
Session 1.7:
Session 1.8:
Session 1.9: The Festivale:

Arc 2: The Lives of Those Who Remain - While Stonebridge as a whole returns to some semblance of normality, for the companions it is difficult to re-adjust. Nearly three years pass as life goes on, until, as chance would have it, Stonebridge is thrown into turmoil once more.
Session 2.1: In The Ashes of Their Lives:
Session 2.2: The Northern Conflict:
Session 2.3: Glitters of Gold:
Session 2.4: Simple But Effective (Part 1):
Session 2.5: Simple But Effective (Part 2):
Session 2.6: Riding Potential:
Session 2.7: New Knowledge and a S***-Tonne of Mushrooms:
Interludes: Vignettes From Stonebridge:
Session 2.7: In Sickness and in Health:
Session 2.8: Blood and Shadow:

Arc 3: The Pale Shadow Rises - With the death of the ruling Marquess, Stonebridge is left divided and weak, easy pickings for the ambitious, the fanatical and the unscrupulous. As great forces begin to move around them, the companions must come to grips with dangers from both within and without.
Session 3.1: Rioting in the Streets:
Session 3.2a: A Matter of Strays:
Session 3.2: Welcome to the Consequences:

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.

We're on Facebook too. Give us a cheeky follow for updates if you feel so inclined:
« Last Edit: April 11, 2024, 06:07:24 AM by Phoenixguard09 »
The Norbayne Campaign Instagram page. Give us a cheeky follow if you like. :)
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  • Megas Domestikos
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #1 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. It ended up taking over six months, but I eventually did it. All stat-lines are available and up to date. :P

My lovely partner in crime and now officially wife, 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 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. LaPD ran the Libra’s Will and Arcana campaigns 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 such a 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. 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 Davokrvni in Forgotten Glories, but he has also tried his hand at a primary caster with Sol Torr'El in God King. 
Spoiler: SgtPugsley (click to show/hide)

EDIT* Due to the massive hiatus enforced by the CoVid-19 pandemic which swept the globe, we did not play 7 Stones beyond session 1.1 in 2020. While our location was not hit particularly hard by the virus, we have multiple players in our group who are at significant risk if they catch it, and the rest of the group, including myself, worked high-risk jobs (I was literally fixing ambulances). In this timeframe, we added a new player to our group, Juicy. Juicy is LD's partner and has swiftly proven to be a fantastic player to have at the table after joining our other game which we began to run in the latter half of the year. Juicy should hopefully be joining the group in Session 1.2. His only previous experience in Norbayne has been with the Roanfaille Assassin, Evaan Baginski in God King.
Spoiler: Sheriff_Juicy (click to show/hide)
« Last Edit: February 02, 2024, 02:05:18 PM by Phoenixguard09 »
The Norbayne Campaign Instagram page. Give us a cheeky follow if you like. :)
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #2 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 fae lord will ride out from the Viltshaws, the 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 Stonebridge, 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 he knows where he is going, or perhaps, he knows where he is being taken.

He knows, for a fact, he has never been in Stonebridge before, never even ventured anywhere near this far south before. Yet despite this, 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 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, 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 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,

« Last Edit: February 02, 2024, 02:06:51 PM by Phoenixguard09 »
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #3 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 southern 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 CE, the beginning of the tenth day of the Stars of the Wolf, 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 as far as he remembers, and is not entirely sure of what he can expect, though the silence unnerves him slightly.

He does know however, 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 the same panicked trumpet.

The traveller knows 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 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 the 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.

“Brynhildr. 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 all 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 Brynhildr 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 Bryn 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.” – Brynhildr, 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.” – Bryn, 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.” – Bryn, simply.

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

“Where are you headed?” – Brynhildr.

“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 Brynhildr’s arm.

“You know, I’d almost forgotten about it.” – Bryn, 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.” – Bryn, 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 Bryn as she and Venn start to traipse along behind him.

“We’ll manage. Do not slow on our account.” – Bryn, 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 Bryn, 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?” – Brynhildr.

“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, Brynhildr and Shadow stretch out on their respective bedrolls, each gnawing on a piece of hard biscuit which Bryn 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 Bryn’s direction.

“I’m sorry?” – Bryn, 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 Bryn 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. Brynhildr 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!” – Brynhildr, 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, 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, Bryn 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.” – Brynhildr 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.” – Bryn, 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 Bryn’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. Brynhildr 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.

Bryn 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 Bryn 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 Bryn 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.” – Brynhildr, 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.” – Brynhildr, turning slightly to indicate the shape of Venn, who has curled up on Bryn’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.” – Brynhildr, 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 Brynhildr.” – Brynhildr, 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.” – Bryn, 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 Brynhildr, her face expressionless and her tone unimpressed.

“We did only meet this morning, but yes. Yes he is.” – Bryn, 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.” – Brynhildr, 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?” – Brynhildr, 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.” – Brynhildr, 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, Brynhildr 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.” – Brynhildr, 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 Brynhildr’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 both Bryn 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 Brynhildr and Shadow sustained recently, particularly the heavy bloodstains soaked into the arm of Bryn’s coat, and she makes a mental note of them.

After breakfast, as Bryn 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.” – Brynhildr, shaking her head. Huddled on the ground beside her, Venn glares up at Marwolaeth from around Bryn’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?” – Bryn, 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.” – Bryn, 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.” – Bryn, 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 Brynhildr. Neither Shadow, nor Marwolaeth particularly stand out in a crowd, but Bryn 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 Bryn’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 Brynhildr 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 fae 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 Bryn 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 so 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 Brynhildr’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 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 Bryn 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, Bryn and Venn take the opportunity to wander around her store and marvel at the collection of goods stocked there. Brynhildr 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.

“Brynhildr, 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 Bryn 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. Bryn nods, and the apothecary leaves, and closes the door behind her.

Alone, save for Venn, Brynhildr 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 Brynhildr 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.” – Brynhildr, 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 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 Bryn.

“Brynhildr, from the north.” – Bryn, 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 Brynhildr 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?” – Bryn, 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?” – Bryn, 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 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 Bryn, with a slightly confused look upon her face.

“I’ve been on the road for about six months now.” – Brynhildr, 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, Brynhildr 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.” – Bryn, 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 Bryn 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 Bryn to hear.

“Is there anything in particular you might be looking for?” – Brynhildr, 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 the apothecary’s work is tidy, and 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 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?” – Brynhildr, 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!” – Bryn, 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.” – Bryn, 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 Bryn, and likewise.” – Brynhildr, 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 Brynhildr 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.” – Brynhildr, 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.” – Brynhildr, 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.” – Brynhildr, hissing at the man as she leaves.

“Brynhildr, wait!” – Marwolaeth, pushing past Shadow and catching Brynhildr 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 Brynhildr up and down, swiftly deciding 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 Bryn 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?” – Brynhildr, 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?” – Brynhildr, 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 Brynhildr 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, 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.

« Last Edit: February 02, 2024, 02:10:38 PM by Phoenixguard09 »
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #4 on: September 17, 2020, 03:21:00 AM »
Session 0.3: The Minstrel, the Hunter and the Smith

We're setting sail tonight,
Who knows where we're going,
But I will take the chance,
Just take my hand and fly,
Eyes on the skies ahead now,
And never look down,
I'm feeling brave here,
I see what is coming,
And it's been worth the ride, 
Free of our fears,
The end is in sight,
Who's going to stop me now?

- The Song of the Aviator, by Syntherion Voiculescu.

Welcome to the third session of Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow, and what was intended to be the final prologue session we played. Our players for this session are Sins of Dusk, Yohan Yorrvaskr and Redshirt No.482.

“Well that’s not ominous.” – Redshirt.
“No, there’s no foreshadowing in the campaign title at all. Why would there be?” – Sins.

A small group of travellers, three strong, make their way along the coastal roadway in the midday sun. Along their way, they pass farmers working their fields or driving livestock to market, merchants on wagons travelling to their next destination and various other travellers on their business. A stiff breeze blows in from the west, bringing with it the scent of salt and the raucous cries of seabirds. They make for Stonebridge, a large town which traverses the Adhainn River.

The foremost of their number is a tall Jeleni, very young, clean-limbed and dressed in a garish collection of motley, all bright colours and excited glances all around. He carries a wooden instrument slung over his back, a board with a multitude of strings attached to it, and a bright red silk sash around his waist, tied like a belt. The minstrel remembers telling his companions of this place, this Stonebridge. He just cannot wait to get there, and to see the festival he had heard tales of.

“Basically, I don’t blend in anywhere, save maybe within a paint factory explosion.” – Sins.

A few paces behind, walks a stout, heavy-set Dwergar, a mountain dwarf. He is old, his skin weathered and beaten from many hard years of life, his hair and beard salt-and-pepper grey, bound in bronze clasps. He is clearly proud of his well-maintained, long, sweeping beard. He wears an off-white padded gambeson under the straps of a heavy leather pack on his back, the pack nearly as large as he is, but he bears the burden easily. Lashed to the pack is a curious steel tube, with an intricate mechanism of some kind attached to one end of it. It looks like a weapon of some kind, but perhaps unfinished. At his side, thrust through a thick belt is a large smithing hammer, clearly modified. His eyes are a cloudy white, with hardly any definition between pupil, iris and sclera. He grumbles under his breath as he walks, following the almost prancing figure of the young Jeleni before him. 

A few paces further behind, keen, cat-like eyes always wary, strides a black-haired female Danann, somewhat short by the standards of her kind and deceptively powerful for her build. She wears a long brown leather riding coat over dark green linen clothing. At her side, under the coat, she carries a hatchet, and at her back a powerful longbow and a quiver of arrows.

“Generic elf ranger, with a coat.” – Redshirt.
“Legolas in the Old West?” – Sins.

“So what’s the thing about to hit this town again Synth?” – The Danann, calling ahead to the young Jeleni.

“It’s called the Chéserquine. When the stars align in the heavens above-“ – The Jeleni, Syntherion, begins to explain before he is interrupted by the oldest member of their company.

“Without all the flowery language lad.” – The dwarf, grumbling.

“There’s a fae court in the haunted woods north of the town that goes a-raiding one night every few years.” – Syntherion, shrugging. The taciturn attitude of his companions troubles him extraordinarily little as a matter of course.

* * *

By mid-afternoon, the three companions finally come within sight of the sprawling town of Stonebridge. The first thing which draws their eyes is the towering stone keep overlooking the settlement, an imposing fortification which commands the countryside.

“Ah yes, the keep.” – The dwarf, Ignus, squinting up at the powerful structure as they approach. He appears almost lost in thought as he does so.

“Has it changed much?” – Syntherion, his cheerful voice piercing the old dwarf’s musings.

“A little, I think. It was many years ago, I do not quite remember.” – Ignus, quietly.

It has been many years, nearly forty years in fact, since Ignus last laid eyes upon the town of Stonebridge. When last he was here, it was as part of a merchant caravan from Baillett, hawking their wares to people far afield from his home.

Wide fields filled with crops ready to be harvested surround the road for miles around, thick golden heads of wheat which sway gently in the brisk coastal breeze. Beyond them, in scattered pockets, the darker shapes of grape-vine frames and the orderly rows of orchards can be seen too, the full breadth of Stonebridge’s agriculture on display. Beyond the town, to the north-east, the ominous peaks of the Dragain’s Tail rise into the afternoon sky. Despite the golden light of the sun overhead, the mountains appear almost swathed in shadow and even at this great distance, one can’t help but be intimidated.

Unless of course, that one, happens to be a young Jeleni bard named Syntherion Voiculescu. Incorrigible, and perhaps just a little painful to simply be around, Syntherion cares little for things others may find fearful. No indeed, as the companions approach ever closer to the southern gates of Stonebridge, it is all Syntherion can do to not begin skipping with joy.

* * *

The gateway is well-guarded, a small group of guardsmen, most of Midlander stock, though one, a sandy-furred Leathe, tall for his kind, does stand out. They are not numerous, but they do seem on edge, clad in chain hauberks under black and red quartered surcoats. Some have crossbows, most have spears and tall kite-shields, also quartered in black and red. The Leathe carries a selfbow instead, a quiver of grey-fletched arrows at his waist, and he sits upon the crenellations of the wall, looking down upon the sparse traffic entering through the open gateway below.

Upon the field directly outside the southern gate, a small battalion of the guard appears to be mustering. A handful of red and black canvas tents are pitched upon the grass, and more than a score of guards are working to pitch more as the afternoon wears on.

The three companions enter the town without challenge, and, two of them at least, take their first steps upon the cobblestone streets of Stonebridge. Ignus however, has been here before, and as his two younger companions draw a little closer to him, he takes in the sturdy architecture. Here, so close to the great keep which dominates the surrounding countryside, the inhabitants are wealthier, and the structures reveal as much.

“But the closer we get to the forest of f***-you to the north, the poorer everyone gets?” – Sins.

“If I recall correctly, there’s a cheap establishment on the northern bank of the river. We should be able to get some cheap lodging there for a few nights before moving on.” – Ignus, gruffly.

The somewhat distant sound of hammer ringing upon steel stands out to Ignus’ ear, being a keen aficionado of such craft himself, and he unconsciously finds himself pushing his stumpy legs onwards through the city, towards the source of the sound.

The companions pass out from under the shadow of the great keep, passing the occasional patrol of guards and general foot-traffic and carriages through the streets. They take note of a two-story building of stone and wooden construction, a thick overgrown garden stretches across the façade of the establishment. The black-painted door is closed, and a sign hangs above it, gently swaying in the breeze.

The Or’Saer Emporium

Eventually, the companions come to the Main Thoroughfare, the first bridge constructed to cross the Adhainn. This close to the river, the rush of water powering waterwheels and the general clamour of Stonebridge’s industry is near overpowering to one such as Hadrina, who would much rather find herself alone in a quiet forest glade, but for Ignus, it is a comforting thing. The companions cross the bridge and come to the northern bank.

Ignus immediately notices an Invarrian blacksmith, tall and heavily built, black-and-white piebald pelt, silver-grey creeping into the fur around the man’s muzzle, working away at the forge. He recognises the Invarrian, though it has been some years since he saw him last and cannot remember the man’s name. He nods to himself, intending to return later, and continues onwards.

Together, the companions find themselves upon the threshold of The Pallid Mare. It is a tall, narrow building, larger than most in this part of town, made of wood and supported with the same grey stone which seems to be such a popular building material here. It doesn’t look like much from the outside, but it does sound quite busy inside, the faint sound of muffled revelry drifting out, along with the homely scents of a roast meal. 

“Okay, well we’re looking to stay for five days minimum, yes?” – Ignus, stopping just outside the establishment to confer with his companions.

“I doubt he’s going to let us leave before then, so yes.” – Hadrina, rolling her eyes and indicating Syntherion. The Jeleni’s eyes are wide and darting around with excitement, taking in every new sight he can.

“Sorry, I wasn’t listening. Yeah, definitely, we can’t miss the festival guys!” – Syntherion, excitedly.

“And the festival is when exactly?” – Ignus, feeling like he has asked this question at least five times in the last few weeks.

“The festival begins three nights after the Chéserquine has passed and usually lasts for a few days after that.” – Syntherion answers, confidently.

The dwarf leads his two companions through the doors and into the tavern. Within, it is significantly more pleasant than outside. It is surprisingly spacious inside, and between the half-dozen oil lanterns strung up on the walls and the flames burning fitfully in the fireplace in the corner, it is well-lit. Six large tables dominate the centre of the common room, some of them occupied, and there are several booths up against the far wall. The bar, to the left upon walking in, is attended by a short, middle-aged Southron woman, dark-haired with dusky skin and dark eyes, slightly portly in a dull red dress under a leather apron.

“How can I help you? Are you all together?” – The innkeeper, drawing three flagons out from under the bar.

“We are. Looking to stay here, take shelter over the next, uh, let’s say six nights, just to be on the safe side. Just one room will do for us I think. Actually, I cannot recall, do you have rooms with three beds?” – Ignus, thoughtful.

“Rooms come with two beds, but we can have a third cot brought in for you if you’d prefer to stay together. For the six nights, that will be thirty coppers all up.” – The innkeeper, reassuringly.

They split the bill evenly, though there is a little scrounging as they do their best to compile their small-change. Eventually, Ignus hands the coppers to the dark-haired woman, who pockets it all.

“What’s the conversion rate for coppers to sulvers again?” – Redshirt.
“Yeah, twelve coppers to a sulver. Sorry.” – with a laugh.
“Why?” – Yohan, and I swear to God, you can hear the pain in his voice.
“Because if he changes it, it’ll no longer be a dime-a-dozen system.” – Sins.

“Thank you for your patronage. Here you are, third storey, first door on the left. I only have the one key I’m afraid, so you will have to share. Oh, and I will ensure a cot is delivered to the room by the time you intend to retire.” – The innkeeper, handing a thick brass key to the dwarf, who nods his thanks.

“What the f*** are you doing?” – Redshirt, to Sins.
“He’s stealing my pencils one by one when I’m not looking so I have to keep getting more out.” – Yohan, shaking his head.
“I’ve got heaps of pencils guys, I can get them out if you like?”
“Oh nah man, we brought plenty, Sins is just being a d***.” – Yohan, laughing.
“Actually, on that note, I filled this box here yesterday afternoon to take to the other session, and it depleted overnight. None of those guys steal stationery, so I’m convinced, somehow, you took them Sins.”
“You should know that by now, after eight years of this. I sleep in your backyard and sneak in to take your pencils and sharpeners.” – Sins, who is probably joking, but if he’s not, it would explain so very much.

Taking their seats in a booth against the wall, they confer once more to determine their plans.

“By my reckoning, we have maybe an hour and a half until sundown. What were you planning to do in that time?” – Ignus, his height leaving his legs gently swinging as he sits at the table.

“Well, whatever it is you both choose to do, I’ll keep an eye on the kid for you Ignus, make sure he doesn’t get himself into too much trouble.” – Hadrina, with a side-eyed glance at Syntherion, who is only partially paying attention to the conversation.

“I think I will go back down to the river, see if I can find some work at a smithy. Looked like a few craftsmen there I may be able to provide at least some assistance to.” – Ignus, gruffly.

Abruptly, the Jeleni youth stands and trots over to the bar. Cursing softly under her breath, Hadrina follows him.

“Are you old enough to drink?” – the innkeeper, looking Syntherion up and down with her dark brown eyes.

“No, he’s not.” – Hadrina, in a quiet growl from over his shoulder.

“No, I’m not, but I am old enough to perform, no?” – Syntherion, cheerfully with a smile.

“A performer you say? Very well, they could all use a little cheering up.” – The innkeeper, gesturing towards a slightly raised platform stage in the rear corner of the room. There’s a table upon it, and a few seats, currently unoccupied.

She snaps her fingers and two young Midlanders emerge from the door to the backroom behind her.

“Boys, shift that table, would you?” – The innkeeper, and the boys hurry to oblige.

“There we are, set yourself up over there love and you’ll get a hot meal for free tonight if you’re any good.” – The innkeeper, smiling and indicating the stage, now free of the furniture, save for one wooden seat.

“Thank you, I look forward to the meal.” – Syntherion, with admirable confidence, happily trotting over to the seat left for him on the stage and beginning to quietly tune his psaltery.

“If you mind the boy, I’m going to drop off my gear find out about that work.” – Ignus, grumbling to Hadrina. The Danann nods and he traipses upstairs to leave his pack behind, and then upon coming back down he leaves them with a nod, pushing his way out of the doors and into the afternoon sunlight outside.

“Now, is there anything I can get you?” – The innkeeper, to Hadrina. Unlike her interaction with Synth, and even Ignus, her tone seems a little cold, guarded and/or wary. Hadrina’s not entirely sure which, but she’s simultaneously used to it and resentful. She sighs.

“Ah why not? A shot of whiskey please. I’ll need it if he’s going to be playing all night.” – Hadrina, jerking her head in the direction of Syntherion, blissfully tuning his instrument.

The innkeeper pulls a small wooden tumbler from under the bar and fills it with a shot of very dark whiskey. Hadrina downs it in one mouthful, and immediately feels the familiar rushing sense of warmth coursing through her, before everything seems to just tilt and distort slightly. It is some very heavy stuff, and she silently curses having not eaten since the night before.

“Ah, perfect!” – Syntherion’s happy voice is then nearly drowned out as he runs his bow over the strings of the psaltery and a slightly discordant wailing note emanates forth.

Hadrina winces and moves back to their booth.

“I’m glad I’ve left.” – Yohan.
“Honestly, it’s more because I’m babysitting.” – Redshirt
“To be fair, Synth got five degrees of success on the Performance Check, he’s actually pretty good. It’s just a terrible instrument.”

There is a smattering of applause upon the end of the first song, and Synth stands to bow and receive their praise. He looks across at Hadrina and winks at her before taking up the instrument once more and launching into the next piece.

* * *

Upon crossing the Main Thoroughfare once more, Ignus’ walk along the southern bank is quite pleasant. One smithy in particular catches his eye, the forge attended by a lone Bruin, a broadly built old man with ash dusting his already pale-grey pelt. Scorch-marks blacken his corded forearms and one amber eye peaks out from beneath his heavily furrowed brow. His other eye is covered by a rough leather eye-patch. He works ceaselessly at the cherry-red steel upon the anvil, looking up for barely a second only to grunt a greeting to Ignus as he approaches, before looking down to focus upon the steel once more.

“Afternoon there. I’m looking for some kind of manual work to keep me busy, earn a little coin. What say you?” – Ignus, holding a hand out in greeting.

“Could always use a steady assistant. Name’s Alvariste. Welcome to the Steel-Mill.” – The smith, shrugging and taking Ignus’ hand in his own.

The next hour or so passes swiftly for Ignus as he assists around the forge as best he can, shifting finished stock and re-ordering the inventory. He lifts an unsealed wooden crate to the front bench and notices the collection of finely crafted blades within, no fittings yet, just the blade and bare tang. The dwarf withdraws one and inspects it more closely, noting Alvariste’s trade-mark and the quality of the work. He places the blade back in the crate and seals it, readying it for delivery to the keep’s armoury on the morrow.

As he does so, he notes, for the first time since meeting Alvariste, the clamour of hammer ringing on steel has halted. He looks up with his clouded eyes and sees the Bruin standing beside the anvil, the steel upon it growing cold, hammer held loosely by his side. He is grumbling about something under his breath, in a language Ignus does not recognise, but the glare he is directing across the river to the site of another forge is unmistakable. It is the smithy of the Invarrian man Ignus noted earlier in the afternoon.

“A competitor?” – Ignus, approaching Alvariste, who shrugs and turns around to appraise him.

“Of sorts. F****** Salt-Forge.” – Alvariste, his tone venomous.

“You have some fine work here. Surely the quality sells itself?” – Ignus, genuine.

“Gratitude friend. Alas, sadly not. That bastard over there sells all his wares for far less than their market value and cutting corners in the construction. It’s forcing me out of business.” – Alvariste, shaking his head.

“What about the army, or the guard? They would value quality over cost, no?” – Ignus, his brow furrowed.

“That’s what that crate you just put on the bench is for, a contract with the guard. Their armourers will furnish those blades for use. Unfortunately, Arhaut’s army is supplied by other smiths, part of the Iron Ring, a guild of craftsmen I have yet to earn invitation to join. I was lucky enough to win this contract, but that is the last I have now. I am now relying almost solely on the Festivale in a few days hence. There will be many travellers coming through, new money to target, and the roads are dangerous. I hope there will be those among them looking for weapons and armour.” – Alvariste, moving to a seat by the front bench.

The two men take a moment to rest as the late afternoon sun starts to dip in the sky. Looking across the river, Alvariste gives a grunt of displeasure as he watches the Invarrian smith at the Saltforge leave the establishment, swinging a long red coat around his broad shoulders. Two young apprentices, one a fairly small individual of indeterminate race and the other a tall, slender Feartarbh, begin to pack up the shopfront.

“Ah, the joys of having apprentices to do the drudgery.” – Ignus, with a short bark of laughter.

“More luck to him, at least he can afford to put them on. It pains me to think of the schooling they are receiving and how much it must lack.” – Alvariste, shaking his head.

“One day, I hope your luck will change, and quality will win out. Is there anything more I can do to help you, friend?” – Ignus, clapping a hand to the Bruin’s shoulder.

“No, the sun is setting and we had best seek shelter for the night. The Chéserquine should not arrive tonight, but one can’t be too careful. Here, for your trouble this afternoon.” – Alvariste, fishing a sulver out of the pouch at his belt and offering it to Ignus.

“I couldn’t take it. I simply wished to pass the time and perhaps learn a little about this place. You have troubles enough of your own without passing charity to a friend. Keep it.” – Ignus, shaking his head and refusing the offered coin.

“My thanks. If ever you have need of quality steel-work-“ – Alvariste, offering his hand to shake.

“I will know the man to come to.” – Ignus, taking the Bruin’s hand in a strong grip of his own.

* * *

The sun has almost entirely set by the time Ignus arrives at The Pallid Mare. He swings the doors open and finds the tavern considerably busier than he left it. The near wall has a few bedrolls bundled up against the base of the wall, and every table is now attended. Upon the raised platform on the other side of the room, Syntherion sits upon his seat, psaltery leaning against the leg of the chair and a plate with a small, hot meal perched precariously in his lap. He is slowly eating, but he is paying little attention to the food, captivated instead by the crowd of people all around.

Hadrina, sitting alone in a booth not far from Syntherion’s stage, nods to Ignus and waves down the innkeeper, Mallida. The Southron woman brings two flagons of ale to the booth as Ignus sits at the table and joins Hadrina.

“Gods, you’ll need this if he starts up again.” – Hadrina, pushing one of the flagons of ale across the table to the seated dwarf.

“Thanks, but let’s hope it doesn’t come to that. Anything of note happen while I was gone?” – Ignus, quaffing half of his flagon and then patting his mouth dry with his tightly braided grey beard.

“No, not so much. Synth played for an hour or so, then stopped and collected a few coppers. Other than a few dirty looks from some of the patrons arriving during his second set, nothing really happened. He’s been very well behaved.” – Hadrina, taking a draught of her own ale. Her normally controlled actions and mannerisms seem a little sloppy, and it is clear she’s had a fair bit to drink over the last few hours, the better to withstand Syntherion’s musical stylings.

“Well then, let’s put an end to it for the night then. Synth! Lad, come over here, enough for tonight!” – Ignus, beckoning to the young Jeleni who is only now finishing his meal. He grabs his plate and psaltery and trots over to the booth, joining his companions there. As he does so, there is a small smattering of applause from the patrons of the tavern.

“Ignus! How did your afternoon go?” – Synth, cheerfully sitting down upon the seat opposite the surly dwarf.

“Not too bad boy, not too bad. Think I may have found us a friend.” – Ignus, finishing the ale Hadrina bought for him.

“What’s the plan then? This event, it isn’t due to occur for another night or two yet, yes?” – Hadrina, inquiring of her companions.

“Most likely not tonight, no. Could be, but probably not. Either tomorrow night or the night after, from what I can tell.” – Syntherion, fiddling with the strings of his psaltery.

“I plan upon heading out and replenishing some of our supplies tomorrow. I do not wish to enter the forest to the north, but there is another on the southern bank which should be able to provide what we need.” – Hadrina, thoughtful.

“We’ll need more than just what you can find in the woods though. I’ll see if I can’t find a way to earn some honest employment for the next week or so, to supplement your offerings.” – Ignus, gruff, already thinking about how best to do so.

“And I’ll explore the town then and see if I can find anything interesting for us.” – Syntherion, excitedly.

“Hmm, that worries me. Stay out of trouble kiddo.” – Hadrina, a note of concern in her voice.

“Since when do I get into trouble in strange towns?” – Syntherion, unable to keep the amusement out of his voice.

They engage in a little more small talk as the night carries on, and the three order a little more food too, Ignus not having eaten as of yet. Soon enough the three decide to retire for the evening, having had several long hard days out on the road.

The room they share is not particularly well-furnished, two single beds against either wall, a small window facing south towards the river and a temporary cot set up between the more permanent beds. A single wardrobe sits near the door and a small writing desk lies under the window against the wall.

Ignus clambers carefully into the cot, and curses under his breath as he hears it creak and shift under his weight. He is lucky however, and it holds strong.

* * *

The pale light of the sun just begins to illuminate the lands surrounding Stonebridge when Hadrina awakens. She exits the room quietly and descends into the silent common room, surprised to see a young girl there, a Southron and sharing perhaps some familial resemblance with Mallida.

“Uh hello there, do you need anything?” – The girl, a little startled by Hadrina’s sudden appearance.

“You’d be as good as anyone to tell me I guess. Is it possible to hunt in the woods to the south? I know the forest to the north is off-limits.” – Hadrina.

“Ah yes, the woods around the Viltshaws are exceptionally dangerous this time of year. The Arbret though, to the south is, well, dangerous as well, but far less so. If it is meat that you are after, there are vendors in-“ – The girl, looking a little confused as Hadrina holds up a hand.

“No, I am hoping to make a little money off my work. A vendor will do me no good. I assume there is little of note to hunt on the plains?” – Hadrina, cutting her off.

“Little indeed. Most of the animals are livestock.” – The girl, shaking her head.

“Very well, the forest it is. What’s your name girl?” – Hadrina.

“Taree. Is there anything else?” – The girl, with a slightly unnerved smile.

“No, that will be all. Thank you.” – Hadrina, who promptly exits the tavern, out into the cold, grey fog of the morning.

* * *

It is a few hours later when Ignus and Syntherion eventually awaken, the gruff dwarf groaning at the stiffness in his joints as he pulls himself out of the cot. Syntherion, for his part, feels much better rested, and he happily bounds out of the bed with an excited expression on his face.

“Morning Ignus! Are you going back to the smithy today?” – Synth, way too cheerful for the early hours.

“Aye lad, I will be.” – Ignus, groaning in a little pain and rummaging through his gear. He takes a few pieces of forging equipment out of his pack, and the long steel contraption he keeps strapped to the side and lays them out, before bundling them up in a hessian bag and slinging it over his shoulder.

“I think I will go down to the river and play upon the bridge. Maybe I’ll go find myself some food, or go see a show if there are any being played. I could do both. Oh, Ignus, I nearly forgot, your thing, your contraption…” – Synth, wistfully, then pointing at the steel device as the dwarf places it in the bag.

“Aye, what of it?” – Ignus, only partially paying attention.

“What is it?” – Synth, curious.

“It’s a weapon lad. A ranged weapon.” – Ignus, not really wanting to explain the delicate workings of the device to the insatiable Jeleni.

“Like a sling?” – Synth, thoughtful.

“Yeah, sure.” – Ignus.

“And is it finished?” – Synth, in a tone of voice which normally promises trouble on the horizon.

“No, not yet. I am going to take it with me to the forge and hopefully get a chance to work on it a little more.” – Ignus.

“Can I help you make it?” – Synth, holding out a hand. Lying there upon the palm, contrasting with the tawny fur, are two gleaming golden coins.

“Synth, that is an awful lot of money there lad.” – Ignus, a little taken-aback by the youth’s generosity.

“No it isn’t. I can make this back in like a day.” – Synth. He’s wrong, but he doesn’t know it.

“I promise I’ll pay you back when it is done. Thank you lad.” – Ignus, quite touched.

“I’ll make sure to mark it down so we both remember.” – Syntherion, brightly, smiling happily.

The Jeleni will forget within the hour.

* * *

Hadrina stands upon the eaves of the Arbret, the golden yellow grass all around her slowly giving way to the tall, dark pines of the wood. She has been on the look-out for coinin all morning, and so far at least, has been out of luck, but now she has stopped in her tracks. Her keen eyes catch a glimpse of a shape moving in between the trees, russet fur with dappled black and white spots. There, another, and then a third, a smaller one. Three deer, quite small, the third of them a fawn grazing alongside its mother.

She sniffs the air, and, careful to remain downwind, Hadrina slowly stalks towards her prey, silently crossing the ground with an almost preternatural grace. She draws to just within range of the foremost animal, not the mother or her fawn, and, keeping her motion gentle and smooth, nocks an arrow to the string. Suddenly, her luck deserts her, and the wind changes.

The deer’s head raises, and its ears flick. The animal’s brown eyes catch sight of the figure and it bolts into the depths of the forest. A primal urge rises within Hadrina, and she looses the moment it springs into action, the arrow leaping from the string and taking the deer in the back of the head, pitching it forward to tumble into the dropped pine-needles upon the forest floor.

Exhaling and releasing the pent-up tension and excitement from the hunt, Hadrina starts forward to retrieve her prize.

* * *

The golden sun is high in the sky, beating away the early morning mist, not that Ignus’ eyes take much note of it. He makes his way across the Main Thoroughfare and arrives, hessian sack over his shoulder and Syntherion in tow, at the Steel-Mill.

“Ah, you’ve returned, friend!” – Alvariste, looking up from the iron he is hammering upon the anvil.

“I have indeed. I thought perhaps I could offer my services again, and perhaps use your forge for a time, if you would permit?” – Ignus, dropping the sack to the ground and extending a hand to shake in greeting.

“Of course, be my guest. I have no orders at the moment.” – Alvariste, clasping the dwarf’s hand in his own clawed grip.

“I will have need of substantial materials I’m afraid, but I would not see you out of pocket.” – Ignus, withdrawing a crown from his pocket and handing it to the Bruin.

“That is- generous, very generous. My forge is yours.” – Alvariste, clearly a little surprised by both Ignus’ wealth and generosity.

“I appreciate it.” – Ignus, nodding.

Alvariste gives the tall, spindly figure of Syntherion a pointed glance.

“A travelling companion. It’s a long story.” – Ignus, quietly. He turns back to the already distracted Jeleni as Alvariste gives a small snort of smusement.

“Okay kid, don’t get into any trouble-“ – Ignus, clearly already aware of Synth’s plans for the morning.

“I won’t. You know I don’t do that.” – Synth, brightly.

“Yeah, well, look, if you need help, just come back here, okay? You know where you are?” – Ignus, concerned.

“I do, I’ll be fine. Have fun!” – Synth, who then happily trots away back to the Main Thoroughfare.

“He’s going to die.” – Ignus, under his breath.

“We are terrible parents.” – Redshirt.
“I’m more of a grumpy uncle really.” – Yohan.
“Synth’s actual parents were more than happy for him to just take off on the road. They actively encouraged this. That speaks volumes I feel.” – Sins.
“I have no doubt he can hold his own. He runs very fast.” – Yohan.
“As bad as you two are, his real parents were worse.”

* * *

Within fifteen minutes, Syntherion is hopelessly lost, wandering aimlessly through the alleyways of Stonebridge. Thankfully, at this mid-morning hour there are very few unsavoury individuals upon the streets and he is not harassed at any point, but the fact remains, he is lost. He tries to keep an ear out for the sound of the river, but it is lost amidst the general sounds of the town, the clamour of industry and the nearby marketplace.

And then he smells it, a glorious scent borne upon the winds towards him. His eyes widen.

Baked goods.

Gods, could it be? Cinnamon, yes.

Baked goods and cinnamon can only mean one thing in the mind of Syntherion Voiculescu.


He takes off at a run, his powerful legs propelling him through the alleyways at a rapid pace. He vaults over a low wall with nary a pause, and finds himself on the outskirts of a busy marketplace. He tracks the scent all the way to a stall replete with baked goods. He sidles up beside it, and slowly, so as not to startle the wonderful pastries, removes the psaltery from his belt, and begins to tune it.

“This is wonderful.” – Syntherion says to himself.

He starts to take up a tune on the instrument, which gradually picks up speed and fervour. As he plays, he dances a little jig and he improvises a song, espousing the glory and virtues of the humble cinnamon donut. The stall-holder, at first bemused by this admittedly bizarre occurrence, is swiftly brought around to the idea, as more and more people congregate around the stall to witness this performance, and not a few of them buy a donut to go along with it.

* * *

Walking through the farmlands surrounding the town, Hadrina comes upon a large, flat rock, which she determines will do the job rather nicely. She lays the carcass of the deer down upon it, and, drawing a sharp, curved knife from her belt, begins to expertly skin and dress her catch. The work is swift and easy, and other than a slight slip near the loins of the deer, where she damages the pelt slightly, completed with no trouble.

Collecting the bones, the meat and the pelt into separate hessian sacks, Hadrina makes her way back to Stonebridge proper. She sells the bones and the pelt, picking up a few coppers for her trouble, and salts the meat to have it last on the road.

* * *

It is midday and Syntherion finds himself sitting upon the edge of a bridge, overlooking the north-bank of the Adhainn, eating the last of the two pastries gifted to him by the stall-owner. The man had been happy to part with the two wonderful delicacies in exchange for the minstrel’s departure, the droning of the psaltery becoming too much to deal with after more than an hour, regardless of the skill of the player.

“Okay Synth, town square, that’s the plan.” – Syntherion, wiping the crumbs from the front of his shirt. He stands and starts to cross the bridge when his ears prick up.

Is that? No… It is.

A marching band!

“How could I miss that!?” – Syntherion, excitedly to himself, dashing away over the bridge towards the sound of the procession.

Nearly forty musicians marching in unison, bearing a wide assortment of instruments begin crossing the Main Thoroughfare from the south. All are clad in black, with an array of bone-like and skeletal designs upon their clothing. Not a few bear real bones sewn into the fabric. At the fore of the parade is a single figure, a huge man, eight foot tall at least, clad in a long black coat and hood which obscures his face, over which he wears a crown of spiked bone, the spurs of which protrude upwards like thorns. He rides a huge black destrier, powerfully built, the only member of the procession to be thus mounted.

Crowds of people line the wide bridge as Syntherion arrives to see the parade turn back when they reach the northern bank, and head back towards the south.

“The King, the King!” – Cries arising from the crowd, excited and rather joyous. Since arriving in Stonebridge, this is the most animated Syntherion has seen the general populace.

Suddenly, the coat of the rider is ripped open, and three black-clad Leathe emerge, revealing the man to have been three Leathe balancing upon each other’s shoulders. Together they engage in an energetic display of acrobatics and leaping as the band continues to play, the tune growing more and more boisterous.

The parade is cacophonous as the crowd’s cheering increases with every trick, the bones sewn into the performers’ clothing clatter with every movement and the band’s volume raises ever higher. All thoughts of performing himself are driven from Syntherion’s mind as he is drawn into the celebrations. Easily led astray he might be, but a fool he is not however, and the thought suddenly occurs to the minstrel, this parade, while a moment of levity, is a light-hearted take on what may happen tonight. A spectral cavalcade rampaging through the streets, sweeping up all before them.

Despite the midday sun, Synth shivers slightly, but the moment soon passes and he drawn into the pageantry of the parade once more.

* * *

As the day continues, Ignus works away at the forge, alternating between working upon his personal project and assisting Alvariste with general Steel-Mill business. Eventually, the Dwergar completes the long, steel tube, fully tempering the steel and reinforcing the barrel. He is even begins to prepare the steel to receive runes of power. He is unable to impart the actual power at this stage, but he can begin preparing for it.

“That little ‘tick’ you have there? You’ll want to lengthen that line a touch on the parallel axis.” – Alvariste, looking over Ignus’ shoulder at the Dwergar’s runecraft.

“You’re adept in this craft?” – Ignus, surprised, and taking the smith’s advice, chipping away at the line in question, just a little more.

“Aye, I am, but enough of that. This. Now this, is fantastic. Hardened, reinforced steel, such an even density throughout, and this pattern on the inside, this coil etched into the steel. Masterful craftsmanship my friend.” – Alvariste, taking a single claw and tapping it against the steel barrel.

“Thank you. The coil you speak of, I call it rifling. It imparts a similar spiral on a projectile as an arrow’s fletching does, correcting small inconsistencies in flight.” – Ignus, proud of his invention.

“I’ve tried my hand at making fireloques in the past, but it never even occurred to me to attempt something like that. Incredible.” – Alvariste, genuinely impressed.

The two sit down at the front bench and Alvariste opens a locked steel box hidden beneath the bench, withdrawing a small keg from within it, the wood cold and slick. Within the steel box, Ignus can see a few slabs of ice against each side. The Bruin winks at him, and produces two beaten-up tankards, which he fills with beer from the keg.

“A trick of my people. Can be hard to purchase the ice, but there’s nothing better on a hot day than an icy cold beer friend.” – Alvariste, handing a full tankard to Ignus and then clinking it with his own.

“Can’t argue with that.” – Ignus, accepting the tankard and quaffing half of it.

“Look, I hate to ask it of you, but you’ve been asking if you can be of service to me, and, well, this is the best way I can think of.” – Alvariste, his expression a little troubled.

For his part, Ignus merely sits and waits in silence.

“I need someone to get rid of that bastard over the way. Not kill him, don’t mistake me, just embarrass him enough to ruin his business.” – Alavriste, giving Ignus a worried look as the dwarf reaches for the nearly completed rifle. The dwarf chuckles.

“What did you have in mind?” – Ignus.

“If someone with a keen eye and a nose for this kind of work were to discredit him, it would have to be beneficial for all the struggling craftsmen in these parts. Understand, it is not just me that is being put out of business.” – Alvariste, shrugging.

“Ah yes, a smith with decades of experience who doesn’t give a s*** about pissing someone off. I’m sure I don’t know anyone who fits the bill.” – Ignus, completely deadpan.

“Oh aye, I’m sure you don’t.” – Alvariste, with a grunt of amusement.

“I shall ponder it overnight. I think tomorrow morning I may go over there and ask for a demonstration, and see if I can’t break a blade in half, or something else dramatic like that which will draw attention.” – Ignus, finishing his drink.

“I look forward to it.” – Alvariste, refilling the dwarf’s tankard from the keg.

* * *

As the sun begins to dip in the horizon, bells start to ring all through Stonebridge. The crowd upon the bridge begins to disperse and the marching band cease their performance abruptly. An old man in simple brown robes, wearing the three-sided symbol of the Triad around his neck rings a bell in hand. Beside him walk two guards, clad in the dark-blue livery of Stonebridge.

“Tonight is the night of the Chéserquine! If any require shelter for the night, they may find it in the church of the Triad!” – The brown-robed man, ringing his bell and walking along the bridge. Syntherion can hear distantly, the identical calls of other people elsewhere in the town.

* * *

“That’s our cue. You have a place to stay for the night, aye?” – Alvariste, hearing the bells begin to ring upon the streets.

“We do, a room in The Pallid Mare.” – Ignus, packing up his gear.

“A bit s*****, but alright.” – Alvariste.

“Better than the ground.” – Ignus.

“True enough. Especially so tonight. Don’t go outside, whatever you might hear. For your own safety. I hope to see you on the morrow.” – Alvariste.

“You will. Takes a lot to kill me.” – Ignus, gesturing towards his eyes.

“I don’t doubt it.” – Alvariste, a knowing look in his eye.

* * *

Ignus is crossing the Main Thoroughfare when he notices a familiar, tall, lanky figure bouncing his way.

“Ignus! There you are!” – Syntherion, on his way back to the Steel-Mill. The tall Jeleni youth looks as if he can barely contain his excitement.

“Synth, time to be heading back to the inn I think. What’s this?” – Ignus, reaching up and pulling a pastry crumb from where it was caught in the fur on Synth’s chin.

“I’m afraid I’ve eaten into our profits.” – Synth.

* * *

Hadrina enters The Pallid Mare, taking in the sights around her. The tavern is packed with patrons, many drinking, but the mood is quite sombre. Only one of the booths is unoccupied, and she immediately moves towards it, thinking to claim it for her friends. The booth beside it is occupied by two people, one a russet-haired Highlander, well-built and pale-skinned, the other a slender Leathe girl with a merle coloured pelt and long brown hair. She is chattering away excitedly, and Hadrina notes, while the man is listening, he is not paying too much attention.

The Danann’s own attention must have alerted the man, because he turns to look at her as she stalks across the room towards the unoccupied booth. As he does so, the Leathe swiftly grabs the tankard before her and empties a little of it out on the floor beneath the table and places it back on the table in one smooth motion.

Hadrina snorts at this and sits down in the booth, ordering two ales and a watered wine, before waiting for her friends. She need not wait long, as the two disparate figures wander in through the doors only a few minutes later.

“Evening lass. How was your hunt?” – Ignus, to Hadrina, gratefully accepting the ale.

“Well, I hope you like venison.” – Hadrina, shrugging.

“It’ll do. Hope it lasts until after this festival. Do we know what happens during this festival? I missed it last time I was here.” – Ignus, gruff.

“There’ll be acrobats and jugglers and marching bands and illusionists and so much food and-“ – Synth, starting to get very excited.

“Okay lad, that’s enough, I get the idea. Maybe you could ask if you could play again tonight.” – Ignus, shaking his head as the youth smiles, nods and leaves the table.

“You won’t be able to get rid of him like that forever, you know?” – Hadrina, with a slight smile, the expression somewhat feral on her Danann features. 

“Watch me. I’ll keep doing it until it doesn’t work, and not a day sooner.” – Ignus, taking a deep draught of ale.

Syntherion approaches the bar and gathers Mallida’s attention.

“Yes love? What do you want?” – Mallida, friendly but brusque and business-like.

“I was wondering if perhaps you would like some music again?” – Synth, his expression one of guileless innocence.

“Maybe for an hour or so, but once dark fully sets in we should not draw attention to ourselves. Until then though, yes, that would be great. Help keep the spirits up.” – Mallida, jerking her head to two of the serving boys to shift the table upon the raised stage again.

Before long a drawn-out discordant note rings out as Syntherion gains the crowd’s attention with the psaltery. Ignus grinds his teeth and orders another ale and Hadrina just laughs to herself as Synth launches into a ribald song about a cat who thought it could leap between the moons, a brief moment of levity before a spectral cavalcade rampages through the streets of Stonebridge this night.

A chill runs down her spine.

And we left it there…

The Wrap-Up:
Another really good prologue session, this one felt a little different to the others. I guess part of this may be down to how the character dynamic developed in an opposite fashion in this one. In the previous two sessions, the characters were separate and then met and came together. In this game however, all three were well known to each other, and then spent most of the session pursuing their own individual goals.

As an aside, I love Syntherion. What an absolute nightmare of a character. :D

My intention was to only have a single prologue each before the main session, but that lasted up until immediately after the second prologue, whereupon Pugsley, Ladyhawk and LaPD asked to have a second prologue, which was played.

As such, the next instalment will be with them on the eve of the Chéserquine.

As always, we hope you enjoyed this, and thank you for reading.

« Last Edit: February 02, 2024, 02:13:25 PM by Phoenixguard09 »
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #5 on: September 22, 2020, 06:12:45 AM »
Session 0.4: The Watcher, the Potion-Seller and the Ice-Maiden

”…Exalt the Weave.

There is no greater glory than to end the life of one who has been selected to die. To spill blood for the Utility is the greatest honour.

Exalt the Weave…”

- From Catechisms of the Utility.

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

Hearing Aderyn’s repeated calling from the room upstairs, Marwolaeth descends, expecting to find a customer within the shop. She swiftly realises Shadow must have left, and spends a few moments perusing her stock and ensuring nothing was taken. Satisfied, she returns upstairs and knocks gently on the doorframe of the spare-room.

“Yes?” – Bryn’s voice, slightly muffled.

Marwolaeth slightly cracks the door open a touch. She cannot see Bryn, but she does note Venn, the mammoth still happily bouncing from one end of the bed to the other, his trunk waving from side to side as he does so.

“Marwolaeth’s expression doesn’t change. You’ll never know if her heart is melting inside her or not.” – LaPD.
“We all know it is.” – Ladyhawk.

“Ah sorry, Shadow’s not in there with you, is he?” – Marwolaeth, slightly awkward.

“No, why would he be?” – Bryn’s voice, neutral.

“No, indeed, why would he be? Well, he’s gone, I don’t know where he is.” – Marwolaeth, still a little awkward.

“Okay.” – Bryn’s voice. She doesn’t seem too cut up about it.

“Soooo, I was thinking of heading into town. Would you like me to show you around at all?” – Marwolaeth, changing the subject.

“Yes actually, that would be lovely. I meant to ask you earlier if there were markets of some kind. I am in need of some supplies.” – Bryn’s voice.

“Well then, I can definitely take you to the market. Meet me downstairs when you’re ready to leave.” – Marwolaeth, closing the door. She exhales heavily and then turns to Caitrin’s room, knocking at her door too.

“I’m heading out to the market. Do you need anything?” – Marwolaeth, a note of concern creeping into her voice.

“No, I’m okay. I’ll head downstairs and take care of the store while you’re gone.” – Caitrin, her voice a little reedy and muffled through the closed door. At least she doesn’t cough though.

“I’ll see if we’ve received any letters about the apprentice too.” – Marwolaeth, half to herself.

“Ah yes. You know, I’m still worried about an apprentice ruining our dynamic, but very well. I wait in anticipation.” – Caitrin, a little humour in her voice. It was a running joke.

“Yes, well, quite.” – Marwolaeth, not quite herself.

“Take care, I’ll see you when you return!” – Caitrin, voice.

Marwolaeth heads downstairs with a nod.

* * *

Within the guest bedroom on the second storey of the Or’Saer Emporium, Bryn stands near the door, gathering her gear.

“Okay Venn, stay here in the room, okay?” – Bryn, fastening the belt around her waist.

The little mammoth trumpets a happy affirmative.

“Because I will know, yes?” – Bryn.

Another little trumpet as the mammoth sits down upon the bed and waves her out the door with his trunk. With a smile, Bryn closes the door behind her, and the repetitive creaking sound of the mammoth’s heavy little body bouncing up and down the bed begins once more.

“I’ll get you an apple if you’re good.” – Bryn, through the door.

One last little trumpet, one of excitement as Bryn walks downstairs, meeting Marwolaeth in the open storefront.

“You’re ready to go? Let’s be on our way then.” – Marwolaeth, who turns to mumble something quietly to the raven upon the windowsill and ventures out into the town, Brynhildr in tow.

* * *

Walking through the streets in the midday sun and keeping to the southern districts at first, Shadow notes there does not seem to be much in the way of movement out and about. The sounds of industry carry from the river, hammers beating upon steel. He can hear too the muffled clamour of a market to the east. Wishing to see more of the town, Shadow crosses the West Bridge, noting the lesser construction of this bridge compared to the Main Thoroughfare, and takes in what lies upon the north-bank. He notes the generally less refined architecture there, and the way in which the rooves turn from the usually dark shingle-tiles of the south-bank, to the drab brown thatch of the north-bank, and the greater use of the Arbret-pine wood to construct the structures as compared to the grey stone so prevalent south of the river.

He notes too, the abandoned district on the northern edge of the town, where the curtain wall had been breached. Another, smaller stone wall has been erected since the conflict ended, and now the ghostly district is walled off and practically uninhabited. Shadow spends nearly an hour wandering the silent streets, and even enters one of the abandoned dwellings out of a sense of morbid curiosity, but finds little of note.

* * *

The brightly coloured expanse of the Grand Market stretches before Marwolaeth and Brynhildr. Stone pillars upholding brightly coloured sails of canvas and other fabrics provide shade from the sun overhead, and beneath them the two women find evidence of the most activity Bryn has seen in town since her arrival.

The marketplace is quite full, and the hustle and bustle of mercantile endeavours permeates the air as vendors seek to sell their wares to those who pass by. The scents of baked goods and other delicious foods waft towards them too.

“Now then, if you’re after metal or leather-work, down by the river is probably the place to go, but if it is merely smallgoods you’re after, well, here we are.” – Marwolaeth, indicating the expanse of the marketplace ahead.

“I’m looking for components for my spells, so I think it might be more of a general browsing kind of thing more than something specific.” – Bryn, already starting to think about what she could use.

The atmosphere in the market is quite tense. Just about anyone out and about on this morning has congregating in and around the Grand Market, buying up on any and all essential goods they can get their hands on.

“There’s a lot of people here.” – Bryn, as she and Marwolaeth gently push their way through the crowd.

“Happens every time. People panic on the cusp of a disaster and stock up on everything they think they might need for the next month, regardless of the fact that everything will be back to normal in about three days.” – Marwolaeth, dismissive.

“Sorry Marwolaeth, hold a moment. I could use this.” – Bryn, finally finding something she could use to work her magic.

Some moments later, the two emerge from the crush of market-goers, Bryn holding a soft, downy white feather and a few lengths of silvery rope.

“I wouldn’t mind finding some paper too, or even pre-written spells if they can be found here.” – Bryn, quietly.

“Paper and spells… I think I know of someone.” – Marwolaeth, thoughtful. She pushes her way back into the crowd.

The two come upon a small stall, behind which sits an elderly woman, a Woodsman by appearance, small and frail with dark hair, turning grey. On and around the wooden stall sit many vases, filled with rolled up sheafs of parchment. The woman is muttering to herself as they approach.

“Oh no, I can’t do that. Couldn’t possibly.” – The woman, her attention firmly fixed on something the two companions cannot see.

“Excuse me?” – Bryn, politely.

“Oh yes, hello there!” – The elderly woman, brightly. The attention of her dark green eyes, slightly clouded by age, snaps straight to Brynhildr. 

“Hello, yes. I was wondering if you might have any spells I could look at?” – Bryn, polite, if a little awkward.

“Magic, yes, yes, I do at that.” – The elderly woman. She reaches beneath the counter-top of her stall and withdraws a small wooden box, painted black and latched with brass. She opens it and reveals several stretched sheets of vellum, inscribed with spidery writing in red ink.

Flicking briefly through the vellum sheets, Brynhildr is first struck by the artistry of the woman’s craftsmanship. Her pen-strokes are deft and sure, the fine red ink leaving the tight script of a purely practical written passage looking like a work of art. Then, as she properly starts to note the work within the box, Brynhildr is again impressed by the thoroughness of the woman’s scholarship, as she makes reference to advanced arcane theories which, in some cases, Bryn herself does not even understand fully.

There are several spells within which Bryn does not possess the capacity to learn or understand as yet, the manipulation of elements of magic which the woman from the north has not yet learned, and perhaps never will. On the other hand, there are a few which she believes she could make use of if given the chance to study them properly.

“This is fine work. How much for one of your treatises?” – Bryn, genuinely impressed.

“Thirty-two sulvers each. I am willing to negotiate however if you would be so kind as to do a favour for me.” – The elderly woman, quickly amending her statement when she notices the startled expression begin to cross the mage’s face at the high price.

“What might this favour be?” – Bryn, willing to indulge the old woman.

“It is a rather delicate situation, but looking at you, I think you’d be able to handle it rather well. My daughter’s companion is, well, to put it bluntly, a bit of a prick. He’s disrespectful, a drunkard, I honestly cannot see why she is still with him. She runs a very successful business and he sits in the tavern drinking her money away all day. If you would have a talk to him, scare him straight, I would appreciate it, and would give you a substantial discount.” – The elderly woman, warming to her theme. The slightly vindictive light which flashes in her dark eyes is a little off-putting when compared to the otherwise sweet and innocent impression she gives.

“Maybe we shouldn’t meddle in other peoples’ affairs…” – Marwolaeth, quietly to Bryn. Her voice trails off, almost as if she doesn’t believe her opinion will be heeded anyway.

“Where is your daughter now?” – Brynhildr, clearly giving the task some thought.

“Aeya runs one of the paper-mills down by the river. A lot of the parchment I sell here is her work.” – The elderly woman, clearly proud. Marwolaeth knows she is referring to a hamlet of sorts outside the city walls, built upon the banks of the Adhainn, where many soft-crafts utilise the power of the river to assist in their work.

“And he would be with her?” – Bryn, her eyes narrowing.

“Oh no. I believe his favourite establishment is The Pallid Mare, a s***** little drinking hole on the north-bank. Midday? That’s where he’d be, likely drinking her money away with some of his good-for-nothing friends.” – The elderly woman, a little venomous.

“Does he beat her?” – Bryn, her voice cold.

“No, that’s not his style, not that I know of anyway. He is more emotionally abusive really, though he certainly does take advantage of her.” – The elderly woman, shaking her head.

“Brynhildr, I really can’t recommend-“ – Marwolaeth, quietly, but she does indeed go unheeded.

“I’ll go talk to him.” – Bryn, making up her mind.

“Thank you. His name is Bandon, tall for one of my people, nearly six foot I would guess. Nothing like you though. Dark hair, weasel-face, not fat as such, but not fit either. I’ll keep this box here for you and I will not sell any until you return.” – The elderly woman, looking rather pleased with herself.

“Before I leave, what does your daughter actually think of Bandon?” – Bryn, thoughtful.

“She complains about him spending the money, but she won’t leave him. I don’t know why she doesn’t though.” – The elderly woman.

“No matter, I will speak to him anyway.” – Bryn, turning on her heel and leaving.

“Brynhildr, I don’t know if this is such a good idea.” – Marwolaeth, struggling to keep up with the tall woman’s long stride.

“It will be fine, I only intend to have a short talk with the man, scare him a little bit. Now, where is this Pallid Mare?” – Bryn, smiling a little, but the expression is cold.

“I’ll lead you there if you promise not to punch anyone. It’s a rough part of town.” – Marwolaeth, a little worried.

“I won’t hit anyone, I’m just going to scare him, as I said.” – Bryn, consoling.

Together, the two women make their way to the north-bank of the Adhainn, leaving the Grand Market behind.

* * *

Eventually Shadow turns for the south once more, crossing the river and making for the keep, the mighty stone fortification which towers over the town, overlooking it from a slight hilly rise on the south-bank. He knows it to be the seat of the Rodelle family, currently helmed by the Marquess Lyndon Rodelle and his wife, Henrietta. Looking at the structure a little closer too, Shadow is simultaneously struck by the sheer magnitude of it and the expert masonry of the smooth, stone-blocks which form the walls. The keep is comparable with the Main Thoroughfare in construction, and Shadow posits both of the great structures were raised by the same people, though he does not know the history of this land.

He takes in the number of guards who seem to be patrolling the keep and the immediate town around it, noting here, on the south-bank, or at least in close proximity to the keep, the guards wear a black-and-red quartered surcoat over chain, and do not bear the livery of the town, but rather their crest depicts a stylised white tree. There are perhaps a dozen guards manning the high walls of the keep, most of Midlander stock and armed with crossbows, though there is some variety in both race and armaments.

The gateway into the keep is barred by a steel portcullis, the portal leading to an open courtyard beyond. At this time, Shadow can see no one within the courtyard itself.

* * *

Marwolaeth leads Brynhildr to a narrow, tall building made of wood, the tough Arbret-pine so popular in this region, and reinforced with grey stone. A sign hangs from above, depicting a rearing white horse and the name, emblazoned across the top, The Pallid Mare.

“I hate this place.” – Marwolaeth, under her breath, too quietly for her companion to hear.

Brynhildr strides to the doors, and pushes them open, revealing an interior surprisingly bright and clean compared to what one would expect upon laying eyes upon the exterior. Half a dozen lit lanterns are set into the walls, providing some illumination to the room, which seems relatively busy, if a little subdued at this hour. A handful of people seem to be partaking of lunch and a drink. Marwolaeth knows the food here, while usually fairly tasty, can be a little hit and miss on exactly what you’re eating, and the beer, which she would never touch herself, has tendency to be a little watery.

A portly Southron woman with dark hair and dark eyes stands behind the bar, and her sharp eyes catch the two companions entering the establishment immediately.

“What can I get for you?” – The innkeeper, brusque.

“Nothing for us, thank you, but I am looking for a man named Bandon. Woodsman.” – Bryn, quietly as she strides confidently to the bar.

“Bandon, Bandon, ah yes, the wastrel. Over there in the corner.” – The innkeeper, pointing to a table upon a raised platform in the corner of the room, close to some booth seats set against the far wall.

Brynhildr places two copper coins down onto the bar.

“Thank you, but cause no trouble please.” – The innkeeper, pocketing the coins.

Nodding, Bryn turns her gaze towards her target. She sees a group of three men, probably all in their late twenties, sitting at the table. One, matching the description she was given, dark-haired with pale skin and the fine, somewhat delicate features of a Woodsman. The other two look to be of Midlander blood, one with dark brown hair and tanned skin, the other ruddied and strawberry-blonde. All three look to be quite heavily into their drinks, with maybe ten empty tankards strewn about their table. As she watches, one of those tankards slowly rolls off the table and clatters to the floor. The men watch it, and laugh amongst themselves as it clatters on the wooden ground. They seem to be engaged in quite a heated conversation.

“I told her not to talk to him, not to even look at him, and she went and did it anyway!” – The Woodsman, presumably Bandon.

“She’s a whore. I’ve said it all along.” – The dark-haired Midlander, staring into the beer in the tankard before him.

“You really should teach her a lesson.” – The blonde Midlander, darkly, fixing Bandon with the intense gaze of the inebriated.

Bandon takes a long draught from his tankard, and Marwolaeth gets the impression he is trying to buy some time to gather his thoughts.

“No, I shouldn’t do that.” – Bandon, quietly, eventually.

Marwolaeth taps Bryn’s elbow to get her attention.

“I don’t think he wants to be here to be honest. Looks like he’s fallen in with a s***** crowd. It might be his friends you need to deal with.” – Marwolaeth, in a quiet whisper. Bryn silently nods her agreement.

The game was interrupted briefly by an ungodly screaming from down the road. We spent a few moments trying to figure out who would be screaming bloody murder at 9:00am on a Sunday morning, but the normal culprit, Lady Darkmoon could not be found.

The conversation devolves into drunken ranting, as the two Midlanders continue on in the same vein, besmirching Aeya’s name. For his part, Bandon sits there quietly, staring at the beer in the tankard before him. He grunts non-committally every now and then, but on the whole, avoids the conversation.

“Hey you there, what do you want?” – The blonde Midlander, belligerent finally noticing Bryn’s stare from across the room.

The mage says nothing at first, but simply strides over, confidently, crossing the room in a few swift steps, with the diminutive figure of Marwolaeth behind her. She towers over the men seated at the table, and fixes her gaze on the man she presumes in Bandon.

“I would like to speak to Bandon. Is he among you?” – Bryn, her tone impassive and cold.

“Aye, that’s me.” – Bandon, looking up at her with bleary eyes.

“I’d like to have a conversation with you outside Bandon.” – Bryn, her tone brooking no dissent.

“Ah yeah, sure, I guess.” – Bandon, quietly standing.

“Oi, nah, sit the f*** down. And you, f*** off!” – The blonde Midlander, roughly shoving Bandon back down in his seat and standing himself, pointing at Bryn aggressively. Despite his anger and the raised platform he stands upon, the top of the man’s head only barely reaches Brynhildr’s chin.

Bryn’s dark grey eyes flash white, like ice frosting over glass as she mutters a brief incantation under her breath. The blonde Midlander’s eyes too, follow the same pattern, and he locks in place, unable to move, save for the jerky, panicked motion of his eyes.

“I suggest you stay here while Bandon and I have our little chat.” – Bryn, in a low growl, her voice not betraying the sharp ache she suddenly feels inside her. Drawing on her power so quickly has damaged something internally, and it is all she can do not to cry out with the pain.

She turns on her heel and walks out of the tavern, a somewhat confused Bandon following her, swaying as he goes. The other friend, the dark-haired Midlander, has passed out at the table, and Marwolaeth looks around, sees the handful of eyes attracted by the commotion which are now fixed upon her, and her alone, and follows Bryn and Bandon outside.

“Now Bandon, I’ve heard you’ve been taking advantage of Aeya. Judging by the time of day and the state in which I have found you here, I am inclined to believe them.” – Bryn, slowly cornering Bandon against a wall in the alleyway outside The Pallid Mare.

“I don’t see what business it is of yours-“ – Bandon, nervously backing up against the wooden wall.

Brynhildr grasps the man by the collar of his shirt in one fist and slams his back against the wall, her expression unchanging as if graven in stone.

“I have decided to make it my business.” – Bryn, cold.

“Okay, fair enough. What would you like me to do?’ – Bandon, clearly terrified.

“Tell me, what is your excuse for being here in this tavern, drinking Aeya’s money away and talking to your friends about teaching her a lesson for doing things which I understand she would need to be doing on a day to day basis as part of her work?” – Bryn, her cold eyes narrowed.

“Ah, it’s just, uh, it’s our money. It’s not her money, we’re together. It’s our money.” – Bandon, sputtering. The stink of alcohol on his breath is starting to give Brynhildr a headache.

“Do you do anything to help her make that money, or do you merely leech it off her?” – Bryn, her voice rising slightly.

“Uh, well, no. I guess I am just a leech.” – Bandon, ashamed, his eyes downcast.

“Do you love her? Does she love you?” – Bryn, after a moment’s pause.

“Yes, I do. And I hope so.” – Bandon, looking as if he wishes the world would just swallow him whole.

“Then I suggest you change your ways. Start treating her the way she deserves to be treated. Or else I will have to come see you again, and I don’t normally do return visits.” – Bryn, menacingly. She lifts him against the wall a little higher.

“No, no, it won’t be necessary. Thank you.” – Bandon, as he is unceremoniously dropped back to his feet.

“I would also suggest, very strongly, that you never associate with those two men in there ever again. Do you honestly think they are worth it?” – Bryn, her tone now back to impassive.

“No, you’re probably right.” – Bandon, after a moment’s thought. He nods, and sets off to the south, over the bridge, and Brynhildr and Marwolaeth watch his retreating form for a moment before entering the tavern once more.

There is a rattling gasp from the blonde man at the back table as Brynhildr’s spell finally lapses and he draws in a massive lungful of air.

“What did you do to me!?” – The blonde Midlander, striding over to Brynhildr. He gets within a few paces of her, with a fist cocked back to strike.

She mutters under her breath again, and feels how difficult it is to draw upon her power now with a faint stab of panic. Nonetheless, the magic flares once more, and the man’s eyes rime over with frost and he is locked in place as his body betrays him again.

“You would do well to show women more respect in the future.” – Bryn, quietly, whispering quietly. She watches as his eyes twitch slightly in panic, the only bodily function he has any control over.

With most of the patrons of The Pallid Mare staring at her now, Brynhildr turns on her heel.

“Let’s leave Marwolaeth, I think we’re done here.” – Bryn, striding out into the early afternoon sun once more, a stunned Marwolaeth following her.

Together they make their way down the cobblestone streets towards the Grand Market once more. Coming upon the Adhainn, Marwolaeth notes Alvariste el-Ferro, the Bruin smith who runs the Steel-Mill, looks to have a new assistant, an old, heavy-set dwarf. She recalls she needs to talk to Alvariste about a new athame at some point soon, unwilling to trust anyone else with the construction of such an important tool to her trade. 

“See, I told you I wouldn’t have to punch anyone.” – Bryn, with a slight smile.

“Yes, well, that’s true, but you did use some witchcraft on that other man. I hope word of that doesn’t spread to anyone important.” – Marwolaeth, a little worried.

Bryn’s smile disappears somewhat, and she rubs at her chest a little, almost absent-mindedly. She looks to be in a little pain, though admittedly, that could just as easily be from the arrow-wound only recently bandaged.

They cross the Main Thoroughfare together, in a companionable silence as the day wears on.

* * *

“Excuse me!” – Shadow, calling to a Midlander passer-by.

The man looks to be middle-aged, tanned with dark brown short-cropped hair and a neatly trimmed beard. His clothing is quite rich, either minor nobility or well-to-do merchantry, with a broad-bladed dagger at his belt.

“Who lives in this big one here?” – Shadow, indicating the great stone keep.

“What, the keep? That would be the Rodelle family. Are you not from around here?” – The stranger, a little bemused.

“I’m new to the area, just stopping through.” – Shadow, extending a hand in greeting.

“Ah, well in that case, welcome to Stonebridge. Yes, the Rodelles, the ruling family, most powerful nobility for many miles.” – The stranger, shaking Shadow’s hand.

“Compensating for something, are they?” – Shadow, with a sardonic smile.

“Yes, well, some have said that, sure.” – The stranger, snorting with amusement.

“What are they like personally though? And for the town?” – Shadow, a note of inquiry in his voice.

“They do well enough I guess. You wouldn’t find many who would complain about Rodelle rulership. Stonebridge is prosperous under them, with many opportunities for trade. The Rodelles do not often push themselves into the affairs of the smallfolk. No, there would not be many with problems. Those who do I would hazard a guess would be dissidents no matter who was in charge.” – The stranger, shrugging.

Shadow looks away to regard the keep once more, his thoughts racing, but he does not share them.

“Uh, if that’s all, I must be going.” – The stranger, about to leave.

“Nice shoes.” – Shadow, still not looking at the man.

“Uh, thanks. Goodbye now.” – The stranger, his shoes in question a black leather.

Shadow does not respond, and instead, starts to walk back to the Or’Saer Emporium at a slow, measured pace.

* * *

“Brynhildr, I’m sorry, I’ve just remembered I need to go check the apothecary’s mail. Do you wish to come with me to the mail-house? It isn’t far from here.” – Marwolaeth, as the two women approach the Grand Market.

“Yes, I will come see it. I can collect my spells after.” – Brynhildr, quietly.

The Stonebridge Herald, newspaper printed once a week and delivered around the town comes from a printing-press just east of the Grand Market, located alongside the eastern curtain wall.  Beside the facility lies a slightly smaller building, the Stonebridge Mail House. Upon entering they are greeted by an old Dunscarth man at an elevated desk, who looks down upon them, even Brynhildr.

He is a spindly old thing, his skin a pale grey, his hair long, wispy, white and tied back out of the way. Behind him stretches a long corridor, the walls of which are lined with numbered wooden boxes, nearly from floor to ceiling. A tall wooden ladder, with wheels at the base is set into grooves on the stone floor which allow the ladder to run freely along the corridor.

“Hello there, is that Miss Plendyn Or’Saer? It is indeed. How are you?” – The old Dunscarth man, his kindly voice reedy with age.

“Yes, hello Eored. I was wondering if anything might have come in for us? ” – Marwolaeth, a little awkwardly.

“I do indeed Miss Or’Saer, I do indeed. Or’Saer, that’s seventy-five, so boys, box seventy-five if you please!” – The Dunscarth, Eored. Behind him, two young pages spring into action, one climbing the ladder, while the other wheels it into position. The boy upon the ladder withdraws a box numbered 75 from the wall, and pulls forth three sealed letters.

These two pages are seemingly still learning the ins and outs of the mail-house, as the one driving the ladder forward does so a little roughly, jostling the climber as it moves. He descends, hands the letters to Marwolaeth, gives his compatriot a dirty look and then the two return to their other duties.

Of the three letters, one is a bill for the rent of the Or’Saer Emporium, and she gives the disappointed groan of one who is about to hand over yet another substantial sum of money. The second is a response to her job notice, and while she sighs a little at only receiving one application, a brief look-over appears promising.

The third, to her great surprise, is addressed to the Or’Saer Emporium, but not to her.

No indeed, this envelope reads the following.

To Kari Folgesvard and Aranessa Cild-Rohesia, if they should yet live

And that is where we left it…

The Wrap-Up:
A little shorter this time, thankfully, and I was able to finish this one in good time. Clearly only having hour sessions is the way to go. :P

Definitely very Brynhildr-heavy this one, but I think it might be a good thing, as the first prologue was quite Shadow-centric at first, and then focussed a fair bit on Marwolaeth after, so all in all, this kind of balanced it out a little bit.

We also got to see some of the dynamic developing between Marwolaeth and Bryn, which I personally liked a lot.

All in all, another positive experience, with not a hell of a lot to say about it, in part at least due to the length, or rather lack of.

Oh, I nearly forgot. Kari Folgesvard and Aranessa Cild-Rohesia will be quite familiar to only a bare handful of our readers. They are characters from another long-running campaign of ours, which I fully intend to write up in some form at some stage in the future. Their connection with Marwolaeth Plendyn Or’Saer should be quite exciting to explore, but that’s for another time.

With that, thank you for reading and we’ll see you next time.

« Last Edit: February 02, 2024, 02:15:33 PM by Phoenixguard09 »
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2021, 05:33:07 AM »
Session 1.1: A Dark Night

”Oh wow, it’s a real adventurer.

I can’t believe this. I’m in a s***** little town, in the middle of a crisis. I’ve just met with an adventurer in a tavern. This is just like the stories.

I am so hyped right now.

It’s finally happening. YES!”

- Ailbhe Blackrose’s internal monologue upon meeting Michael McFyfe.

Welcome to the first real session of Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow. Tonight, we have our full allotment of players, the whole kit and caboodle, so to speak. What exciting times we live in.

“You’ve lost The Game.” – Ladyhawk.
“Great.” – Redshirt.
“Have to keep the tradition alive.” – Ladyhawk.

The busy confines of the Pallid Mare ring with the general clamour of an eating and drinking establishment packed to the rafters, the sounds of slightly subdued merriment and over it all, the wailing notes of Syntherion Voiculescu’s psaltery accompanied by his clear vocals as the young Jeleni completes his rendition of a famous folk-tune.

There is scattered applause from around the inn as the music draws to a close. A slightly-built Leathe girl with merle fur stops trying to pull her companion, a heavy-set bearded Highlander with russet-brown hair, out of his seat to dance with her and clambers upon the table instead, clapping with great enthusiasm. She whistles her appreciation as Synth stands and bows to the crowd, most of whom have already turned their attention elsewhere.

“Ailbhe has been un-ironically just bopping. ‘This is so cultural.’ She’s just living for it.” – LD.
“Synth is probably a little bit taken aback by the existence of applause.” – Sins.

As an aside, whether it be the acoustics of where we played on the night or merely where we had the recording device set up, listening to the recording, whenever either LaPD or Redshirt laughs, my ears bleed. Yohan made a reference early on about how high the recording spiked when LaPD laughed during the introduction and it only got worse from there.

Also, the train which passes by every half an hour is not particularly welcome either.

So gentle reader, you owe me. I’m coming for your young. :D

Sitting at the booth in between the one belonging to the rambunctious Leathe and her companion, and Synth’s stage, an elderly dwarf and a raven-haired Danann share a drink and a bite to eat. The dwarf shakes his head.

“I’m regretting telling him to go up there now.” – Ignus, gruff.

Hadrina doesn’t respond, but merely grins, an expression of good humour perhaps, baring her fangs. It would be off-putting to anyone who doesn’t know her, but she need not worry about such with Ignus.

She takes a long pull from the tankard of ale before her. It isn’t terrible, if perhaps a little watery. Then the music starts up once more and she feels as if the ale isn’t strong enough.

* * *

Outside the tavern, on the stone streets of the town, all movement has ceased. All afternoon the cry had been taken up by the clergy of the Triad. Tonight, is the fated night, the dreaded Chéserquine. Windows and doors throughout the township have been boarded up, the better to withstand the spectral hunt which will blow through the settlement, sweeping up any and all who are unprotected and bear them away into the dark to join the Mesnee d’Hellequin.

Now, with the sun almost entirely dipped down below the horizon, the shadows lengthen across the countryside. Any who would brave the encroaching darkness would note the shadows almost dancing of their own accord, fell lights glimmering in the darkened woods of the Viltshaws. None, however, dare venture outdoors now for miles around.

Deep in the woods, a chittering begins, soft, faint, susurrating. It grows slowly, into a dull drone. Shrieks and cries echo through the still woodland, alien and terrifying. The power of the Chéserquine grows.

* * *

Brynhildr, safe now within the sturdy walls of the Or’Saer Emporium, sits upon the floor near the door, her back against the stone wall, absent-mindedly throwing a pinecone to a small shaggy mammoth calf. The mammoth trots after the pinecone, picking it up tenderly with his prehensile trunk and carries it back to the tall woman, depositing it in her lap for her to throw again.

While engaged in this game, she inspects the fine runes carved into the threshold of the doorway. They are narrow, small lines intersecting cleanly with each other, forming precise geometric patterns, each little rune equidistant from the next in succession. To her witchsight, the charcoal grey of her eyes giving way to an almost icy frost for a moment, the sigils gleam with a slight trace of magic, though she does not recognise it.

“Marwolaeth, did you carve these?” – Bryn, calling to the woman behind the Emporium’s front counter.

The stocky apothecary and her sister had provided a simple dinner for their guests and now, while Shadow cleaned up after dinner, Marwolaeth was reading the letters she had retrieved from the Stonebridge mail-house.

“I’m sorry, carve what? Oh those? No, they were there when we first rented the place. They’re on all the windowsills too.” – Marwolaeth, shrugging, then returning to her reading.

Caitrin emerges from the stairway, her breathing slightly ragged, her pale and gaunt features somewhat softened by the warm lantern-light illuminating the room.

“I have locked up everything upstairs. Is there anything you would like me to do while you check everything over?” – Caitrin, to Marwoaleth.

“No dear, just rest for me. I quite like the look of this applicant though, so if you’re happy to try him out, we’ll get in touch with him in the morning.” – Marwolaeth, handing the letter of application to her sister before tramping upstairs herself.

Caitrin sits down behind the counter to read the letter, sparing an amused smile for the shape of Venn who comes barrelling around the corner after a thrown pinecone.

“Does she take her shoes off?” – Pugsley, for the second time that night.
“Why are you so obsessed with this character’s feet?” – Dev.
“Pugsley, we’ve been playing for all of about ten minutes and you’ve already developed a foot fetish.” – Yohan.
“It’ll all make sense later.” – LaPD, laughing.
“I don’t really want it to.” – Yohan.
“He’s an undercover fashion designer?” – Sins.
“Undercover? Mate, I’m not hiding it.” – Pugsley.

LaPD then went into detail about how Shadow Fashion Industries would work, with a hidden designer secretively going about their business, the model with their back turned and unable to feel any clothes upon them. Finally, impatient and confused, they turn around to see Shadow, laying clothes out upon the ground, over the model’s own shadow. He exclaims they have ruined his masterpiece, performs the Shadow Gang hand sign and disappears in a huff.

It was very funny, but the train went by as she described it, so unfortunately, I cannot transcribe it word for word.

* * *

“Okay love, that’s enough now!” – Mallida, the stout innkeeper of the Pallid Mare, waving her hand to Syntherion.

The youth brings the music to a crescendo, then bows and leaves the raised stage, the last note of his psaltery hanging, hauntingly in the air. Silence descends upon the tavern, as the reality of the night sets in. He sits next to Hadrina in the booth, even his incorrigible spirits seemingly dampened somewhat by the tension within the establishment.

Tail twitching with excitement, the Leathe girl, Ailbhe Blackrose, stands and moves towards one of the boarded-up windows and peeks out between the wooden slats, oblivious to the horrified looks she is receiving from the other patrons. Outside, on the darkened streets, she can see a heavy fog billowing in the night. As she watches, shrieks and whoops, as if every creature of the forest were outside, split the night, a nightmarish mash of sound. The fog billows and shifts, as if disturbed by something moving unseen and a creaking sound emanates forth from it, almost like wood moving and shifting under extreme duress. She notices a glimpse, here and there, of antlers, like those of a stag, the icy shafts of spears, spectral pennants blowing in an unnatural breeze. She sees eyes glowing bright red in the night and wisps of movement all through the fog as it eddies, ripples and shifts almost like water. Here and there the shapes of low-slung creatures stalk, eyes and fangs glinting in the dim light, through the fog.

She feels a slight tremble of trepidation as the raven-haired Danann moves to join her from the booth next to her own. Hadrina says nothing to the Leathe, merely standing beside her, staring out into the night, cat’s eyes gleaming with a faint emerald green light.

“What are they?” – Ailbhe, quietly, almost to herself.

“Sidhe of the forest. Just spirits of the wild.” – Hadrina, solemnly. For just a brief moment more, she continues to look out the window.

The reverie is broken by the sound of the door of the Pallid Mare creaking open and an old man, a stout Midlander with greying hair, strides out into the embrace of the night. There are a few shocked gasps as the door swings open and the mist starts to billow in.

“Quick, close the door!” – Mallida, a note of panic in her voice. 

A few patrons of the inn move to the doorway, Michael and Ailbhe among them, but none are swifter than the Danann who darts to the wooden door where it has been left swaying gently in the cold night air. She closes it, and as she does so, her eyes land upon the figure of the grey-haired old man as he stumbles into the mist. As the fog begins to envelope him fully, another figure emerges from the darkness. Tall, unnaturally so, blacker than the night around it and wearing what appears to be a tall crown of brambles and branches silhouetted against the night sky, the figure is nightmarish in aspect and rides upon a steed of some kind, as fell and dark as the rider itself. The fog raises around the apparition, sweeping the old man up in its wake, and the rider and steed burst into the night sky above, the thunderous report of hooves beating across the roof of the inn as Hadrina slams the door shut.

The Danann sinks to the floor, her back to the closed door. She makes a conscious effort to steady her breathing and regain some composure before her green eyes glare out at the rest of the horrified clientele.

“No one else is going outside until this whole thing is over.” – Hadrina, and while her tone is harsh, her close companions, Ignus and Syntherion, can detect just the slightest quaver in her voice.

Outside, there is a heavy crash of thunder and rain begins to fall steadily from the dark clouds above.

* * *

Boarded up within the Or’Saer Emporium, Bryn watches on as Venn happily enjoys Caitrin’s company. The slight woman has built a small bed for the mammoth calf, almost a soft nest of blankets and cushions, and she sits down next to it, petting the little creature. She looks up at Bryn and smiles gently as the mammoth rolls over on his back, nudging her hand with his trunk to get some good scritches on his belly.

Venn’s mannerisms are basically those of our dog, Zeus.

Thunder crashes in the sky above and the rain begins to fall over Stonebridge. The sudden noise causes Venn to stir slightly in his nest, coming to his feet with a little trumpet of alarm, and Bryn kneels beside Caitrin to soothe the little creature’s panic.

“He’s a beautiful little thing.” – Caitrin, quietly, as Venn tramples the bedding in a circle before setting himself down to rest once more. His trunk extends, questing for the familiarity of Bryn’s hand.

“He is. We’ve been through a lot together already.” – Bryn, gently taking the little mammoth’s trunk in her hand and allowing him to hold on to her as both the rain and the Mesnee d’Hellequin descend upon the darkened streets of Stonebridge.

* * *

“Who was he?” – Hadrina, to Mallida.

Behind her, Ignus has pulled one of the long bench seats out from their booth and propped it against the door. He has also taken a long, sturdy iron bar from his packed belongings and wedged it between the doorframe, across the door, barring access. Now he sits upon it, a flagon of ale in one hand and a curious looking hammer in the other, his clouded eyes surveying the firelit room. Despite his stout legs swinging in the air from the seat, he still cuts a somewhat imposing figure.

“A traveller, I did not learn his name. He has been here for a few days now and paid well to stay in a room upstairs. As far as I know, he had hardly left his room until tonight, except to silently take a meal.” – Mallida, helplessly.

Where most of the Pallid Mare’s denizens seem to be caught in a variety of states between panic and shock, Syntherion is far from it. His eyes dart around the tavern excitedly, and he marvels at the fury of the storm outside and the thunder of the hooves beating upon the cobblestone streets and the rooves of the buildings all around. Silently, he begins to compose a song to himself.

Ailbhe seats herself beside the stout form of Ignus, the old dwarf pointedly ignoring both the Leathe’s presence and her friendly nod of greeting.

“So, do you take taverns hostage often?” – Ailbhe, guilelessly.

She is ignored, and she sniffs and turns away, but remains seated upon the bench.

* * *

The hours pass and finally the howling cacophony, thunderous hoofbeats and swirling gale of wind and mist begin to recede, the Chéserquine retreating into the forested hills of the Viltshaws to await the next astrological anomaly which would allow them to wage their hunt across the surrounding lands once more.

The impact of the rain drumming a gentle pattern upon the exterior of the Or’Saer Emporium is the only sound which remains. That, and the softly whiffling snoring of Venn, curled up in the nest Caitrin made for him. Gently, so as not wake him, Bryn extricates her hand and forearm from his grasp and clambers to her feet. She walks across the front room of the Emporium, to where Marwolaeth and Caitrin sit in companionable silence, behind the shop counter.

“Is it over?” – Brynhildr, her quiet, accented voice breaking the silence of the dimly-lit room.

Wordlessly, Marwolaeth rises from her seat and crosses over to the doorway. She stands there for a moment with her ear against the wooden door, listening intently.  Beyond, there is only the rainfall, and the soft breeze wafting through the streets, nothing alike to the howling gale which accompanied the Chéserquine.

With a whisper, Marwolaeth opens the front door, revealing the darkened streets of the south-bank of Stonebridge. The rain starts to lessen, and the dark clouds begin to disperse somewhat, allowing the light of the twin moons to bathe the town in faint silvery light. The unnatural fog is gone.

“I think that might be it. Congratulations on surviving your first Chéserquine.” – Marwolaeth, her tone quiet and on edge, still wary, belying her flippant words.

“Congratulations on surviving your first Chéserquine.” – Another voice, cadence and intonation nearly the same, coming from the blackbird nestled in a nest upon the windowsill. The voice is remarkably alike to Marwolaeth’s own, but it almost seems to have a mocking quality to it.

Both Shadow and Bryn move to join Marwolaeth at the open doorway and look out into the night. It is peaceful now, and quiet, save for the steady drizzle of rain which continues to fall upon the town.

“Is that smoke? Yes, it is, look.” – Shadow, taking a sniff of the night air before pointing across the way. A faint orange glow illuminates the sky, growing stronger with every second.

It would seem one of the dwellings here upon the southern bank of Stonebridge has caught alight. Faint trails of smoke begin to lift from the site of the fire.

“Venn, stay here.” – Bryn, to the little mammoth, as she and Marwolaeth take off into the darkened streets.

Caitrin moves to the door to stand alongside Shadow as the man watches the other two women dart off into the night.

“Should we go with them?” – Caitrin, a note of concern in her reedy voice.

“Perhaps it is best you stay here, stand guard and all that. Hold the door.” – Shadow, his hands on her thin shoulders, as he gently moves her back a few paces from the doorway. He then turns and dashes off into the night himself, closing the door behind him.

“Caitrin looks down and realises he has taken her shoes.” – Dev.

* * *

As the thunder from outside begins to recede, the inhabitants of the Pallid Mare begin to stir. Mallida slowly makes her way to the window and risks a peek outside. There is nothing to be seen, beyond the slight drifting haze of gentle rain.

“I think it is over, everyone.” – Mallida, who slumps against the wooden windowsill.

There is a ragged cheer from a handful of throats at her words, and slowly, wearily, a select few of the denizens of the inn start to pack their belongings and make their way out the door and into the night. Many others start to head to the bar, Michael among them, where Mallida returns and takes their drink orders. The majority either relax, sit back and converse quietly with their fellows a little more freely, relief writ large upon their faces, or begin to bed down properly for the night.

* * *

As Bryn and Marwolaeth run through the streets at pace, the orange glow in the sky above grows stronger and clearer. As they approach the fire, the cries of those fighting to contain and control the blaze can be heard, as can panicked screams. This close to the keep, the inhabitants of this district are more affluent and well-to-do than those in other parts of the town.

Marwolaeth and Brynhildr come to a stop, Shadow joining them only a few moments later. Before stands a tall mansion, clearly the home of a prominent family of Stonebridge. The house is a blazing pillar of light, white-hot flames licking up the stone supports to consume the wooden beams and majority of the structure.

Marwolaeth briefly remembers back to when she first arrived in Stonebridge, just after she had set up the Emporium. She had been called to this mansion to treat the son of the head of the family, quite young at the time. What was their family name again?

She cannot remember, though it matters little now.

A handful of citizens of the town have set up a chain of people, passing buckets along the line between a town-well to the east and those casting the water onto the flames. Marwolaethe approaches one of them.

“Do you know if there’s still anyone inside?” – Marwolaeth, a note of urgency in her voice.

“Yes! There is! We could hear the screams. No one can get inside though, look at it!” – One of the volunteers, receiving a bucket from the man further along the chain from him. He takes the heavy vessel and strides as close as he can to the mansion, about to cast the water over the flames.

There is a piercing scream, a child’s voice from within the house, and the first floor’s ceiling caves in, the bright flames increasing in intensity as the wood and stone smashes to the ground. The team of firefighters shy back, away from the explosion as flames roar out the front windows.

“No, don’t stop! There’s still a child in there!” – Marwolaeth, taking a small vial of a viscous, dark liquid from the satchel at her side.

The diminutive woman pulls the stopper from the vial and downs the liquid within, wincing as she does so. The pain is incredible, as her lungs physically transmute within her chest, expanding in size and altering in their composition, becoming far more efficient. She takes an inhumanly deep breath, holds it, and dashes to the front door of the mansion, taking the burning wood in her thick-gloved hands. She tries to pull it open, but it will not budge. She starts to push against it, but again, it does not shift. Eventually she begins to slam her shoulder into the door again and again, losing precious seconds of saved air.

The door still refuses to give way.

Tying a strip of cloth over his mouth and nose, Shadow join Marwolaeth at the door, having taken a bucket full of water from the chain of volunteers, risking closer proximity to the flames than they were able to manage. He douses the door in water and turns back, tossing the empty bucket to the firefighters, awaiting the next loaded bucket.

Marwolaeth spies a window, blasted open by the furious inferno, and makes her way to it, clambering over the shattered glass, and into the interior of the manse. Her teeth grit as a shard of glass slices through the thick leather of one of her gloves, and into the flesh of her hand within.

Outside, Brynhildr joins Shadow at the end of the chain, and together they venture in closer to the house than others would dare, trying to keep an eye on Marwolaeth as best they can.

As for Marwolaeth, it is incredibly difficult to get her bearings. The sound of the flames consuming the house around her is immense, as is the unbearable heat and the shifting heat-haze. Before her lies what is left of communal living area of sorts, though the elements which would distinguish it as such are swiftly being consumed. There is a door too, closed, which presumably leads further into the mansion.

She opens the door, and as she does so, a substantial wooden beam crashes down from the ceiling above, falling at a diagonal angle across the long hallway beyond. It is heavily aflame, and Marwolaeth is forced back a touch by the flaring of the flames as the beam falls. She lets out a cry of pain as the flames reach for her, letting out yet more precious air as she does so.

Carefully, she picks her way past the fallen beam, keeping her eyes peeled for any sign of life around her.

“Hello! Can anyone here me?” – Marwolaeth, calling desperately, trying to pitch her voice above the roaring inferno.

There is no answering voice, not leastwise, one she can hear, but at the end of the hallway, opposite the caved in staircase, there is a pile of debris and rubble, obscuring a doorway. She thinks, maybe, she can hear the scraping of stone rubble being shifted.

Marwolaeth makes her way down the hallway and attempts to clamber over the fallen rubble and debris. She slips and falls, and as the burning debris clatters down around her, she utters a curse as she burns herself. She staggers upright again and, with the difficulty she experiences in doing so, looks down and notes a knife-like shard of stone has punched through the flesh of her lower leg, blood welling up around the puncture wound.

LaPimpDaddy failed the Climb Check to pass over the pile of debris by a fair amount and then took the maximum environmental damage for the round too.

I offered to take a Luck Point to re-roll the environmental damage, which brought the result down by 1. Marwolaeth still took 4 Damage from the house crumbling and burning around her.

“My, how generous you are.” – LaPD.
“Tell you what, that’s a pretty poor return for a Luck Point. I’ll allow you to re-roll your Climb Check too.”

The re-roll results in a straight success.

Again she attempts to clamber over the rubble, and this time she is successful, falling over the other side. There, in the room, caught under a light pile of smouldering debris, lies the unconscious form of a small, maybe twelve-year-old sandy-haired boy. She remembers his name as she sees his face. Tomas.

Urgently, she pulls the boy free of the rubble and tries to pick him, but she trips and falls, burning herself a little in the process. With difficulty, her strength failing as the last of her breath begins to escape her, Marwolaeth takes an arm and attempts to drag the limp body of the boy along the floor.

Outside, Shadow and Bryn abandon their efforts with the buckets, the outermost flames quelled enough now for others to take their place in close proximity to the house. They circuit around the mansion, looking for another point of egress, or even better, a sign of Marwolaeth. Eventually, through a window around the back, Shadow spies her, weakly dragging the limp body of a child. Above her, a wooden beam crumbles and falls, and the house shifts and groans.

“Bryn! Around here!” – Shadow, calling out as he draws one of his curved blades and smashes the grimy window with a single heavy strike with the pommel. He takes his cloak and wraps it around his hand to protect it, and uses the makeshift covering to smash aside the remaining glass shards in the window-frame.

Brynhildr skids to a stop, having broken into a run at Shadow’s call and mutters a quick incantation under her breath. Glimmering silver and pale blue ice rimes her form, sparkling iridescent in the flickering firelight. She manages, with some difficulty to clamber through the broken window, shards of ice chipping off her and spitting away into the flames.

“Take the boy! The boy!” – Marwolaeth, desperately trying to hand the boy to her larger companion, using the last of her air.

Bryn fumbles in the heat, feeling her armour literally melting around her. Together, they are able to, with difficulty, haul the boy out through the window, dropping him into Shadow’s arms.

The two women follow the boy out, Marwolaeth first. She slips as she clambers out and would have fallen back into the house if it weren’t for Shadow, who takes her arms and pulls her out bodily. Brynhildr follows behind momentarily, unable to perceive any signs of anyone else trapped in the inferno over the roaring flames and the cries of those outside, attempting to fight the blaze.

“Where are we while all this happening? Is there a chance we would have heard any of this?” – Yohan.
“We’re on the other side of the town.” – LD.
“The fun side of town. The party side of town.” – Dev.

Marwolaeth rips her coat off and throws it on the ground, stamping on the smouldering garment. She coughs, a wretched hacking thing, her throat torn up by the smoke in the air.

“Are you okay?” – Shadow, to Marwolaeth, genuine concern in his tone.

She ignores him and continues to stamp on her coat before suddenly looking up at him, a stricken expression on her face.

“The boy? Where’s the boy?” – Marwolaeth, panicked.

Shadow had taken the boy and dragged him over to the side wall of the neighbouring house, leaving him there on his back while he returned to assist Marwolaeth and Brynhildr in their own escape from the burning mansion.

“With a dagger in his chest.” – Redshirt.
“He appears to have suffered a heart attack, brought about by the knife, embedded in his chest.”

Marwolaeth’s eyes lock on the small figure and she staggers towards him. Falling to her knees on the packed dirt ground, she rolls him on his side. She is relieved to note there is a pulse and Tomas is breathing, albeit faintly. The breathing is wheezy and laboured and he is covered in various minor burns, but for the most part, other than being unconscious, the boy seems to be okay.

In fact, for the most part, his injuries seem to be lesser than Marwolaeth’s own.

“Is he still alive?” – Shadow.

“Yes, but he will need significant care. We need to take him back to the apothecary.” – Marwolaeth.

* * *

Within the now somewhat lively Pallid Mare, Ailbhe sidles over to where Syntherion sits in a booth seat, excitedly jotting down his newly composed lyrics on a napkin with a small charcoal stick.

“Hi! What’s your name?” – Ailbhe, cheerfully extending a hand in greeting.

“Syntherion, yours?” – Synth, equally cheerful.

“Ailbhe. Your name is a little hard to pronounce. Do you have a nickname?” – Ailbhe, trying to surreptitiously crane her neck a little to see Synth’s composition, and failing miserably.

“Yeah, Synth… Do you have a nickname? Are you looking forward to the Festivale? Do you know if we need tickets?” – Synth, a flood of questions bubbling forth. He has absolutely no idea Ailbhe is trying to read his lyrics.

“No nickname, but I’d like one. Maybe you can give me one? Very much looking forward to it Synt’ and no, I don’t think you need a ticket to go. I’m pretty sure you just turn up and join the party.” – Ailbhe, whose accent doesn’t do the ‘-th’ sound very well. Also, she has no idea as to the ticketing situation of the Festivale. She’s right, but she is totally just making it up.

“I’d love to give you one. I’m already working on it. I’ll let you know what I come up with. I’m really looking forward to the Festivale too, it’s going to be great fun. I hope there’s plenty of food and music and dancing and fireworks and above all, I’m just glad I won’t need a ticket, because I haven’t bought one and I wouldn’t know where to do so.” – Synth, excited to have found just about the only person in Stonebridge capable of keeping up with his scattered approach to conversation.

While this is happening, Michael at the bar feels a stout presence behind him, at his elbow. He turns slightly to see a heavy-set dwarf of considerable years with a long, well-maintained salt-and-pepper grey beard. His bare arms are corded with hard muscle, an artefact of decades of hard work at the forge. His eyes are a cloudy white, but the dwarf seems to be able to see without any difficulty.

“I see the kids are getting along well.” – The dwarf, gruffly, jerking his head back in the direction of Syntherion and Ailbhe in the booth, their conversation growing louder and more excited by the minute.

“They’re chattering away like a house on fire!” – LD, before dissolving into a helpless fit of laughter.

“Seems to be the case, friend. Michael.” – Michael, extending a hand in greeting towards the dwarf, who takes it in a grasp which feels like it could crack a brick.

“Ignus. The lad is Syntherion, the Danann, Hadrina.” – Ignus, indicating the two other members of his little ‘family’.

“Well met.” – Michael, who receives his drink and then decides to wait for Ignus to order his own.

“Two ales please and I also have a question. The man who took off into the night before, what room was he staying in?” – Ignus, handing over a few coppers.

“I suppose he won’t be coming back for anything in there. Third floor, second door on your right. Let me know if you find anything worthwhile.” – Mallida, pouring two flagons of frothy ale. 

Receiving the ales, Ignus and Michael make their way back to the booth, joining Syntherion, Ailbhe and an increasingly annoyed Hadrina.

“Okay, we have the innkeeper’s permission to go check out that man’s room upstairs. Who wants to help me search it?” – Ignus, directing his question to Synth and Ailbhe, who both nod with some excitement.

“Sure.” – Michael, taking a draught of ale. Leaning against the wall in the booth, Hadrina nods too.

Together, the five traipse upstairs, Ignus swiftly falling behind, in part due to his stocky build and advanced age, and in part due to both Synth and Ailbhe fair racing one another up the staircase.

Eventually, Ignus joins them at the room, with a disgruntled expression upon his face, and withdraws the key Mallida gave him.

Opening the door reveals a small, simple room. There is a single bed, made, pushed against the far wall. There is a dresser too, a washbasin and a small table with a single wooden chair next to it.

“Here, look.” – Hadrina, pulling a small slip of paper from where it is tucked beneath the side of the thin mattress. She unfolds it, reads it and hands it to Ignus.

I hear them – The note, thin lettering written in black ink in a spidery hand.

“Nice writing. Looks educated.” – Synth, looking at the note over Ignus’ shoulder.

Other than the note, there is little of any consequence. No signs of belongings the man has left behind, nor of any other writing.

“The bed’s made. Doesn’t even look disturbed at all. How long did the innkeep say he was here? Three days, no?” – Michael, puzzled.

“Aye, there abouts. Look at the dust everywhere too.” – Ignus, running a single finger on the beaten pillow upon the bed. It comes away with a thin layer of dust.

“The only thing not covered in dust is this chair over here.” – Hadrina, pulling the chair out to inspect it.

“Mood.” – LD.
“Yeah, that’s just me going to work. I go in the room, sit down and just wait to die.” – Yohan.

“What do you think he could hear?” – Ailbhe, reading the note herself. No one answers her, though Ignus, Hadrina and Michael all share a dark look.

“He must have known he was going to die and wanted to go out on his own terms. It’s really the only thing I can think of. He must have been planning this for a while.” – Hadrina, quietly.

They continue to search for anything of note in the room but turn up nothing. Eventually, the companions troop out of the room, leaving Hadrina as the last.

The Danann sighs, disappointed, and follows the others back downstairs to the common room.

Within the tavern, the rest of the night passes otherwise uneventfully. After some time getting to know one another over a few drinks, the five eventually retire to their respective rooms.

* * *

“Quick, quick, come in, come in.” – Caitrin, holding open the front door for the three companions.

Having brought the limp body of Tomas to the safety of the Or’Saer Emporium, Marwolaeth begins to set about the task of preparing a place to treat the boy. She takes off her coat and gloves, putting them aside, wincing as she disturbs her burn-wounds.

“You need to have them looked at yourself Marwolaeth.” – Caitrin, gesturing to the substantial injuries her sister bears.

“Not until the boy’s looked after.” – Marwolaeth, who proceeds to do exactly that.

The next hour passes swiftly as Marwolaeth, with the assistance of Caitrin, ensures the boy’s survival. Eventually, bleary-eyed and weary, Marwolaeth is convinced the boy will make it. His airways are clear, but his breathing is still weak, and she can hear the stress of his scarred lungs with every breath he takes.

He has, thankfully, not been too severely burned. In fact, her own wounds are worse in such regard, as she correctly surmised earlier. With the boy now resting fitfully in a cot, Marwolaeth allows Caitrin to attend to her own burns. Shadow offers a hand too, holding equipment and salves for Caitrin as she deftly cleans and dresses Marwolaeth’s injuries. She also must clean and stitch the glass laceration to Marwolaeth’s hand and the puncture wound to her calf. It is slow going in the uncertain light as Shadow hands Marwolaeth a very strong drink to take the sting away and then holds a candle close to the wounds for Caitrin to work by.

Outside the infirmary, Bryn has removed her own outer-coat, frowning at the singeing and burn-marks upon it. She sits behind the front-counter, Venn curled up on the ground at her feet, feeling helpless. It is an unusual feeling for her.

She doesn’t like it.

* * *

And that is not where we left it, but I’m doing the thing where I sit on a piece of work for months without really getting anywhere with it, so I’ve decided to split this session in half…

The Wrap-Up:
There we have it, the Chéserquine has passed over the region of Stonebridge. This was a good little introductory session I feel. Everyone seemed to enjoy it and we even managed to get two of the groups to sort of join each other. :P

Obviously, there is more interaction between the two groups in the second half of the session which covers the day after the Chéserquine, but I felt the end of the night was a pretty good place to leave our tale for now.

Also, our next write-up will be Session 0.5: The Good Brother, which will be our last prologue, set contemporaneously with Session 1.1 and 1.2, which will see Charlie introduced into the group.

In addition to this, we will also be playing Session 1.3 this weekend, all going well, which is very exciting. We are expecting the full complement of players too, which is always nice.

Thank you for reading,

« Last Edit: February 02, 2024, 02:18:06 PM by Phoenixguard09 »
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2021, 02:49:15 PM »
Been a while since this has been updated. My apologies, life has got in the way a little. The next chapter should be coming shortly, but until then I shall provide you with some pictures of our band of intrepid adventurers, as crafted on Heroforge, largely by the miscreants behind the characters.

Spoiler: Brynhildr Gyldenskinn (click to show/hide)

Spoiler: Michael McFyfe (click to show/hide)

Spoiler: Ailbhe Blackrose (click to show/hide)

Spoiler: Syntherion Voiculescu (click to show/hide)

Spoiler: Ignus Gritsword (click to show/hide)

Spoiler: Shadow (click to show/hide)

Spoiler: Charlie Gwyn Valdemar (click to show/hide)
« Last Edit: July 28, 2021, 12:32:41 PM by Phoenixguard09 »
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #8 on: July 21, 2021, 12:55:48 PM »
Session 1.2: The Day After

To the Proprietors of the Or’Saer Emporium

My name is Hamlin Drybrush, and I wish to formally apply for the advertised position of apothecary's apprentice. I am thirteen years old and have lived in Stonebridge all my life.

Sadly, I do not have much in the way of experience which relates to the role I hope you will accept me for, but I am helpful, friendly, keen and an enthusiastic learner. My mother taught me my letters and numbers by the time I was five, and my father used to take me hunting and foraging in the Arbret when I was younger, so I know the lands around the town well enough.

One day I hope to become a proper alchemist and learn how to transmute things, and this would be the perfect first step.

I await your response eagerly,
Hamlin Drybrush

– Letter sent to the postbox of the Or’Saer Emporium, the only response to a job notice. The lettering is simple, large and somehow earnest.

Welcome to session 1.2 of Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow. This is of course, just the second half of our first session, but I have split it up for the sake of my own sanity as it took the better part of a year to write up both sessions.

Dawn breaks over the township of Stonebridge, revealing the thin carpet of pale mist wisping through the stony streets. A light drizzle of rain accompanies the mist, a drizzle which has remained constant throughout the night since the passing of the Chéserquine.

In the Pallid Mare inn, on the northern bank of Stonebridge, the general mood is quite subdued. It is very early, and the night previous was both long and tense. As such, many of those within the tavern, having stayed the evening, are still abed.

Not so in the room shared by Ignus Gritsword, Syntherion Voiculescu and Hadrina Cinel-Crimthann. Heaving himself out of the cot with difficulty, Ignus gently awakens the dozing Syntherion.

“I have business to attend to down by the forge, my lad. I’ll be there if you need me.” – Ignus, quietly.

“Okay, have fun. I’m going to try and find this mythical town square again.” – Syntherion, brightly, far too chipper for this early hour. He starts to gather his things, putting his cloak on.

“It is far too early to be having any kind of conversation, you two.” – Hadrina, lying on her back on the bed, staring at the dark ceiling.

Ignus nods, and ventures downstairs, finding the now familiar shape of the well-built and russet-haired Highlander, Michael McFyfe, hunched over a bowl of food, steam rising from it in the cool morning air. The common room is otherwise empty, save for the young Southron woman, sitting upon the bar. Taree, he seemed to remember Hadrina had said her name was.

The girl and Ignus exchange nods of greeting as he enters the room, and the dwarf sits next to Michael.

“Morning” – Ignus, settling into the seat with a slight groan. His frame is too large for the cot in his room. He is riddled with aches.

“Mornin’. Plans for the day?” – Michael, alternating his speech with quick bites of his bacon and eggs. He eats like a man who is used to having to eat swiftly, or else pass up the opportunity for a meal. A veteran, of some mercenary company or another, Ignus surmises.

“I have some business to attend to at the smithies down on the riverbank. I could do with the company, and perhaps the extra muscle. An ale, too please.” – Ignus, nodding his thanks to Taree as she brings a small plate of breakfast for him too. He flicks her a few coppers. The girl raises an eyebrow but makes no remark as she heads back to the bar to fix him a drink.

“I was planning on doing some shopping today, might be good to check out the forges. Good morning to you too, young man.” – Michael, finishing his meal and looking up from his plate to greet Syntherion, who has just come downstairs, a slight bounce in his step.

“Good morning! Are you coming with me to the town square?” – Syntherion, cheerfully, taking a seat at the table.

Michael shrugs his shoulders as Ignus sniggers under his breath. The old dwarf quickly disguises the laugh with a couple of coughs, taking a long draught from the tankard of ale Taree brought over with Synth’s breakfast.

* * *

Brynhildr leaves the Or’Saer Emporium in the early morning, the shaggy-furred shape of Venn trotting happily alongside her. The light drizzle of rain which falls from overhead causes her to shrug her cloak up over her shoulders some. She holds the corner out a little too, to provide shelter for the mammoth calf beside her.

Across the road from the apothecary lies a substantial yard with a homely structure, largely constructed of the strong arbret-pine so widely-used here in Stonebridge. The dwelling, a house built on massive stilts over what appears to be an extensive woodworking shop, is built on a massive scale, and as two of the occupants emerge and begin to traipse down the stairs at the front of the house, Bryn understands why.

She can tell immediately they are both children, yet despite this, the taller of the two can look her in the eye with ease. They both sport short, pale blonde hair and fur and well-cut clothing. The smaller, still nearly six foot tall, moves with the unhurried and unconcerned bounce of youth and she can see his hair and horns are darker than the elder one, though they certainly share plenty of familial similarity.

Seeing Venn, the taller figure waves a greeting to the little mammoth calf, at which point the shaggy-furred little bugger immediately runs off into the gentle drizzle to meet these new people.

“Hello, hello! Who’s this?” – The taller Feartarbh, kneeling down to fuss over the little mammoth. Venn waves his trunk in greeting to both of them.

“I am so sorry. Venn, please, leave the nice people alone.” – Brynhildr, jogging over with a somewhat contrite expression.

“No, don’t apologise. He’s beautiful. Where did you get him?” – The taller Feartarbh. Venn has, now completely ignoring Bryn, rolled over onto his back to receive belly scritches.

“He was a gift. From an old teacher.” – Bryn, somewhat taken aback.

“Where are you from?” – The smaller of the pair, also scritching Venn rigorously.

“Do you mean where I was born, or…?” – Bryn, trailing off.

“Yeah, sure.” – The smaller one.

“Ah, from the north. The far north.” – Bryn, non-committal, though the two Feartarbh do not seem to notice or really mind.

“The north, that’s so cool.” – The smaller one.

“Is it cold up there? I bet it’s really cold up there.” – The taller one.

“Yes, it is quite cold where I am from. There are colder places though.” – Bryn, shrugging.

“Did you see the Chéserquine? So cool, right?” – The taller one.

“Ah yes, I did. Dangerous, is it not?” – Brynhildr. Despite the incessant questions, she finds herself warming to the pair. They are friendly and open but most importantly, Venn likes them. That counts for a lot.

“Ah, yeah, a bit, a bit. They smashed in our window.” – The taller one, with an excited gleam in his eye. The smaller one nods hurriedly and points up towards the second storey of the house behind them, indicating a window with boarding hurriedly hammered in place over the breach.

“That doesn’t sound like a good thing.” – Brynhildr, looking up at the damage.

“No, it was pretty scary.” – The smaller one, his excited demeanour incongruous with his words.

“So the yard around the house, is this your family’s?” – Bryn, noting the sparse patches of grass growing in and around the house.

“Yes, it is. The lumberyard of Wraeth’s Woodworking, our family business.” – The taller of the pair, proudly.

“Would I be able to take Venn in there please? He likes to run around on the grass, and I do not really want to risk taking him outside the town walls. I promise I will clean up after him.” – Brynn, hopeful.

“Of course, that would be fine. It’s just grass. I know they won’t mind at all, but if you see our parents, tell them Charlie and Roland told you it was okay and that we’re friends. What’s your name?” – The taller one, indicating his name is Charlie and the younger one is Roland. He holds a hand out to Bryn to shake.

“Brynhildr.” – Bryn, taking the hand and shaking it firmly.

“Brynhildr?” – Charlie, trying to get his tongue around the unfamiliar pronunciation.

“Brynhildr.” – Bryn, nodding.

“Nice. Where’s that name from?” – Charlie, smiling.

“Home. Up north. Unterguardt.” – Bryn.

“And is that where Venn’s from too?” – Roland, still playing with the little mammoth.

“Ah, yes, it is.” – Bryn, nodding.

“Charlie, I think we need to go to Unterguardt one day.” – Roland, happily.

“It has been lovely meeting you, but we should really be getting a move on. I’ve only got a few hours before work. Please, head on in and get Venn on the grass. Hopefully we will see you later.” – Charlie, with a smile, giving Venn one last head pat.

Bryn nods her thanks with a small smile of her own and ushers Venn into the lumberyard. She sits down, her back against a small pile of arbret-logs and pulls her cloak tightly around her shoulders, watching Venn happily frolic in the misty morning drizzle. With a slight smile, revealing teeth just slightly too pointed for any Midlander, Bryn weaves a slight bit of magic into the air around them. The misty drizzle ceases, replaced now by flitting snowflakes forming above them. Venn’s trunk waves from side to side as he attempts to catch them as they fall. 

* * *

Crossing over the Main Thoroughfare, Ignus is disappointed to note the Saltforge is empty and devoid of life. There is no sign of the Invarrian smith, Harold Wavebreak, nor his two apprentices.

“Bugger. Sorry Michael, might not be needing your assistance at all. Looks like they’re not open yet.” – Ignus, a note of disappointment in his voice. He had been looking forward to confronting the smith.

“Eh, that’s okay. I’ll just go on with the boy then, try to find this town square he keeps talking about. Between the two of us, I don’t know if there is one.” – Michael, under his breath and chuckling quietly, watching the Jeleni youth in question skipping on ahead across the cobblestones.

Ignus farewells Synth and Michael upon crossing the bridge, the two moving on, deeper into the town, while Ignus turns down the wide street which runs alongside the riverbank on the south-side.

Approaching the Steel Mill in the cold, grey, early morning light, Ignus is relieved to see the stout, grey-furred shape of Alvariste working at the forge, stoking the fires into life.

“I see you made it through the night!” – Alvariste, calling to Ignus, his brow furrowed above his one, amber eye.

“Not dead yet, my friend.” – Ignus, dropping his pack on the ground in preparation for another hard day’s work.

“Am I to assume you are working with me again today, Ignus?” – Alvariste, pumping the bellows.

“I will if that’s okay. I will be making my way over to the Saltforge later too, if they ever deign to open.” – Ignus, gruffly.

“They’ll open. I saw Wavebreak earlier this morning down by the river. He doesn’t normally start his forgefires until later in the morning anyway. Another mark against the man.” – Alvariste, sagely, a gleam of disapproval in his eye.

“Well then, I will help you until he does so, and then hope I can make a show of it.” – Ignus, with a note of satisfaction in his voice.

* * *

“Michael, this is not the right way, we’re just going back to the marketplace again.” – Syntherion, his voice plaintive.

Michael sighs and looks around.

“I’m sorry lad, I just don’t think you’ll ever find what you’re looking for because I’m not certain it actually exists. The closest thing to it is probably the Grand Market. Or maybe the central bridge.” – Michael, with a long-suffering tone.

“I’ll make a wager with you. You go your way, and I go mine. If I find the square, I get three sulvers. If I don’t, I'll give you three sulvers.” – Syntherion, flipping a silver coin from finger to finger.

Michael weighs up his options. On the one hand, he did say he would keep an eye on the boy. On the other hand, three sulvers is a lot of money. His own coin was fast running out and he had a few things he wanted to purchase this morning anyway. In addition to this, he was fairly confident there was no town square as such in Stonebridge.

The voice had told him so.

“Okay, it’s a deal.” – Michael, shaking Synth’s hand. The Jeleni grins and then dashes off down a side-street, leaving the Highlander alone in the early morning air. He shrugs and continues on, towards the Grand Market.

The market is dominated by tall, grey stone pillars, many of them bearing intricate artistic designs and carvings, and the vibrant, colourful sails draped between the pillars, providing both shade and a festive mood to the area. At this still rather early hour, and the morning after the Chéserquine, there are not a great many people gathered in the marketplace, but a handful of stalls have begun to set up for the day ahead.

Michael sees vendors selling foodstuffs of various kinds, and he stops at one stall, run by a Southron woman of somewhat indeterminable age, to purchase a few strips of dried and salted meat. He also buys a length of high-quality rope from another vendor.

“Interesting fact, for a long time the largest buildings in London were the one where they made the ropes for ships.” – Dev.
“I thought you said it was interesting. Nah, I’m sorry man, I couldn’t help it.” – Yohan, to a fair bit of laughter.
“I’ve been in that position a lot mate. The number of times I have said I have an interesting fact, shared it and then been immediately greeted with, ‘In no world was that interesting.’”
“Yeah, hardly a new place for me either.” – Dev.

As the Highlander steps away from the rope-vendor, slinging his new purchase from his belt, he espies five dwarves wheeling a locked chest in a wheelbarrow of sorts. Two are actually pushing it, one on either handle, while the other three surround it, keeping an eye out. They look ill at ease, but legitimate enough, all wearing a uniform of sorts, a pale grey tunic with some kind of golden badge or insignia pinned to the collar. Other than Michael, no one else seems to be paying them much mind as they continue on their way.

* * *

In the Or’Saer Emporium, slumped in a comfortable armchair on the lower level, Marwolaeth awakens from her slumber. She groans with pain as she shifts, then stifles her groans with a wince. She can hear no one active in the establishment. Caitrin must still be abed. She vaguely remembers waking from her doze long enough to see Brynhildr quietly leave with Venn in the early hours. Of Shadow, there is no sign, but heading upstairs, quietly and carefully so as not to awaken Caitrin, nor strain her various wounds, she can see her erstwhile bedroom door is open. Shadow’s pack lies upon the floor in the corner, a spare change of clothes bundled next to it. The bed is rumpled but made up.

“He intends to return then, I guess.” – Marwolaeth, to herself.

She heads back downstairs and enters the infirmary, where the sleeping form of Tomas can be found. He is still unconscious, but breathing. His airways are clear, but his breathing is still laboured and ragged. It will be some time before the damage heals.

Satisfied the boy will live, Marwolaeth adjusts the blanket over his thin shoulders and leaves the room to prepare the Emporium for the day. She must write a letter too, a response to the young man who had answered her job call.

Quote from: Response to Job Application

To Hamlin Drybrush,

Thank you for your letter of application regarding the position at the Or’Saer Emporium.

We are contacting you to inform you that you have indeed been a successful applicant for the position, and ask you start either immediately, or at your earliest convenience.

Either way, we ask you to attend our clinic as soon as you are able, as we shall need to discuss pay, lodgings (if applicable), working hours, and begin your training as an apprentice. I shall be able to answer any of your questions on site and look forward to seeing you soon.

With pleasure,
Marwolaeth Plendyn Or’Saer

Folding the parchment carefully, Marwolaeth places it in an envelope, drips hot green wax upon it and presses a seal bearing the name of the Or’Saer Emporium.

Now, to send it. She gathers up her things, puts on her boots and cloak and ventures out into the grey morning, locking the door behind her.

* * *

The hour is quite late when Hadrina finally rouses herself from her bed. Yesterday was a long day, and a harrowing night too and as such, she feels no pressing need to get up. She lays there for several hours, unable to get back to sleep, as the town slowly comes to life around the isolated darkness of her room. The window is closed, locked and still boarded up in preparation for the Chéserquine.

Eventually, she emerges and heads downstairs. She sees a handful of other patrons of the tavern, some older folk and a single, young Leathe, the girl from the night before. She sits in a booth by herself, reading from a large, black, leather-bound book, the spine and cover decorated in silver chasing. It looks hefty and expensive. Hadrina sits down at the table across from her.

Within moments, Taree emerges from behind the bar, carrying a small wooden plate with a single piping hot potato upon it.

“The usual, as ordered” – Taree, setting the plate down upon the table. Her gaze turns to the seated figure who accompanies Ailbhe this morning.

“Ah, the Danann. My mother told me about your swift action last night. She told me to fix you a breakfast on the house, if you’d like, as a thank you for your help.” – Taree, to Hadrina, her expression carefully neutral.

“Ah, yes, that would be lovely, thank you. I… I don’t really know what to have. What do you offer here, I guess?” – Hadrina, a little taken aback by this show of kindness.

“Well, bacon, mushrooms, potato and a hunk of bread with some butter is a very hearty breakfast we can put together for you. Will only take a moment. The bread was freshly baked this morning. Do your kind eat bread?” – Taree, shrugging. She looks genuinely curious.

“Yes, I would eat bread, thank you. That sounds very nice.” – Hadrina, smoothly skirting the question of her kind.

As Taree moves away to fix Hadrina’s breakfast, Ailbhe closes her book and begins to cut up her potato, her nose twitching in excitement.

“Have you tried the potato?” – Ailbhe, eyes locked on her steaming hot prize.

“No, not yet.” – Hadrina, eyebrow raised.

“Oh, you’re in for a treat. It’s the tastiest thing I’ve had in years.” – Ailbhe, scarfing the first morsel, burning her mouth in the process. She does the awkward ‘hsf-hsf-hsf’ thing with her mouth full, trying to blow on it while consuming it at the same time until finally, she swallows.

“Looks painful.” – Hadrina, wryly.

“Worth it. Gods, it’s worth it.” – Ailbhe, dreamily.

Taree returns with a massive plate, piled high with foodstuffs, which Hadrina gratefully receives and starts to dig into. With Ailbhe’s approving eye watching over her, the Danann divides the potato on her plate into pieces and takes a bite.

“You know, it’s not normally my thing. I prefer the bacon, but you’re right, it is very nice.” – Hadrina, diplomatically.

“If, ah, you’re not going to finish yours…” – Ailbhe, her suggestion trailing off into the air.

* * *

With her black cloak around her shoulders to guard her from the morning chill, Marwoaleth makes her way towards the Stonebridge Mail House. At this hour, the establishment has not quite opened yet, and when she arrives she sees the three young assistants standing at the door waiting for it to be unlocked as the old Dunscarth man, the post-master Eored, shuffles to the door, already sorting through his heavy ring of keys with a jingling of iron.

As the door swings open and the three boys troop inside, Eored turns to Marwolaeth with a smile.

“Good morning Miss Plendyn Or’Saer! I presume you have a letter to have delivered? Is it, perchance, a successful applicant to your apothecary?” – Eored, friendly.

“It is indeed. We’re very keen to have him work with us. If you would be so kind as to get this to the Drybrush residence, I would be grateful.” – Marwolaeth, handing the sealed letter to the old man, alongside a couple of coins.

“Of course, of course.” – Eored, smiling gently.

* * *

Traversing the still quiet Grand Market, Michael finds a low-slung stone building on the edge of the marketplace. The door is a heavy, black wood, chased with what looks like silver. Hanging above the door is an embossed sign bearing a name.

Brimsson & Sons.

Intrigued, Michael makes his way inside, hunching a little as he enters to get through the low doorway. He is, however, surprised, once inside, he can straighten again. The room is only dimly lit by the wan light entering through the narrow windows around the storefront and a single candle burning fitfully upon a stone counter at the far end of the room.

Between the front door where Michael stands and the counter at the rear, five long rows of glass cases stand proudly.

Behind the counter stands an old, hunched dwarven man. His skin is weather-beaten and leathery and his wispy hair and long beard are a grey so pale it borders on white, He holds a thick silver jewelry chain in one hand and works an oiled rag delicately along the links with the other. Beside him stand two more dwarves, younger in countenance and darker of hair. Unlike the older man, they wear the pale grey uniforms Michael noticed earlier and he recognises the two as part of the coterie he witnessed earlier wheeling the locked chest.

“Father, we have a guest.” - One of the younger dwarves, under his breath. Gently, he takes the chain and rag both from the old man.

“Why yes, we do indeed! How are you, and how can we help you, young master?” - The old dwarf, looking up at Michael with rheumy eyes. His voice however is surprisingly strong.

“I am well thank you. I was simply hoping to look around. Thank you for your welcome.” - Michael, respectfully.

“Just sing out if you need a hand, my lad.” - The old dwarf.

He can see the glass cases are filled with displays of jewellery and spends a significant time inspecting the wares of Brimsson & Sons. In the end, he purchases a simple bronze piece of iconography, the three supporting struts of the Triad, hanging from a thin steel chain.

“How’s business been?” - Michael, fastening the chain around his neck.

“Not great. Most of our business comes from travellers and the Chéserquine puts paid to that for a good week either side of them riding across the sky. Hopefully it will pick up shortly though.” - The old dwarf, Brimsson.

“There’s a festival of some kind soon though, no?” - Michael.

“Aye, there is indeed, the Festivale. Two days from now, an evening of drink and food and merry-making. It’s quite the event, quite worth staying in town for.” - Brimsson.

“Thank the Triad we survived, no?” - Michael, with a slight smile.

“That’s the origin of it, aye.” - Brimsson, nodding at the icon now hanging from Michael’s neck.

* * *

Having finished their breakfast, Hadrina and Ailbhe make their way together to the southern gate. Hadrina has a few things she wants to investigate on the more affluent side of town, and Ailbhe is quite keen to see the tall keep up close. In particular, Hadrina notes the evidence of damage throughout the town after the previous night.

For what it is worth, evidence of such is relatively scarce. The people of Stonebridge know full well what it is to live in the shadow of the fae court of the Viltshaws. When the Chéserquine rides, none remain out of doors. As long as the wards and charms are maintained and respected, and the necessary precautions are taken, no harm will come.

So say the stories at any rate, and if Hadrina is any judge, it would seem they have not led the people of Stonebridge astray.

Upon the southern bank of the Adhainn, Hadrina takes particular note of the stonework which makes up the majority of the town’s architecture. Compared to the larger southern city of Des-Cartes, which neighbours her own hometown of Bailett, she finds the ever-present grey stone and lack of greenery oppressive. Des-Cartes is beautiful, many buildings constructed from blocks of worked rose-sandstone, which gives much of the town a soft, pink hue. Fruit trees strung with lanterns with stained glass windows line the cobblestone streets of Des-Cartes, filling the streets with gaily coloured lights after the sun has set, whereas here, in Stonebridge, naught lines the streets but the occasional cast-iron lamp-post. No greenery, and the light is somehow cold and uninviting in the seasonal fog, unable to penetrate the thickness of the mist.

Now in the shadow of the keep, and withdrawn from her musings, Hadrina notes the substantial guard presence here in Stonebridge. She knows this is a border-region, and border-regions have a tendency towards greater armed presence. Significant numbers of armed soldiery seem to be mustered in and around the southern gate into the town, clad both in the dark blue tabards of the Stonebridge town-guard and the quartered red-and-black livery of what Hadrina assumes is the ruling family’s personal host.

She wracks her brain as they walk for the memory of the family’s name. She vaguely recalls Synth and Ignus speaking about it, but try as she might, she cannot remember it. No matter, she will ask one of them later if she deems it important.

“Treble!” – An excited voice from behind.

Hadrina and Ailbhe both turn to see Syntherion, skipping along to join them, his cloven hooves clipping across the stones.

“How are you, buddy?” – Ailbhe, friendly.

“Not getting into trouble are you, Synth?” – Hadrina, with at least some small note of concern in her voice.

“Not at all, that’s your name.” – Synth, with a grin. He reaches into a brown paper bag he carries, clenched in his left hand and pulls out two small, sweet pastries dusted with sugar. He tosses Ailbhe and Hadrina one each, then reaches into the bag and pulls out another two, which he quickly devours.

“These are amazing! Where did you find them?” – Ailbhe, excitedly.

“There’s a stall on the other side of the Grand Market, just over there. They do all kinds of delicious pastries and cooked fruits and it’s all really very amazing.” – Synth, pointing towards the south-western edge of the market.

“And you did pay for these, correct?” – Hadrina, narrowing her eyes.

“Sort of. I set up next to the stall with the psaltery for a bit and eventually they told me I’d done a good job and gave me the bag in thanks.” – Synth, grinning.

Whether they were sincere in their thanks, or if they merely gave the boy a bag of pastries to get him to shut up and go away, who can really say? Hadrina surely cannot, and she doesn’t have the heart to disabuse the boy of the notion they may have enjoyed his playing.

“Anyway, what are you up to? I’m still trying to find the town square.” – Synth, brushing crumbs out of his sandy fur.

“We were just looking around. I do need to find a herbalist around here though. I need some advice.” – Ailbhe, patting a small and battered old notebook at her side, tucked into her belt.

“There’s one nearby. I remember passing it yesterday returning from the hunt. Tall building, not far from here, nearly the only place around which seems to have some kind of garden.” – Hadrina, helpful.

“I’ll leave you to it then. I think I may have a date with the main bridge.” – Synth, who abruptly turns on his heel, unslinging his psaltery from over his shoulder and begins to play as he strolls in the direction of the Main Thoroughfare.

* * *

Before her stands the burnt-out remnants of what was once surely a beautiful manse. Still emitting faint trails of smoke in the cool morning air, the ruined house of the Jestain family is currently surrounded by a patrol of guards in quartered red-and-black livery.

“What happened here?” - Hadrina, questioning the nearest guard she sees, a tall, dark-haired Midlander man with thick stubble on his jaw and chin. He, like many of the guards, is covered in a layer of fine, grey ash.

“What it looks like. There was a fire last night. No one’s quite sure how it started, but it must have been an accident. As far as we’re aware, there was only the one survivor. Where did they take the boy again?” - the guard, turning to his compatriots.

“The Or’Saer Emporium, sir.” - Another guard, a young, pale-faced Midlander woman.

“Right, that’s the one. Anyway, we’ve been trying to clear some of the rubble to pull the bodies out all morning.” - The guard, turning back. Hadrina now notes the patch on his shoulder, indicating the man’s rank of captain.

“Has the boy said anything?” - Hadrina, curious.

“We do not know, we’ve been here the whole morning.” - The guard captain.

“We could go check on him if you like?” - Ailbhe, piping up from behind Hadrina. She is still looking at the burnt-out ruins of the manse, her brow furrowed in conversation.

“If you could do so, I’d be much obliged. Tell them Captain Elric has sent you. We still have our hands full here.” - The guard captain. As he speaks, two of the other guards shift a heavy beam.

“We’ve found another one! Triad, it’s a child.” - One of the guards. Captain Elric nods his thanks to Hadrina and Ailbhe, and then moves away to assist.

“Hey, Hadrina, why are most of the buildings on the south-bank made of stone?” - Ailbhe, whispering as they walk away.

“Prestige? It’s more expensive and the people on the south-bank can afford it? Why do you ask?” - Hadrina, with a frown.

“Because if that mansion was made of stone like most of the other buildings on this side of the river, it might not have burnt down like it did. I don’t know, it just seemed curious.” - Ailbhe, shrugging.

* * *

In the shadow of the great stone keep which dominates the southern side of Stonebridge, Marwolaeth strides along with some purpose. On her way back to the Emporium, she sees Bryn and Venn still exploring the sights of the town. The little mammoth calf clutches a long stick in his trunk, which he waves from side to side. Every now and then, he delivers a clumsy whack to a passerby and Bryn must quietly apologise. It looks accidental, but Marwolaeth notes the mischievous glint in the little creature’s eye.

Together they walk back towards the Emporium, stopping only briefly when they realise Shadow has fallen into step behind them without a word.

On the other side of the still chilly street, they note a small, brindle-furred Leathe girl, and a short Danann in a long leather coat, a bow slung over her back. The two look to be companions, and are also moving with some purpose.

The two parties reach the front door of the Emporium almost simultaneously, at which Marwolaeth abruptly pushes her way in front and inside. Bemused, the others follow her in.

Tucking products up on the shelves in the storefront, Caitrin looks towards the door with a smile. She is pale, noticeably more so than her more robust but otherwise so similar sister, and looks unwell.

“How has the morning treated you?” - Caitrin, to Marwolaeth, and nodding a greeting to Bryn as the tall woman enters the building.

“Ah, well enough. Has the boy woken yet?” - Marwolaeth, straight to business.

“He has, but he is sleeping again now. He’s eaten, or at least what little he could get down. I gave him a draught after that to help with the throat. Poor kid’s all shaken up. Couldn’t get anything out of him really.” - Caitrin, shaking her head.

LaPD had an incident here with a lemonade can, as the drink got up in her nose.
“Nothing worse than lemonade up the nose.”
“Nah there are worse things.” - Dev and Sins simultaneously.
“I was thinking whisky” - Dev.
“I was thinking Tic-Tacs.” - Sins.
“Speaking from experience?” - Dev.
“I’ve seen it done. Wasn’t pretty.” - Sins.

Marwolaeth seems a little disappointed but says nothing as she removes her long coat and hangs it up behind the counter before moving amongst the shelves at the store-front, picking up where Caitrin had left off.

“Hello!” - The raven, sitting in its nest on the windowsill.

“Hi!” - The Leathe girl, upon walking through the Emporium door.

“Hello!” - The raven, sitting in its nest on the windowsill.

“Hi!” - The Leathe girl, upon walking through the Emporium door.

“Hello!” - The raven, sitting in its nest on the windowsill.

“Hi!” - The Leathe girl, upon walking through the Emporium door.

“Hello!” - The raven, sitting in its nest on the windowsill.

“I f****** love this bird.” - The Leathe girl, upon walking through the Emporium door.

“And that’s my interaction. End scene.” - LD.

“Hello, and welcome to the Emporium” - Shadow, moving forward from around the counter with a flourish. He sweeps an arm out to encompass the Emporium’s shop-front before offering his hand to Hadrina to shake. He seems to be weighing up which hand to offer before settling on the right.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” - LaPD.
“Well, you’re not here. I’m just helping you out, running the shop while you’re busy.” - Pugsley.
“You don’t work here.” - LaPD.
“Think of it like an unpaid internship. If I impress you enough, will you give me a job?” - Pugsley.

“And hello to you as well. I’m glad you like our bird.” - Shadow, moving to Ailbhe and offering her a hand to shake as well, again the right, after a moment’s hesitation.

It’s probably worth noting Pugsley’s mannerisms at the table are genuinely a delight to behold. The little details Pugsley makes sure to observe (the choosing which hand to shake with, the elaborate introductions, the quick glances at a new character’s footwear) unfortunately don’t translate across well in writing, but suffice to say it’s been a lot of fun. At the time of writing, Shadow has managed to completely irritate at least half of the party’s characters, but he’s also more than half the party’s players’ favourite character. This scene was particularly hard to transcribe due to the hysterical laughter coming from most of the table.

Marwolaeth emerges from behind the shelves and grabs the taller man by the back of the arm, spinning him in place to face her.

“Just what in the hells do you think you’re doing?” - Marwolaeth, in an angry hiss.

“Helping out while you’re busy.” - Shadow, face carefully neutral.

“You’re a bloody fool is what you are. We’ve been running this place well enough for long before you came along, and we’ll continue in that way long after you’ve left.” - Marwolaeth, still furious.

“You’re a mean boss.” - Yohan.
“I’m not his fecking boss, he doesn’t work here!” - LaPD.

“Okay, Ailbhe, how about we go over here and look at some of the herbs and leave them to it, shall we?” - Hadrina, carefully trying to guide the young Leathe away from the confrontation.

While Marwolaeth and Shadow continue their hissed conversation, Ailbhe reaches out and takes a green vial from one of the shelves.

“I’m pretty sure I know what this one is.” - Ailbhe, in an undertone, excitedly to Hadrina. She excitedly flips through the battered, dusty, leather-bound journal she normally carries at her side, and Hadrina catches a glimpse of the scratchy, tight handwriting and detailed diagrams inside. 

“Yes? What is it then?” - Hadrina, only half listening to her companion, still focussed mostly on the conversation between Shadow and Marwolaeth.

“Well, green normally means poison. Or it’s a potion.” - Ailbhe, who has no idea which one this vial contains.


“Would you like to take over then, boss?” - Shadow, quietly, deferentially.

“Of course I’d bloody well like to take over, you- Actually, you know what, you can help me. Keep an eye on the Danann.” - Marwolaeth, cutting herself off as Shadow nods in a placating fashion and backs away, arms outstretched. He takes his place, silently, behind the counter.

Ignoring the Danann herself, Marwolaeth approaches Ailbhe with as professional a demeanour as she can muster.

“Welcome to the Or’Saer Emporium. How can we help you?” - Marwolaeth, who can feel a stress headache encroaching.

“Hello! This journal belonged to my great aunt many years ago. She used to make all sorts of poisons and sedatives and stuff, and I thought, you know, that’d be pretty cool. I used to work in an old apothecary, but you see, I was more customer service and I was wondering if you might be able to help me out a bit.” - Ailbhe, indicating the journal to Marwolaeth.

“Well, we do craft some few choice poisons here, but not too many. I must confess they are not my personal specialty. I have a little knowledge, but I am not too good at making them myself. A few close calls in my time and I decided to quit while I was ahead.” - Marwolaeth, her tone professional.

“I can respect that.” - Ailbhe, nodding.

“If you would allow me to have a look at that book though, I can see what I can do with it.” - Marwolaeth, always on the look-out for opportunities to add to her repository of knowledge.

“Of course, that would be grand.” - Ailbhe, with a bright smile, handing the journal over.

“Gods, what is this?” - Marwolaeth, in somewhat awed wonder, flipping through the first few pages.

“I know, I know. She was apparently a bit dark and morbid. Also, I’m pretty sure a lot of the plants aren’t listed by their real names. Like, I don’t think ‘b****-grass’ is real.” - Ailbhe, oblivious to the growing look of consternation spreading across Marwolaeth’s face.

“I’ve heard of that. We’ve got some out the back.” - Shadow, lurking behind the counter.

“Oh, neat! Anyway, I’m not really after the more lethal poisons right now, I’m more after a sleep-time inducer I think. ” - Ailbhe, still oblivious, but now to the venomous look Marwolaeth shoots at the man.

“A strong sedative. Yes, we have a vial left out the back.” - Shadow, nodding sagely.

“I shall see what we can do.” - Marwolaeth, ignoring Shadow and slowly closing the journal. She notes, while the diagrams and processes are labelled and written in a, to be charitable, unique style, she is able to recognise most of the reagents from the detailed, though admittedly poor, drawings. She turns the journal over in her hands to look at the front cover.

F***-Off Poisons For F***-Off Lads
Belongs to Breanna Blackrose Ailbhe Blackrose

“An interesting book.” - Marwolaeth, handing the journal back to Ailbhe.

“She was an interesting woman.” - Ailbhe, with a definite note of pride.

“I’ll bet.” - Marwolaeth.

“Hello there. I was sent here by a guard captain Elric to check on the boy from the burning mansion. I was told he’d be here.” - Hadrina, who has approached Shadow, the man still standing behind the Emporium’s counter.

Shadow gives her a panicked look for the briefest moment and then immediately fades into shadow, his shape now an indeterminate black smear against the wall behind the counter. Despite his best efforts, Hadrina’s keen eyes are able to pick out his outline with little difficulty.

“Excuse me? I can still see you.” - Hadrina, starting to become exasperated.

“Pugsley’s just built a squid to play in this game.” - Yohan.

The shadowy-shape of Shadow flickers for a moment, then re-forms, revealing his rueful expression.

“Look, I’m still figuring that part out, okay?” - Shadow, mildly defensive.

“I can see that. Now, can you help me, or do I need to talk to your superior?” - Hadrina, losing patience.

Shadow draws a quill out from behind his back with a flourish and begins writing out a note using a scrap of parchment from under the counter. He writes the brief note, folds the paper over twice and signs the exterior of the note, Shadow in a messy scrawl.

“Give this to the captain.” - Shadow, solemnly handing the paper to the Danann.

She opens the note immediately.

The boy is alive.

“Do you need more?” - Shadow, upon seeing the frustrated look cross Hadrina’s face.

“A proper update would normally require a proper medical status, no?” - Hadrina, shaking her head.

Caitrin approaches the two at the counter from the direction of the infirmary, her expression carefully neutral, a modest sheaf of parchment in her hands.

“These notes contain everything Captain Elric might need. Tell him the boy is in our care and will be looked after to the best of our ability until his next of kin can be found.” - Caitrin, her voice cold.

“Thank you.” - Hadrina, taking the proffered notes, her expression slightly puzzled.

“Now, I must ask you to please leave the premises.” - Caitrin, stiffly. She shoots a glance at Marwolaeth, who nods slightly.

Hadrina’s eyes widen slightly and then she simply shakes her head dejectedly.

“As you wish. Ailbhe, if you are looking for me later, I’ll be heading back to the inn after delivering these notes.” - Hadrina, her expression grim.

“I’ll meet you there shortly, good luck with the notes. Safe travels!” - Ailbhe, who is still oblivious, now to the mistreatment her erstwhile companion is being subjected to.

“What do her boots look like?” - Pugsley, to general laughter.
“What the f*** dude?” - Redshirt.
“We’ve established, Shadow has a major foot fetish.” - Yohan.

“Do you have spare boots? If you leave those ones here, I’ll fix them up for you, as a thank you for your time.” - Shadow, to the confused Hadrina. The boots she wears are of worn and beaten leather, scuffed and dirty from many years of wide-ranging travels. They’re not in great condition.

Taking the notes, Hadrina ignores Shadow’s offer and exits silently into the Stonebridge streets. As she walks out the door, she pulls her hood up over head as the gentle rain falls from the sky above.

* * *

Still wandering the Grand Market, Michael espies a noticeboard on the edge of the commercial district. As he approaches it, he sees a well-groomed, dark-haired Midlander man in a well-fitted black suede doublet, pinning a new notice to the board.

He finishes just as Michael reaches the board. They exchange a silent nod of greeting, and the other man promptly leaves.

Quote from: Notice No.1, a little weathered, the notice seems to have been here for a few days at least:

With the Chéserquine about to thunder across the night sky, it is important to keep your spirits raised. Though the fury of the fae is not to be risked or trifled with, know that an unburdening of our worries is nearly upon us.

The Festivale approaches!

Be sure to stay safe, behind walls of strong stone and wood, when the Red Star passes between the Twin Moons. It would not do to miss out on the festivities!

Wine and ale will flow like the very Adhainn itself for the duration of the Festivale! Music will be played from the rooftops! Wonderful foodstuffs will abound for you to taste and enjoy! A unique experience unlike any other!

Quote from: Notice No.2, ripped away from the board:
Looking for young and ab-
-ook forward to hearing from you.

Quote from: Notice No.3, the newly posted notice:
Seeking a person of strong character and moral fortitude to investigate a difficult and unpleasant matter.

I have information to share with someone who would wish to look more closely into the fire which claimed the lives of the Jestain family. The authorities seem to be willing to pass it off as merely an accident, but I am not convinced.

If you have further information, or would like to offer your services, please inquire at the Galdon estate on Vail Street.   

Intrigued, Michael notes the address of the final notice and resolves to follow up on it, perhaps after the Festivale. For now, though, he will seek out the guardhouse. He recalls being told when he arrived in Stonebridge, the guardhouse is on the southern-bank, west of the keep.

He pulls his cloak forward a little more and pulls his hood up over his head as rain begins to fall.

* * *

“This bloody rain can just p*** off.” - Alvariste, growling under his breath. His massive, grey-furred arms ripple with muscle as the smith twists two bars of steel together in the forge-fires.

Ignus merely grunts by way of reply.

Only the sound of the hammer striking red-hot steel breaks the silence between the pair for some time after, until finally, the Bruin throws the welded blade down on a low bench and claps his clawed hands together.

“This is a miserable day. I feel like a hot meal, a roof over my head and something a little stronger than beer in my cup. What say you to lunch?” - Alvariste, his single eye gleaming.

“Why not? The Pallid Mare?” - Ignus, shrugging.

“Aye, the food’s alright. Hot, at least, which is to be recommended.” - Alvariste, nodding.

Together, the two smiths lock up the smithy, Ignus taking his unfinished rifle and storing it carefully in his pack, and then make their way over the Main Thoroughfare and back towards the Pallid Mare inn, hoods up to ward off the persistent, though only gentle rain.

Entering the inn, the two make their way to a booth seat and order a hot lunch, Ignus a hearty stew and hide of bread, Alvariste a cut of roasted mutton with boiled vegetables and a thick, spicy gravy he referred to as, ‘The Usual’.

“So, we’ve worked together for a few days now, but I know so little about you. What’s your story, friend?” - Alvariste, gratefully accepting the decanter of rye-liquor brought over to the table by a tall, blonde=furred young Feartarbh youth.

“It is a long one, not much of which I care to remember myself. I’m from the north, the Blackspine Mountains of Unterguardt, originally. Left at a young age, made a life for myself elsewhere, had that life stolen from me. Not a unique story, but not exactly a pleasant one either. Ended up south of here, in Bailett some years ago, tried to start afresh.” - Ignus, pulling out a battered silver locket on a chain from under his shirt.

“Haven’t been home since?” - Alvariste, pouring out a measure of the liquor for the two of them.

“No. Don’t feel I have one anymore.” - Ignus, taking the offered drink and downing it in one draught.

* * *

“Unfortunately, while we do have some sedatives, I fear we probably don’t have anything which works in quite the same way as any of the options presented in your journal there. If you like though, I can do some research and put something together for you if you give me a few hours. You’d be looking at about a sulver per application, and I completely understand if that’s out of your price-range. I may be able to point you elsewhere if that’s the case, but I’m not sure if anyone else would be able to help you out either.” - Marwolaeth, to Ailbhe.

“No, that seems quite reasonable. How many applications do you think you could put together this afternoon?” - Ailbhe, excited.

Marwolaeth frowns. She knows full well, she will be relying heavily on Caitrin’s expertise in this matter. She thinks maybe thirty would be possible, but with no guarantees.

“I should be able to make fifteen applications for you.” - Marwolaeth, erring on the side of caution.

“I don’t want to cut into your day too much. I know you have that sick boy to take care of. I might just get eight if that’s okay?” - Ailbhe, already fishing out the silver coins from her purse.

“I can definitely do eight, yes. Should only be a few hours hopefully, after the initial experiments and research.” - Marwolaeth, nodding and accepting the sulvers.

* * *

Their luncheon completed, Ignus and Alvariste make their way back to the Main Thoroughfare, ready to continue with the afternoon’s work. On their way, Ignus notes the piebald Invarrian watching his two apprentices, the tall, slender Feartarbh and the stocky young woman, probably a Woodsman, work at the fires of the Saltforge.

“He’s there. I shall see what I can do.” - Ignus, under his breath.

Alvariste merely nods and grunts in response and stomps off heavily towards the Steel-Mill.

Upon approaching the Saltforge, Ignus notes the way the Invarrian watches his apprentices. One of the apprentices, the young, dark-furred Feartarbh is hammering away at the anvil while the Woodsman girl works the bellows of the fires, bringing them to temperature.

“Ladham, no, not so hard boy. You must let the steel breathe a bit.” - The Invarrian master, stepping in and laying a hand on the big Feartarbh’s arm. To Ignus’ expert eye, the boy’s strikes were adequate, though his steel has perhaps cooled a little too much.

The Feartarbh looks confused and resumes striking the steel, though at a more sedate rate and with less power.

Ignus shakes his head in dismay. Judging by the quality of the work here, this lacklustre approach to craftsmanship has been prevalent for some time. He takes a finished blade from the display and considers it carefully. He quickly notes the uneven temper of the steel.

“Ah, friend, I did not see you there! Welcome to the Saltforge! How can I help you today?” - The Invarrian smith, favouring the dwarf with a wide, toothy grin.

“Greetings. I’m a wanderer in these lands, looking for someone to help me finish off a, uh, personal project.” - Ignus, tapping the barrel of the unfinished rifle which protrudes from over his shoulder.

“You’ve come to the right place then, my friend. Only the finest work leaves the Saltforge!” - The Invarrian, spreading his arms wide to encompass the, admittedly, rather extensive forgeworks. It is tidy and well-maintained, and if one did not possess an experienced eye, it would be very impressive.

“Quite. If you don’t mind me asking, where did you learn the craft?” - Ignus, placing the blade down and moving on to the next on display. Uneven temper and the edge has been poorly ground.

“Upon the high craggy cliffs of windswept Varr itself, amongst the finest Invarrian smiths. I come from a long line of master craftsmen, the favoured smiths of the Stormlords themselves!” - The Invarrian, grin growing ever wider. His theatrics have begun to draw a crowd, passersby intrigued by the unusual events.

Ignus does not have a particularly high opinion of Invarrian craftsmanship, but he chooses to keep the opinion to himself for now. He moves to the next sword on display. This one is not so bad as the others, but the balance seems off.

Spoiler: Invarrian smithing (click to show/hide)

He has seen more than enough at this point.

“How much is this one?” - Ignus, gruffly.

“That one there? Six sulvers. Fine work for the price, no?” - The Invarrian, loudly, his grin still ever-present.

“Hmm. How would you like to test your steel?” - Ignus, pitching his voice a little louder for the benefit of the crowd which has gathered.

“I would test my best work against that of any other smith in the world.” - The Invarrian, confidently.

“What of this blade then?” - Ignus, holding the sword with a hand gripping it tightly at either end. He makes to bend it.

“That one? No, not that one.” - The Invarrian, the ever-present grin faltering for once as he starts forward involuntarily.

“Did you not say you come from a long line of fine smiths?” - Ignus, feigning innocence.

“Indeed, the Wavebreaks have been the favoured smiths of the Stormlords of Varr for over a century.” - The Invarrian, Wavebreak presumably.

“So you said. Every piece should be a smith’s finest work, no? Why should it matter that I test this one?” - Ignus, assured.

“One cannot put the same love and care into every piece. That piece there is common, fit only for those without a discerning eye, but I see, my friend, that you have a keen eye for such things.” - The Invarrian, walking behind a counter and withdrawing a longsword from a long, narrow black box.

Definitely a higher quality weapon than the ones Ignus has inspected so far. The longsword is narrow, sharply-tapered with an even tempering on the steel. The Invarrian hands it to the dwarf carefully, almost reverently, and there is an audible murmuring in the gathered crowd as they see the blade. It is flashy and ostentatious, with delicate engravings on the quillons which trail down on the blade. The pommel appears to be a sharp-edged diamond-shaped block of blackened steel, attractive, but not practical. The hilt itself appears to be gilded.

There is also a very faint stress-line in the ricasso.

“More in line with what I expected to see from a scion of the Stormlord’s favoured smiths. May I test this piece?” - Ignus, to a confident nod from Wavebreak.

The dwarf takes the blade and walks out towards the crowd, drawing the entirety of their attention. He performs a handful of basic tests, flexing the blade back and forth, testing the balance. It responds well enough to the treatment.

“This isn’t a terrible blade, but the fact that it is your best work and it is still not worth a pittance just p***** me off.” - Ignus, growling to himself.

Ignus finally reaches the zenith of his performance. He takes the unique hammer he carries from his pack and wraps the head in a thick rag. He then looks up, seeing Wavebreak in the gathered crowd. The Invarrian’s grin is huge, but it begins to drop as he sees the determined look in Ignus’ eyes. A flicker of concern crosses his patched face.

Ignus tests the edge of the sword, smashing the rag-wrapped hammer down on the blade once, twice, a third time. He thumbs the edge, a slight roll but nothing major. Not bad. Wavebreak looks somewhat relieved.

Ignus flicks a small lever on the haft of his warhammer and a small steel claw-hook emerges from the back-side of the head. He quickly runs the hook down the blade towards the crossguard, twisting it as he does so.

The blade snaps at the stress point with a dull, metallic ring.

“If you wish to call yourself a master artisan, I suggest you seek retraining.” - Ignus, dropping the now bladeless hilt to the ground dismissively.

“The lesson is well-learnt. Thank you.” - Wavebreak, through gritted teeth. He is no longer smiling at all.

Ignus nods and stalks away through the crowd, which itself slowly disperses. At the rear, the grizzled form of Alvariste stands, a lop-sided smile on his face and clawed hands clapping his approval. Together, he and Ignus cross the bridge once more and set to work for the afternoon at the Steel-Mill.

* * *

“So, Caitrin, what do we get if we just mix a heap of these sedatives together.” - Marwolaeth.

“Probably a casualty.” - Caitrin.

In the small, lantern-lit workshop behind the Emporium’s shopfront, with the drumming of the rain outside beating upon the shingled roof of the shop, Caitrin and Marwolaeth work over a long table, carefully cutting and measuring various reagents.

It takes a little over three hours, but Caitrin and Marwolaeth do eventually emerge from their workshop in the rear of the shop with enough sedative for nine applications.

Marwolaeth sits down behind the counter and dips a sterile silver needle in the vial and prepares to stab the meat of her forearm.

“I do wish you wouldn’t test our products on yourself like that.” - Caitrin, shaking her head as she gathers up more items to stock the shelves.

“It is usually the best way, however… Shadow! Come here, I need you!” - Marwolaeth, with a mischievous grin. Caitrin smiles back, shakes her head and walks away.

There is no answer from Shadow as nearly a minute passes.

“Stuff this.” - Marwolaeth, leaving her seat and stalking away through the shelves of the shopfront, looking for her quarry.

* * *

“Shadow! Come here, I need you!” - Marwolaeth’s voice rising up from behind the counter.

Shadow is immediately cautious. Marwolaeth has never sounded this excited by the thought of his presence before.

Something’s up.

He hears her sneaking around behind one of the shelves, the tell-tale sound of someone with little training in the arts of stealth trying to be as quiet as possible.

Suddenly, Marwolaeth launches out from behind one of the shelves, bumping into Shadow as she does. There is a faint glint of silver as something in her hand jabs into her own neck. Slowly, she falls back, her body trying and failing to fight off the sedative as best it can. Her hands claw at his coat as she falls backwards and her eyes gradually roll back into her head as she slumps to the floor.

“I’ll never get a better chance than this.” - Shadow, to himself.

Then he steals her boots and darts off upstairs, knocking quietly on the door of Bryn’s room.

“What the hell is wrong with you?” - Redshirt.
The refrain of the night, really.

“Yes?” - Bryn’s voice. She sounds distracted.

“May I come in please? I need to hide.” - Shadow.

There is a definite sigh from the interior of the room before the door gently swings open. Bryn stands in the doorway, her expression neutral. Behind her, Venn lies on the bed, peering curiously out at Shadow. She gestures for him to enter, then closes the door and sits down on the edge of the bed and pointedly opens her book.

Shadow sits upon the floor with his back to the door and pulls out various leather-working tools from a compact pack on his belt. He sets to his task of completely patching Marwolaeth’s old, worn boots. It takes him a few hours, but when he is done, they are exemplary.

He would have been done sooner if it were not for Venn’s insistence on belly scritches every ten minutes.

“He better not clean them too well, the dried and crusty blood on the soles is the only thing giving me any purchase on the floors.” - LaPD.
“I can do whatever you like to them.” - Pugsley.
“Don’t ‘Spice Girl’ them.” - LaPD.
Whatever that means.
“By the time you are done, they are significantly better than when you received them.”
“Received them. That’s a very charitable way to put it.” - Ladyhawk.
“Anti-received? Reverse-received?” - LaPD.
“Stole?” - LD.

* * *

Having delivered the notes on the Jestain boy to a grateful Captain Elric, Hadrina found herself at a bit of a loss. The market interested her little. She took a turn exploring the plains to the north for a while, but it quickly lost its appeal too. Within an hour of leaving the town’s walls, she finds herself heading back, thinking to meet up with Ignus at the Steel-Mill.

Upon the bridge she overhears a commotion at another forge on the riverbank. A tall, bearded Midlander clad in the red and black quartered livery prevalent on the southern-bank shouts at a rather shamefaced, pie-bald Invarrian smith in a long red leather coat. She picks out only pieces of the conversation, something about being sold poor quality work.

Upon arriving at the Steel-Mill, she finds Ignus and Alvariste working together. The dwarf is in an uncommonly good mood.

“I don’t think I’ve seen you smile in about five years.” - Hadrina, to Ignus.

“I don’t think I’ve had that much fun in about twenty-five years, lass, let alone five. Come here, and try this on, we’ve made you a gift.” - Ignus, holding up a light plate cuirass.

The reward granted to Ignus for assisting Alvariste was a 45% reduction on High and Masterwork quality equipment crafted by Alvariste. Yohan chose to utilise this immediately and provided Hadrina with the finest single piece of armour she can currently wear. (A light plate cuirass is genuinely very good. Early game, Hadrina is going to be very hard for me to damage.)

* * *

“Well, that serves you right.” - Caitrin’s voice. It sounds somewhat distorted.

Marwolaeth’s eyes open to the world. She looks around blearily, lying upon the Emporium’s wooden floor. She can barely make out the dark shape of Caitrin kneeling beside her.

“It works.” - Marwolaeth, croaking in response.

“It sure does. You’ve been out for well over an hour.” - Caitrin. Her expression gives the impression of concern, but her voice betrays some mirth.

“Don’t you dare laugh. Wait, where are my boots?” - Marwolaeth, slowly sitting up with a groan.

* * *

Ailbhe returns to the Emporium at the agreed upon time and arrives to see Marwolaeth, looking rather dishevelled, standing behind the counter of the apothecary.

“I have your sedatives here. Oh, pardon me.” - Marwolaeth, yawning.

“No, that’s quite alright, thank you very much.” - Ailbhe, yawning as well. She takes the offered sedatives and pockets them.

“Say, have you seen a pair of boots around?” - Marwolaeth.

* * *

As the afternoon draws on, Syntherion packs up on the Main Thoroughfare and heads toward the shelter of the Pallid Mare, where he had promised to meet Ignus and Hadrina later. He has completely forgotten about the bet he made with Michael. He is, however, hungry, and is very much looking forward to a hot meal at the Pallid Mare with his friends before heading out onto the town streets later tonight.

* * *

At the Steel-Mill, Ignus and Hadrina bid farewell to Alvariste for the evening, and they too venture out towards the Pallid Mare. Compared to yesterday, the streets are bustling with activity, as townspeople begin to partake of the festivities which serve as prelude to the Festivale.

* * *

Pockets full of freshly-crafted sedative, Ailbhe dashes back to the Pallid Mare herself. She can’t wait for another of those glorious baked potatoes for dinner. On the way, she sees Michael and slows down to join him as he trudges back from the guardhouse. They offered him a temporary contract with the guard, which he has decided to consider.

Together, they make their way to the Pallid Mare, pushing through a not inconsiderable crowd beginning to gather on the streets. Once inside the inn, they join Syntherion, Ignus and Hadrina at their booth and the five enjoy a hot meal and a few drinks together.

* * *

Within the Or’Saer Emporium, Marwolaeth finally finds her boots, with a note attached.

Quote from: The note
My thanks for letting us stay here a while. I hope you find them more comfortable than they were before.

She slips them on, and though she would never admit it, they feel ten times better. The broken buckle on the left has been repaired, they have been re-soled and the leather uppers have been polished to a gleaming black shine. She notes the stitching between the pieces of the upper is a stylised lightning bolt shape, picked out in fine, indigo thread.

She returns downstairs to check upon the Jestain boy.

* * *

Within the safety of his borrowed room, behind a locked door, Shadow lies upon the bed, staring up at the ceiling in total darkness.

“Why him?” - Shadow, to the darkness.

If the darkness responds, only he can hear it.

* * *

In the guest-room of the Or’Saer Emporium, Bryn sits on the bed, reading. Her hand itches absent-mindedly at her upper arm and she winces as she presses too hard. She closes the book and sets it on the bare bedside table before lighting the lamp upon the table.

She can hear a commotion of some kind outside and looks out the window. The sun has set quickly, but the various torchlights and lanterns which illuminate the streets allow her to see the thronging people outside.

The sounds of revelry turn swiftly to panic. She hears screams as a thick fog rolls through the streets. In the sky overhead, the Red Star passes between the light of the twin moons. There is a rustling like leaves in the wind, a howling like wolves in the forest and a wild, cacophonous shrieking. From the sky comes the ominous report of thunderous hoofbeats.

A hunting horn rings, murderously loud in the evening air.

“Fuuuuuu-” - Redshirt.

The Chéserquine rides again.

And we left it there…

The Wrap-Up:
This was an absolute monster to write up, and my sincere apologies for how long it took. Between the quality of the recording (god-awful), the small matter of a world-wide pandemic and my own, in the grand scheme of things, personal battles with depression and self-worth, this was honestly a real slog to get through.

Now all the set up has been done and I have changed career, hopefully I should be able to get into a more regular schedule with the write-ups and produce more content.

As to the session itself, it is a little hard to provide much insight into it as it was actually December 2019 when we played it. Such a massive hiatus between our first and second session definitely took a toll, but it’s all good. Thankfully, we’ve been able to get a few more consistent sessions in this year after taking practically all of 2020 off due to Covid.

Pugsley noted after the session that he felt he should have seen the twist at the end coming, what with how much I had talked up the Chéserquine and how minor it actually seemed in play.

The rest of the table seemed to agree with him, but no one said they picked it beforehand, so I’ll take it as a win.

At any rate, we hope you enjoyed this. Please do stay tuned for me. I really should be getting these out at a better rate in the coming months.

Thanks for reading,

« Last Edit: February 02, 2024, 02:23:32 PM by Phoenixguard09 »
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #9 on: July 21, 2021, 06:03:21 PM »
Nice :) I also took the liberty of adding some internal links as it's a long thread, so there's a return to contents at the end of every post and a set of iurl links in the OP to reach each chapter: you should be able to copy over what I've already done for future entries. Hope that's OK!
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #10 on: July 21, 2021, 11:51:37 PM »
Thanks Jubs, really appreciate it. I've been meaning to do it myself but never got around to it. :)
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Re: Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow - A Norbayne Campaign Log
« Reply #11 on: February 01, 2024, 09:04:14 PM »
Session 0.5: The Good Brother

“When the cold wind blows in, and the mists rise in the stony streets, beware the riding host,
They come with spears and cold fire, astride nightmares of frightful countenance,
And at their head rides the one who would be their king, the lord of the hunt himself,
The Hellequin.”

- Translation of a poem attributed to Lyra Rivershine of Tamrend, 1712. It is speculated she witnessed the Chéserquine of 1711 in Stonebridge, on account of the stony streets she mentions in the poem, a feature Tamrend notably lacks.

Welcome to our final prologue session for Seven Stones and a Pale Shadow. Only one player in this session, for the most part, Sheriff_Juicy, who has proven to be a fantastic new addition to our playing group. He was joined, briefly, by Ladyhawk95 for a single scene, which will be familiar to you if you have read our previous sessions.

The town of Stonebridge is a large settlement in the northern stretch of the Southlands, built around the great bridge from which the town takes its name. The bridge spans the Adhainn River, a fast-flowing watercourse, the source of which originates high in the mountains of the Dragain’s Tail and runs out to the sea to the west. The main town itself is walled, but there are a great number of largely unprotected hamlets and farms which surround the township. In times of strife, the inhabitants of this farmland will often remove to Stonebridge itself, or otherwise to one of the small walled villages in the vicinity, like Tamrend, Vedaun or even the twin coastal villages of Cothra.

On both banks of the Adhainn, both in the centre of the town and on either side of it, lies the heart of the region’s industry. Tanneries, fisheries, lumber and grain mills, smithies, papermakers and more all ply their respective trades along the riverbanks.

Stonebridge nominally falls under the rulership of Arhaut, one of the northern-most kingdoms of the South. The kingdom encompasses at least some of the Boltmoors, though admittedly, this is in name only. While the kings of Arhaut in years past have attempted to claim dominion over the dwarven city of Freeholm, the reality is Arhautian rule ceases some miles north of the Adhainn and the land between that ill-defined point and the town of Meresdorff is locked in a kind of uneasy peace between the two powers.

The town itself has been under the stewardship of the Rodelle family for many decades now, but there are still some who see the family as interlopers. The current patriarch of the family is Marquess Lyndon Rodelle. He rules the region from the great stone keep on the southern bank of the river alongside his wife, Henrietta Rodelle, nee Fridente. Despite their age and position, they remain childless, a situation which has not escaped the notice of their critics.

To the north-east lies the Viltshaws, a forested hilly expanse with a fell reputation. The eaves of the woodland are filled with all manner of fauna, most of it fairly representative of the region. Upon the ground, rabbits and capaill forage in the undergrowth. Small herds of forest deer frequent the area too, as might a herd of wild horses. The most dangerous creatures one might find would be the stray pack of woodwolves, or perhaps the occasional boar, which can admittedly reach prodigious sizes in the area.

The further one delves into its depths, however, the stranger the denizens of the forest become. The woodwolves get larger and more intelligent, something not quite right about them. Fanciful tales tell of the voices one can hear from the birds overhead, murders of ravens perched in the branches above, all staring down with singular focus at passersby, whispering warnings of grave danger ahead.

In the heart of the wood, or at least, as the legends would have it, resides the Mesnee d’Hellequin, the unseelie court of the powerful sidhe lord known as the Hellequin.

Suffice to say, very few deign to venture into the Viltshaws, and even fewer return.

Those which do return from those darkened woods, often return to the comforting embrace of The Pallid Mare, a somewhat dilapidated inn which always seems to be slightly too small for whatever number of people which currently inhabit it. It is four storeys tall, with plentiful, if slightly cramped, accommodation. The Mare as it is sometimes affectionately known, has a reputation for good, hot food and affordable, if sometimes watery, beer. The innkeeper, a short, abrupt Southron woman named Mallida, runs a tight establishment and brooks little to no disagreement.

To Charlie Gwyn Valdemar, she’s a good boss. She pays fairly, looks after her staff when the clientele get a bit rowdy and always makes sure the younger ones get a bite to eat after a busy night.

And it is with Charlie Gwyn Valdemar this particular part of our tale concerns itself.

Three figures are seated at the base of a tall rowan tree outside one of the paper-mills along the river, just outside the town. It is late morning, just before midday and the sun is high overhead. A cool breeze gusts along the riverbank, carrying with it the heady salt of the sea and the raucous cries of the shorebirds which line the shores of the bay at the mouth of the Adhainn.

The first of the three is a Feartarbh, tall, yet slender for one of his kind, clearly not quite fully grown. His hair and fur is a pale, palomino colouration, the crown of horns upon his head belying his adolescence. He wears a long, dark green coat over a golden brown tunic and black breeches.

The second, another Feartarbh and clearly brother to the first, is a smaller, younger specimen. His hair and fur is slightly darker than his brother, and his horns are far from fully developed. He wears a dark, burnt orange tunic and similar black breeches to his brother.

The last figure is diminutive, even by the standards of the Leathe, with sleek, reddish-brown fur, wearing a blue-grey shirt with rolled-up sleeves, long black woolen trousers and a short oilskin half-cape.

The excitement among the three friends is palpable. They know full well another Chéserquine is imminent. It may even be tonight.

“Do you think we’ll catch the whole parade?” - Roland, tapping his older brother on the arm gently.

“I hope so. Kayvan should be finished any minute now.” - Charlie, reassuringly.

Roland had been pestering their parents for weeks to go and see the parade. It was tradition in these parts, on each day in the leadup to the Chéserquine, a troupe of players would traverse the Main Thoroughfare in a rowdy cavalcade, masquerading a masterful imitation of the terror about to fall upon the town’s streets.

For Rhaea and Oberus, such a thing would only be possible if he was accompanied by his older brother, and Charlie’s condition to Roland was they would wait until his friend, Kayvan, had finished work.

“It smells pretty bad around here.” - Roland, the young Feartarbh fidgeting as they wait.

“The tanneries along the riverbank.” - Charlie, knowledgeably. Unlike Roland, Charlie has been here before and he knows the immediate area fairly well.

“I did it by the way.” - Hamlin, the diminutive Leathe’s soft voice pitched a little higher with excitement.

“You applied?” - Charlie, looking across at the small boy.

“I did, I wrote the letter. I hope I get it.” - Hamlin, his tail twitching nervously.

“Say, Rolly, when are you going to get a job?” - Charlie, in a tone of good-natured teasing.

“Well, uh, you know what… You know what Ma says, I don’t need to get a job until after I finish the apprenticeship with Pa, same as you. How old were you when you started at the ‘Mare’?” - Roland, stumbling over his words.

“Eighteen summers.” - Charlie, shrugging.

“So that’s still like four years away.” - Roland, settling back in the seat with the heel of a loaf of bread.

Only a few minutes later, a slender young Midlander walks out of the nearby papermill. His fair skin is tanned, his coal-black hair short and messy and the patchy stubble and wispy moustache he wears is nowhere near as impressive as he seems to think it is. The young man wears an off-white tunic, grey trousers and a thick leather belt, from which hang the various small steel and wooden tools of his trade, hooks and scrapers. He bids farewell to Aeya, the papermaker, and then strides out to meet Charlie and the others, a smile lighting his features.

“Hey Kay! Come on Charlie, let’s go!” - Roland, excitedly pulling Charlie to his feet.

* * *

“Hey Charlie, when are you working at the ‘Mare next?” - Kayvan, as the four boys stride along the river-side road.

“Uh, day after tomorrow I think? In the afternoon.” - Charlie, wracking his brain.

“Good, good, I’ll have to come in while you’re there. Taree said she wanted to talk to me about something. I may need back-up.” - Kayvan, with a worried grimace and a shrug.

The troop of dark blue clad guards standing watch at the northern gate allow the boys through with no challenge. They seem wary, and Charlie has noted the greater presence of military force on both sides of the river. Ostensibly, this is due to the ever-encroaching Chéserquine, but Charlie cannot help but wonder. Most of the forces gathering in number outside the southern gate are mercenaries, currently mustering under the banner of Lord Rodelle.

The border to the north, where the people of the Boltmoors have long rankled against Arhautian rule, is a site of significant tension, a tension Stonebridge has felt in the past.

The closer the boys get to the Main Thoroughfare, the louder the noise grows.  The cacophonous mesh of sounds is almost deafening, as scores of musicians, carrying a wide array of instruments, line the bridge, playing in almost-unison. The bridge itself is over a hundred yards across, and spans over two-thirds of a mile from bank to bank. Lining the edges are hundreds of townsfolk, clapping, dancing, singing and playing along. Running down the centre of the bridge, comes the cavalcade.

At the fore, march nearly forty black-clad musicians, their black clothes lined with the stark white skeletal designs of bones, not a few of them bearing actual bones sewed to the black cloth, the clatter of bones merely adding to the general pandemonium. Leading them all is a huge man, eight foot tall at least, clad in a long black coat and hood which obscures his face, over which he wears a crown of spiked bone, the spurs of which protrude upwards like thorns. He rides a massive black destrier.

Just as the boys find a good spot to watch, the long coat of the rider is thrown aside and three black-clad Leathe spring out, letting the coat fall to the ground as they leap from the back of the horse. They tumble and spin around one another and over and through the rest of the marching band to the raucous cheers of the crowd around them.

Behind the black-clad musicians, the rest of the crowd follows, all in various degrees of ostentatious display. Some, like the boys, look as if they have arrived straight from work. Many others look as if they have put some time into costumes and masks. A slender Jeleni woman with thin horns is playing a panpipe, the left sleeve of her light brown leather jacket decorated with hundreds of tiny bones, likely from mice, sewed into the leather. Twined around her horns in silver wire are more bones, giving the impression of a deer’s antlers. Many others wear masks in the shape of skulls or woodland creatures, or have painted their faces to look the same.

Almost imperceptibly, Charlie hears a slight sigh from down on his left. He looks down to see a slight look of disappointment on Roland’s face.

“What’s wrong?” - Charlie, pitching his voice over the swelling noise of the crowd.

“This is great, but I wish we could have seen the beginning.” - Roland, still watching the performance.

“You’re lucky you got to see any of it all. Last time I wasn’t allowed out of the house for three days on either side of the Chéserquine.” - Charlie, shaking his head.

“That’s true I guess. I didn’t get to see the King properly though, I would have liked that.” - Roland, disappointed.

As Kayvan pushes his way through the crowd, four flagons clutched in hand, he nearly walks into a tall, spindly Jeleni youth. The stranger is very thin with sandy fur, covered in a riotous mess of bright colours, a strange stringed instrument hanging from a strap over his shoulder and a half-eaten donut in hand. He mumbles an insincere apology through the crumbs of pastry in his mouth, wide grey eyes still intent on the show before him.

Shaking his head, Kayvan rejoins his friends, handing a flagon of water each to Hamlin and Roland and a flagon of ale to Charlie. They toast their cheers together and continue to watch the parade.

* * *

As the sun begins to dip towards the horizon, bells start to ring all through Stonebridge. The crowd upon the bridge slowly begins to disperse and the marching band cease their performance abruptly. An old, bearded Midlander man in simple brown robes, wearing the three-sided symbol of the Triad around his neck, rings a silver bell in hand. Beside him walk two guards, clad in the dark-blue livery of Stonebridge.

“Tonight is the night of the Chéserquine! If any require shelter for the night, they may find it in the church of the Triad!” – The brown-robed man, ringing his bell and walking along the bridge.

“We’re not far from sunset, Charlie.” - Roland, looking up at his brother.

“Sorry Kayvan, Hamlin, but we’ve got to get home or Ma and Pa will kill us. Come on Ham, let’s get you home too.” - Charlie, clapping Kayvan’s shoulder as they leave.

* * *

“You two are late.” - Rhaea Gwyn Valdemar, standing on the porch just outside the open door of the gigantic homestead which sits on stilts above the Wraeth’s Woodwork workshop.

“It’s before sundown!” - Charlie, indignant.

“Come on then, up you come.” - Rhaea, clearly nervous. It may indeed be before sundown, but not by much.

She is a tall woman, a Feartarbh obviously, but she seems soft and almost delicate, at least considering her size. Her voice is gentle.

As the two boys traipse up the stairs, they hear the monotonous scrape of a lathe working over wood cease, and the creak and groan of a tortured chair having a great bulk removed from it. Their father, Oberus emerges from the workshop, dusting himself free of woodchips and sawdust. Heavily muscled and taller even than Charlie, he is a massive, comforting presence to the boys. He tucks a scraping knife back into the sheath at his belt, ruffles Roland’s hair with a deep chuckle and gestures to his sons to head upstairs.

“Enjoy the parade boys?” - Oberus, his voice a deep baritone.

“Well enough.” - Charlie, shrugging.

“We missed the beginning, but yeah, it was really good.” - Roland, nodding.

Together, the family move inside, into the warm, fire-lit home, the massive wooden door swinging shut behind them. The warm, comforting scent of a rich stew permeates the house. Rhaea bolts the door thrice behind them and then together, she and Oberus work together to barricade the entrance-way.

As Oberus steps away and he heads to the dining room, Charlie notices his mother pull out a small bundle of sticks and flowers. She kneels down before the door and whispers something indistinct and a small blue-green light flickers briefly between her fingers, emanating from the petals of the flowers. She gently pulls a petal from the flowers and leaves them at the base of the door, and then proceeds to the windows and leaves another petal at each windowsill.

Charlie cannot remember this ritual from the last Chéserquine, seven years ago. Of course, he was much younger then, maybe he just never noticed. His mother has never admitted to any form of magical ability in the past, though now, he had to re-think all of the strange and wonderful abilities his mother had.

Rhaea Gwyn Valdemar could find anything. Any clothes or tools Charlie, Roland or even Oberus might have misplaced, Rhaea would know exactly where they could be found.

She never got lost. She could fix almost anything. He remembers one afternoon when he was young and his mother was cooking at home. She dropped a glass jar of spices and it should have shattered, but when Charlie moved around the bench to help her clean up the mess on the floor, miraculously it was still in one piece, the powdered red spice inside, somehow, still intact and within the jar.

Luck, she had said, and he had taken her word for it. Charlie doubted it very much now.

“Charlie! Roland! Dinner, come on!” - Oberus, from the dining room.

“Coming!” - Charlie, making his own way there, mind whirling.

“Coming!” - Roland, bounding downstairs from the bedroom in his striped pyjamas.

A massive, cast iron cauldron dominates the centre of the beautifully carved wooden table. Oberus takes four earthenware bowls and fills each with a generous measure of the rich, brown stew within, setting them in place around the table.

“When are you working next, Charlie?” - Oberus, hands steepled over the bowl before him while they wait for Rhaea to join them.

“Tomorrow, around midday I think.” - Charlie, having checked his schedule on the wall when he got home. He had been wrong when he told Kayvan earlier.

“You’ll have to see if you can grab us something. I think I will feel like some bread tomorrow.” - Oberus, with a laugh. It’s a long-running joke of his, that he holds out for the food Charlie brings home from the tavern, as if Rhaea weren’t a wonderful cook herself.

Rhaea finally joins them at the table and they begin to eat. Rhaea and Oberus ask the boys quite a bit about the parade in the afternoon, and how their friends are faring. They are good parents and caring people and love their sons dearly.

* * *

Upstairs, with nought but the single fitfully burning candle on Roland’s bedside table providing light to the room, Charlie and Roland sit on their beds, waiting in excited anticipation. Outside, the final light of the day flees, and darkness descends on the lands around Stonebridge.

At first there is nothing but a strong gust of wind which eventually builds into a howling gale. A faint chittering sound sussurates through the streets outside, unnerving and strange.

As the boys sit in the darkness and continue to listen, faint cries and screams echo from the exterior, alien and terrifying. All of this chaotic cacophony under the terrible howling wind. There is a rolling crash, like a peal of thunder and then wild shrieking and whooping, further animalistic screams as something cavorts through the streets outside.

Thunderous reports like hoofbeats crash off the roof above, as if a spectral horseman had ridden over the length of the house and leapt off the edge.

It is one thing to read about this, and read about it both Charlie and Roland had, but it is another to live it.

The house itself begins to gently shake as it is buffeted both by the wind and whatever the things are outside, these fae spirits.

Nervousness and excitement both war on young Roland’s face as he sits on the edge of the bed, looking towards the boarded window. There is precious little to see outside, just the occasional flash of something moving past at great speed.

“You okay, Rolly?” - Charlie, concerned at the way Roland’s white knuckles are gripping the edge of the blanket on his bed.

“Huh? Yeah, yeah, I’m okay.” - Roland, seemingly startled from his reverie.

“As long as we’re inside, we’re okay. Nothing can hurt us inside.” - Charlie, trying to be reassuring and calm. His own heart is thundering in his chest.

“Yeah, of course. We’re safe. I remember.” - Roland. He doesn’t sound convinced.

“Only one night and then it’s over. How long have we been excited for this, Rolly?” - Charlie, still trying to reassure his brother.

“You’re right.” - Roland, seemingly more relieved.

They sit in silence for a few more minutes. Roland wrings his hands and shakes his head.

“Shall we have a look?” - Roland, nodding his head towards the boarded up window.

“No. We shouldn’t.” - Charlie, but his tone is unconvincing.

Together, Charlie and Roland both sidle along the edge of their respective beds, until they reach the ends. Together, they stand and slowly, carefully, walk to the window and peer out, between the wooden boards and out into the night.

Outside, billowing all through the streets below, a thick fog obscures all detail. Here and there they see shapes in the mist, low-slung bestial shapes like boar and wolves, then almost a glimpse of tall, slender rider upon a powerful steed. What looks at first like a thorny thicket then coalesces for the briefest moment into a phalanx of crude spears, before they merge into the fog once more.

A flicker in the fog catches Charlie’s eye and he starts involuntarily. It almost looked like a banner. He catches the glimpse again and strain his eyes to try and, despite his misgivings, catch a glimpse of whatever heraldry is charged upon the standard.

He cannot make out the vague shape at first, but then, suddenly and for the briefest second only, it is clearly visible. A horrible fanged skull, maw open and distended, filled with needle sharp fangs, the eye-sockets a midnight black upon the grey field of the banner. Behind the skull, terrible branching antlers shoot upward, almost like a great tree. The banner snaps in the breeze outside, and the face upon the banner suddenly launches forward, towards the window, loosing a piercing shriek as it does so.

“Roland, get away from the window!” - Charlie, leaping back from the apparition.

The two boys scurry back and away from the window, towards the relative safety of their beds.

“What was it Charlie, what did you see?” - Roland, voice quavering.

“I saw his banner. I saw a horned skull and it screamed. Gods, it screamed, Roland. Stay away from the window.” - Charlie, his mind whirring, his breathing hard and fast.

As the boys sit back in their beds, huddled against the far wall of their room, they see a faint, blue-green glow emanating from the flower petal on their windowsill. The blue-green light glows, flickers and then fades as the petal lifts, almost as if blown by a gentle gust of wind. It comes to a rest on the wooden floorboards, lifeless, inert and grey, no longer glowing.

The thunder of hoofbeats reverberates off the roof of the house. Outside, on the street, those same hoofbeats clatter on the cobblestones. A wolf howls, the howl swiftly turning to something like maniacal laughter amidst the screams of shrieks of what sounds like the nightmares of the woods come to dance and play in the streets of Stonebridge.

The two boys huddle under their covers, hiding from the terrors outside for what feels like hours, not daring to make even the slightest sound. Finally, the cacophony ceases, the howling winds begin to die down and then the faintest patter of rainfall can be heard as the clouds open above.

“Is it over Charlie?” - Roland, peeking up over the covers towards his brother.

“I think so. We will have to assess the damage.” - Charlie, quietly. He swings his legs off the bed.

The bedroom door opens, revealing the massive form of Oberus.

“Is everything okay in here?” - Oberus, warm. His tone changes when he sees the expressions of terror still writ large on Charlie and Roland’s faces.

“Did something happen? Or were you watching?” - Oberus, concerned. He moves into the room and sits on Roland’s bed, reaching an arm out to comfort his youngest son.

“We saw a little out the window.” - Charlie, quietly.

“You were both told not to look. Why do you always have to look?” - Oberus, shaking his head.

“They always say not to be afraid of the dark-” - Charlie, clearly still shaken.

“This isn’t being afraid of the dark, boy! This is… the things which live in the dark.” - Oberus, exasperated. He stands, pats Roland on the shoulder and moves to the window to inspect the damage.

With one, meaty fist he takes one of the boards and pulls it away, noting the blackened and singed wood on the side facing outside. The wooden board splinters in his grasp, clearly weakened by the fae assault.

“Hmmph. Lucky, both of you. Go downstairs to your mother. I must fix this.” - Oberus, gruff.

The two boys head downstairs to the sound of their father hammering new boards in place over their window. They find their mother in the study, sitting back in her chair. She looks exhausted and takes a long draught of water from a pitcher as they enter the room.

“What is it, my boys?” - Rhaea, placing the pitcher upon the small table beside her chair.

“Something attacked our window. It’s okay, Pa’s fixing it now. Everything’s fine, it didn’t get in.” - Charlie, seeing the panic in his mother’s eyes as he tells her.

“Well, it is a good thing I did that then. We’re all safe. Everything’s fine.” - Rhaea, exhausted. She sounds almost as if she’s speaking to herself just as much as her sons.

“Petals.” - Charlie, suddenly.

“I’m sorry?” - Rhaea, confused.

“Petals. What are the flower petals for?” - Charlie, curious.

“A superstition, to keep us all safe. Nothing more.” - Rhaea, tired.

“When the window was attacked, the flower petal withered and died. Does it mean anything?” - Charlie, unwilling to let this go.

“Likely not.” - Rhaea, her tone gentle, but brooking no further conversation.

Within the hour, Oberus has finished the swift repair-work on the boys’ bedroom window and they are able to return to their room to sleep. Still buzzing with the excitement and horror of what they only just managed to escape, it takes quite some time for the two boys to fall asleep.

That night, Charlie has a nightmare. It is familiar at first, he is working at the The Pallid Mare, though strangely, he has been asked to stay the night. Once more, a patron has spilled an ocean of ale upon the floor of the ’Mare, the largest such incident yet.

As Charlie begins to mop up the mess, the front door of the inn is suddenly shattered with a deafening crash. For a brief moment, almost as if in slow motion, he sees a delicate pale blue petal, softly glowing with a faint, internal light drift through the air across his vision, disturbed by whatever impact has destroyed the door. It disappears from view and, as Charlie stands there, mop in hand before an ocean of ale upon the wooden floor, a thick pale mist begins to pour in from outside.

Within the mist, he espies dark, low-slung shapes, shaggy-furred and with glowing red and yellow eyes. They slink into the inn with the mist, the cozy fire in the hearth having guttered out, leaving only a dim gloom. He sees further shapes in the mist, horns, antlers and the pale gleaming of speartips held aloft. A single massive figure, everything about it pitch black, darker even than the night surrounding him. It wears a tall crown, almost made of woven branches twined together which rip up into the sky and rides upon a horse-like steed, horned and with too many legs, eyes belching fae fire.

The rider slowly moves into the inn and holds out a midnight-black hand to Charlie, who is rooted to the spot, unable even to breathe. Charlie can somehow see the delicate traceries of vines and leaves etched into the steel plate of the rider’s gauntlet and vambrace.

With a shout, Charlie breaks free of the compulsion upon him and swings his mop at the rider, though instead of a wooden haft and the heavy, sodden head of the mop, it is now an elegant steel longsword. The rider’s hand recoils as the blade clangs against its blackened steel gauntlet.

The skull-like visage of the figure turns to look down to Charlie, towering over the youth. Eyes, twinkling behind the steel mask like silvery stars, lock with Charlie’s own gaze and a shadowed black amorphous mass tears forth, enveloping Charlie.

He awakens with a start, breathing heavily, his bedsheets drenched with sweat. Outside his window, little songbirds chirp in the early morning, heedless of the constant light drizzle which falls from grey, overcast skies above.

The scent of fresh bread wafts up from downstairs. Rhea has been baking.

All is well. All is well.

* * *

Refreshed and braver in the cold light of the early morning, after a warm and hearty breakfast, Charlie leaves the woodworks, Roland happily following his older brother. Upon walking out the door, the two young boys see a very tall, pale woman walking beside an unusual small, shaggy brown animal, one arm holding a long, mottled grey, white and navy cloak out over the little creature, providing some shelter for it from the constant light drizzle of rain. She is about the same height as Charlie, well-built and coldly beautiful, clad in clothing of dark greys and pale blue. She has an off-white bandage tied around her upper arm.

“Whoa, Roland, she looks interesting. I don’t think she’s from around here.” - Charlie, whispering conspiratorially to his brother.

“No, I think you might be right. Also, what is that?” - Roland, pointing to the strange, tawny creature trotting beside the woman.

Charlie, a lover of all small, furry creatures, waves a greeting to the little mammoth calf, at which point the shaggy-furred little bugger immediately runs off into the gentle drizzle to meet these new people.

“Hello, hello! Who’s this?” – Charlie, kneeling down to fuss over the little mammoth. Venn waves his trunk in greeting to both of them.

“I am so sorry. Venn, please, leave the nice people alone.” – Brynhildr, jogging over with a somewhat contrite expression.

“No, don’t apologise. He’s beautiful. Where did you get him?” – Charlie. Venn has, now completely ignoring Bryn, rolled over onto his back to receive belly scritches.

“He was a gift. From an old teacher.” – Bryn, somewhat taken aback.

“Where are you from?” – Roland, also scritching Venn rigorously.

“Do you mean where I was born, or…?” – Bryn, trailing off.

“Yeah, sure.” – Roland.

“Ah, from the north. The far north.” – Bryn, non-committal, not that the two Feartarbh seem to notice or really mind.

“The north, that’s so cool.” – Roland, wistfully.

“Is it cold up there? I bet it’s really cold up there.” – Charlie.

“Yes, it is quite cold where I am from. There are colder places though.” – Bryn, shrugging.

“Did you see the Chéserquine? So cool, right?” – Charlie, excitedly.

“Ah yes, I did. Dangerous, is it not?” – Brynhildr. Despite the incessant questions, she finds herself warming to the pair. They are friendly and open but most importantly, Venn likes them. That counts for a lot.

“Ah, yeah, a bit, a bit. They smashed in our window.” – Charlie, with an excited gleam in his eye. Roland nods hurriedly and points up towards the second storey of the house behind them, indicating a window with boarding hurriedly hammered in place over the breach.

“That doesn’t sound like a good thing.” – Brynhildr, looking up at the damage.

“No, it was pretty scary.” – Roland, his excited demeanour incongruous with his words.

“So the yard around the house, is this your family’s?” – Bryn, noting the sparse patches of grass growing in and around the house.

“Yes, it is. The lumberyard of Wraeth’s Woodwork, our family business.” – Charlie, proudly.

“Would I be able to take Venn in there please? He likes to run around on the grass, and I do not really want to risk taking him outside the town walls. I promise I will clean up after him.” – Brynn, hopeful.

“Of course, that would be fine. It’s just grass. I know they won’t mind at all, but if you see our parents, tell them Charlie and Roland told you it was okay and that we’re friends. What’s your name?” – Charlie, holding a hand out to Bryn to shake.

“Brynhildr.” – Bryn, taking the hand and shaking it firmly.

“Brynhildr?” – Charlie, trying to get his tongue around the unfamiliar pronunciation.

“Brynhildr.” – Bryn, nodding.

“Nice. Where’s that name from?” – Charlie, smiling.

“Home. Up north. Unterguardt.” – Bryn.

“And is that where Venn’s from too?” – Roland, still playing with the little mammoth.

“Ah, yes, it is.” – Bryn, nodding.

“Charlie, I think we need to go to Unterguardt one day.” – Roland, happily.

“It has been lovely meeting you, but we should really be getting a move on. I’ve only got a few hours before work. Please, head on in and get Venn on the grass. Hopefully we will see you later.” – Charlie, with a smile, giving Venn one last head pat.

Bryn nods her thanks with a small smile of her own and ushers Venn into the lumberyard. She sits down, her back against a small pile of arbret-logs and pulls her cloak tightly around her shoulders, watching Venn happily frolic in the misty morning drizzle. With a slight smile, revealing teeth just slightly too pointed for any Midlander, Bryn weaves a slight bit of magic into the air around them. The misty drizzle ceases, replaced now by flitting snowflakes forming above them. Venn’s trunk waves from side to side as he attempts to catch them as they fall.

* * *

Walking through the town, Charlie and Roland overhear quite a few elements of conversation. One market-stall is being set up for the morning, and Charlie overhears the proprietors, a rotund and dwarf with a dark complexion and a short, well-maintained beard and a tall, willowy Midlander woman with fair skin and copper hair, discussing the events of the previous night.

“Did you hear what happened to the Jestain manse?” - The dwarf, unloading narrow boxes from a small, ram-drawn cart. 

“No? What happened?” - The woman, stacking the boxes carefully.

“They’re saying it burnt down in the night.” - The dwarf.

“No! Unbelievable.” - The woman, incredulous.

“They’re saying they’re all dead. That whole family.” - The dwarf, shaking his head sadly.

Charlie knows of the Jestain family. The head of the family, Marlon, was somewhat of an eccentric. He was not particularly well-liked amongst his peers, however it stands to reason for a supremely successful merchant prince. He was successful enough to consolidate his position into actual nobility, purchasing patents which would see his family ascend to the upper ranks of Arhautian society.

Marlon himself was a strange man, with a keen interest in the fae, bordering on obsession. His ventures into the wilds, into locations normally considered too dangerous to attempt were well-known and largely ridiculed, however his findings were treasured by Charlie, who shared the man’s love of knowledge of the sidhe.

The Jestain family fortune was largely built around the working relationship Marlon developed with prominent crafters in and around Stonebridge. His continued patronage of Wraeth’s Woodwork had served both the Jestain family and the Gwyn Valdemars well. Charlie had even met the man before, in the years prior to him purchasing the patents of nobility which removed Marlon from the social class which would regularly interact with a mere carpenter.

Charlie had found him friendly and very knowledgeable. The soon-to-be merchant prince had even given the young Feartarbh a small notebook with a collection of notes on the Chéserquine.

Walking further through the market district, Charlie hears a little more. Rumours swirl of at least one survivor of the terrible blaze which claimed the manse, Marlon’s son, Tomas. He is, according to rumour, being treated and held by the apothecary, Marwolaeth Plendyn Or’Saer in her Emporium, just across the road from Wraeth’s Woodwork. The stories speak of the little apothecary braving the flames to look for the boy, assisted by two compatriots and he remembers something about the tall woman from the north he met earlier, the singed and burnt cloth of the coat and fingerless gloves she wore.

In all, they claim, eleven people perished in the fire which claimed the manse.

“Charlie? May I have a donut please?” - Roland, as the pair pass a pastry stand in the market.

“Of course.” - Charlie, fishing the necessary coppers out of his pocket and hailing the owner of the pastry stand.

Mere moments later, with piping hot pastries in hand, the two brothers sit down upon a bench and look out over the Adhainn River.

“Happy Chéserquine day, Rolly.” - Charlie, wistfully taking a bite out of his donut.

“Charlie, what do you think happened to the Jestain manse?” - Roland, likewise taking a bite.

“It’s obvious, isn’t it? The Chéserquine came through, burnt it down. Our own window was burned, was it not? It’s a shame about Marlon though, he was alright really. Maybe that’s why they picked him off? He knew too much.” - Charlie, thoughtful.

“That makes sense, only you don’t hear too much about the fae burning things. Still, you’re right, our window was burned too, so it could happen.” - Roland, nodding.

“That’s a good point. Thinking about it, the fae take those outdoors or otherwise unguarded. Marlon would have known better than to be outdoors during the event.” - Charlie, taking another bite of his donut.

“And if he were outside, would they have burned his house down? Or just ridden off with him? I don’t know. I did hear that man over there, you see him there, the stevedore with the black jacket? I heard him saying he thinks it was arson, that he saw someone fleeing the scene after the riders left.” - Roland, pointing at a tall, dark-skinned Midlander with his dark hair partially obscured by the thick woolen cap of his trade.

“Rolly, it’s rude to point, come on. And that’s crazy. Even after the riders leave, it’s still terribly dangerous to go outside on the night. Why would anyone go to such a risk just to kill the Jestains?” - Charlie, shaking his head.

“Well, I mean, it wasn’t like Marlon Jestain was the most popular man in town.” - Roland, shrugging.

“Marlon, sure, but the rest of them were alright.” - Charlie, still disbelieving.

“I met Tomas once, you know? He was alright. A bit dull perhaps, but alright. I hope he’s okay. Nice kid.” - Roland

“You could visit him if you like?” - Charlie.

“Ah, I could, but no, it wouldn’t be right. I don’t know him particularly well after all. I’m sure he’s got other family and friends he’d want to see before me.” - Roland, clearly overthinking things.

“Roland, what if he knows something about what happened that night though? What if we were able to investigate what really happened? We’d be heroes. I think we need to get into the Emporium to speak with him.” - Charlie, warming to the theme.

“Well, that makes sense. Yes, we could do that. We’d be doing the town a service.” - Roland, expression brightening.

“Say, did you notice the sleeves on the woman we met earlier?” - Charlie, remembering Bryn.

“Bryn? No, why?” - Roland, who was completely oblivious to the state of Bryn’s clothing and the scent of woodsmoke which permeated her.

“The sleeves and gloves, they were blackened and burnt. It looked like she was staying in the Emporium too. I bet she helped rescue Tomas.” - Charlie, jumping to conclusions.

“And we just gave her dog some grass. She owes us.” - Roland, doing likewise.

“Maybe she can get us in and then we can talk to Tomas.” - Charlie, excitedly.

“She might not need to. If Hamlin does get the job, maybe he can get us in. Or maybe Bryn can get you in and Hamlin can get me in and then we’d both be in together.” - Roland, getting carried away.

“If this happens, do we need to wear disguises and pretend we don’t know one another? You could be Reginald and I could be Casper. We’d be from out of town, from two separate towns to explain why we don’t know each other.” - Charlie, likewise carried away.

“This sounds great. I’ll start working on my disguise now. Thanks for the donut Charlie. I’ll see you at home for dinner tonight?” - Roland, wiping his hands clean of the cinnamon sugar which had encrusted them.

“Of course, after work. Wouldn’t miss it. See you tonight.” - Charlie, standing and making his way to The Pallid Mare.

* * *

Crossing the Main Thoroughfare, Charlie espies several smallboats upon the dark waters of the Adhainn, fishermen plying their trade on this grey morning. The sound of industry can be heard on the wind as the forges and mills along the riverbank come to life. He gives a friendly nod and wave to the silver-furred Bruin smith at The Steel Mill, the name of whom he cannot recall. The one-eyed smith does not deign to respond, likely too engrossed in his work to even notice the youth passing by.

Charlies passes The Steel Mill nearly every day on his way to work, but he has never yet seen anyone at the forge other than the surly smith. Not so today, however, for alongside the silver-furred Bruin stands a similarly short, stocky and weathered figure, a white-haired dwarf. The dwarf is clearly too old to be an apprentice, Charlie thinks to himself, but he pays it no mind, leaving the two smiths working in silence behind him.

Upon arriving at The Pallid Mare, Charlie is greeted by Taree, polishing tankards and laying them out upon the countertop.

“Good morning Charlie!” - Taree, a smile on her face as she greets her friend.

“Morning, Taree. How did you fare in the night?” - Charlie, moving behind the bar to lay down his coat and put on his apron.

“Well enough Charlie. A little excitement, but naught to be worried about. Now Charlie, once you’re ready to start, see the Danann over there?” - Taree, pointing to a brown and green-clad Danann woman sitting in one of the booths.

“I see her. What about her?” - Charlie, nodding.

“She helped out last night apparently. Ma told me to look after her, give her anything she wants for breakfast. If you could sort that out for me, I’d be much obliged.” - Taree, who disappears into the backroom and emerges a moment later with a small wooden plate, upon which sits nothing more than a single, piping hot baked potato.

She carries this plate to another booth, not far from the Danann’s, within which sits a diminutive Leathe-girl with merle colouration and in finely tooled leather armour. While young, the girl is remarkably well-equipped, her armour visibly expensive and her heavy dagger, sheathed where it lays upon the tabletop, inset with a deep red jewel of some kind in the pommel.

The Leathe-girl accepts the plate with palpable excitement and begins to messily devour it.

“You mentioned some trouble in the night?” - Charlie, tying up his apron.

“Yes, some f***wit during the night decided to simply up and walk out into the night. He opened the door and just walked out.” - Taree, incredulous.

“What, do you mean, during the Chéserquine?” - Charlie, equally aghast.

“Yes, indeed. Within about twenty minutes of the vanguard thundering past. He just f****** opened the door and walked out. His room’s still upstairs. Ma said there was nothing much in there. I think the Danann over there was one of the ones she let in there to have a look.” - Taree, jerking her head in the direction of the Danann.

For her part, the Danann is simply sitting in her booth, eyes closed, relaxed, seemingly catching up on some rest after the events of the night previous. She looks half-wild with dark hair and the angular features of her kind.

“Not like he’ll be missing anything they might have taken.” - Charlie, dismissive.

“Aye, true enough. Not like we’ll ever see him again.” - Taree, nodding her agreement.

Taree puts another tankard upon the countertop and gestures to the Danann woman, sitting in her booth.

“I’m glad you’re here. Frankly, she’s freaking me out.” - Taree, whispering furtively to Charlie.

The day passes relatively uneventfully. Charlie notes sometime in the late morning, the Danann and the Leathe-girl leave together, though he does not get the impression they know one another well. He does learn a little more of the events of the night prior from the clientele of The ‘Mare, but on the whole, most of the town’s populace do not wish to speak of it. Most of the talk is based around the Festivale and the various travellers the town will be welcoming in the coming days as the revelries are prepared and eventually commence. He does note the Bruin smith and his dwarven compatriot visit the inn for lunch and he serves them both, though he is unable to pick up much of their conversation.

It is late in the afternoon when a familiar face enters the inn.

“Charlie, how are you? How’s work?” - Kayvan, hanging his cloak at the door and messing his coal-black hair with his hands to dry it slightly.

“Kay! Doing well thank you. Can’t complain. How was last night?” - Charlie, greeting his friend.

“Yeah, good, good. No problems on our end. Say, have you heard about the Jestain manse?” - Kayvan, taking Charlie aside, out of the hustle and bustle on the inn.

“I did catch a little of it. No one knows for sure, do they? Last I heard, the rumours are someone crept out after the Chéserquine and set fire to their house?” - Charlie, questioning.

“Literally as the final rider took to the sky, they are saying. I heard and immediately thought of you, because it is weird and connected to the Chéserquine and that is kind of, ‘your thing’ after all. Ah yes, Taree, beer please! Oh, of course, Charlie, you’re still working aren’t you? Of course you are. Just one then, Taree, thank you!” - Kayvan, with excitement.

Kayvan makes his way to the bar, to patiently wait for his drink. Charlie walks with him, making a quiet apology to a patron he accidentally bumps with his prodigious frame.

“Will you be out tonight, for the pre-Festivale celebrations?” - Kayvan, to Charlie.

“I’d like to, but probably not. I imagine my parents will not let me out after dark. You know how they get.” - Charlie, sadly.

“I see, fair enough I guess. Ah, thank you Taree. Very well, I’ll keep an eye out for you tonight, but if I do not see you, we must catch up tomorrow. Aeya let us all out early, apparently her mother had some tall woman from out of town attack Bandon.” - Kayvan, taking the beer from Taree.

“Tall? As tall as me?” - Charlie, perking up at the description.

“Yeah, perhaps.” - Kayvan, shrugging.

“That’s probably Brynhildr. She’s my friend. She has a mammoth!” - Charlie, excited.

“They did say she had a weird dog. Like a mastiff or something?” - Kayvan, confused.

“No, not mastiff, mammoth. You know, like a big wooly elephant.” - Charlie, shaking his head.

“Nah, what’s an elephant?” - Kayvan, confused.

“Yeah, like a mastiff. Like a big, wooly mastiff.” - Charlie, shaking his head.

“Sure, whatever. Anyway, whatever it is, apparently she freaked Bandon out good and proper. Aeya had to go console him cause he’s scared to leave the house or something now.” - Kayvan, dismissive.

“Hmm, that’s odd. She seemed really nice when I met her.” - Charlie, thoughtful.

“Eh, who can say, really? Anyway, if you’re not going to be out tonight, perhaps I might swing around the woodworks. I’ll bring Roland something. What’s he like again?” - Kayvan.

“Ah, donuts?” - Charlie.

“No, the meat thing. The meat thing with the sauce? F*** it, I'll get him a donut. Anyway, I’d best let you get back to work and have this chat with Taree. Wish me luck, hope she doesn’t rip my face off or something.” - Kayvan, laughing at Charlie’s expression.

* * *

After work, as the sun slowly sets on the day, Charlie hurries home. The streets are bustling with activity, the population of Stonebridge beginning to emerge for the pre-Festivale revelries, a wild couple of days before the official celebrations begin, a traditional period of abandon where survivors simply embrace their continued existence.

To the people of Stonebridge, this period is not unlike the general feel in the week between Christmas Day and New Years Day, two large, exhausting events in close proximity to one another, though to be fair most Christmas Day traditions do not involve being abducted by a fae court.

As he crosses the Main Thoroughfare, he notes a smallboat out on the river, piloted by two small figures, a young Jeleni youth and a Leathe-girl. The dim light and distance make it hard to tell, but it could well be the Leathe from the inn earlier in the day. As he watches, the two of them furtively manipulate something in the boat and something shoots into the sky and explodes in a brilliant burst of multi-coloured light with a sound which cracks like thunder. There is a moment of panic and then everyone on the bridge begins to applaud. A band of minstrels strike up a tune, drinks are poured and consumed and the two figures on the boat sketch a quick bow and dive headfirst into the water together. The two figures emerge on the dark northern bank and are quickly swallowed by the appreciative crowd.

Much as he would like to, Charlie does not tarry and instead hurries home, clutching his packet of food from The ‘Mare and arriving at Wraeth’s Woodwork just as the red sunset dips down into the western horizon. Mere minutes later, he sits at the table, enjoying a nice family dinner.

“Did you hear about the Jestain manse?” - Charlie, picking at his mashed potato.

“Yes, I did indeed. A terrible tragedy. Say what they will about him, Marlon was a good man. Such a young family too.” - Oberus, quietly.

“Did you hear his son is still alive though? He’s across the road, at the Or’Saer Emporium I believe.” - Charlie.

“No, I did not hear that! Some small good at least, though I fear what will become of him.” - Oberus, saddened.

“Will we need to find a new benefactor? Marlon bought most of our work, did he not?” - Rhaea, to her husband.

“We will need to, but it should not be too great a difficulty. We will manage.” - Oberus, calm.

“What if we diversified? Came into some other goods to trade? I hear there are mammoths up north, in Unterguardt.” - Charlie, petulantly skirting the greens on his plate.

“That’s a mighty distance from here, Charlie. Whatever do you mean? We have all that we need here, in Stonebridge. What need have we for mammoths?” - Oberus, confused.

“There’s more to the world, Pa. Other opportunities to be taken.” - Charlie, quietly.

“Charlie, the outside world is dangerous. It is safe here, in Stonebridge-” - Oberus, before Charlie cuts him off.

“I will need to leave eventually Pa, won’t I? I want to see the world, but I’m not even allowed outside the town.” - Charlie, indignant.

“You will, in time, as will Roland. When you are both older and can care for yourselves. Besides, what do you mean you have not been allowed outside the town? Of course you have been outside Stonebridge.” - Oberus, his deep baritone calm and comforting, yet brooking no argument.

“Not more than a few miles.” - Charlie, sullen.

“What need is there to go more than a few miles? There’s enough to see and hear here, where it is safe.” - Oberus, gently shaking his great, horned head. He moves slowly, carefully, almost as if his scared of his own prodigious strength.

“Charlie, you know your father only wants what is best for the two of you. For all of us.” - Rhaea, consolingly to her eldest son.

“I know, but I want to do things. For example, tonight. All my friends are out on the street now the Chéserquine has passed, preparing for the Festivale. Can I join them?” - Charlie, hopeful.

“But it is not safe out there Charlie, you know this. The Festivale does not commence for another three nights hence as that is when it is properly safe to be out on the streets after dark. You know this.” - Rhaea, quietly.

“Of course it is safe, no Chéserquine has ridden on two consecutive nights in recorded history. Any stories of it happening are just myths and legends. Frankly, I don’t think they’re real.” - Charlie, indignant once more.

“There are still wild spirits out there, left behind by the Chéserquine, lurking in the darkest alleyways and abandoned buildings. It is too dangerous. You will stay inside tonight and tomorrow night and maybe, just maybe, you might be able to go out on Festivale-eve.” - Rhaea, her tone firm.

Charlie knows better than to argue with his mother. He quickly finishes his dinner and bids his parents a good night. As he and Roland traipse off to bed, he looks back and sees Oberus put his massive arm around his wife’s shoulders and give her a gentle squeeze. As he closes the door to the bedroom, Charlie tries his best not to see his mother’s tears.

* * *

The wooden boards barricading the bedroom window have now been removed, replaced by a slightly stained glass pane which Rhaea had commissioned and installed earlier in the day. Now, it reveals the revelry on the streets below under the twin moons in the night sky.

Roland stands by the window, a little forlorn. He wants to be out there of course, taking in the sights and eating the food.

“Charlie, Ma and Pa are right, aren’t they? We shouldn’t go out there?” - Roland, sadly.

“Probably not.” - Charlie, still aggrieved from his argument with his parents as he readies himself for bed.

“Still, all the same, it doesn’t mean we cannot be part of it.” - Roland, who throws open the bedroom window.

Instantly, the scents and sounds increase markedly in magnitude. The scent of wine, smoke and grilled meats instantly wafts up to the two boys.

“There’s something really nice cooking out there Charlie. I can almost taste it. Like honeyed meat or something.” - Roland, eyes closed, savouring the scents.

Charlie comes over to the windowsill and sits there, observing everything outside. Roland sits beside him and the two share of a comfortable, companionable silence. Roland leans forward slightly, and Charlie happens to look over at his brother. Behind the young boy, revealed in the night sky, Charlie sees the twin moons.

Time seems to stop as Charlie notes the terrible glint of the Red Star as it passes between the moons.

Heavy clouds gather in the sky and a thick, pale mist begins to creep into the town, clogging the streets and causing torches and cooking-fires to flicker out. A panic begins to set in, tired and drunken revel-makers milling in confusion.

But Charlie, transfixed by the Red Star, sees a figure upon a nightmarish steed, armoured in black steel riding through the skies, borne aloft as if by the wind itself. It rides down from the star, alights upon the roof of the house next door, launches across to Wraeth’s Woodwork and reaches out a single, terrible, steel-clad hand. Charlie has but an instant to note the delicate engravings of leaves and vines upon the black-steel gauntlet before the fae spirit’s hand grasps the back of Roland’s collar. The boy has only time to utter a startled gasp before he is borne away into the night sky with a crash of thunder like the hammer-blow of a wrathful god, leaving only the faint scent of juniper berries behind.

The impact knocks Charlie backward, onto the bedroom floor. Breathless and frantic, he struggles to his feet and looks out the window, desperately searching in vain for some sight of his brother.

In the streets below, the panic sets in earnest as more mounted figures and their low-slung mighty hunting hounds tear through the streets, taking up the defenceless at will and bearing them away.

Charlie stands at the window, disbelieving, unmoving, as the rain begins to sheet down from the dark and heavy clouds above, his countenance fearful. He wonders to himself if he might ever see his brother again.

The Wrap-Up
Well, first of all, welcome back everyone. My apologies for the delay in posting this. It was a very tough one to actually complete, perhaps in large part due to how integral it is to getting Arc 1 actually rolling.

Poor Roland.

Not too much to really say about this one really, other than to officially welcome young Sheriff_Juicy to the table. It has in reality been quite a long time, so long in fact Juicy has gone from being a new player at our table to being a member of our development team and a member of our prestigious Norbayne Game Master club. He has been a wonderful addition to our team and table.

To date, we have long since actually finished Arc 1 and, as of late last year (2023) finished Arc 2 as well, which is largely sessions with smaller sections of the party as they navigate an approximately 3x year time-jump. It’ll all make more sense for you readers at the end of Arc 1 I am sure.

We are hoping to properly commence Arc 3 in early March of this year, which I am very excited for. This will see the actual main plot of the campaign properly kick in and tie it to our existing legendarium.

At any rate, we sincerely hope you enjoyed this chapter and look forward to bringing you the next, hopefully without such a lengthy hiatus.

« Last Edit: February 02, 2024, 01:55:02 PM by Phoenixguard09 »
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