When we last left all of our heroes--weeks previously, in Cador--Invellios and Luceo were departing for their own adventures. Rorik, Sarah-Maria, and Strohm stayed behind in Cador. They awaited word from Lord Khulvan and his nephew Allayn in El Dorado concerning Dhunraven negotiations with the Makaneth Alvorin.
Rorik, Sarah, and Strohm stay with Aelric, the warden of Cador, for a couple days. Aelric expects word from El Dorado any day.
While waiting, the party decides to make a side trip back to Shaman's Crown. When Strohm notes large tracks in the snow, they approach cautiously. It seems a large, pregnant bear has settled into the Crown for the winter. The party backs away, and quietly wishes her luck from a distance. With the bear around, the Crown will be well guarded into the spring.
Back in Cador, they find that Aelric has received a request that the party return to El Dorado, where they will aid in preparing the negotiation party. Though Strohm is hesitant, Rorik and Sarah encourage him to accompany them to the capital.
In El Dorado, Strohm stays well-bundled and escapes most casual notice. Those townsfolk that do recognize him as a mountain hobgoblin tend to eye him closely, but hold their tongues when they see he travels with Sarah--the Pure Lady of local renown.
Meeting with Lord Khulvan, it seems their presence is mostly required for the celebrity factor. They attend a ball at his stately home, where prominent figures of the wealthy and merchant classes quietly discusses foreign policy over finger sandwiches. The latest word on the traitorous merchant Cordwellyn is that he has moved to the manor of Mortyr; Dhunraven has still not made any public accusations based on the evidence against Mortyr's Lord Beoric.
Rorik spends the day looking for dwarf company. He finds a merchant caravan of hill dwarves. Though they have heard nothing more about the fall of Mor Dunehaim, they have heard of survivors of a major orc attack making it to Mor Dankil, in the south. Rorik thanks them for the news, and trades a magic axe for a magic breastplate.
Sarah decides to re-establish contact with the Thayan Order of St. Michael, which she left many months before. Speaking to the local Elder Benedictant and aided by her local fame, she arranges a self-supporting Itinerant position for herself, spreading the word and deeds of Thaya, the goddess of Healing and Light. She asks they send word to her old Elder that she is safe and has rejoined the Order. After making a suitable donation, she has her new Alvorin morningstar blessed.
Allayn sends word that the trade caravan will set out once more. The day is overcast, and lonely snowflakes drift past on the wind, but do not accumulate upon the ground. The heroes pack their gear and head down to the crowded river docks. As they pass through the throng, a cloaked figure grabs Sarah's arm. Peering beneath the hood, Sarah sees a young woman's face, covered in a web of tiny, pale scars. The woman whispers: "Are you Sarah-Maria, known in these parts as the Pure Lady?"
"Mark me, for I am Dominique, an emissary of the Baneful Court. For your part in the death of Morgrissa and your thwarting of the Court, your life is forfeit. Look for me in the Wilds, where I will come to collect your debt!"
Before Sarah can react, the woman swirls away into the crowd. Rorik steps in closer to her other side. "Who was that, then? Another fan?" Sarah shakes her head, "I don't think so." After hearing what the woman told her, Rorik and Strohm are concerned, and keep an eye out for her to appear again. But the trade party boards the river boat and loads their crates and bundles without further incident.
Nearing the shallow headwaters of the river Tarn, the caravan disembarks, sending for ponies from Cador. They load their gear, and travel overland to Cador.
After a night in the fortified hamlet...
...the caravan continues on into the mountains, accompanied by our heroes, with Strohm serving as local guide. Winter is in full force now; it is bitterly cold. The caravan stop frequently to warm up again. Strohm presses on alone to notify the Alvorin they are coming.
The caravan is met by an Alvorin patrol. After some discussion, they lead the caravan to a nearby cave system to set up camp.
The Alvorin elders arrive, and discussions begin. Recent events are clarified, treaty terms are renegotiated, goods are traded. In the evening, drinks and food are served. One of the humans is a bard, and provides musical and minor magical entertainment. An Alvorin warrior sings some of the Makaneth ballads of old. The mountain wind howls outside.
In the afternoon, the caravan heads back. One of the Alvorin elders sends a young warrior along as a guide, requesting that our heroes stay behind. Our heroes bid goodbye to Allayn once more. When the caravan is gone, the elder turns her sharp eyes to Sarah. "I have seen death seeking you. If you stay here, I see many paths where many die. Go, with Rorik and Strohm, into the mountains. Flee the death that seeks you, though I think it will still follow. But in the mountains, you have a chance."
Our heroes pack a tent, heavy winter clothes, and extra food; they head out on foot, up into the mountains and the winter wind.
After a cold night, dawn brings a break in the clouds and wind. The sky brightens to deep blue; the snow and grey rock sparkles in the sunlight. Beneath them, dark green patches of conifers grow together, stretching away into forested foothills far below. Above them, bare black and dark grey rock towers up to snow-capped peaks, many still hidden in clinging white cloud banks.
Rorik suggests they head south, to Mor Dankil, where they might find protection as well as news of any Mor Dunehaim survivors. The others agree.
In the afternoon, they can see a lone figure, dark against the white snow two miles off, following them. An hour later, they can tell that the figure is moving faster than they are. Rorik suggests they mount the next rise, and set up an ambush. Surely they can take her--three against one.
Strohm and Rorik duck down behind the next rise, readying their ranged weapons. Sarah stays just over the top of the ridge. She watches their pursuer and murmurs prayers to Thaya. When the figure seems about to leave their trail, to find another path around the ridge, Sarah stands up tall. The figure advances once more. About 100 feet away, she stops and throws back her hood to reveal short-cropped black hair. It is indeed Dominique, from El Dorado.
"I have come for retribution!", she calls.
"Morgrissa's death was not my doing, nor was it my intent," replies Sarah. "I sought only justice for her crimes. I have no contention with your Baneful Court."
"You brought low one of our own, and so you have struck at all the Court." Dominique begins to advance again, pulling her shield arm out from under her cloak. Her shield is rimmed with iron spikes, and it bears the sign of Hextor, god of Tyranny and War--a spiked gauntlet clutching six arrows.
"Hold!", cries Sarah, still searching for an alternative to combat. "Why track me this far? Why not just kill me in El Dorado?"
"The Court will build a new civilization here in Corum, a mighty empire of plenty in the wilderness. But it does not do to break the laws of the very society one seeks to build. So I have come here, to the Wild, to do my killing."
Sarah raises an eyebrow. "So your honor is relative? Impermanent? Dependent on what town you are in today?"
Dominique halts her slow advance, and draws out a black flail with her other hand. In a low voice, she hisses, "My honor is my life. And my oath is that I will see you dead!" With that, she sprints up the hill towards Sarah.
Sarah lets loose beams of burning golden light at Dominique, but neglects to move back off the ridge into the readied ambush zone. Then Dominique is upon her, swinging her black flail. Each crushing impact upon Sarah's armor echoes off the surrounding cliffs. Rorik and Strohm dash through the snow to Sarah's side, drawing melee weapons as they come. Just as they reach her, Sarah falls to the snow.
Strohm cleaves into the dark warrior woman with his onyx falchion, then drops to his knees to try to staunch Sarah's bleeding. Rorik--now cursing and raging at the sight of his friend's fall--plows into Dominique, waraxe flashing in the sunlight.
A cruel smile on her lips, Dominique steps back and downs a healing potion in one quick motion. Then she launches into Rorik. The blows of her flail are fast and incredibly powerful, and she follows each swirling attack with a slash from her spike-rimmed shield. Rorik stumbles back, bloodied and reeling. He fumbles at his belt for a healing potion as Dominique bears down on him.
Then a dark flash to her right, and Strohm has buried his great falchion into her side. The dark warrior blinks, and then she collapses into the snow. Rorik downs his potion and wipes a hand across his eyes. Sarah lies in the snow, a battered form upon a sparkling, blood-splattered field of white. Rorik look down at his own dented body. He feels the wounds close as the warm potion does its work. And then his rage subsides and he is left cold--cold and dark and lonely inside, but surrounded by the dazzling light of the snow. His vision blurs, the deep blue sky and the dark grey stone swirls around him, and he passes out.
Strohm stands alone over the fallen Dominique. With a cold growl, he raises his great black blade above his head. It flashes downwards. Then the mountains are silent.
The sky is indigo when Sarah awakens. A battered and haggard Rorik is dripping a healing potion down her throat. Strohm is starting a tiny fire. They are camped in a small natural alcove, tucked away out of the wind. Sarah heals her own wounds, and tends to Rorik and Strohm. When she asks what happened to Dominique, Rorik replies, "Strohm finished her."
The night is quiet and clear. The party decides that the Baneful Court may send more emissary assassins, so pressing on to Mor Dankil seems wise. Strohm believes he can guide them. He comments, "Main danger at this altitude is snow trolls. And the cold. Higher, altitude sickness and sky elves can be a problem. Sometimes giant eagles. But we should worry most about snow trolls." He stokes the piney fire with a stick, then nods to himself.
The clouds move in again, but it does not storm. During the day, the party sees wooly mountain goats and eagles on the higher slopes.
On the fourth night of their time in the mountains, Rorik is sitting watch near a small, sheltered fire when he hears a low growl. Looking up, he sees a very large wolverine eyeing him from the darkness beyond. As Rorik reaches for his axe and shield, the beast charges him, slashing and biting. Rorik leaps back, and swings at the furred devil, which only enrages it more. Nearly as big as the dwarf, the wolverine sinks its claws into Rorik again and again, undaunted as its own blood begins to mat its fur. Awakened by the snarling, Sarah and Strohm roll from out of the tent, weapons at the ready. But Rorik, snarling now himself, hollers "Back! The beast is mine!" The battle rages for nearly a full minute before the wolverine sinks, twitching, to the ground. Rorik sways on his feet.
Strohm inspects the corpse. "This is a big one, though a bit thin. Hunger must have made it so bold. Nice winter pelt. Though a bit nicked here and there." He smiles at Rorik, to indicate the joke.
Rorik sighs as Sarah tends his cuts. "Take the pelt, if you want it, Strohm. It's your watch. I'm heading to bed."
The next day, they pass a finely carven staircase, zigzagging its way up the rocky face of the mountain. "Sky elves," says Strohm. "They live above the clouds in crystal citadels, ride giant eagles, and rain arrows down on any who approach too close. Let's not linger here."
The way is slow and exhausting, hauling their way over the uncharted ridges, circumscribing deep valleys and chasms, and plowing their way through drifts of snow.
On the sixth evening, the wind picks up and the sunset is blocked by clouds. By full dark, the wind is howling and freezing sleet falls from the sky. The heroes all huddle in the tent for warmth, passing Sarah's ring of warmth back and forth every few hours.
Dawn brings a calming of the bitter wind, and the sleet turns to thick, continuous snow. The party decides to stay where they are and wait out the storm.
Though they had hoped to be to Mor Dankil by now, the heroes celebrate Yule morning packed together in their little tent. Rorik gives the other two each a small stone tile engraved with an image of Shaman's Crown, their greatest victory to date. Sarah gives the other two each a small satchel of dried herbs, embroidered with the ankh sign of Thaya. "They bear the light and scent of a summer's day," she explains. Strohm gives Sarah an engraved bear claw--"To remember the love and fury of a mother bear," he says. To Rorik, he gives one of the wolverine claws, now finely etched--"To remember another great and furious warrior heart, bested in single combat."
The heroes embrace, and then break camp. The clouds continue to break overhead, but the many inches of thick snow make progress even slower.
"New Year's resolution? Not to take the mountain route again!" exclaims Rorik.
That night, the party is awakened by a mighty, rumbling roar. In the morning, they can see the extent of the avalanche damage. Barely missing their camp site, it has torn away a nearby copse of mountain pine. They spend the morning gingerly crossing the snowy debris left in its path.
Around noon, Strohm says, "See that mountain there that looks like three teeth? I think we are close to Mor Dankil." In the afternoon, they find trails and the tracks of dwarves. Following one of these, they wind down into a narrow canyon. At the head of the canyon stands two giant stone dwarves. One holds a waraxe; the other, a great hammer. Between them is a pair of stone doors thirty feet tall, and, on either side of them, high in the cliff, rows of narrow arrow slits.
"This is it," cheers Rorik. "Come on," he adds, hurrying up the canyon. "Let's go knock."
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SD Emporium : Tellurian Tales :
Last Edited: 12 Feb 2007|
©2006 by Z. Tomaszewski