|9-4-09: What raging fire shall flood the soul? What rich desire unlocks its door?
||[Sep. 17th, 2009|09:10 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom
In the morning, the party woke to an invitation for an audience with Red Wolf. After breakfast in a private space in the inn, a pair of escorts walked the group through Stone Cove, very obviously attempting to conceal the location of the meeting, though a few of Matthias’s people were able to trace the route. They arrived in a ramshackle house that appeared to have been long abandoned and only recently re-occupied. In an upstairs room, after a tense wait, Red Wolf herself joined the rest, accompanied by Jakal and Rumor.
The conversation began rather stilted, but soon matters of business were flowing freely. Red Wolf stated that Rumor had made it clear to her that this group, part of the leadership of the rebel force in Aldencia according to Matthias, had an interest in assisting her in destroying Crom, her ultimate goal. Red Wolf’s abject and cold hatred for Crom was palpable – the name of this hated enemy so riled the young leader that she nearly drew a blade upon hearing his name. She confirmed all of what Rumor had already told them about Crom’s blood magic power; indeed, Red Wolf went a step further and told how Crom could continue to draw power from those who survived his rituals, including herself. Also, she stated vaguely that she could not defeat him alone as something in the evil magic that bound them would leave her incapacitated. She explained that she understood his group had a unique ability that would permit them to destroy the blood-mage as no one else could, which seemed to anger her. Matthias was very careful to make it known that the method by which they could accomplish this was more than simply an item, but rather an inborn ability that could not be separated.
Matthias and Red Wolf negotiated on the terms of the assistance he and his team would provide – given that his own goals were contingent upon destroying Crom, he was disposed to offer as much as he could to her in return for her resources and participation. In the end, Matthias guaranteed to Red Wolf that, if he were to be successful in changing the current rulership of Aldencia, he would strongly advise whomever he put on the throne to grant independence to Irenia. Skeptical that he could deliver upon such a promise, Red Wolf nonetheless accepted his pledge and in turn offered as many of her men and supplies as he would need; she had made it known that it would have to be Matthias in charge of the attack as her own situation would render her beyond the abilities of command, and Jakal was no tactician.
The plan began to develop as Matthias worked his way through Red Wolf’s available resources. They already knew that Crom’s army was making for a particular site – a shrine deep in a cave of a mountainside, perhaps one of the most ancient such places in Irenia. The cave was wide enough for a dozen men or so across at the entrance, narrower at the shrine itself. Since Crom would have to enter the cave himself and penetrate to the very shrine, it was the perfect place to set up an ambush. As he was considering, Matthais had brilliant stroke of genius as to how to surprise the incoming force, which was, of course, many, many times larger than their own. Crom would of course send an advance guard to secure the cave – if they were to meet bandits or rebels, they would likely emerge somewhat battered but victorious, but with many bodies strewn across the entrance to the cave. Matthias intended to defeat this advance guard utterly, kill most of them, and use their bodies as cover to hide some very much alive warriors as well as the replaced guard. This way, they could hide their people in plain sight and provide a clever way of ensuring their position in the cave against Crom’s army.
Red Wolf approved of the plan, a bit savagely in fact, and agreed to the pact between them. Matthias stood and offered her a hand in confirming the agreement, but before anyone could react, Red Wolf had drawn a dagger, slashed open his palm and her own, and pressed their blood together. While everyone else felt the tension in the room escalate, Matthias experienced a tendril of magic snake into him, and he suddenly had the sense of Crom that Red Wolf did: thousands of bleeding scars screaming, pulling him in a particular direction. When he indicated so, Red Wolf silently corrected him to the precise direction to find Crom; this, it appeared, was a side-effect of the magic he had used on her long ago. Red Wolf was somewhat vague on what precisely this second-degree blood-bond would do to Matthias, but she little seemed to care. A few of Matthias’s more sharp-eyed companions noticed that, when Red Wolf took her bloody hand from his, she seemed to collect the blood in a handkerchief as well as sliding along the blade of one of her swords. She declared the deal binding.
As the conversation drew to a close, Red Wolf pointed out that Dora should not accompany them due to her inability to be disguised as either a soldier of Crom or a likely rebel given her appearance. When Matthias confirmed that Dora must be in attendance, Red Wolf understood that it was this young woman who held the key to Crom’s undoing. The plan therefore largely prepared, Red Wolf ordered Jakal to ready the 40 fighters who were on site to prepare to depart – they had to beat Crom’s army to the cave and have sufficient time to set up their attack. She then turned and essentially commanded Dora to come and speak with her privately. Dora agreed only when Theodor was selected as an escort for her, though Red Wolf promised no harm would come to the healer. Somewhat nervous, the two followed Red Wolf to her private quarters while the others remained behind to plan.
In a much smaller room down the hall, it was apparent that Red Wolf had set up her own strategic center of command: maps were everywhere, along with many drawn pictures of Crom and his associates, many marked with bloody daggers and other gruesome evidences of their defeat. Dora also noticed a shelf with several colored vials on it, which was Red Wolf’s immediate destination; the Irenian woman took the bloody cloth with blood from herself as well as Matthias and carefully collected it in a blue vial, setting it next to others that looked much older, yet the blood was still fresh. Then, with very little preamble, Red Wolf asked Dora about the method by which she would destroy Crom. Dora did her best to keep the Ojaluche a secret, confirming Matthias’s version of the situation that it was an item combined with an inborn ability of hers that made it possible. Red Wolf pushed for details, making it clear that she wished to be the one to end Crom’s life, which Dora did not dispute in the slightest. Red Wolf also stated that she felt that Dora had been more like herself the first time they had met rather than now, and Dora tried to use the opportunity to soften the damaged woman. However, Red Wolf’s keen eyes did not miss the pouch at Dora’s hip that contained the Ojaluche, and though she did not touch it, she asked about it and was rewarded to know that indeed it held the item, and that it was Dora’s “innocence” that allowed her to use it. Red Wolf declared therefore that Dora would be at her side in the cave no matter what Matthias said so that she could ensure the defeat of Crom was absolute, though she commented that Dora’s refusal to explain how it worked made it more difficult for her to prepare herself for the moment. Red Wolf also asked Dora if she trusted Theodor, and when she answered in the affirmative, ordered Theodor to protect her at all costs in this venture, to which he agreed. Then the Irenian woman dismissed them back to their companions.
As they were leaving, the Ojaluche spoke to Dora, warning her that she was near someone tainted by the evil one’s blood, and it stirred a bit, knowing soon it would be time to fly. Dora settled it, but could sense its unrest in her heart.
Meanwhile, Matthias, Nahla, Keleroth, and Bendigar had been doing a bit of their own planning. The four agreed that Theodor should be assigned to protect Dora, given Red Wolf’s obvious greed for her abilities not to mention the abject danger of Dora’s likely proximity to Crom. They also speculated about whether or not Red Wolf herself was a blood mage, and given what they had seen of her causing Matthias to bond in blood to her and then maintaining the mixed blood herself, they were somewhat convinced that she was. Keleroth searched his memory for anything he might know about blood magic, or about what Crom might intend in the cave, and came up with little. He was certain, however, that whatever magics Crom might employ, would be unpredictable, and probably dependent upon more spilled blood in the moment. Also, Matthias and Keleroth readied a plan to have the firemage take the task of keeping Crom’s army out of the cave after he had entered it, and then move in as final assurance that Crom was destroyed; the thinking was that, if Red Wolf could not defeat the blood-mage, that he was the next best swordsman and, that with his fire, made him the most likely to destroy Crom in combat. Nahla affirmed that she and Bendigar would take up direct defense of Matthias, who would have to be within the cave himself.
Upon Dora and Theodor returning, they shared what they had seen and what had been said, and Matthias concurred that Theodor should protect Dora above all else. They also speculated as to what exactly might happen to Red Wolf in Crom’s presence, whether she would fall faint on the ground or would fall into an uncontrolled berserker’s rage. Either way, Matthias asked Theodor and Dora to be ready for any eventuality. Again the Ojaluche spoke to Dora, and it seemed to be clearer, more in the world than flighty in its existence. It voiced concern for Dora’s safety, both in close proximity to one tainted by the evil it sought to eradicate, and in the upcoming encounter. The Ojaluche pointed out that Dora was in more danger than any other present due to being with child – the power Crom could draw from ending not just one life but one in the creation of another was immense, and the Ojaluche hinted that he might sense as much. It promised to sing to her unborn baby for as long as they had together, but it felt their time was drawing short.
And so it was, for shortly thereafter Jakal appeared and announced that it was time to go. The party joined Red Wolf’s 40 riders, all of them dedicated and likely a bit insane in the same way as their mistress, and mounted. Their horses and supplies had been brought in full, so there was no need to hesitate – following one of the most savage individuals they had met in the course of this long fight, the party rode out of Stone Cove.