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The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

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5-15-09: But down in the underground you’ll find someone true, a land serene, a crystal moon... [May. 25th, 2009|04:20 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

mendeia
[Tags|]

Having successfully passed what seemed like the final obstacle in their way, the party found themselves in a far more beautiful part of the labyrinth; where the previous corridors had been dusty and dark, this was bright, the walls and floor white instead of stone-grey, and leaved in gold. They continued heading uphill slightly, realizing with every step that the feel of the place around them was changing. The walls became covered with murals, as before, but instead of forest scenes, these were increasingly desperate views of disasters: floods, fires, torrential storms, that seemed to consume the land and all that lived there. As they walked, it became apparent that a central dark circle was becoming more and more prominent, and when Nahla investigated it a bit more in-depth, she noted that there seemed to be a “darker dark within the dark” that was not entirely of paint on stone. At the same time, an odd effect in the hallway was slowly making itself known, especially to Matthias. The farther the group walked, the more sounds seemed to be swallowed up around them. Though no one was walking any differently, the sound of their footsteps steadily got softer until it was barely audible. Similarly, conversations became increasingly difficult.

At last, they reached a large set of double-doors with words on them, which Keleroth translated for everyone as “shed no blood.” The party debated the meaning of this phrase, eventually sheathing all bladed weapons and sending Nahla (with her hand-to-hand skills) and Bendigar (with his blunt weaponry) to open the door. However, they pushed against the solid doors in vain until assisted by Keleroth and one of the guards. As soon as the two doors swung into the space beyond, true silence rushed out like water. No one could hear anything, not their own heartbeat, not any sound at all. For Matthias, this was particularly disturbing, as it left him entirely without any means of knowing what was around him, though he found an ingenious method of communicating with the others – he could alternately speak and have Nahla read his lips, and he could write and Keleroth could read and explain by way of gestures. A certain amount of awkward communication later, the group moved into the chamber beyond.

A huge dome-shaped space awaited them, seemingly carved directly from an almost luminous crystal instead of stone. A narrow rim ran around the edge of the circular room, with a walkway that led to an island in the center, upon which a wide, low pedestal could be seen. There was also a large hole in the ceiling that led up into darkness and out of sight. Below, water that smelled stale but not salty appeared to flow soundlessly. When everyone had moved into the room, however, the door swung shut behind them, and refused to budge. Bendigar, in command because Matthias was so much limited, ordered Nahla, Dora, and Matthias to investigate the center, while the rest of the group would fan out around the edge of the room in case of attack. Though more than one individual had misgivings about this plan, they went along with it, Nahla leading Dora and Matthias out into the center. The crystalline walkway and island were carved and patterned beautifully, as was the round table at the center, covered with flowers. In the very center of the room, the altar or pedestal had the most intricate carvings, edged with repetitions of the words “shed no blood.” Six hand-prints, facing outward, were also discernable around the edge of the altar. In its center, a slightly-glowing sphere sat. The pedestal was wide, easily 10 feet across, so it was difficult to see the orb clearly against its own luminescence.

Nahla signaled for Keleroth to come to join them in the center, to read the words to her. Dora climbed onto the pedestal and placed a hand in one of the prints, but nothing happened. While they pondered what precisely they were supposed to do, Matthias investigated the table with his hands, his only outlet to the world. The stone or crystal was smooth, almost soft, and just slightly warm. Counting the six hands, the blind monk wrote again for himself, Bendigar, Theodor, Nahla, Keleroth, and Dora to put their hands one in each, the reasoning being that these were the individuals present who had been given a specific prophecy by the seer of the gypsies. Bendigar and Theodor joined the others at the table, and after some finagling, everyone was in place on the surface of the pedestal. Matthias counted down with his hands, and everyone touched the prints simultaneously. The surface of the crystal beneath them grew warmer, and the orb behind glowed more brightly, but nothing else happened. Then, Dora heard a voice speak to her, the first sound in what seemed like hours, saying, “lift me.” After communicating her intention to Matthias through tugs on his hands, the healer moved to the center of the altar, which none had dared approach, and laid a hand on the sphere there. It flashed brilliantly, and three things happened.

First, and most notable to everyone, sound rushed back. Everyone breathed a sigh of relief, and Matthias demanded an explanation of what had occurred. Communication was never so sweet as that moment when silence was lifted. Secondly, the water beneath them began to rise slowly, and it became rapidly clear that the space would shortly be totally flooded. Thirdly, the sphere in Dora’s hands lost its golden color, becoming as transparent as a glass globe, within which floated, of all things, a butterfly. The being, for it was no living creature, was a bright golden color, like a sunbeam momentarily shining in a jar, and fluttered and winked from one moment to the next. As Matthias warned the party to prepare to swim, the Ojaluche told Dora that faith would suffice to lead them to safety. Calling in the other guards, the entire party stood upon the pedestal and waited – when the water reached their very feet, it began to rise slowly with the tide, carrying them up through the hole in the ceiling and, eventually, out into a fountain in the middle of Cath. Sputtering and thoroughly soaked, everyone breathed a sigh of relief, then stumbled from the fountain, met up with their three guards in reserve, and the entire group found an inn for a night’s well-earned sleep.**

In the morning, everyone gathered in a private room for breakfast and discussion. Dora found that she could communicate with the Ojaluche, though only in specific terms, as it had particular limitations in understanding. After Matthias had asked several questions of the orb and received some answers, though not as many as he would have liked, the decision was reached to return to Romdas and move from there. Packing up their belongings and retrieving their horses, the journey back south would take approximately 7 days of traveling back through the deserted countryside, far more deserted than it had been before. While journeying, Keleroth made use of the book he had picked up in the labyrinth, learning some things about both its maker and the Ojaluche itself – primarily that the Ojaluche could not be lifted safely from its resting place or touched by any who had ever ended a life, but if held by one “pure,” could bring great good to even a blooded individual. Dora, in her curiosity, offered the orb to Matthias to touch while she remained in contact. The ex-general, to his great surprise, could see the Ojaluche in his mind quite clearly, and with its image came a rush of peace and comfort and a release to his pains, both physical and emotional, for as long as he was in contact with it. Upon releasing the orb, Matthias deemed that it should not be touched by any but Dora under most circumstances, as it was, in his words, “too dangerous.” And so the small group made their way back to Romdas.
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4-25-09: We’re living in a crazy maze and we’re fighting to rise above the haze [May. 15th, 2009|04:57 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

mendeia
[Tags|]

Taking the opportunity to rest, Matthias set a watch and encouraged his ragged party to sleep if they could. Dora offered herbs to help bring sleep to those who could not find peace after their ordeal, but most, including Matthias, refused them. Over the course of the watches, several individuals heard sounds coming from farther down the passageway, almost like murmuring, though they could not hear anything more distinct. When the time came to move on, however, they went to investigate. Indeed, the sounds were like voices, many of them, raised in waves of conversation.

Turning a corner, the party was astonished at what faced them. The passageway ended abruptly at a large hole in the floor, as though a well had been cut straight down and happened to bisect where the corridor met another; across the way and to either side more tunnels were visible. But what no one could have anticipated was that up and down from their tunnel as far as they could see in the flickering light, the walls were covered with hands that moved. Hands and forearms seemed to grow out of the stone of the walls, populating the column as thickly as the dust that lay everywhere. These hands, coolly grey in color, seemed to have a magic of their own, for when they joined in two and three and for pairs to make faces, they spoke to one another in gravelly voices.

Matthias addressed the hands politely, and was answered back with a childlike understanding; the hands seemed to be part of the labyrinth, aware of all that occurred within it, but comprehending very little of what it meant. They knew that the party had been there, and that more had been recently, and that they were all probably heading towards “the center,” but not why or what lay there, only that it must be protected. After several minutes of conversation, Matthias asked the hands if they knew the way, and they offered to help in return for a story of the outside world. Deciding he could do nothing but trust, Matthias literally put himself into their hands, and was gently ported to one of the doorways across the chasm. He instructed everyone else to follow him.

This would have occurred without incident, but for the fact that Dora was unexpectedly ticklish in the grip of the hands, and in her squirming, was dropped. She fell for a few terrifying seconds until the hands, with apparently the experience to know how, gently slowed her fall and caught her. They expressed great regret at having frightened her and still more gently lifted her back to join the others, remarking again and again how grateful they were that she was unharmed. When the entire party had crossed, Matthias asked Bendigar to tell the hands a story, which he did with a flourish even if it was not his best telling. The applause that greeted him – for, indeed, how else could hands show their appreciation? – warmed the bard such that he told a second tale. The party wished the hands well and began to continue their journey. Nahla was momentarily overcome by her husband’s telling, to her great embarrassment, but only her pride was wounded.

After another length of corridor, the group came out into a room that, unlike everywhere else in the labyrinth, was somewhat more colorless and less elaborately decorated. Three doors appeared to lead from the room, and four when one closed behind them, and all were adorned with the same image – that of a young plant just beginning to grow. After searching around for an answer, the party hit upon the idea of splashing water on the carving. Immediately the rock changed shape, seeming to grow a little before them, though the door did not open. Subsequent splashings had no effect. There was, however, a source of light in the room, and using Matthias’s mirror, they shone the light on the carving as well. The image became a flower bursting to life and the door opened, revealing yet another long, foreboding corridor.

Before they reached the end of this hallway, they could smell and then hear the water that lay in their path. A wide cavern with passageways leading away met them, the water smelling cold and stale but otherwise not salty or briny. Since very few members of the party could swim, the group decided to send one person across with a rope and ferry the rest over one at a time. This was easily managed at first and one of the guards and Matthias crossed the water with no difficulty. However, Keleroth, not knowing how to swim in the least, felt himself struggling, unable to cling to the rope and haul himself over as well, and began to drown. To everyone’s surprise, while the guard on one end kept the rope taught and the rest of the group held the other end, Matthias himself went in after Keleroth, rescuing the firemage and dragging him, coughing and sputtering, to safety.

Bendigar and Nahla both crossed without incident, but Dora, too, found it difficult, and Nahla was obliged to go back for her. The remaining two guards came next, with only Theodor left behind, but something strange happened almost at once. The first seemed to struggle immensely with the water, losing his grip on the rope and vanishing beneath the water as though he were made of stone. The second guard and Nahla both entered the water to help him, but by the time she reached where he had gone down, the last guard was struggling as well. Nahla realized, this being her third time in the water, that it felt not like water so much anymore, but far denser and dragging against her. She was able to assist the still-swimming guard, but only just. The rest of the group latched onto the rope at their end and pulled, dragging Theodor across the water with great speed, such that he appeared almost bruised for going through it. They cast a rope with a hook into the near-still water, hoping their remaining comrade might be able to grab it, but oddly, the metal hook did not sink at once, as though the water had become almost solid. The guard Nahla saved began immediately to get sick, as did Theodor, and to their horror the party could see that the water they had swallowed was now quite solid and painful when it came back up. Keleroth, realizing how much he had swallowed, asked Dora for some herbs to cause him to expel the material, hardly classifiable as fluid now, rather than keep it within. Their hearts heavy at the loss of one of their own, and perhaps more frightened than ever of what else might be waiting, they continued down the corridor.

Around a corner and somewhat uphill, the carvings in this tunnel seeming far more elaborate than before, an arch awaited them. Upon it, looking down, was an odd statue of a creature with wings and claws and an almost-human female face. Nearby, a column proclaimed that the judge would only permit the worthy to pass. Matthias stepped forward bravely, moving alone ahead until he felt stopped at a point just in front of the statue. Then, he felt as though the sun were shining hotly on his face for a few moments, and had the sense of being weighed, though he knew not against what. The heat passed, and Matthias walked on until he was told that he had passed beyond the arch. Keleroth decided to venture next, curious, but when he reached the place where Matthias had stopped and the heat began on his face, his experience turned quite different. Pressure began to build in around his mind, and the firemage felt himself locked in a power and a judgment he did not fully understand. The statue moved then, her wings beginning to move downward towards Keleroth as though she would clap him between them. The tension in the air grew more thick and everyone could feel pressure bearing down on the scholar. Matthias, then, moved back towards his friend, placing his head alongside Keleroth’s and thinking with all his will that he would vouch for the firemage however necessary. The pressure and heat trembled ominously for a moment, then faded, and Matthias was able to lead Keleroth on. As the rest of the party began, one at a time, to pass through the arch, some with slightly more trouble than others but no one challenged as Keleroth had been, the firemage spoke shakily. He said he felt that he understood now – he had viewed the search for the Ojaluche as an academic pursuit, interested in the knowledge; now, he felt the weight of the search, the item they sought, and knew perhaps far more acutely that what they did here was far more important than satisfying his curiosity. With the party again gathered together, they continued down the passageway.
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Session 4-10-09: I’m going deeper underground – there’s too much panic in this town [Apr. 24th, 2009|10:27 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

mendeia
[Tags|]

The decision made to seek the Ojaluche using their newly-acquired knowledge, Matthias led his small group of rebels to the foot of the large dragon statue near the cathedral of Cath. With dusk to shield them and mostly cleared streets, the party moved quickly, first investigating the statue in its entirety around the base, then wondering if instead they should look in the dragon’s yawing mouth. The page Keleroth had taken from Jona depicted a man leaning against a wall of symbols with fire evidently radiating from something, the whole scene surrounded by something jagged from both above and below; the party realized this might well be an illustration of something inside the dragon’s jaw. Nahla climbed up easily, discovering that the back of the statue’s throat was intricately carved like the page they had, and was pockmarked by deep holes at irregular intervals, most of which had something small and textured deep in them. Piecing things together, Nahla asked for a lit torch, which she then pushed into the appropriate hole while leaning on the same place as the man in the drawing, and waited nervously for something to happen.

Down below, the others waited as well, Matthias having reminded them all that dragons breathe fire in old stories; Keleroth was concerned enough that he was prepared to douse fire if he saw it. Instead, however, the wall against which Nahla was leaning abruptly began to turn, and she only just moved out of the way in time to witness an entire half-circle of the floor of the dragon’s mouth rotate into presumably the rest of the statue, some time after which a deep sound of stone striking stone could be heard. Nahla informed the others that she had found the way in, and everyone in turn climbed up the dragon, some more successfully than others (Matthias was mostly pulled up via rope). The group split into two parties and this time allowed the dragon to “swallow” them. On their way down, however, Keleroth noticed that their activities were now being observed by two individuals, but as they did not appear to be doing anything threatening, the firemage chose to focus on the more pressing matters of the puzzle at hand and dismissed them.

The parties found themselves, after a long and dark tunnel that traveled straight downward, in a dusty corridor, apparently deep underground. The walls were lined with troughs filled with an oily substance that was burning, lighting the path in all directions – apparently the fire they used to open this doorway had also spread into the labyrinth far below. Moving ahead cautiously, the group found themselves faced with an odd sight to begin this dark journey: fire and water. An arch with the archaic word for “choice” revealed two tunnels leading away, one that burned violently and one that seemed to travel under a gentle waterfall. The party deliberated for a few moments before deciding almost unanimously that they had to choose the way of fire – both their previous experiences with magic as well as the warning that this journey was made to be difficult told them that the way that appeared safer could not be correct. Matthias decided that he alone would try first, and decided to wet himself in the water before attempting the fire. However, as he stepped into the water tunnel, he felt the rush of water pulling at him with surprising strength, and had he taken even another small step forward he would have been washed away. After advising the others to be careful as they drenched themselves, Matthias pulled up his cowl and moved towards the fire, but Bendigar instead insisted that he go first.

The heat and pain were momentarily intense, causing the warrior to cry out in agony. However, after a few moments, the pain and heat faded, and he felt as if he were not even burning. Calling back to the others, he moved on bravely. Matthias entered the flames next, also experiencing the pain and then sudden lessoning, and he caught up with Bendigar and reassured them all that the path was safe, though not easy. One by one, each member of the party fearfully made their way into the burning corridor, although Nahla and Theodor struggled to force themselves into obvious danger – it was Dora’s strength and courage that got them both over their fear.

Entering a wide space with several different hallways branching off in different directions, the party chose the path to the far right, entering another corridor lit on either side by the running troughs of fire, which they marked with an arrow (as they would at every pass) to ensure they knew which ground they had trod before, just in case. As they walked, Keleroth noticed that the ceiling, floor, and walls were all covered in deep and intricate murals, though they were quite dusty and nearly indistinguishable. Curious, he wiped away some of the dust, revealing a beautiful forest, but at the same time, something odd happened. Three members of the party, including Dora, Nahla, and one of the guards, suddenly found themselves in a gorgeous forest peaceful and lit by an unseen sun. They described with wonder what they saw, but no one else appeared to see it. When they touched trees, they felt bark, but the others around them saw only walls. Believing that the mural had cast some sort of illusion, one of the guards attempted to cover up the section Keleroth had revealed, but it did not shake them out of their world. Bendigar roped himself to his wife, particularly alarmed when she ventured off the “path” she saw before her – which coincided exactly with the hallway – and walked in place as though in a dream. The group could only hope that the illusion would wear off soon, so they continued, but they roped themselves together for safety. They came upon the remains of someone else who had very possibly been lost in this forest of the mind, and were even more certain that they did not want to let anyone fall into the trees.

Around another corner, an incredibly strong gust of wind blew Theodor off his feet; the party only barely managed to drive themselves forward against it in a line. After the wind died down some paces on, Dora broke unexpectedly from her illusion, though she admitted that the forest was a far better setting. Shortly thereafter, Nahla and the guard also returned to reality, but it was a much slower and stranger process for them.

At the end of this passageway, a doorway revealed a room down several stairs that was littered with old books and scrolls, and had three other doors leading away from it. The group moved in cautiously, noticing immediately when sand began to first trickle and later pour from the ceiling, steadily burying the room and its contents. Racing against time and an increasingly-difficult path to navigate, the party attempted to snatch scrolls and books on their way past. Dora, Nahla, and Bendigar all grabbed armfuls of scrolls, while Keleroth’s keen eyes seized upon a book that seemed particularly important – including the fact that it was locked – and he retrieved that, though it caused him to lose his balance. Even blind, Matthias was able to scoop up the fallen Keleroth as they sprinted up the stairs to safety in the right-most passage; Dora and Theodor were similarly able to assist one of the guards who also slipped in the sand. After a short rest and taking the time to read the scrolls, which mostly appeared to contain riddles, the party moved on. Several twists and turns in the hallway later, they found themselves approaching an area which smelled strongly of feces and had the distinct sound of breathing. Moving cautiously, the source of both the sound and smell became apparent: nesting in a particularly high recessed ceiling were two enormous bats, easily as tall as a man. As they stirred sleepily, Dora spoke to them, telling them to let her pass. The bats mumbled that they were sleepy and full and would eat the group later, and they went back to sleep, while the somewhat-nervous individuals below beat a hasty retreat.

Down another passageway to the right, they came to a door with a riddle inscribed upon it, which, after several minutes of thinking, Matthias was able to answer correctly, and it opened before them. Somewhat beyond that, a sweet sound from ahead drew the party near until they found themselves in a large room that was eerily blue. In the center, on top of a pile of shining items, three beautiful and very naked women sat singing. Their voices seemed to weave something around the three guards, though it did not appear to impact the others of the party. Suddenly recognizing the creatures from legend as sirens, Bendigar began singing the loudest, bawdiest song he could think of out of key, which seemed to incite some anger from the ladies, who approached the party menacingly. A fight broke out, with the entranced men escaping the ropes that bound them together to move towards the creatures, the rest of the group either trying to stop their comrades from getting hurt or combating the women directly, and the sirens slashing with golden nails that tore flesh. In the end, the sirens were dead – either burned by Keleroth’s fire or broken by the many weapons raised against them – the three guards were back to their senses, and most everyone had been injured to some degree. Taking time to lick their wounds, the party explored the room, finding beautiful treasures amidst the pile the sirens had claimed for themselves, and the remains of their victims along the walls. Some of those victims, they discovered, wore the recent uniforms of the guards, showing that someone had indeed penetrated these very tunnels a few days ahead of them in search of the Ojaluche, and they could only hope had not made it out; Dora remarked that perhaps those were the reason the giant bats were “full.” While a few raided bodies for armor and the pile for gold and silver, and Theodor located a pretty bracelet for Dora, Keleroth located a key that fit the tome he had taken from the sand room. Opening it, he found it contained an account by the man who had built this labyrinth for the purpose of protecting the Ojaluche until it was needed, and until it could be acquired by one worthy.

Continuing to take right-turns at each place, the party passed another riddle-door, and came upon some flowers growing in a corner. They looked harsh and somewhat menacing, but they also reminded Dora of plants she commonly used in certain types of healing tonics, so she collected a few. After yet another riddle-door, the party found themselves in a wide area that felt suddenly oppressive, as though an intent hung in the air. A voice called out from ahead, and as they neared, they saw a woman, lovely, and evidently quite lost. But her voice seemed to have a strange, tragic effect on Matthias, who stiffened in pain and horror as it became increasingly clear that the group looked upon the form of Lady Vane, once wife of their leader. Beside her shortly thereafter appeared Theodor’s deceased mother as he remembered her, not marked by plague as she had died. The sounds of a soldier from behind resolved into the form of Martin, Matthias’s son, also dead in the battle that had claimed him. And that battle began to form in earnest around the party. As the spectres pleaded for help, expressing fear and confusion at being in this strange place, the party felt their center give way as the pain of their presence tore through every heart – Matthias, lost in grief, was soon being carried as everyone began to flee the growing battle around them, a battle that was real and solid as any they had survived before. Other figures, including a man from Dora’s past, individuals from battles fought in the rebellion, Perenahl’s almost-husband, and scores of others began to join the chorus gathering around them. Lady Vane and Theodor’s mother cried out as the group rushed past, begging to be taken along, but they were shaken away or forcibly pushed as the rest raced for safety. Even Tera appeared alongside the fleeing group, and she agreed to Keleroth’s heartbreak to protect them from behind as they escaped. The party ran until the horror was behind them, and then much longer, driven near-mad in some cases with grief.

Sinking down onto the floor of a hallway, Dora shared around a flask of something strong to take the bite off of raw emotions, many of the group offering comfort where they could. They realized eventually that the place had not shown them merely the dead, but also those who were still living, as though it only brought the past to life, not the dead. Some found comfort in that (not including Nahla, who would have been far happier had her betrothed actually been dead), but to others the pain remained searing. Matthias, lost in pain for a while, eventually realized that what he had seen, whatever it was, had not been hell, but rather the creation of a man who was, in his words, nothing less than evil itself. Spirits drained and dwindled, the group could but go on a bit longer into the passageways, before even they were overcome with exhaustion.
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Session 3-21-09: Always talk in riddles so you keep them guessing [Mar. 26th, 2009|11:31 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

mendeia
[Tags|]

While the other members of the party had their various intelligence-gathering activities, Bendigar made his way to the barding school where he had learned the trade to ask his old mentor, Master Weatherby, about the Ojaluche. After some initial stumbling about a final assignment never turned in, the bardic master immediately got to work – on Bendigar’s newest song, a lament for Tera with lyrics crafted by Keleroth on the recent journey. The firemage’s work writing had been exceptional, but prior to this visit Bendigar’s setting the words to music had been less so. However, with the help of Weatherby, the tune began to take shape. After an hour lost in this endeavor, Bendigar finally managed to ask about the Ojaluche. The bardic master remembered that the item had been mentioned in two old songs, both of which came from old prophecies that the school had kept to make into songs someday, but upon seeking them in the stores, discovered they were gone. So he could only operate from memory. Weatherby was able to tell Bendigar that the Ojaluche was an object of power that could only be used once, that it was a small part of a much larger story against evil, and that its use could signal the tide in a great struggle turning towards good. However, this information was significantly less than Bendigar revealed about himself, his current companions, where they were, what they had been up to, and a significant other number of facts Matthias would have turned blue to hear shared with an unknown.

The group met at one of the inns to share all they had learned throughout the day. Upon hearing Keleroth’s report of Jona’s information and some of the raids on the library, he immediately ordered three of the six men who had accompanied them from Romdas to go to Jona’s house to guard her from anything that might happen to a person who might have valuable information that they so desperately needed. Then everyone split up, going their own ways. Theodor and Dora took the chance to enjoy the common room’s music and dance together, relishing the rare moment of peace both in public and then alone in the room later. Bendigar and Keleroth returned to their own inn, the former to practice the song from that afternoon and the latter to study the book Jona had given him – a history of the earliest city of Cath currently known to scholarship. Nahla took one of the remaining guards to a local tavern she had heard was a place to find traders to learn whatever she could. Finding a trader lately arrived in the port across the military’s wall, she was able to ply him with drink for insight on what was happening in the closed part of the city. The stories were mostly what she had expected – military discipline and control – but it was good to get details. Matthias, meanwhile, was doing something quite similar; he went back to the cathedral to see if he could learn anything there. Encountering a young trainee who was eager for company, the two shared long stories of the history of Cath, including its sometimes violent changes in scene when parts of the city collapsed in the past, the landscape of the city beyond the military’s wall, mostly the poorer sections whose residents were likely being pushed into labor, and the old stories and myths around the monsters and magic buried beneath the city.

In the morning, Keleroth descended earlier than either Dora or Theodor and found himself in a somewhat awkward situation in the common room of the inn when he was recognized, not as himself, but as the mayor of Cath. A particular individual became quiet convinced that he was the mayor and set about announcing this fact to anyone within hearing-range for the next hour, buying drinks and suggesting changes to the city. It was only the appearance of Theodor and Dora that extricated the firemage before he was recognized in another manner. Dora suggested they move and take a different inn just in case, so the spent the morning doing that. When Bendigar met up with them, he took on the role of tour-guide for Dora and Theodor, exploring the city, while Keleroth retired in the new lodgings to re-read his book and see what else he could learn. Interestingly, he discovered that he had missed something the previous evening – one section of the city had never changed even slightly in the recorded generations, and only one that he could see: the area around the giant dragon statue. Meanwhile, Matthias had asked Nahla to take him on a walking tour of the city to familiarize himself with it. While out, they were met by one of their men, reporting that four armed soldiers had entered Jona’s house. The ex-general, alarmed, immediately sent Nahla to gather Keleroth and the others for help, making his way as quickly as he could to the scene.

Keleroth wasted no time racing to Jona’s, meeting one of the two remaining guards set by Matthias on her porch. There had been no screams – it had, in fact, been deadly quiet. Matthias appeared moments later with the first guard in tow, and he ordered them all to action. Keleroth joined the third guard in the back, ready to race in through a back door to rescue Jona while Matthias served as a distraction out front, backed by the other two men. The ex-general, posing as a well-meaning but loud priest trying to return a scroll to Jona, eventually lured two of the armed soldiers out to remove him, and they were immediately set upon by Matthias’s men. Keleroth cast his haste spell on his own partner, sending him flying in through the rear entrance and emerging with Jona, unconscious and bleeding, over his shoulder. The two of them fled with her from the remaining two soldiers who quickly gave chase. To distract the gathering crowd out front, Matthias began a charade that the whole scene was, in fact, a staged morality play about respect for one’s elders, engaging his “audience” and averting their interest in the specific events beyond the immediate brawling. At about that time, Nahla arrived with the other three men, and they with Keleroth engaged the pursuers in combat while Nahla attempted to find shelter for the injured Jona. Unexpectedly, Bendigar, Dora, and Theodor also appeared shortly thereafter; they had been nearby on their tour of Cath and had heard the ruckus. While Bendigar joined the two who had flanked Matthias out front, Dora and Theodor raced on to give support to the more serious situation. Dora and Nahla removed Jona to an alley while Theodor unleashed his own fury and with Keleroth’s deadly precision and his brute force, brought the combat to a quick end. As Matthias led the crowd to a tavern for drinks and discussion, the aftermath of the fight was dealt with.

The fight’s toll was severe. One of the four soldiers was dead, two were beaten to a bloody pulp, and the fourth had been injured, but not too badly. One of Matthias’s men had also taken a light wound. But the most direly injured was Jona, who, it was revealed, had been stabbed several times, beyond what Dora’s healing could repair in time. With her dying words, Jona spoke to Keleroth about the book she had promised to give him, as well as what he would need to know. The book was gone, she confirmed, but what he needed to know was that the entrance he sought was at the dragon he had already noticed, that the path before him was meant to be hard, and he must therefore take the harder path, and that fire and light could defeat blood. As her last breath escaped her, Keleroth found a piece of paper held in Jona’s sleeve – a picture of someone putting a hand into a hole surrounded by symbols. While Keleroth took a moment to mourn, Dora and Nahla tended to the injured men, both one of their own and the attacker, before securing the soldier with rope. Keleroth then returned to Jona’s house to tell Matthias what had happened; the blind general having slipped the crowd in the tavern after starting a fascinating theological debate. The house itself had been torn up, as though it had been searched, and Matthias, after receiving news of Jona’s death, asked Keleroth to retrieve whatever items might be useful. He also sent one of his men to procure the use of a sturdy cellar somewhere in Cath, for they now had three prisoners to keep and some conversations to hold. Keleroth found a pile of books the soldiers had collected to take with them, and a list as well of names and locations, and these he kept along with a few other things that he hoped would be useful, or at least worth preserving. The group then took their two beaten prisoners, collected Nahla and Dora and the third, performed last rites for Jona, and made their way to the basement that had been rented for their use.

Matthias, his patience perhaps worn thin by the actions of the men before him, well and truly interrogated them with all the force and threat he once would have wielded as General Vane, learning everything he wished to know from the three. They had apparently been given the mission by someone not very high up in military rank to get a book from the woman by any means necessary, and also to make her reveal everything she knew about contacts who had also helped to rescue books and scrolls from the library, which was the contents of the list found by Keleroth. Matthias made it clear to his prisoners that they would do well not to antagonize him or their guards, as he intended to hold them as long as possible. Then Matthias announced that the party, along with three of the others, would need to prepare themselves immediately for an expedition to the dragon and to whatever lay beneath it, which he felt sure was where they would find the Ojaluche they sought. The three left behind with the prisoners were given strict instructions on how long to wait for the party’s return, and if they did not return, to go back to Romdas and serve under Connor, who would be forewarned by a message sent by Estel and Dora. Packing two-weeks of supplies, rations, and everything else they could conceivably need, Matthias advised his party to sleep for a few short hours before they began their journey literally into the belly of the beast.
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2-28-09: If the bright lights don't receive you, you should turn yourself around and come on home [Mar. 21st, 2009|06:51 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

mendeia
[Tags|]

The journey to Cath would take several days, and Matthias’s party spent the time each according to his or her own. Matthias himself spoke at length with Keleroth on the specifications of the city, its people, its political and military value, even its history. Theodor spent his trip carefully and precisely whittling a ring for Dora. Nahla, still somewhat raw after her recent shakeup of those thoughts and ideas she had held so dear, was uncharacteristically quiet, spending her time comfortably riding beside Bendigar. Dora took the chance to get to know Keleroth a little more, hearing his story of his merchant family and voluntary exile from the family for his intellectual pursuits, and also sharing her own past history.

As the group traveled, they noticed some oddities in the land around them. At first, in the foothills of the mountains, the land was much the same as the one they had left – hilly and wild. There were few settlements, small towns arranged with outlying farms surrounding them. The party avoided these diligently until, as they reached areas that should have been more populated, it became rapidly apparent that something was wrong. The fields had been left untended except in those acres closest to the houses of the small towns, and no one was about on the roads and paths. Curious, and a bit concerned, Matthias sent Nahla into the next town, one with obvious signs of abandonment at its edges. Posing as a lone traveler, she was able to question someone who was apparently keeping watch from a raised tower. He warned her that units of soldiers from the army had been traveling around, abducting anyone within reach – the men to be conscripted for the war in Irenia, the women for other purposes.

With these worrying omens trailing them to Cath, Matthias advocated for a particularly careful approach to the city. With Nahla’s knowledge of its layout from her previous visit there, she was the logical individual to scout out any possible dangers from inside, while Matthias would play the poor old blind monk at the gates to learn anything he could. It became rapidly apparent that there was a special military-only gate that was regulated quite differently from this commercial gate, which had mostly cursory security measures in place. Matthias was mostly able to overhear individuals being checked for any significant weaponry, confirmed not to be wanted by the army for any crimes, and otherwise waved in without much questioning. This was, according to Keleroth, quite common in Cath, given its focus on knowledge and trade, less on power and influence. He was also able to ascertain a place where a wandering monk could stay for the night while visiting near the cathedral.

Within the city itself, Nahla was quickly grateful for her previous experience, as the streets were a disorganized labyrinth that seemingly held no order and no pattern. While commerce still seemed strong within the markets, there was a definite lack of certain types of goods – gypsy, Irenian, and items from the south. However, the reason for this became apparent when Nahla moved towards the harbor and found that Cath had been literally split in half via a military blockade and wall, sealing the harbor away from the rest of the city. Within a block of the wall, buildings and streets were deserted, but the farther from it she traveled, the more normal the atmosphere became, as though the citizens of Cath were deeply in denial about the military force positioned so close. Carefully guarded openings in the wall at regular intervals were the only connection to the area, and only a very few sounds of shouting and drills drifted across. Nahla also noticed that wanted posters for Keleroth were common, but interestingly displayed – they were often defaced, either by those who had been obviously in support of him (and thus had been altered to bear less resemblance to him), or in hatred of him (with angry words or larger rewards written in). This information in hand, the spy returned to the gate to meet Matthias.

Rejoining the rest of the group after Nahla and Matthias reported what they had learned, it was decided to enter the city in groups of two, Matthias alone, to break up their numbers and hide their larger weapons. For the illusion, Dora thought it might be wiser to pretend that she and Theodor were married, which had the unanticipated effect of causing the young woodworker to propose marriage for real on the spot. He explained that he had been only waiting for the right moment, and this would do as well as any. Dora enthusiastically accepted, leading to much laughter at their unusual timing. Matthias gave the couple a warm and heartfelt blessing, and indeed, a glow from Dora in particular touched almost everyone, sorry as they were that Elara had not been present for the moment.

As the party approached the gates, Keleroth noticed at the last possible instant a nephew of his, son of his brother, serving as a guard, and he was only just able to avoid detection by sheltering behind one of the horses. Entering the city with no other problems, then, the party split to two different inns, Red Fish and Blue Fish, while Matthias made his way to the cathedral and met the other wandering clergymen, who were polite and ardent, but not as useful as he would have liked. Keleroth, with Dora and Theodor in his part of the group, bought the best wine from the innkeeper to celebrate the happy couple, whom he identified as son and daughter-in-law-to-be, effectively turning attention from himself to the others. The principals then met Matthias at the base of a large statue of a dragon, formulating a plan for the afternoon. Theodor, Dora, and Nahla decided to walk the streets, ostensibly shopping, while picking up whatever information they could. Keleroth decided to visit the library at Cath, the largest in Aldencia, in the hopes of learning more about the Ojaluche, and Matthias would see what he could find at the cathedral.

While Dora and Theodor wandered in a fog of happiness through crowds, feeling out the sense of the city as they could, Nahla was able to overhear some conversation about being glad that the army was on their side of the wall, a somewhat naïve belief that they would stay there if left untroubled, and otherwise a vast lack of interest in any of the power struggles transpiring in Adzoral. Matthias, in the meantime, was able to enter into conversation with a priest at the cathedral who was well-versed in lore and old stories, and through careful leading, was eventually brought around to the Ojaluche. He shared that his research told him it was an object of great power against evil, but as to what or where it was he could shed no light.

Keleroth, entering the library, was somewhat apprehensive – this had been his old haunt when he lived in Cath, and he was well-known to everyone who frequented it. However, it seemed that most of the old, familiar faces of the library were gone, replaced by new and a bit less-helpful individuals. Doing a preliminary investigation of the building, the firemage was not entirely surprised to see many books missing, those that might have referenced uprisings, rebellions, the past war in Irenia, and other such now-relevant topics. Also, there was a new and prominent section of works by local and current authors, evidently serving as propaganda. At the same time, several books on the history of Cath, including its ancient ruins underground, were missing. Keleroth also came across a woman called Jona whom he had known well as a sharp ally in the library, and perhaps one he could trust. Approaching her, he received a reception as warm as a cold spring rain, but that was true evidence of Jona’s appreciation to see him again. She told him about how the coup in the city had meant some censorship of the literature available, and that many works had been destroyed. However, Jona also hinted that some of the most valuable, ancient, or perhaps dangerous to the overthrowing forces had not been destroyed, but rather, had been hidden far from their reach. The elderly librarian led Keleroth to a back, little-used room to speak more freely. The firemage carefully spoke of the information he needed, and after some hesitation, Jona confessed some knowledge of the Ojaluche, and of a tome of knowledge that would help him, though it was with the hidden books somewhat distant from the city. She elicited from him a promise to return in two days, at dawn, and she would give him a book that might lead him to the Ojaluche, though she said she knew not where or what it was. At the same time, she warned him somewhat obliquely that seeking it would be quite dangerous and that he should be careful. Jona admitted that she was glad Keleroth was well, and she was willing to trust that whatever his reasons for seeking the Ojaluche were pure. Handing him a book under repair, she shooed him rapidly from the building.
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2-21-09: The miles just keep rolling as the people leave their way to say hello [Feb. 28th, 2009|05:52 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

mendeia
[Tags|]

In the intense quiet that followed the seer’s words, each person could feel her unseeing eyes upon them. To some, the seeress’s gaze was penetrating, but not particularly distressing; to others, the knowledge that the gypsy woman was staring into the fabric of their souls and knowing all they were was terrifying. After a few moments of this, the seer moved from person to person, from those who were more comfortable with her to those least, and laid a gentle blessing upon them before dismissing them. Each took the touch well, excepting Perenahl, whose prejudice and discomfort had grown to alarming levels. Though the spy was able to endure the seer’s touch, and heard her words, she fled at the very first opportunity, running so quickly from the tent that she ended up on the ground before the others. While Matthias and Keleroth strode off purposefully to write down the prophecy’s exact wording for study, and Nahla beat a hasty retreat to the nearest woods to consider her shaken state, Dora and Theodor noticed that Elara remained within the seer’s tent for a long while, so they chose to wait for her while quietly flirting with each other.

After several minutes, Elara emerged looking quite shaken; indeed, the priestess was obviously very troubled by something. Without much notice to her sister or Theodor, she went directly to Matthias and Keleroth, declaring she needed to tell them something immediately. Through a heartbroken voice, Elara announced that she had to leave the rebel group and return to her own clan, that she had no choice but to part ways with them all. After a moment to consider her words, Matthias asked for some privacy with Elara, which Theodor, Dora, and Keleroth quickly gave. Although Elara could not elaborate on why exactly she could not remain with the group, the seer had made it clear that Matthias himself would die if Elara did not depart, and the gypsy woman had made her painful choice based upon that. Matthias offered a certain amount of comfort, accepting the choice, but inside he felt far less than comforting.

As they finished their conversation, a messenger arrived for Matthias with a communication from Adzoral that had been intercepted on its way to the fort. It contained an order from the capital for Captain Coran to detain the Hermitkin seer and, with information gleaned from her, lead an expedition to Cath. Puzzling over the strangeness of this message, Matthias decided to call for a council meeting that evening to discuss it. Until then, he went about his usual administrative duties with Elara at his side. Meanwhile, Dora and Theodor took the afternoon opportunity to snuggle in an out-of-the-way tent and Keleroth found a quiet place to consider the prophecy on his own. The fire-mage did not recognize the item mentioned in the words of the seer, but he did feel strongly that the location had to be somewhere in or beneath the city of Cath.

By the time of the council meeting, the rebel leadership had been called together, along with the heads of the Hermitkin, Waterkin, and Tinkerkin, it was late afternoon. First, Matthias laid down the diplomatic ground for continued relations with the gypsies, including thanks for their aid in the nighttime battle and a reaffirmation of his support for them in general, to which they offered him their own support in the current crisis as the Menderskin already had. Also, the announcement was made public that Elara would be leaving the rebel group on, as Matthias put it, “an extended mission.” Most of the rebel officers already knew about this, but Nahla in particular did not, and it was quite a surprise to her, though she did not make it known as such. In determining what to do about the looming Fort Ambai, the gypsies confirmed that they were all departing the area immediately: the Tinkerkin for their southern route that would allow them to bring Elara to her own family, the Hermitkin for the most remote part of their range to retreat until called, and the Waterkin back to the rest of their clan. However, all three agreed to remain in place for long enough to show a presence when the general requested the surrender of those few troops still holding Ambai under siege, after which he would leave a small contingent of soldiers, led by Gentford, to hold the place. Then, his business with the gypsies concluded, Matthias spoke only with is own people about the prophecy and the intercepted message, agreeing with Keleroth’s theory that these could only mean he needed to move to Cath as quickly as possible. Whatever was happening around them by their enemies, they were already a few steps behind the game, and they needed to catch up fast. Thus, it was determined that the group would return to Romdas the next morning and set off from there with fresh provisions for Cath.

After the meeting, Matthias took Theodor up to the fort’s gate to try to encourage a surrender before leaving. Though his words seemed to have an effect on the remaining score or so of troops within the fort’s walls, none emerged, and it appeared that possible desertions were being handled quiet violently by Coran and his men within. Disappointed, Matthias returned to speak with Gentford about the details of how he and his 30 guards would remain in contact with Romdas, how they would hold Ambai, etc. Meanwhile, Dora, Elara, and Keleroth attended the evening gypsy funerals for the fallen Waterkin, and Dora and Elara continued on to the other ceremonies for the Hermitkin and Tinkerkin. Keleroth, however, returned to camp, coming upon the waiting Nahla on the way. The spy had not seen much of Keleroth since his return, and she wanted to talk with him. However, in attempting to fill the scholar in on their activities over the last few months, it occurred to Nahla that no one had yet told Keleroth of Tera’s death. The spy did her best to break the news gently, but the retelling opened up some old wounds and guilt from that time, and thus Keleroth heard the news somewhat poorly spoken. The two parted for the night, each mourning anew for the fallen warrior as they retreated to bed. Elara and Dora returned to the camp somewhat later after the gypsy funerals, though Elara’s sleep was troubled by nightmares. Dora offered sisterly comfort, but Elara could tell her no more than she had Matthias, that her leaving was because otherwise he would lose his life. They worried for each other for a while, Dora for Elara especially as the priestess was obviously not sharing all she knew and whatever she held back was tearing at her quite forcefully. However, in the arms of her sister, Elara found enough warmth to return to sleep for the night.

In the morning, amidst the preparations for the return to Romdas, Elara made her goodbyes to everyone. In particular, she pulled Theodor aside and asked him not only to look after Dora, but also, a bit strangely, to ensure that Matthias would “stay this course” no matter what. Nahla noticed that Elara seemed distant, so she did not ask the gypsy for any details, and therefore, never knew what Elara might have told only her. But before the sun was too high, the general led his smaller band back to the west and left Elara somewhere behind, one of her two earrings now affixed to his pendant. The trip was a five-day journey, and over the course of it, Matthias spent his days learning about Cath from Keleroth, while Theodor and Dora spent their time mostly flirting gypsy-style, which Theodor had finally mastered. One evening, Dora sat beside Matthias and asked him how he felt about Elara leaving, but he did not let her draw him out far – as he explained, it was easier to focus on the future and his work than on the discomfort of having the priestess no longer at his side. On the afternoon before their arrival at Romdas, Dora finally managed to pull Nahla into conversation, the spy having been far more reticent than usual since Ambai, and was able to identify some of Perenahl’s frustrations: the seer had forced her to face her bigotry with regards to gypsies, and she was now feeling that she was not, perhaps, the person she could have been. Confronted by a sudden and stark truth, Nahla swiftly moved away from Dora’s words and spent the rest of the trip in relative isolation, haunted by her own feelings and confusion.

The following afternoon, the group finally arrived back at Romdas, and they were all able to breathe a sigh of relief that the fort remained as they had left it, with no evidence of trouble. Bendigar enthusiastically greeted his wife, and was surprised to see Keleroth unexpectedly back, accepting the story of Elara’s “mission” without question. When asked by Matthias about the Ojaluche mentioned in the prophecy, the warrior-turned-bard was a bit taken aback that no one else had heard of it. Indeed, he knew a song that mentioned it several times, always as an object of great power hidden away for generations. The song itself was little-sung and told of the dangers in practicing evil magic, but the Ojaluche mentioned seemed to be some form of counter against it. However, there was no information in bardic circles of where it might be found, so Matthias confirmed his plans to set the whole group, along with a dozen or so men from Shaw, on a swift overland trip to Cath to see what they could discover of it.

The night in Romdas was spent by each according to their own: Keleroth explored the library, which he found to be vastly unhelpful, while Dora sat with Lady Cynthia, teaching her some simple first aid, and Matthias, Bendigar, and Nahla all saw to military business while Theodor went off to do whatever Theodor does in his quiet moments. For the night, Keleroth and Matthias each had separate rooms, but Nahla and Bendigar spent theirs together in exuberant bliss and Dora and Theodor took the opportunity to spend the night together in more ways than one for the very first time, in spite of Theodor’s gentlemanly desire not to rush things with his lady-love. By dawn, however, the time for such things was passed, as the party gathered their supplies and began the long trek towards the northwest and the mysterious port city of Cath.
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2-13-09: What you thought was real in life somehow steered you wrong...so find out where you belong [Feb. 23rd, 2009|10:19 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

mendeia
[Tags|]

The surprising appearance of Keleroth meant there were many questions and explanations to share around for the uneventful ride back to the fort. Upon returning to Fort Ambai, Matthias received word from one of the few individuals he had left behind that Captain Coran had been running several, visible military exercises around the fort during the afternoon, but that nothing else of note had really occurred. Accepting an invitation from the captain for dinner, Matthias hoped to gain better insight of Coran’s perspective, his opinion of the so-called Society for Freedom, and perhaps some idea of the captain’s stake in the game. The atmosphere around the fort was tangibly more tense, and no member of the party was immune to feeling it.

On their way to the fort, the entire leadership of the group attending in uniform or their “proper” clothing, it became apparent to more than one of the rebels that the military presence surrounding them was greater, perhaps much greater. Nahla in particular began to suspect that additional troops had been pulled in, and she shared her ominous concern with the general. At the same time, Dora began to notice some oddities in Coran’s behavior, from his reception of Keleroth to his conversation – oddities that were reflected by several unknown hues in her ring. Over dinner, Matthias worked at sounding out Coran on several fronts, mostly learning that the captain was genuinely disgusted with the Society and was seeking to find ways to limit them, but the general had the nagging feeling that such an action was perhaps not Coran’s most immediate, or most important, duty. Meanwhile, Theodor, Nahla, and Keleroth noticed Coran’s renewed interest in Elara, especially his sometimes less-than-subtle attentions to her in spite of his more important guest.

After the meal, the group retreated to a tent to share their reflections, and everyone agreed that it seemed something was in the works for the evening. Information was needed, and fast, and the only one really able to stand a chance of getting it from the elusive Enero Coran was Elara; therefore, she accepted a mission of returning to the fort to talk with him privately, although she voice more than a little anxious about it. Matthias sent Gentford and a few trusted men with her as escort. While she was gone, Matthias sent Nahla to wander the area and sound out the various posted sentries to see what she could learn, while the others went to visit the Hermitkin and Tinkerkin. Nahla, after some time spent watching, found herself in conversation with a young soldier who gave away perhaps more than he intended with his unschooled face: he was listening very, very carefully to the time-keeping announcements from the fort. Every fifteen minutes, the usual “X after the hour and all is well” pattern would be bugled, and twice the soldier listened intently for it.

At the same time, Matthias led Dora, Keleroth, and Theodor to visit with the leadership of the Hermitkin. The conversation was tense, the attitude in the clan’s camp far more wary than before, and the heightened concern was evident all around them. While passing through the camp, several of the non-gypsy noticed an oddly decorated tent that appeared to be quite set apart from the others. Dora explained it shortly thereafter as being the dwelling of the Hermitkin seers, well-protected and highly revered amongst her people. Entering the central tent, the leader of the Hermitkin spoke forcefully about wishing to remove all his clan from this dangerous place safely, but did not elaborate beyond what he had already said in negotiations about his perspective of the current conflict. However, a chance question from Keleroth – the scholar having made quite a friend amongst the Waterkin who wished to send a greeting to her favorite cousin – demonstrated that the leader had deep, angry, fearful emotions warring within that he was not sharing. The interview ended almost as soon as he had dismissed Keleroth’s query, and the group moved instead to see the Tinkerkin.

While between the camps, Dora explained the seers’ tent, and the group wondered about the boy Keleroth had asked about. Could he have been a new seer, and thus something was wrong that had so alarmed the Hermitkin leader? With few answers, they continued to the Tinkerkin camp. Meanwhile, Nahla observed Matthias and the others leaving the Hermitkin and entering the neighboring camp, and as she was about to move on from her position, witnessed something else altogether. A soldier from the fort appeared at the perimeter of the Hermitkin camp, met with an individual, and escorted that person back to the fort, all with an air of hurried secrecy. Curious, Nahla continued to watch the camps for other unusual activity.

In the Tinkerkin leader’s tent, Matthias entered into a much more frank dialogue, knowing that his position there was quite secure. The Tinkerkin leader stated that he no longer cared how things ended in negotiations – now, his concern was that something was deeply troubling the entire Hermitkin clan, and he felt strongly that he needed to help. They were family, after all, and the Tinkerkin only wanted to aid their brothers and sisters, if it could be done. Dora, on instinct, asked about the guarded seer tent among the Hermitkin, and heard a worrying tale when the non-clan had been escorted away. Seers amongst the gypsies were rare, but when born, were incredibly accurate and private, and they gravitated to the Hermitkin clan to avoid all contacts with the outside world, only calling for outsiders when their prophecies spoke to those specific individuals. The Hermitkin had not shared any prophecies with the other clans for some time, but this much was known: a recent vision had been so strong and terrible, far more so than the dire predictions that had begun more than ten years prior, that two of the three then seers had died in the seeing, and the remaining had cut off all contact until she could deliver her message. Whatever she had seen meant great ill, and Dora felt sure it was a message she must hear.

Reconnecting with Nahla, Matthias and his group returned to their tent to discuss things. The palpable tension in the air was far worse than it had been, and Nahla’s information was doubly concerning. Dora sent her hawk scouting, and it returned with a report of armored “predators” in the woods; Matthias immediately dispatched Nahla to investiage, while also sending Dora and Keleroth to the Waterkin with a warming that danger seemed to be immanent. Theodor shared orders across the rebel camp for all soldiers to wake and prepare themselves for a possible ambush, deserting their tents but leaving the whole camp with the appearance of being largely unaware of anything out of the ordinary. Nahla, venturing into the forest, stumbled almost into a group of soldiers, hidden in the dark, disguised, and apparently waiting. She circled around them partway until she felt that she could estimate there were at least as many of them as Matthias had at his disposal, possibly many more. Then, the quarter-hour pattern was called, but it was subtly changed, and everything seemed to happen at once.

The soldiers in the woods launched a charging attack on Matthias’s camp, overrunning it quickly but meeting with ready resistance from the rebel soldiers. Nahla rejoined the leadership of the group in time to attack with the center while Matthias maintained order and shouted through the chaos. After a few difficult moments in the pitched fight, a gypsy whistle calling the clans to defend their own echoed through the night, and with it the Tinkerkin roused to the battle as well, swelling onto the field to support the rebels against the soldiers. From the south, the sounds of the Waterkin similarly engaged could be heard, but there was no time to aid them yet. Keleroth did a fair amount of damage with his new and improved fire magic, and Theodor and Nahla helped to defend Matthias and Dora from the oncoming battle.

Suddenly the gypsy whistle sounded again, this time a more complicated message. It was Elara telling the Hermit kin “the boy is safe.” With that simple phrase, an explosion of familial anger erupted from the Hermitkin as they leapt to their horses and joined the battle in earnest. Matthias and his people were momentarily concerned that they would be the target of the gypsy clan, but instead the Hermitkin split their forces in two, half bound for Ambai itself, the other half now riding down any of Coran’s soldiers in their way. The leader of the Tinkerkin found Matthias in the chaos and explained that another, smaller fight appeared to be taking place at the very gates of the fort, and Matthias, seeing that his people and the gypsies had most things well in hand, accepted a ride from the Tinkerkin to northern battle. Nahla and Dora went with him, both swinging up to ride double, while Theodor and Keleroth moved south to assist the Waterkin as needed before they, too, were drawn to the situation at Ambai.

It became rapidly apparent that a small group, probably Gentford’s escort for Elara earlier in the evening, had broken from the fort and were trying to get away from their pursuers; however, the Hermitkin, mounted and furious, cut off the embattled individuals from Ambai and forced a rapid surrender. From the mess of individuals, Elara appeared, bleeding from a wound on her head and very tired, a small boy held protectively in her arms. Without hesitation, Elara handed the boy to the Hermitkin leader, taking a moment of grateful refuge from Matthias before everyone set off to handle the aftermath of the battle. Matthias had many logistics to manage, from the disposition of prisoners to establishing a secure perimeter; meanwhile, Dora set herself along with Nahla to work beside the many healers of the two-and-a-half gathered clans to offer assistance to all the wounded, both gypsy, rebel, and loyal soldier. Theodor took up his now-customary position as Matthias’s bodyguard. Elara retreated with the other clan leaders to discuss the situation, and as the night ended and dawn came, rejoined the rest of Matthias’s leadership to explain all that had occurred both before and during the very long night.

The tale truly began some weeks prior when a young boy was stolen from the Hermitkin and held hostage by Enero Coran at Ambai. He had, as he had explained to Elara that evening, learned that rebels to the crown might be connected to some gypsy clans, and he knew that if he could capture them he would gain great power and influence in Adzoral. Therefore, he forced the Hermitkin to call a near-feud with the Tinkerkin, knowing that whatever mediator both sides accepted would have to be connected to this rebel group somehow and might lead him back to them. When General Matthias appeared, Coran was momentarily thrown off – why would the Tinkerkin trust the army when they were openly allied with the rebels? – until he realized that the “army” and the rebels were one and the same. Then, his scenario became a concerted trap for Matthias, including the meeting with the Society for Freedom which allowed him to sneak additional troops to Ambai right under the general’s nose. However, Coran had not anticipated the appearance of Elara, and this gave him some pause. Ultimately, he decided to attempt to turn her to his way of thinking and enlist her as a spy against Matthias; if she had agreed, he would have sent her back that night and not launched any attack, and if not, the whole group would be taken. However, while his plan had failed to catch Matthias off-guard, he had also underestimated Elara’s determination not to be taken while in the fort, and she had instead located the Hermitkin boy and fled with him with the aid of Gentford’s escort.

The truth at last revealed, the Hermitkin leader apologized to Matthias and to his Tinkerkin brother for all that had occurred, though he maintained he could choose no other course than this. Both readily forgave him, for in the end, all their aims had been the same. Peace established, the Hermitkin leader then delivered a message from the one remaining seeress to Matthias and his group – she requested that they attend her immediately, for the vision that had robbed two other seers of their lives and had tormented her with its force was meant for them. Still reeling from the battle but knowing well that their journey was far from over, the group agreed and entered the seer’s tent. There, the blazing gypsy woman greeted them briefly, then her eyes rolled into her head and the prophecy spilled forth:

Enter the city beneath the world,
Beyond the path of the monster’s lair.
There shall you seek and wander through time
To find a weapon most rare.

Through dangers untold and strife unseen
The prize awaits deep below.
The Ojaluche is power to cast out dark strength
And vanquish the bringer of woe.

Be wary of silence and darkness as one,
For these portend evils are nigh.
But courage and light my yet bring you home,
When the Ojaluche lights up the sky.

Take heed of my words and care of your prize
For the Ojaluche once freed is then gone.
And to save the souls of a thousand blood-bound,
Wield it at the great battle’s dawn.

Following these words, the seeress peered at each individual in turn:

To Matthias: Lead your people to victory, or remain behind and bear witness to defeat.
To Keleroth: The fire of knowledge is your greatest power, and you must use all you have to navigate the labyrinth before you.
To Nahla: That which you see and hear may be your salvation, but fail to listen and you may fail to survive.
To Theodor: You who have defended others in the name of honor and love are steady, and by that steadiness may you be unmoved in the coming storm.
To Dora: You must cure more than spilled blood, and your courage shall save your heart.
To Elara: Beware the shadows, or you will join them, and only the most trusted shall save you.

Then she spoke to no one in particular, but these seemed addressed specifically nonetheless.

--The wielder of great strength is the hand of a just cause, but only if used with wisdom and patience.
--The one whose eyes are pure may see more clearly than those who have seen much.

Silence fell.
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6-22-08: If you’re not part of the future then get out of the way [Feb. 12th, 2009|07:35 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

mendeia
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The ride to the meeting place with the Society for Freedom took some amount of time, which the party spent alternately discussing their upcoming confrontation and sharing information on the morning’s activities. Matthias spoke to Elara about the meal she had shared with Coran, accepting any information she was willing to impart and refraining from pushing her on the matters of the heart that most concerned them both. Elara gave him all the tactical knowledge she had received, including her insights about the captain, but was relatively quiet on the emotional content of their time together. When the gypsy went to comfort her sister, Dora being more than a little anxious about the upcoming meeting, Nahla took her chance to fill in any gaps left by Elara’s report. Although the spy had been witness to more than Elara had told Matthias of, she did not elaborate much on Coran’s conduct or its response. Instead, Nahla spoke to the general of the captain’s obvious interest in Elara, omitting the unwitting opening the priestess had given for those feelings.

Arriving at the meeting location, Matthias marshaled his people into a basic plan which, he hoped, would protect them if the discussion turned sour. The mill, situated on a small hill near a creek, was mainly exposed, with only one clump of trees to the rear that could hide any approach. Many members of the Society for Freedom, all dressed in the robed and hooded black garb of executioners, stood around the large barn waiting, although none appeared to be armed. Matthias sent Captain Gentford with a small number of individuals into the trees to establish that there was no ambush waiting there before proceeding with his own small entourage, headed by Elara. If the Society members were surprised to see a gypsy in their midst, they did not show it. After some initial negotiation, Abram, the second-or-third-in-command of the Society, agreed to speak with Matthias outside in the open and the dialogue began. With Abram flanked by two of his men, Matthias by Elara and one of Gentford’s, the ex-general began to probe the mentality and motivations of the Society. Abram, at times quite candid and others a bit more fanatical, detailed economic pressures on the people of the region, as well as a general xenophobia, which appeared to be the root of their complaints with the gypsy clans. The Society could not, however, produce compelling proof that any direct gypsy actions were at fault in most of the cases they cited as justification for their behavior and aims.

A torrential storm blew up from the plains out of nowhere, but it could not entice Matthias to trust Abram any more than he had from a distance, so negotiations simply moved to a table under an under-hang as the sky echoed the turbulent emotions of most everyone in the immediate area. While Matthias kept his own feelings locked behind his an analytical view of the scenario, Elara struggled to maintain her composure in the face of such blatant and blind hatred, and Dora, though not angry, was far from comfortable herself. Nahla, on the other hand, found herself inadvertently agreeing with the Society at certain points in the discussion, and she was torn between disgust and interest. But to make matters even stranger, mid-way through the negotiations, a rider appeared declaring that a gypsy clan was on its way to join the meeting. The clan was the Waterkin, the same clan that Matthias’s team had liberated some weeks prior from the military and with which Keleroth was currently studying. Concerned that matters might become heated if the clan were to appear on the scene, Matthias cut the discussion short and instead removed himself and his people from the Society’s land.

On their way to meet the Waterkin on the road, however, an advance rider brought news to the rebel group that the clan had been accosted en route and were near to engaging in a violent confrontation with some young men. Elara, lost in concern for her people, broke from Matthias’s group and raced ahead, followed by the others at a slower pace. Upon reaching the somewhat-besieged clan, the gypsy interposed her horse between some of the young men and the more angry of the clan, attempting to protect her people. Some of the crowded locals began heaving rocks and pushing against the edges of the gypsy group, and soon a small-scale riot was beginning. As Matthias ordered his people into place to quell the unrest and restore order, Dora joined her sister in the midst on horseback, using her horsemanship skills to “bump” individuals away from each other. Elara, noticing trouble a bit apart, left her horse to Dora’s control and dismounted, attempting to intervene; an armed man was charging towards a wagon which held, she realized suddenly, Keleroth. However, in the process of casting a wind spell intended to knock the attacker away, the surging melee around her jostled her arm, and her control, and the spell instead launched him straight into Keleroth and sent them both sprawling into the wagon. While Elara rushed to help undo her mistake, which, at least, no one had seen, Keleroth was busy getting himself out from under the armed hothead, which he did very neatly by igniting fire in the man’s significant beard on fire. As he hurriedly lost any idea of harming the fire-mage and focused on patting out his burning hair, Elara arrived and tossed the individual to the ground. By this time, the rest of the battling had been brought to an end by Matthias’s armed troupe.

Admonishing the local men and sending them off in shame, Matthias received assurances from the clan leader that those gypsies who had been instigators in the fight would be appropriately punished. With a certain amount of amusement, the blind monk greeted Keleroth, remarking that the smell of singed hair had heralded his return. The peace established, Keleroth explained that the Waterkin, hearing of the trouble between the Hermitkin and Tinkerkin, had sent half their people down to aid in negotiations, and to return Keleroth to his own clan. Thus, the Waterkin joined Matthias’s little band as they continued back to Fort Ambai.
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Some character background, for anyone interested. [Feb. 6th, 2009|01:02 am]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

sylmenya

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Because I've been working on it for a long while... [Oct. 5th, 2008|12:18 pm]
The Chronicle of Aldencia: Saving the Kingdom

mendeia
Creation Story of the GypsiesCollapse )
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