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Raspberry LA

The Symbol of Unity [Blaurg Mountain] [Factions of Terrenus]

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The steps down into the mire felt metaphorical in a number of ways, from their unexpected appearance within the temple's walls, to the way the muddy brown steps sank downward into the darkness. Kian had several comments he felt like making about it, but most of them were disrespectful by definition, and he presumed they were better left unspoken, while his guide and companion tried in vain to find someone.

While he called for her name, Kian crept closer to the warren and took a look inside. The spiral staircase went down quite some ways, winding further and further down until it was swallowed up by the dark. It reminded him of a crypt he'd visited once. It'd been dark and deep and played host to an entire ancestral line of the wealthy dead. He'd made out like a bandit in the end. Not all crypts were like that, of course, but then again he usually didn't go for crypts, or mausoleums, or necropoli. The preferred target of any seasons grave robber was a simple hole in the dirt, six feet deep. This was probably not a grave, simply because of its positioning and seeming lack of care. Why was there a spiral staircase here anyway? Did the folks who uncovered the warren put it there, or did somebody else?

He didn't have too much time to ponder, as very quickly Tyrell returned to his side with a slim band of some kind. A white, polished stone stood out in the middle of the band, like some kind of virgin's choker necklace. It was somewhat garish, but Kian didn't mind, strapping it to his head without a second thought. He tapped the stone after watching Tyrell's brief demonstration, and without much pause followed him down the steps. To their credit, the stones were a great help in the darkness that came with each heavy footfall. Between the sound of Tyrell's armor shifting in front of him, and the tools on Kian's back shuffling as they moved, they certainly didn't lack for an entrance, and Kian began to grow concerned about the lost group. Not only was it black as death down here, but there was minimal sound save for those two moving around. Where exactly was the group the guard had mentioned? 

The muddied steps were replaced by a soft silt at the bottom, which Kian noticed before even he stepped into it. The ground below certainly seemed loose, but he wasn't able to accurately fathom how deep it was until Tyrell stepped into it, sinking about four inches. In a confined space, that was a lot of room to sink into, and so the catfolk's first step was a ginger one. He weighed less than the soldier did, thankfully, and while he wasn't entirely unaffected he only sank about an inch into the silt, more if he shifted his weight around. Looking around, Kian saw the tunnels around him stretch on and on for what was likely quite some distance. They weren't too wide, thankfully, otherwise Kian would have some genuine doubts about the foundation of the temple overhead. It would have sunk into the caves before too long, he was sure. There was some kind of line down in the caves too; he'd noticed it while they were above ground as well; some kind of lighting effect, perhaps? 

Regardless of their surroundings, Tyrell moved with purpose down in the dark, and Kian disabled his light in order to preserve the...what, exactly? He doubted the stone ran on fuel or batteries or anything of that nature. Still, it was likely a wise decision to preserve it, just in case they needed more light later, and as it dimmed the catfolk's eyes dilated to allow Tyrell's light into them a bit more efficiently. Slowly, the darkened spaces around him were defined as the excess light bouncing off them became known.

It was then that Kian noticed something on the wall; a small scrap of yellow fabric.

"Hey! Does anybody you know wear yellow?" He called forward, towards the soldier. He dangled the fabric above his head for them to see.

 

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[Cauda Draconis]

The rain of rocks slowed to a trickle, and the Hearthfather glanced up at the top of the ridge. He couldn't make out any details from his vantage, but he could tell that the trolls on the top of the switchback had finally come under assault.

"Thank Gaia! To the void with making a tunnel, get this pass open!" He turned his horse and rode downhill, the Fraternal column charging behind. The trolls that had made it down the cliff face found themselves eye to eye with trained war horses ridden by angry knights, and most had the good sense to clear out of the way. Refugees, no longer forced to creep along the rock wall, ran down the path in a loose mob, making their way to the bottom behind the charging Fraternals.

 

---

 

[Temple City]

Every knight that could hold a sword was marshalled at the incomplete city wall. It was ultimately going to be about fifteen to twenty feet tall and connect east to west with the sheer mountainsides, but only a few stretches were even close to that height. Most of the run averaged six to eight feet, with several sections barely topping four. 

All along the wall, sweaty palms shifted their grips on spears and swords, while crossbow bolts reflected in the sunlight, the weapons containing them resting anxiously on rough stone.

Catapults and ballistae aimed their deadly loads out towards the flat-ish approach, which ran about two hundred yards to the base of the Cauda. Engineers made last-minute inspections and adjustments, trying to keep busy as the merciless minutes dragged by. If the caravaneers could make it off the pass, and get far enough ahead of the enemy, the siege weapons would turn the tide. If they couldn't, then they'd be nothing more than scary-looking piles of lumber.

The knights could do nothing but watch.

 

---

[Mountain]

@Ellipsis

The two remaining trolls turned their attention to the new threat represented by Frayen, forgetting, for the moment, the exhausted and wounded prey they'd been worrying. They spread out kept their distance, growling and slavering, showing their huge teeth and taking deliberate steps intended to put Frayen in between them. If they were affected by the sudden deaths of their comrades, they didn't show it.

Frayen would have a chance, possibly his first, to get a good look at a rock trolls. Between seven and eight feet tall, they were rock gray with outrageously broad shoulders and massive chests. Wiry gray fur covered their bodies, and their faces were ape-like, sporting long tusks. Bird feathers and shiny rocks were woven into their hair as ornaments or marks of station, and while one was unarmed but for claws as long as paring knives, the other held a wicked stone axe, wielded in both enormous hands. 

As it side-stepped, it took an exploratory left-to-right swing, trying to keep the distance between itself and Frayen and being careful not to over-commit to the attack.

 

---

[Warren]

@Jotnotes

Tyrell stopped and came back to Kian, examining the scrap of cloth in the "prospector's" hand. It was wool, not silk or cotton, so it couldn't have come from Speaker Faekin's robe, he deduced. The Benevolent Order still clung to such luxuries as marks of station.

"That... That had to have come from Sadie. But why would she have come down here alone? She can't be too far ahead, I only left her minutes ago!"

He turned back to the dark tunnel. "Sadie!" he called out. His voice echoed eerily back to him, but there was no response. "Sadie? Councilors? Anyone?"

Silence. 

"This makes no sense."

Shaking his head, Tyrell began walking again, following the defunct Lightline around the first corner. The tunnel took an s-shaped jog, then opened to a long straight stretch that extended farther than his light could reach.

Just past the extreme edge of visibility, a soft green glow pulsed weakly in the darkness. "The Lightline!" Tyrell exclaimed, "it's working down there! Kind of. The light's supposed to be steady... and not... um... bobbing like that."

A few more steps through the sucking mud, and a small silhouette would become visible at the near end of the anaemic Lightline. To Tyrell, it looked like the shadow of a small woman, just barely discernable as holding the end of the Lightline. His face brightened; he was sure he'd found Sadie, and drew a breath to call out to her.

To someone with better night vision, the shadow's head would be illuminated by the fading green light. A girl child, hair in pigtails, sucking happily on the end of the Line as if it were a straw in a juice box. Something about the shape of the rest of the body, though... it couldn't be seen in any detail from this distance even by cat eyes, but something about it just felt wrong.

Edited by Raspberry LA

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"Who is Sadie?" Kian didn't particularly care for any specifics, but he'd mentioned her more than once by now. It wasn't that important to know, but for some reason it felt like valuable information to have. Maybe he didn't feel like charming the guard's sister when they came across her. Whoever she was would not be shared here, however, because as soon as he'd finished examining the scrap, Tyrell was off again, following the tunnel slowly. That same cable ran down the tunnel ahead of them, and with a shrug the grave robber got into line. He was still holding the yellow fabric in his hand, for reasons unknown. Perhaps it'd serve to help him identify 'Sadie' when they finally met. They embarked down the tunnel ahead, following the footprints away from the dim light of the surface. When they grew far enough away that it was no longer easy to see, Kian paused only long enough for his eyes to adjust before marching ahead.

The tunnels were tight and long, and far more claustrophobic than any warren had the right to be. Kian kept his eyes ahead, ears flicking periodically as faraway noises plucked at his senses. They were difficult to make out amongst the closer noises, but he swore he could hear voices back the way they came. Probably other folk inside the temple, yet that other tunnel came to mind as well. Did the group go in the other direction at any point? He'd forgotten to check the prints. He glanced down, but couldn't make out much. The silt was quite dark, and light did a poor job of bouncing off of it. He probably wouldn't be able to keep track of any footsteps without turning on his light, which he still decided needed to be spared for now. Just ahead, Tyrell led them down the tunnel, through twists and turns until the warrens straightened out again. Peering around his shoulder briefly, Kian was able to see that the tunnel stretched on for quite some time. Further than either of them could see, certainly. However, somewhere out there Tyrell must have seen something he couldn't, and pointed in excitement.

On 2/24/2018 at 7:06 PM, Raspberry LA said:

"The Lightline!" Tyrell exclaimed, "it's working down there! Kind of. The light's supposed to be steady... and not... um... bobbing like that."

He wasn't even quite sure what the lightline was, or how it worked. What Kian did understand, just from word of mouth, was that it was kind of a marriage between a yarn trail and a torch. Drag it with you, light the way, follow the line back to the tunnel entrance when you're done. If somebody was messing with it, it certainly had to be someone that didn't know better, then. Kian figured the only people dumb enough to bother a luminescent wire were the kind that didn't know why it was so important. Kian had gotten lost once, after a length of rope he'd used as a guide had gotten cut on a rock. Hopefully it hadn't been cut here, and yet Kian wondered once again if maybe someone was following it back. Who was holding the line?

He strained his eyes, and finally caught sight of the culprit, and very quickly felt uneasy. The little girl holding the Lightline looked mostly harmless from an extreme distance, but there was something incredibly unnerving about seeing children alone in places they shouldn't be. The catfolk didn't even know what this warren was, or how old it happened to be, but he doubted it was the sort of place children went to play. If they did, that was just poor parenting, but he wasn't about to judge that just now. Instead, he took another look at her, and tried to figure out if her clothes matched the scrap of fabric he found earlier. He peered a bit closer, and in that same instance threw his hands over Tyrell's shoulder, pulling him back before hissing furiously.

"Turn the fucking light off!" He reached for Tyrell's headlight and tapped it, blanketing them both in darkness. Still gripping Tyrell's shoulder, he took a step back, and another. 

"With the light off, you can see a little bit better, right?" Kian's voice sounded unfamiliar to him; he was uneasy about the girl's sudden appearance. 

"These warrens aren't the kind of place for kids;" He continued, still talking in a low voice. "I think we need to be careful here. I didn't get randomly selected just so I could get attacked by little girls ghosts before I get paid, alright?"

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@Jotnotes

Tyrell snapped his mouth shut and brought up his hand to turn off his light. He hesitated for just a fraction of a second, then tapped the crystal. Darkness enveloped the pair but for the tiny, fading light of the Lightline up ahead.

The girl's face was illuminated by the green light, which gave a ghoulish cast to what would otherwise be the picture of youth and innocence. She appeared to be no older than nine or ten years, and her lips curled up at the ends in a blissful smile as she sucked on the torn end of the Lightline. It's glow wavered, flickered, and then went out entirely.

"Aww." 

The tiny expression of disappointment bounced lazily off the stones in the pitch black, followed by the pitter-pat of tiny feet on wet silt, headed away from them further down the tunnel. The footsteps were rapid but uneven, as if the girl suffered from a slight impairment of coordination.

As the footsteps faded, Tyrell exhaled, unaware until that very moment that he had been holding his breath. He strained his ears, trying to pick up any further auditory cues as to the location of the strange little girl.

"Knight, over here, quickly! Before they come back!" 

The whisper came from a small, heretofore unnoticed tunnel slightly behind the pair and to their right. The voice was male, middle-aged, and breathless, as if it's owner had just recently spent a great deal of time doing jumping jacks. 

Tyrell jumped, barely stifling a screech that, had it been allowed to fully escape his throat, would have called his manhood to the carpet for a severe dressing-down.

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Kian waited in the dark, eyes dead ahead as the little...thing...continued to toddle onwards. From his position, he could see her quite well even in the dark, and yet he still could not ascertain what about her bothered him so. It seemed to be more than the fact that a kid was down here; it was beginning to feel as though what he was seeing was false, he just couldn't explain why. He watched, transfixed, as the lightline she continued to toy with flickered and died out, and he held his breath as his eyes took a moment to adjust. In the near-total darkness, he wasn't able to see where she'd run off to, but he could hear her fleeing further away, with odd, uncomfortable-sounding footsteps.

For some reason the sound of those steps made his flesh crawl, as if there were small vermin climbing all over his body. He shuddered, unable to escape the crawling sensation until she was well out of earshot. Both he and Tyrell exhaled loudly at approximately the same time, and Kian stepped away, at ease. He didn't know who she--who it was, but he would not miss her. She could keep running down those tunnels for as long as she liked, and Kian wouldn't care. Noticeably, Tyrell hadn't called out when he saw her, either. That more or less affirmed one thing for the graverobber.

"I'm guessing that's not 'what's-her-face', then?" He mused idly.

On 3/4/2018 at 1:59 PM, Raspberry LA said:

"Knight, over here, quickly! Before they come back!" 

Kian twisted towards the tunnel, hands fluttering to his chest, curling around a slim silver dagger strapped to a leather bandolier. He pulled it free, but his hand slowly relaxed, refraining from hurling the throwing knife down the tunnel. Before him, Tyrell also leapt up somewhat, which almost made Kian laugh out loud. A man of that size, dressed in heavy-looking armor, leaping at somebody's voice? He glanced down at the knife in his hand, and kept his peace. He'd almost acted with greater intensity, so he was in no position to judge.

"I'm getting paid more for this, right?" He asked nobody in particular.

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On 3/7/2018 at 11:54 PM, Jotnotes said:

"I'm getting paid more for this, right?" He asked nobody in particular.

"Son, you'll have a share of gold worthy of the Magistrate's own coffers," the man whispered earnestly, "should that be the currency you desire. Such things are quite negotiable when the lives of most of our high council are in peril."

Tyrell put a hand over his crystal to keep the light from spilling overmuch down the passage and turned it on. It illuminated the dirty face of Brand the engineer.

"Sir!" The young knight did his best to snap to attention and salute while still hooding his lamp. Brand scoffed. "Enough of that lad, we're in hostile country now. Where's the rest of your team?"

Tyrell looked at his feet. "Trolls are attacking the caravan and making for the city, sir; we two are all that could be spared and that were willing to come alert you."

"That's disappointing. Well, we fight battles with the troops we have, not the troops we wish for. You need to be briefed before we can make a plan to get everyone out, but not here. Climb into this tunnel and follow me; the beasts like the one you saw came out of these holes and seem none too willing to return to them."

"How many are we?" 

"As of this moment, counting the two of you, three. We were scattered in the attack. But details come when you follow, or I'll leave you here and make a plan myself!"

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Kian knew full well that the situation of the people here was far from glamorous.

When he'd first approached the fort as it was, it'd been one of the first things he'd noticed. There was money going into it, yeah, but what was the gain? It wasn't a whole new city, or trading settlement--more like a refugee camp with bigger walls. Whoever's coffers sat behind this establishment almost certainly couldn't have the depth to sustain the full staff, as well as keeping them well-supplied, as well as paying Kian and other similar mercenaries off. It just wasn't feasible. To this end, the grave robber knew almost as soon as the claim had been made that it had to be a bluff of some kind.

On 3/15/2018 at 1:54 PM, Raspberry LA said:

"Son, you'll have a share of gold worthy of the Magistrate's own coffers," the man whispered earnestly, "should that be the currency you desire. Such things are quite negotiable when the lives of most of our high council are in peril."

Yet, despite the dubious nature of the claim, the glitter of gold was there. It was only a matter of getting it out of them.

Regardless of his answer the two of them continued to talk, exchanging quick words on the situation at hand. Kian listened passively, and followed suit as they all scrambled into the tunnel.

"Neither of you told me exactly what's going on in these warrens." He pointed out, following behind Tyrell and Brand. "What are we trying to do?"

'Do you know what these warrens are? Are they a grave of some sort?' Was a question he'd wanted to consider asking, but kept it to himself. He was a prospector with a shovel, after all. Thinking about the dead wouldn't suit him.

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On 3/20/2018 at 3:01 PM, Jotnotes said:

"Neither of you told me exactly what's going on in these warrens." He pointed out, following behind Tyrell and Brand. "What are we trying to do?"

'Do you know what these warrens are? Are they a grave of some sort?' Was a question he'd wanted to consider asking, but kept it to himself. He was a prospector with a shovel, after all. Thinking about the dead wouldn't suit him.

Brand replied as he crawled through the tunnel. His hands were scraped and the leather pads on his knees had seen better days.

"A tomb, actually, though not the one we first thought. We were hoping to find the last resting place of St. Zedda, which would simply be a deep hole. But this is a true tomb, and far older than that. Prehistoric."

The tunnel opened slightly into a round room; the ceiling raised almost high enough for a short person to stand erect and the walls widened. A troll skull, cracked down the center between the eyes and decorated with faded blue paint, was embedded in the far wall. It gaped at the explorers, showing large teeth which were covered in faint runes.

"It seems that at some later point, still in pre-history, it was repurposed and used as a tomb again, though this time for something quite resistant to death. While we were cataloging the presevered bodies and the items they were interred with, we came into a large central chamber that was decorated with skulls like this one, set in precise rows on pedestals."

Brand settled himself cross-legged on the ground in front of the broken skull and faced his allies.

"Someone - and I did not see, so I don't know who - bumped against one of the pedestals. Time and erosion had made it unbalanced, and the skull was pitched off and shattered. I suspect, based on my observations, that this was when the creatures like the one you saw were... awakened? Released? I have not been able to determine whether they are prisoners or protectors, but it's academic; they're deadly. Minutes after passing through the chamber, we were attacked. Through some power they disrupted our lights and separated us like wolves pulling apart a herd of goats. I would say there were a dozen or more, but..." Brand paused, and shrugged, "...the fleeing soldier counts every foe twice, as they say." 

He rubbed his shoulder and continued. "I cannot detail their exact abilities or tactics. I can tell you they can kill. They will not follow prey into holes like this one. They shrink from white light when shined directly on them at close range, and seek to eliminate it before all else. I watched the Hearthmother flambe one before we were separated; its body, to the best of my knowledge, still remains in the curve of the tunnel about thirty yards from the northern exit from the skull chamber, which we will find by following our dead Lightline. I passed over it twice in my wild flight, which, I would humbly request, you refer to as a 'retreating manuever' once we escape and tell the story to over mugs of ale."

Brand gave a rueful chuckle. "So they can die. Both to magical fire, and from these." The engineer pulled a large troll tooth from his belt, identical to the ones leering out of the skull behind them. "I have not seen them succumb, but they recoil from the sight of it and become as cautious as a mountain lion confronted by a torch."

"Where are the councillors?" Tyrell asked.

"Somewhere past the fried beast. Last I saw them, they were grouped tightly together and backing down the tunnel. I fear they were being herded away from the rest of us, but I cannot say why I feel this way or how their importance could be known by these things to begin with."

"Do you have a plan?"

"At the moment, it is to arm ourselves with these teeth and retrace our party's steps as much as possible. The silt should be our ally in this. But I am open to other suggestions."

 

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Kian listened intently, following along. Their footsteps didn't have much room to echo in the narrow corridor, and their voices were blunt and reverberated back at them in flat, normal tones. Further off the primary path, the catfolk felt his pulse slow down as the eminent danger abated. Now, instead of straining to hear whatever danger lurked behind them, or around them for that matter, he was focused primarily on listening to the man ahead of him. To his great pleasure, he learned just about everything he needed to right away, perhaps the first boon he'd received since his arrival.

While Kian was somewhat dismayed to learn that this wasn't a necessarily popular or important tomb, the fact that it was a tomb alone was a great merit indeed. The grave robber had invested the entirety of his youth learning how to navigate the places where the dead rested, and in this time had grown more familiar in the crypts than he was just about anywhere else. Over the years he'd learned the lay of most tombs; what to look for, what to expect, how to determine how old the earth was beneath his feet. Were he a dwarf, or a kobold or even some other ground-dwelling creature he'd have been a complete master at this trade, and yet he still got by handily without such traits. If anything, learning that they stood in a grave bolstered Kian instead of discouraging him. For one thing, it meant he knew what to expect for the most part, and what to look for.

And for another, it meant that if he knew where to look, he could quite possibly make a small fortune down here in the dark.

The tunnel ahead of them opened up, albeit slightly, and Kian crawled out from behind the two of them and settled down on his knees. The catfolk eye the troll's skull warily. It was cracked, and quite old from the looks of things. Prehistoric, as Brand had put it. The ornate painting and the runed teeth were unsettling, of course, but that was simply the nature of dead things. He watched it carefully, listening as their guide brought them up to speed.

On 2018-03-22 at 2:26 PM, Raspberry LA said:

"It seems that at some later point, still in pre-history, it was repurposed and used as a tomb again, though this time for something quite resistant to death. While we were cataloging the presevered bodies and the items they were interred with, we came into a large central chamber that was decorated with skulls like this one, set in precise rows on pedestals."

Well, that certainly piqued Kian's interest. So, the formerly prehistoric tomb was reused in order to create another prehistoric tomb, or possibly a cell of sorts. He continued to eye the skull, and quickly found that he didn't quite like how it stared back. With a slow, cautious movement, he turned it away from him, facing the wall away from them. Better.

On 2018-03-22 at 2:26 PM, Raspberry LA said:

"Someone - and I did not see, so I don't know who - bumped against one of the pedestals. Time and erosion had made it unbalanced, and the skull was pitched off and shattered. I suspect, based on my observations, that this was when the creatures like the one you saw were... awakened? Released? I have not been able to determine whether they are prisoners or protectors, but it's academic; they're deadly. Minutes after passing through the chamber, we were attacked. Through some power they disrupted our lights and separated us like wolves pulling apart a herd of goats. I would say there were a dozen or more, but..."

Inwardly, he wondered if they could be knocked out, at the very least. If he came across them one at a time, his shovel would surely make short work of them. That didn't matter, though, as not even Brand knew how they fought. Approaching one at all, at least until they knew what was going on, was definitely not worth it.

The grave robber cleared his throat and stared at the two of them, nodding thoughtfully. 

"This might be a given, but won't they be doing the same thing?" He asked. "I mean the monsters. If they're out for blood, wouldn't they be going for whoever they know is down here? So...if you have friends down here, who's to say they aren't already after them?"

He paused, and added. "What I'm getting at is, maybe we should be trying to find a way to make this tomb a little...y'know...less dangerous?" He considered what he was saying. 

"Maybe we can find the one that got fried and take a good look at it. Figure out what they are, or what they're supposed to be. We could arrange some way to take them down a little easier, and that'd make it easier for us to move around. If we can kill them off a little bit more effectively, then we won't have to skulk around as much."

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[City]

 

Magistrate Karaga ran through the crowd at the wall, headed for the gate. It was incomplete; the portcullis hadn’t been installed yet and only one half of the large door hung on its monstrous hinges. Knights from the Grand Order, with tower shields and long pikes, clustered tightly together across the gap, in a formation that made them look like a cross between a porcupine and an armadillo. He shoved the man at the far edge to the side so he could step into the void himself, bringing his spyglass to his eye.

The Fraternal Order had broken through the throng of trolls, creating a hole that the refugees had used to full effect. A large mass of them had escaped the Cauda and were tearing across the field towards the wall. More trickled through behind them, but as the edges of the Fraternal column frayed, they became scattered, forced to leave their beeline pursuit of safety as enemy combatants broke away from the main fray to chase them down.

Biaru turned to his apprentices, who had followed him from the Temple. A boy and a girl, both in their late teens and wearing expressions of terror and resolve, common in those getting ready to taste their first battle. The girl held the Magistrate’s massive two-handed sword, and the boy had a sheaf of papers and a sharp pencil.

“Garret, I need you to get a messenger to the Knight-Commander,  tell him I’m signalling the Fraternals to retreat. Anyone lagging behind will have to fend for themselves for a moment; we can’t keep the path open so long that these bastards sneak in on us. Then I want you to find the artillery commander and tell them to get ready to fire as soon as the Hearthfather gains ten yards. It’s close, I know, but we’re out of time here.”

He really wasn’t suited for this kind of command; this was Jessa’s territory, large forces clashing in an open field. But the Knight-General wasn’t around yet, and they couldn’t sit here sucking their thumbs until she showed up. Someone had to be in charge.

He pulled his large horn from his belt and inhaled a deep breath. A signal issued forth, loud enough to cause the men around him to wince. A long wail that faded off at the end. He repeated it twice more, then turned to his remaining apprentice.

“Abagail, my sword please.”

 

--

[Top of the Pass]

 

The horn blast echoed off the mountains, and the embattled Perfected scouts reacted as one, shifting from attack to defensive retreat, fading back into the rocky passes, using their knowledge of the crags to slip through routes too narrow and twisty for the trolls to effectively follow. They would scatter, hide, and regroup, waiting for the next signal from their leader to guide their further actions.

 

--

[Bottom of the Pass]

Hearthfather Elijah heard the horn blast, and this time did not need his fellows to translate it for him.

“Group up and move out! Towards the gate, full gallop! Nobody fall behind; I won’t leave you, but I don’t want to die today either!”

The cavalry unit made a wide circle in the field, turning into a charging formation pointed at the gate, and cued their horses to speed. The mass of trolls closed in around them, taking swipes at the passing horses, some losing hands for the effort, and then were quickly running to catch up, the long guard-hairs around their eyes shedding the dust kicked up by the fleeing riders. Two yards became five, became seven, and then the unmistakable sound of a trebuchet dropping its counterweight met their ears. Scattershot -- a multitude of boulders ranging in size from grapefruit to basketball -- passed over their heads and slammed into the ground in the middle of the troll pursuit. Screams and growls echoed in the canyon, but still the enemy pressed forwards.

More artillery filled the sky; giant metal balls, flaming pots of oil, massive ballista bolts, and more. Their lead increased substantially, and the Hearthfather was grateful for the skill of the siege commanders that none of the projectiles misfired onto his head.

The trolls routed, turning back to the Cauda, as the Fraternal column reached the gate. The soldiers parted, and they entered the city, slowing their horses and circling out of the way of those coming in behind. Elijah dismounted, handing the reins to the first person he saw, and jogged up to Biaru, panting and laughing. The two men clasped forearms, which turned into a hearty hug.

“Ah, you’re a sight for sore eyes, you old coot,” Elijah laughed, relief flooding into him as the adrenaline drained out.

“You too, ya silver-haired deviant. You want command of this mess? I’ve had just about enough.”

 

--

 

The dismayed trolls fled back to the edge of the cliff, and the city cheered. The attack was over, safety was renewed… except not.

More trolls scaled down the cliffside, gathering at the bottom just out of range of the siege engines. More and more poured off the Cauda until it was clear that this was not just a raid; this was an army. A war party. Growls and roars floated through the air as the furry contingent continued to grow. They were massing for a full-scale assault.

 

--

[Tomb]

In the tunnels, Brand led the pair through wide, winding tunnels. Burial alcoves lines the walls on each side, most containing some kind of decorated mummy festooned with baubles of varying degrees of value.

He stuck his head through an archway and shined his light around a large central chamber, carefully surveying all the dark corners and shadowed alcoves. Unlit crystals were scattered around the room, left behind by the surveying team from their first encounter with this space. Where once they had given off bright, warm yellow light, they were dark, dull, and several were cracked.

Twenty-one columns of stone were aligned in three perfect rows down the center of the room, with perhaps six feet of space between them. Each one was topped with a troll skull, painted and engraved and leering with huge teeth, and each one was cracked. One column was empty; it’s skull laid on the floor, broken into three pieces.

“When this one shattered, the rest cracked with the sound of a snapping tree,” Brand whispered. “It was about then we had the first idea that we might be in for some difficulty.”

Charting a careful path around the edge of the room, as if the situation could get worse if more skulls broke (and who knows, maybe it could he thought), he led them to the far side. Another dark archway beckoned them, like an open mouth waiting for its next meal to traipse through of its own accord.

“Just past that arch, then, will be our subject.”

And so it was.

Laying atop the silt was a body, heavily charred and unmoving. Wisps of smoke still gasped off its surface.

Its head was small and human, through the burnt flesh its face could still be reconstructed to be that of a young child of perhaps six or seven, this one a boy with blonde hair in a bowl cut. Its mouth was hanging open, and two hollow fangs jutted from the place that canines would be. The neck was human too, but there the resemblance ended.

The creature’s torso was short and oblong, a perfect oval spheroid. From the top half, long thin arms, almost as long as the beast was tall and comprised of at least five different joints, ended in hands that were indistinguishable from human but for the middle two fingers, which were topped by five-inch-long claws; black, shiny and hard like obsidian. They were positioned such that, if the beast was facing forward, the palms of its hands would be facing forward as well.

Its legs were short, powerful versions of human legs. The ended in feet that also sported claws on the inner two digits, as well as a single large claw on the rear coming from the ankle joint. Like the hands, they were backwards; heels facing the front of the creature, toes to the rear.

Tyrell made a holy sign with his fingers, and looked like he was about to lose his lunch. “What in the name of the divine…” he gasped, his mouth agape.

“Put your shock away soldier, and learn what you can. This is the only time we’ll get to see one still. They move like the wind.”

He turned his attention to the grave robber. “Any thoughts?”

 

@Ellipsis @Jotnotes

Edited by Raspberry LA

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The small meeting dispersed, and once again Kian followed behind as Brand led him and Tyrell through the ever turning hallways. It seemed like poor design to the grave robber, but at the same time Kian had to recall that this particular tomb wasn't designed with ease of use in mind. Moreso, it was a sort of labyrinth, a neverending mess of halls and chambers designed to keep whatever evil they had trapped here in, and any foolish trespassers out.

Kian made a mental note to make sure he was buried with no markings, and a tree on top of his grave, so that nobody would be dumb enough to dig him up.

They passed by several mummified bodies during their walks among the dead, and it was there that the catfolk felt most at ease. With each corpse they passed, he relaxed a bit more, until his paranoid ear-twitching all but stopped, and he walked with his back straight and his pace somewhat slowed. With the party ahead of him, he even took several moments to inspect the dead. There were various beads and small ornaments here and there, and some quite interesting-looking ceremonial instruments, including several old long knives. The graverobber paused before one particular mummy and took a chance, picking up one of the knives and peering at it curiously.

Spoiler

Untitled.png

It was an old thing, for certain, with either rust or dirt marring the blade beyond any great use, but Kian found it curious regardless. It had an interesting pommel, shaped like a crescent moon, and made from some blue precious stone that he couldn't identify; certainly not sapphire, or anything so garish. Cobalt, perhaps? Despite the rest of the blade's seeming disrepair, the pommel itself looked to be kept quite well. It suggested that it wasn't as old as the tomb it was surrounded by, although the blade itself was quite damaged in comparison. Perhaps the second tomb, built over the first, had been explored at some point? Or possibly, and this was much more unsettling, but the monsters within this tomb had been out and about before. Neither thought really appealed to him, but he took the knife with him anyway. It definitely wouldn't help him more than anything he currently had on him, but when he was done here he could probably have the pommel taken off and examined, and possibly even shaped into a necklace or something. It fit nicely into his bag, next to his other things, and just as it was out of sight, it was out of mind as the catfolk hurried along to catch up with his company.

Ahead, Brand had thrust his light into the room ahead of them, and upon deciding to enter it, the other two followed suit. Kian took in his surroundings with a passive stare, soaking in the size of the room. Say what you wanted about these people, but they build a good-looking tomb. Not too over-the-top, and certainly not built with guests in mind, but functional and long lasting. It meant he didn't have to worry about it falling on his head.

And speaking of heads, there were a lot of them in this room. Namely, the aforementioned troll skulls, which Kian had decided so quickly were looking at him in an uncomfortable manner, sat on their pedestals, grinning like mad men, or perhaps artists, painted faces and bad teeth included. He didn't spend nearly as much time examining them, and waited for Brand to drag them out of the room, and into the next. Through the tall, black archway, out of the open space of the chamber, and face to face with their enemy.

On 2018-04-03 at 11:03 AM, Raspberry LA said:

Tyrell made a holy sign with his fingers, and looked like he was about to lose his lunch. “What in the name of the divine…” he gasped, his mouth agape.

“Put your shock away soldier, and learn what you can. This is the only time we’ll get to see one still. They move like the wind.”

He turned his attention to the grave robber. “Any thoughts?”

Kian didn't have nearly as much to think on this time around. Certainly it was an ugly monster, with a child's face, terrible claws and feet and a foul figure. The grave robber had to assume that it's face was a method of entrapping its prey; just as he and Tyrell had nearly fallen victim to one in the halls earlier, the childlike features were designed to make you feel at ease. What Kian couldn't figure out by looking at the ashen corpse was why they'd come out supposedly after the skull had been broken. Were they guardians, or prisoners? If they were guards, what did they guard? If they were prisoners, trapped through some kind of magic, then why bother trapping them with sorcery when you could destroy them with sorcery? He had a feeling that they were more than likely the former, but he didn't have the full evidence to discount the latter. So, that only left one question he needed answered.

Kian reached behind him and gripped his shovel, carefully pulling it free and brandishing it in front of him. Wordlessly, he lifted it up, and brought it back down with a grunt of exertion. The blade struck down on the beast's 'neck', severing the child's head completely. With it removed from the corpse, it was a lot more damning of a scene. The monster looked like...well, it looked more like a monster. The child's head looked more like a charred remnant of an unfortunate victim.

"Well," He replied with a shrug. "My shovel can at least smash 'em up a little, so I'm not totally useless." A curious idea crossed his mind, and he bent down, picking up the head for a second. He didn't really stare at it or anything, but he did carry it over to the empty pedestal, being careful not to knock any over. He set it down, facing the same direction of the rest and stepped away slowly, looking at his work, waiting for something to happen, although it probably wouldn't.

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The head sat on the pedestal, looking like an absurd, disturbing satire of the ancient skulls surrounding it. Nothing happened for a moment, then a low rumble worked its way through the ground.

A screech erupted from the fresh head, sounding exactly as child-like as the face looked. It was a heart-wrenching, soul-tearing sound, exceeded in its terribleness only by the rapid decomposition it simultaneously began to undergo. In seconds, the charred hair fell away, and the burnt skin sloughed off one gruesome chunk at a time, until only the unlidded eyeballs remained in a bare skull. The shriek faded into panicked whimpers: “Mama! Mama where are you?? I can’t see you mama! Mama!!!” Then the eyes, too, melted, pouring out of the skull as black ooze, and all sound from it ceased.

All was quiet, and just as Tyrell’s heart started to regain something akin to a regular rhythm, the skull spoke again, in a new voice. A calm, adult voice with feminine tones and a hint of amused irreverence.

“Who would ever have thought that such an idea would have so interesting a result? Tell me, free ones, do you always so casually roam about, experimenting with ancient magics without fear? You and I would be friends!”

A dry, intermittent squeaking, soft and irritating, filled the room; the other skulls, those of the trolls, were trying to move their seized-up, broken jaws. Some kind of faint growling came from them, possibly words, but too quiet to hear.

Tyrell and Kian, however, could hear the words in their minds; softly, like the brushing of leaves on a windy day.

Beware
Corruptor
Beware
No listen
Intentions are currency
Beware
Corruptor
Begone foul one
Belong not
Corruptor
Corruptor
Corruptor

“Oh, hush you.”

At the command from the child’s skull, the growling slowed, then ceased, though the faint words continued to echo in the explorers’ heads.

“They used to be terrifying, now they’re so old, and weak, and… brittle.” A tinkling giggle rolled out of its mouth. “So long I’ve been trapped here, no voice, no sight, but thanks to you, I can see, and I can speak! Tell me, travellers, how long has it been? When they finished their evil, their mock-trial of me, sentenced me to this place and surrounded me with monstrous faux-children, those big heads were fresh off their necks!”  

Corruptor
Her children
Her creations
Her crimes
Her abominations
Corruptor

Edited by Raspberry LA
Oops, only pasted the bottom half from Docs!

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For a mere graverobber, Kian was quite proud of himself following what came next. 

Specifically, he wasn't proud of the horrific consequences of his actions, but rather, he was more proud of his response, which was, of course, to keep his mouth shut, and not scream like a child.

That wasn't to say Kian was totally unfazed, however. Before it even began speaking, when the skull first screamed in agony, or possibly fury, the graverobber backed off rapidly, clutching at his shovel, then his daggers, as if he planned on charging the head. Of course, he was a grave robber, and not a professional warrior, so any attempts at bravery fell to the wayside as he continued to back off. The tunnels were behind him, he could flee into the dark before anything else happened, and he just might have, if the skull--or skulls, rather-- began to speak.

5 hours ago, Raspberry LA said:

“Who would ever have thought that such an idea would have so interesting a result? Tell me, free ones, do you always so casually roam about, experimenting with ancient magics without fear? You and I would be friends!”

That voice certainly didn't match the childish cry from before. Though Kian's ears refused to perk up, flattened against his head as they were, it was obvious that they weren't precisely hearing whatever the monster was, but something or someone else entirely. Kian didn't move from his place near the door, behind the knight Tyrell and their newfound guide. His hands were still on his daggers, though by now he doubted that if he found the nerve to throw them they would have any effect. The stillness of the chamber was gone, replaced by the soft rattling of those skulls. Not the same eerie voice of the disembodied woman, but this ancient grinding, like old tools sliding together unwashed, as their jaws attempted to move. Even this sound was quickly replaced by the vulgar, invasive sensation of something talking in Kian's head. He let his grip drop from his daggers to the sides of his head, clutching at his temples in an attempt to stifle the voices.

5 hours ago, Raspberry LA said:

Beware
Corruptor
Beware
No listen
Intentions are currency
Beware
Corruptor
Begone foul one
Belong not
Corruptor
Corruptor
Corruptor

 

5 hours ago, Raspberry LA said:

“Oh, hush you.”

The first of the noises was silenced at that utterance, and though the voices were still lingering within his brain, Kian could hear them uttering soft words of urgency in his mind even still. His ears eventually perked up, and he lowered his hands to his sides, though they were still balled into fists.

The skull continued to talk, merrily spouting off as if it were in total control of the situation, which for all Kian could tell it very well might have had. Next to him, he couldn't quite read how anyone else was responding to this...entity. Were they fearful? Anxious? He didn't dare turn away to look and see for himself.

5 hours ago, Raspberry LA said:

"Tell me, travelers, how long has it been? When they finished their evil, their mock-trial of me, sentenced me to this place and surrounded me with monstrous faux-children, those big heads were fresh off their necks!”

This was a question for Brand, or perhaps Tyrell to answer, and yet neither of them moved to speak, either from fear or some other motive. It dawned on the grave robber that he might have to speak to this...head. Well, he was the one who decapitated it in the first place; perhaps it was on him to figure the rest of this puzzle out.

"Wait, wait." He lifted a hand in objection. "I may not do a lot of conversing with dead people--or any, for that matter, but I figure that you at least owe us--owe me-- an answer first."

But what to ask? Kian was not a native to this land, nor was he familiar with the land's rich history, or even what sort of magic was afoot here. What he did know was that apparently the skull was at least aware of when it was put upon the pedestal, and perhaps it possessed some other, fairly recent memories.

"You mentioned the...uh...you called them 'faux-children?' You realize that you're talking through one of their heads. How is that possible?" Based on her spiel, it seemed as though there was a difference between whatever the thing they'd killed was, and whoever they were talking to. Kian wasn't much for theorizing, but he was willing to begin putting together some kind of pseudo explanation, if she didn't feel like cooperating fully.

 

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On 4/16/2018 at 1:05 PM, Jotnotes said:

You mentioned the...uh...you called them 'faux-children?' You realize that you're talking through one of their heads. How is that possible?" Based on her spiel, it seemed as though there was a difference between whatever the thing they'd killed was, and whoever they were talking to. Kian wasn't much for theorizing, but he was willing to begin putting together some kind of pseudo explanation, if she didn't feel like cooperating fully.

"'How is that possible'-- Truth?? You find yourself presented with an eons-old wrong and your first thought is to wonder how I make my shackles rattle??"

The dark skull was incapable of facial expression, but there was a distinct sense of frustration and impatience all the same.

"Very well, I shall conduct a brief magic lesson, if it should win you to my side of things. These pillars and this chamber were constructed to bind together those meant to watch over and control us prisoners; if not the most skilled, than certainly the most valiant shamen -- and sha-women, I'd presume, though I'll drop my garters for you if you can show me a civilized being capable of differentiating -- these people had to offer. They laid their heads down and welcomed the blade upon their necks for the glory of guarding the innocent and the guilty alike."

"Wait, the trolls imprisoned you??" Tyrell's voice echoed loudly in the wide chamber, causing Brand to wince.

"How by Gaia's green earth do you know how to comprehend that language?" the older soldier whispered harshly.

"What do you mean? It's speaking high common, just like you and me!"

"It's speaking tonal gibberish!" Brand insisted. 

"It?" the skull's voice was somewhere between amused and offended. "Have we changed topics already?" Brand just stared at it, cold and uncomprehending.

Tyrell was confused, and more than a little afraid, but he also wanted to hear the answer to Kian's question. "No, I'm sorry, go on."

"Thank you. If you call the people those heads belong to 'Trolls', then yes. Moving on, you removed a head and shattered it, releasing that one's old, frayed spirit from it's duty, then into the resulting gap shoved a new head. Much more virile than those that remain, or else they would have rejected it, and still capable of transmitting speech."

"But how are you speaking through it?" Tyrell pressed.

"Do you have a decade for this lecture? I doubt you do, if you seek the powerful ones who are even now under assault in my very cell. The short answer is that my conscious is linked to theirs; in this way I, their accused creator, experience a dim shade of all their sensations, including their torment. But the spirit of the beast lay in its heart, not its head; the only spirit in the head is that of the former child so corrupted into it's current shape, which, as it turns out, could not withstand the linking process. In other words, you have created a loophole in the ancient magics of the Velveteen Darkness that I am now fully exploiting."

Tyrell thought for a second, then startled "Hold on, you said others are under attack? Where?"

"Out that way, past the big stone and around the bend to the left. Right in front of me. They fare poorly, though the yellow robed one has shielded them solidly for the moment. If you wish to kill their assaulters for good, you must destroy their hearts, lest they reform in time from whatever damage you do."

bite them

bite them

bite them

"Or," the skull continued reluctantly, "you can pierce them with the teeth of these fiends, carefully modified in their ingenious bigotry to disincorporate any being that has touched the Velveteen Darkness. It's a bit like deciding that every forest creature is equally dangerous, and thusly making a weapon to kill all the world's bears, and elves, and arborists."

"How do we know you're not lying?" Tyrell asked, suddenly hostile.

"My people do not lie," she scoffed, definitely offended, "any more than we ride through the town square with our hands up our skirts. Now are you going to stand here all day or are you going to go do something heroic?"

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