Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by HeySeuss
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Dakgu always felt, through his life, that he benefited from underestimation. Myrmith Tinuviel certainly underestimated his cunning. An experienced, sorcerous elven ranger with an incredible god complex, the elf fell for it and that's when Dakgu became the Elf-Scalper.

To be fair, the mad ranger had a huge price on his head and was burning villages, a real menace. But the lordling that put up the bounty was grudging to pay and then had Dakgu banned from his realm after he did it. He was used to that brand of thanks from the bunnies.

By that time, Nar Mat Kordh-Ishi, specifically the warlord of the company, Old Radush One-Eye, heard of him and brought him on as the warg-keeper and lead scout. The rest was a terrifying reputation for prowess in battle that included a cutthroat corps of orcs that ran side by side with wargs and slit throats in the knights, felling sentries and enemy leaders ahead of the marching, chanting, skull-bedecked, black-iron-disciplined ranks of the Orcish Free Company, who were noted for their strength and brutality in the open fight.

They'd conquered a kingdom for a Queen, a rumored witch, that way, brutally chopping down opposition, a legion of heavy orcish infantry marching in ferocious discipline while old One-Eye watched and directed this fell orchestra.

Dakgu's skills came from his mother, taken from him by human bandits, and a human that took him in with his wargs, when he was orphaned in the world. Always half a warg himself, Dakgu did not socialize or trust easily, but Brand tried, and perhaps he even succeeded a little in that the strange orcish youth was had decent interactions with Bosfyrd with Brand's sponsorship, even if his experience with human employers, including as a member of one of the most feared mercenary companies on the continent, was shit. It did not help that he had a cleft palate and a speech impediment that caused humans to mock him.

Well, only really stupid ones these days. Dakgu was a master of the cold glare, promising the retribution for such things. He led such humans to their death when trying to capture or kill (well, kill period) Myrmith Tinuviel. They mocked his speech right up until they died terribly in the face of blood-magic, arrows and horribly possessed animals perverted to the purpose of the ranger's vengeance on civilization.

He slipped into Bloody Harold's realm by completely bypassing the patrols of the border, mercenaries hungry to loot the roads for their wealth, unpaid and antsy. Dakgu, ever the superlative pair of eyes, was able to identify some of the banners; the Bear Men, l'Oriflamme, the Red Fangs, the Tempest. Others, he identified by region of origin based on equipment. By all accounts, these were the forces that helped murder Brand, and their time would come.

But for now, one orc, even with a terror of a warg for mount and companion, really a full partner as was the way of Nar Mat Kordh-Ishi, he avoided the battles, even if there was a part of him that called for blood. But the greater, and more dangerous part of Dakgu, as he slunk in the green and the mud, as the spring rain fell, counseled to measure twice and cut once, to fight coldly and to win. That voice had carried him through everything.

The landmarks became more familiar, part of the last few years of his childhood, even as the skies went gray and the elements pissed down on him -- and he ignored the elements. He was long of limb, but hunched over, gray-green muscle exposed, and the orc himself wearing a mix of fur and leather and spikes. Like all of Brand's Brood, he knew the way to move through this broken terrain quickly, the tricks of a woodland strider. In a way, he'd been one of Brand's best students, despite the fact that he was an Orc and considered by so many to be deficient. His grasp of the natural, and link with his wargs, was a formidable phenomenon that even a druid looked at in askance.

But as an orc, he was in tune with the savage, merciless ways of nature. Not for him the gentleness of elven and human rangers, he relished the challenge of life as an Orc; the adversity made you stronger. And Brand taught that in a sense.

But as he came closer to the runes that marked the perimeter of the Barrows, he knew he'd have to deal with the 'family.' Some would grasp the necessity to fight Bloody Harold with the uncaring ferocity of a storm, to crack rock with the relentless patience of water, and to burn like a forest fire. They'd bring too much of their cultural morals to the fight. Dakgu knew differently.

But as the first one there, he had time to consider how he'd say it, not that he was ever very good at saying it. But Dakgu's wisdom was the raw kind, the dangerous cunning of a low thing that would not be trespassed with impunity. The body of one of the few good things in his life was on display in the village, left there by a man in samite robes, with rouged cheeks and a greedy eye for gold. Dakgu had no respect for kings or thrones, the laws of that world never held much bond on him. Gold never impressed him.

He made his camp among the graves of other rangers, where Brand's body should lay. There were runes all around and a glow in the air; things grew here as they never did outside its perimeter, a splash of color and beauty. It was a place of private wonderment, but the beauty seemed to Dakgu to pall. This was Brand's place, not his. The trees and undergrowth, however, were like walls, keeping the rest of the world out. It would due as a place of refuge and a place to meet unseen, so they could begin a campaign of the likes that Harold would not believe that a mere handful could carry out.

He was a creature of blood, and this was a war of blood.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Cairo
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The black-cloaked figure strode across the forest floor with long, measured strides. He swung his arms by his side as he walked and whistled a low tune under his breath, but his feet made no sound as they padded across the roots and leaves, and the forest behind him left no trace of his passing. Unconsciously, he fingered the knife he kept sheathed at his waist, close at hand. If you can’t get a weapon in your hand in two heartbeats, it’s not a weapon. It’s dead weight. His father taught him that.

He’d been meeting with the Stoats when the message came – a war council of his most trusted lieutenants, called to plan the destruction of another upstart gang that was trying to carve out a piece of the city for themselves. The meeting took place, as they all did, in a smoky room that smelled of sweat in the basement of the Maiden’s Trust, the brothel that had been Harvey’s first ‘acquisition’ back when he first arrived to make his fortune. Harvey was crouching over the table, pointing to some alleyway or another, when the child was ushered in to stammer out the message. The King has killed the ranger Brand. The ranger Brand is dead.

In that moment, Harvey became unlike himself – he had never in his life been struck dumb before, not even with a blade to his neck, but with the boy’s words echoing in his ears he had no words to speak. Madge came running downstairs and tried to throw her arms around his shoulders, to draw him close to her, but he shoved her away, harder than he should have. Nobody in the room spoke for a long time, and Harvey muttered to Jeremiah ‘Knives’, his second-in-command, that he expected the rival gang to be gone by the time he returned.

He departed the next morning before the sun rose. He told the Stoats that he had to leave to ‘pay his respects’, but those closest to the prince of scum knew the look he wore on his face when he meant to go to war.

Heading back into the woods was like going back in time – in the eleven years since he’d left home, Harvey’s world had been rooftops and grimy alleyways, deals and powerplays and alliances forged in blood and gold. He’d taken the handful of ragged street-toughs he met on his first night in Ovragos and shaped them into something more than a gang; he had created an empire. He’d buried some enemies but far more he had won over to his side, because anyone with a head on their shoulders knew he was better to have as a friend than an enemy. All of that was Brand’s teaching, really; how to navigate a hostile environment, how to seek out advantages in places nobody else would think to look, the advantage of striking hard and fast and most importantly, first. Of course, the most important thing he’d learned on his own; the one thing his father hadn’t taught him, the one thing his father lacked. Vision.

Harvey brushed his fingers against a softly glowing rune as he crossed into the Barrow, a dozen childhood ghosts flitting before his eyes. A smell that was almost but not exactly like a dog assailed his nostrils, and a grin crept across his face. He knew he wouldn’t be the only one to come, and he had hoped he wouldn’t be the first.

He strode into the graveyard with an exaggerated swagger, his black cloak swirling about him as he went. “Izzat you, Dak? I’ve been hearing a lot about you, you know. Great mercenary, riding queens and fucking dogs. Or might be I have that the wrong way round. Either way, we are all so proud of you. Though might be you don’t go sayin’ ‘Elf-Scalper’ when the others get here, yeah? I won’t bring it up if you don’t.”
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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Cycad
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Vasile pulled yet another of the wretched burs out of his scraggly beard and silently cursed. Who knew the better part of a decade spent teaching spoiled twats to heft swords without dismembering themselves would leave him so lamentably out of practice? That wasn’t to say the job was without its benefits though, his favorite of them being easy access to a barber; an underrated privilege of the elite and pleasure of life, that one. He owed it to the old man, but if this whole business took as long as he expected it would Vasile would have to make peace with roughing it for a second time in his life. He supposed that was fitting, all things considered.

For now it seemed he’d slipped the foraging mercenaries easily enough. It was just his luck to have run into them so far off the roads, after all was it really home if he wasn’t crawling through underbrush? There was always the more convenient solution, but he’d really prefer to not start killing people until everyone was on the same page, there. Knowing the others it wasn’t likely they’d settle for a funeral and call it water under the bridge, but better safe than sorry. The barrow wasn’t too far now anyhow, an hours walk at worst he reckoned. Then again the woods here had changed enough that that was only guess. Back when he’d called the Nightwood home he’d have just known, and that one was a skill he’d have to reacquaint himself with soon.

In truth he never was cut out for a ranger’s life, but that hadn’t stopped him from learning how to be a ranger. Oh he’d forgotten a good third of everything Brand ever taught him, notably the lessons about charity, but the real important stuff? That’d never go, no matter how rusty it got. He might not have passed invisible through the forest, but he’d be damned if he left a single good track for those mercenaries to follow.

The barrow was just ahead now, but Vasile stopped. He wasn’t like to be the first, but the question was who’d beaten him? More pertinently, if they had beaten him here, had he done anything to grievously offend his adopted siblings of late? He’d been serving the King of Allia for the last two years, and the Allians were a notoriously prickly lot, not that he’d ever say that to their faces. Well, hopefully none of his siblings had had a run in with one of those ridiculous raiding parties the Allians insisted on propping up as a ‘cultural institution’.

Then again there was always Kay. Ah well, even if he’d done something to ruffle the elf’s feathers, there was Harvey. Sometimes Vasile felt blessed, he could never outdo that particular bad seed. Well there was no sense in wasting time. He took a half step before he stopped again and muttered aloud, “Oh balls.”

There was no way he’d forgotten how to get into the barrow. Had he? It had something to do with the perimeter runes, he was sure of that. Yes, runes. As he thought on it he stepped closer and mumbled, “It was probably just… Ah and there was… For god’s sake Rangers never making anything easy…”

With a light touch a rune glowed and he nodded to himself before making his way in. Surely it had taken the others a few moments to remember as well. Really, he’d left when he was nineteen. How could he be expected to be that quick on the draw? Surely they’d all struggle with the runes, at least a bit? Inwardly he hoped nobody had been watching.

Finally entering the barrow proper Vasile caught sight of Dakgu and Harvey. As he gave the two a desultory wave he grinned, only the third to arrive? After all that nonsense Vasile had a silent moment of pleasure at his haste being enough to beat most of the others here. Polished or not, he still had it.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Legion02
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If there was ever such a thing as an ill wind, then now it was blowing. The grey sky rolled overhead like giant waves. The weather had been horrible for days now. Petty peasant folks would believe it to be a bad omen. Yet Ellisandre quite enjoyed it. Most people stayed off the streets lately. Bosfyrd has not been the same since the civil war. The situation only worsened with a Nightborne roaming the streets. Ellisandre was dressed in a large black cloak with a white fur trim. Her somewhat revealing, bright green dress made her stand out even more from the other women in the town. The golden chain necklace continued to accent her features as she walks through the streets in her heeled, leather boots. The men were either too afraid to look or couldn’t tear their eyes off her. Some women suffered the same fate. Though others managed to look her in the eyes, immediately realizing that they were her most striking feature. As red as rubies, they seemed to look straight through anyone who dared to look her in the eye.

Everywhere she went the people fled inside. These days, complete strangers would open their doors should the Witch (a local, poorly chosen nickname) walk the streets. Today they did so again. As soon as they could hear the clicking of her heels the market crowd opened like a sea at the command of a god. Ellisandre greatly cherished the effect she had on a mob. The real victims were the few merchants on the market. Who had nowhere to go. Though today, she first had some other curiosity to satisfy. A few days after the local baron was killed, she had arrived. Her first point of order was to carve a rune in the marketplace, where the poles would be raised around. Over the course of weeks, since she arrived, she heard more whispers about a supposed Ranger of the Nightwoods hanging on those poles. Rather intrigued she decided to visit his corpse. It was a rather macabre scene. Ellisandre got quite used to how much a corpse could stink. But still, she was almost begging the thick, grey skies to break and rain down to wash away the filthy flesh. Though the gods have denied her that little favor for now. A guard, or rather a thug who pulled the shortest lot, stood guard with his halberd near the pole on which the Ranger’s body was chained. When he saw the Witch approach, he tried to get into a more disciplined pose. It didn’t fool her.

“Is this the body of the supposed ranger?” Asked Ellisandre, barely gazing over the ill-equipped man standing guard. “Y-yes, my lady.” The man barely managed to say. At times like these, she wished the people here were more professional. But top mercenary captains were smart enough to ask coin in advance. And well, coin was not something the king had on him. Deeds, on the other hand, were much easier to acquire. “I will assume you are local.” Ellisandre asked with an ice cold voice as she let her eyes descend upon the poor man. Who could do little more than nod. “Tell me about him.”

“He was a ranger from the Nightwood. His name’s Brand. Not much is really known about him. It’s said he kept the kids of Baron William safe. Or at least, he tried. They say he could talk to trees in the woods and be in seven places at once.” Ellisandre had to grin at the seven appearances. Not entirely impossible but as she saw him hanging here, it felt highly improbable. “He guided me through the woods once, when I got lost. Didn’t say much. Though bandits hated him. Delivered a fair amount of them to the Marshall. Dead and alive.” Ellisandre liked the story. Seemingly sunken deep in her own thoughts, she whispered to herself: “What I wouldn’t do to have your soul added to my collection. If only I got here a week earlier.” She pressed a finger against the dangling leg, the touch seemingly exhilarating her. “Oh what I wouldn’t do right now…” she whispered again before she realized the guard was looking rather strangely at her. Without saying anything more, she turned around and walked back to her rather large house.

On the way, she cherished the many sights of a formerly besieged town. Though it seemed to have been spared from the worst of it. The last of the dead not on display were thrown in the mass grave outside. She would not have valuable resources burned. The ground itself had been cursed to eat away the dead flesh faster. Skeletons were so much more moldable. The first week she arrived the smell of charred wood had dominated the air. Though now it was more a faint aroma hanging in the streets. A kind of incense that could only be enjoyed by the foulest of people. Ellisandre loved it.

When the Dark Elf first arrived at the town, she made short work of a local and claimed his rather large house near the main square. Where promptly no market was held after her arrival. She didn’t levy the taxes or anything and mostly let the thugs do their thing. The Witch was far too busy renovating her new house. As she entered through the door, the many candles ignited in an ethereal, purple light. In the corner of her living room stood a girl, chained to the wall with an empty bowl next to her. If not for the chain, one could mistake her for a simple servant as she was clean and well dressed. “Wake up.” The Witch said with a rather irritated voice. The little girl shot up, looking rather afraid of Ellisandre as she unclasped her cloak. She just dropped it on the ground. “I have a message. Summon the bond.” The little girl just nodded and went to meditate. Ellisandre went to grab a kettle and cup in the meantime. When she returned the girl wasn’t ready yet, so she just decided to make some tea. The kettle was raised off the wooden table by four stone legs. With just one finger she touched the side of the iron. After a few counts, it began to glow a bright red hot. Satisfied, she let the water inside heat up to a boil before she poured it into her cup. After which she added the yellow and green herbs.

“What message do you have?” the little girl suddenly asked. “The king said he would arrive soon to hand me the deeds.” Ellisandre said. “Though it would seem he still has need of my services. A few barons surrounding the Nightwoods are rather tardy when it comes to swearing fealty to the king. As well as deliver the war compensations.” For a moment the girl was quiet, then she began to speak again: “What is that state of the rebellion?” “Non-existent,” Ellisandre said full of confidence. “I am about to ruin the body of the last local martyr.” There was a wicked happiness in her voice. Outside, the caw of crows could be heard. “Some thugs might be annoyed by the lack of coin they’ll receive. But I’ll make short work of them when the time comes.” Once again the girl remained silent for a minute before she once again spoke: “Try to accelerate the acquisition of the deeds. The Nightborne would very much like the possession of Bysford and the surrounding lands and woods. Report when your signature is on the deeds.” Ellisandre gave a mere nod. The girl, in turn, dropped down on her bright red coach again. Asleep. Satisfied with her report, Ellisandre went upstairs to her balcony.

In the market, the carved rune flickered with a pale, green light for a second. The protective spell, keeping the bodies mostly together, began to falter as the faint light died. The Dark Elf knew that after months of exposition, they had finished their job at dissuading an uprising. Especially when the young boy was raised up. Ellisandre felt it’s magic fall. The crows had been picking up on it too. From the nearby Nightwoods she could hear their cawing. Suddenly a dozen corpses were ripe for the taking. If there was ever such a thing as an ill wind, then now it was blowing.
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Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by HeySeuss
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"T-t-t-title's g-good in the Company," he pointed out to his 'brother,' "And Myrmith was barking," he explained as he squatted down on his haunches amongst the flowers. His warg there, a truly nasty piece of business that looked like it'd served in a couple campaigns itself, seemed pretty in tune with the orc, who was all long, lanky muscle, hunched over, with a topknot of black hair. He had tusks and it all looked a bit savage and unkempt, but the actual equipment was carefully maintained; immaculate fletchings on the arrows, cord-wrapped knife handles and an axe that was balanced and sized for an orc, handle axed and head sharpened. It was easy for a less observant person to write off the orc as some sort of dimwit.

It was a lesson that a lot of beings didn't survive. Dakgu was a nasty piece of work, after all.

But it was true, an entire company of pissed off orcs tended to respect one of their own that went one to one with a powerful knife-ear ranger and came out on top, but a bunch of elven rangers might not be so happy. On the other hand, Myrmith Tinuviel was genocidal.

They'd have to deal. The truth was that in taking Ceril for their latest employer, the Company did come up against the forces that the Elven kingdom of Torceleblas supported, and killed quite a few of theirs in the process. That was war, and if tuskers took a certain pleasure in it, that was quite natural to them. In any event, the Queen there wasn't anything on Bloody Harold. Once the fighting was done, she was rather intent on running a profitable, peaceful kingdom without exacting bloody revenge on anyone that ever disrespected her.

She didn't know her father at all and wasn't trying to impress him. Bloody Harold? Always trying to impress one of his ancestors or show them up. Dakgu? Grateful he didn't know a father. Well, except Brand and he didn't leave the Nightwood trying to please the old ranger either. Dakgu's life was the one he chose, and he wasn't going to the likes of Harvey dictate that to him.

And perhaps there would be a reckoning with his elven 'kin.' There was never much love lost there in a lot of ways, but Dakgu always held his bargains and gave his word in good faith. The elaborate and bloody vengeance piece? Keeping the world in line a bit.

"Sides, we ain't here," he had to speak carefully, because of his impediment, "to fight each other."
Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by magistur
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The Prince was in armour, having just trounced several of his gentlemen on the tilt field, when his constable approached with a stocky, plain-faced spatharios at his back. “My Lord, I think you know Andreas Alcaeus, who has served four years with you as a member of the Guard.” He bowed and extended an arm towards the man, who was quite obviously nervous – he fidgeted in place, constantly making minute adjustments to his kit, which he had polished to a mirror sheen.

The Prince smiled warmly, and reached out to clap Andreas’ shoulder. “You’re leaving, then. I’ll miss you – the sight of you always made me feel safe.” He admitted, and laughed.

Andreas swallowed a sudden lump in his throat and bowed deeply. “I am needed home, your grace. My…father has passed, and I wish to be there for his burial.”

The Prince nodded seriously and frowned in commiseration. “I’m sorry to hear that. Will you return afterwards?” Strangely, in his eyes the Prince spied a steely determination, and no small amount of anger.

Andreas stiffened, then said slowly, “If I am able, your grace.”

The Prince leaned close and smiled. “Then I’ll expect you back, Andreas.” He turned to his constable. “See that his kit is well-stored. I grant him leave, but do not discharge him from my service.”

“My Lord!” The constable replied, bowing slightly.

The Prince grinned and turned, calling over his shoulder. “Now get going!”

Andreas bowed again, as ceremony demanded, and walked from the Prince’s presence to the guardroom, where he embraced a dozen close friends, drank a farewell cup of wine, and handed the steward his kit – his maille hauberk and his good cote of plates beautifully covered in the Imperial purple; his two purple cotes with matching hoods, for wear at court, and his hose of purple cloth. He went to hand in his badge, too – a cleverly fashioned thing of silver and gold enamel, with the Imperial double-headed eagle as the centerpiece – but the steward handed it back to him. “His Majesty expressly stated that you were to keep your badge, as you are on leave and not discharged from the Guard.”

Andreas almost cried.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


The apprentice cut the lashings on the sacking, revealing a rounded pommel on one end, ferruled in heavy bronze, balancing a fine sword blade at the other end. The hilt was worked in silver, and the guard made up of two griffin-heads; the fuller extended from the base of the hilt to two-thirds the way to the blade’s tip. A tassel of Imperial purple hung from the base of the pommel in place of a peen block.

It was a guardsman’s sword, but incomparably finer, made by a master and not by one of the dozens of journeyman smiths under the employ of the Domestikos.

Andreas couldn’t help himself, and he whirled it between his hands, the blade cutting the air and the tip not quite brushing the plaster of the low room.

The apprentice flattened himself against the wall, and the master nodded, satisfied. “The sword you brought me was a fine enough weapon,” the master said. “Competently made. But the finish,” he winced, then shrugged. “And I thought that the balance could be improved.”

Andreas just smiled in appreciation. The master added a scabbard – a sheath of wood covered in fine red leather with the Imperial insignia stamped in the center. Andreas counted down a hundred silver marks – a sizeable portion of four years’ pay.

Andreas carried his new sword out to his riding horse and put it lovingly into the straps, close to hand. No one watching doubted that he’d handle it a dozen more times before he was clear of the suburbs. Or that he’d stop and use it on the first bush he found growing by the road.

“You ride today, then,” the master said.

Andreas nodded. “I’m needed in the north,” he said. “My father has passed.”

The weapon smith nodded. “Send him my respects, then, and the sele of the day on you.”

Andreas embraced the smith, stepped through the door, and walked his horse back up the road.

“There goes a good man,” said the master to his apprentice. “I’ve known a few. And yet as fierce as a lion when his blood’s up. A better knight than many who wear spurs.”

The apprentice was too smitten with hero-worship to comment. The master tried not to wonder why a man would commission a sword for a funeral.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~


The Nightwood was much the same as Andreas remembered. Same sights, same smells, and in many cases, even the same trees. Why, that tree there was where Brand showed him how to make his first snare, and just over yonder was the tree he had used to climb when he wanted to be alone.

He smiled sadly. There were a lot of memories in these woods. Good ones, mostly. But now they all felt a somewhat bitter, knowing what had happened to old Brand.

Andreas fingered the hilt of the sword at his side. He would bring justice back to these woods. For Brand.

It wasn’t long until he reached the barrow. He touched the runes with a nostalgic fondness, and walked inside to greet his erstwhile family.
Hidden 4 mos ago 4 mos ago Post by Flagg
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Nightwood, Some Time Previous

It was snowing, thick wet flakes that melted quickly into the soggy ground.

The clearing was orderly, with a large, square garden- well planted though Spring was still young- a small barn, and a tidy cottage of wood and clay with a freshly thatched roof. The Barkstead lads had evidently been hard at work for the old man, who'd never been one to allow his charges to wallow in grief.

The gnarled trunks of Nightwood closed around the homestead on all sides, budding branches reaching for the sky like twisted fingers uplifted in prayer. The only way to this place was through woods Brand knew better than any still living.

Anyone who came here was seen well before he arrived.

If the man who emerged into the clearing from the treeline knew that, he did not seem particularly perturbed by it. He was youngish looking -though he was not young- with a lean, weatherworn face, dark eyes, and a little smile that played across the corners of his mouth like he was in on something, some great funny secret soon to be revealed. He wore a simple black doublet and cloak. Snowflakes nested in his ruffled hair.

He was unarmed. And, in spite of the freezing mud, he was barefoot.

"Anyone home?" he called as he strode up the damp path to the cottage, "I think so-oh. Smells like someones just put out a cookin' fire. What're we makin'?"

A bowstring creaked as it was drawn. An old man rose slowly from the tangled foliage of the garden, arrow notched and ready to fire, aimed at the newcomer's head.

The stranger turned, his little smile widening into a lopsided grin, as though the prospect of an arrow in the throat was an unexpected thrill.

"Hello Brand," he said.

"Kadath," said Brand. His rugged face was hard as granite, eyes filled with murder. "What're you doing at my home?"

"You had to know Harry wouldn't let you alone after you spat on his offer," said Kadath, "Why didn't you run? Disappear with the boys into the woods? Too proud? Or just feeling your age?"

"Boys aren't here, they're nowhere you'll find 'em," said Brand.

"I doubt that, my old friend, I'm very good at finding."

A flock of birds erupted from the woods to the south. In the distance shouting could now be heard, the rough voices of hardened men, too many to count.

"Why'd you come ahead of your lackeys, then? Something to tell me?" asked Brand.

"Not my lackeys," said Kadath, shaking his head, "You won't find a Red Fang among 'em. I owe you that much."

Brand snorted, "Why're you here then?"

"Came for the boys, not for you," said Kadath, "More valuable to me alive and stowed away than with their little heads perched on Harry's parapet. Always good to have insurance, no? Specially since the King's starting to lose a step or two. Not handling guilt too well, I guess. Can't stomach it like you and I."

"I spent a lifetime working off the guilt you buried me in," said Brand.

Kadath shrugged and jerked a thumb over his shoulder towards the treeline, where the shouting was growing closer. "You'll want me to find the Barkstead lads before they do. Where are they?"

"I'd rather the devils in all six hells find them than you," said Brand.

He loosed his arrow.
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Hidden 4 mos ago Post by Rilla
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Rilla SuperNova Generation / The Lazy Storyteller

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He had been gone a little more than a fortnight, when thoughts drenched in sorrow crept into his mind. He hadn't wanted to leave, but Brand - his General - insisted that he, like many of the others, follow a path only forged by leaving the shelter of his proverbial wings. The Elf had no idea where to go, for he had considered himself the sword and shield of Brand, his eternal protector, his solider.

Still, at his behest, Adinraen Barriurden packed a small rucksack of survival essentials, as well as twin Boneswords, and a similarly crafted Bow, and set off. He headed in an easterly direction, wondering what he would find and why Brand felt it so important that he followed the flock, so to speak. So when the feeling settled in, he almost turned on his heel and raced back, something had to be wrong, right? Yet, the misjudged Elf steeled himself and carried onwards, until the next night when he set up camp on the edge of a clearing, so he could see any potential threats coming from the forward and sides. With the forest to his back, he felt strangely safe.

The night wasn't long born when the news came to him, by chance or by fate, when a travelling party stumbled upon his fire. Like many others, they were taken aback by his appearance, but steady words calmed them down. They brought word from back home with them, perhaps the most jarring of which was that a known ranger from the forest had been killed. They stumbled remembering the name, but Adinraen knew it in his heart. He was quiet the rest of the evening.

For months after, he stalked the forest around his childhood home, not able to bring himself to enter the place where Brand would no longer offer solace or training. He blamed himself, he should have stayed and fought by Brands side, protected him from the unsavory circumstances of his death. What could was a solider, a sword and shield, if it were not there when needed?

The darkness of the forest provided a sinister comfort, embracing thoughts of exacting revenge until they bloomed. Today was the day, heads would become charms of a necklace in honor of his Master. But was that Master the darkness or Brand?

Before he took to setting off, he passed by Brand's house one more time, but something was notably different. The ground around the entrance was disturbed. Had they come back after all this time to rummage through Brands belongings?

Adinraen drew both swords and almost soared through the air as he leapt from a branch. He landed with a little thud, and brushed the rune that would allow entry. His breath almost caught, he was entering for the first time in months. The Sword and Shield had returned home to roost.

With nerves of iron, he stepped through the entrance, his left hand sword immediately coming to a stop right before piercing through the back of Andreas neck. Trained eyes flittered around, the numbers inside were numerous.

What had stopped him? Recognition. Though they were older, different, he knew the faces he saw.

Family.

Is he dead too, Adinraen asked, his voice descending quickly into contempt. He referred to Diē, the one who left long ago to die. As he did so, he lowered his sword and stepped to his left and forward, eying those who had returned. This had to have been due to one thing, the death of Brand.
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Faded Dreams





Diēscogitō awoke with a sudden start bolting upright and breathing hard. Sitting upright on the deerskin cot he had been sleeping on he took a moment to collect himself- allowing his breathing to slow and steady out. He lifted a shaking hand to his forehead to wipe away the cold sweat that had appeared during his rest. He'd had one of his nightmares again, but this one had felt... unique to the ones previous. Diēscogitō waited a moment as he collected his thoughts, allowing fatigue and uneasiness to bleed from his body.

He could not recall the dream as it was already becoming a vague notion in his mind. So, as was often the case, he could not remember what had pulled him from sleep, it seemed much of his life had been one blighted by bad dreams and he never could retain any of them. Diēscogitō had always suspected they had something to do with his own profane affliction. A symptom of the fey-touched seemed to be dreams of things to come. Or just bad dreams.

They were the stuff of premonitions or even visions of bad omens. Diēscogitō could have trained himself to remember them properly if he had truly wanted to. But he had never been one to wish to see even a hint of what the future held. Perhaps it was because he partly felt he did not really possess one. A scarred hand reached for a nearby waterskin sipping from it gingerly before allowing some of it to fall on to his face. The cool water helping to wake him fully and wash the sleep from his eyes.

He capped the waterskin once more and shook his head as he cleared his throat. His lips were chapped and his throat still felt a little dry, but he was cautious about using any more of the water he had. The Webwood, as it was called, was not a place abundant in either water or food. Nor was it a place one willingly entered- not if one valued their life. So perhaps it was fate that he had eventually ended up here. It had been Diēscogitō's idea to come to the these blighted woods.

After years of searching for his own salvation from the affliction that burned through his veins. Diēscogitō had soon come to realize there was no escaping his ill fortune. What had felt like a thousand physicians, alchemist, wizards, mages, sorceresses, witches and even the occasional witch doctor had, in the end, all told him the same. That there was no treatment mundane or magical that could rid him of the beast within.

So he had orchestrated a meeting among his adopted kin, voicing his plan to seek his answers in the fey-touched realm of the Webwood. It made sense, in theory, the one place where fey ran so wild and free could indeed hold the key. But in the end, they probably saw it for what it was, his surrendering to his fate. It had been his chance to say goodbye on his own terms. It might have been somewhat selfish, yet they had ultimately accepted his decision. Perhaps a part of him had hoped they would try to convince him otherwise. But in the end, he knew this was for the best.

The ranger slowly donned his gear, rolling up his cot before finally emerging from the nook of a rather large tree he had made camp within. As was often the case the woods were shrouded in ever-present mists, so thick as to dull even the light of a torch. The silence was almost deafening in the haunted woods. No birds sang, not a single insect chirped, and there were no mating calls to echo in the distance. The quiet was both unnerving and calming in equal measure.

Before Diēscogitō could decide where his path would embark toward today a gentle breeze caught his attention. It seemed to swirl around him and held a presence almost familiar to him. He knew immediately what it was and smiled. Living within the webwood had meant he had been divorced from the outside world. Yet he had wished to keep track of his foster family by any means he could find. It had been blind luck and good fortune that he had come across a fey spirit of wind some years before coming to these woods.

In return for some favors he had managed to gain its respect and in return, it allowed him small windows into the lives of some of his kin. The wind fey moved across all the world, and through whispers from one to the next Diēscogitō could keep track of things unfolding outside of the webwood. It was not perfect, nor did they bring back things he might find interesting or important but it was a convenience for sure.

A single leaf flowed in the draft and Diēscogitō reached out and took hold of it bringing it to his ear. He wondered what whispers they had brought him today. Perhaps a snippet of Kareth's exploits, those were always encouraging. Tales of Dakgu were often exciting though much more bloody and at times unnerving. The spirits rarely spoke of Harvey as they oft avoided large cities and he spent most of his time locked within one. Diēscogitō had never been one for large cities, at least not living within one for an extended period of time. Of the two of them, he wondered who might be considered more the black sheep of the family.

Diēscogitō froze as he listened to the news brought to him. Not moving from that posture for an extended period of time. It took a moment before he returned to his senses, even as it felt his stomach had begun to tie itself into a knot. He realized then and there his time in self-imposed exile had come to an end.

It was time to go home.





Leaving the Webwood as no simple task even for the most seasoned of woodsmen. Diēscogitō barely managed the feat in a weeks time. That was hopefully to be the most difficult aspect of his journey.

It had taken several more weeks of riding, or even boat ferries buying horses with the little money he had kept for emergencies. Though when that well dried up he was forced to bewitch horses both wild or tamed to bear him. Switching steeds when needed least he ran the creatures to death afterward allowing them to return to their masters. The real challenge began once he reached the border of Vendland and saw the horrors committed by the roaming mercenaries bands first hand in the form of brunt out farms and homesteads. So did mad race against time become game of cat and mouse.

After what had felt like an age he soon saw the familiar silhouette of the Nightwood. It was a welcome sight, but one made bittersweet given the circumstances that begged his return to them. He had been fortunate to avoid the marauding bands and it seemed they had little cause to roam the forest here. He decided to camp within the canopies as he awaited the others. No doubt they would come once the news spread and he was glad for the pause.

It allowed him time to come to terms with it all. He had never planned on returning to the Nightwood and nevermind he had left his kin on troubling terms, to say the least. He wondered how they would take the news. The appointed day seemed to come quickly to a nervous Diēscogitō. He was aware of the first of many to come trickling in, or at least he was aware of one perhaps two. It seemed many had kept up with their skills of woodcraft. Sharpened them to a fine edge.

Others.... not so much.

The walk to the barrows was not an overly long one and Diēscogitō surprised himself in how quickly he recalled the navigating of the secret places and paths. Perhaps hard-won lessons of the Webwood combined with a week of refamiliarizing himself with the terrain were the culprit. He laid a hand on a well-hidden rune carved into the side of an old tree and sighed. He stepped through the ring of trees and was greeted by the sight of those already present.

His mind raced for the proper greeting given circumstances of their last parting and the best he could manage was, "hello." In a voice barely audible.

Hello? Terrible, horrible even-- it seemed foregoing into the woodlands sheltered from civilization engendered little in the ways of elegant speech. Who'd have thought? Perhaps no one had heard him. He only hoped the silence that followed was soon broken to save him from further embarrassment...

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The Girl’s haunting melody filled the silence and for once Ryven did not object to it. The ancient words his Daughter sang had not been heard since he buried her mother in the hole that he had dug. And for that reason he did not have the heart to interrupt that ancient ritual of mourning. Those ancient words a strange comfort compared to the usual silence. The lyrics distracted him, though only intermittently, from the reality of the situation - his Father.

He had always expected to know when the time would come, like a mother would when her son died while on campaign. He in fact heard of his Father’s death in the middle of a game of ‘five man’s roll’ . The news spilled out by a drunk cobbler whose smirk and drunken crackle lasted as long as it took for Ryven to impale the man’s wrist to the wooden table by dagger strapped to his forearm.

“Papa, why you?”
The singing stopped. The silence came. No birds, no wind, not even the crunch of their footsteps against the forest floor. Her hand grabbed his own and held it as tight as a ten year old could.

Why me?

He was just a boy, not even five. Running. Running as fast as a four year old could; the shouts of his father spurring him deeper into the woods. And there Brand found him.

Without meeting her gaze he replied “I don’t know.”

And that was the truth; he had no hidden potential, no innate talent or special destiny. All he was was a scared lost boy running away from home. Brand adopted him and molded him into the man he is today; a man of the forest.

Athalia, his daughter went back to her melody, as Ryven continued to follow the path through the familiar forest. Slowly the trees became more and more familiar, with each distinct landmark bringing back a flood of old memories; both good and bad. His daughter’s hand’s tightened their grip as they rounded the bend and saw the runes.

I am home.
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There was a long pause that followed upon his arrival. It was a slightly uneasy silence that had him shuffle uncomfortably from foot to foot. Diēscogitō cleared his throat to break the stillness before it dragged on much longer. It made sense they might be slow to speak given how long they had all been apart. They were all familiar strangers after so many years. He could tell they had all changed significantly over so much time that Diēscogitō wondered if they might be considered the same people he once knew.

It was at this point another entered the clearing-- a small child at their side. The man was older; eyes heavier then Diēscogitō recalled, but he recognized Ryven and what was no doubt his daughter standing by him. Diēscogitō's hands went up, and he pulled his cowl back, before finally removing his mask. He offered Ryven a nod of recognition and a small smile to his daughter before returning his full attention to those gathered.

He was not sure what to say, or how he might address the others, so he decided to start with the obvious. "It's...been a while... I guess.."

Another pregnant pause.

He swallowed and licked suddenly dry lips, "I suppose we should..." he stopped short and frowned as he scanned the clearing once more. He spoke again, confusion tainting his voice, "where is father's..."

He stopped short unable to summon the words as if to speak it might make it all too real. The question was there; he had only recently returned to the country, still so much was unknown to him. Even how Brand had explicitly died stilled remained a mystery to him. His gaze fell to Adinraen though the question was voiced to all gathered. He hoped someone might shed light on recent events. If only to illuminate the darkness of the unknown.
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"Ain't here. Bunnies have 'is carcass up in the village square." the orc said flatly. He knew the value of an enemy skull on a pole, but the idea that Brand was defiled in this way struck a savage chord with the orc, and it was picked up by the slinking mass of fur and muscle he came with, as a rumbling growl erupted from the the beast's chest. He'd heard rumors when they streamed back to his camp as other mercenaries, upset over the lack of pay that generally prevailed, except to certain captains being promised land and title, left.

They'd been not-so-subtly encouraged to behave in Ceril, on account of the crown having already put muscle in power with lands and title, but Vendland was a different sort of mess where pillaging was the rule, as unpaid mercenaries took their due. The Orcish company was in a strange position of owning lands and stopping bandits that thought they'd carry on as they had in Vendland. So Dakgu had went along with a couple hunting parties and got the news that way.

"Harold's not payin' his mercs, and Brand was shieldin' Barkstead's cubs. Harold wanted the t-t-title to give away to one of his henchmen, wot I heard." Dakgu decided to provide more information as clarification; it sounded like wherever Diēscogitō went into exile, the news didn't come that easily.

Guess the bunnies thought that's a good way to make people not want to rebel," the orc added grimly and coldly, with a hawk and a spit, which was to say that he didn't sound all that dissuaded from going to town and doing precisely that.

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