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The ground was black with mud. A sucking, grasping abyss that clung to the traveler's boots to pull them it seemed to some unknown world below. Eastern Vrettonia had not been kind to the two, both of which had gravitated to one another for protection if not comradeship. Sylvaine the outcast had little better to do, and everything to gain to follow the strange Caelic man, Cillian, across the Heathric river into the dreaded Blackwood. Riches and legends abound were said to be located within the shadowed depths of that accursed wood. Firstly, of course, they needed to cross the river. No easy feat it seemed, unless they wished to walk south about a hundred miles. For the city of Greybridge lay between them and the Blackwood, and there was a toll to cross the bridge the city was named for. What's more, they weren't the only ones that wished for sanctuary. The refugees milling about them hacked and coughed, muttering to themselves. Behind them a child cried, barely audible over the whipping wind. Not a cold wind, but it came from the north where no wind was warm.

The two were wrapped in what clothing they had, now with a decision to make. Before them, the walls that led into the city of Greybridge. To their south and north, the fast flowing waters of the river Heathric flying southwards like a fleeing banshee, tugging at the roots of trees and drowning the occasional tired animal. Perhaps there were black market runners or less than reputable people they could find to ferry them across elsewhere, though that would be less than cheap. Likely better to take the tolls on the city bridge...perhaps...

It had rained hard that morning, waking the two up from their precious slumber in the small Flontane Forest they had traversed the previous three days. Now all that was left of the weather was the smell of ozone and the stink of sweaty peasants flocking at the gate, which was just now opened before their eyes. Steel graters and groaning wood uttered audibly over the crowds of serfs and poor, revealing twenty men; greyguard they were named, holding halberds and extending them at the ready. The peasants leaped back, afraid at the sudden posture of the soldiers.

A man with a dark mustache and a wide brimmed, plumed hat stepped past the armed guard. He had a square jaw, as if some god sculpted him a bit too on the nose. Unrolling a parchment, he produced a quill pin.

"Greybridge is open to all who seek refuge or passage, if they are willing to pay the toll...certainly ten Lordlings is not too much for strong walls, eh?"
@Romero@Duck



It had been four days since she had passed Durgony’s northern border and entered the Blackwood. She took no horse and traveled with no companion, as the road Mari traversed was narrow and uncomfortable. The warrior could barely keep her pack from the dirt and grime of the forest, and if she wasn’t young and fit the road would have perhaps been too treacherous. The Blackwood was an unforgiving place, even if one did not count on the dangerous beasts that prowled its depths. The trees were so thick their roots ripped at the very earth in a contest of resources.

She now found herself at the crest of a large gulley, an open wound in the midst of the forest around her. Her road lay across it; the pathway even visible to her from where she stood, twenty meters away. It seemed like an entrance to the fey realm, with Rán giving her one last obstacle before she made it into the Blackwood proper. The boughs and canopies of the trees almost seemed to reach out from behind to pull her back in, looming over the embankment of the drop like grasping hands. Roots and the odd weed stuck out of the wet ground that sloped into the gaping gulley, but what would give anyone pause was still yet below.

Water pooled around the murk at the bottom, and half caked in moist earth was the corpse of a massive humanoid. Yellowish skin and gaping maw with blood heavily stained on its blunt teeth and ripped lips. The huge thing had to have been twice as tall as the half-elf, and perhaps six times as heavy. Flies clung to its corpse, though the fact it lay in the mud and had not sunken any deeper showed there were no endless holes at the bottom. However, in whatever way it had died, it wasn't any fall that done it in. In its side was a fearsome gash, now blackened from exposure to the sun for Sulimo knew how long.

Perhaps there was a way around the gulley, if she clung to the trees and did not mind taking a few good hours to move around and find her way back to the path. Luckily the decline was no pit, and if she felt it worthy to risk she would be able to move across relatively unharmed, provided she did not fall and break a limb.
@Luminosity



Kyiriniae'aea was a warm light amidst the gloom of the forest, for she walked amid trees that dwarfed any normal oak or birch. The trunks were truly massive, their branches so giant they could perhaps house a noble griffon or younger drake seeking a home. There was ample room to walk between the living pillars of ages past, though for such titans it was still far too close than what one might expect. Upon her feet was soft grass, dark green under the palpable tenebrosity. There was little doubt as to why the men of Andred found this forest cursed, for there was a hint of magic in the air even if one were to look past the strange quality of the wood.

Having left the hamlet of Gladestone in a haste, Kyra had managed to escape pursuit in the Blackwood, and had spent merely a day in the presence of the primeval forest. Her elven eyes and keen ears had picked up a myriad of sounds; a boar once or twice, and a team of wolves. She had even hid from some unknown wilderness beast. A giant, lumbering monstrosity she had only caught a glimpse of hours ago, making its way northwest away from her. Whatever it had been, it could flatten a townhouse with ne'er any true effort, and it was clear it had been running from something further within the wood.

But as of now, there had been little in the way of news or interaction, which was likely fortunate. The lady Gildenston had not enjoyed her husband becoming besotted with Kyiriniae'aea, and the Elf had escaped from being hung just in time. But what to do for now? Alone in a strange wood with little to eat or drink. That is, until she saw she was not the only light in the darkness of the Blackwood, for a fire suddenly sprang up in the distance, between two of the keep-sized trees.

Luckily for her, the forest was not just giant trees, but filled with copses of bushes and smaller saplings that had inadvertendly kept her presence hidden. Any thoughts of whoever it was being friendly, however, were dashed, when she saw the dark iron armor of those that huddled around the newly kindled flame. Perhaps they were manner of goblin or orc; three of them there were, laughing and speaking in a hideous tongue just under a gnarled, uprooted tree. They seemed to be celebrating some kind of victory, or perhaps they were just happy to find a place of solitude.

A fourth, the smallest one, seemed to be putting up a spit for them to cook something on. The very thought of cooked meat over a fresh flame would make anyone's mouth water. Whatever it was they were about to feast upon, the creature huddled over it and Kyiriniae'aea could see the jerks of its movement through its armor. It almost looked as if the monster was killing whatever they had now, but it had yet to complete its grisly task. For the thing then raised their meal over his head in triumph.

Within its grasp was a human child, crying.
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Kyiriniae'aea observed the goblinoids for a few moments. Both her High Elven kin and her Dark Elven Goddess despised such creatures. The presence of the human child did not concern her overmuch, but nor was she inclined to leave the creature to be slaughtered if it could be turned to her advantage. The elven sorceress was no warrior, but she knew that guile was a better weapon than steel in almost any situation. She crouched down behind a tree stump and took a moment to plan. Four goblins would be a handful but there were ways to even the odds. Volduressë looked with favor on those who had others fight their battles for them and so she followed her Goddess' command.

The Elven sorceress began to weave her fingers into an intricate patter, the position of each finger tip as precise as a master musician beginning a tune on a harp. The spell built as she planned the next few seconds, magic flowing into her being as the weave tightened and gained form. When it was ready she released it with a snap of energy evident to her magically attuned senses. The spell was aimed not at the goblins, but at the human. The child's scream of terror suddenly turned into a scream as its body seemed to twist and reshape itself in accordance with Kyiriniae'aea's design. In the blink of an eye the goblin was holding not a human child, but a scorpion the size of a large cat, venom dripping from its stinger and pincers snapping.

At the same time she used a simple trick, changing the hue of the bright fire to the black glowing light of a sacrificial flame. Its unnatural light flickering of the scorpion child's carapace.


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Hidden 1 yr ago Post by POOHEAD189
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"So anyway, what are you two doing going up this river anyhow?" The lad asked, having talked their ears off the last hour. Moving up river was tiring work, but this boy had rowed and talked, rowed and talked, rowed and talked. Perhaps it was the fact he like as not did this every day as a living, but it was still a sight to see. It was almost impressive for a dwarf too. The Grannic River was a long one, snaking up from the peninsula of the Seven Cities and the Nevrazym Dale all the way into the bosom of the Blackwood, or so the longshoreman had said back in Cavlarck.

"'Nothing but trouble is what you'll find in the Blackwood' my paw always says." The boy declared, then thought for a moment. "Except for trees. There's a whole lot of trees. And monsters too...probably some towns as well.

"Shut up, boy," The second of the rowers grunted. He was a dark man, with an almost dwarf-like beard and corded muscles. His back was to the two travelers, and he rowed in silence save such lovely comments as that. Luckily it seemed they knew their business, keeping the boat afloat and keeping the goods the traveler's had stored behind steadied. Attached to the small boat was a strange raft; a contraption with wooden bars that stood up like some cage, carrying their cart, supplies, and even the donkey was seemed too busy lapping at the water through the bars to be afraid.

The trees had grown notably darker as they rowed further northwards, away from the Sea of Swords and the Seven Cities so rife with intrigue and chaos. Good money to be made there, and work. But you were as likely to have it or your craft confiscated by a rival city. The Blackwood had little in the way of competition, word had it. Now the boat began to turn ever slightly toward the shore, and the two rowers perked up as if they had arrived at a destination, though there were no markings and little in the way of space to make landfall.

@Jb@Tony Pajamas



Hundreds of miles to the north, another unlikely pair were making their way south through the foothills of northern Andred. Grim were they, and fell to look upon. Much like the Northern mountains they had descended from. Torsten had passed through southern Norgard, past the Halls of the Jotuns in the Hruntigmir Mountains, otherwise known as the Frostfells, and made it into the Northern Marches where he met Vanhel, realizing they both had a common destination. It has now been two weeks since they passed Umber's Cairn, right at the beginning of spring when the snows have finally melted.

Staying away from most Andredian villages and settlements save for the occasional waystation, their journey had finally bore fruit for the two companions. For they had passed a simple glen to find themselves face to face with two massive trees, darker in hue and far more robust than any trees they had come across for weeks. A northern relic in the soft, southern lands of the 'civilized' nations. Perhaps you see it as a welcome sight, or perhaps you feel as if the stories you sought to find out about the legends of the forest were true.

Whatever the case may be, the treeline stood as a great wall daring them to enter, with the two large oaks a veritable gateway into the realm of grimdarkness. As the two dare approach, they are greeted by a strange revving, stuttering sound. An echo that belies the direction they known to listen to, though they soon know the direction. A strange shape coalesces around the 'gateway' before their eyes. As it forms, the two see it is truly large!

It looks to be some form of boar-like creature, though instead of two tusks along its mouth, it has three horns along the center of its snout, like a strange porcine whooly rhinoceros. Torsten and Vanhel would only be able to reach it's shoulder if they stood next to the ginormous beast, and though it does not seem to be antagonistic, it grunts and smells the grass just at the entrance to the wood they seek to enter. Pawing the ground with its hooves, it seems content to nibble upon the foliage just before them. Perhaps they could find another way in, off a beaten path to the east or west? Perhaps the beast would bring good meat or make a fine trophy... or perhaps it is best to let sleeping pigs lie.
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Mari missed the sound of the sea. It was something she'd taken for granted, born and raised near the water as she always had been, and now that it was gone, the world seemed all too uncomfortably quiet. This forest would test her, she knew; Asherah had promised as much, and to become a Daughter of Rán, Mari would have to overcome adversity. She needed to prove she was one of them in heart and mind before she could be granted any gifts.

She stopped at the edge of the gulley, pushing auburn hair from her face. Getting around this would take hours, and Mari wanted to make it deeper into the forest well before darkness fell. She had a passing knowledge of world geography, but without help in this forest she would be hopelessly lost. People lived in the darkness of the wood somewhere, she just had to find them, and perhaps see if a deal could be made.

That meant getting down and through the gulley. Mari noted the very large, very dead thing down there, but whatever felled it was nowhere to be seen, no tracks she could identify at a distance. The smell was strong, though. Best not to linger here any longer than I have to. She started down carefully after securing her pack and her shield, making quick work of the descent. She almost slipped once, but caught herself and kept her feet, setting foot in the basin.

Her boots sank into the mud beneath the shallow, filthy water, but she made sure to keep moving, finding that the muck wasn't severe enough to threaten her. The creature was an ogre, she guessed, judging by Asherah's descriptions from stories she'd told. Goddess, the old woman had a lot of stories. The ogre looked to be a few days dead at least, and the smell grew even worse as she passed.

With no intent of sticking around to end up beside the dead ogre, Mari began the work of climbing up the far side of the gulley, finding it no more difficult than the descent. It wasn't the warmest welcome into the Blackwood, but Mari had already steeled herself for the worst. Whatever the Watery Widow intended to throw at her, she would face it.
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The creature squealed in a piercing wail and dropped the scorpion, looking very akin to a cockroach that found a meal repulsive to its sensibilities. The scorpion scuttled away into the brush, making a twisted path through a mixture of bushes and fallen boughs towards Kyiriniae'aea, suddenly forming back into the very confused baby not half a minute later. Such spells lasted a longer time with more mundane and well understood beasts like sheep and chickens. The child was now looking around curiously, unable to fathom what had just occurred.

Behind him, the four Gundarogs had not yet grabbed their weapons, which from where Kyiriniae'aea stood, she could see they were barbed spears and cruel stabbing swords. Rather than screech further or run, they scuttled a few meters away from the fire and watched it fearfully, whispering to one another in their strange, guttural tongue. The flame roared black before their eyes, unyielding from Kyiriniae'aea's cantrip.

It seemed they took the fire as an omen, with the loss of their meal via polymorph simply a further sign as to an entity that had chosen to speak with them. There was no telling what Gundarogs would do if they saw a Silver Elf, as most see them attack when others trespass upon their mountain caverns rather than the creatures making a home in the woodlands. When it became apparently the fire wouldn't harm them, they approached closer and gripped their spears, raising them into the air like primitive men or apes, beginning to chant a string of words that sounded like a strange rhyme.

The child began to cry once more at the Elf's feet, though the things had yet to hear past their chanting.



Mari had ascended without error, just in time to make it under the cover of the thick trees when she heard a strange noise in the distance. She found a good tree to hide behind among the myriad of elms and birches, just as she heard an incredibly loud warscream from some winged monstrosity that swooped in from above. It looked twenty feet long from the tip of its tail to it's snout, very dragon-like in appearance save for its brown ridged scales, clubbed tail, and the fact it only had four appendages with small clawed hands at the top of its vast wings.

It was terrifyingly mesmerizing to watch it drop onto the ridge Mari had just traversed like a strange bird, clinging to it before it let its taloned feet slide further into the gulley so it could feast upon the huge Ogre's corpse. It likely was not the thing that had killed the monster, but it would certainly capitalize on a free meal when it found it.

The warrior would be so transfixed on the display of nature, that she would be caught completely by surprise when a strong hand grabbed her mouth and a sudden sound of "ssshhh" would escape the lips of whoever hid behind her. Mari could struggle, but she would hear the next words as follows. "Don't scream. I'm not here to harm you..."

Suddenly she was let go, and Mari would see amid the shadow of the forest, another warrior woman. Tall and lithe, and strong of limb. Her long dark hair was tied into a flowing ponytail, she was adorned with a bronze breastplate and bronze greaves. Her blue eyes contrasted her coppery skin, and she was similiarly armed as Mari with a sword and shield, albeit of different designs. She was also notably taller than Mari.

She held her hands up disarmingly. "We must go before the Wyvern smells us. I am Ithaca, the Road Warden. Come with me and I'll take you to town."
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Sylvaine had had enough of travel, at least for a few days. Having a storyteller for company on the road had certainly helped to ease the boredom of ceasless trudging along some path or other, but the novelty of this luxury had somewhat begun to fade. What she wanted was a proper bed to sleep in, a proper cooked meal to eat, and proper drink to get drunk on. They had all that in Greybridge, so naturally she wanted in. What she didn't want, however, was to upend what was left of her meagre purse into the long-fingered paw of some blackmailing bureaucrat. He would not be getting ten lordling out of her anytime soon.

The notion of looking for another crossing a hundred miles or so downstream was, however, equally distasteful. Cillian was pleasant enough for company, no doubt, but Sylvaine had reached her limit when it came to hiking. Just the thought of campfires and wet bedrolls and endless, tedious marching made her wrinkle her nose in disgust. She would not be going wandering anywhere anytime soon.

That left her in a bit of a pickle. What to do? She looked across at Cillian, who seemed to be thinking the exact same thing. Their eyes met, and she raised an eyebrow. He gave no immediate reply, so she shrugged and made for the notary, pushing past a few disgruntled farmers. One turned to confront her, but put his anger aside when he saw the steel on her hip and in her eye.

"Good sir!" she exclaimed, hailing the man, "I do believe that a man of your stature and character would not demand such a tribute of an old ally of the township!" She walked right up to the armed men, a mask of calm and careless charm on her face, and gave a short bow.

"de Vermeille is my name, Sylvaine, daughter to none other than Rainier de Vermeille, commander of the Blue Blades, who fought for this settlement during the border skirmishes of yesteryears. We were made kin then, we were told, for our service to the people, and would always be welcome when in need of a haven. Well, I am in need of such a haven now, as is my minstrel. A man of your nature would not go back on such a promise, would he? I, for one, would think not."

She beamed at the notary, awaiting his reply.
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The air smelt like earth, the scent of it filling Cillian's nose and causing a smile to dance across his face. The smell of rain always reminded Cillian of his home, and those memories warmed him, despite the chill that still clung in the air. His village had been simple, a handful of longhouses clinging to a windswept island, lashed by storms and buffeted by the wild waters of the Shrouded Sea, but sitting by the hearth, with a fire roaring, you could forget all about the outside world, aside from the sound of rain on the thatched roof. It had been there, huddled around the fire, that Cillian had first heard his mother's stories, and even now, years later, Cillian could still remember the feeling of the flame being lit in his very core, and he could still remember every word of the story. It had been the tale of the fey queen, whose haunting wailing was a harbinger of death to all who heard it. With the flickering fire casting dancing shadows across the earthen walls, the tale had terrified the other children, but it had gripped Cillian. As soon as dawn had broken the next day, he had rushed, and covered every inch of the island, searching for the fey queen. He could have sworn he heard her wailing in the howling of the wind, caught sight of her blood red hair moving through the heather, but she kept slipping through his fingers. He only abandoned his search when his mother found him, shivering from the cold, and brought him inside, soothing him with more fantastical legends.

A lifetime of practice had left Cillian's feet able to act almost on their own, continuing their steady march along a path or trail while Cillian's mind was far away, but no matter how distant Cillian's thoughts strayed from the reality of the present, there was always a steady, albeit tenuous, tether. And that tether tugged as the road began to grow busier. Perhaps calling it a road was giving the winding path through the Flontane Forest too much credit, and as Cillian glanced downwards, he saw that black mud clung to his boots with every step forward, thick tendrils seeming to fight his very progress. Seemingly as an after-thought, Cillian looked around him until he saw the slight, wiry figure of his companion, standing out from the crowd of bedraggled refugees by her jet black hair as much as by the sword he had never seen her without. Cillian had spent years around an ever-changing cast of people, but there was still something about the woman that intrigued him. He had mistaken her for little more than a girl when he had first glimpsed her on the road, but that was before he had noticed the scars, and seen that the sword on her hip was more than just part of her attire. The days merged into one on the road, so he could not say for sure how long ago they had started travelling together, but in that time, he still did not fully understand her, and that was what intrigued him so keenly.

Sylvaine de Vermeille. Even the name rolled off his tongue with a sort of fantasy to it, conjuring up the image of some dashing heroine, and yet Cillian had quickly come to realise that heroine was not a word that he would use to describe his unusual travelling companion. She oozed with charm, but the smiles that flashed across her face was like that of a predator, toying with it's prey, and despite the time they had spent travelling together, Cillian had always half-expected her to cut his throat and dissapear into the night. Thankfully, his expectations were yet to be fulfilled. The tether tugged Cillian towards reality a second time, with an undeniable air or impatience, and he turned in time to see the forest falling away, and the bulk of Greybridge rising before him.

If Cillian needed any reminder of how far he was from home, Greybridge served as a perfect one. He had heard tales of the city during his travels, but it was still a haunting sight. All dark stone, it seemed to crouch over the raging river Heathric like some vast mythical creature, and for good or for bad, it was towards this creature that the crowd around Cillian was drawn towards. For himself, and from what he could, for Sylvaine as well, it was not the city that called him, but what lay beyond the city. The river Heathric was fierce, Greybridge standing as the only crossing point for days travel in either direction, but across it's waters was the sprawling darkness of the accursed Blackwood. It had been from his mother that Cillian had first heard the tales of the shadowy depths, the nightmares that shifted through the trees, and now that he was this close, he could swear that he could hear it calling out to him, like a siren's song. He barely registered the halberdiers that stepped out through the gateway, even as the crowd around him drew back, but he was still tethered enough to hear the plumed hat demanding a toll for passage into the city.

Cillian knew that he had coin enough to pay for both his and Sylvaine's passage, but as he looked across to find her in the crowd again, he saw that she was already watching him, and he knew that it was not going to be so simple. If he had learnt one thing from his time with the woman, it's that it never was. She raised an inquisitive eyebrow towards him as he met her gaze, but for now he didn't speak. To talk too loudly could risk the pair playing their cards too openly, but to talk too softly would see the words snatched away by the wailing wind. Cillian trusted that Sylvaine valued her own life enough not to try anything too foolish, but even so, as she pushed through the crowd Cillian made sure to follow after her. As she approached the plumed hat, Cillian made it to the front of the crowd, subconsciously flexing his shoulders as he felt the reassuring weight of his spear and shield slung across his back. He wasn't entirely surprised to see his companion launch into a theatrical performance. Even in their relatively brief time in each others company, Cillian had witnessed the silver tongue that Sylvaine possessed, and the sharp mind that rested behind the emerald eyes. He didn't know how much of what she was saying was deception, and how much was genuine, but Cillian did what he could to play his part, nodding his heard towards the guards at Sylvaine's mention of her "minstrel", and carefully watching to see what the reaction to his companion's theatrics would be.
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Hidden 1 yr ago 1 yr ago Post by Penny
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Kyiriniae'aea crouched down beside the child and wove her fingers beguiling before its eyes, stilling its cries as she wove a magical somnolence to quiet the baby. She had no particularly maternal instincts but if it started caterwauling at the right time it might disrupt her plan. With silence assured, she stood up and straightened her dress, preparing herself for the next step. There was some danger involved but she wasn't going to establish herself in this forest by timidity. She closed her eyes and wove a second spell.

*Blink*

The tall elf appeared in the flames as the Gundarogs chanted. Stepping quickly from the fire before it could catch. None the less a few of the fibres and the tips of her hair smoked and sizzled though she kept any cry from her lips so as not to spoil the illusion. The the Gundarogs it appeared as though she had been birthed from the flames in response to their chanting. Moving far enough from the fire to be safe she spread her arms akimbo to appear as impressive as she could.

"Why have you ventured out under the accursed sun?" she demanded in tone of oratorical command. The back-lighting from the fire made her appear shadowed and featureless.

"Why have you left the tunnels and forsaken the search for my brethren?" she demanded.
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The Dre Costan showed no signs of tiring from the boy's repetitive questions. All the more he seemed just as excited and lively.

"Ah, but where there are towns there are people. Where there are people, my services shall always be required. Setting disputes, evaluating valuables, and moving about the general necessities of the world." Emilio spoke with elegance outwardly to the child, as if he had prepared this spiel his entire life. "Oh, and of course my friend here." He'd gesture with flair to Wēlanandaz. "Monsters mean armor and weapons are in great demand yes? Well what finer is there than expert Dwarvern make?" The question was exclaimed proudly and entirely rhetorical, though he'd move on before the child could comment on it.

"I am certain one way or another it shall be an exciting and prosperous venture. You yourself found this to be your own service after all. I am certain you have heard much and more of the Blackwood. It would make me most grateful if you could tell us some more of what to expect. Anything you've heard of the locals, the closest towns or villages. Any and all is appreciated." An eye would look from the man to the shore as they made a turn towards it. A seemingly entire lackluster and lone spot. "Ah, and directions. Truly you would wish for us to make it safely yes? After we have made our fortunes here we would remember those that labored along the way." Emilio would add on with a cheery smile and tone. All but antithetical to the rowing man's silence.

"Of course I'd hope the same to be true of myself. Should I find any weary souls who wish to turn their way back for an honest fee, I would all the more direct them to the one who had the same guided safely our own passage. I'd need a name of course for such a man and I would not ask without bestowing my own. Emilio Virtoli, merchant, as you already well know." A seated half bow was added on, not wishing to rock the boat overly much as they were soon to be pulling onto land.
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Screaming was the last thing Mari intended to do. She'd allowed herself to be ambushed, distracted as she was by the wyvern's arrival, which she'd only narrowly avoided by luck, but now her instinct was to fight rather than let fear rule. She reached for one of her daggers, but a strong hand caught her wrist. The voice behind her promised her no harm.

It took a few seconds, but finally Mari relaxed her muscles and slowed her breathing, the woman letting her go as soon as she did. If she'd wanted to kill Mari, she had a perfect chance already, and hadn't used it. That was good enough. Mari cautiously checked to make sure the wyvern was still occupied with the ogre, then turned about.

Ithaca, she introduced herself as. A Praelian name if she'd ever heard one, with a look to match. Taller than Mari, and well armed and armored. What she promised sounded like a much needed bit of good luck. "Lead the way," she instructed, eager to put the gulley and the wyvern well behind her.

Only when the sounds of the creature feasting on the ogre's corpse had disappeared did she venture her own introduction. "I'm Mari, of the Sea of Swords. What's this town we're headed to?"
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"Oi! Get the fuck out'o the way!" A cry sprang up from behind them. Similar cries rose and created a cacophony of sounds from those behind, clearly unamused that the two made it to the front of the line to negotiate rather than pay immediately and give someone else a chance. For the notary's part, he blinked at the strange bedraggled girl and her foreign companion. It was understandable why, as Greybridge was an Andredian settlement and she was clearly Vrettonian, and her story was vague, what's more. However, it also could have some plausibility, as many mercenary companies from either country was bought by the other to confuse the their enemy during their frequent wars.

It almost looked like the man in the extravagant hat was going to deny them, but at the yelling from the crowd to get a move on, he seemed to acquiesce after another moment's thought.

"Very well, to your great service blah blah yes, only 5 Lordlings." He whispered to them harshly. "From both of you."

Once paid, he would raise his head and wave about a crop-like crudgle. The four halberdiers in the center rose their weapons automatically as if they were Dwarf-made machines powered by steam.

Behind him lay Greybridge, the gothic agate jewel of the north. Even during the day, the city had an ominous, dramatic quality to its architecture. Some compared the looming and thatched two or three-story buildings that flooded the city to one of the haunted cities found in Henry Forthwright’s melodramas. Leering gargoyles could be found atop a few buildings in the distance, though what lay around them was a small marketplace in the center of a widened three way street. They would be practically shoved inside, and once within it was like a jungle of buildings surrounded by a throng of Greybridge citizens that went about their daily business.

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Ithaca had begun to lead her northwards, through numerous thickets of dark trees until they finally stumbled upon a well trodden path. It seemed to go east and westwards, though it likely snaked back around to where she had been at the mouth of the gulley. A great brown horse stood tethered to a tree, proud and powerful with a well groomed black mane. It snickered when it saw Ithaca, clearly happy to see her once again.

"Geiá sou diké mou Bucephalus." She whispered to the steed, untying the reins from the tree, just as glad to see the horse as well. She made it look all too easy to mount the steed, holding a hand out for Mari to take. "The Sea of Swords?" She asked, hoisting Mari up to sit just behind her. Ithaca let Mari sling her shield around herself and sheath her sword before she had Bucephalus begin at a trot. "You must have traveled through the borderlands to get here. Durgony yes?"

They made their way deeper into the forest path, letting the sun pass into tangled shadow beneath the canopy above. The trees were somehow both healthy yet gnarled by some unseen grimness, though the sounds of the birds around them showed no evil was yet near, if there was any at all.

"It's Rittenvos, of the people of Eisenland." Ithaca explained, glancing back at Mari for a moment. "You chose a strange road to come here, though I suppose it is the most direct road. I like that. Nothing reaches the heart of an Orc like a straight thrust through the chest. But yes, Rittenvos. It has the largest inn near the southern border, and plenty of tradesmen. I won't ask you much on your quest, for no one would travel like you unless they had an important errand. But you very well could find what you are seeking there."

The road warden spoke with a certain surety that would strengthen the heart of anyone hearing it. But it was not to last, for a moment later a most dreadful sound erupted from the skies above. It was so brutally loud that it was not so apparent what made the leaves upon the branches shake until Ithaca and Mari's senses had regained their faculties. It was a roar so terrifying and powerful it shook one's very bones. Among the sudden calamity Bucephalus whinnied, the dauntless horse bucking briefly in abject surprise and fear.

"Dragon!" Ithaca gasped, doing her best to rein Bucephalus before the horse threw them off, calming within moments due to its training and Ithaca's prompting. Mari would have to cling to the warden so as not to fall off, and once the three had halted in the forest path, there was another terrible roar, albeit further away.
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A Gundarog hissed in fear and hatred, recoiling from her sudden appearance. It grabbed a wickedly barbed spear on instinct, but its companions had yet to attack, so in awe were they at the unexpected and immediate introduction from the strange sorceress. It seemed an undecided thing on what they would do until two of them abased themselves before Kyiriniae'aea, obviously too afraid to speculate. The other two were less decided for a few brief moments, and the one that had grabbed the weapon seemed on the brink of throwing his spear or running. However, it soon dropped its weapon and joined its fellows, just as the third did.

The Gundarog that had held the baby heard her demands, jitteringly rising, looking at her and trying to speak in its broken northern. "B-Bright Lady? Yes! Yes, Bright Lady we..." It sibilated, unused to speak of the thing they dared not walk under. "The s-s-sun does not touch here, Bright Lady. The shadow of Lord Gorthaur has been cast upon this forest, gnash its wooden bones! Claw it! Bite it! Burn the villages into nothing!"

It erupted into a brief, psychotic cackled until it realized it was (likely) speaking to someone who could obliterate it with a look. It took two steps toward her, moving like some broken misshapen thing. It very well could have been. Many Gundarogs had warts and humps that made their movements queer but did not diminish their effectiveness in killing. No wonder its voice sounded like verbal depression and bloated malice.

"The Blackwood is forever changed, yes. Long ago when Gorthaur had first arrived, he brought the realm of shadow with him. Now shadow lingers until the unmaking the world..."

"What does the Bright Lady command!?" One of the bowed ones cried out, shrill in pitch. "We can shows you to villages! To towers! Yes, yes Ladies love towers?"
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Kyiriniae'aea relaxed ever so slightly as it became obvious that her deception had been an effective one. These creatures might be repellent but they were obviously familiar with the Blackwood which meant she could make use of them. She might not have chosen Gundarogs as allies, but they certainly had their uses... provided of course they were properly subservient.

"Yes, we shall begin with these towers," she agreed magnanimously. That sounded like just the kind of shelter she would need if she didn't want to risk having her throat cut everytime she needed to take a nap.

"We shall leave as soon as you have eaten," she told her new minions.

"I shall keep the human whelp for my own supper but...." she trailed off and then made a snapping gesture with her hand. A bolt of magical energy snapped from her finger and struck the Gundarog who had been slowest to accept her assumed authority square in the chest, dropping him to the ground with a sizzling pop.

"I see no reason you should make the journey on an empty stomach..."
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It was not for the first time that day (or even in the last half hour of the tedious boat journey) that the stolid and stoic Dwarf wondered why he even put up with the company of Men, the youthful energy they possessed on both a racial and personal level doing much to advance his disapproval, and just as much to wear away at his seemingly infinite store of patience – it was not infinite, but to show any form of discomfort, even emotional, in front of these long-limbed jabber-monkeys would have been unthinkable.

With eyes half closed and refusing to take a seat on the ferry boat - choosing instead to stand firmly with his legs firmly planted and a shoulders width apart, hands as big as plates placed one atop the other on the bottom of the upturned axe haft – Wēlanandaz took the appearance of some primordial statue or fear-inducing gargoyle, a stone-made figurehead ever watchful at the rear of the vessel.

One may enquire as to why the Dwarf elder had even travelled this far with his Dre Costan shadow, and the answer was quite simple. Emilio Virtoli was a human in a generally human dominated world and society, could talk the hind legs off of a donkey (or any animal for that matter), and possessed the natural charisma that those of his ilk were renowned for in the wider world... his business acumen and 'get go' didn't do the pair any harm either, Wēlanandaz supposed with nought more than an exhalation of breath.

As usual the Dwarf simply allowed Emilio to open his mouth, glancing at their surroundings mistrustfully all the while, sometimes at the boy and often more at the broad back of the father, the only one on the boat he felt any sort of true connection with; truly the man appeared to take as much pleasure in idle chatter and rowing a large and deep body of water as he did himself.

The only good thing about this journey thus far was that it would soon be over, the shoreline in sight after what seemed like an eternity of watery Hell!

While the boat made it's way toward the shore the resolute figure began to wrack his mind and memories for any scrap of information he could recall about their rapidly closing destination, stroking a hand over his beard as he did so but saying nothing.

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Mari couldn't help but smile when she laid eyes on the horse. Mounts were hardly common on the isles in the Sea of Swords, and she had very little experience with horses, but she'd always found them beautiful. She took Ithaca's hand and mounted up behind her without much of the same grace, a little unsteady, but the pace wasn't difficult.

"Durgony, that's right." Mari was getting a little tired of traveling, and this Rittenvos sounded like an excellent place to rest and just maybe rid herself of the dirt and dust and grime of the journey. She found herself liking this Ithaca; given her occupation, she likely knew the forest very well. No one was supposed to know of the temple's location, but perhaps Ithaca could help her get started. Not everyone felt favorably towards the Daughters, but Mari had a good feeling about this one.

Any trace of good feeling fled when an awful roar rent the very air, prompting Mari to reach up and cover both of her ears, wincing at the sudden pain of such a loud noise from above. The horse wildly bucked, and without a solid grip on anything Mari was thrown off, landing with a heavy thud on her side in the dirt.

Dragon, Ithaca said. The fall only knocked the wind out of Mari, but instinctively she reached for her shield, even if it'd be all but pointless against such a creature. Her heart was pounding, terror coursing through her, and it only abated when the second awful roar seemed to be further away. Forcing herself to take a few breaths, Mari got back to her feet.

"Goddess," she breathed, brushing dirt off her side. "Are dragons, wyverns, and ogres a normal day for you here?"
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Reality warped around the Gundarog when her spell impacted, cutting open its stomach and ripping the life out of it. It fell without a cry, helmet falling off to reveal its stretched, pig nosed face and impossibly wide eyes for seeing in the pitch darkness of its subterranean realm.

After a moment of complete silence, the other Gundarog's screeched in glee and leaped over the corpse of their once-companion. Kyiriniae'aea would see bits of blackened flesh flying up as they devoured the dead thing. Kyiriniae'aea would have the time to grab the child, still fast asleep as she polymorphed him until a small turtle and dropped it in the sack with what little she carried with her. Within minutes, she had her small troop standing at the ready. They held their spears, long for them but only slightly taller than a tall man at the ready, with their black iron shields curved into spikes to make another stabbing implement. Standing they would be nearly her height, but they were perpetually hunched and ready to be commanded.

The forest was as gloomy as ever, but magic permeated the air in a very pleasant manner to the sorceress as her minions walked and crawled interchangeably in front of her, keeping silent as they passed under bushes and over huge roots with, save for the hissing grunts and low growls they might emit as they 'marched'. The landscape seemed a never ending green and black as they delved deeper into the Blackwood, though the trees grew notably smaller (though still extremely large). Save for a few large spiders and at one point of hiding from an indigo colored, stout wolf the size of a pony, they saw little life.

After what must have been an hour travel, the Gundarogs seemed to be speaking amongst each other and giggling fiendishly just as they passed the cusp of a bend in their path, leaping up and down like excited children. "We're here, Bright Lady! Yes yes, Bright Lady master is pleased!" They declared, though she hardly needed to hear it. It was plain to see before her; a thick canopy of trees covered the top of it, but before her was the stout 'trunk' of a tower made of large stone slabs. Clearly the work of humans, though no telling how old the building was. Wooden gates rotted and ripped off by something immensely strong, her eyes could see that the Blackwood had begun to reclaim the small keep. Grass tufts had grown out of the floor between cracked stones, and vines had snaked their way within.

As they entered, the Gundarogs awaited outside to guard their new master as she looked about at her leisure, though there was not much to see. The archway had been an ogival arch with the ruined buildings laced with intricate tracery. Within was a basic stone floor and no other rooms save a small kitchen with no food likely, though it did have a door on its hinges (opened). The only unknown was a winding stairway you could watch ascend up the wall, twirled around the stones until it reached the second and likely final floor fully six or so meters upwards. From the ground, she saw a circular, railed opening in the floor above, meaning it had the likeness of a balcony, making it easy to stare at the ground floor if one were so inclined.

As she ascended the stairs, she found herself looking and four different doors, all closed. The fifth door, the largest I might add, was opened. Within were cases upon cases of books, filled to the brim in such a manner that some books were half opened on the ground, from having fallen. To the left was a bed, albeit messy and unmade, though that was the least promising thing in the room. The center of the room's fore held a clearly mystical creation, wrought of magic and stone making a strange, eldritch archway. A small lining in the floor of what appeared to be silver had been laid to reach an item that lay at the true center of the room: A large ball of pure crystal, utterly black in color. Her alchemical eyes would find one last thing of note; upon the far right of the room was a table with a mortar & pestel, a retort, a beaker, an alembic, and calcinator. No supplies however, though doubtless the forest itself was full of such things.


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Mari had dirt caked on her backside and shoulder, but she was mostly unharmed save for maybe a scratch or two. Bucephalus had kept his cool after the second Dragon roar, and thankfully the Gods saw fit for the beast to fade into the distance. Dragons might have incredible senses, but this was the Blackwood. Finding two people even if it smelled them over miles and miles of thick forest would have been too time-wasting for any hungry beast. For some reason the forest seemed someone more still as the Dragon disappeared, and it was then Mari would realize the Dragon's wing beats had created a literal gale of wind.

"The forest is always dangerous, but this dangerous?" Ithaca asked as she lent Mira her hand, smiling. "I think you just bring trouble with you."

Once the warrior of Rán was back upon the strong mount, Ithaca, as nonchalant as she seemed, quickened her horse's pace. In fact the speed in which they now galloped, winding and twisting their way through the wood was both impressive and harrowing. Mari could feel the hooves press into the mud below her, giving a 'slipping' and uneven quality to their ride that would make anyone uncomfortable. Thankfully it seemed they had done this before, and before an hour had passed Mari saw the path had turned into a more straight road, interwoven with other lesser paths that met it every mile or two until they came cantering into the opening of a town. So abruptly did the trees give way to the wooden gate, it was as if they had just left the Fae realm and found a small pocket of civilization.

The town was small, no doubt there. Perhaps there were six roads that interwove to create the entirety of the settlement. Ithaca halted Bucephalus just after they had reached the gate, nearly bowling over two men carrying a desk into what looked to be a newly constructed building. They yelled in fear, and sighed audibly when the steed had stopped just short of ruining their day and they hurried on. It seemed, upon the dirt section of town they were in, that all of Rittenvos was to their left down what seemed to be the main road, and to their right was what looked to be a newly built, stout keep with a fortified living space built connected to its base.

Ithaca's arrival had been noted by a few passersby; commoners and a few Dwarves hauling a cart with what looked to be sacks of perhaps salt or flour. The resident tollkeeper had also noticed it seemed, judging by his uniform and shit-eating look. Not even a grin. He just looked as if he very much wished to take your money. He was tall, with a noticeable paunch thrust over his tight belt and nearly breaking apart his jerkin. All in all, he was palpably unpleasant, and falling down the ugly tree whilst hitting every branch on the way down didn't exactly aid his case.

"So," he said gruffly, waving a quill pen. "You got a newcomer? You told her it was five Lordlings to enter, I assume?"

"Piss off, Bryant." Ithaca said, reining Bucephalus to nearly whip the man with her horse's head. The fellow recoiled as if he'd been slapped. "Anyone who survived in the wilderness alone for four days has free right to a bath and a bed. Don't give me that look! Speak to the Baron if you must, but I suspect he's busier with the Dragon commotion."

Bryant cursed under his breath, but didn't argue when Ithaca started her horse in a canter down the road, leaving him to wave the dust out of his face. Before Mari, thatched roofs lined the dirt road, one to two stories tall, with their porches sometimes occupied by lesser vendors. The woman began to point at various shops, and people as well, giving her curt explanations. "It might not look like much, and it's far smaller than Hearthhome not three days to the north. But it's an outpost for traders and those braving the depths of the woods. She indicated toward a woman in her late thirties, carrying a basket filled with apples. "There's the lady Richardson who owns the inn. No doubt she's going back now. A kind woman though her husband is nearly a big of a bastard as Bryant. And over there..." She pointed at a young man, darkly handsome in his own way, entertaining children with a slight of hand, much to their innocent delight. "That's Po Harthwyn. A nice man. His village was burned to the ground not a year ago. I found him much like you in the forest. He knows much old lore of these woods."

She showed Mari the location of the Provisioner, where one might acquire any items they need for travel, along with the charcoal burning, which was surprising to find in such a small town! A meatshop and butcher had a joint business on the right, along with a small bakery named 'Baskin's Bakes' and a blacksmith, though the smith seemed out at the moment when they passed. At the very end of the road, Bucephalus stopped at the only three story building in town. The roof was thatched and held up by strong oak beams like the rest of town.

"And this is the Grandhaven, where you can find a bath and some rest." She said, letting her dismount when she felt ready. "Do you need anything of me? I will be here tonight but tomorrow I'm off on the road once more."
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"If it'll shut you up." The older rowman replied to Emilio, hacking up something particularly thick and spitting it into the river. He made another rowing movement, the water sloshing audibly. "We're about to drop you both at Varian's Crossing. It's a little inlet, and from there you walk a few hours and make it to Olderin, though some folk who remember the old wizard who used to own the place call it 'Olderin's Refuge' still. It's a smaller town the road'll lead you right to, and probably the safest place in the southern Blackwood, what with the Knights of the Skull making a base there."

He grunted once again as he rowed, clearly tiring from having been at it for hours by this point. "I don't know too much of the land. You got a few towns and castles to the east, though no telling if they're still standing. Just don't follow the river as far is it goes, not that you could. You'll end up in a swamp, with water that burns you alive. Like er...acid, that's the word. Rumor has it a Dragon black as midnight lives there too. Best to just stay on the western side of the river until you reach Olderin. Not that it's completely safe, but it's as safe as it gets in this accursed place."

As the boat drifted closer to the shoreline, Wēlanandaz was deep in thought, recalling the wars of yesteryear. He remembered an old story his uncle told him once, of Gorthaur the Wraithlord, who pulled the Blackwood into the very realm of Morimando, or pulled some of his realm onto the wood, darkening it forever so his minions and wraiths could move freely and with more power. He recalled two Dwarf Virkis within the wood as well, though his uncle never said where they were, only that they were along the western region of the Blackwood. Virki Fenri and Virki Gimle. No doubt he could find out more later, but they were fortified to fight the Wraithlord and no word has reached of their downfall since then.

Soon, a crusty scratching sound erupted from beneath them as they made it to the small bank. The boy leaped out of the boat and into the water, wading to the side to help the bigger man pull it up further onto the shore. Using hooked poles they had stored, they also slowly yanked the service raft closer to shore before it too was banked. The bars were lifted, and the donkey horked and honked as it walked off the raft and onto solid ground, snorting into the sand, with the cargo cart in tow behind him.

The bank, or Varian's Crossing, was wide and easily traversable, though it led up an incline into an opening into the trees. Within the path looked thick with ferns and saplings, not to mention larger birch trees a stride or so away from the path. They had better continue quickly before it became dark.

"Just follow the path, and you'll be fine I think!" The boy said. "Well...I don't know but I'm pretty sure. You never know in the Blackwood you know?"
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Kyiriniae'aea surveyed the tower with approval, there was much to do to make it a truly acceptable dwelling place, but her minds eye was already hard at work, picturing a fire, carpets and proper illumination. There would need to be some provision for defense of course, the presence of the gundarogs attested to that, but there would be time for that, and she had an inkling of how to go about it. First though she needed to take a thorough inventory of her newfound lair. What had happened to the previous occupant? It seemed unlikely given the disarray of the library that they would return. Well if they did she would deal with that as she always did. There was the human child to deal with as well which was irritating but necessary if she was to persist in this place, it represented to great an opportunity for her simply to kill the creature or let it be eaten.

It was unwise to leave her new found minions alone for too long, there was another task she needed them for before she dismissed them, but the lure of the strange and obviously magical items was too much to resist. She approached the archway first, given its prominence and possible function as a potential ingress to her new home. Circling it she ran her fingers over the stones, attempting to gain some sort of insight into its function, but merely physical interaction did not seem to be enough. Stretching out a thin finger she crouched down and touched the bottom of the arch, drawing the pad of the digit up the stone in a long rainbow like curve, following the arch and reaching out with her magical faculties...



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"I could ask nothing else of you fine duo, and I must give thanks to what words you have offered." Emilio would make for a bow as he stepped onto land. Checking on his donkey he'd make sure the cart was on firm ground before looking over it as well mindful of the rocking of the boat had knocked anything loose. An apple that had loosely rolled to the bottom of the cart and bruised itself was picked up and given as a treat to his animal. A hand would follow a growing smile as he stroked his companion's face.

Making sure everything was accounted for he'd gesture an offer for his dwarvern friend to board the cart. "Best for us to get moving and letting the fellows get on their own way then right Wēlanandaz?" Barely waiting for the dwarf's own answer he'd quickly move to set off down the path. There was common enough folk tale and legends of any random place being haunted and dangerous, but the merchant knew well enough that there was at least an inkling of truth to even the most baseless one. Better safe than sorry was a tried and true practice on the road and one he would not stray from now. If any oddity lay in the path ahead he'd trust his base gut feeling for the time at least. He had managed it this far after all.

Deep rooted and wooded forests were not the typical locales the Dre Costan had found himself traveling through before for the most part, especially in these rougher conditions. Obviously the path had been carved and managed to some extent though not enough for their sort to be the most common travelers. The man would keep his eyes sharp and looking about as the clatter of wooden wheels against the path matched the clops of the donkey's own hooves.

"Well, it'll be some hours at least until we see some sort of men again." He'd speak out, though not as verbose and energetic as on the shoreline. "I would wonder your thoughts at times like these, my otherwise stoic and stone-faced colleague." The hint of sarcasm in his voice would at least be obvious in the choice of adjectives used.

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