Hidden 11 mos ago Post by POOHEAD189
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The next day...

It was an hour after sun up, and the entrepreneurial town filled with hard working men and women had already begun their work-days. As it was a frontier settlement for travelers, protection, and supplies, there was a lack of poultry and small time farming, so what woke Mari up would be the sun peeking through her windows and the distant calls of merchants rather than the sound of any rooster crowing. If or when she made it outside, at first she would see no one in her group. But thanks to the rising son and her sharp eyes, she would recognize Kane if no one else in the distance, speaking to a man on horseback by the northern gate before the man trotted away, deeper into the forest.

If she drew closer, she would notice the party waiting patiently. In fact they seemed at ease, as if waiting for more than her. It became evident that Po wasn't there just yet. As it were, Orek and Phyrrae had taken a seat on the very last porch before the gate, right before a store that seemed to be selling small items of pottery and knickknacks for good luck or ornamentation. They were playing a strategy game on a small wooden board, called 'Thrones and Conquerors.' It was a war game with a heavy emphasis on calculating your opponent's next move.

As Kane approached the group from what he had been speaking to the rider of, Orek heard his footsteps and looked up to notice Mari too.

"Mornin'" He called, not noticing Phyrrae changed a small piece on the board which Mari could point out if she so wished. Phyrrae had very quick hands, evidently.

"Taking the north road through the Murkrift would be best." Kane rumbled. In the sunlight, Kane looked even more formidable than the night previous. It was something else seeing one of another race, but one of such muscled bulk and bestial features as a Drogotar was still intimidating.

"That's..." Orek began, blinking at the board and then eyeing Phyrrae. "That's not right... er, Kane you do know what lurks there, eh?"

"I've heard Orcs have mobilized in the northern forest. Something calls them." He said.

"What lives in Murkrift sleeps." A voice declared behind Mari, revealed to be Po along with another fellow, mustachioed and apparently wielding a rapier, sheathed at his hip. They both walked by her and stand beside the others. Po gave Mari a smile, before speaking to the group as a whole. "With luck we can get through it. But that still leaves the problem of the water being acidic."

The other fellow openly appraised Mari with a raised eyebrow, taking her hand and kissing it if she let him/was too surprised to pull away. He spoke Vrettonian, and clearly the entire party was unamused. Orek looking to the sky as if begging the gods to smite him while Po looked blankly ahead, as if embarrassed he even brought the fellow this morning.

"No one told me such a beauty would be going on this trek." He remarked, heavily accented in his speech. Po tapped him on the shoulder and interrupted him.

"Why don't you talk business with Orek, Sinclair." Po said, and when he saw the look Po gave him, the man did, complaining under his breath in the foreign language.
@Luminosity
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Hidden 11 mos ago 11 mos ago Post by Luminosity
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Mari came to with the sun and the sounds of the waking town, slipping out of bed with an alertness and energy she hadn't felt for the last few days. Something about the potential of the day to come, no doubt. She put herself together with haste; there was no time (or point) to a bath, but she was sure to at least wash her face and attempt to tame her mess of auburn hair.

Getting all of her armor and gear on wasn't a swift process, but she'd done it enough by now to do so without thinking, finishing by fastening her heavy sword belt, laden with weapons and pouches and holy symbols, around her waist. Slinging her wooden shield over her shoulder, Mari made her way out of the room and collected a quick breakfast. She didn't have much of an appetite, but made sure to at least get something in her belly for the long road ahead.

She headed for the northern gate to meet up with the others, noticing Kane first, and the dwarf and elf second playing their game off to the side. Mari had played before with her sisters, enough to recognize the underhanded move Phyrrae pulled when Orek greeted her. "Good morning!" was all she said back to the pair of them.

The Murkrift Kane spoke of as their road, a place in the forest not teeming with Orcs, but perhaps something else that they seemed hesitant to speak of. Po seemed to believe it would be manageable when he arrived with the other fellow, Sinclair, and that was enough for Mari.

She didn't wrench her hand away when he grabbed and kissed it, though she also didn't hide her eyeroll. Vrettonian by his accent, and somehow Mari wasn't surprised. When he released her hand, she let it rest casually on the hilt of her blade, but Po interrupted before she could pick a response, sending Sinclair to speak more with the dwarf.

"Thanks for that," she said under breath. "This Murkrift, you said the water's acidic? Something dwells within it even still?" Orcs she figured she could handle with her sword, but acidic water and unknown things sleeping within wasn't something she knew how to approach. Not yet, anyway.
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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by POOHEAD189
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Within five hours, Emilio and Wēlanandaz found themselves setting up shop as the sun began to set in the distance. It would have been a good time to get a bead on their fellow merchants, but their day was winding to a close. Thankfully, Emilion and Wēlanandaz had gotten a great location thanks to Emilio's lawyerings and the Dwarf's impeccable craftsmanship. The architecture around them was clean and well carved, and at the center of a small courtyard was a large fountain where the small amount of citizenry enjoyed spending their time.

As the two of them cleaned their shop, which was a larger shop area with a counter, and an area to hang up whatever items they might have, there was a knock at the door, and without waiting for an answer a slim woman wearing a business suit entered, looking around. Her hair was cut short and her eyes were covered in spectacles.

"Yes, is this the...are you Emilio and Wēlanandaz? Here are the contracts you wished for. You will speak to the lords tomorrow to give them your answer on their offers of discounts or supply." She declared, handing Wēlanandaz the papers. She seemed to never smile, scrutinizing the two of them as if they were unwanted feral dogs that happened to wander into the fortified town. "I have been told you two have two rooms to accommodate you here. The lords are being quite generous to you both. Do appreciate it."

The most prominent area that Wēlanandaz would appreciate was in the small area in the back, where a small place for a forge had been set up. Unfortunately, there was only a bloomery out there. They would need to purchase the anvil, the coals, and the tools, unless they had already brought any of them via their donkey and their cart.
@Tony Pajamas@Jb


The forest around them was deathly quiet, which merely served to make their struggles seem louder. Or his struggle more like. The fellow that was running seemed a bit too well fed to be out and about in the Blackwood alone. In real time, he tripped over what was an easily surmountable and visible root stuck out of the ground. He clawed his way forward before evidently not wishing to die with his backturned, rolling over to pull himself backward.

"No, please! Don't kill me, foul woman!"

The woman was certainly following him, but she made no move toward a weapon, or even had a stance that betrayed her being aggressive save the fact she seemed greatly annoyed by the look on her face.

The fat merchant saw Torsten and his two companions step out of the wood, and he looked as if the Gods had answered his prayers. Cheeks flushed, he called to them. "Please kind sirs, save me! She is a werewolf! A foul northern witch of Norgard I say! Kill her before she speaks!"

The woman stopped when Torsten ordered, but she did not answer him immediately. She crossed her arms. "Am I a witch or a werewolf? Which is it you oaf." She stepped forward and reached out to him, and as he scrambled away she grabbed at his coinpurse and hefted it in her hands. Turning to the newcomers, she held out her other hand defensively. "This man tried to cheat me at cards. I saw through it and beat him at his own game. For some reason he thought it magic."

"It was sorcery, I swear." The merchant pleased, breathing heavily. "I saw the card change in my hand! Even my fellows were bewitched to her."
@Gunther
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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by POOHEAD189
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Saskia plucked the coin from his hand, a small 'ping' echoing when the metal touched one the undersides of her rings. She looked as pleased as any money grubber when presented with money, though it was plain to see that Cillian's tale had softened her mood and endeared her a bit. Calvin took a large swig of his ale while Saskia scooted over and let Cillian sit there beside her. The Elf placed the coins in her coinpurse and then cupped her hands around her flagon, taking a swig herself.

"The Blackwood, yes. I assume you'd want to hear about the local woods, right?"

"The dangers?" Calvin piped in, trying to be helpful. It was evident he also wanted to hear, like a child hearing a ghost story for the thrill and entertainment.

"Of course." Saskia laughed lightly. "Keep in mind I don't know every terror you might face, but my information is reliable. The local woods aren't too dangerous. Maybe a Varghulf pack here or there, or a chimera looking to feast. Or bandits, of course." The prospects were but a muse to her as she considered.

"Now, if you are to travel northwards, you'll find the Blackwood Baronies. Petty lords fighting for territory over Gorthaur the Wraithking's shattered lands. Some say the Wraithking, or at least some of his minions, still reside there. To the east, wretched bogs and dense forests of fey spirits. If you're lucky you'll run into a Centaur or an Elf, though they are not of my kin and will shoot you if you haven't a good reason to be there. Even for me, it is hard to determine what they would want. I do hear some of the forest gods demand a sacrifice."

"Heard some nastiness, I have." Calvin said. "Some people get taken by them and are never seen again."

Saskia shrugged. "Couldn't say what happens to them. Maybe they're taken to the broken realm of the fey? Either way, your biggest worry is southwards. I hear a large horde of Orcs is passing through the southern Blackwood, and there have been rumors of demon cults in some of the fortified towns. Not to mention the Dragon..."

The Elf took a huge swig of her drink, and clapped it back onto the table as any hard man would. "The roads are difficult eastward. The north is likely the safest in terms of travel, but in staying? Not too sure. Hope this helped."

@Romero


"No problem." Po said to her easily, one hand on his staff, though he looked a bit embarrassed a moment later. "Sorry, I didn't invite him, but he did save my life before and insisted on coming."

As for her question, he seemed to sober up a bit. "A Dragon. Maybe. Not the one that Ithaca said you saw, but another one, we think. No one really knows for sure, but people have gone through the Murkrift before and lived. We might need to if the Orcs aren't gone within a day. For now I think we'll just move north until we can be sure." Behind them both, Orek fished into his pocket and paid Phyrrae a small price of coins for her victory over him in their board game. To make the Dwarf's mood even more sour, Sinclair made it to him and gave a bow.

"Monsieur Dwarf, I am ready for adventure." He proclaimed, politely inclining his head to the Dwarf, hand on the hilt of his admittedly beautiful sword. His accent was as thick as ever and hard to make out. "I am packed and have food for two days travel. When is the next city we will make berth at?"

"Three days." Orek said, sardonically cheerful. He picked himself up off his seat on the porch and smiled to the man. Kane had already made it to the foot of the gate, standing there like a primordial guardian. Sinclair's face turned comically distraught. "Assuming it hasn't been razed to the ground by Orcs, and that's also assuming we don't go through the Murkrift bog, which we probably will. Anymore questions or can we begin our trek?"

"Erh..." Sinclair seemed at a loss for words.

"We'll discuss it when we make camp tonight." Po piped in, having stepped forward beside them. His easy going smile defused the sternness of the conversation in a fashion. "Don't worry Sinclair, I've plenty of food to share. Plus everything in the Blackwood is huge. Whatever food is in there, it'll fill us up."

"Provided it's not poisonous" Phyrrae said, striding past Sinclair who glanced at her the way an unwanted man often did. Her scowl had him looking away, however. Phyrrae made her way beside Mari, a strange star-headed scepter in the elven woman's hand. As the group made it to the gate, Kane let out a burst of flame from his mouth, halting all conversation for the moment. It was akin to a bonfire being shot out of the mouth of a small crocodile.

"Let us embark!" He announced.
@Luminosity

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Hidden 11 mos ago Post by Gunther
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The young woman chasing the fattened weasely older man came to a halt while the other lay sprawled across the ground. He looked up at Torsten and his friends as he slowly regained his footing. The man could not decide whether his pursuer was a werewolf or a witch, rendering Torsten to believe she wasn’t either. She simply had the upper hand and he was looking for a way out. Torsten would not accommodate him.

“No one likes a cheat, you fat oaf,” Torsten decided to side with the witch, if she was one. He honestly believed she was simply smarter than the dumb fat man who allowed a woman to get the better of him in a card game. Some people will blame things out of their control on magic or just plain bad luck. Torsten decided this was one of those situations.

“Ma’am, have you reclaimed your possessions?” Torsten asked the young woman lowering his bow. “Sir, I recommend you return to where you come from and pursue a more honest means of acquiring wealth. I look down on common thieves such as you. Now get out of here.”

Torsten looked at Ulf and Njal. He made a gesture as though they should lower their weapons and relax.

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A dragon. Brilliant. Mari would take her chances against orcs over facing a dragon dwelling in an acidic swamp, but if indeed it slumbered, perhaps it was the best bet. Three days' travel or more sounded like an ordeal, but Mari had the suspicion that any travel in these woods was risky to begin with. She had enough rations for herself, and could stretch them if need be. Probably wise to do so regardless, in case matters on their route got complicated.

It was a diverse and interesting group of adventurers she'd manage to attach herself to, and Mari doubted that feeling of being the "new girl" would go away any time soon. They all seemed to know each other and have experience working together, to some degree.

She walked alongside Phyrrae as they set out, quiet at first, keeping an eye on her surroundings and a hand always near her blade's hilt. The woods were calm in the morning, beautiful even, and she made a point to enjoy it while she had the chance.

"You've a quick hand," she said quietly to the elven woman. "Not the first time you've won coin from Orek at that game, I'm guessing."
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Hidden 10 mos ago 10 mos ago Post by Romero
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Cillian could barely hear the elf over the roaring in his ears. He had heard the stories about the Blackwood, huddled around distant campfires or above the merriment of a dozen different taverns, but they still lit the fire within himself. Lost souls, fey spirits, an orc horde, demonic cults, if even half of the things that the elf was saying were true, then Cillian would find enough adventure to write a hundred songs. He had always known that his path would lead him into the darkness of the Blackwood, but even as the fire blazed into an inferno, he caught himself. When he was a younger man, he had been hot-headed, impetuous, too quick to throw himself into the jaws of danger just to feel the rush of adrenaline, just to feel alive, but he was older now, and he had not made it this far without cooling off a little. Wiser? Perhaps not, but he had enough scars across his body to have learnt a few lessons. His first instinct was still to leap at the opportunity, and the elf's words were more than enough to make Cillian want to plunge into the very heart of the Blackwood, but age, and experience, had given Cillian enough of a second instinct to stop and think.

The spell seemed to break, and the hunger pains in Cillian's stomach suddenly came to life again, almost making him wince. Even the drink the elf's hand was enough to make his mouth dry. The Blackwood had been calling to Cillian for as long as he could remember, he was sure that he could ignore the voice for at least another night. Letting the easy smile on his face remain unflinching, Cillian nodded his thanks towards the elf.

"You have been more than helpful, friend, thank you. I hope I am not imposing too greatly if I offer to buy you both a drink for your time. Something hot to eat perhaps?"

Cillian was a stranger in a strange town, and the unusual pair across the table were the closest thing to friends that he had. If nothing else, they seemed as if they would be good company while he filled his belly and satisfied his thirst, and if he was to head across the river and into the depths of the forest, then this elf maiden, this 'Saskia' was the closest thing to a guide that he had found. If he could tease some more information out of her for the price of another flagon? Then he would consider the day a success.

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Hidden 10 mos ago Post by POOHEAD189
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Three days past the city of Andorhaven, the sun was finally loving some of its luster. The past few days it had been bright, with ne'er a cloud in the sky to hide the passing of Aeryn the dark maiden. When carriages or patrols passed her, she did well to either hide her face or hide her presence, but now the Blackwood bore over her in full. The melancholic dim of the looming forest was almost a comforting blanket to her, though even she would be aptly aware of its myriad of dangers. With no steed to speak of, she still made good time. Elves, even dorcha could move swiftly under both the sun and the moon, needing little in the way of sustenance unless tired beyond the norm. However, closing in on four days of travel without much respite would wear on nearly anyone. She would need to make camp for the coming night, if for no other reason than to sit and eat what rations she had, and to acclimate to her new surroundings.

The landscape was filled with brush and thick grass, the trees growing thicker and covered in moss. Some had great rending claw marks that told the paths of great beasts, but none looked fresh, thankfully. If she continued east, in two days time she would make it to the Blackwood Baronies, if the peddler was to be believed. Perhaps there she could get her bearings and find rumors of treasure further south, or even find work as a mercenary. The Baronies weren't known for their tolerance, but many Barons were often desperate. Who knows, some might be in need of a woman who could pull off subterfuge and assassination. The possibilities, much like the Blackwood, were nearly endless.

Moving from tree to tree, Aeryn's keen ears could pick up soft sounds in the distance. A few guttural giggles, though it was clear they weren't at her expense. She could hear further than most could see, and her eyes were nearly as keen. If she were to look to the south, a small scene unfolded before her. Three hunched figured, skin mottled and burnt and ears stretched like they were made of hot wax, anyone of Dorcha blood would recognize gundarogs. They poked and prodded a dead man in the brush a hundred yards away, having found a nice treat in the small clearing they now stood in. The largest gundarog took its jagged sword and began sawing at the man's left arm, clearly taking a large piece to feast upon. Aeryn then heard another noise. One she wouldn't recognize, and yet it was hauntingly familiar.

Her eyes saw movement before it became apparent what else lurked in the Blackwood. To her (and particularly the gundarog's) surprise, a huge wolf the size of a warhorse suddenly charged out of the tree line, moving like a normal wolf would when going after a rabbit or a deer. The large gundarog had no chance in hell, the thing's maw clamping over half of its body and rending it mercilessly. Before the second monster could make a cry of anguish, it was shoved into the dirt by the predator's paw, crushing its rib cage and keeping it immobile and helpless. The last gundarog loped away as quickly as its long limbs could carry it, sending it straight into the direction of Aeryn. Gundarogs had good eyes in the dark, but it wasn't looking at Aeryn as it ran. What was the dorcha to do?
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Valerie Richardson blinked, surprised at the Skayleigh. Most humans, particularly non-fighters would be cowed or intimidated by the half giant's intimidating glare and manner. But she seemed to made of sterner stuff than that, which would make sense. The valley they were in was peaceful, but they were still in the Blackwood after all.

"You seem to misunderstand me. Seeing as you're not human, I'll give you another chance to try that again." She said, hands on her hips. "We don't have a room, which is why our cook and my boss made sure I didn't offer one. You get the barn, or you can keep walking until you find another place to sleep. Do you understand or is there a way I can make it more clear, because I hope I can make your stay as pleasant as possible." She spoke through gritted teeth. The responsible but tired woman had been replaced with someone who was not going to take any further shit from someone that day.

The next day...

Arden had slept well, despite the distant howls of wolves to the east. His tall, lean form was tougher than most soft humans, so he barely felt any discomfort from the hay once the blanket was put over it, and the food was provided helped ease his mood. Valerie had showed him to where the barn lay, but the blankets and the food that were provided to him was by a small boy named Leder. He barely said much of anything, though he seemed wide eyed and curious on the strange tall newcomer.

This morning, Leder had opened the barn door and brought him his food by setting it down on a crate. It was fresh bread and ham, with fresh squeezed orange juice. Not knowing if Arden was asleep or awake, he didn't say anything to the Skayleig. He did seem to contradict his carefulness when he took a poster of parchment paper and began hammering it onto the front door of the barn. Quite loudly, one would notice. On it were two missing men, with a reward for fifty gold royals each for finding them alive, and 30 royals each for finding their bodies. Last seen north of the hamlet.
@Fetzen


"Are you mad!? You're siding with such a witch!?" The fat man blathered, and it became clear he was on some sort of alcoholic beverage or narcotic. "Sir, you are out of your min-"

The next thing Torsten and his companion's knew, the man had been knocked out by a kick to the head from the woman. It wasn't a particularly savage one, and once she was done she made no further moves to harm him. The slim woman seemed to just be glad that was over with. No danger seemed to be creeping up on them from behind or beyond, so at the moment it was safe to just focus on their present situation, which was a woman and an unconscious card cheater.

"I just had to shut him up. Believe me, carrying him will be a lot easier than listening to him if we are to make it back to Oakhollow." She said, tying her coinpurse on her leather belt. On it, Torsten would see a basilard dagger strapped to it at her hip. "That is why you came this way, right? Oakhollow's the only real settlement this side of the Blackwood, after all. Or are you hunters? Big game is very prized in the inner Kingdom of Andred, I hear. I'm a newcomer myself from the Northern Marches."

Pulling at her vest and fixing it, she blew a fringe of hair out of her eyes and approached the three men, holding a hand out to shake for any that would grab it. "I am Alanya, daughter of Burgrave Rochestor. If you're going to Oakhollow, I'll follow. Otherwise this seems to be hello and goodbye."
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Hidden 10 mos ago 10 mos ago Post by Fetzen
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The words Seeing as you're not human, I'll give you another chance to try that again. had been engraving themselves into the Skayleigh's memory well past the point where one could get rid of them easily. It had only been the gentle embrace of sleep that had finally liberated Arden from the firm conviction that not he, but his entire kind was not liked here at least by some people who unfortunately seemed to be the more important ones. And, of course, that liberation only lasted as long as his steady slumber.

The sight of Leder would have been a pleasant one for the boy seemed to be quite okay and not sharing the attitude of the place he was working for, but he held a hammer! And he slammed that hammer against a barn door whose sheer size and flatness only greatly amplified the banging sound of that tool! It indeed was this and not the gentle placement of Arden's breakfast that forced the half-giant to reenter the state of complete consciousness in much more of a hurry than he liked.

The Skayleigh blinked repeatedly, pushing up his upper body from the pile of hay he had rested on in order to look at what was happening more easily. A few rays of sun found their way into the barn and blinded one of his eyes. "What... are you doing ?" he asked, his voice now not only chesty, but slow and unstable. Leder would be able to witness what it meant to have a groggy Skayleigh around -- Arden currently gave a quite good presentation of that.

Moaning slightly, the giant figure on the haystack turned away the blanket and got back up on its feed. He had not busied himself with taking off all of his clothes the day before, so at least he didn't have to put all that stuff back on at the vastly inefficient speed he could provide right now. Still, for someone who had and still was traveling pretty much on his own for so long, getting up in front of unfamiliar eyes was an odd feeling.

With his eyes slowly adapting to the incoming sunlight, Arden trudged towards the barn door with the parchment at a snail's pace. He tried to read it while Leder was still putting in the last nail. "Hey, erm... Leder ? May I ask you if you know where I need to go for this ? I mean... to accept the offering ? Or where to get the two men to should I find them, or their bodies, if... You know ?"
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Five long hours dragged by as Wēlanandaz and his human companion awaited both their workspace and their accomodation, the Dwarf puffing away on his pipe as he dangled his legs over the end of the horse-drawn cart, his eyes seeming to be staring off into some other place or perhaps some other time; from time-to-time he would mutter something to himself, seemingly unaware of things going on about him but safe in the knowledge that, if they had any sense at all, the so-called 'lords' of this place would put he and his companion where they were supposed to be and make use of them.

Once the five hours had abated they were taken to their most recent place of work, even the grumbling Daurgrim inwardly surprised but equally happy that they had been given rooms to go with the acceptable (by the lacklustre standards of men anyway...) smithy.

"I've seen better workshops made by Dwarf children," he grunted at Emilio as he made a whirlwind tour of the abode, running a hand over almost everything, opening his nostrils to take in the scent of the place, "but it will serve, it will have to."

Nonetheless there was undoubtedly a superiority over their last location - the buildings around them built neatly from well-carved and quarried stone, sturdy and stable looking, and even Wēlanandaz could appreciate that the courtyard had a certain charm to it, if you liked that sort of thing and were lazy enough to use it.

Having given the bloomery a once-over, satisfied it was not simply going to crumble as soon as he began using it, Wēlanandaz was about to head to the wagon and begin unloading the tools of his trade when both he and Emilio were intercepted by the bespectacled - and very stiff - woman and her paperwork. For his part the Dwarf had never really gotten onwell with contracts and the like, both the prescence of such documents, as well as the way this women flourished them about and presumed already to tell them what they would be doing, getting a little on his nerves.

He listened patiently and stone-faced as she made her feelings known, the look she gave them only making his blood boil further, Wēlanandaz holding out the papers toward the general direction of his human compatriot as he put on his best imitation of a smile.

"Sinä olet töykeä," came Drimgoth words from his mouth, proclaiming in his own language that she was rude, "flytt deg, kvinna."

Not wishing to be impolite, he gave one last nod of his head and, assuming Emilio had taken the papers from him, nudged his way past the 'important' lady and off in the direction of the cart, turning back only to tell the Dre Costan that he was welcome to help shift the anvil if he had the strength to do so.

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It quite obviously had not been her day, Aeryn thought as she gazed down at her feet. A blister on the side of her ankle from walking. She prodded at it with her forefinger, the sharpness of her nail popped the skin and it began to leak down over her skin to pool upon the fabric of her sock. She shrugged at it nonchalantly, putting her boots back on again - the sting was only minor, and the rumble in her stomach louder.

She was at the last of her rations, and she pulled out from her bag the last strips of meat she had. They were worse for wear now, covered in the dirt from the inside lining of the bag, and dryer still. Luckily, she had her secret weapon tucked away. As she pulled it out, she licked her lips and almost smiled. The corners of her mouth curling mischievously as she turned the lid off the jar. It popped, and a small amount of steam flowed over the rim as she gazed down into the bubbling liquid. Chilli jam.

Happily, she dunked the strips of meat into the sauce. It would have been considered far too hot for a regular palette. She had witnessed men cry at a very sniff of the stuff, here she was being incredibly liberal in the application of it on her jerky.

Shrouded under her cloak, she remained hidden up in the branches of her chosen tree. Rations finished, she was still hungry. Her ears picked up the quiet little click-clack footsteps of a tree-beetle to her left. She raised a brow, and looked left and right as if by instinct, hoping nobody else was around even if she knew there was not. Swiftly, she grabbed the crunchy bug and shoved it into her mouth as it still wriggled in her grip. It wriggled more in her mouth, one of it's squirming legs escaped her lips until she bit down into the centre. It was... [i]Runny[/i. She frowned. "Blech," she mumbled out as it dribbled over her lip. There was only one thing that would wash down the taste.

And then she took a swig from the jam as if it were a drink. A sneaky, hot belch followed.

She was no longer hungry, and somewhere in the trunk of the tree, there would be a newly orphaned nest of tree beetles.




Some moments later, all hell had broken loose in the distance -- and that distance was coming toward her at full speed.

Her reflexes kicked in, and she armed herself first with the crossbow. Wolf was a bigger threat than the Gundarog, but the wolf was also a majestic beast, and the Gundarog was an ugly creature. The wolf would provide her with a nice warm pelt and enough meat to last her for days. But the Gundarog was an ugly creature.

If she left the Gundarog for the wolf, the beast would soon be full and come after her. She had to think fast.

Finally, she fired off a bolt from the crossbow -- directly above the Gundarog. She sent it splintering into a weakened branch on a nearby tree. It came tumbling down with a crash, right between the Gundarog and her.

"Give all rations and I kill wolf," she said.
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"I am Alanya, daughter of Burgrave Rochestor. If you're going to Oakhollow, I'll follow. Otherwise this seems to be hello and goodbye."

Torsten shook the woman’s hand as did his compatriots in turn. “My name is Torsten Meier. Most folks just call me Torsten.” As she shook her friend’s hands, he introduced them to her. “This is Ulf Gunnerson, otherwise known as Wolf.” Wolf was a small wiry man about five and a half feet tall. Although his brown hair was starting to gray already, the man was only thirty three summers in age. His Fu Manchu mustache and beard were peppered with a few gray hairs as well. Wolf simply nodded towards Alanya. He didn’t know what to say.

The second friend stood 6’ 4” tall, with rippling muscles bulging over his arms, legs and chest. He was a very impressive man to look at; handsome to boot. One wout noticed his bleached blonde hair, with his beard in a tight braid dangling off his chin and ending below the top edge of his hauberk. “This jötunn is Njal Osborne or Oz.”

“Nice to make your acquaintance, ma’am,” Oz stammered out.

“We’ll travel with you to Oakhollow,” Torsten responded. Then he looked at Njal. “Oz, would you mind carrying the fat little man?”

“Not a problem, Tors.” Njal tossed the unconscious man over a shoulder like he was a sack of onions. It was no difficulty for the man to carry the smaller man than it would for a horse to carry anyone.

“We are all from Norgard. We have been travelling for several weeks to get here. I guess you could see we are on something of a wanderlust; adventure seekers.” Torsten was concerned that maybe he said too much already. Not everyone has nice thoughts about Norgardian. “So who exactly is your father? I have never heard of Burgrave Rochestor.” Torsten would engage the woman in small talk as they headed through the forest in the direction of the settlement.

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Phyrrae sniffed at the comment, but with Mari's quick eyes she did see a small, self satisfied smile on the elf maiden's face. "I'm not sure what you're talking about." She replied, though the woman did keep her voice down all the same. "If I were to do something like that, he'd never play a game with me again."

With that, Phyrrae drifted into herself as the group trekked deeper into the murky forest. Orek took the lead, at least in spirit. Po was often at the fore, his staff bumping against the ground with every two steps, though he often slowed down to make sure everyone was safe and in line. Even on the road, the forest seemed to reach out and cling to you. Phyrrae eyed the forest with suspicion, and whilst Kane didn't seem to be afraid of anything, it was clear he was alert the way he moved.

"I cannaught believ we could naught even bring a mule." Sinclair said, breaking the monatany of the walk. He wasn't just complaining, as it became evident he had embroiled himself in a discussion of spoils with Orek. The Dwarf chuckled through his well groomed beard.

"Last I checked, seven rings wasn't that big of a haul." He rumbled, smirking at the duelist. "Besides, as long as we find the place we can get back there easy enough to take the rest of whatever loot there is. If I were you, I'd be happy we don't have a beast here that might get spooked and run off with all of that treasure you're hoping to get your hands on."

"I'm pretty sure Kane can carry quite a lot." Po remarked casually, an easy smile on his face as he walked beside them. His staff was now on the back of his shoulders with his arms up and resting on it. His skin was tanned and his arms were toned from a life of manual labor. He could likely lift quite a bit as well, but Dwarves were known for their ability to haul large loads, so despite being the second tallest, Orek could give Po a run for his money in carrying capacity.

"Stupid," Phyrrae breathed. "Counting your vrikerumbles before they bear honey..." Likely a comment on the three of them assuming they would find anything.

Meanwhile, Kane had actually lagged behind a few feet. The massive humanoid's shoulders were still slightly taller than the top of Mari's head, though there was a comforting aura about Kane. He had the look of a careful and loyal friend to match how fearsome of an enemy he would be.

"Mari, I have a question to ask if you would honor me." The Drogator growled, his large tail scraping along the ground audibly. "Are you a powerful warrior among your kind?" He asked. "Traveling the Blackwood alone is something most humans would not do." He watched her curiously, Mari likely having seen lizards who looked the same when they were on alert for predators or prey. "What brings you here on our journey?"
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The sun was still in the sky, but it had notably lowered into the west, casting light along the table as they spoke. It was clear the Elf and Gnome weren't entirely used to a stranger passing through Greybridge to seek company with them out of the blue, as the two exchanged looks when he asked if he could buy them a hot meal and a drink. Despite speculating, it was clear Calvin was up for it to a point. As if on cue, his small stomach growled audibly, causing Saskia to roll her eyes.

"That's kind," Saskia remarked, eyeing Cillian for a moment. "We have been here for awhile, however."

"Not too long." Calvin interjected, elbowing her. "Besides, we haven't eaten anything since we sat down. We can at least enjoy a meal from our new friend before we depart, eh?"

Two elves with braids and riding leathers strode into the front door as a few laborers stalked out into the streets. The city seemed as lively as ever, with raucous conversations mixed with hushed meetings in the corner of the Iron Star. It drowned out the silence of Saskia, who shrugged her shapely shoulders after she deliberated. She seemed to lower her wariness quite a bit actually.

"I guess I should relax. After all I just made a fortune and you're wanting to buy me dinner. What's not to like?" She replied, calling over two drinks for her and Calvin on Cillian's dime. She got a Banian Whiskey, one of the strongest recreational drinks menfolk had. "Though, I am curious. What makes you so enamored with the Blackwood, my friend? You do know it's a death trap. Even a bard would have a hard time finding glory in there without a touch of death. You don't even have a Knight or monster slayer to follow. Will you go in alone?"

"Oh and the city is always safe?" Calvin asked.

"At least the city is predictable. The Blackwood is filled with nameless things and creepy crawlies." Saskia shuddered for a moment, though her comfort returned tenfold when she got her whiskey. Calvin received and Andredian mead for a light buzz and a warm stomach to go with his meal.

"Yes, tell us your end goal, friend." Calvin suggested to Cillian.
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Mari couldn't help a little laugh at Kane's question. "A warrior? Yes. Powerful? Not especially. Not yet, anyway. That's partly why I'm here." Her few years of dedicated training gave her an edge, she imagined, over the average bandit or amateur swordsman, but basic weapon skills were not what made her little group special.

"Do you know of Rán? The Widow of the Seas? She has a temple here, somewhere in the Blackwood. I've trained with her Daughters, and if I can find the temple and complete whatever the goddess has in store for me inside, I'll become one of them." She grabbed the swinging symbol of Rán hanging from her belt to show her companion as evidence.

"It doesn't happen very often. Daughters of Rán live very long lives through the Widow's gifts, so we're not making pilgrimages to forgotten places every year, you know?" Asherah never did tell Mari how old she was exactly, but some of her sisters speculated at minimum several hundred years old. For a human to reach that was of course only possible through magic.

She occasionally glanced at Kane as she walked, but for the most part Mari kept her focus on her surroundings as they went deeper into the woods. Nowhere here was safe, and while the casual banter of the group was reassuring, Mari did not want to be caught off guard by anything out here.

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For a moment, Cillian held his breath. His offer seemed to hang in the air, fragile, and as the unusual pair glanced at each other, he did not know which way their decision would fall. He had spent much of his life rubbing shoulders with strangers, and he had always found an ease in forming brief, fleeting moments of companionship, but even so, the air seemed to crackle with anticipation. Not for the first time, it was the small frame of Calvin that came to the wandering bards aid. Cillian's face broke into a wide grin as he watched the elf-maidens shoulders shrug. For the next brief moment at least, Cillian would have company, and most importantly, a potential audience.

As Saskia called for a drink, Cillian followed her lead, signalling not only a mead for himself, but also three hot meals. Calvin had made it clear that he wouldn't turn down some food, and if the elf wasn't hungry, then Cillian's growling stomach would certainly be willing to pick up the slack. He listened intently as the pair continued to bicker, his face not showing any sign of the thoughts whirling through his mind. The clear dislike of the Blackwood in Saskia's voice may go some way to crushing his initial ideas of creating an unusual travelling party, but that same bile in her words suggested that he was right when he suspected that she knew more about what lurked in the shadows than she might have already told him.

The sun was dipping towards the horizon as they continued to talk, but Cillian had already conceded himself to the fact that his long dreamed about voyage into the calling darkness would have to wait at least until dawn. If he had to spend an evening in this strange city, then he could think of worse places than in a bustling tavern! A lull in the conversation alerted the bard to the fact that his input was required, and the thread tugged him back to the moment. Two expectant faces were looking at him from across the table, but Cillian's smile did not falter. A lifetime of a wandering mind had instilled in Cillian the ability to have his ears act almost independently, and it took only a moment for the thread to remind him of the question that had been levelled at him. Cillian's relaxed smile broke into a wide grin, and he felt the fire in his heart begin to burn brighter again. The tavern was beginning to fill as the evening drew in, and Cillian was careful to raise his voice a little, both to be heard above the bustling noise, but also with the intention that if there was curious ears nearby, they would be able to hear his words.

"Why am I drawn to the Blackwood? For the same reason that the baby bird leaps from it's nest. It is in my blood. All of my life, I knew that my path would lead me here, that I would travel across the river and into the heart of darkness itself. Will I go in alone? I admit, I do not yet know. The Blackwood has haunted my dreams, it's call like that of a siren, but those dreams only show my path, they do not show whether I walk alone, or with other's at my side. Perhaps before this night is out I will have a companion, perhaps there are comrades waiting for me across the river, or perhaps I am destined to travel into the darkness alone. For now though, I am happy to eat, drink and be merry, for only the gods know what the new day will bring!"

A tankard of mead had arrived at Cillian's elbow, and he was quick to grab it, raising it across the table towards the unlikely pair. His smile was wide and warm, his eyes flashing in the firelight that lit the tavern.

"To your good health, friends, and to being merry!"



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Leder seemed a bit too preoccupied with hammering the poster for him to answer the Skayleigh right away. BANG BANG BANG it sounded. Not very loud to a man, but to the sensitive ears of the Skayleigh it was like the gongs of a great bell. Though when Leder got a good look at the grumpy giant-kin he stared for a moment, not afraid but obviously curious at the nature of this strange, long limbed newcomer.

"You hungry, mister? Miss Richardson can probably make you some pork sausage and eggs." He offered, pointed behind him with the hammer. His eyes then fell on the food the Skayleigh had already half devoured. "Oh, wait yeah I brought you some breakfast already. Sorry I take things to a lot of people. Miss Richardson says I'm the best helper in the village and I don't want to let her down. She also pays me in apples!"

At the Skayleigh's question, Leder thought for a moment. The sun in the sky brought in a good bit of warmth into the barn, and Leder's blonde hair seemed to shine brightly in the light. "I think you just go do it, sir. I'm not sure you'll need to accept anything. But the men on there are Gregory and Hamond Garder. They're too brothers who go and check the roads every now and then every week. I think they just didn't come back this time. Not sure what happened."

It was clear the kid didn't know too much, but he did continue. "I think you go to the center building at the middle of town. Mr. Falsted is the mayor. He's the guy to ask. You just go down the road past the inn and turn left and you can't miss it. There's a big statue at the center of town of the great hero, Dragonsbane!"
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The Gundarog had loped in her direction haphazardly like a frightened, unagile ape. A credit to its race, it still would have been hard to spot by human eyes once it left the brief glimpse of sunlight. No wonder these creatures of the underworld had found a safehaven in a forest like the Blackwood. However, the thing was certainly not expecting to find a Dorcha even in the forest of shadows. It nearly tumbled over the ground before catching itself, and once its eyes fell on Aeryn, it quelled at the very sudden new threat before it. That was, until the branch hit its head and knocked it out.

Meanwhile, the massive Wolf was sniffing the ground a bit as it chewed on its second meal. It seemed to have gotten a hold of its impulses for food, pawing at the ground as it finished what flesh was in its mouth. Already it had dug through the shoddy armor of the Gundarog it had killed, its entire torso and head now within the beast's gullet.

Suddenly, behind the thing, two wolf pups slunk out of the brush. They were clearly very young, even though they were nearly the size of your average guard dog. One bounded into view while the other moved mischievously, eyeing the forest around it for anything curious. What was left of the first Gundarog, they began to nip and pick at, clearly wishing for a different kind of meat but not about to complain when they're filling their bellies.

Aeryn had the opportunity to check the Gundarog's pockets and knapsack as it lay there, out cold. If she wished she could kill it, or she could awaken it or take it with her. While she deliberated, she would pick up another sound from her sensitive ears. A voice, obviously male and pleasant to the ear somewhere behind her. Not very close, within a mile at least and drawing closer in a fashion. Clearly walking toward past their location, but would they come close enough to attract the wolves?

At the current moment, the mother wolf was too preoccupied with her whining pups, the soft grunts and whistles they made causing her to perk her lupin ears as she licked them. Decisions, decisions...
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Alyana had a dazzling smile, letting the three men introduce themselves in their fashion and giving them a personal greeting each time. She shook hands with whoever allowed it and patted Oz on the shoulder, clearly enjoying his shyness. From what little she said, she seemed a well traveled woman. She would have had to be, being out in the middle of the Blackwood with naught but a crazed merchant for company. The women straightened her belt, as it was laden with traveling items like a seax and sacks of food and maybe even coin, and she began to walk with the men.

"Norgardians? You're far from your homeland." She remarked, leading them southwest. Or was it northeast? No, they came from the north. Even now the Blackwood seemed to swallow up any sense of direction, much like some of the more enchanted forests in Torsten's homeland where village elders warned naughty children to keep in bed at night or something from within would sneak into any norgardian village and snatch them away. In fact, the three warriors might have passed through such forests in the north, and yet this one seemed even dimmer in hope than those beast infested places. "Then again, I suppose Andred is the next region south unless you count the marches Bania claims as its own."

She had a peculiar accent that Torsten might need to think on, as it was subtle and not Andredian in its inflection. She smirked once Oz lifted up the merchant, though she seemed impressed with the big man's strength. "Sorry about him." She said earnestly, and then perked up once Torsten asked about her father. Alyana chuckled. "Oh, I don't expect you to have heard of him. He's a merchant, though thankfully not like this one. I just figured you Norgardians introduced yourselves by stating who your father was. Maybe I am stereotyping."

Despite the gloom of the forest, the next few miles weren't dangerous to the four travelers and their fat man baggage. They made good time, and before the hour was up the forest began to thin for a short few paces before it disappeared entirely, and they found themselves at the edge of a vast clearing. Not large enough to be called' grasslands,' it was a very, very vast field. At the center of it was something Torsten likely had no seen before. The hollowed stump of a tree, the tree in question being large enough to hold a village of giants, or in this case, a sizeable town of humans. The entrance was a carved archway, and was well lit in the fading sun.

If it weren't for the lights and the guardsmen standing before the entrance, it would have seen like an abandoned carcass of an old world wonder. As it was, they saw people walking into the entrance just as they crested the line of trees.

"Oakhallow." Alyana said simply. "I hope you boys have some money, or you'll be sleeping under the stars tonight. Unless you find the forest more accommodating."
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