Sunday, March 8, 2015

Farmlands and an Oath

“Ok, so if we are going to the farmlands, and not meeting Dakus, he should know.” Finfer said. “It’s after first light; they’ve likely already left. I highly doubt they waited for us.” Temporalis nodded. “I don’t want to risk one of us going to catch up to tell him.” Willow thought for a moment. “I have an idea,” she said, and left the tavern, with the rest of us following after her. She went to a patch of grass near the tavern, sat on her knees, and began chanting in a low, sing-songy voice. Not long after, a raven landed on the ground in front of her. Willow called out over her shoulder. “What would you like to tell Dakus?” Temporalis stared for a moment, then said “We regret to inform you that we will be unable to assist in your efforts to clear the towers, as the farmlands have become more vital to our cause. May the gods be with you.” The raven bobbed its head and squawked. Willow said “Describe him.” Temporalis said “Half elf, male, tall, fit, shaved head, red cloak, leader of an army.” The raven bobbed its head, squawked again, and took flight. Willow said “He will deliver our message.” She rose. Temporalis said “Well, all that’s left is for us to head to the farmlands.”

The farmlands were located to the south of Mountain Hide, across a stream. It did not take us long to reach by foot. When we reached the outskirts of the farms, we could easily see the destruction and remains of what once appeared to be beautiful lands. The ground contained huge, crumbling pits that looked as if beings had crawled out of them. Cautiously, we proceeded, with sharp ears and eyes. Before long, we could see a farmhouse in the distance, with bodies littering the ground all around. Suddenly Temporalis pointed and said “Look!” We all looked up to see bodies rambling toward us, with no rhyme nor reason for their movements, Jerky steps, arms outreached, some dragging a leg or missing an arm. Finfer called out “What are they?!” He notched a crossbow bolt and fired, but missed. Willow and Temporalis managed to hit a couple others, but they did not seem fazed by the impact or damaged hardly at all. One reached me and tried to grab me, but I moved away and stabbed it with my short sword, but there was no effect.

“Freija!” I called out. “What are these things?” Freija held out a hand and a brilliant, bright light shot from her fingertips, disintegrating a creature in front of her. “Undead!” she cried. “How do we kill them? I asked. Hard hits, many of them! Most effectively to the head!” After hearing this, I ran back behind Freija and start firing arrows, as did Willow and Finfer. I managed to shoot one in the forehead, and Finfer took the head off another with a crossbow bolt. Freija took care of the rest with more of her brilliant, bright, divine light. “Are they all gone? Is anyone hurt?” Answers of “No” and “I’m fine” echoed through our group. Temporalis gestured toward the farmhouse. “We should check that place out.” he said. “Yes,” Freija said, “But this barn is closer.” She approached the barn slowly and cracked the door a bit. “There is something in here, some sort of spirit. Should we try to talk to it?” Freija whispered. “No,” Temporalis said. “We should kill it, before it kill us.”

Freija yanked the door open and ran in, toward the spirit, and sliced her sword. Her sword passed right through the spirit, not appearing to do any damage. I was right behind her and shot an arrow at the spirit; again, nothing. Out of nowhere, another spirit appeared directly behind me and grabbed my arm. I felt a horrible burning sensation starting where it touched me and shooting up my shoulder. Finfer appeared in the barn doorway and shot the one on me with a crossbow bolt, causing it to let go of me, but still doing very little to no damage. Nearby, Temporalis had just released dark magic on the first spirit, causing the it to drift back a bit, disorienting it. Seeing the results of his attack, Temporalis said “Bring them all to me, and move out of the way!” Gladly taking his advice, I ran out of the barn, straight to Willow, who was ready and waiting to heal my arm where the spirit had grabbed me. Finfer and Freija moved over next to Temporalis, the spirits following. Once Willow healed my arm, I moved up to the doorway near Finfer and started firing arrows at the spirits. Willow moved up to join us and tried to poison one, but as it turns out, they were immune to poison, so her effort was in vain. Temporalis’ dark magic hurt them enough for our weapons to have an effect, and before long they both released a loud screeching noise and evaporated.

Once the spirits were gone and we were confident they were not coming back, we took a look around the barn. It was nothing out of the ordinary: an old, weather-worn barn filled with hay, farming tools, bridles, feed, water bins, all the normal things one would find in a barn on a farm. As we exited the barn, Willow said “Oh, I meant to show you all something.” She took us to one of the bodies on the ground and pointed. “His left arm is missing, from below the elbow. As is hers, hers, and his.” She said, pointing at various bodies on the ground. “They are all the same; all missing their left arm.” Before anyone could comment, Freija said “Did you hear that?” We all stood and listened, but none of us could hear much of anything. “What do you hear?” I asked. “Some sort of sound, a ruckus, coming from the south, near that house.” Finfer said “I could sneak up and take a look.” The others nodded. I said “I’ll go with you.” As we approached the house, we encountered the most horrible stench that permeated the air and seemed to soak into our skin and clothing. Finfer quietly located a large stone and placed it under the window, so he could peer in. I peered in the other side. We saw a destroyed house, a couple of bodies and body parts lying around, and an undead creature hunched over, eating something. As it moved, I unfortunately noticed that it was eating the remains of a small child.

Finfer and I moved quietly to the door. The horrid stench became stronger the closer to the door we went. Ever so slightly, Finfer opened the door to peer in, only to find an undead creature sitting there, staring at the door. As soon as it spotted us, it growled, getting the attention of the one in the other room. Finfer yelled out “Come up here, quick!” to the rest of group and opened the door a little wider to take a shot. I backed up a bit and fired an arrow at the undead behind the door, lodging it in his shoulder. Freija came up and asked “What’s going on?” I replied “Undead!” Freija ran past me and up to the door next to Finfer, getting there just in time to use her shield to prevent the undead trying to grab Finfer. She called down a column of bright divine light, disintegrating the undead creature. By now the other from the room was in sight so Willow, having come up with Freija and Temporalis, fired an arrow at it, lodging it in its chest. Finfer ran inside the house and shot the undead creature with his crossbow as he ran by. I ran in behind him, and was raked across the shoulder by the undead’s claws as I ran by. I turned and shot as well, but I missed.

I noticed the male body on the ground next to me, while missing his left arm, actually was alive, and I yelled out in Elvish “Sina er naa kuila!” (This one is alive!) Temporalis responded, also in Elvish, “Sana malia en' sina er yeste'!” (Take care of the undead one first!) and cast dark magic at it. Freija ran to me and healed me where I was scratched. When she was done, she glanced down at the body that was still alive and screamed. “ALI!!” and fell to the ground. “Freija!” I said. “We have to kill this one first!” She didn’t hear me, as she was so overcome by grief at having found her friend and mentor maimed and near death. I stood up, took aim, and shot it in the eye socket, causing it to crumple.

Temporalis entered the house and looked around, Finfer with him. Willow rushed in and stabilized Ali, while I did my best to console a frantic Freija. Not long after Willow started, Ali woke up, and with Willow’s help, was able to sit up. Dizzy and disoriented, Ali sat there a bit drinking out of Willow’s water skin while she continued to work her healing magic on him. He looked at Willow, then me, then a tearful Freija. ”Freija?” he asked, puzzled. “What are you doing here?” Freija found her voice “I came to find you.” she said, in a barely audible whisper. “I heard you were here, and you hadn’t come back, and I had to make sure you weren’t.. that you were ok.” Ali took her hand and nodded. He looked around. “Where’s Jacob?” he asked. Startled by the question, I said “Jacob? Jacob Montrose?” Ali nodded. “He is back in Mountain Hide, is he not?” Ali shook his head. “No, he was here, with me.” Temporalis and Finfer checked the remaining bodies in the house, and confirmed none of them were Jacob. Temporalis asked “Do you know why the arms of all these people are missing?” Ali said “No.” He put his arms down to get up, and toppled to the left. Startled, he lifted his left arm, only to discover that it, too, was missing from below the elbow.

Ali, shaking, told us his story. “Vance sent me here, to find out what was going on. Jacob was insistent on coming along, saying something to the effect of having witnessed great feats of heroism and wanted to do his part to help people, too. I didn’t like it, but he was so eager that I couldn’t say no. We came up on this field, and saw the bodies, heard screaming, and came straight for the house. We tried, but couldn’t save the family. I--they--whoever did this, they must have taken my arm while I was unconscious.” Freija stood and helped him up, letting him lean on her. “We need to get you back, Ali. You need to rest.” Temporalis came up to the other side of Ali and helped carry his weight. “Did you visit any other farms?” he asked, as we made our way back to the fields. As we went, Willow, Finfer, and I checked all other bodies for survivors, and to see if any were Jacob. None were, but each was missing its left arm. “Yes,” Ali said. “All farms to the east are destroyed, like this one. I don’t know why the arms are being taken.” Temporalis thought for a moment. “The sign of Vecna is a hand with an eye in it. All left hands are missing. We may have a cult on our hands.”

Changing the conversation topic, Temporalis asked Ali “How well do you know the High Reave, and how much do you trust him?” Ali seemed surprised by the question, but did not hesitate in his answer. “Vance changed after the war. He lost more than just his eye. There is no man in this world that I trust more.” Freija quickly spoke up. “If Ali trusts him, I trust him.” Willow asked “My sister and I are looking for our brother, who works for the trading company. His name is Woodsy. Do you know him?” Ali thought for a moment. “No, I’m afraid I don’t.” He turned to Freija. “It’s interesting to learn you have friends who know what it’s like to lose family.” Freija smiled. “It’s nice to have friends.”

By this point, we were just outside of Mountain Hide. Ali said “Vance needs to know what is happening here. I need to see him right away” Freija said “I will go with you, but Jacob’s parents also need to know their son is missing.” Finfer said “Jacob’s parents also might be willing pay a reward to those who find him.” Temporalis thought for a moment, and said “I don’t think we should visit the Montrose’s, just yet. Ali is correct, the High Reave needs to know what’s going on.” As we made our way into town, we noticed the townsfolk acting strange. But, then again, we were walking through town, smelling like rotting corpses, with a man who was missing but is now returned, and is missing an arm. As we passed by people, they ran and hid, or ran toward the High Reave’s office, calling out to him. Freija mentions “Ali, we probably should take to you to see Minister Urum. The High Reave is aware we are back, or will be shortly. The townsfolk will let him know we are here.” Ali agreed, so we escorted him to the temple.

The temple was a larger building, with stone pillars out front, but otherwise little to no decoration. Inside, there were no holy symbols carved into walls, or ceilings, or on display anywhere. Rows of benches led to a podium, with water basins on either side of the podium. From a door behind the podium, Minister Urum emerged, saw us with Ali, and called back for more help. He ran up to us and Freija quickly filled him in on the events that led up to us finding Ali. Mid-story, Vance arrived and asked what happened, so Freija recounted the story again. While Freija is talking to Vance, Finfer said he needed to see Obman, so he left. Freija wanted to stay at the temple with Ali, and Temporalis headed to the militia house to see about sending a note to Dakus about recent Mountain Hide news. Willow and I decided to head to the tavern to speak to the bartender and eavesdrop on patrons, to get a feel for the mood around town.

The tavern was empty, save the bartender. Willow and I went in and took a seat at the bar. “What’ll it be, ladies?” the bartender asked. “Ale.” We both responded. As he poured our drinks, Willow asked “What has been going on lately?” The bartender looked at her and said “You tell me.” I said “Nobody has seen Jacob in a while. Have you heard anything from the townsfolk? Rumors, gossip, speculation as to where he might have gone?” The bartender said “Jacob leaves all the time. Often times for months on end. If people are worried about him nobody has said anything about it.” After a bit of a pause, Willow said “It’s quiet in here.” The bartender said “Yup. Gets that way sometimes. Can I get you anything else?” We shook our heads, and finished our drinks in silence, mildly frustrated that we were unable to learn anything and annoyed with the bartender for his standoffish attitude.

We paid for our drinks and left, and saw Vance, Ali, Freija, and Temporalis walking down the road. We caught up with them. Freija was in the midst of telling them about the prisoner we questioned in the cabin, and how they believe the southern region of Evershard Isle has been taken over by Vecna, and how they feel it is their sacred duty to Pelor to rid the world of Vecna and his followers. “All the bodies we found were missing their left arms, right at the elbow, like Ali.” Freija said. “Do you think anyone in Mountain Hide’s leadership could be involved in any of this?” she asked. Vance thought for a moment. “Not in Mountain Hide. I know our leaders very well. I trust any of them with my life, and have on more than one occasion. Also, this business with Jacob missing throws another wrench into the machine.” Ali nodded his agreement.

Freija then asked “What’s the story behind the dwarves? What’s their part of Mountain Hide?” Vance said “The dwarves pretty much keep to themselves. They are the solid rock upon which Mountain Hide was built. Our relationship with the dwarves is symbiotic - they provide us metals and weapons, and we provide them protection. I am not originally from Mountain Hide; I am from Northlake.” Ali said “Vance came here after the Jotun wars, to get away. He was very well received, and was voted in unanimously by the people of Mountain Hide to be the High Reave.” Finfer asked “So, what do we do now?” Vance said “I want the undead issue solved. I would like to send you south, to figure out where they are coming from.” Temporalis and Ali both agreed. “If Ali says we go south, then I vote we go south.” Freija declared. “I think we should find Jacob.” I said. Ali said “Before anything else, though, I need to see you, Freija, about a personal matter.” Vance bowed to us, and departed back to his home.

“Eloni, Willow, Temporalis, would you join us?” Ali asked, and led us into the Hidden Forest. Once we were out of sight of the town, Ali turned to Willow. “Willow, would you be able to locate a sacred tree or druidic location?” Willow agreed, and disappeared. A few moments later, she reappeared and asked us to follow her. She led us to a giant willow tree with leaf-covered limbs that hung down over the base of the tree. When she parted the branches, we entered into a lush, green canopy of leaves, intertwined limbs and twinkling fireflies. The area was glowing with sacred, divine magic that enveloped us in warmth. Ali indicated that Willow, Temporalis, and I should stand near the wall, and asked Freija to kneel in the center of the canopy. He pulled his longsword from its sheath and laid it on the ground in front of Freija. “Freija. Where an ordinary Paladin protects the destitute, Ehlonna’s Chosen protects the living. Where an ordinary Paladin seeks out enemies of his faith, Ehlonna’s Chosen seeks out that which perverts life.

“For centuries, Ehlonna has chosen champions for her cause: those willing to protect life and harmony of the natural world, those willing to restore and preserve this harmony without resorting to violence, but finally those who, when facing the threat of unnatural creations that seek to twist or destroy life, will not hesitate to strike them down. Those champions are called Ehlonna’s Chosen. In the service of Ehlonna, her champions must abide by the following code of conduct.” Ali paused. “Freija. Do you swear to always respect life and preserve harmony?” Freija nodded. “Do you swear to let your acts be guided by honor and conscience?” Freija nodded. “Do you swear to be without mercy to those who would destroy, twist, and pervert life?” Freija nodded. The fireflies began flying in a slow circle around the tree’s canopy.

“Repeat after me: I vow to Kindle the Light, through acts of mercy, kindness, and forgiveness. I vow to kindle the light of hope in the world, beating back despair. I swear to Shelter the Light, by standing against the wickedness that would swallow the good, beauty, love, and laughter in the world. Where life flourishes, I will stand against the forces that would render it barren. I promise to Preserve My Own Light, for if the light dies in my own heart, I cannot preserve it in the world. From this day forward, I will Be the Light. I will be a glorious beacon for all who live in despair.” Eagerly and tearfully, Freija repeated the words of the oath. With each segment she repeated, the fireflies flew a bit faster and grew brighter, their lights pulsing, as if we were witnessing the heartbeat of Ehlonna herself.

Ali picked up the sword and held it out in front of him, parallel with the ground. “Rise, Freija Galiakiir, In the name of Ehlonna, I declare you Ehlonna’s Chosen.” Suddenly, every firefly in the canopy of the trees shone bright, and floated toward Ali and Freija, spinning faster and faster as they spun a web of light around them. The longsword in Ali’s hand floated, and the web of light was sucked into the blade. There was a brilliant flash. Once our eyes regained focus, we saw the longsword, still floating mid-air, its blade shining bright silver with green beveled accents, its handle a unicorn horn, and thorns for its hilt. Ali took the sword and presented it to Freija. “Take this, my child, the Longsword of Ehlonna. Go forth, Paladin, and remember your vows.”

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