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[Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Tue Mar 20, 2012 6:53 pm
by RobJN

I'd like to take a moment at the top of this new thread to say a heartfelt "THANK YOU" to all the supportive Piazzans who've stuck with this over the past three and a half years. Thanks to Ash, for giving the Chronicle its home. Thanks to David and Havard and the rest of the moderator teams for maintaining the boards, and the visitors who keep things civil so the moderators don't have to. To Charles and John, whose ideas I *ahem* borrow and modify. To Bruce and Aaron and Tim and Frank for the world to which I've taken a monkey wrench, and the rules with which I've done the damage ;) Special thanks to agathokles, who's "Cruth Lowlands" development sparked a lot of ideas for Thorn & company's trek across northwestern Karameikos.

For the rest of you, who I haven't named, I'd like very much to hear from you! Chime in on the board, send me a private message or email if something piques your interest, or you'd like me to develop some "Crunch" for a particular idea or passage in the Chronicle (or if you'd like to develop some Crunch, even!). If you like the tale, or hate it, let me know!

This started off as a sort of an homage to Bruce's Voyage of the Princess Ark series in Dragon Magazine (the reason I bought the magazine from issues 152-on). It has since taken on a life of its own -- the characters have grown beyond their stats on the page I started out looking over. The mysteries have deepened. The events of the past have taken on definite shapes where before there were only hazy shadows in the mists.

I know how the tale will (eventually) end, but not precisely how it will get there. I welcome each and every one of you to join me on the journey.

Thorn's Chronicler
March, 2012

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 2:00 am
by RobJN
Waning crescent of the Deep Snows (on or about Kaldmont 27, 997AC)
We parted ways at Rifflian, the Baron continuing north to his holdings, with Saoirse and the ranks of Silva’s Army (who spent the entire two days’ trip until Kelven arguing over whether they were to be called ‘The Defenders of Threshold,’ ‘The Company of Maidens,’ or ‘The Handmaidens of Petra.’)

Silva pressed something into each of the girls’ hands, whispering in their ears as she kissed each on the cheek before we departed down the gangplank, while Aurora watched with a frown. They had had their own arguments, growing so heated at one point that thunder growled in the low-hanging clouds that still clung to the skies, though I felt no inclination of the weather to turn wet or stormy. More than one of the Grand Duke’s sailors made the sign against witchcraft, when they thought one or another of the twins was not looking their way.

Saoirse and Sera’s parting was a bit more tearful, and I did my best to push the feelings that welled up through the bracelet to the back of my mind.

Although I was expecting a greeting of some sort from the Order, the half score Greenwardens waiting at the dock came as a surprise.

“Marcu.” He did not incline his head, and Breregon’s smile was not welcoming, but wolfish.

My blood ran colder than the Waterholde.

“No,” I said, as I felt the glowing warmth begin to radiate up my arm, touched with an echo of my own fear. The heat abated, but did not entirely dissipate. I inclined my head to the Hierarch’s aide.

“I did not expect such an escort,” I said to him.

“Fewer than six could be bested by magic. I decided to take no chances.” Breregon rested his hand a bit too casually on the hilt of his sword. He glanced behind me. “Your companions are welcome to stay at the Swan, if they wish to wait for you.”

Aurora stepped to my side, Silva to the other, slipping beneath the silvery lead.

“We would speak with the Hierarch, and will accompany Thorn.” Aurora put a heavy emphasis on my chosen name.

Breregon hesitated, but only slightly. “The Hierarch is… otherwise disposed,” he sniffed. He lifted a hand — not the one on the pommel of his sword — and turned to go.

“Then we will have to interrupt his council,” Aurora said. I shivered at the layer of frost she’d lathered over her tone.

The Hierarch’s aide turned back, arching an eyebrow. “I do not think you understand,” he said, slowly. “He is cloistered. With the Elders, and will be until the turning of the new moon. He left strict instructions that they are not to be disturbed. Under any circumstances.”

“They no doubt deliberate the importance of the disappearance of one of the wandering stars,” Aurora said, speaking just as slowly, her inflection a perfect mockery of Breregon’s tone. “We will save them the puzzlement. Besides, we have need of your Hierarch’s expertise in potions.”

The Greenwarden’s jaw dropped. He took several tries before he could speak. “You will not disrupt a Conference of Druids to ask for a mere philter!”

Silva coughed, and I could nearly feel the heat of Aurora’s gaze as she looked aside at her sister. The silver-eyed twin waved off her concern, but we both saw the spots of blood upon the handkerchief before she folded it away.

“You will take us to your Hierarch,” Aurora said. The words rang with a steely note of command.

Breregon seemed not to hear it. “I know your kind’s secret,” he sneered. “You are a copy. A shadow. And I do not leap at a shadow’s beck.”

“If you know our lore, then you will know that ‘my kind’ do not sicken.”

The smug defiance slid from the Greenwarden’s face as he looked from one twin to the other.

“Did I hear her rightly, Thorn?” Ana asked.

“She doesn’t need a druid,” Gilliam whispered. “I knew a man in Landfall who had a recipe for the best hangover cure. Some Dwarven firebrandy, a shot of Shire pepper oil, and a twist of lemon. Works wonders for coughs, as well.”

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 2:10 am
by Angel Tarragon
Nice. Love the inflection of sarcasm. :cool:

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Wed Mar 21, 2012 1:11 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

It was less than an hour’s hike to the Moot’s Grove. Four great oaks grew in a depression between three hillocks, one at each point where the hillocks met, and another in the center of the small bowl, forming a nearly complete dome of branches and leaves. One hillock was shorn and weathered into steps, which also served as seats whenever a Moot was held, which hadn’t been in mine nor the current Hierarch’s lifetimes. Nowadays, the place was used for secluded meetings, when Hierarchs and Elders of the various orders came together for discussion or debate.

Breregon led the way in silence, save the occasional order to one or another of the Greenwardens accompanying us, or to speak with another warden at the various checkpoints along our route. We met with crossed pikes at the Grove’s entrance. The Hierarch’s aide engaged the two guards in a long and heated discussion. He gestured our way several times, but the pikes did not part. Finally, he threw up his hands, storming back towards us, shaking his head.
“They will not bend,” he said. “And it is not as if they do not know who I am.” He looked down at the twins, and shrugged. “You will just have to wait for the new moon, as I said earlier.”

Aurora and Silva glanced at each other for a long moment. Silva seemed about to speak, even managed to start to say something before her sister raised a finger, golden eyes smoldering. Silva frowned, then heaved a world-weary sigh.

Aurora crossed the path, and the pikes closed before her. I did not hear the exchange, but the girl made a few rather expansive gestures, the first towards the grove, and then another in the direction of the greater Radlebb woods. She tapped her foot, and the antlered helms turned toward toward each other. One of the men shouldered his pike, turned, and walked stiff-backed into the grove. He returned perhaps ten minutes later, retaking his place on guard, snapping to attention as the Hierarch approached just a few steps behind.

He did not look pleased, as he looked down at Aurora, and then up over her head, towards the rest of our group.

He looked… older. Weary. His eyes hardened as they swept over me, and again, I felt the chill settle in my stomach, as a sheet of ice forms over a river, or lake. A ghostly tingling of the same sensation crept up my arm from the bracelet, and I felt Seraphina’s hand slip into mine, giving a squeeze.

I swallowed, but dared not look away from the Hierarch. His jaw clenched, beneath his graying beard, and he gave the slightest of sighs, his shoulders drooping ever so slightly. His grip tightened on his staff of office, and he gestured for us to follow him, not glancing behind as he retraced his steps into the Grove.

Breregon glowered at Aurora, who smiled sweetly up at the man, no trace of smugness in her features, but a glimmer of it dancing in her eyes.

“Did she threaten the Hierarch with fire, or was it lightning?” I asked Silva.

She gave the slightest of smiles. “Dvitaya,” she said.

Both. I should have guessed it.

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2012 2:52 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

I recognized the Elders from Riverfork and Achelos, and nodded greetings to them. Their brows furrowed, bushy eyebrows growing closer above eyes as stony as those of the Hierarch. Only the Eldress of Dymrak showed any sort of favorable reaction, if you can call quirking a gap-toothed smile, only to hide it behind long-nailed fingers “favorable.” Her black eyes glittered, hungrily, it seemed, lingering on the bracelet and lead.

The crone sucked in a sharp breath when those eyes finally flicked towards the twins. Another smile crept across wrinkled lips, and she darted a sideways glance a the Hierarch.

“My apologies, Gregorev.” The woman’s words — she spoke in the Druid’s Speech — came out sounding like broken glass, her breath trailing a hitching wheeze that I presume was a laugh. “It would seem that legends do, indeed walk.”

“Children?” Elder Ivonov rose to his feet. “We discuss ill omens and events that could see an end to all the work we have done over the past thousand years, and you would interrupt that for… for these children?”

“The druid and his… sorceress I could forgive,” the Elder continued, “since we will be dealing with them shortly. But we have not come to consensus about the meaning of the missing star above the eastern mountains."

“Ivan, before you say anything more,” the Hierarch said, not without the slightest of smiles, “you should know that the golden-eyed of the twins—”

“Is fluent in what you call the ‘Druid’s Speech,’” Aurora said.

Elder Ivonov’s eyes widened, but he did not sit back down. “Children should address their elders in the appropriate manner,” he said, biting off each word.

“Yes,” Aurora said, nodding. “Yes, they should. You may start by bowing.”

The Elder’s cheeks did color, then, but it was a flush of anger, not embarrassment.

“Before you dine further on your foot, Ivan,” the Hierarch said, before the other man could open his mouth, “Thorn, would you be so kind to introduce your companions to this Lesser Council?”

“My Lords, and Lady,” I said, bowing to each of the three Elders, “I introduce to you those with whom I have been traveling these past few months: Warrior in the tradition of the new generation of Karameikan, Varis, formerly of the Grand Duke’s army.” He stepped forward and gave a bow, then fell into the military parade stance.

“Beside him,” I continued, “Gilliam, of northern Thyatis.” He nodded towards the council members.

“The Servant of the Flame is Ana, of the Citadel in Sundsvall. We are all of us in her debt, as we would not have survived the troubles without her aid.”

“Flame shine upon you,” she murmured.

To my surprise, each of the Elders responded with a soft “And on you as well.”

“The weaver, Seraphina of Glantri, recently freed from captive service of the Iron Ring.”

“And taken of a new shepherd, it would seem,” Elder Ivonov growled.

“It was by necessity. My choice, not his!” Heat flared up my arm at Sera’s outburst.

“That will be discussed later,” the Hierarch said, silencing Ivonov with a look.

I waited for the girl’s anger to ease, and then gestured towards the twins. “My Lords, my Lady, I will have to allow these two to introduce themselves.”

Aurora glanced at her sister, and then took a step forward and away. “Elders, Eldress, Hierarch.” She nodded to each of them, then drew a deep breath. “I stand before you, Shrike of the Fourth Guard of the House Defender, attached to Colony Bellerophon, thirty-seventh iteration of the Progenitor’s fifth shard. I have been so named in this incarnation as Aurora, as was She who came before me.

“And this,” she continued, taking Silva’s hand, and pulling the girl to her side, “is the Heiress of the Second Empire, Stewardess of Thonia, Conquerer of the Afridhi Rose of Dawn, Guardian of the First Throne of Stars. Rise, and bow before Princess Rowena Andahar of Blackmoor.”

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2012 3:54 pm
by Chimpman
I'm soooo far behind. Once I catch up, I'll leave some comments, but for now I'm still stuck back in the fluff thread... :(

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Thu Mar 22, 2012 4:00 pm
by RobJN
Chimpman wrote:I'm soooo far behind. Once I catch up, I'll leave some comments, but for now I'm still stuck back in the fluff thread... :(
Take your time. I always look forward to your perspective on the storylines, and for possible tie-ins to your own projects. :D

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Fri Mar 23, 2012 12:54 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

Silva looked almost as shocked as the rest of my companions. Even still, we found ourselves going to one knee. All of us, that is, except Elder Ivonov.

“Impossible!” Ivonov snapped. “Rowena and Leansethar is a fairy story. They never really existed. Why… if they did, they would be…. thousands of years old by now. There are barely any dragons that old.”

“There are four,” Aurora said. “Three of which we know personally. Shall we summon them, that they may corroborate my claims?” She made to raise her arm, but Silva — it would be difficult to think of her by any other name — gripped her twin’s arm, holding it firmly by her side.

“Nieah,” she said, with a hard look. “Idanim na’asti, Anuja.”

“There is only ‘now,’” Aurora whispered. “Yours grows shorter with every breath. We cannot waste it in coddling these ignorant barbarians.”

Silva slapped Aurora, hard enough across the cheek to cause the shrike to turn her head with the blow.

“Vadati na, ce zathayati,” Silva hissed, repeating the lesson her sister had reminded her of back at Krakatos. My knowledge of Ancient Thonian was sketchy at best, but I was pretty sure it amounted to my mother’s advice: “It you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.”

She turned towards the Elders. “Anjua — my smaller sister has…” Silva glanced over to me. “Samaam? You… make it speak how?”

“Sorry,” I coached. I would definitely need to spend quite some time working on the girl’s grasp of Thyatian sentence structure.

Silva nodded. “Yes. That is its sound.” She turned back to the druids, and bowed, yanking on Aurora’s hand to make her do the same.

“We… are..” She began, and paused, searching for the words.

“Humble before you,” Aurora finished.

“Yes,” Silva said, nodding as she straightened. “That is its sound.”

She glanced my way and winked.

Igorov crossed his arms. “So she knows a smattering of Ancient Thonian. She could very well be from one of the sidhe tribes still on the Isle of Dawn, could have picked it up from there. We waste time with these pretenders. We should be discussing the importance of the missing star.”

“That ‘missing star’ is one of the twelve Thrones,” Aurora said. “The third to have fallen since the Remaking.”

“Legends. Again? You have it backwards, dear child. The adults tell their children the tales when it is time for them to sleep. There is no place for fairy stories in this conference.”

The shrike’s fist clenched, the two red stones adorning her wrists kindling to light. Silva hummed a note, and the dragonstones went dark.

“It was the First Throne,” Aurora pressed. “Nothing else explains my sister’s presence here.”

“So the Sleeper wakes,” the Eldress murmured.

“Not you as well, Solorena,” Igorov groaned. “That old song—“

“That ‘old song’ comes to life before our very eyes.” The other Elder, Connor of Riverfork, finally spoke. “Among so many others. Tell me, Igorov, did you not sing Leansethar’s Lullaby to your children?”

The Elder of Achelos sputtered, hunkering down a bit in his robes. “What has that old rhyme got to do with any of this? The stars--”

“Please, sing it for us,” Elder Connor prodded, the ghost of a smile quirking a corner of his mouth. “Unless you have forgotten it.”

Igorov sat up straight, his eyes flashing. “My beard was going gray before you even began growing yours,” he said. “If you think that I’ve forgotten a song in my old age—“

Connor folded his arms. “You stall, Elder.” He looked up at the Eldress, Solorena. “I know you know the song. Perhaps you could refresh our fellows’ ailing memory?”

Igorov flushed red beneath his beard, all the way up past his bushy eyebrows. He practically leapt to his feet. Rather than shout though, he lifted his voice in song, a rich, alto that seemed too large to come from so frail an old man:

“Take me away from time and season

Far and away we sing with reason

Prepare a throne of stars above me

As the world once known will leave me

Take me away upon the plateau

Far far away from fears and shadow

Strengthen my heart in times of sorrow
Light the way to bright tomorrows”

Aurora rocked back on her heels, her face gone pale, her golden eyes distant.

“What is it? What has happened to her?” Ana asked, pushing past me to kneel at the shrike’s side.

Silva lifted her sister’s hand, which was slack in her own. “She is safe. The sing, it takes her away to the past. Very deep. Very far.

“She sing it for me, at Father’s house upon the black stone. When I am… not right. Hurting with the fevers. Our mother sing it for us when we were made here.” She rubbed at her stomach. She sighed, squeezing her sister’s hand, and she looked up at me.

“Your words. They are difficult in making. They are not made for that to sing.”

It is nearly as difficult rendering Silva's speech in "common" as it is piecing it together from Sanskrit, Old English, and Latin... :geek:

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Tue Mar 27, 2012 10:45 am
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

“Now, then, before the two of you come to blows,” Elder Connor said, glancing first at Igorov and then at Aurora, who’d regained her composure, and glared knives at the Elders, “I would have us dig at the root of this intrusion. We have heard your theory of the missing star, and will take it into account in further discussions. You also came to ask a boon of us, feyling. Be quick about asking it that we might get back to our discussion of other matters.”

Aurora took a moment to tamp down her frustration. After several deep breaths, she turned to the Hierarch.

“I would humbly beg this Hierarch to beseech the Callarii for shelter beneath the boughs of one of their Trees of Life for my sister, that she—“

“Nieah!” Silva gasped.

“That she might shelter there until I can find a working Lightning Road—“

“No! No, no no! Chadat’mi tvam abvhani’ya. Gopya’mi tvam abvhani’ya!” Silva slashed her hand in the air, a clearly negative gesture.

“We kept you asleep, away from this world so it could not infect you!” Aurora shouted. “It has grown worse, so thick that even the dragonstones cannot keep the taint from your blood. If you do not shelter beneath a Tree of Life, you will die. I have seen too many claimed by the Wasting. I will not let you suffer through it.”

Silva’s fists clenched, a ripple of golden light pulsing through the red stone over her left wrist. “I have more… strong than you think. You are not to keep me in the towers like that time. I can fight. I will fight. This world is mine and I will fight for it!”

They stood, backs straight, shoulders squared, eye to eye. It was a long stretch before Aurora spoke.

“You are one of the Progenitors.”

“Atah, uttarad’yitva’mi,” Silva said. “I have responsible.”

“You endanger yourself. Thus, the entire world.”

“The world has… much dangers already.”

“The long sleep has not made your head any softer.”

“I have had the sleep for.. too much time. I will not go back.”

“Your magic—“

“The dragon’s stones will protect me.”

“They are barely enough. My armament is barely enough!”

Silva drew a breath to continue arguing, but it caught in her throat, and she began to cough again, doubling over with the severity of the fit.

“It is the first of the signs of the sickness,” Aurora said, the edge of irritation gone from her voice. “It will only get worse, without help.”

“The stones—“ The clear stone at her throat shone with a brilliant golden-white light.

“Even those are not enough,” Aurora said. “You need a Treekeeper’s care. Shelter beneath a Tree of Life.”

Silva shook her head. “Nieah,” she rasped, through blood-flecked lips.

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Sun Apr 01, 2012 12:48 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

“If she will not seclude herself with the elves, there is another way,” the Eldress said.

“No,” Igorov snapped. “I know what you would suggest. I will not endorse it.” He crossed his arms.

“Nor will I,” Aurora said, much to the Elder’s — and everyone’s— surprise. “It is far, far too dangerous. For either of you.” The shrike glanced between Silva and I.

I felt Sera’s confusion, though Gilliam beat her to the question.

“What under Ixion’s sun are all of you rambling on about?” he asked.

Igorov narrowed his dark eyes at the man, but Elder Connor spoke first.

“Our apologies, Son of the Mountains and Sands. The Elder of Achelos objects to the notion of raising druid Thorn to the ranks of the Greensingers. He no doubt has his own candidate in mind for the available position.”

Igorov huffed, shifting where he sat on the stone of the grove’s hillock.

“This could make it so I am not to … how to speak it? Be secret among the treefolk?” Silva asked.

Ana’s brow furrowed. “I have heard the term, but do not know the details.”

“Like servants of the Flame, Greensingers work to cleanse the world of the demon’s taint,” the Eldress of Dymrak said. “Where your priests work among the populace in the cities and towns, Greensingers do so among the communities of the sylvan folk, where there are no Trees of Life or Treekeepers to slow the spread of the corruption.”

Ana smiled. “It sounds to me like a very satisfying calling.”

“It is a lifetime of hard work,” the Eldress said, nodding. “At once very satisfying, but also saddening. There are so many too far gone, that we simply cannot reach in time.”

“There is nothing more frightening that battling a fey given over to the insanity of the Wasting,” Igorov said. “That is the final duty of a Greensinger: to aid the fey until such a time as to end them, before they can fall to the darkness. If— and I do not say I believe this feyling’s claims — but let us suppose those truly are mythical dragonstones on her wrists. If they— and thus, she— hold the powers that legend legends suggests, you cannot expect this journeyman to stand against it. She will burn him to cinders without two moments’ thought. We would save ourselves much trouble if we simply— ”

Aurora’s hand tightened on the knife at her hip. The two red stones smoldered on her wrists, the gold in her eyes brightening.

“I will make cinders of any who would threaten the Progenitor.”

“And will you be able to carry out the Greensinger’s task, when the time comes?” Igorov asked, not batting an eye at the very real danger in which he’d placed himself.

“That time will not come. That is why she must stay in the neutral zone beneath a Tree,” Aurora said, easing the grip on the begemmed knife and glaring at Silva.

“How…” Silva paused, frowning as she struggled to piece the words together. “How far is …the road? The path?” she asked. “How much of steps is this journey to the dark places?”

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Tue Apr 17, 2012 6:16 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

“Nobody will be making cinders of anybody else,” the Hierarch said, looking down at Aurora. “We fully realize the danger that your sister is in, and will do what we can to help, as we would for any of her kind. What of you? Do you require the same aid?”

“Not as yet,” the shrike said. “The blood of my kind has been… insulated… against the corruption. I simply need a fresh cache of black dragonstones, since She who came before detonated hers in defeating the Kartoeba beneath the Valley.”

“Let us hope you never have to sacrifice yourself in such a manner,” the Hierarch murmured.

“Let us hope that the other Kartoebas are not awakened by foolish power-hungry druids,” Aurora said.

“There are more of those… things?” Ana asked, shuddering.

“Your aid?” Silva asked.

The Hierarch looked over to me.

“We will need to outfit you with a Soul Gem,” I told Silva. “You will need to wear it beneath the full moon for it to properly attune. After that point, it will ease the strain of the demonic corruption. There are elixirs the Hierarch can prepare that will also draw out some of the taint, until we can find a suitable crystal and the moon aligns herself properly. It is not a cure,” I cautioned her.

“Shelter beneath one of the elven trees is the—“ Aurora began.

“No!” Silva stamped her foot. “I am no songbird. There will be no cages.” She looked to the Hierarch, and dipped into a deep curtsey. “Please, I humbly accept the aid you can give to me.”

“The Imperial Princess—“ Aurora sputtered.

“The Imperial Princess has every aid this Hierarch of Radlebb can offer.” He turned to me. “I hope all of my druid brethren may aid you in such a manner.”

I sighed. No rest for the weary.

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Fri Apr 27, 2012 9:07 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

Last of the Longwinter’s Year (on or about Kaldmont 28, 997AC)
I awoke from dreams of flame to the sound of Sera’s quiet weeping. The ghost of woodsmoke clung to my nostrils, my eyes feeling of gritpaper though the night was cool and clear. My heartbeat began to slow, as the earth beneath my fingers told me of no sign or trace of the roaring inferno that awakened me.

I sat up, saw Seraphina huddled in a ball on the other side of the great tree’s root that separated us. Her face was pressed to her knees, lost further in the fall of her hair, but there was no need to see her face to know she wept. Her body shuddered with each breath.

“Sera?” I called, softly.

My arm stung at the surprise that surged from the bracelet. For a moment, my mouth tasted of ash and acrid smoke and… another scent clung to the memory pressed upon me, and my stomach turned, partly from the smell but mostly from the wave of revulsion that coursed through the bracelet along with the memory.

Like the tidewaters of Marilenev Gulf, the feelings rushed away, leaving me with only a distant notion of the weaver’s presence in the back of my mind.

With the ghostly flames gone from my mind’s eye, I could see Sera peering at me from behind her knees, her eyes wide, red rimmed, as if I were some wolf come to devour her.

“I am worse than possessed,” she said, her voice still thick with tears. “No demon compelled me to burn my whole village to the ground.”

“No,” I told her. “The demon that compelled you was on the other end of that collar.”

“I have done terrible things,” she whispered. “Fire and stone… Men and the things of their making cannot stand against it. I have used the two most sacred things to you druids to take lives. So many lives.” She turned away. “I do not know how you can even bear to look at me.” The ashen taste crept into my mouth again, my stomach roiling in sympathy with Sera’s.

I concentrated, and pushed those feelings back through the connection. Then I rose, and walked around the niche in the roots where the young woman huddled, kneeling down to take her hands in mine. I knew that my feelings would flow to her through the strange bond she’d forged in giving me the bracelet, but… I am a druid. To have something, to hold it, to feel it gives us certainty.

“The fact that you can still feel what you feel, after the burden of years, tells me you are in a far, far different place than demons, be they ethereal or tethered to you through this… device.

“You were there, when I wrestled control of the ceremony away from the demons of winter. They know nothing of remorse, or regret. The only tears they are interested are those they can coax from others. They have none of their own, not for their own kind, not for men or weavers, be they guilty or innocent of any crimes.”

Heat welled up, in a spot just above my stomach. “I did not always do just because my bughael willed it. It was not always done under orders.”

Again, ghostly flames chased across my thoughts, and images danced in the play of the shadows: darkened tents; figures, lit from behind by smoky red-tinged light; the bracelet, left amidst the mats and pillows; a calloused finger diverting her eyes from the gleaming metallic band…

I felt my stomach turn, and this time, the sensation was entirely my own.

The flames and images disappeared, as if made of smoke and shredded by a sharp gust of wind. The warmth seeped into my stomach, settling it.

“You are not at all like them,” Sera said. She looked up, over my shoulder, wiping at her eyes. “We have company.”

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Sat Apr 28, 2012 4:14 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

Ana stood at the edge of the clearing, Aurora at her side, glowering up at the priestess.

“Can we go now?” she asked. “Every moment we wait—“

“It cannot be done without Thorn,” Ana said. She looked over to me. “I, at least, was worried we would awaken you, but I see that is not the case.”

“Trouble?” I asked, helping Sara to her feet.

“Aurora seems to think so,” Ana said.

“I know. Now, quickly.”

Aurora led us down one of the paths, towards the lean-to where she and her sister were quartered.

Silva tossed, kicking at the blankets of her bedroll, crying out as she scratched at the ground.

Ana knelt by the girl’s head, wrestling as she struggled against the cleric’s grip.

“It is no use. She will not awaken,” Aurora said.

Ana peeled back one of Silva’s tightly-shut eyelids. A sickly purplish-silver light shone, swirling, from her eye. Aurora sucked in a sharp breath. The swirling light grew faster, even as we watched.

“Cover your ears!” the shrike called.

Silva’s back arched, and she let out a shriek. The sound hit like a hammer, and had we not clutched our hands over our ears, I have no doubt the sound would have hurt much more than it did.

And as it was, the pain was enough to drive Sera and I to our knees, bright lights bursting behind our closed eyes.

The terrible sound continued, far longer than I thought possible, and then a ringing, deafening silence dropped over the sound.

I squinted, saw that Silva still thrashed, her mouth open. But Ana’s arrowhead-shaped symbol of her faith gleamed brightly against her breast, her fingers clasped between a prayer and a gesture towards the wailing siren. A dark bead of blood clung to her upper lip, her face drawn.

“What was that?” Sera asked. I could barely hear her through the throbbing ring in my ears.

Aurora motioned us away, pulling Ana after her.

“Now you see why we could not wait?”

“What is happening to her?” Ana asked. Her voice was raw, scratchy.

“The darkness burns in her blood. It is growing to become more than she can control. If we cannot awaken her, she will begin to fade. Her screams will become more powerful. The demons would harness her voice, and make a weapon of it.”

“Is that… even possible?” Sera asked.

“You have heard of the banshee?” Aurora asked.

“The weeping spirit?”

“Druidic legends tell of the groaning spirits,” I said, thinking back on the lore and lessons from some of my earliest days of training. “They are said to roam the borders of Alfheim. The ghostly remains of elven mothers who have lost their children to some tragedy or another.”

Aurora shook her head, glancing over to Ana, but the cleric merely shrugged. “I have heard the word, but only since I have come to these shores. If these exist on Alphatia, then we have not encountered them.”

“Then you are lucky,” the shrike said. “Your lore is wrong, as is to be expected.” She sighed. “So much lost.”

She straightened, suddenly, and the begemmed knife was in her hand as if by magic. Her golden eyes flicked from shadow to shadow in the trees around us.

“Show yourselves!”

Dozens of long green cloaks materialized, what I’d thought to be branches actually the sharp points of antlers adorning bark-skinned helms. Swords were held at the ready.

“You dare to bare weapons— iron weapons— in our presence?” The dragonstones smoldered to life on Aurora’s wrists, and her fingers spread, hooked, by her sides.

“Be at ease, Daughter of Gold,” the Hierarch strode from a pool of deeper shadows. A gesture of his hand sent the swords back into scabbards beneath the green cloaks. “If they did not act to protect me, I would not have raised them up to Greenwardens.”

Aurora’s posture relaxed, but only slightly. The stones did not go dark.

“My sister is in no condition to tame these dragonstones,” the shrike warned.

“Precisely why I have come,” the Hierarch said. “I bring you my three most potent treatments. Have her drink these, and she will have perhaps another week.”

Aurora frowned. “You said she had more time.”

“Your sister, it seems, is a special case. I performed the Balancing twice. It was not in error.”

“And the Soulstone?”

“I have my swiftest messengers afoot, but even they will take three days.”

“We cannot wait another cycle, if the most you can buy her is a sevendain.”

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Sun Apr 29, 2012 8:31 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

Silva’s fit was nearly another hour in passing, leaving the girl exhausted, drenched in sweat. The Hierarch left, taking the Greenwardens with him. They were replaced with the Dymrak Eldress’ Diaphanous Guard, a contingent of dark-eyed dryads, and I was quickly escorted away as they made preparations for Silva’s bath.

Sera and I were led to the common clearing, where several of the lay druids worked over the cook fires, stirring at rows of clay pots, or turning rounded flatbreads over on the great cooking stones.

There were no trestle tables, no benches, just a long stretch of dew-wet grass dotted with reed mats. As we passed, a young druid passed us a clay bowl of porridge and a leaf-wrapped bundle containing several wedges of bread. It was no great problem finding Gilliam and Varis, who’s armored figures stood out against the robed and hooded druids.

“Morning greet you,” Gilliam said, pouring cups of cool water for Sera and I.

“And you as well, I said, pouring out a trickle of water into the grass before I sat.

“Ylari custom,” Gilliam said, seeing Sera’s puzzled look. “Greetings, partings, any type of thanks is always begun or ended with an offering back to the land, in the hopes that the Garden will bloom all the quicker.”

She folded her gown about her legs as she sat. “Do you really think that will come to pass?”

The warrior shrugged. “It can’t hurt to try, can it?”

“How is she?” Varis asked.

“I would not give you the hope of saying she is better. The Hierarch’s elixirs need time to work.”

“Do you think it’s true? That she is truly the First?” Gilliam asked.

“It would answer quite a few questions, make sense of several puzzles.” I held up my fingers. “She does not speak a known, living language, as does her sister. She knows customs long faded from memory, as the Baron Halaran pointed out. She can use magics unheard of in the modern age.”

“It is certainly not the magic I know,” Sera said.

“First or not, she is hunted and alone. In need of aid,” Varis said. “Imperial Princess or beggar, we cannot simply leave her to fend for herself.”

“I would not want to get on her bad side, seeing what she’s done to her enemies,” Gilliam said. “And if she is an Imperial Princess…” He grinned. “Just think of the rewards.”

“Don’t go counting your crowns before they’ve crossed your palm,” Varis said.

“Count them? I’ve already spent them!”

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Sun May 13, 2012 9:34 am
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

We ate in silence, another of the lay druids bringing us bowls of winterberries and the yellow-gold apples originally grown in Darokin.

I nearly lost a finger carving one of the apples as a spike of anxiety tensed most of the muscles along my left arm, the fingertips stinging.

The two warriors gave Sera disapproving looks.

“You ruined the surprise,” Gilliam said, but his scowl was ruined as the corner of his mouth turned up.

A rustle of linens and wool, accented by a silvery jingle met my ears a moment before Demarra planted herself next to me on the reed mat. She reached over, bracelets rattling, and plucked the slice of apple from my hand, eating it in too disturbing a manner for so early in the morning.

“It is no fun sneaking up on you, my Karos, if you have eyes now always at your back.”

My fingers began to sting again, but it was more than anxiety gnawing and itching at the back of my skull.

“It is always a pleasure to see you, Demarra,” I said. Or tried to, since the Dara shoved the uneaten half of the apple slice in my mouth as I tried to greet her. It was crisp, sweet and a bit tart for a moment, before the taste bled away to ash. I tried to push my awareness of the weaver into a corner, but the apple still tasted too sour for its type.

Sera had set her half-finished bowl of fruit on he mat at her knees, her dark eyes looking straight through me to the woman to my right.

“You must introduce me to your friend,” Demarra purred.

“Dara Demarra of the Kaledresh, I introduce you to Seraphina.”

The Dara batted her lashes. “That is all?”

“Yes,” I said.

Demarra leaned to the left, the neckline of her linen blouse slipping over one shoulder. Several golden chains, decorated with golden disks, swayed from her neck. She reached across my lap, taking my left hand.

“And what is this?” she asked, running a finger over the bracelet. She sucked in a sharp breath, drawing her finger back as if shocked. I don’t think it was my imagination, but I saw a glimmer of blue-gold light from Zirchev’s mark on her wrist, glimmering between the many bracelets.

Steady warmth was building in my stomach. The ghost of feeling from Sera. Her eyes were still set on the Dara, but her gaze had gone slightly distant.

Demarra tensed, her whole demeanor changing. The movements were subtle, but sitting as close to me as she was, I could feel her balance shift slightly away. Her nearly-black eyes narrowed.

Karos? What manner of gift has she given you?”

I held up my left hand, letting the silvery lead dangle from the bracelet.

The Dara’s eyes widened, ever so slightly. The heat of Sera’s power grew, ever so slightly, like an itch getting worse in that one spot just out of reach. Richly painted lips pursed, and then turned up in a smile. She flowed back, away from me clapping as she did, bracelets jangling.

“Ah, my Karos, at last you have taken a wife! We must drink!”

“What? No, that’s not—“

Ice tingled, shivering along my spine.

“Sera, no!”

The feeling stopped, the glowing warmth snuffed the instant I gave the order.

Demarra kept smiling. “Such a useful tool for a husband.”

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Mon May 14, 2012 12:13 am
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

“Your Hierarch invited me,” the Dara said, anticipating my question. “Well, not me, precisely, but those of my clan.”

“You have a Soul Gem?”

Demarra plucked a winterberry from the bowl in my lap. “I might,” she said.

I snatched the berry from her fingers. “Either you do or you do not.”

She pouted, leaned past me to regard the weaver. “He became so serious when he took up his journeymanship. A pity you did not know him some few years ago, before he took up the staff and started making all those knots. We had such fun at the Festival of Lights. One year, after the Procession, we—“

I cleared my throat. Seraphina’s ire and curiosity buzzed about in the back of my head.

“No, please do go on,” Gilliam said. He leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “We are keenly interested.”

I held my hand out to Demarra. “If you have the gem, I will take it.”

She sighed. “I do not.”

She grinned as I closed my hand into a fist, laying her fingertips across the back of my hand. It tingled as Seraphina’s irritation began winning the duel of feelings leaking through the bracelet. Demarra traced a swirling pattern across my hand, and it burned from beneath the skin as if she dragged hot needles. It was only with intense concentration that I was able to dampen the sensations.

“I have given the stone to your Hierarch. I would not wish to interrupt your breakfast for such menial chores as fetching and delivering.”

I made to rise, but Demarra clasped my hand in both of hers. Her dark eyes bored into mine.

“One can be forgiven, for it was not your making.”

“I have not forgotten our promise,” I said. My hand strayed to the copper piece that lay against my chest.

Demarra’s hand moved up, towards my cheek. Her fingers shifted, and traced the line down the side of my neck. “How can you be her Greensinger when she has taken your song?”

I swallowed. The scarring suddenly felt tight.

“There are ways other than song,” I said.

“The Old Ways. I could just open your throat right here, right now. It would probably be less painful.”

Seraphina’s power bloomed before I could react, and I felt the edge of air harden as it whisked by my cheek. Demarra snatched her hand away, a bit of lace from the cuff of her sleeve fluttering to the ground, the threads shorn through, cleaner than any razor.

“You will do no harm to my— to Thorn,” the weaver said.

Demarra looked through the shimmering blade-like presence between her and Seraphina. She leaned forward, until her hair brushed against the plane.

“I am not the one you need worry about, my dear.”

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Mon May 14, 2012 10:58 pm
by Chimpman
RobJN wrote:Breregon seemed not to hear it. “I know your kind’s secret,” he sneered. “You are a copy. A shadow. And I do not leap at a shadow’s beck.”

“If you know our lore, then you will know that ‘my kind’ do not sicken.”
:D This must be what you were referring to in the other thread. It would seem to imply that Silva is not a copy, but one of the original two twins. This puts a really nice twist on things. It does make me wonder though, how much does Silva "remember" from all of her copies' memories. Does it work in a similar way to the kalashtar of Eberron (who all share fragments of a common soul), or do you have some other mechanic in mind?

I think previously you have implied that Silva has gaps in her memory (or were we talking about Aurora) from the time of the last copy's existence (Illodius in Alfheim?) until the present day. If she is indeed the original that might suggest that a copy's soul fragment is recycled through the original before being used in another copy - which would at that point allow Silva to "remember" some of what happened to the copy during its physical existence.

Of course this also begs another question - why is the original roaming around on the Prime, when a copy would do just as well. And would't it be safer to use a copy anyway - if a copy is lost, you just create another one... but if the original is lost, then what happens? So something really important must be going on for the original to be the one in the field.

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Mon May 14, 2012 11:37 pm
by RobJN
Chimpman wrote:It would seem to imply that Silva is not a copy, but one of the original two twins. This puts a really nice twist on things. It does make me wonder though, how much does Silva "remember" from all of her copies' memories. Does it work in a similar way to the kalashtar of Eberron (who all share fragments of a common soul), or do you have some other mechanic in mind?
The mechanics are a bit fuzzy, but basically the copies' memories are uploaded to the "thoughtshare" matrix after approximately two to three days, sort of like backing up your files to "the cloud." While the Progenitors slumber, they see these as dreams. Like dreams, some of the memories "stick," but most fade after waking, becoming vague impressions.
Chimpman wrote:I think previously you have implied that Silva has gaps in her memory (or were we talking about Aurora) from the time of the last copy's existence (Illodius in Alfheim?) until the present day. If she is indeed the original that might suggest that a copy's soul fragment is recycled through the original before being used in another copy - which would at that point allow Silva to "remember" some of what happened to the copy during its physical existence.
Fragments are retrieved and recycled by the Collection Towers; if there are no Towers nearby, the fragment dissipates.
Chimpman wrote:Of course this also begs another question - why is the original roaming around on the Prime, when a copy would do just as well. And would't it be safer to use a copy anyway - if a copy is lost, you just create another one... but if the original is lost, then what happens? So something really important must be going on for the original to be the one in the field.
This is something Aurora does not want to find out. And rather than something really important going on, it's more like something has gone terribly wrong.... :twisted:

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Tue May 15, 2012 1:14 am
by Chimpman
All caught up, and so many questions. The 12 Thrones intrigue me the most, I think. The term "wandering stars" made me immediately envision satellites. That there are 12 of them might suggest 1 for each sign of the Zodiac. If Silva was in one of them (The First Throne of Stars) when it fell, that would also suggest that others might inhabit the other 11 (or now 9) Thrones still orbiting the planet.

Why were they placed in satellites? Something Aurora said implied it was to keep them away from the Taint/Wasting. Who else is up there? And... if 2 other Thrones fell previously, when did those events happen and who fell to the earth inside of them?

Anyway, really enjoying this story - I'm so glad I'm all caught up again. Unfortunately now I have to wait for the next update ;)

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Tue May 15, 2012 10:41 am
by RobJN
Chimpman wrote:All caught up, and so many questions. The 12 Thrones intrigue me the most, I think. The term "wandering stars" made me immediately envision satellites. That there are 12 of them might suggest 1 for each sign of the Zodiac. If Silva was in one of them (The First Throne of Stars) when it fell, that would also suggest that others might inhabit the other 11 (or now 9) Thrones still orbiting the planet.
The Thrones do not orbit on Mystara's ecliptic, but at 12 geosynchronous points (well, before the Great Rain of Fire); the axis shift destabilized their orbits, so modern astronomers would see them "wander" a bit from month to month as they drift away from station and correct themselves.
Chimpman wrote:Why were they placed in satellites? Something Aurora said implied it was to keep them away from the Taint/Wasting. Who else is up there? And... if 2 other Thrones fell previously, when did those events happen and who fell to the earth inside of them?
Aurora's recollections are mostly correct. The Thrones were originally observational satellites. They were some of the earliest dragonstone reactor tech created in Blackmoor, and the cold void of space above the Skyshield was the only place they could safely operate. They saw use in the Third Afridhi war as weapon platforms (one of which overheated and broke up over Brun, littering the Borean Valley with magitech debris); the Regency council evacuated the Imperial Princesses to two of the satellites, in suspended animation in order to protect the bloodline. At that point, shrikes and sirens were falling by the hundreds keeping the twelve points on Mystara clear of demons while the magitechs installed the dimensional seals. Demons were incapable of breaking through the Skyshield, so that was the safest place (at the time) for the Princesses to be. Aurora does not know (or has been made to forget) what or who was secreted away in the other satellites.
Chimpman wrote:Anyway, really enjoying this story - I'm so glad I'm all caught up again. Unfortunately now I have to wait for the next update ;)
One more small interlude in Radlebb, and then Thorn and company will be off to points north....

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Thu May 17, 2012 5:25 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

I spent the remainder of the day in quiet meditation and contemplation of the various accounts of other Greensingers. Though I removed the odd silvery bracelet, I still had the vaguest of impressions of Seraphina. Was it possible to be aware of her presence because of her absence? I know no other way to explain it.

Just before sunset, I departed the groves, wandering the game trails and selecting the ingredients I would need for the ceremony with the next dawn. I was aware of Demarra’s presence, though she did not say anything to disturb me. Our eyes met, occasionally, as I worked, but she said nothing, only watched.

First New Moon (on or about Nuwmont 1, 998AC)

I cannot go into the specifics of the Greensinger’s ritual. Some would equate it to the Naming ceremony of the Ylaruam. Certainly there was water involved— cold snowmelt from the Black Peaks. Much to Aurora’s irritation, her sister had to shed a few drops of blood, as did I. Vows were spoken in the Druid’s tongue. Offerings were made to several different Immortals.

Sollux was well on its way over the horizon by the time the ceremony was done, the incenses mingling with the morning fogs of the grove. Silva ate the offered bowl of fruits and cream. I had no stomach for breaking my fast from the night before. How could she stand the curdling, sinuous writhe of the magic’s taint? It throbbed, like a second heartbeat, lingering in my bones and joints like some scabrous fever, a sickly heat against the back of my eyes. Much like when Seraphina wove her magics, filaments drifted through my vision, but these were the color of Ylari inks, or blood left too long in the sun. Unlike the impressions of the threads of the Spheres, these did not entirely clear, but merely drifted in the fringes of my vision. Small wonder those suffering from the madness always leapt at shadows, the way they crept about the periphery of my vision.

My throat was dry, my voice slightly hoarse from the chanting. I’d tried to sing, but the sound came out like something broken and ragged, unfit for presenting Silva’s petitions to the Immortals.

The Hierarch did not see us off. He arrived to anoint Silva and myself, and present her with the Soul Gem, and then retreated, once he saw that I had the ceremony under control.

Gilliam handed me my pack, once I’d donned my skins and leathers and woolen cloak.

“What? No ring? Did she at least kiss you?”

He laughed at the look I must have given him.

“From what I’d seen of that ceremony, it’s the next thing to marriage.” He glanced at me sideways. “Let me tell you, Thorn, if that demon-touched copy of hers is any indication—“


Seraphina was at my elbow, glancing up into the depths of my hood. She wore the lead wrapped about her left arm, the bracelet dangling. It caught the morning light, gold mixing with the odd silver sheen of the thing.

She held up a waterskin, and I drank reluctantly.

“My strength is yours,” she said, as we worked our way along the western trail. The others were several long strides ahead. “Aurora has taught me something of the magic that she works to push away the… the influence. It is actually quite a simple working of Entropy.”

I nodded, not trusting myself to speak. The sips of water, even, would not sit quietly.

Aurora glanced back at us, hand on the hilt of her knife. She did not speak, not to Sera or I, but leant her head close to Silva’s. The Princess shook her head, shoulders giving a mirthful shake.

“She will not thank you, Thorn. At least, she will not speak those words to you. But I think she is relieved.”

As was I. I had not seen the girl laugh in weeks.

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Sat May 19, 2012 5:03 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

Aurora led the group through the northern new growth, conferring with Silva every now and then when the trails we were using would split. They argued more often than not, but somehow always came to agree on which direction to go.

After one particularly loud disagreement, they actually stomped off down each fork in the path. The warriors looked back to me, as did Ana, and I could only shrug and follow my charge. Sera departed after Aurora, and Gilliam and Varis played a round of odds and evens. They both loosened blades in their scabbards, Varis following me, Gilliam loping down the trail after the other two. Ana shook her head and fell into line behind Varis.

Silva set a quick pace, and only knowing she was a few moments ahead kept me following the trail, which showed no sign whatsoever of her passing.

“Your Highness, even though these woods are the domain of several circles of druids, it is still very dangerous.”

She rounded on me, hands balled into fists. “Niamat. Stop, please, calling me that. I am still your Silva.”

“Very well,” I said, resisting the urge to bow. “Your sister seems to think the western fork a better choice.”

“My sister seeks to use the three waters as a guide, rather than keeping to the shadows of the bones of the world.” Silva frowned as I puzzled over her statement. “I make the wrong words again,” she sighed.

“I can see Aurora’s point,” Varis said. “The foothills of the Cruth are crawling with humanoid tribes. Gnolls and bugbears. Orcs the closer you get to the mountains. The forested outskirts of the woods are tame by comparison.”

“But the haunted keep lies at the edge of the woods, does it not?” Ana asked. “That would mean skirting the ruins. Your sister plays a very close game of Vasta.

“The pale walkers would make for simpler foes,” Varis mused.

“Simpler foes in greater numbers,” Ana pointed out. “You can only cut down so many before your sword arm tires.”

“The winter will have made the tribes desperate. They’d be just as likely to eat us as the walkers in the mists.”

“Following the bones— the mountains,” Silva corrected herself, “takes us to where we need to be with more haste than my sister’s route. She cannot place my… being safe… over stopping them. I am not so easy to make broken as she believes. We cannot let the yoghini and her servant become more ahead.

“No,” she said, taking hold of my cloak as I turned to go back the way we’d come. “We continue.” She let go, and began making her way along the trail again, more north than west.

We hadn’t made more than another mile’s progress before we heard familiar voices amidst the snapping of underbrush.

“You see?” Gilliam said. “I told you she was all right. You owe me a Royal. And I want one of those thick Blackmoor coins.”

Aurora stomped up to her sister, who hadn’t even turned, nor slowed her own pace as the other group approached from the woods.

“It would serve you right if I let some orc tribe carve you up for their stewpot,” the shrike said. “Let all of Father’s work be for nothing because you are too stubborn—”

“Tell me please who it is that keeps the Banishment?” Silva asked.

Aurora clamped her mouth shut. It was a dozen steps before she muttered “You do.”

“Just so,” Silva said. “And who is it to make safe those who keep the Banishment?”

“The shrikes are your honor guard. We are your sword and shield. As we defend you, so do we defend the realm.” Aurora’s answer came as if a reflex, as one would invoke Chardastes’ blessing when a stranger sneezes.

“So if orcs eat first me and then you which of us has failed?”

“The memory pool must be degrading,” Aurora grumbled. “You are even more infuriating than the others remember.”

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Sat May 19, 2012 8:33 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues....

By late afternoon, we’d reached the northern edge of Radlebb. Another hour’s travel through a winding path among the hills was brought up short by a whistle from Gilliam, who’d been scouting ahead. A winter thrush’s call meant possible trouble ahead. Aurora worked the dagger loose in its sheath at her hip, her golden eyes scanning the trail ahead as well as the overcast sky above. A shiver brushed the nape of my neck, there and gone, and Seraphina shook her head. Her magic had not detected any of the humanoids Varis had warned us about. I didn’t think she would, the Greenwardens’ reputation well known among the goblins and gnolls.

Another thrush’s call. Gilliam’s “all clear.” We continued after the trail he’d left us in the snows and muddy game track.

Sera sniffed. “Is that… woodsmoke?”

The weaver must have still been holding a glimmer of her power, for it was only as the wind shifted and we traveled further that the scent became evident. As did another that caused my stomach to growl, my mouth to begin watering.

Rounding a craggy spur of the hill we’d been keeping to our right, we practically stepped right into a campfire. Expertly laid, as it let only the thinnest and palest of traces of smoke into the air. Several fat game birds roasted on stakes driven into the ground near the fireside.

A smokeless fire of winter-wet wood? Greenwardens could do it, as could any of my brethren druids.

But none of them had a recipe for a glazing of honey and sage.

Gilliam hadn’t warned us, as his mouth was already full of most of the leg of one of the birds.

A throaty laugh and jangling of many bracelets greeted us as the door of the large vardo parked nearby creaked open.

Varis let out a breath, easing his hand from his sword’s hilt.

“At least you have the manners to wait for an invitation,” Demarra said. “Please, sit! I have prepared enough for everybody.” She handed a large pitcher to Ana. “Though I see I will need more mugs.”

“What is wrong with you?” Varis asked, taking a seat on the log next to Gilliam. “The ‘roasting food by the campfire’ is the oldest ambush in the book. Kobolds love that one.”

“I do not give my roasted pheasant recipe to kobolds,” the Darra clucked, handing a mug of spiced wine to the warrior.

“Besides,” Gilliam finally managed around another mouthful, “I don’t know of any kobold tribe that travels by vardo.”

“Well, it is much better tasting than waybread,” Aurora said after several nibbles of her own portion.

For all of her glowering, Sera, too, tucked into the afternoon meal.

“This is one of my Karos’ favorite things,” Demarra said, as she filled a mug for the weaver. “I can give you the recipe, if you like. We should talk. I can tell you of other uses for this glaze that he--”

Demarra laughed, slapping Sera’s back as she nearly choked on the bite she’d taken.

I got no such assistance as the meat stuck in my own throat.

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Sun May 20, 2012 7:17 pm
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

Across the campfire, Silva sat beside her sister, a bowl of cut fruit balanced on her knees. She only ate — and only then a few nibbles — at the shrike’s insistance.

“The daylight grows shorter,” Aurora said. “We cannot linger over this meal much longer.”

Silva glanced at her sister, and then over at Demarra, who sloshed a bit of hot water around the last of the mugs.

“You did not tell her of our arrangement?” the Darra asked, raising an eyebrow.

Aurora sat up straighter. “You didn’t.” She looked over to the woman. “We don’t—“

“But you do,” Demarra said, dumping out the mugful of water on the campfire. There came a billow of steam and a sputtering hiss. “The bargain has been struck. Will you have your sister go back on her words?”

“She doesn’t understand—“

“I explained it to her,” Demarra said.

“Everything?” Aurora asked, crossing her arms.

“Enough.” The Darra shrugged as she wiped out the mug with a rag.

“Do not think this lessens your debts.”

Demarra smiled. “I would never assume such. I have invoked no such token of your sister. I do this merely for the pleasure of the company.” Her eyes darted over to me, and she fluttered her long lashes. “I grew tired of attending the Festivals only to find the distractions… unfulfilling.”

Gilliam nudged Varis, and the other warrior rolled his eyes, but I caught the grin before he could school his features.

“Take your time, Vin Zletja Solijma,” Demarra said, inclining her head and pressing fingertips to her forehead. “I still need time to ready the horses.”

Gilliam rose with Demarra. “Please, allow me to help.”

“Horses?” Ana asked.

I turned, to watch Demarra depart, her skirts swaying, bracelets tinkling. She laughed, at something Gilliam said.

I blinked, shaking my head. Leave it to a Domani woman to make a druid completely oblivious to a picket line of horses and mules just a little ways off from camp.

Re: [Thorn's Chronicle] Masks of Dreaming Night

Posted: Mon May 21, 2012 10:40 am
by RobJN
Thorn's Chronicle continues...

Callarii whites. A half dozen of them. I did not ask how Demarra managed to secure them. I was not alone in glancing over a shoulder, expecting to see Prestelle at the head of the Homeguard. Gilliam kept his shoulders hunched, as if expecting at any moment to feel the sting of elven arrows as we rode away from the camp site.

They were spirited mounts, stepping high amidst the snows still collected in the shadows among the hills and crags of the Cruth Lowlands. Sera sat ahead of me atop one of the horses, while Varis, Ana and Gilliam rode alone. Demarra and the twins rode ahead of us, the vardo drawn by two great plodding Klantyre draft horses. The last of the whites and two mules laden with supplies were lashed to the back of the vardo.

The road fell away beneath the horses’ hooves. I could barely make out the track that Demarra followed, but she had little trouble with the vardo, despite the slush and mud. The Black Peaks towered above us, the snow-capped tips tinged a deep red when she finally veered the wagon from the trail, into a hollow bowl between the next hill and the deep gray granite of the mountains. Though the winds swirled snows well above us, none of it made its way into the little depression, which we saw bore signs of use in the past — circles of stones and conveniently placed logs, though both were overgrown with lichens.

Gilliam had spent the afternoon shooting game as we traveled, scoring three fat pheasants and a brace of rabbits. He set about preparing them as soon as we’d begun setting camp, and I took the opportunity to stretch my legs and gather firewood. Sera tagged along, her gait a bit stiff. It was difficult to tell if the throbbing in my legs was my own, or an impression of what Sera was feeling. The bracelet still dangled from a small length of the lead wound about her lower arm, but whatever strange bond had formed between us beneath Krakatos, it did not rely strictly on the physical connection of the bracelet and collar.

We did not speak, beyond my asking if she was all right after slipping on a patch of iced-over slush. I didn’t need to really ask, it was more of habit than anything, as I could feel the twinge of pain in my own ankle. She said she was fine — probably another habit.

“What else is it?” I asked. “I can feel the thoughts, buzzing about in your head, even if I can’t make them out.”

“It is—“

“It is not ‘nothing,’” I said. “However this works, when you are upset, it upsets me, as well. Even when you try to stifle it. So, which is it? Demarra? Or Silva?”

The buzzing at the back of my head increased, and again subsided to barely a whisper, as Sera’s eyes widened, and then she looked away. The branches in her arms gave creaks and rattles as she hugged them tighter against her breast.

“I have… intruded,” she finally said. “I have forced this connection on you. I am no better than Macha—“

“Sera, you did this to save my life. And it was not the first time.”

“How can you not hate me?”

“Not…? It is quite simple,” I said. “You have saved my life on several occasions. Not because you were told to, or made to. There was no other will pressing on yours to bid you do what you did. Don’t think I did not see you at the festival, either, giving what few coins you had so those children could play at the games.”

She smiled, faintly. “There were no festivals, in my tiny out of the way village. All we had was the yearly harvest feast. I was not old enough to dance, but by the time I was, they came, and…” The smile faltered, and a wash of heat billowed over me, though I knew by the gooseflesh that the winds bore the cold of the mountains.

“I am s—“

“I am alive because of you,” I told the girl. “There is nothing to apologize for.” I shifted the bundle of branches in my arms, and held out my hand to her.

She bit her lip, and I felt a tingle brush up my spine, a prickling just beneath my hairline. The small stack of twigs and branches she held drifted slightly away, and she reached out, taking my hand.

As we walked back towards the camp, the bundle bobbed along behind us.

“I could have carried those, you know,” I told her.

She squeezed my hand. “I can’t use my power to save your life all the time, can I?”

We arrived back at camp to find the cook fire already going, Demarra and Aurora arguing over which spices to add to the small pot.

I dropped my bundle of firewood by the small stack there already, and Sera’s drifted down next to mine.

“You could have told us you brought wood along,” I said.

Gilliam grinned. “You two seemed to need to ah… stretch your legs. The area is safe, still within the reach of Lord Retameron’s patrols, so there was no danger of much lurking out there you two could not handle.”

I held my hand out to Silva. She gave a quiet cough. Her fingers were cold, though she still had some color in her features. The fever still burned, but not nearly as brightly as the nights before.

She dug in her belt pouch, and withdrew one of the Hierarch’s crystal vials. She wrinkled her nose as she broke the beeswax seal. Even standing at half an arm’s length, the cloying scent of the concoction reached my nose.

Silva let go of my hand to pinch her nose, and tipped the contents into her mouth in one quick motion. The stuff in the vial seemed to… slither down the length, rather than simply flow. The girl grimaced as she swallowed. Ana handed her a clay cup, and Silva gulped down the water, gasping as she handed the cup back.

“It has a taste like drinking mud,” she said, taking my hand again. “Mud over which horses have walked.” She sighed, shivering.

We left the camp, going to the small snowmelt brook that trickled just outside the firelight. Having heard the prayers on the first night, Silva had memorized them, and sang in my place, adjusting the pitch to her own voice. The stones and sky and stones normally hummed with the power of the ceremony. Under Silva’s voice, they rung like a great bell, and I felt it deep in my bones.

She had held back, all the other times she’d used her voice, I realized, utilizing just a whisper of her strength. Her connection to the lands was the strongest I’d ever felt, and I’d dwelt for a time with several Callarii Treekeppers who were by no means younglings. They seemed as mere saplings, compared to the Imperial Princess.

Awed as I was, my stomach roiled, not with the sympathetic impression of the taint, but with a very real dread.

How could I hope to match such power, to best it, when the time came?