Campaign of the Month: February 2009

Silent Winter

Session 7: The Mist

In Which Our Heroes Reach the Valwe Encampment

GM’d and posted by Jennifer

The night was even more bitterly cold than the day, and everyone found it quite difficult to wake in the pale early-morning light. Casidhe crawled out of his blankets and made his way over to Segonal to see if his condition had changed during the night.

“Are you all right?” he asked the blond Warden, shaking the man’s shoulder as gently as possible. His creased eyelids opened instantly and without fuss, like a practiced campaigner.

“What is it?”

“How do you feel?”

“Like a corpse. What did you expect?”

“Fair enough. Let’s get you some food.”

“I’m all right, boy, I’ve been hurt worse than this before. So what are your plans for today?”

“We’re on our way to see some elves,” Casidhe explained.

Aidan stuck his nose out from under his bedroll. “I remember my bed back at the castle . . . I wonder if they’re worried about me . . .” he murmured. Segonal looked down at Gheris.

“I apologize for my behavior yesterday, young lady.”

She stared at the Warden suspiciously, then nodded at Geoffrey. “He’s the one you want, not me.” Segonal returned the eyeing for a moment, then shrugged.

“Suit yourself.”

“We should be moving on,” Ferron said, surveying the horizon. He helped Naessa to get up. Casidhe edged closer to the two elves.

“Is there any chance that isn’t really Segonal?” he asked sotto voce. “Like the mage imposter?”

“I don’t know,” Naessa said. “I’ve never met the man before.”

“Sure, but Simon met the mage and he couldn’t tell the difference.”

“Then what do you think I’m going to be able to tell? Simon’s got a lot more mystical experience than I do. As far as I can tell, he feels human, that’s it.”

Casidhe sighed. “All right. Thanks anyway. Sorry to bother you.”

From his seat on the sledge, Segonal gestured toward Simon, signaling a desire to chat. The Enchanter dropped slowly back until he was walking beside the slow-moving transport.

“Have you reported any of this to the Circle or the Chantry?” Segonal asked when Simon was in easy speaking distance.

“I have told the Circle and the Grey Wardens of our discoveries and endeavors—to the extent that they don’t include our elven friends. I saw little reason to involve the Chantry directly. All the information has been sent with less-than-fully-reliable messengers, though, so I would not rely upon reinforcements charging over the next rise, if that is your concern.”

“No, I think your decision was wise,” Segonal said. “Gialinn thought that keeping the matter secret was more important than preventing whatever ill might result.”

“What would be the reason for that?” Simon asked. “We haven’t found anything that would require that much secrecy—yet. The elves we are going to see seem to believe secrecy is required as well. It may just be their typical clannishness, though.”

“I don’t think that was the reason,” Segonal replied, his brow furrowed as he concentrated on the memory. “I think Gialinn believed that people would make things worse if they knew of it.”

“It would have to be quite unusual for Grey Wardens to make it worse, I should think,” Simon opined.

“She seemed to believe it was like a weapon—dangerous, but people would want to use it regardless.”

“That is . . . ominous. There is a man tracking us who has made some sort of bargain with the Dragon of Sight. Obviously, at least some fools will take any power they can get.”

“A bargain . . . do you mean he’s become a reaver?”

“Yes. Now you see my concern with maintaining magical defenses? This reaver has a personal vendetta against us, particularly against Lothaire,” Simon said.

“They are common in the dragon cults that spring up now and again—or they were, and I suppose they will be now that the dragons have returned. I’ve even heard that some of the intelligent Darkspawn possess reaver abilities.”

With little or no warning, the air grew warmer and the snow under the sledge runners turned to clinging slush. The sound of dripping could be heard on all sides, and a thick mist rose from the ground. Simon glanced around nervously. They had entered a pass between high walls of crumbling shale, a landscape that seemed oddly incongruous for this part of Ferelden. The sounds of water were punctuated occasionally by the loud clatter of falling rocks.

“Maker be praised,” Casidhe remarked, loosening his cloak to let the warmth through to his skin.

“I cannot say I care for mist, considering these past few days,” Simon said warningly.

“The Veil is quite thin,” Naessa said.

“Great,” Gheris sneered. “More magic.” Lothaire drew his sword. They stood, waiting, for several more minutes, but no threats presented themselves. Finally, Hesthe cleared his throat loudly.

“Let’s just . . . continue on, shall we?”

“That would be best,” Casidhe said. Naessa looked around, then entered into a light magical trance, trying to pull a Familiar out of the air. The mist thickened in front of her, taking on a vaguely humanoid shape. Two brilliant points of blue fire sparked inside the creature’s “head”. They watched Naessa for a moment, motionless, then suddenly burned red. The familiar threw back its head and screamed, a piercing noise that filled the shale canyons with painful reverberations. Then it exploded.

Simon picked himself off the ground a bit awkwardly, wiping away the blood that was pouring out of his nose. “Impressive,” he remarked. “What just happened?”

“Fen’Harel be damned,” Naessa said, wincing at the pain that came from the sound of her own voice. “It wasn’t supposed to do that.”

“What did you do?” Aidan demanded, his voice panicky.

“My spell pulled too much power, I think, and, well, it . . . didn’t work.”

“Like hell,” Aidan replied. “This was just the start, no? Surely the next accident is going to be a hail of arrows from the trees.”

“Do you see any trees around here?” Ferron asked.

“It wasn’t ME!” Naessa insisted. “I triggered some sort of magical trap.”

“I don’t believe you!”

Gheris snorted loudly. “Yes, that’s it, we’re all after you. I’m sure waving that little sword of yours around isn’t at ALL provocative.”

“All after me? I doubt it,” Aidan said, putting his sword back in its sheath with an angry flourish. “But I’m watching. Remember that.”

“Is anyone badly hurt?” Naessa asked, raising her hands and looking to where Lothaire was helping Oriane get her horse back under control. Simon shook his head rapidly.

“Hold off on spells for now. At least until we’re out of this fog.”

“Ohh,” Naessa said, wincing. “Maybe that’s why a landslide managed to take out a First and almost a Keeper. That’s a really good idea.”

“Can we go now?” Gheris demanded. “The sooner we leave, the better off we are.”

“I couldn’t agree more,” Casidhe enthused. They began trying to get the sledge turned around, the horses twitching and shying in the traces. Lothaire glanced down the canyon periodically, and noticed an elf in a shapeless gray cloak suddenly appear like a ghost from the mist itself.

“Andaran atishan,” the elf said in a conversational tone, his voice pitched to carry.

“Er, andaran atishan to you, too,” Naessa called. “Are you our welcoming party?”

“There is no welcome in this place,” the elf said. “You should go back.”

“I’m all for it,” Aidan remarked. Naessa glanced at Hesthe and Juillah expectantly, but the Circle mages seemed at a loss.

“No,” Lothaire essayed. The elf shrugged.

“As you wish, but if you do not leave quickly you may not find your way out of these canyons. It may be too late already.”

“I knew it was a trap,” Aidan growled.

“Be quiet,” Lothaire told him shortly.

“Who are you?” Hesthe asked. “We are seeking the Valwe.”

“Is that Hesthe?” the elf asked, taking a few steps closer. “I recognize the voice, I think. I am Jatris, the scout-captain.” He sighed. “Really, you should leave if you can. You can do no good here. We are all dead men.”

“Perhaps being a little more vague will be even more helpful, scout-captain,” Gheris suggested rudely.

“Tell us what’s happening,” Casidhe said. “We’ll decide what good’s to be done.”

Jatris walked toward them, limping heavily, and as he closed the distance they could see that his flesh was pale and splotched with black, like mushrooms softening after rain.

“Maker’s breath,” Casidhe remarked.

“Juillah, what’s going on?” Naessa asked, horrified.

“I . . . do not know,” Juillah said timidly. “Jatris, when last we heard, only your Keeper was ill . . .”

“This condition is . . . recent,” Jatris said, nodding. He sounded and looked exhausted, as though will alone kept him on his feet and talking.

“If it’s contagious, I hope you’ll forgive us if we keep our distance,” Casidhe said, backing away several steps.

“I understand,” Jatris told him. “It is not a disease, it is the effect of this place. First the magic grew strange—the Keeper was hurt, and the First was killed, so we sent for aid from the Adra. We camped for a few days, hoping the Keeper would recover, but his wounds festered. Then this mist rose up.”

“We didn’t know the problem was that bad,” Naessa said. “We were just told there was an accident.”

“I ordered the landships to move on, but we . . . cannot find a way out. Every day we grow sicker. The mist saps our will and our health.”

Lothaire glanced back at Oriane, who bit her lip and frowned. “We should attempt to leave now, if we still have a chance,” he said. Aidan glanced down at Kentrell, who wagged his stubby tail happily.

“Can you smell the way out of here?” The mabari cocked his head to one side as though considering, then trotted off in the direction they’d come. “Kent’s working on it,” Aidan said.

“Have you seen anything like this before, Segonal?” Casidhe asked.

“No, nothing,” the Warden replied. “Why can’t you find your way out? It can’t be far from here to your camp if you walked on that leg.”

Jatris shook his head. “The fog is before my eyes; I cannot see the way through it. I heard you, that is all.”

“Where did the mist come from?” Naessa asked. Jatris simply shook his head. Kentrell returned from his scouting and sat down beside Aidan’s feet.

“Did you find the way out?” Aidan asked. Kent barked once and wagged.

“Good,” Lothaire said. “What are we waiting for?”

“We can get the clan together and have the dog lead us all out,” Gheris announced.

“Yes, let’s get them first!” Naessa said. “We can’t just abandon them.”

“How many of you are there?” Casidhe asked Jatris.

“Just go,” Jatris said. “I cannot help you, and I will not let become as lost as we are. I cannot even find my way back, and if you do not go now you may be trapped here as well!”

“I’ve come here to be your new Keeper!” Naessa cried. “I’m NOT leaving without you! If you stay, I stay!”

“Wait,” Aidan said. “Kent, can you back-track Jatris?” Kentrell raised his head and lowered his muzzle to fix Aidan with a look that said “duh” more eloquently than any words.

“Very well, there is no point in risking all of us. You lot take Jatris out of here and I’ll go find the clan,” Lothaire said.

“Kent won’t just do what you tell him,” Aidan protested.

“But Lothaire is right,” Ferron said. “Naessa, you go back with Simon and most of the others. Lothaire, Aidan and I can handle this.”

“You’ll need Jatris, or Hesthe, or Juillah,” Naessa protested. “Someone the Valwe know, or they won’t do what you say,” Naessa protested.

“I can handle it,” Ferron insisted. “Send your hound out, Aidan.”

“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” the young nobleman protested, but he gestured for Kent to precede them.

“Thanks, Aidan,” Gheris called after him, then turned to follow the others.

“I hate this plan,” Aidan grumbled as he followed the mabari, Ferron keeping pace and Lothaire following on horseback. The mist seemed to cling to them, forming an impenetrable mass. It was a shock when they suddenly broke out of the maze of crumbling rock into an open area full of Dalish landships. It was deadly silent, with no sign of any people about.

“Hello?” Aidan called, swallowing nervously. Kentrell barked several times. Some vague noises followed, and several elves climbed out of the wagons and approached. Most seemed barely able to stand, leaning on staves or even their own bows.

“Andaran atishan, kinfolk,” Ferron said, holding up his hands soothingly. “We’re here to help.” One of the nearby elves, a middle-aged man, frowned slowly.

“Jatris was going to warn you away.”

“We think we have a way out,” Lothaire said, dismounting. “We can lead you to it.”

“Do you need help to get ready?” Aidan asked.

“We will . . . need help. Most of us can barely stand, and the women and children are much worse off.”

“Where are your animals?” Lothaire asked. “We can get them harnessed . . .”

The elf shook his head. “The Halla have mostly run off and we had to slaughter the others—they went mad.” Lothaire frowned. “My horse might be able to haul one ship, but will that be enough?”

“It will have to be,” Ferron said grimly. The three men began turfing equipment out of the largest of the landships, letting it fall where it may in their hurry to get moving. The elves brought the women and children and helped them pack in as best they could while Lothaire nervously backed Spawn between the traces. The enormous black horse submitted to the indignity of harness without too much trouble, seeming almost aware of the seriousness of the situation. Finally, the loaded the unconscious body of an ancient elven mage onto the roof and set off. Lothaire frowned at the stumbling of the elven warriors.

“I will take the rear to be sure no one falls behind. Aidan, have your dog lead the way.” Ferron took Spawn’s reins from Lothaire. The beast thrust his nose ferociously at the black-haired elf, but did not offer to bite.

“Right,” Aidan said, clapping his hands together in an attempt to appear brisk. “Everyone call out so we can stay together!” The nearby elven warriors exchanged glances, then all rolled their eyes in unison. One muttered something that sounded derogatory in elven. “Laugh if you must, but I’m new to all this!” Aidan protested.

“My apologies,” the mutterer replied. “I was merely reminded of a children’s game,” he explained.

“Marco!” one of the other elves said. There were several suppressed chuckles. Distracted, Aidan didn’t hear Kentrell’s sudden warning bark, and almost walked into a man in black armor who loomed out of the mist. Aidan gasped and stumbled back several steps.

“I think we have a problem,” he said in a strangled voice.

“I think that would be a fair assessment,” Gervais grated, drawing a black two-handed sword with an ugly serrated blade. Aidan squeaked and scurried away, pulling his own sword and shield, and was saved from a messy decapitation by Lothaire plunging out of the mist and colliding with Gervais. The reaver snarled as he regained his balance, bringing the black blade around. Lothaire grunted in pain as it nearly removed his arm. Aidan’s sword bit into Gervais’ armor, doing some sort of damage, and a spear struck out as Ferron joined the fray. The four men battled in silence apart from the sound of weapons crashing together, Gervais steadily losing ground but managing to deal out powerful blows to his three assailants nonetheless. Kentrell knocked Aidan aside and fastened his jaws around Gervais’ ankle, forcing the man to the ground. Cursing, he pounded at the dog’s face with a mailed fist, breaking a tooth, and only barely managed to duck away from Inbolc’s sword.

“You’ve gotten fat, chevalier,” Gervais sneered.

“We still outnumber you!” Aidan yelled.

“Not for long, you won’t,” Gervais laughed. “You’ll never escape me, de Tourrin!” he raised an arm and gestured, then suddenly vanished. Lothaire swore explosively. He gestured for everyone to get moving, and within minutes they were back in the sunlight. The elves muttered as the black rot that patched their skin began to clear.


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