Campaign of the Month: February 2009

Silent Winter

Grandmother's Gambit, Part 2
In Which Naessa Returns to Camp.

Posted by Darth Krzysztof, with jillyfae

It was long after midnight by the time they got back. Guards moved to keep everyone back as Jatris brought the prisoners into the camp. Naessa followed them, cold, wet, hungry, sore, and mad.

Grandmother was still catatonic, the mirror-eyed man still unconscious. Satisfied that his men had the situation under control, Jatris turned to Naessa. “We don’t have a jail or anything. What should we do with them, Keeper?”

“Let’s go ask Syndelir to help us empty out Grandmother’s aravel. It’s the sturdiest one left. Get some guards, and I’ll stay too, in case we need another dispel to keep whoever he is in line.” She pointed at the man in black.

“Right away.” Jaris headed off, leaving Naessa to stare at her captives. The voice behind the mirror… who was it? What was it? Was this the entity behind the duplicated people? And how long had Grandmother been talking to it?

Naessa saw that Grandmother’s lips were moving. She moved closer – but not too close. “That had better not be a spell,” Naessa growled. “Don’t give me a reason to pay you back for what you did to me.”

But it wasn’t a spell. Grandmother was mumbling Naessa’s name, barely audible. “Naessa… come closer, da’len.”

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Grandmother's Gambit, Part 1
In Which Naessa Learns an Unfortunate Truth

Posted by Darth Krzysztof, based on notes from Jennifer and jillyfae

Naessa could scarcely keep up with Grandmother as the old elf made her way through the woods, scarcely leaning on her mage staff at all. She’d never heard of the old bat being this spry… this ritual must be important, indeed., to be traipsing around the forest in the day’s last remaining light, without any guards…

Naessa found herself bubbling over with questions, but Grandmother had made it clear that there was no time for such foolishness, so she kept her mouth shut and followed as best she could. At last, they came to a tiny, silent ruin – little more than a stone staircase going nowhere and a few standing walls – as dusk gave way to night. “We’re here,” Grandmother said. Naessa wasn’t sure if the ancient Keeper was telling her, or someone else.

This wasn’t just quiet; it was deathly quiet. Even Naessa’s feet on the snow seemed muted; all she could hear was her own breathing, the hammering blood in her ears. “What is this place?” she asked.

“A meeting place.” Grandmother peered around, her breath crystallizing in the frigid air. “Very old. Almost as old as me.”

How badly Naessa wanted to say Damn, Grandmother, that is old! She settled for having her own look around. As she turned to look back the way she came, she saw a large, shining mirror hanging from an old stone wall. Naessa should have seen herself in it, from this angle, but it seemed to show… something else. Her blood went cold, her knuckles white on her own staff. “Grandmother?” she asked. “What is this?”

Grandmother moved behind Naessa, out of her peripheral vision, but she was too fascinated by the mirror to notice. “The reason we’re here, da’len.”

Grandmother’s staff caught Naessa squarely at the base of her skull, and she lost consciousness before she hit the ground.

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Lady's Choice

Posted by Darth Krzysztof, based on notes from Jennifer and jillyfae

Naessa found Oriane sitting by herself near the campfire, aimlessly stirring her spoon in her bowl of stew. “Don’t care for it?” Naessa asked. “I can try to find something else for you.”

Oriane glanced up with a sad smile and offered the bowl to Naessa. “No, thank you. It’s fine. I’m just not hungry.”

Naessa took the bowl and started to eat without hesitation. It wasn’t what she was hungry for, but she was hungry, and no Dalish could ever let food go to waste. “Really? This is the first time I can remember seeing you eat.”

“Oh, I’ve tried. I just can’t seem to keep anything down. Mornings are the worst.”

Naessa nodded. The time had come to talk about this. “And are you feeling fatigued?”

Oriane nodded, and her answers to the rest of Naessa’s questions only seemed to confirm the Keeper’s suspicions. “I think I know what’s wrong with you. I can examine you, if you want.” When Oriane looked away, Naessa added, “Magically.”

“Certainly.”

“We should, um, have some privacy, though.”

“Very well. But let’s do it now. If you don’t mind. I’d love to get this taken care of.”

Naessa looked down at her bowl and drank down the contents in one gulp. Seeing Oriane’s surprise, she said, “Well, the Valwe need to get used to their new Keeper. Zholon wasn’t exactly well-mannered, either.”

Oriane smiled again and followed Naessa to the Keeper’s aravel.

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Talking to the Moon

Posted by Darth Krzysztof with Ellanutella

As cold as the Banncreag’s courtyard was, the high walls sheltered it from the worst of the wind. The sky was clear, but Teresa saw no sign of the moon. She scanned the heavens, not noticing the other woman until she drew within six feet – the elf who’d watched her and Casidhe before, the one who’d told Casidhe “She’s pretty” as they left. She stood with her arms crossed, the look on her face hard to read.

“Oh,” Teresa said, meekly. “Pardon me.”

The elf shrugged, saying “I’d have thought you of all people would be more aware of your surroundings.”

Teresa found relief in laughter, a slight release of all her nervous energy. “I seem to be paying attention to all the wrong things of late. Is the moon not out tonight?”

The elf’s expression took on a suspicious cast, bringing out her wild, hungry aspect. “It came. It went. Bit like -” She cut herself off.

“Right,” Teresa sighed. “Damn it. I just can’t count on anyone anymore. Too bad; I had something to ask her.” When the elf’s suspicion seemed to deepen, she said “My mother, I mean, not the moon. Stupid, I know.”

The elf looked around, as if trying to see who else Teresa could talk to. “Your mother?”

“Yes. When I was a little girl, and I couldn’t sleep, she used to sing a song to me…” The elf was openly staring now, but it seemed born of curiosity, not rudeness. Teresa was also curious about Casidhe’s… friend?... and decided the best way to learn about her was to sing, hesitantly at first:

“Though all lives must Fade, one law is obeyed
By mothers with daughters in plight:
Sing this song to the moon, and I promise soon
That together we’ll dance in her light.

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Session 10: Wilderness of Mirrors
In Which Our Heroes Explore Beneath the Banncreag.

GM’d by Jennifer; posted by Darth Krzysztof

Lothaire, Simon, Aidan, and Kentrell stood with Steward Dwinval at the bottom of the stairs, staring at an overflowing pool of red-hot magma.

“If this requires immediate action,” said Simon, “we’re at your service. Otherwise, we would greatly appreciate an explanation.”

Dwinval stared down at the magma, disheartened: “This needs to be cleared before it destroys anything vital. But, yes, I can understand wanting an explanation. Please, follow me.”

The steward led them back up the stairs, down a side corridor that led to a room full of massive winches and chains. Dwinval pulled a lever, and one winch slowly turned, gathering speed until it ground to a halt. A loud clanking noise issued from somewhere below. “That should do it,” Dwinval said. “Now, I’m not certain how conversant you are with the history of the Creag, so let me know if you’ve heard this before.” When Simon nodded, the steward began:

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Session 9: Return to the Creag
In Which Our Heroes Enter the Banncreag and Meet with the Steward

GM’d and posted by Jennifer

“I think you, of all people, know exactly how much trouble this will bring us if it gets found,” Simon said, handing the Knight-Commander’s ring to Casidhe. The duelist had been bugging the enchanter for almost the entire time they’d been on the road to hand over the ring. Simon considered that the younger man’s motives might be suspect, but was tired of arguing. Otherwise, the return to the Banncreag was not nearly as eventful as the initial trip out. A fresh load of snow had fallen, but the ground was so hard now that the roads were quite passable.

The small elven settlement outside the Banncreag gates appeared to be under some sort of curfew, though. The only people out in the streets were armed guards bundled in many layers of wool and fur.

“What now, Simon?” Lothaire asked, bringing Spawn to a halt just short of the first row of shacks.

“Given that we’re currently in interesting legal territory, do we want to gain entry together or separately?”

Gheris looked up from eyeing the elven settlement. “I don’t know, but it looks like they’re not fond of my kind at the moment. I might cause trouble.”

“It wasn’t like this when we left,” Casidhe said. “Did we miss something? Can you pretend for long enough to get through the gates?”

“Pretend what? What’s the plan?” Gheris asked.

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Session 8: Meeting and Mirror
In Which Our Heroes Meet Grandmother and Have An Interesting Experience With a Glass

GM’d and posted by Jennifer

Naessa peeked cautiously out of her tent to investigate the loud coughing noises and spotted Jatris standing nearby. “Keeper, the scouts report that a small band is moving this way—the Iar,” the Scout-Captain informed her.

“Thank you, Jatris,” Naessa said, glancing up at the gray midmorning sky. A week had passed, enough time to get the elves moved to safer grounds and a proper camp erected. Jatris had insisted on installing Naessa as Keeper immediately, a decision that proved wise as Zholon never awakened from his final coma and had died shortly after the rescue. “If you have a few men available, we can head out to meet them.” Ferron had left with Segonal and Geoffrey to meet with the Adra and bring them to this impromptu Gathering, leaving Naessa alone for the first time in her life. She supposed that she wasn’t really alone, having an entire clan of Dalish at her beck and call, but it certainly felt that way.

“Yes, Keeper,” Jatris said, and left to gather up some of his scouts. Lothaire was sitting near a fire with Oriane and most of the rest of the group. Gheris, sitting not precisely near them but not far away, looked up as Naessa passed her.

“My lady?” Lothaire asked.

“I keep telling you not to be so formal, Lothaire,” Naessa said. “I just wanted to let you know we have visitors coming, and I’d like you to join the welcoming committee. “ Naessa nodded at Gheris. “You too, of course, as they’re your clan.”

“Iar?” Gheris asked. “Well, since you’re giving me your permission . . .”

“I was just trying to be nice,” Naessa objected.

“Finally! I thought they’d never get here,” Hesthe remarked, rising to his feet.

“In a way, this weather is lucky, or they wouldn’t be able to travel so openly through human lands,” Juillah said. Simon hurried up, adjusting his cloak, and bowed hastily.

“My lord, my lady. May I be of service?”

“Of course, Simon. We should probably all go,” Naessa said.

“I want to go, too,” Aidan said.

“Bring the whole camp, why don’t you,” Jatris grumbled, but gestured toward the northern edge of camp.

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Pretty Things, Part 3

Posted by Ellanutella

Stealing from Rickety was a big no-no. All of the local thieves knew that to steal from Rickety’s Pawn Shop in the docks district was to walk into the prison and lock yourself in, and those that didn’t know quickly learned. The man had a sixth sense for what went on in his shop. It was an innocent place to buy and sell and trade during the day, but at night, it became the place all thieves went to trade the fruits of their work for money and get it out of their hands and onto the black market. Physically, the store was no larger than two rooms, and only one was ever seen by the great majority of the customers, day or night. And it was quite the sight, a farrago of objects large and small. To the casual observer, there was no order; there was nothing but shelves and shelves and shelves, reaching up and up and up, of books and baskets and statues and candles and all manner of anything one could think of. But Rickety knew where everything was, and in the rare case he didn’t, the close listener could catch him muttering a rhyme or formula under his breath, and he would locate it.

No one quite knew when – or where – Rickety slept. The back room was storage, it was said, for the most dangerous of items, though very few had access to it, and they were mostly the highest elite of the night’s customers. He was always there, always watching his store, and always knew what went on. Some rumored that Rickety was actually a bunch of brothers that all looked alike. Others claimed magic.

The guard never got involved with his business, either, but no one argued. Rickety had the best deals and did a lot for the bunch of thieving low-lives that came to him.

Even if he was human, Gheris did not quite regard him as such. He appraised everyone’s stolen goods the same and knew how to grab a bargain without robbing his customers. And he had never once asked her where she was from or tried to be a little too friendly, as some humans were wont with elves. They were both aware that business was business, and both were happy to keep it that way.

The only time Gheris had seen him outside of his shop was when she’d been slipping around a back alley to check on rumors of the guard discarding old weapons – he had been checking the same. Although she had no proof, she was almost certain he was as much a thief and scavenger as he was a merchant and black market connection. She did not care, however. Even if she did, his respect for the pasts of others kept her questions unasked.

Gheris could see the shop now from her position on the roof of a shop two buildings down and across the street. The next house over tilted so far forward that it kissed the building on the other side. The elf slipped over the two structures and traversed the roofs to Rickety’s shop. There was no point in sneaking in, so she dropped to the street and immediately slipped in, watchful that no late walkers saw her.

As always, she paused to gaze up at the clutter. It never seemed to be the same content, save for one or two things that no one had ever wanted and that were now just such a part of the shop that it would be blasphemy to remove them. She slipped to the rear of the room where Rickety himself sat in a chair, tilted onto its hind legs, his feet up on his table. Three sacks of coins rested beside his feet. Her fingers twitched instinctively, but even her kleptomania was cowed by the man.

He was a rough sort, with coarse and pock-marked skin, looking as if it were always two days after he had shaved. His nose was bulbous and his hairline receding. The palms of his hands were lined with something dark, reminding her of the rings of a tree; he had worked in a mine, she guessed, for such marks to stay for so long. His eyes peered at her from over a book and he carefully marked his place before dropping the chair down on all fours and rising politely. He puffed some smoke through his pipe.

“Gheris,” he said by way of greeting, “What do you have?” His accent was very nearly Fereldan, but there was always something off that told her that he wasn’t.

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One Last Time

Posted by Ellanutella with DarthKrzysztof

His heart beat slowly, steadily under her ear. Sometimes it would speed up as some adrenaline-inducing thought came to him, but even so, it was a constant, lulling sound. She had never had the chance to listen to anyone’s heart but her own, usually as she sprinted from – or, as these days would have her doing, towards – danger. His hand kept pace, running through her hair. Sleeping so close to someone was usually a cause for concern. Instead, his leaving would be the cause for concern. How backwards it all was…

Her limbs weighed themselves down, curling around Casidhe’s chest. Gheris was all but limp, struggling to stay awake. One of her legs tangled with his, a single vine knotted with itself. His fingers brushed her ear every time his hand combed through her hair.

Half-remembered movements made her fingers twitch from time to time. She didn’t mind him so close. She didn’t mind at all. So tired of being alone, but unable to help with the discarding of evidence, she had removed herself from the camp for a while. At the very least, she reasoned, she could stay out of their way as they cleaned up her mess. Casidhe had come by to let her know they were done, and all she could do was clutch at the hand she’d nearly lost and fumble at an apology, one she never really got out of her mouth in its entirety. This time, random fears came out in bursts without him needing to ask, sometimes related, sometimes not. She did not really wonder if he wanted to hear it or not. It just felt better to finally speak. There was less yelling. He listened. And this time, she initiated contact – tentative, but when he did not resist, she poured her fear into it. And oh, oh, it was worth it.

People were put off by her demeanor. She was so sure that that’s the way she liked it – those around her at an arm and a blade’s length. He ignored that and braved the storm of her fear and anger. She wondered just how much abuse he’d had to endure to so easily sit through her own.

Guilt stirred her from her drifting state. She adjusted the ear pressed against him.

“I feel tired.” It was partially a complaint, but she sounded very much surprised. So rarely was she left without energy.

“I should hope so,” Casidhe replied. “You’ve certainly worn me out.”

She smiled slightly. “I couldn’t tell.” Hesitantly, she added, “Are you planning on leaving?”

“What?” His fingers stopped brushing through her hair.

She didn’t raise her head, her voice still tight. “That’s what you do when you screw up, isn’t it? Lift your skirts, kick off your heels, and run for the hills? Right?”

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Islene

Posted by DarthKrzysztof

twenty-five years ago

Brandeouf stood up when the door opened, knowing it’d be Islene. The spring in her step, and the passion with which she kissed him, told him what he wanted to know. He asked anyway.

“So how did it go?”

“Marvelous!” Islene pressed a bottle into his hands and shrugged out of her cloak. Brandeouf hung it to dry as she sat at the table and took an apple from the bowl. “Segonal convinced MacDaer that we’re the right people for the job. We’ll be selling silks, Brandy! Silks from across the sea!”

In the beginning, Islene called him ‘Brandy’ to annoy him; now it was an endearment. “How did he manage that?” he asked.

“I don’t want to bore you with all that.” She bit into the apple, wiping its juice from her chin. “I was bored to tears with it once today already.”

“Then forget I asked. Congratulations, my love.” He set the bottle on the table and knelt before her, to help her out of her right boot. These rituals comforted him, as surely as the duelist’s code did.

“We’ll be rich, Brandy. Rich as dragons.” That curious expression he adored so much crossed her face. “But I still don’t understand why you couldn’t go with us.”

“I knew you’d be safe,” he replied, pulling off her left boot. “And there was something I had to take care of.”

She moved the apple so she could see his face. “What?”

“This.” Brandeouf opened his hand to reveal a simple gold ring – the end product of months of scrimping and weeks of shopping. “Marry me, Islene.”

“Oh, Brandeouf…” Her free hand covered her mouth, and her sense of elation seemed to dissipate.

“I love you.” He’d been practicing this all day, and still found himself choking on the words. Was it because saying such things was still new to him? Or was it her ambiguous reaction? “I don’t want to love anyone else… I don’t think I could.” When she looked away from him, Brandeouf took her hand and pressed the ring against her palm. “Say you’ll be my wife, Islene. Say it, and I’ll be yours forever.”

She closed her eyes, sending tears down her cheeks. “I’m sorry,” Islene said softly, “but I can’t.”

“What do you mean, ‘can’t?’” He swallowed his rising temper and tried not to sound desperate: “Why in the Fade not?”

“I have my reasons,” she said quietly.

“Is there another man? Did you already wed another?”

“No!” She gave him a look that seemed to say Are you serious?

“Then tell me why!” His voice cracked. “You owe me that much. If it’s something I can change, something I can do something about…”

“It’s not. You can’t.” She would have been flustered, if not for her sadness. “I can’t explain it.”

“You can’t explain? Or I wouldn’t understand?”

“Both. Neither. It is what it is.”

“Then what in the Fade have we been doing all this time?” He stood up and stomped a few paces away from Islene before turning to face her again. She may not have been beautiful to others, but she was to him… and in this moment, something Brandeouf had done to make her happy had made her sad instead. “Has this all been another one of your games to provoke me? Or another joke to try my patience? If it is, it isn’t very funny. I thought you loved me, Islene.”

“I do. Believe me, I do. But that doesn’t mean we’ll be together forever.”

“Then be with me in whatever time we do have together.”

Islene looked down at the ring in her hand for a brief eternity. “I’m pregnant,” she said, without looking up.

“You are?” Brandeouf walked back to her, slowly, kneeling before her again. “Are you certain?” When she nodded, he said “Then marry me, you stubborn creature. Let me be your husband, and a proper father to your child… as my own father never was to me.”

She favored him with the saddest smile he’d ever seen, and caressed his cheek. “I do love you, Brandy. I’ll love you, and our child, until the day I die…” As she got to her feet, Islene pressed the ring back into his hands.

“But I won’t be your wife.”

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