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PLAYERS INVOLVED: Fyfergrund and Hiltabilly
SETTING: The riverside, not far from Z'leaf.
WEATHER: Slightly cloudy, cool, with a bit of a breeze blowing.
TIME:Six days ahead of Current. Mid-morning.
CHARACTERS INVOLVED: Ratatoskr (Fyfer) Kage (Hilt)
Rynorel was a mess. There was no other way to put it. The attack on Alzock had gone well, initially, until that destructive beast had showed up. Granted, it had fled the battle when that enormous bone dragon erupted from the ground, but not before leaving many dead, and many more injured in its wake.
Including the Lady herself.
The fact that many more Faction soldiers had lost their lives was scant solace. Especially since the Faction still held the city. Now, the forces of Rynorel, depleted as they were, had taken a defensive stance, on guard for any retaliatory strike. Weakened they might be, the forest was still their home, and had ways of guarding itself.
At the moment, the druid was disguised as a simple squirrel, perched in a tree overlooking the riverside. Now and then, he would re-position himself so he could change his vantage point, but for the most part, he stayed still, watching and listening, on the lookout for any signs of Faction movement. As he waited, his ears twitched as he thought, for a moment, he heard something.
Eyes and ears open, he stayed stock-still, warily listening out for any signs that somebody else might be passing by.
It was mid-morning and Kage had been walking for hours. He had been requested by the lady of Rynorel for his “special” services but, after hearing about the attack, had decided to take a longer path into town than originally planned. It was not his style to get involved in any drama that didn’t involve coin going into his pocket.
He had decided to walk along the riverside so that he could avoid any disguises. It seemed like a good idea at first, but the route had proven to be much more difficult than anticipated. Staying stealthy was next to impossible as he continued to break through the underbrush around him. Finally, he saw a shaded hole along the riverside where he could sit and eat.
Being paranoid, like usual, Kage crept up to the last bush and studied the area, ensuring no danger was present.
“This stupid brush is going to be the death of me,” Kage said in a quite whisper to himself. Remaining tense, ready for anything to attack, Kage scanned his surroundings. Nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary except for an odd squirrel in the trees above that was looking his way.
Determining that the area was safe for now, he came out of the bushes and sat at the base of the tree generating all of the shade. Now was a better time than any to eat some of the nuts and berries he collected along the way.
While at first the druid remained wary as the small figure moved into view after stepping a a stick, after a bit, a small grin crossed Ratatoskr's squirelly features. This one lacked the trappings of a member of the Faction of Hope, and indeed, looked like somebody the Lady had contacted not long ago.
But for now, it was time for some fun, justified, in the druid's mind, as a way to better judge this wanderer. Moving just like a normal squirrel would, he dropped onto a lower branch and scurried along it, making his presence known, then stopped and regarded the halfling below with wide, staring eyes, and nervously twitching tail.
For all intents and purposes he looked for all the Realm like a mere squirrel, eyeing a potential threat, and a potential meal in the form of the nuts and berries the halfling had produced.
The Halfling found himself oddly at piece in the serene setting. Not having sensed any immediate danger for some time, he felt as if he was able to relax. Kage laid back deeper into the tree and found the tension slowly leaving his body.
As he lay, snacking on his bounties from this trip, it wasn’t for several minutes that he realized that the squirrel he had seen earlier had made its way down to his level and was eyeing him and his food. Looking at the squirrel’s eyes, Kage had a gut feeling that something didn’t seem natural; however, he uncharacteristically shook it off and focused on the odd feeling he was having to share the remnants of his snack with this creature.
Slowly getting into a crouching position so as to not scare away the squirrel, Kage placed a small amount of nuts and berries onto a piece of scrap parchment he had lying in his pack.
“Here little fellow, you seem like you could use a treat,” Kage said as he slowly backed away to his original location at the base of the tree.
The squirrel druid twitched his tail as the halfling crouched, looking between him and the pile of nuts and berries he placed on the ground. He loved part-way down the tree, bushy tail twitching as he watched the halfling move away. He moved a bit more, warily edging closer to the food pile, keeping a close eye on the man as he got closer.
Once he reached the small pile, he sniffed at it, then seized a nut between his forepaws, nibbling on it as he ate.
|Who are you, stranger? Why do you come so close to our forest?| he mind-spoke, giving no indication he was the one sending the message, merrily munching away like a mere squirrel. He grabbed a berry next, then stopped to wipe bits of juice off of his face before grabbing another nut.
Kage watched as the squirrel as it approached the pile left for him. Out of a character for an assassin like himself, Kage felt oddly at peace in this wilderness setting with the creek lightly rolling around the rocks of the bank and the leaves gently rustling in the breeze.
“I could get used to this” Kage said to himself as he leaned against the tree watching the squirrel start to eat. After a few minutes, Kage started to feel his body relax and his eyelids start to become heavily. Almost asleep, the Halfling started to hear a voice.
“Who’s there? Come out and I will answer your question in peace.” Grabbing his dark steel short sword, he made sure to stay in a crouched position, ready to strike like a snake at whatever intruder spoke. After several minutes of waiting silently for the intruder, Kage began to grow impatient. If this intruder wasn’t going to come out and face him, he would have to find another way to find and eliminate this threat.
The Halfling quietly crept around the surrounding area for quite a bit of time, slowly and meticulously looking in every possible nook and cranny that he could find. He started to feel as if something was off with the Squirrel as he continued his searching as every time he returned to the tree, he found a feeling in his gut that the Squirrel was watching him and getting pleasure out of his aimless searching, almost as if the squirrel was grinning at him each time he returned to the tree. Having always trusted his gut, Kage started to doubt his own judgement as this logic made no sense… a squirrel couldn’t talk!
Finishing his investigation of the immediate area, Kage decided that the intruder must have left the scene, not sure who it was or what their overall intent was. Crouching at the base of the tree, the Halfling made sure not to let go of his sword or his guard in case the individual decided to return. He knew he needed to get to the Rynorel as soon as possible and this scare was evidence of that.
Looking at the squirrel, his whispered to himself and the squirrel, “I need to return to my travels. I thank you friend for sharing your quiet hideaway with me as I found it most enjoyable and… relaxing… something, I don’t get to do often. This scare has evidenced that even off the beaten path, I am not safe. I must go now.”
With that, Kage stood up, dropping the remaining bag of nuts and berries that he had left so the squirrel could enjoy the remnants of this afternoon stop.
The squirrel watched the halfling sneak around with an unusually keen eye, and indeed, almost seemed to be smiling as the halfling searched in vain for whoever had been speaking to his mind. Precaution though it was, the druid couldn't help but silently laugh to himself.
He felt he should've revealed himself sooner, but he just couldn't bring himself to, fun as it as to watch the halfling's antics. At least, not until the halfling decided it was time to leave, but not before leaving the nuts and berries behind. As Kage stood, Ratatoskr rose to his full, diminutive height, and offered the halfling a good approximation of a formal bow.
|Please forgive the deception. These days, we must be cautious. Millirand is not a safe place these days. Even less so than normal. I am Ratatoskr. Now, who are you, and what brings you so close to our forest?| he inquired, straightening up and gazing up at the halfling.
“Holy dragon dung… what…. Where…. How…”
Not having seen a druid before, Kage was uncharacteristically flabbergasted. He did not know how to even respond to this weird being that just transformed in front of him. He had heard lore of these individuals but only took it as a tall tale.
Taking a breath and remembering his training, Kage began to calm down and stare at the druid with the deadly eyes of a well-trained assassin. He looked the druid up and down, trying to gain a sense as to whether or not this stranger was a friend or a foe. His gut told him that he should just dispose of the stranger and be on his way…. Be something much deeper was holding him back. A small voice in the back of his head telling him that this man was to be trusted and could help him in any future endeavors.
He had already strayed from his training once today which led ultimately to an overall embarrassment in front of this druid. He didn’t have time to waste… but also was not so sure about where his future was going to take him. Rarely had Kage traveled with a companion to assist him in his endeavors, but hearing about the bone dragon attack on Rynorel, as well as the untimely request for his appearance by the lady herself, told Kage that more was at stake than he was being told. He had to trust his training… but had to remain cautious while doing so.
Putting his hand tight around his sword, in case he had to strike, he began to speak. “Ratatoskr you say. You tell me Millirand is not a safe place, yet you surprise me by showing your true form. Am I to see you as a threat or as an acquaintance I just met on the road? Regarding my whereabouts, I am traveling to Rynorel. I have a friend there that I have not heard from in a while and am wanting to see if they are still alive.”
Ratatoskr sat cross-legged as Kage eyed him warily, hands resting on his knees as he met the halfling's gaze evenly. But, despite his relaxed posture, he was ready to unleash a quick bolt of lightning if the rogue proved to be in a murderous mood.
"I am no threat to you if you wish no harm upon Rynorel. If you do indeed have a friend in the forest, then I can lead you to them. What is their name?" he asked, crooking an eyebrow as the halfling spoke. Then he offered a small, sad smile.
"I must give you fair warning, and explain our concerns about our borders. We recently waged war against the Faction invaders holed up in Alzock. It was a bloody, costly affair," he stated sorrowfully, eyes closing as he lowered his head. Then, after a brief moment, he lifted his gaze back up to meet Kage's gaze. "We've been on guard ever since, preparing as best we can for any retaliation on their part."
Kage looks the druid up and down, assessing him for any sign of lying. Not seeing any signs or reason for the druid to be not telling the truth, Kage decides to partially confide in the stranger.
“Ratatoskr, I have heard of the recent trouble that has befell Rynorel and I mean the town no harm. While I can’t tell you the name of my friend, I can tell you that I have been asked to the city to help in an endeavor. I am not sure of any of the details and am supposed to find out as I arrive. It was a nice day and I was running ahead of schedule so decided to stop for a quick break.”
Kage started to relax, serving as a sign to the druid that he was no longer an immediate threat; however, he made sure to keep his hand near his sword just in case he needed to strike. This stranger was not any force that Kage had experienced before and almost felt calm near him… something he had not felt in a long time. As he stared at the druid, reality started to set in. Kage looked around and realized that he may have traveled a bit to far from the road and wasn’t quite sure where he was. Slightly panicked, he took a calming breath to ensure that he did not give away this fact.
“I know we just met, but I have a favor to ask. It appears you are very concerned and protective of this town, Rynorel. I have been asked there by a member of the city’s upper echelon to help assist in some means; however... it appears I may have lost my way. Would you mind accompanying me to this town? It would allow you to ensure I mean the village no harm.”
The druid slowly shook his head, leaning back slightly but otherwise not moving. "I'm afraid that won't do. If you can't tell me a name, I must insist you tell me who invited you. Their position in Rynorel. We can't let just anybody enter our forest, you understand."
"Stranger, once I know who to lead you to, then I can better serve as your guide. If you continue to refuse to tell me more about who invited you, then I will guide you back to the road," he stated softly, but firmly. There was a time when he wouldn't have needed to be so cautious, but with the Faction's murderous scum still holed up nearby, Rynorel couldn't take any chances.
Eyeing the druid, Kage still seemed drawn to trust this stranger even though he couldn’t lay his finger on it. “Sir, I don’t quite know what it is about you…. But I feel the urge that I can trust you. This is something that is not normal for me in my line of work. I was called to Rynorel by the lady herself to handle some special assignment that she did not want to send her men on. I am unsure what that task is, but if it has anything to do with the faction, it is hard to say no.”
Just then, Kage had a look of lost sadness on his face as he recalled a memory from not long ago. On an assignment not long ago, Kage was asked to take out an elvish emissary known to be a leader within the faction. He had infiltrated the organization as requested and had lived with them for a few moons until the emissary decided to move on a dragon nest. As they neared the nest, he was told by the leader of the group that his task was to take out the babies.
Killing the babies will ensure we bring out the dragons at large. Don’t leave any of those devils behind. Kage remembered the deep growl in the voice of the leader. The New Moon leaves no witnesses when it comes to these beasts.
The assassin continued lost as he stayed in his memory. The faction group snuck up to the entrance of a cavern located at the topmost peak of the Ryuken mountains, something did not feel right about the whole situation. The troop began to head in and Kage witnessed the magical act of parenthood. The dragons were just like man, nurturing their young. The slaughter was something that would never leave his mind as the faction brutally took part in a mass genocide, murdering all of the young solely to anger the mothers and to bring out the elder. The assassin could not take it any longer and decided to enact his plan then and there.
He moved in and out, silently slitting the throat of any faction member that moved. The dragons saw this opportunity and seized it, eventually building up enough numbers to drive the group away. Kage had slaughtered all of the men as they made their way back to the camp as they had done to the dragons. Arriving back at camp, blood dripping from every fiber on his body, the elvish emissary went to flee. Kage grabbed a bow from a nearby tent, knocked an arrow, and ensured it slid right in the back of the neck, severing the brain stem from the spine.
Shaking off this memory, Kage decided to take a chance with this druid. He had sized up the stranger, ensuring he could do enough damage to get away if needed. These were dangerous times and letting individuals know what side you laid on was not wise; however, he needed the druid’s help and letting him know the truth may gain his trust.
“Sir, I am here to help the lady. After the dragon struck her town, she had fallen into the way of the faction and has hired me for some part in finding this dragon to strike it down. Because of a past assignment I was on, she thinks I am part of the faction as I infiltrated the Order of the New Moon. I assure you that I am not truly this individual. Have you heard of the slaughter of the elvish emissary Aegdir in the Ryuken Mountains? That was me. I can’t stand how the faction handles dragons. I have plans to gain the lady’s trust and expose her for who she really is. For this, I need your assistance. I hope that my admission of this to you will gain some level of trust.”
When Kage revealed who had first invited him to Rynorel, Ratatoskr closed his eyes and bowed his head in grief. A few moments passed in silence as he struggled to regain his composure. Despite her short reign, the previous Lady had been well-respected in Rynorel. After a time, he gazed somberly at the rogue.
"Our Lady fell in battle against the Faction a short while ago. That is part of why we are so wary of strangers. The Faction isn't likely to leave us alone, now," he explained. He fell silent for a moment, then rose to his feet. "But if you truly wish to strike against the Faction, then I am certain the forest elders will welcome you."
Until a new Lord or Lady stepped up to claim leadership of Rynorel, the most respected of the druids were keeping things running. Ratatoskr might not have agreed with all of their decisions, but he did believe the Faction would, sooner or later, turn their eyes on Rynorel.
"I can lead you to them, if you still wish to ally yourself with us, and you can make your case before them," he offered. "About the best I can do, under present circumstances."
Kage looked at the druid, contemplating his options. He had not heard that the lady had fallen in battle. His fear that something was off had finally been validated. Sighing, he commented to the druid “My deepest regrets about your lady. I had heard great rumors of her. I am no friend of the Faction as they have caused far too much pain and suffering to innocents. I will follow you to this council so that I may devote my blade to their cause.”
The Halfling checked the surrounding area to make sure that no signs remained of his stop and prepared to head out. The light was starting to fade and the surroundings were peaceful, only hearing the brush of leaves as a light breeze blew through the trees.
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