BK
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CH
11
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Armour of Thorns
Scrub and Bush

…continues from Book #01, Chapter #11, Scene #02

Synopsis

4th Day of Tarsakh in the Year of the Sudden Journey
Leaving the perils of the Stonemarch behind them, the group head east and north to meet up with Altair's Talons at the northern range of the Cairngorm mountains. A lone peak with a shattered outcrop awaits them for the meeting point; before they attempt to cross the mountains through the orc-guarded pass and finally reach the Nentir Vale.
Finding a magic circle within the foothills they start a chain of events with the music of the wind that ends in a blast of lightning and thunder. Reeling from the shock they recover to see an insurgence of goblinkind that ends in a battle that they just about win. From the blast is born a female dwarf and the group must now work out if she is friend or foe.

For a chapter summary please see Chapter #11 Summary.

Cast List

Khalin Grundokri 

Level 8 Male Dwarven Marshal (Warlord)

Kireth Majere 

Level 8 Male Half-Elven Arcanist (Wizard)

Tradden Aversward 

Level 8 Male Human Weaponmaster (Fighter)

Zero Uhlit 

Level 8 Level Male Human Scoundrel (Rogue)

Beltak Ancaron

Scribe of Pelor (NPC)

Female Dwarf

(NPC)

Scene Length

This scene starts on Monday 3rd February 2020 and is expected to be completed by the end of Tuesday 31st March 2020.

Players are expected to be able to post at least once a day.

Storyline
Cairngorm Foothills

Khalin watched the orc flee into the brush beyond the circle. He knew he wouldn't be quick enough to chase the beast and with Tradden on the floor and the others further back it seemed a lost cause.

The dwarf muttured under his breath as he walked over to Tradden and held out an arm to pull him up.

‘C'mon, lad,’ he said, pulling the young fighter to his feet, as he turned to look at the devastation within the circle.

Some of the chaos of the bodies were lost in the encroaching gloom of dusk, but the warlord was proud that the group were still alive and well. Zero looked relatively unhurt, as usual. Kireth, who had suffered at the hands of the orcs and goblins as well as the shrunken black vines appeared to be in good health, although the steel in his eyes told Khalin he was in no mood for idle chatter. Tradden, despite being thrown into the odd monolith, had a smile returning to his lips already. Then, there was the lady dwarf, who had thrown herself admirably into the contest and barely had a scratch upon her.

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Cairngorm Foothills

The look the indestructible orc chieftain gave him caused Zero to shiver a little. But as the green monster turned tail and vanished, he felt his courage return. ‘Yeah, and there's more if you come back!’ he shouted, hitching up his belt.

He jogged over to join his friends. ‘Everyone okay?’ he inquired.

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Cairngorm Foothills

‘I think so,’ replied Khalin, his hands on his thighs as he caught his wind after the combat and flat-out sprint. He looked across to Tradden who'd taken a lot of punishment. The young human was brushing himself down but already seemed to be recovering. Nodding appreciatively to the fighter, Khalin turned to clap a reassuring hand on Beltak's shoulder, an unspoken thank you to the scribe for his efforts and growing bravery in the battle. The dwarf then strode eagerly towards the newcomer, who had gone from being a whirlwind of activity in the skirmish to looking a touch wistful now the situation had calmed down. Fixing what he hoped was a warm and welcoming smile (though it was the Krakens who were the newcomers) he approached the female dwarf.

‘Hail and well met, m'lady!’ he opened, affably. ‘Thank you for your timely help — you are a formidable force in battle. I am Khalin… of The Islands,’ he began, remembering the unfortunate first impression his clan name had created with Rangrim. ‘May I introduce Kireth, Zero, Tradden and Beltak, also from across the sea.’ The dwarf indicated each of his companions with a sweep of his hand, Tradden and Beltak the last of the group to amble back to the centre of the circle.

‘May I ask your name? You were but a statue only moments ago!’ he continued, as the incredulity of the woman's transformation bled through into his voice.

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Cairngorm Foothills

The woman glanced at the younger dwarf as she continued to walk back towards the centre of the circle but did not respond. Her eyes drifted off to some point behind him and narrowed slightly. Then she turned her head to look back to the northwest, towards the fingers of rock wedged between the monoliths there.

She stretched out her hand, towards them, palm up, as she continued walking, then looked forward again as she slowly brought her fingers in to a fist. With audible snaps and pops, cracks appeared through the slabs of stone and they soon started to break apart and fall to heaps of rubble. She grimaced slightly as they did. As she reached the centre of the circle, she kicked at some of the remaining stones at the spot where she had stood, for a moment, still staring at the ground. Then she looked up at the fat human stood nearby.

‘What's the date?’ she asked.

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Cairngorm Foothills

‘Er… the fourth day of Tarsakh, in the Year of the Sudden Journey,’ Zero answered, a little taken aback at the dwarf's bluntness.

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Cairngorm Foothills

The woman frowned at the man for a moment, then looked away. She looked back at him again with a look of incredulity, before starting to mutter something under her breath. A moment later, still muttering she started to count slowly on her fingers, paused, then counted again. She looked up sharply.

‘Moradin's… no, wait…’

She murmured something again and went back to her fingers. She looked up sharply again, staring at the man with a look of outrage on her face.

‘Melora's tits! Thirteen years? Perifas, you garter-sniffing dick-ferret!’ she shouted. Loudly.

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Cairngorm Foothills

Dusting himself down, gingerly, Tradden cricked his neck, wandered over, and then bowed as low as he could to the new dwarf, despite her outburst.

‘Tradden Aversward at your service, m'lady,’ he offered. Without really stopping to catch breath, the fighter followed this pleasantry up with a rather direct question which caused more than one pair of eyes to raise to the heavens. ‘So, hey, what's it like to be stone for… thirteen?… years? Can you, like, see or feel stuff, still?’

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Cairngorm Foothills

Khalin rolled his eyes at the young fighter and then glanced over to Kireth, who had remained notably silent so far, giving the elf a confused frown while raising his own palms out and upwards in the universal sign that asked “What in Moradin's name was going on?”. The mage raised an eyebrow in return in a look that Khalin couldn't decide was of knowingness, condescension or mild surprise. Knowing Kireth, the first two.

Still slightly perturbed by the gruffness of the newcomer, and Tradden's impetuous response, Khalin slowly moved round into her eyeline, and palms now downwards in what he hoped was a non-threatening gesture of calm, spoke slowly and softly: ‘Why don't you start from the beginning?’

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Cairngorm Foothills

The woman stared at Tradden with wide eyes and a tense jaw. She looked as if she was about to say something then stopped and turned to fix Khalin with the stare, held it for a moment, then cocked her head slightly to the side, still with eyes locked.

‘In the beginning there was darkness and Moradin. Then he smashed his hammer into his anvil and the sparks became the stars,’ she said.

‘Then he shat himself and that became the world mountain. And for the love of all the gods stop calling me “y'bloody lady”.’ she continued, though calming a little as she looked from Khalin back to the young man.

‘You can call me Brünhilde. Now, did Perifas send you?’

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As Brünhilde finished, the breeze whipped up briefly, bring with it a light mist that rolled in from the mountains off to the east.

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Cairngorm Foothills

Khalin had a thousand questions, but the brief gust of wind brought unease. ‘M'… Brünhilde,’ the dwarf swiftly corrected himself, ‘Perifas did not send us — we don't know who he is, I'm afraid. But we should continue this conversation while we move. The last time the wind picked up, the lightning came with it — freeing you, mercifully — but I think it would be unwise for us to be here if it strikes again. We're also exposed — we need cover and a chance to rest.’

With that he was a marshal again, barking orders: ‘Kireth, we need those vines burnt so no other poor soul gets caught in them… please,’ he added with a brief smile, lest the haughty half-elf take issue with being ordered about. ‘Tradden, Zero, retrieve the packs,’ he nodded to the two humans. ‘Beltak, see if we have some rations to hand. Brünhilde is no doubt hungry. We can get a proper camp going when we get to a safer location.’

‘What is this place?’ he asked Brünhilde as he motioned for the two of them to head towards the northern edge of the circle, and cover.

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Climbing up onto Tradden's shoulders and poking about in the faces of gods for a second time did not appeal too much to Zero. The rogue had just done a circuit of the circle at speed at the end of the battle and he needed a few moments to catch his breath.

Trying to avoid Khalin's eye and the inevitable enthusiastic call from Tradden, he sloped to one side and began to study the corpses laid around the circle. What appeared to be the leader had fled, but the larger orcs and the hobgoblin wizard were close to him.

The hobgoblin made more sense for him to check first, its corpse the one that had mysteriously swapped places with the leader orc. It lay sprawled on the floor on its back, its face burnt and bloody and one of Zero's crossbow bolts protruding from the side of its neck. The rogue preferred to leave that one there for now. He padded over the hobgoblin's robes to see if it had anything of use, but only found a silken sash coming loose around its waist, torn in two at the front.

The thing had had a staff at one point; where was it? Then it clicked for Zero, it would be over to the east a bit, where the creatures had swapped positions.

He ambled over and looked at it, a crooked and jagged piece of iron. It looked like it weighed a fair amount and he tried to nudge it with his boot with no real success.

Shrugging his shoulders, he wandered back to where the main melee had taken place and took a good look at the fallen orcs.

The two large orcs were sprawled in the dirt, battered and bloody. Their faces were foul, their mouths rimmed with a bloody froth and they stank of stale sweat and rotting vegetation. Zero's nose wrinkled at the smell and with nothing leaping out at him, he left the bodies where they lay.

As he stood from a crouch, a small emblem upon one of their jerkins caught his eye. He quickly checked the other body and they both had the same. They were burnt into the leather, perhaps with a brand or such, and depicted a stylised eye with could be either tears or blood dripping from them.

‘Hey, Beltak!’ the rogue called. ‘Have you seen this before?’ he asked, pointing at the orc's leather jerkin.

At the same time the inevitable call came from Tradden to get the bags and he nodded at the oncoming scribe and headed off to help the young fighter.

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Cairngorm Foothills

The wind gusted around the scribe and whipped his cloak around his legs as he headed over to where Zero was pointing. Crouching at the first orc he examined the jerkin and the blackened emblem upon it.

‘Looks like an eye, yes,’ the scribe agreed, though the rogue was already away, clambering up onto Tradden's shoulders to retrieve one of the packs. ‘Blood, tears, stars?’ he questioned, at the smudges beneath the eye.

Beltak stood and then as if remembering something delved into his pack, finding some of their meagre supplies. With a pair of large biscuits in his hand he headed over towards Brünhilde, proffering them to the dwarf, before unstoppering his flask.

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Cairngorm Foothills

With his usual enthusiasm, Tradden had loped off to the statues to see about retrieving the packs and had finally convinced Zero to join him. Straining his arms he got the portly rogue up to Moradin's head to fetch Khalin's pack.

Retrieving them was easier and by the time Beltak had finished examining the orc's jerkin, the pair were up and at Pelor's head, retrieving Zero's lighter pack from the hole.

As Zero passed the warlord's pack back to Khalin, Tradden slid his own pack back into place. The group were now all clustered at the northern end of the circle, under the shadows of Pelor, and without the sun the air had a chilly touch. Shuddering, Tradden vocalised what he thought most of them were thinking.

‘Not much point setting out now,’ he stated with a faraway look to the mountains. ‘These light easterly winds and the way the clouds lie makes me think it will be a cold night, so if Kireth is going to set a big bonfire going, that is fine by me!’

He took a sideways look at Brünhilde. ‘Erm, assuming this circle is a respectful… and safe, place to camp?’

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Cairngorm Foothills

Kireth knew he was likely in a lot of pain but the adrenaline was still coursing through his veins from the fight. Once that wore off he was sure to pay for it, for a few days no doubt. The thought made him just a little more grumpy, were that possible. The young fighter's wittering about the clouds and camping did not raise his mood, either.

And “Burn the vines?”. What did he look like to the stupid dwarf, a fire elemental? ‘Sure, I'll just pull some flames out of my ass for you,’ he growled from beneath his cowl. As it happened he likely did have something in his pouches that would get a quick fire started on the vines and a simple cantrip would enhance it to quickly spread. He started about his work, making enough noise to ensure everyone knew how fed up he was.

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Cairngorm Foothills

Zero watched the mage work for a few moments, conscious of the huffs and puffs from behind the robes of the mage and the low muttering that the rogue wasn't entirely sure was appropriate language.

‘Er, may I suggest we move on?’ Zero said, looking distinctly agitated. ‘Getting one of those uncomfy little feelings, y'know?’

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Cairngorm Foothills

Once the fire was started and he was sure it would spread nicely he got up, and stormed past Khalin to exit the area. ‘Your bush is on fire,’ he snorted.

Catching a look at the new “dwarf” he simply snapped ‘Wonderful!’ as he strode between Pelor and Erathis and into the scrub to the north.

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Cairngorm Foothills

Khalin, hands on hips, grunted at the mage's exit, but nodded over at Zero. ‘Aye, makes sense. Sorry, Tradden, but it doesn't feel safe to stay here. The walk will give us time to learn more about each other as we march on, though, ’ he continued, looking at Brünhilde.

‘We need to get some cover in this brush and get north as quick as we can to meet up with the others,’ he said. ‘Zero, Tradden, get up in front of Kireth, will you? Keep your eyes and ears open and see if you can bag us a couple of coneys on the way as well. I'm sure we are all famished. Beltak, you catch up with Kireth and see if you can calm him down a bit.’

As the others headed north, Khalin took a last long look at the stone circle before gesturing northwards. ‘After you, Brünhilde,’ he said and followed her out of the circle, the remaining inscriptions of the magic losing their final glow as the two dwarves left.

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Cairngorm Foothills

Brünhilde stopped as she left, near the edge of the circle, and looked around as Khalin wandered on. In her hand she held the biscuits offered by Beltak. At first, she was not going to take them, but then realised she had no food. No traveling rations, no water. Everyone else she had been with had gone, as had their supplies. In truth she would have little trouble finding both in the wild, given the time, but she was hungry. She had been stood here for thirteen years. It felt more like thirteen hours to her, but the memory was hazy, dreamlike, and already fading.

Which was her other problem. She did not really want to leave this place. Logic said there was no reason to stay. Any link she might have had to the place, any chance that she needed to stay there was long since rendered irrelevant. And yet, it was her only link to the past. It felt as though stepping out of it would close a door, she could not then re-open. Set in stone a reality she did not fully believe was real. What reason did she have to go with these people? Had they freed her? Again, logic said they were her only real source of information, so staying with them made sense. Still, she lingered on the edge of the circle as the others started to move away.

She called after them, not singling anyone out in particular.

‘Why were you here?’

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Cairngorm Foothills

Khalin glanced back, seeing Brünhilde pause, a look of wistful melancholy now clouding her face. The warlord stopped too. ‘That, is… a long story,’ he smiled affably. If his kinswoman had indeed been trapped, frozen, for thirteen years, then this must be a dizzying time for her. He walked back to join her.

‘This must be very disorienting,’ he offered, softly, ‘but I think we're all safer away from this place. While I can understand the reluctance to wander off a with a group of strangers you've just met, we have all stood shoulder to shoulder against a common foe — that counts for something — and you have my word, we are friends. Join us on the path north, and I will tell you all about it, and we can help you get home.’ Khalin hoped Brünhilde did indeed still have a home.

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Cairngorm Foothills

Brünhilde took a moment, before nodding slowly in assent and picking up her pace to join the group, taking a position near the rear, along with, but not quite beside, Khalin.

At the start it was a stiff pace, edging between a rush to get away from the circle quickly and the caution of alerting another orc pack. The scrub and bush made it demanding going, dodging and ducking, and pushing their way through various clumps of vegetation and avoiding some of the more prickly spines. Underfoot was firm, though, and the cover the scrubland gave them was welcomed.

After an hour or so the pace began to slow, Zero waving at the others to slow down and holding his stomach. The sun was beginning to set and the path before them harder to navigate anyway, with Tradden, for possibly the first time, looking ragged and tired of leading the way.

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Cairngorm Foothills

As they slowed, Khalin gave the order for a camp to be found and with a look of delight, Zero and Tradden headed off with renewed vigour to scout out the surrounding area for suitability.

The rest of the group slowed even further, the pair of dwarves catching up with the mage and the scribe. Khalin raised an eyebrow at Kireth and then turned to Brünhilde once more.

‘Maybe now is as good a time to exchange answers, whilst we wait for those two to come back,’ he stated, loosening his heavy pack from his shoulders. ‘Why were we there?’ he asked rhetorically, nodding back to the south. ‘Well, we spotted the circle from afar while journeying north to meet friends. Perhaps you could tell us more about it, and how you became stuck there?’

He took a short pause, not long enough for the other dwarf to interrupt, before blowing quickly and continuing. ‘We've come from across the sea, from “The Islands”, hundreds of leagues out to the west. After the “Great Retreat”, those who had fled the mainland — men, dwarfs and elves alike — struck up a new home out over the sea. We've flourished there, but for generations we've wondered what, and who, might be left on the mainland. Our scouts set up a settlement on the coast, the town of Blackengorge, and we have struck out inland to find out what is here, and hopefully find new trade links, and old friends.’

Brünhilde almost looked as though she were going to interrupt this time, but the warlord carried on, entralled by his own tale.

‘Along the way we've met friends and enemies, and it appears some dark evil is afoot that might endanger everyone here. We've already met a necromancer named Skauril, but he seems to be only a part of a larger, dangerous plan. But for now we're planning to rendezvous with our friends, a group called “Altair's Talons”, at the north edge of these mountains. Then, Moradin willing, we'll be heading on to the Nentir Vale. Do you know it?’

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Cairngorm Foothills

Brünhilde watched the two humans set off to scout and her instincts were to follow, but the young dwarf, Khalin his name was, was talking again, at her. He seemed to like to talk. Ordinarily she would not care about interrupting someone, or just walking away if they were boring or annoying, but there was a certain wisdom is staying and listening, at least for the moment. But she soon found herself scanning the terrain around them again, looking at the lay of the land, looking for likely places of shelter, or places which could provide shelter with a little re-shaping. But also looking at lines of sight to other raised points around them, places that others might see them from.

As she gazed about, she half listened to the other dwarf taking through history she learned before he was born. He made reference to a few places and people she had never heard of, but then there were no places or people here when she arrived, so something must have changed, and a foothold must finally have been established. Finally, he finished his monologue with a question she only half caught.

Her eyes still outward she said, ‘I don't know of any of these places you speak of. But, you were not the first to return from the Islands.’

Without another word she then started walking into the brush herself.

‘Wait, where are you going?’ Khalin called behind her.

‘To make myself useful,’ she replied simply, not looking back.

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