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    Default Chapter 20: The Doom of Hollowchest

    Spoiler: Chapter 20: The Doom of Hollowchest
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    Here we must rewind a bit to detail Olaf's adventures during the rest of the party's debacle during Marked.

    Captain Ian sails Olaf a bit further east, dropping him at a small Dhar settlement along the coast, well away from the river, to do a bit of coastal recon. Dhar ships patrol (read: raid) all up and down this coastline, so if the Huroc are moving near the shore, the Dhar should know, and Olaf hopes to capitalize on their knowledge.

    The hold he arrives at is a small cluster of buildings centered on a sturdily-built longhouse, hiding in a small inlet. Captain Ian's cutter drops Olaf on the dock, the bosun promising to see Olaf in a few days before returning to berating his swabbies as they pull back toward the ship. The dock is relatively quiet, but the sandy beach at the center of the inlet is crowded with Dharric longships beached for unloading or minor repairs.

    Olaf is met at the end of the dock by a couple of burly men. “What's your business here?” one asks brusquely.

    Olaf smiles. “I seek information about the nearby coast, and a conversation with your chieftain. In return I bring information of my own, and coin to pay for my boarding until that ship returns.”

    The enforcers just shrug. “Chief's in the longhouse. Keep those weapons sheathed and you won't have to talk to us again.”

    Olaf nods and the two wander away, one down the dock and the other back toward the beached ships, leaving Olaf a clear path to the longhouse.

    Inside, it's a madhouse; crates of supplies from the offloading operation on the beach are scattered haphazardly on every surface, men and women are rushing everywhere, seemingly without any sort of coordination, a small group in the corner is drinking and laughing boisterously and occasionally breaking into song, and apparently a few seagulls got in somehow, as they're perched on the rafters above squawking down at everyone below, occasionally diving toward any unattended item to see if it's food. One buzzes Olaf as he steps up to the only seemingly ordered spot in the room, where a well-dressed man with a massive axe strapped to his back stands surrounded by a small crowd of people who quietly await his attention. He joins the queue, and eventually the man looks to him.

    “Ah. You must be our visitor. Welcome to our humble longhouse.”

    “Many thanks, sir,” Olaf replies. “I am Olaf Hollow-Chest, and I'm looking for a bit of information.”

    The man's expression brightens a bit at the sound of Olaf's accent. “Information, eh?” he asks. “Well, I'll be happy to sit down with you and see what you need, but at present we are somewhat...” he glances around, fishing for the word. “...busy.”

    Olaf nods sagely. “I'll be here for a couple of days. At your convenience.”

    The man laughs. “Over dinner tonight? We just need long enough to get this place cleared out and squared away and I'll be happy to talk.” Olaf nods and smiles gratefully. “Well then, I'll have someone find you a room to stay in and we'll call you for dinner.”

    A few hours later, Olaf returns to the longhouse, and it's a completely different place. The boxes and supplies have been removed; the three long tables are full of people and, more importantly, stacked high with food and drink. A few men in one corner of the room are playing instruments; men and women with iron collars or cuffs stand as unobtrusively as possible along all the walls, holding pitchers, ladles and trays. The chieftain sits at the head of the longest table, his axe propped handle-up against the armrest of his enormous wooden chair, a smile plastered across his face and a great plate of some sort of roast fowl resting before him. He gestures Olaf closer, to an open spot a few spaces down the table.

    As Olaf finds his seat, the Chieftain gestures to the man at his left hand, who stands, places his hands together, and says: “Let us pray.”

    “O Ocean Witch, great mistress of wind and wave, we thank you for delivering home to us our brothers and sisters this day, and for the bounty with which they return. In your name we pray and in your service we sail. Amen.”

    The room holds dead silent for a moment.

    “And now,” the priest says, looking up and down the tables with a glint in his eyes, “Who wants to know?”

    Priests of the Ocean Witch can cast an augury that will foretell the tenor of the target's next sea voyage; it is this service the priest is offering.

    Olaf, of course, stands. “I would know,” he says.

    The priest nods to him, grinning. “And with what will you pay?”

    Olaf pulls a conch shell from his tunic. “I know the name of a great merrow in the service of our Lady the Ocean Witch. I will call him and introduce you if you will foretell for me.”

    There is a moment of breath-holding silence before the priest booms a laugh. “I accept!” he cries. “Let us go meet your merrow!”

    Olaf and the priest step out of the longhouse while everyone else tucks into their food with a will. Olaf leads the way toward the surf, where a few isolated repair crews are still at work on the nearest longboat. Once they've reached the water, Olaf shows the priest how to form the symbols that make up his merrow friend's name, then dips his head under a wave long enough to blow it himself on the conch.

    With a great thunderclap of sound and a wave that nearly washes Olaf off his feet, the 8-foot-tall merrow that Olaf met along the coast of Drougant appears, seaweed-draped, with a toothy smile on his face. “Little Dhar friend!” he cries. “Wrestled any more bulls lately?”

    Olaf stands proud in the surf and returns a laugh of greeting, waving his Horns of the Conflagration to show the priest what he's talking about. “No bulls, sadly. I did wrestle a gryphon, though!”

    “A gryphon? Truly?” the merrow asks. “Most impressive! They are powerful beasts.” The merrow looks around at his surroundings, at the Dhar camp just off the shore, and the extremely nervous longboat repair crews edging back toward it. “Why have you summoned me hence?”

    Olaf introduces the priest of the Ocean Witch, as promised, and the priest and the merrow proceed to have a booming-loud conversation about how hilarious it is for the Witch watching mortals drown and die at her whim, in horrible and fantastic ways. Pretty much everyone in earshot is horrified, but hey, that's religion for you.

    Eventually the merrow departs and Olaf and the priest return to the dinner; Olaf's augury is given as: “Your trip will end safely, but not in the place you expect.”

    That's not ominous at all.

    Since the chieftain is mostly done eating by then, Olaf asks a few questions regarding the state of the coastline, and whether any raider ships have spotted anything that might be a large group of people moving cross-country, then eats himself while the chieftain answers. The chieftain's answers are long and verbose, but the upshot is that the Dhar haven't seen anything but the occasional group of travelers from Aurbesk, who may or may not be fleeing from a large horde of Huroc, but probably aren't. It's a bit discouraging, except for the fact that the rest of the party is, very nearly at that moment, spotting the columns of smoke that mark the Huroc camps.

    Olaf whiles away a couple of days assisting the Dhar with ship repair and chatting with the Ocean Witch's priest before Captain Ian's ship returns to pick him up. It's a trip of a mere couple days back to the river-mouth rendevous point where the rest of the party is waiting.

    Or, would be waiting, if not for that whole plague fiasco.

    The river mouth is deserted, even after a thorough search. Captain Ian is set to sail away, the terms of his contract fulfilled, until Olaf nearly doubles his fee to convince him to stay until sundown.

    Thankfully, it is just a few hours before sunset that Seeker and Miaoyu arrive. Seeker shoots up a magical flare (“Handy trick, that; remind me to thank Aelron.”) and the cutter comes to retrieve them.

    Olaf is waiting in the boat when it nudges up to the shore and his friends step aboard. He looks between the two of them, confused. “Wait, what's going on? Where are Flynn and Aelron?”

    Miaoyu waves to the trees. “They're a few hours behind us. We... had some trouble on our trip, and decided it'd be best to get someone here as soon as possible. They'll be along.”

    Seeker growls and grimaces at the phrasing 'had some trouble', but nods as Miaoyu takes her seat.

    With proof that the party is, in fact, on its way, Captain Ian agrees to wait until the next morning. Late in the evening Aelron and Flynn arrive and are similarly escorted to the ship, very glad to be done hiking.

    With the group reunited, Flynn sits everyone down to consider options. “All right,” he says, “We came out here for proof that the Huroc are coming. We know approximately where they are now, but we didn't get anything like proof. We need to get close enough to find something we can use, which means getting far enough north fast enough to intercept them.” He gestures Captain Ian closer and leans over the map. “The fastest way for that is if you'd be willing to give us a lift up this river we're at the mouth of, here.”

    Captain Ian glances down and around, wary. “I appreciate the offer, but I’m transporting rather delicate goods with a deadline for delivery. I don’t want what I'm transporting to spoil.”

    “What are you transporting?” Seeker asks.

    Captain Ian sighs. Flynn facepalms.

    “Fresh fruit, if you must know,” Ian returns finally.

    “If it's simply getting back before the cargo spoils that concerns you, I can extend its lifespan greatly with just a couple of spells,” Aelron offers diplomatically. “Turn your hold into an icebox, and the cargo will keep nicely.”

    “Refrigeration?” Miaoyu asks. “That was invented in Qen, you know.”

    “Yes, we know,” Flynn says with a sigh. “Refrigeration, central air, library classification—it’s all in Qen. I hear it’s filled with myths and tall tales, as well.”

    “Of course. We invented those, too.” The joke seems to fly right over Miaoyu's head—or maybe she’s telling one right back. It’s hard to say.

    Flynn rolls his eyes and turns back to the crude map the party has been navigating by, trying to determine their best route to intercept the Huroc. “I’ve got to say, I wish Nüwa was here,” he comments, remembering her spells that could generate highly detailed maps of an area. Miaoyu makes a disgusted noise and he sighs again. “Yes, we all know about your hatecrush,” he says dismissively. Miaoyu sulks.

    Flynn turns to Captain Ian. “Well, how about it? We'll scrape together what payment we can and upgrade your hold for cold storage if you can lift us up the river a ways.”

    “Look,” Captain Ian says to the party. “I appreciate the offers, I really do, and if this were any other river, I’d take you up on it—but this river is controlled by the Bene.”

    The Bene (pronounced 'Beh-nay') are a family of nobles out of Aurbesk. They own the biggest and most trusted chain of banks and trading companies in Aurbesk, operate out of the city which takes its name from them, and are currently bankrolling Drougant’s Gilroy family—the same Gilroys who command Haddon's Eagles, the mercenary company that makes up the majority of Drouant's royal armed forces. The Bene are a big deal—the big deal, you might say—and a name known far and wide. For a bit of context, Miaoyu knew the name Bene before she left Qen; they’re one of the very few foreigners allowed trade freely in Qennish ports. No one wants to piss off the Bene, and the party quickly ceases their attempts to negotiate with Ian, although Aelron still applies a cooling spell to the cargo hold, mostly in thanks for his waiting to pick up the whole party.

    Soon, our heroes are bidding Captain Ian and his crew fair sailing and trudging right back up the river. Travel is uneventful for several days, passing the ruins of what must have once been a village and interminable miles of wide, sluggish river. Unfortunately, what goes up must come down. One evening, as the party settles in for camp, we roll for camp comfort and camp security (camp comfort determines how well rested we are at the beginning of the next day, and whether mages can prepare spells, while camp security determines who gets a surprise round on whom during any night encounters)... and we toss out one of our lowest security rolls in party history, matched up with an incredibly high comfort roll.

    What this means, of course, is that the party is so busy shouting puns and insults across the camp at one another that they don't even notice their surroundings.

    We got incredibly lucky.

    Instead of getting coup-de-grace'd by bandits in the night, we wake the next morning in oblivious good cheer, all our belongings still neatly in their places. It's not until Olaf begins breaking down the camp after breakfast, while Seeker and Aelron run through their spell preparation routines, that Olaf notices a neat web of bootprints encircling the camp. There were people—multiple people, it would seem—circling all around the camp in the middle of the night, and none of the people on watch noticed a damned thing. Further searching reveals that the tracks lead back to the river, where Olaf finds an impression in the mud that he recognizes as the mark a rowboat makes when it gets dragged ashore and then pushed back into the water again. Judging from the bootprints—heavy, well-shaped and crisp—the people were probably military scouts, most likely Aurbeski. Fortunately, they were well-disciplined.

    The party fights off shame and forges north. Fog starts coming in from the river around evening, so the party goes to high ground to make their camp. It’s about that time that the party notices something odd: there are no sounds of animal life. No singing from birds, scuffling from rodents, not even the chirping of crickets.

    “How can there be no crickets?” Flynn asks, but no one has any answers, and the fog has come in too thick to move camp.

    The next morning, the fog is still thick around the camp, but everyone can see that something is different. The fog has obscured view of pretty much everything except the tops of trees, but there's something else—several somethings else—protruding from the fog in the direction of the river. They look like columns of some sort of stone, and they certainly weren't there last night.

    “I say we turn around and go the opposite direction,” Miaoyu says. (“How did you become an adventurer with that attitude?” our DM asked. “Oh, right. You’re a runaway.”)

    Of course, between Aelron's curiosity and Seeker's worry that someone over there might be hurt, the party ends up heading right toward the rock spires, determined to figure out what exactly is going on. The fog is so thick, though, that they can only see about ten feet in front of them

    “Maybe we should tie ourselves together,” Seeker suggests, “so we don’t get lost.”

    “I don’t think that would be a good idea,” says Flynn. “If we get into a fight, we’ll be trapped”

    “Yeah, I might need to bail,” Miaoyu agrees. The entire party stops to stare at her. “I mean... tactically relocate.”

    Seeker shakes his head. “You’re the most cowardly brave person I know.”

    “I think you mean 'sensible',” Flynn corrects. Seeker shrugs.

    Finally, the party reaches the river and can get a good look at the rock spires. Aelron identifies the rock as feldspar, which is notable for having semi-translucent variations known as sunstone.

    Remember what the sun dragon egg is made of?

    Olaf heaves a weary sigh. “I want to declare, in no small terms, oh f*ck.”

    The party persists in their curiosity, though, and Olaf agrees to get a sample of the feldspar for Aelron to examine. The party ties together their ropes, creating a makeshift harness for Olaf; he unwraps the bandages around his arm and removes a few of his daggers. He dives into the cool river, swims to the spire, and levers off a few pieces without incident. Soon enough, he’s handing the bits of feldspar to Aelron.

    “Why don’t you try making one into a totem?” Olaf suggests. “It might reveal something about their nature.”

    Aelron closes his eyes and imbues elemental energy into the stone. The nature of the stone itself shapes the enchantment... and the chunk of feldspar lights up in his hand, creating a five foot radius of light, roughly that of a candle.

    “I’m going to go back for another look,” Olaf says. “Could you...?”

    Aelron taps him and Olaf’s sight becomes vastly improved thanks to Vision of Color. Aelron tucks the glowing shard of feldspar under one of the shoulder straps of Olaf's harness to provide him extra light in the fog.

    Olaf swims back out to the nearest spire, takes in a deep breath, and dives. Feeling along the rock to its base, he finds the point at which the spire protrudes from the riverbed. From what he can see and feel, it looks as if this spire, and by extension probably all the others, is a single, toothpick-shaped shard of feldspar that was simply embedded in the riverbed and left there; he was wondering whether the entire river bed might be feldspar and this simply a projection, but that does not appear to be the case. Olaf swims back once again and reports his findings. “I was thinking of climbing to the top, maybe get a better view or at least get a better idea of what it is.”

    "I’ll go with you," Miaoyu says. She nods at the climbing gear Olaf is pulling from his pack. "I know how to use that, and an extra pair of eyes might help."

    Just as Olaf and Miaoyu are getting ready to wade into the water, Seeker hears something the rest of his companions obviously don’t: a low, uncomfortable noise that’s more a rumbling he can feel than a noise he can hear.

    "We need to get away from the water," Seeker shouts.

    "I said that back in the camp!" Miaoyu grumbles as she and Olaf fall back to the rest of the party.

    Things begin to emerge from the water. On the triangle of Animal, Vegetable or Mineral?, they are somewhere between Animal and Mineral. Roughly four feet tall with bodies and limbs of feldspar, the creatures have three legs and roughly ovoid bodies. The limbs all attach near the top of the creature's body, holding the body off the ground between them. Each limb ends in a grasping claw, and at the center of the body is a mouth that glows the color of—you guessed it—sunstone.

    “Well isn't that just wonderful,” Aelron mutters, reaching for an Incendiary.

    “Nothing is ever simple,” Flynn sighs as he wills his eldritch weapon into existence.

    "O, sweet Laeros," Olaf cries, hurriedly picking up his daggers, "they’re coming for samples now!"

    Two of the elementals attack Olaf, and one manages to grab his thigh and twist painfully, tearing deep into the flesh; until he’s healed, Olaf will bleed one hit point per round.

    Two more attack Flynn and Seeker, the latter getting a nasty chunk taken out of him. Miaoyu dodges her attacker and bounces an arrow off its forehead, but it turns out that rocks are generally unfazed by projectiles.

    Seeker has picked up a new trait that will serve him well in this fight: Empathetic Healer. Any time he heals someone else, he also receives a point of healing for die of healing the spell uses. He throws a heal to Olaf to stop Olaf's bleeding, receives a point of healing himself, which stops his bleeding, then drops a Circle of Protection.

    Flynn and Olaf pair up to fight together. Eventually, the elementals begin to swarm Olaf, and he signals Flynn to step back.

    "Alright, Aelron!" he shouts. "You know what to do! Light me on fire!"

    And Aelron obliges him by throwing an incendiary. It detonates underneath one of the elementals, roasting that one and two of its companions. Next, he uses Burning Hands, and glowing cracks begin spiderwebbing across those three elementals. Flynn manifests a glaive and swings at one of them; its limbs, already unstable, shatter, and it falls to the ground, inert.

    Miaoyu, meanwhile, hasn’t been faring well. She's mostly been running around behind Olaf and Flynn's line, trying unsuccessfully to avoid attacks from the elementals flanking Olaf while remaining in the Circle of Protection, and occasionally taking potshots at elementals. She’s managed to acquire the bleeding status twice, and has learned that it stacks. She calls out to Seeker as she runs by and he preps a healing spell for her—but he can't hit her touch AC as she sprints past. He's holding out his own paw, though, and Miaoyu offers up her hand for a healing high-five. She tries to return the favor by shooting an elemental off Seeker's back, but her low attack rolls mean that she nearly hits Seeker instead.

    “Sorry,” she mumbles. “Must be the blood loss.”

    One of the elementals comes after Aelron to avenge its comrades, and he’s badly wounded. It doesn't take much to badly wound Aelron; he's only got 15 HP. For comparison, Olaf tops out over 40, and even Seeker almost has 25. Fortunately for Aelron, Seeker hurries to heal him and Olaf protects him from any further attacks. Once he’s back on his feet, Aelron drops one of the elementals closing in on Seeker, and Flynn brings down yet another. The last remaining elemental decides to flee, but Miaoyu rushes after it and shoots it with an arrow, and it crumbles into the softly lapping shallows.

    The party takes a moment to catch their breath. Aelron collects bits of stone from the elemental with the intent of enchanting his staff further to make it light up on command. Seeker finds fluid within the elementals that he suspects can be used as a coagulant, which he can use in the future to stop ongoing damage. Now that they’ve had a chance to stop and listen, both Miaoyu and Flynn can hear the rumbling that Seeker heard earlier, but neither can place what it is.

    The party, utterly fed up with feldspar, continues north. The fog begins to thin and eventually clear away entirely. Once the fog is entirely gone, however, the rock spires vanish with it. Strange, to be sure, but no one really wants to question it too hard. Feldspar sucks.

    It’s then that the party decides to try to cross the river. Unfortunately, only Flynn and Olaf have put ranks into Athletics, the skill that encompasses things like running long distances and swimming. Seeker doggie paddles across with only a little bit of difficulty. Miaoyu recalls a lovely story to help motivate her as she crosses: it was about these two lovers who swam out to each other and met in the middle of a river. Of course, she remembers too late they both ended up drowning and once she does she starts slipping under the surface of the water. Fortunately, Flynn happens to be swimming by and he stabilizes her, holding her up until she's calmed enough to keep swimming, and she makes it to the other side.

    Aelron, on the other hand, refuses to deal with something as undignified as nearly drowning and whips up a spell to let him walk across the water.

    Once everyone has crossed, the party makes camp and builds a roaring fire to help dry out their things. During Miaoyu’s watch, she manages to spy the two Huroc camps in the distance, and figures it'll be about a day's march to reach them.

    And the next day, they do indeed get within a few miles of the camps. At the top of a hill a few miles distant, Flynn calls a halt, sets down his pack, and gestures Aelron, Seeker and Miaoyu forward.

    “I've been thinking,” he says. “There are obviously two camps out there, but why would the Huroc split their forces like that?” His sweeping arm encompasses the two still-marching forces kicking up colossal dust clouds in the near distance.

    Aelron frowns. “One camp civilians and one camp militants?” he suggests.

    Flynn shakes his head. “I thought of that myself, but then, wouldn't the militants be in the lead? Plus, these are Huroc; if what we've heard is true, they won't HAVE many non-combatants, if any at all.”

    “So what's going on, then?” Seeker asks.

    Flynn glowers out at the two marching forces. “I don't know, but I have a guess.” He sighs and turns to Miaoyu. “You're the eagle eye. Tell me what you see.” He gestures to Aelron and Seeker, who nod. Aelron places Vision of Color on Miaoyu, and Seeker works up a minor diamond magic spell to enhance her distance vision.

    Mioayu blinks, squints, and focuses first on the leading force, then on the trailing. After a moment, she snorts. “You're gonna love this, Flynn. They're not both Huroc forces.” She points to the lead force, the barely-congealed mob of humanoidity. “Huroc.” Then she points to the following force, three columns of obvious soldiery marching in good order across the dusty plains.

    “Aurbeski.”

    Flynn chuckles sadly. “Nothing's ever simple.”

    Olaf steps up to the group, having finally settled his pack. “What'd I miss?”

    Aelron smiles grimly, pointing. “Looks like that force back there is three Aurbeski battalions 'escorting' the Huroc out of their territory.”

    “This just gets better and better,” Olaf grumbles. “Shall we investigate, or just dive right in?”

    “I’ll do some recon in the Huroc camp,” Miaoyu says. “I’ll see if I can get any information about plans or direction. I’ll look at the make-up of their groups, too; if they’re diverse enough we can slip in and pretend we’re one of them.”

    “We can go to the Aurbeski camp,” Seeker says, indicating himself and Flynn. “I should be welcome there and we can get some information.”

    “I'll stay here,” Aelron says with a quiet sigh. “I don't think we want to take the egg into either of those camps until we know more, and with two giant armies to scare off the wildlife in the region, I should be safe enough here on my own.”

    Nightfall comes and the party begins to split up for their respective tasks. As Miaoyu is preparing to leave, Olaf approaches her. “I’m coming, too. Is that okay?”

    Miaoyu sighs. “That’s fine. I’ll try to keep you in my sight and if I think we need to leave, I’ll tap you on the shoulder. And I know this’ll be hard for you—but try not to talk. It’ll probably give you away.”

    Olaf gives her an amused look. “I had a thought, actually. What if we could get the two armies to fight each other? The Huroc won’t stand a chance against a disciplined army, and even if they win, they’ll be crippled.”

    Miaoyu shrugs. “Sure, but I don’t know how to make that happen.”

    Olaf winks. “I’ve got an idea.”

    And so, the two groups set out. Flynn and Seeker approach the Aurbeski camp with little trouble. Once their intentions are declared, they’re shunted to a Captain's tent; the Captain hears out their story, mostly believing Flynn's bluffs and misdirection regarding Seeker's REAL reasons for wanting to explore the camp, and they’re cleared to go to the Larlonite tents.

    Larlonites of the Order of Saint Mila are battlefield medics and trauma healers. Their order attached its members to the Aurbeski military, and they make it their business to see that as many soldiers survive to see their families again as possible. Seeker introduces himself and, after some awkward cultural fumbling—Seeker goes to shake hands and they go to kiss cheeks (which in and of itself is personally amusing; his native culture, elven/wolfmen, actually do the cheek kissing/scenting thing, but he’s been around the Drouganti long enough that he’s adapted)—he’s welcomed warmly. Through a bit of idle chatter, Seeker and Flynn learn that the Huroc have been ravaging the Aurbeski countryside for years, ever since they came from “the root of all evil”, the Illian Kingdoms. All three Aurbeski armies were put together to drive them out, but only after they devastated more territory than any loyal Aurbeski cares to admit.

    “But on the path that you’re driving them, they’re headed straight for Drougant,” Seeker says, concern in his voice.

    “Oh?” replies the head healer, a wry smile on her lips. “Well that’s quite unfortunate, isn’t it? But by that point it won’t be our problem, so I’m afraid we can’t help.”

    One could say that Aurbesk and Drougant don’t have the friendliest relationship.

    Meanwhile, about eight miles away, Miaoyu and Olaf are having their own adventures in cross-cultural relations. While Miaoyu slips into the shadows, Olaf marches straight up to the camp until he’s halted by a pair of sentries.

    “What do you want?” one asks.

    “I wish to join my brothers in spiting civilization and living as Kurush wants us to!” he says. The guards glance at each other.

    “Bah, let him through,” the second guard says. “If he’s a spy, so what? He dies.” And with that, Olaf's in. You talk about strong security arrangements....

    Miaoyu takes a moment to find a nice patch of shadows in the camp and shadow-walks past the perimeter. Now that the two are both inside, they get a better feel for the camp. Firstly, the Hurocs are mainly of Illian and Dhar descent—and they are seething. It’s clear just from the atmosphere that the Huroc don’t like being pushed around, and they’re definitely not afraid of the Aurbeski.

    Unfortunately, both Miaoyu and Olaf have a bit of trouble understanding the Hurocs' dialect: it’s some sort of hybrid Illian-Aurbeski-Dhar abomination, but even with knowledge of some of those languages it’s difficult for them to understand. It’s somewhat like translating English and German; they’re related and maybe you could figure out bits and pieces without studying the other language, but for the most part, you’re lost.

    Just about everyone in the camp is armed; men and women alike wear armor and carry weapons of some variety. There doesn't seem to be a standardized set of weapons and armor, though; everyone appears to maintain and choose their own gear, and the sheer array of weapons is dizzying. Even the children are armed, and every single one walks with the arrogant confidence of a schoolyard bully. And they’re tall. Goodness, are the Huroc tall. Miaoyu, standing at a meager 5’2”, finds the best way to blend in with the Huroc is by keeping her hood up and letting them think she’s a child. Olaf, though, isn’t having such a reasonable reaction to his shortness. He’s instead filled with fury and decides that something needs to be done about it—he marches straight to the center of camp, Miaoyu following along all the while. In the center of camp, Olaf sees a large, important-looking (if battered) tent and barges in. Miaoyu finds a hole in the tent's fabric and watches from outside.

    Inside the tent: off to one side is what looks to be a very non-portable bed with two scantily clad women lounging on top of it. At the back of the tent is a desk with various maps and papers scattered about it with two men leaning over it, and four more men scattered about. Olaf stomps to the center of the tent and drives his glaive into the floor. He immediately has everyone's attention. One particularly imposing man raises an eyebrow at Olaf and Olaf recognizes his air of authority.

    “You are the leader of this camp?” he asks.

    “Yes,” the man says. “I’m Alderik. You’re new. What are you doing here?”

    Olaf approaches boldly, ignoring the others in the tent entirely. “I have received a vision from an augur of Kurush,” he says, and begins to unwrap the bandages from his arm.

    “Oh, no,” Miaoyu murmurs from outside the tent. “No, Olaf, no, no, no...”

    “I am meant to bring you to a fleet of ships and lead you to your promised land. But I need more time to secure my fleet—and I need you to buy it by destroying the Aurbeski army!” At this he raises his red right arm and Alderik’s eyes, which had previously been only mildly interested, light up with excitement.

    “I recognize the mark of Kurush,” Alderik intones solemnly. Then he breaks into a wide grin, unsheathes his massive sword, and holds it high above his head, almost tearing another hold in the tent's roof. “We attack at dawn!” he crows. The Hurocs in the tent cheer and Alderik turns to Olaf. “Will you join us in battle, brother?”

    Olaf rushes to bury his panic at the question and says the only thing he can: “Of course!”

    And with that, we called it a night.
    Last edited by AverageSparrow; 2014-04-23 at 08:17 PM.