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Brandubh
10-02-2010, 10:57 AM
This is the first of a multi-part storyline I've been working on for a while. Feel free to leave any comments / suggestions below. I'll try to get an update out at least once a week. Cheers - Eric

Part 1 - The Rescue

The day was unusually hot for this time of year. Even in the shade of the alleyway, the heat was oppressive. Salestria could have retreated underground to the sewers. There the cool, dark dampness would offer some relief from the harsh dry air of the day. However, some unknown urge kept her eyes fixed on the strange beggar who sat on the street in front of her.

His heavy robes were tattered and dusty. He carried a long wooden stave with which he felt his way forward. Salestria had caught of glimpse of his eyes earlier; they were milky white. This blind stranger did not beg as the countless other rabble who visited Caspia. Instead, he seemed content to sit on the corner in the direct sunlight. He had been doing so for several hours now. Even though such a mundane activity by such a lowly individual would not interest a girl of her age for long, Salestria could not pull herself away from watching the man.

The thud of boots on cobble pulled the girl from her thoughts. A quick glance about ensured that they were not after her. Instead, several city guard approached the stranger from all sides, weapons drawn. The large rat near Salestria hissed as it sensed the girl's anger at the guards. The altercation was quick and peaceful. The city guard bound the blind beggar and escorted him to the guardhouse. Already a plan was forming in the young girl's mind. But it was a plan that must wait until the cover of dark.

In the pitch black of the sewer, a small figure crept along a narrow walkway. Several large rats followed her cautiously, emulating her posture and stealth. The stench alone would have driven off most explorers, but to this small waif, the sewers were home. She had been orphaned several years ago and had quickly found that the best way to keep from being beaten by the beggar boys and arrested by the city guard was to disappear beneath the city. The sewers had their own dangers, of course. Gangs of thieves, the maddened, and even walking skeletons could be found beneath the great city. However, it was much easier for Salestria to escape in the labyrinth of pipes and tunnels than above ground.

"Here we are," she whispered to several rats who had been following her. They inclined their heads as if they understood. Salestria knew that they really didn't understand her, but sometimes it seemed like they did. She felt a strange connection to the rats of the sewers. She often shared her scraps of food with them. They would sometimes bring her bits of apple or a scrap of cloth. Once, several rats had attacked a group of boys who were harassing the girl. The boys howled an screamed as the large rodents bit at their bare feet. The momentary respite of being defended was replaced with dread as the boys began to call her a witch. So Salestria lived alone with her rats. They slept with each other and shared food together. She thought that they were not unlike herself, misunderstood by the people above the sewers and forced into squalor by the city folk who thought themselves better than others.

Carefully, Salestria climbed up into an adjoining passage. The passage was wet and stank of sewage, but it led to the guardhouse. After several minutes of squeezing and wriggling, she found herself in a narrow crawlspace with several barred openings above her. These must be the cell latrines she thought. It was easy to find the beggar's cell. The air was dry and hot in his cell and it blew away the cool dampness of the sewers. The girl shimmied her way up the filthy hole and was about to tap.

"It's about time you showed up." A gruff voice startled the girl so much that she slid several inches before regaining her composure.

"Wh-what?" Salestria wasn't sure what the beggar meant.

"I said that it's about time you showed up," The grate moved as the beggar lifted it out of the floor and the dirty girl made her way into the cell, "I've been waiting for you."

Salestria eyed the blind beggar. "Waiting...for me?" The man's cell was hot and dry and she could feel the damp of her ragged clothes evaporating as they talked.

"Are you hard of hearing, girl?" The beggar faced her as if he was looking at her. Salestria shuddered. His white eyes were menacing. "Yes, I was waiting for you. Do you think I'd come to a filth hole like this city and endure this prison for my own enjoyment?"

"N-no, sir." Salestria adopted the her guise of the subservient street waif. This beggar was not as thankful as she thought he would be. "I brought you some bread, sir. It's not much but it's-"

"Give it to the rats," Said the man. "We've got to move. You're coming with me."

Salestria nodded obediently and tossed the scrap of stale bread down the hole to her rat friends. The urgency of the beggar made her think twice about questioning him again. Besides, there was something oddly familiar about him.

"Good, let's be off then." In a moment, the frail, blind beggar was gone. The man before Salestria was still blind and still clothed in the same dusty garments, but his stature changed. He stood erect and the air became painfully dry. In a single motion, he pulled the grate off the hold above Salestria and easily pulled the skinny girl up and into his cell. A guard came down the hall to investigate the commotion. To Salestria's horror, the beggar began to turn to sand then crumble into the ground, grain by grain. In the same instant, the guard screamed as his skin began to shrivel on his body. In seconds he looked like some sun baked animal left on the streets. A dry wind swept the prison, stirring up the dust on the floor and somehow the beggar was standing where the guard had been.

Quickly, the beggar grabbed the keys from the wall and unlocked the cell, releasing Salestria. The horrified girl could do little else than follow. The beggar walked to a wall and pointed at it. A pillar erupted from the ground, smashing the stonework. A moment later, the pillar was gone and a gaping hole in the wall let in the cool night air.

Salestria and the beggar quickly made their way to Caspia's main gate. No guards intercepted them, but the commotion of the barracks could be heard in the still night. Dogs barked, men shouted, and armor clanged as parties of guards were ordered. The pursuit would begin in only a few moments.

As they reached the gate, several guards moved to intercept them and shouted commands. Salestria was too frightened to hear what they were saying. The beggar pointed at the men and the earth opened below them, swallowing their bodies and allowing the horrid reverberations of their screams to escape before slamming shut again. The fracture had also jarred the gates enough to allow the pair to escape.

Salestria froze. She had never been outside the city before. In spite of the horrors she had just witnessed, her spirit felt strangely lightened. She felt free. She eyed to wide open night sky, the gray forms of trees in the distance, the sounds of unnamed night creatures. Somehow, she felt complete, as if a part of her had been missing until this very moment.

"Come on you fool," the beggar brusquely commanded. Without a word, the former street waif obeyed. The two ran across open fields and to the line of trees that stood like a counter-wall to the city's gate. Breathlessly, they plunged into the black depths of the forest.

The woods were unlike anything Salestria had ever seen. The air was cool and damp like the sewers but the smell was extraordinary. It was musty and rich. The moon fell on them in patches and the trees seemed to be extending claws out at them. Several times she tripped over unknown obstacles. Each time the beggar would stop and wait for her to get back up. He never offered his hand and never asked if she was alright. It was strange, she thought, that he would come all this way into the city for her but then seem to not care whether she broke her leg in this darkness. The howls in the distance were all the encouragement she needed to regain her footing and keep moving. The city guard was on the move.

"We're here," he said flatly.

"Where?" The girl could see almost nothing in this darkness except a few rocks and some tree limbs. Suddenly, the forest around her was illuminated by a eerie greenish glow. Three rock pillars hummed quietly as green light emanated from strange markings on them. The barking of dogs was clear and on all sides. The search parties were very close now. Salestria felt the ground shift below her feet. As she looked down, she was blinded by an intense light.

A moment later, a soldier stepped into the clearing. His pair of dogs whimpered and hesitated. The soldier paused too. Just a second ago, a bright light had come from this direction. Now he saw only an empty grove and three holes in the ground in the shape of a triangle.

Bringer Of The Void
10-03-2010, 12:04 AM
Wonderful Prose and Excellent Ideas insofar...

It was Time that someone wrote a Fiction featuring the Druids of Orboros in a not-cliched description ("Booga! Booga! We are Evil Dark Cultists from The Black Woods !!!") and the Idea of an Urban Orphan with the Wilding can be rich of Strange Possibilities...

If the "Blind Beggar" is Omnipotent Mohsar Desertwalker as I believa, the Rat-Girl must be someone of exceptional Power (much like if Iron Lich Asphyxious would have come to collect Victoria and her Sister Twin personally, instead of sending Skarre's Pirates)...

Keep up the Good Writing, the Premises are very Encouraging.....

Brandubh
10-13-2010, 08:50 AM
Thanks for the comments! I appreciate it. I won't give away anything of the plot except to say that you'll find a hint in Metamorphosis. ;) Sorry for the delay, I've been trying to paint more lately and mid terms were last week. But here's chapter 2.

Part 2: An Education
The earthy smells of straw and livestock filled Salestria's nostrils. Morning sunlight warmed her entire body. For the first time in years she was waking up dry and warm. She thought of opening her eyes to examine her surroundings but feared that she might awaken from some dream. Besides, she was so comfortable.

"Are you awake?" a small voice whispered.

In a flash, Salestria sat up, wide eye and facing a young girl who was probably her age. The girl had straw colored hair, tanned, freckled skin and deep green eyes. She smiled at Salestria and picked a piece of straw from her hair.

"Who are you?" Salestria eyed the girl suspiciously.

"Grania." The girl replied matter of factly, then proudly added, "I'm a wilder. Who are you?"

"Salestria." The name seemed odd on her lips. She did not remember the last time someone asked her name. The urchin boys made up their own cruel names and the rats did not converse with her. "What's a wilder?"

"I don't know." Grania replied, looking down. "But I know you're a wilder too."

"How do you know that?" Salestria adjusted her rags and looked around. She had spent the night in a lean too with a few cattle and sheep.

"Because he brought you to us last night."

"Who is he? The old blind man." Salestria had almost forgotten about the previous day's events.

"Yes." Grania nodded but was clearly uneasy about the topic.

"What is his name?" Salestria's curiosity was stoked.

"We don't say his name." Grania's voice was barely above a whisper.

"Why not?" Salestria seemed almost oblivious to her friend's change in demeanor.

"You'll find out soon enough." Her tone was ominous but she quickly changed the subject. "You're going to go with me to our lessons today. That's what they do with wilders, I guess. We have lessons."

"Lessons?" Salestria was unsure of what that meant. But her curiosity prodded her to learn more. "When do we start?"

"After breakfast." Grania grinned broadly, stood and extended a hand to her new friend. "Let's go."

***********************

Breakfast was a simple affair. Stale bread, cold ale, and some smoked meat was consumed in relative quiet. For Salestria, it was better fare than she could remember ever having before. After breakfast, the two girls went to their lessons. There Salestria met their instructor, a grizzled old man called "Maithleu". He had a heavily wrinkled face with spiraling tattoos. He wore heavy furs that were stained with dark droplets. He stank of rotten meat and stale ale and had only a few teeth left. Salestria also met Connar, a handsome flame haired boy who was also her age.

Lessons were a challenge for the girl who had spent her entire life stealing through the darkness, dodging dangers, and constantly on the move. To have to sit, listen and memorize proved too much for her. Several times Maithleu stopped to discipline her, normally with a switch stick. Still, the day was not an entire loss.

Salestria learned that the land was called Caen and that the spirit of Caen was called Orboros. She learned of the Beast of Many Forms, called the Devourer, which Salestria thought sounded very frightening. Maithleu talked about strange symbols he called runes. The runes represented various aspects of Caen and he claimed they had power. The symbol for the oak tree, duir, could grant strength. These symbols, when combined, could harness the power of Caen.

All of this, however, bored the young girl. The newness of these lessons soon wore off. While Grania paid careful attention to Maithleu, Salestria fidgeted. She soon discovered that Connar was a kindred spirit in some ways as the boy also found the lessons tedious. That day's monotony was broken by a stretch just after lunch, when the three children had their combat practice.

A younger man, Galraen, took charge of the young ones. He gave them each wooden weapons and had them practice attacking a straw stuffed dummy. While Grania and Connar clearly had experience on their side, Salestria found herself adept at learning martial skills. The dexterity and coordination of years of street life gave her a solid foundation. Sparring was, by far, her favorite part of the day. Connar was strong and fierce. His strikes made her wooden stave shake and sting her hands. She found that if she could dodge a strike, she was quick enough to exploit his wide swing. Grania proved to be a much tougher opponent for the young girl. While she was not as fast as Salestria or as strong as Connar, the blonde girl was much more methodical and patient in her fighting. She clearly thought out each move and wore her two opponents down with careful and pragmatic blows.

*******************

The day left Salestria feeling very fulfilled. She could hardly believe that just a day before, she had been living in the sewers of Corvis. How had so much changed?

On the way back to the feasting hall in the middle of the settlement, Salestria noticed a ragged looking man sitting next to a dilapidated dwelling. The man had matted black hair and hollow eyes. He kept his head down but then turned and stared at Salestria. Grania shuddered when she noticed him.

"Who is that?" Salestria could not pull her gaze away form the miserable mess of a human.

"That is Cu," Connar said bluntly, "Stay away from him. He eats children."

Salestria chuckled at first but soon stopped when she realized that the other two were looking gravely at her.

"Really," Grania placed a hand on her friend's shoulder, "He's dangerous."

******************

That night, Salestria went to bed with a full stomach and upon a soft bed of straw. The two girls shared a large pelt to ward off the cool night air. For a long while, Salestria watched the clouds pass over one of the moons, though she wasn't sure which one. The rhythmic breathing of her bedmate suggested the Grania was already asleep. Salestria pondered the day and kept coming back to think of Cu. He looked miserable. She remembered when she had been on the street, just a day ago. She thought of how her only friends had been rats and she resolved to try to help Cu in any way she could.

*********************

Over the next few months, the three children continued their lessons. Slowly, Salestria learned her runes, memorized her lore, and began to appreciate Maithleu's teaching. She still loved the sparring best of all. She explored the forests around the settlement with Grania and Connar. The three young ones were kept apart from the children of the settlement and were given quite a few more liberties. Each one had their own distinct passions. Grania seemed to always be playing in the dirt. She collected interesting rocks, transplanted plants back to a plot near the settlement, and helped the men gather the harvest. Connar was enthralled with the warriors of the village. He spent his spare time hunting game, wrestling with the hounds and watching the blacksmith forge weapons.

Salestria, though, had a darker secret. She had been saving scraps of food and delivering them to Cu. In the weeks following her first sighting of him, she had befriended the man. He seemed scared of everything and never at ease. At first, the two had been an unlikely pair. Salestria was frightened of the man's odd demeanor and her friends' warnings. The man, for his part, was unnerved by every sudden sound or motion and would sometimes fall unto mumbling.

Still, the two had become close friends. Though he never said why, Cu explained that he was not allowed to live in the village and alluded to the fact that he was "different". He graciously accepted the food Salestria brought him. They talked for long hours about the beasts of the forest and Cu's tales of the animals he had encountered. Salestria wasn't sure whether to believe this frail looking, disheveled man. Either he was being dishonest with her or he had been a very different person in his past. Either way, the young girl loved his stories and her presence seemed to ease his distress.

*************

In the late autumn, after the harvest had been gathered, the three children sat attentively at their lessons. They worked with bone knives to carve runes into pieces of wood. All were sweating in the unusually hot sun. A dry wind stirred the leaves but offered no relief. Maithleu's droning voice continued to instruct them even as they applied their attention to the intricate lessons.

"Combine the mor, ur, and eatha with the -" His voice trailed off. It was a moment before the children looked up to see their instructor standing wide eyed and gazing behind them. Before they could turn to see what held his attention, a vaguely familiar voice spoke.

"It seems the fourth has decided to accelerate things." The blind man approached the three students. "I do not think it will be the last time he seeks to ruin my plans."

"Yes, Overseer." Maithleu's voice held obvious deferment, though it was clear he was not sure how to respond to the druid's comment. "What is your will?"

"Gather the men, we will leave immediately. There is no time to spare."

"Of course. And the children?" The three looked up simultaneously. The cryptic conversation of the two elders set them on edge.

"Bring them." The druid said flatly. "It is time they witness what is born of the superstitions of civilization." He said the last word with a sneer and turned to leave. Salestria and Connar exchanged a relieved smile. There would be no more lessons today.

Spooker
10-13-2010, 01:59 PM
Awesome.
I have really enjoyed it. Keep writing - This is good.

Take care

Brandubh
11-06-2010, 07:03 AM
Long overdue, I know. I'm sorry. I'll work to get two chapters out in quick succession. Sorry, school's been a pain.
- Eric

Part 3 - The Fourth
The moonlight washed the color from the world. The greens and browns of the forest became shades of gray. There was much about this night which reminded Salestria of the night when Mohsar had freed her from the city. Even the way they had arrived here, via the strange green-glowing stones, had been the same. That previous life was her now distant past and she rarely thought of it. Still, this was to be her first encounter with "civilization" since she left the city and she was not excited about it.

The preparations of the villagers had been quick but efficient. To Salestria, it seemed as if they had done it many times before. The men and women of the village were arrayed in war gear: pelts, cloaks, and burnished bronze armor with intricate designs. Some carried long, pronged spears. Others carried crossbows which could fire two shots simultaneously. These implements were not unfamiliar to her. The villagers used these same weapons to hunt game. Her training in the ways of Orboros suggested that this was simply a game hunt with a different quarry.

Their target was poorly defended. The town had no wall but boasted sturdy houses made of stone. There were a few sentries who were quickly dispatched by well placed bolts. The villagers and Mohsar were able to encircle the town without incident. The townsfolk obviously feared the woods at night.

The three young wilders chafed at their position. They were under the protection of Maithleu, who, Salestria suspected, was not happy himself to have to forgo battle in order to watch children. All three carried their training staves but had been instructed to stay away from the battle. Their assignment was to, "Watch and learn the folly of man's supersition." Grania was her usual calm and thoughtful self. She had said little on the journey to the town and given little indication as to her opinion of this adventure. She carried a few rune stones which she had carved during the preparation. "For safety" she had explained. But if she was afraid she did not show it. Connor was anything but afraid. Initially, he had retrieved a long hunting knife which he intended to wield. After some persuasion, Maithleu had allowed him to bring it but made it clear that Connor was not to fight but only to watch. Clearly the boy was disappointed.

Salestria was more contemplative. The question as to why they had to attack the town and why it was such an urgent dead intrigued her. She had learned that the village worshiped the god of man, Menoth, who sought to undermine the natural chaos of Orboros by building stone settlements, disturbing predation, and instituting his own laws. Apparently, a child had been born in this village who had the wilding. No one had noticed Salestria's wilding because she lived alone in the sewers. But Menite families saw the wilding as something to be feared. The child was the son of the village's priest and the man was going to kill his own son because of the wilding.

Now the entire village was to be killed and the child was to be rescued. The superstitions of the Menites would be self-fulfilled by their own intolerance. The notion that Salestria had once lived in the confines of civilization made her sick inside. How had she allowed herself to live among such intolerant and cowardly people? What sort of baseless superstition would drive a man to kill his own child simply because the child was different?

An inhuman howl echoed across the village. Salestria knew that Mohsar and several large stone creatures were there along with some of the spear-wielding men. They had chosen that side of the village because it was closer to the town's courtyard. There was a large fire in the middle of the courtyard where a man in white robes stood. He wore a metal mask so that his face was obscured. He held a child in his arms, no older than five or six summers. It was clear that he intended to cast his child into the flames. The townsfolk, however, immediately began to panic as the hide clad villagers set upon them. The chaos that ensued was obscured by smoke and flames.

To her astonishment, Salestria saw Cu rush forward. She had not seen him among the villagers who accompanied Mohsar. The mad man had no weapon and wore no armor. She called out to him but he was already falling upon the nearest warrior. The man drove his spear through Cu and Salestria screamed as her friend burst into flames. Much to the warriors chagrin, and to Salestria's amazement, Cu's body began to twist and deform. Spikes burst through his flesh, muscles rippled, and bones popped and swelled. In a moment, the man was gone and a giant wolf creature loomed over the warrior. He tore the spear from his stomach and picked the warrior up, biting into his shoulder and tossing him aside like a doll.

Though the sight terrified her, Salestria was certain this was still her friend Cu. She could, somehow, still feel a connection to him. She looked to his bleeding midsection and willed him to not be hurt. Before her eyes, the wound closed and Cu flashed her a fang filled smile before disappearing into the smoke.

Screams of the townsfolk mixed with the savage howls of their attackers. Maithleu urged the wilders forward into the village. Smoke impeded their vision and flames cast strange shadows on the stone buildings. Women and children lay dead, the fortune were pierced by spear or bolt; the unfortunate had fallen prey to Cu's appetite. All had looks of horror and terror on their faces. They could not even die with the dignity of animals.

The entire ordeal was over in just a few minutes. Mohsar met the three children in the town's courtyard near the still blazing fire. His huge stone creatures stood watch, their runes glowing green as the flames danced around them. The black clad druid was talking to the child. The boy's father lay dead just feet away but the boy did not seem to care. Mohsar looked up at the wilders. He turned the boy to face them.

The boy was tall for his age and thin. He was a handsome boy with a very stoic expression but his eyes were like stormclouds. Salestria thought that there was much activity behind those eyes. She thought of her own rescue and how it had challenged everything she had once known. She resolved at once to befriend him and help him to catch up with the other three in their studies.

"Here is your newest student, Maithleu. His name is Krueger. He will be the fourth wilder."

brokennecron
11-24-2010, 12:24 AM
I did not see that coming, what an awesome story, i would pay for you to write more.

Brandubh
11-28-2010, 03:31 PM
I did not see that coming, what an awesome story, i would pay for you to write more.

Thank you very much. I will hopefully get more up soon. Unfortunately, I am also working on a 20 page research paper which will be the basis of my senior research project. So, needless to say, I'm pretty strapped for time. But I like to write stories, so maybe I can reward myself with some down time to write fiction.

In the meantime, I figured I'd share a little background. The skeleton for this story is a book I started writing some years ago called The Fifth Magus. The basis of the book (without giving too much away) is that a coven of magic users live among normal people (this was well before Harry Potter or The Golden Army...I promise you) and the masses are more or less oblivious to the magic world around them. A lone prophet seeks out four children who have been granted special powers by birth. His objective is to raise them and train them to combat an evil which is permeating the society (enter socio-religious views). In the end, they succeed but their epic struggle goes largely unnoticed by society at large.

When I started playing Hordes, Circle intrigued me greatly. I love Circle fluff (thanks Doug!) and it seemed to mesh pretty well with my story outline. I imagined the Circle working much like my coven - in secret, manipulating and trying to twist destiny. When I read about Mohsar & Krueger, I thought that I might start to work on converting my story to the Hordes universe. Reading about Salestria (Metamorphosis), fit the story even better. Krueger had a lost love with whom he had a complex relationship. Perfect. That's exactly what I needed.

The final piece to the puzzle was the Morvanna piece in No Quarter. I had no idea what a decent age was for a child to undergo the Wilding. It was important for my story that they be old enough to be self aware (say 4-5 at the minimum). The No Quarter article confirmed that children could undergo the Wilding that late.

So I've been working on going through my old notes (I have entire notebooks and folders filled with ideas, short stories, maps, and battles) and piecing together a cohesive storyline. A few scraps for the future - we'll see the four wilders attack a fortress, delve into ancient ruins, a love triangle will develop, and at least one will tragically die. ;)

I'll try to write more story soon.

brokennecron
11-28-2010, 11:43 PM
good to hear.

Brandubh
12-05-2010, 05:40 PM
Time for a real update. I haven't proofread this yet, so feel free to PM me with any edits I need to make. I'll be proofreading it in the coming days so if it gets edited, that's why. Enjoy!

Part 4 - The Test
The four wilders stood facing each other on the practice field. All had wooden practice staves in hand, waiting for another to make the first move. The sun was brutally hot and sweat dripped into Salestria's eyes causing her to blink. It was that moment when Krueger struck. The younger boy was not as strong as Connar or as agile as herself. He lacked the patience of Grania but he was clever, which made him a formidable opponent. It did not escape Salestria's notice that he always seemed to single her out in sparring practice, though she could not understand why.

With a swift parry, Krueger's stave went up and Salestria dropped down and swept Krueger's feet with an extended leg. The boy fell to the ground as Grania stepped behind him and struck at Salestria. A loud crack sounded as Connar's staff interposed itself between Grania's strike and Salestria. Connar quickly drove Grania back with a rapid succession of blows. In spite of the fury of his attack, the oldest wilder was unphased. She carefully blocked each strike until she saw an opening. With a flick of her wrist, her staff contacted Connar's knocking it back against his head. The red-headed boy staggered backward as Grania pursued her advantage, jabbing at his ribs, stomach and arms.

By this time, Krueger had regained his footing and was trying, in vain, to find an opening in Salestria's defense. The dark haired girl was simply too fast. In fact, she was toying with him by giving him false openings and drawing him in before striking back.

Connar was driven back to Krueger's position and saw an opportunity. He struck out at Grania, forcing her back a pace then turned on Krueger, knocking him soundly to the ground. Salestria stepped forward to take a blow at Connar but he was already facing her. Two quick blows knocked her staff from her hands. Though he should have stopped, he did not. His temper was apparently clouding his judgment. He struck several more times, forcing the unarmed girl to the dirt.

Salestria felt her own anger surge. Her muscles seemed to twitch and twist inside her. Pain surged through her body as bony spikes drove through her skin. She screamed but it came out as a howl. She looked down on Connar and realized that she was now much larger than him. Wild abandon seized her mind as she gazed into the terrified boy's face. With clawed hands, she reached out and caught his throat, lifting him from the ground. He struggled in vain to break her grip and, a second later, stopped struggling. Salestria looked at his lifeless form and regret overwhelmed her. She felt herself shrinking again and hoped that she would not stop shrinking until she had disappeared. Hot tears flowed down her cheeks.

"Salestria? Salestria! Wake up!" Salestria opened her eyes to find Grania sitting over her. Cold sweat covered her body.

"Wha-? Oh, Grania!" Tears flowed freely down her face as the two girls embraced. Ever since the night on which Krueger had been rescued, Salestria had been plagued by nightmares. It had been determined that she had made some sort of contact with Cu, the shape shifter. The had unwittingly plunged her mind into his consciousness and was now suffering the consequences.

Mohsar had been told about her condition. "She will survive." was his only comment. She had survived, but her dreams were becoming even more vivid. Maithleu had chastised her. He warned that such foolishness could lead to madness. This was, of course, not reassuring but it was all he would say on the issue.

Sleep eventually overcame the girls and they fell back into their own dreams until classes the next day.

***************************

Krueger had proven to be an adept student. Unlike Salestria, he knew how to read and write. Mastering the runes was a simple matter for him. What proficiency he showed in learning his lore was balanced by his complete lack of prowess in the fighting ring; a fact Connar was always ready to bring up. The boys had an undeniable rivalry which bordered on animosity. Maithleu noticed it as well and it quickly became an excuse for him to send them on errands together. These errands would typically require one of them to depend on the skills of the other. Salestria thought that such errands were probably meant to teach the boys to respect one another. But it only served to further their rivalry.

Grania was clearly attracted to the younger boy. In fact, she had told Salestria as much. The two girls had become fast friends in the past few months and would often lie awake at night discussing their days, studies, or the boys. Salestria thought both boys were handsome in their own ways. Connar's tanned skin, fiery curls, and piercing brown eyes made him look like the embodiment of some fire spirit. Krueger's sharp features, deep eyes and black hair reminder her of the stories of the Elves which Maithleu had told them. Connar, though, was quick tempered and brash. Salestria hated when he would lose his temper. Krueger was haughty and cruel. He would often mock Connar for his lack of skill with the runes of his mistakes during lessons.

Grania seemed not to notice these lacks in Krueger. She had made Salestria promise never to return Krueger's love. Salestria did not understand what that meant. Grania had only explained that if Salestria did not love Krueger, then perhaps he would grow to love her instead. She had, of course, promised. The two were best of friends. How could she not? But she did not understand why she had to promise not to love the boy.

***************

The errands became increasingly common. Often Maithleu would send them out in groups. Sometimes all four wilders would go together. Other times only two or three would be sent. The errands were often mundane tasks: carry a message, kill a deer, patrol the woods. Occasionally the errands were of more importance: fetch these herbs, repair this leystone, drive off this wolf pack.

The four learned to work together. Their own knowledge grew. They could build small wooden constructs, carve powerful runes, and make healing draughts. They had learned the lore of Orboros, the nature of the Devourer, and understood ley lines. They could all fight well and had driven off bear and wolves which came too close to the settlement.

***************

Salestria continued to visit Cu. She felt a peace when she was with him and he was much more calm when she was near. She did not dare to "connect" her mind to his again, though she knew she could do so at a moments notice. But she did inquire about his change and his status as an outcast. Much to her horror, she learned that he was a human who had been given a special drink by Devourer cultists. He wanted to commune with the Beast of All shapes and his warp wolf form allowed him to do so. Salestria thought this some sort of curse but he clearly saw it as a blessing. When she reacted negatively, he pointed a thin finger at her and asked, "What are you doing?"

"I'm training to be a wilder."

"Why." His gaunt face was unusually sincere.

"Because I have the wilding."

"No, why are you training. What will be the result of your time here."

"I will become an instrument for Orboros."

"I don't have the wilding." Cu looked genuinely sad about this statement. "I'm not a Tharn. I'm not even strong enough to be a huntsman. My only way to serve the Devourer is to be a shape changer. I am an instrument too. I am a weapon."

Though the conversation had bothered her initially, Salestria came to accept his opinion. There was only predator and prey. Cu was clearly not fit to be a predator. But by drinking the elixir of the cultists, he had become something much more than himself. He was a living receptacle for the power of the Beast of all Forms.

****************

Brandubh
12-05-2010, 05:41 PM
Weeks turned to months and Mohsar was rarely seen. Maithleu hinted that the Overseer would return soon to collect them. The four wilders had been molded into something more than ordinary children. Their skin was tan from hours in the sun. Their limbs were strong. Their minds were sharp. They were fervently devoted to the destruction of civilization, to being stewards of the apocalypse and to upholding the will of Orboros on Caen.

Grania was the first to disappear. Mohsar arrived one summer day and spoke to Maithleu at length. The two took Grania aside and the Overseer and the oldest girl left together. Two days later, Mohsar returned alone.

Connar was the next to go. Much like with Grania, Mohsar left with the red-headed boy and returned without him.

When it was Salestria's turn, she was ready. Initially she had been terrified, thinking the Overseer was killing her companions. However, she decided that even if she was to die, it would be for the good of Orboros. If Cu could willingly become a monster, she could certainly do something as insignificant as dying.

After walking for hours in silence, the Overseer led her to what looked to be a well. "This is your test." He said coldly. "If you survive, you will continue your training."

Salestria only nodded. She was too afraid to speak. The blind Overseer produced a rope and lowered it down the well. "Climb down," He said. "You'll find a ledge on which you can rest. Make your way out of the well and home and you will continue your training."

Silently, the lithe girl slid down the rope. She found purchase on a thin ledge, barely wide enough to lie on. The well smelled of wet fur and rotten meat. Her eyes adjusted to the dark to see the forms of large wolves across the cave floor. They were sleeping but they blocked her exit. Mohsar had retrieved the rope and the only visible way out was a cave opening in the opposite wall.

It was not long until dark. The wolves quickly scented the young girl. At first, they jumped and bit angrily but she was out of reach. They stalked the cave floor, growling at her. One wrong move and she would fall and they would tear her apart.

The standoff continued for hours. The wolves seemed to sleep in shifts so that there were always several sets of hungry eyes gazing up at her. Salestria herself could not sleep. She feared having another nightmare and falling off the ledge. She searched the ledge for a loose stone on which she could carve a protective rune, but found nothing. The rock was smooth and unbroken. She could not even fashion a weapon.

This is your test. Mohsar's words echoed in her head. What was he testing? What had she learned which could possibly prepare her for this? She carefully began to go over every bit of lore, every rune, every lesson she could recall.

Hours turned to days. The sun would occasionally shine down on her, giving her an hour or so of warmth. Two days had passed since she descended into the cave. She was cold, thirsty, hungry, and tired. She was no closer to escaping than when she had first realized her peril. The wolves were content to keep watch but were no less fierce. She had once slipped and they snapped to attention, jumping at her and growling at one another.

Sleep began to overwhelm her. Her eyes were heavy and she was bored. She caught herself several times beginning to doze off. "Snap out of it, Salestria. You can't afford to sleep now." She wished she could transform like Cu and defeat these wolves. Perhaps she could dive into their minds and force them to leave her alone. But diving into Cu's mind, just for the briefest second had caused lasting nightmares. What would happen to her if she forced her way into the mind of a wild animal? Would she go insane? Would she become paranoid like Cu?

The test. The one thing that she could use to survive this test was her ability to enter the minds of these wolves. Salestria thought for a long time. She thought of her conversation with Cu and of how he embraced his bestial side as a form of devotion to Orboros. If he could do it, than she could as well. She would become an instrument of Orboros even if it meant losing her sanity.

Salestria looked down at the closest prowling wolf. She focused her concentration on it and tried to will herself into its mind. Her own mind was filled with wild impulses, thoughts of hunting prey, devouring a kill, and of fighting for position in the pack. She looked around and realized she was on eye level with the other wolves, she jumped back and felt the wall against her back. She was back on the ledge. She had entered the wolf and had been able to see through his eyes.

Through careful practice over the next few hours, Salestria learned to control the wolves' movements. She found some wolves to be more susceptible to her intrusion than others. She discovered that, with practice, she could hold two or three wolves in her mind at once. But she had no plan. She thought, at first, of trying to have the wolves fight one another. She was certain, though, that it would be wrong of her to destroy such pristine predators for her own safety. Perhaps she could convince them that she was one of the pack.

Slowly, she tested her limits. She dangled her foot tantalizingly before them. When the made to jump, she mentally restrained them. She had them come to her and sniff her scent and projected feelings of familiarity and family. Eventually, she was able to dangle her foot without the mental restraints. One wolf even came over and gently licked her foot.

Closing her eyes, she gathered her courage. Carefully, she lowered herself from the ledge and landed among the large predators. Her arrival went almost unnoticed. As she walked through the wolves, some lifted their heads to look casually at her, others came to lick her hands. She felt a connection with the entire pack and knew she could enter any one beast a moment's notice. Rather than being overwhelmed with their feral instincts, she felt a true kindredness with these beasts. She wanted to hunt with them and run wild with this pack. She thought of returning to the village and found the through distasteful.

As she reached the exit of the cave, she could not help but howl at the sight of Laris. The cave behind her echoed with the answers of the pack. Moments later, she found herself running through the woods with the sleek hunters. Through the night, she stalked prey with the wolf pack and lost herself in their wild freedom, slaked her thirst in crystal streams, and feasted on the raw flesh of their prey. It was not until the sun broke through the trees that she thought again of going back to her fellow wilders.

*****************

When she finally returned to the village, she found Connar and Grania waiting for her. It wasn't until she saw the disgusted look on Connar's face that she thought of her own appearance. Her clothes were covered with mud and blood. Her face was encrusted with dried blood and she knew that her hair was matted with mud, sweat and blood.

Grania for her part looked much older, as if she had aged several years. It was not a wasting away aging as some humans displayed. Instead, she looked much more mature and more serious than ever. She had bandages on her left arm and leg.

Connar was stripped to the waist. He wore a loose fitting kilt over his lower half. His torso was covered in hundreds of small red welts. He looked tired but was nonetheless worse for wear. Krueger was nowhere to be seen.

*****************

Brandubh
12-05-2010, 05:41 PM
After she had cleaned herself up, the three young wilders sat down to recount their experiences. Grania would say nothing of what happened to herself but listened intently as Salestria recounted her ordeal. The two seemed genuinely impressed by Salestria's ability to enter the minds of animals.

Connar had been forced to dig a hole and then climb into it. He was then buried to the neck by Mohsar. It wasn't until after Mohsar had left that Connar realized that the hole was in the middle of a fire ant nest. He screamed for hours, unable to move his arms or legs. The pressure of the earth made it hard to breath and he had to force himself to control his breathing. After a day, he realized that he could compact the earth by flexing his fingers. Slowly he used his strength to compact the soil around his hands and continued to work the soil away from him until he could raise his arms. It had taken nearly a full day of digging in order to get one hand out of the dirt. All the while, he was being attacked by the fire ants. Of course, Connar took great pains to elaborate on his strength, bravery and endurance through the test. But he was clearly still recovering from the venom in their stings and often had to pause in his tale so that he could catch his breath.

When Connar's account was complete, the three sat for some time in silence. The two girls exchanged a knowing glance. They were worried about Krueger. Salestria saw sincere concern in Grania's eyes but knew Connar would not stand for their worrying about his rival. The silence was broken by the sound of Cu yelling for help.

The three wilders rushed out of the hut to find Cu approaching the village with a naked body in his arms. At first, they thought that perhaps the shape shifter had killed a child because the boy's skin was covered in bloodied sores. But upon closer inspection, they saw that the wounds were not bite marks but scrapes and cuts. His skin was burnt and blistered. His lips were cracked and bleeding, his eyes were sunken into his head and his hair was falling out of his scalp. Cu carefully set the boy on the ground.

It was then that Grania gasped. "No," she whispered. Salestria looked at her friend then back to the blistered face. This boy bore some resemblance to Krueger. Realization dawned on her and she felt her head spin. This pitiful, nearly lifeless being was the healthy, strong boy who she had seen not more than a week ago. Connar laughed and started to walk away while muttering something about survival of the strong.

"Connar, Ant-bitten, you come back here this instant." Salestria was surprised by her own voice. "I've been with wolves with more grace than you have." Apparently, Connar war surprised by her voice as well. "Go fetch herbs and water and some clean rags or I'll take you back to that ant hill and bury you, head and all, myself." Without a word, Connar stalked off toward the huts.

By now, Grania had regained her composure. With tears in her eyes, she removed her cloak and covered Krueger's naked form. When Connar returned, the trio began to treat his wounds. Salestria prepared a poultice for his burns and Grania cleaned out his cuts. Connar took great pleasure in holding the boy down as he writhed against the girls' treatments.

It was three days before Krueger was able to open his eyes. All of the hair had fallen out of his head, accentuating his sharp features. His skin was beginning to clear up but the new skin was very pale in comparison to his previous complexion. It was nearly a week before he could utter a single word. All this time, Grania never left his side. Salestria, much to her own guilt, fled every day into the woods to find members of her wolf pack. Truth be told, she felt more comfortable with them than with her fellow wilders. Her worry over Krueger's condition was consoled by the simple life of her pack. Connar, for his part, could have cared less and no one expected any more of him.

Two full lunar cycles passed and Krueger had returned to full health. He recounted how Mohsar had used a stone circle to transport the two of them deep into the desert and stripped him naked. Then the Overseer disappeared into the sands, leaving the boy to find his own way home. Krueger had survived only by sheer force of will, vowing that he would pass the test no matter what. The four, regardless of the differences, found working together much easier after their tests. It seemed as if they had all learned a little more about their own strengths and weaknesses and had earned the respect of their fellows.

About a week before the conjunction of Caen's three moons, Overseer Mohsar returned to the village. If he was pleased that all four of his wilders had survived their training, he did not show it. Instead, he ordered them to gather supplies and meet him in the practice field. When they had arrived, the Overseer simply announced, "It is time for your real training to begin."

Spooker
12-06-2010, 01:51 PM
Awesome.
I cannot wait for the next installment.

Excellent read.

Shortarse
12-10-2010, 11:59 AM
Really enjoying this more please

druidsandstuff
12-12-2010, 11:36 PM
God this story is so good! Anybody noting the similarities between Salestria and Kaya? Love it!

brokennecron
12-13-2010, 07:39 PM
yes salestria is starting off on the beast path and is more instinctive than thoughtful, but, unless i'm very much mistaken, she is going to progress on a more original path as she is the protagonist.

Brandubh
12-14-2010, 07:59 AM
Yay! Speculation about my story. :D I'm in the midst of finals but I'll give a little explanation about Salestria. Obviously, we know very little official Salestria fluff. She was a druid. She used a scythe. Krueger gave her a necklace and apparently had some sort of romantic (?) interest in her. Dalekov knows about her death but won't tell Krueger (possible rivalry?).

Obviously, any druid pursuing the beast mind path will probably have some similar traits. Just as Lortus and Krueger have some similarities. Plunging your brain into the minds of wild animals is going to warp your worldview a little - just like wielding godlike powers over nature will change your perspective on the world.

All of that said, I fully expect Salestria to develop into a very different character path than Kaya. Kaya is very much isolated and chafes at authority, whereas, to date, Salestria has been much more receptive of authority (though, admittedly, she's very early in her career). She will probably be much less of a loner than Kaya is. But we'll see.

You will continue to see some similarities between the two. That is intentional. Krueger has a quote in which he speaks highly of Kaya. Given Krueger's attitude toward fellow druids, his praise of her is exceptional, in my opinion. And I've imagined him seeing some similarity between Kaya and Salestria, perhaps biasing him a little towards here.

I'll probably start writing again on Thursday / Friday. So I hope to have the next installment up for you this weekend.

Thanks for the kind words.

brokennecron
12-14-2010, 08:39 PM
any possibility that we'll see any new beasts or some such?

Walter
12-15-2010, 09:07 AM
I really like this story. Eagerly looking forward to the next installment.

One question, did I miss the wilder's learning Mohsar's name? One sec he was not to be named, then they knew who he was and were rescueing Krueger. Did the net eat a post?

KulThass
12-15-2010, 01:00 PM
Definitely enjoying the story. Like that there's a lot of similarity between characters here and people Krueger takes up with later on. Just wondering when he gets into the hard stuff. (You know, blood sacrifices, slaughtering villagers, feasting on still beating hearts...)

brokennecron
12-17-2010, 10:44 PM
so it's saturday and i'm not peeved or anything but i am bouncing on my couch and refreshing this page every five minutes. What happens next??! 8P

Brandubh
12-18-2010, 07:02 PM
I love you guys. I just want you to know that. Thanks for the comments.
@brokennecron - maybe, but we'll have to see. Wilders don't do a whole lot with beasts. It takes years for a druid to get to the point where he/she can really control warbeasts. So the party isn't really going to get to that "level" during this story. But we'll probably see some beasts, maybe something that is new. I'm not sure how far from canon I want to get.

@Walter - I don't know. I'll have to look back and check. If I didn't include it, I'll definitely retcon it in. She learned of Mohsar while under Maithleu, early in her training. Mohsar's fluff mentions how his followers don't say his name out loud for fear of drawing his attention. I wanted to express this in the story. Maybe I did too good of a job at not mentioning his name.

@KulThass - ask and you shall receive...a little. Krueger's decent into Devourer worship will be slow and plot driven. He's clearly (read below) got an interest in it. But I don't think we'll see him really get into it until very late in the story. I'm really trying to explore the mechanics of what makes Krueger himeself and what things could have shaped him into the person we see in the canon fluff.

So without further adieu:

Part 5 - The Journey

"Reach out. What do you feel?" Salestria sat with her eyes closed. She reached out with her mind into the wilderness. Since the wilders' departure from the village, Mohsar had spent time with each of them in training. Between times of training the party spent hours hiking. The Overseer was clearly moving with haste. He expressed that they had to reach their destination before the lunar conjunction.
Salestria's training had focused mostly on being able to reach out and seize the minds of predators. With effort, she could probe the darkness and locate passing bears or wolves.
"There is an owl," She focused her effort on the shadowy form she saw in her mind, "She is watching a mouse and is circling-"
"Further," Mohsar interrupted. "You can reach further than that."
The young wilder frowned but reached out and probed the darkness. "There is a pack of wolves-"
"No, beyond them."
She sighed and probed. There was a presence but it was faint and at the very edge of her mind's eye. She instinctively moved her head to rotate her vision and gasped. Her consciousness retreated back into her mind. "Wha-what was that?"
Mohsar smiled coldly, "That was our destination."

The journey had been a trial in and of itself. Mohsar pushed them on relentlessly with little opportunity for rest. When they weren't hiking through the wilderness, he drilled them in lore, their abilities as wilders, and in combat. If they had thought Maithleu to be an inflexible teacher, he now seemed kind and patient compared to the Overseer. Mistakes were punished cruelly. Grania had failed to gather sufficient firewood for the night. Her punishment had been to walk the next day without her boots. To make matters worse, their journey took them through thick briars. Salestria's poor friend fought back tears the entire day. Her swollen and bloodied feet had to be soaked in a compress of healing herbs before they would fit into her boots again.
Connar was caught making some snide remark about being "led by the blind". His comment earned him a skin full of salt water the next day. Furthermore, he was not allowed to drink from any streams or springs. At first, he resisted the urge to drink. But his will could not hold out. Near midday, the unforgiving sun beat down on the group and Connar guzzled greedily from his water skin. A few hours later, he began to suffer the effects of dehydration. They had to stop several times so that he could relieve himself in the woods. By the time they made camp that night, he was gaunt, pale, and near collapse.
Salestria had not escaped this treatment. Mohsar caught her sleeping through her watch. They were only allowed a few hours sleep each day and even then they had to keep watch in shifts. The following day she was forced to carry the gear of the entire party. That day there were to stops in order to train. They hiked from well before dawn until long after dusk. Her muscles had never ached so badly in all her life.
No punishment, however, was worse than Krueger's. Mohsar caught the boy eating the heart of one of the kills the party had made. Grania had related the grisly scene. Apparently Krueger had become interested in the practices of the Devourer worshippers. The foolish boy sought to emulate them through some sort of mimicry. Devourer cultists worshipped only on aspect of Orboros and, while they had their uses, they were mere tools with which to uphold the will of the Circle and nothing more.
Mohsar was furious. He ordered the other three wilders to go and collect wood, water and food for the next days journey. When they returned. Krueger was bloodied, bruised, and burnt. His clothes were tattered and singed. While his physical body was clearly ravaged by the fury of the Overseer, he had a stern almost defiant look on his face.

Little information about the purpose of this "mission" was given to the party. Each one attempted to glean some clue from Mohsar. However, he engaged in precious little conversation and deftly evaded any inquiry. He spoke only vaguely of an "awakening" and "freeing an ancient power." From their direction, the wilders discerned they were heading north and west, into the iron kingdom of Cygnar. Though they had reached no cities yet, they knew that humankind had built thousands of walled settlements throughout that kingdom. Some of its inhabitants were Menites, a fact which Krueger openly hoped to exploit, while others were Morrowens, humans who sought peace and nonviolance. To Salestria both religions seemed cowardly to her. The Menites, it seemed, hid behind their laws and their ordered society. The Morrowens hid behind their works, trying to eliminate strife from their society. It all seemed so unnatural to her.
In Salestria's mind, a proper society was built around strength. The strong preyed on the weak. This caused the prey to become stronger, by eliminating the sick, old, and maimed. As the prey becomes stronger the predators must also become stronger. This cycle ensured that all life was constantly becoming stronger and more fit. Laws, mercy, order, and peace all seemed to be artificially interrupting that cycle. In the city where she had once lived, fat, pallid-skinned, gray-haired guards frequently beat the starving street waifs. Rich, overfed, pox-faced women stuffed obscene amounts of food into the faces of their narrow-eyed, soft-handed children while slaves worked till their blisters bled and then went to bed hungry. What humans called society was all backwards.
It was this understanding that enabled Salestria to endure Mohsar's "training." Part of her wanted to declare it as unjust or unfair. But the rest of her realized that he was helping them to be stronger. Some day, perhaps soon, they would be truly tested, as he had promised. When that day came, if they survived, they would be thankful for his training. For now, they only had to endure blistered feet, empty bellies and sleep deprivation.

Brandubh
12-18-2010, 07:03 PM
What was less bearable, perhaps, was the internal strife which had taken hold among the wilders. Perhaps it was the stress of the Overseer's training. Perhaps it was a fear of what was to come. Regardless, Connar and Krueger seemed to incessantly be at one another's throat. The cause varied considerably. If they were sent to fetch wood, they would fight over who gathered the best quality wood or the most. If sent to kill game, they would argue over who killed the best meat. Connar, who was clearly the most physically capable of the two, was often the "winner" of these petty competitions. Krueger, for his part, was indomitable. No matter how many times Connar bested him, he would accept the next challenge without hesitation. Furthermore, Salestria had caught him working on his runes late at night while he was keeping watch. Curious, she asked him what he was doing.

"One day, I'll kill him, Sales. You'll see."
"What do you mean?" She eyed him carefully. There was a menacing steel in his voice.
"I'm going to kill Connar. Maithleu told me that druids of the Circle can challenge each other to fights to the death. I'm going to do that."
"Krueger, he'll destroy you. You know that. You can't even beat me in a fight." Salestria tried to lighten the mood a little.
Krueger was unphased. "I'm going to create a weapon, a spear. It's going to be like a storm, the strongest of all storms, inside. I can't beat him with my body, but I can beat him with my mind."
Salestria was speechless. While she understood the way of natural chaos and that such challenges preserved the strength of the Circle, the idea of her two comrades battling to the death unnerved her. Before she could respond, Grania woke up. The two friends made eye contact. Grania looked as if she had been wounded and immediately rolled over as if to go back to sleep.
"Grania, it's not-" Salestria moved to her friend in order to explain the situation.
"You made a promise." Grania did turn to face Salestria, but was clearly on the verge of tears.
"It's not what it looks like, really." Salestria was as earnest as she could be. Minutes passed. Grania did not answer and did not move. Dejected at the strife among her comrades, Salestria fell asleep and dreamed of running freely through the woods with a pack of wolves.

The next day, the party came upon a mining settlement. Black smoke billowed up from poorly constructed buildings. Dirty children, wearing little more than rags, played in the water channels that carried mud and sewages away from the buildings. Men somberly walked to and from the mine, their skin black with coal dust. Occasionally, one would stop to cough violently until he produced a ball of black phlegm. A huge gash cut unto the mountainside. Treeless hillsides sagged as the earth pulled away from underlying rock now that the anchoring roots were removed. Yellow streams flowed with acid water, lifeless and stinking. The entire mountain had been ruined so that humans could harvest black rocks from the ground in order to burn for heat and energy.
Mohsar led them around the mountainside and to an abandoned mine shaft. The rocks slumped, indicating a recent collapse. Signs warned of danger and wooden barricades blocked their way.
"This is our gateway to the past." Mohsar was gazing with blind eyes into the darkness. "I suppose you will need light." He said disparagingly.
Connar produced several wooden torches from his pack and Grania set about lighting them with flint and steel. Moments later, the five stepped into the cold damp of the mine shaft.
To Salestria, the sensation was almost familiar. The feel of earth on all sides, the comfort of the dark, the play of shadows on the walls and the musty smell of wet rock. She could tell that Grania was unnerved. The two were as different as could be. Grania was of the open fields and wild country. Salestria had grown up hiding among the city dwellers, living in sewers. She wished she could offer some support to her friend, but the two had not spoken since the previous night. She did not know what else she could say.
The air of the mine was cool but not cold. Their footsteps echoed off of the surrounding rocks. Water seeped in through cracks in the bedrock, leaving behind brightly colored crystal deposits. The mine lacked the natural beauty of a cave. The walls were sharp and angular, not the smooth curves which water produced. Roughly hewn wooden beams formed a framework around the tunnel, evidence of where the mountain's trees had gone.
Mohsar led the group in silence for some time. The shaft plunged gradually and relatively straight. There had been several branching tunnels, but the Overseer seemed to know which way was correct.
"The rock here feels dead." Grania spoke out of the blue. Her own voice seemed to surprise her as much as it did the others.
"It is dead." Mohsar replied. He seemed fixed on something in front of him. "Though not, perhaps, for the reasons you think." Salestria and Grania exchanged glances. Salestria tried to offer her friend a reassuring smile, but Grania turned away too quickly.
"Is it because of the mining?" Connar always seemed to venture the stupidest "insights" whenever possible. Salestria was convinced that he was trying to look smarter than he actually was. The result of his inquiries almost always had the effect of illustrating that.
"Connar, do you have gorax dung for brains?" Mohsar turned on the wilder with almost alarming speed. "Perhaps you didn't hear me say 'not for the reasons you think.'"
If Connar was cowed, he did not show it, "But the mountain is being cut up by the humans up there. Doesn't that disturb the ley lines?"
"There are no ley lines here." Krueger interjected. His voice seemed odd, as if he were speaking in a dream. He was gazing intently down the tunnel into the darkness.
"Perhaps I should put you all on a regimen of fox heart." Mohsar said sarcastically. "It seems our Devourer worshipper has some sort of insight he'd like to share with us."
Krueger was silent. He simply stared into the darkness.
"No? Does anyone care to illuminate us on what is going on here?" Mohsar's blind gaze moved from wilder to wilder. Salestria shivered. How could those milky eyes pierce her more than seeing ones?
"There is," Salestria began, "something down there. It is old...and hungry...and -"
"Wild" Krueger finished. He was staring at Salestria. The two locked eyes for a moment and Salestria knew that Grania was watching them. Confusion and frustration bore into her mind. There was enough stress to this moment without letting personal feelings drive wedges between the wilders.
"Move on," Mohsar instructed, "We only have a few hours before dusk. The convergence will begin near mid night. I want you to get some rest before then."

Brandubh
12-18-2010, 09:13 PM
It's your lucky night. ;) This next section was inspired by Evanescence's "Bring Me To Life". If you're interested at all, I can send you a breakdown of what parts of the song match what parts of the story. But if you want a hint, the phrase, "don't let me die here" coincides with the same line in the song. Cheers

Part 6 - The Awakening

In spite of the hard, damp ground, all four wilders had quickly fallen asleep. Upon reaching a junction between two tunnels, Mohsar had agreed to keep first watch, and the sleep deprived travelers had not complained. When they awoke minutes or even hours later, the Overseer was gone, their fire was barely embers and all of their other equipment was missing.
"We need to find him," declared Connar, "Salestria and I will go down this tunnel and you two will go down that tunnel."
"Who left you in charge, dung for brains?" Krueger was immediately nose to nose with the larger wilder. "Do you even know what's down that tunnel?"
"Stop it you two." Grania interposed herself between the two young men. "Let's stop and assess what's going on."
"Oh, I get it," Connar continued, oblivious to Grania's attempt at peacemaking, "You would rather I go with Grania so that you can go with your beloved Sales." Connar adopted a truly mocking tone with these last few words.
Salestria was taken aback. Grania stepped back from Connar and hung her head. Krueger rose to the challenge.
"So what if I do? I doubt she wants to go anywhere with an uncooth, illiterate thug like you. Chances are you'd get lost in a wheel rut let alone a labyrinth like this."
"Do you really think she'd want to associate with a heart eater like you? Besides, she'd have to protect you from whatever's down there."
Salestria found herself involuntarily stepping back into the shadows.
"Stop it you two now!" Grania shoved both wilders back. "You're both acting like children. We need to find Mohsar and do what we came here to do." The futility of this remark struck home even as she said the words. "Listen" Grania continued much more rationally, "if we don't work together, we might not all make it back alive."
"Fine by me." Krueger declared haughtily. "We need to shed some dead weight anyway."
"I wouldn't mind getting rid of some dead weight myself." Connar drew a cleft sword from his belt and held it out toward his comrade.
In a flash Krueger had a speartip in his hand, which he wielded as a dagger. He threw his torch at Connar and leapt at him. Salestria saw sparks and blood fly. Grania screamed and entered the fray, trying to separate the combatants.
Salestria fled down the tunnel. Her tear filled eyes unable to pierce the darkness. She ran until her legs could move no longer. She collapsed against the tunnel wall. The cool wet made her shiver. She was covered in sweat. Tears stung her face. Her lungs burned. The wild presence she had felt earlier was much stronger now.
She could no longer hear the other wilders. The slow drip of water on stone was the only sound she could hear. She waved a hand in front of her face. She could see nothing. Her eyes strained to adjust to the dark, but it was no use. There was no light. Despair began to creep over her. She was utterly alone, lost in a dark labyrinth of mining tunnels. She had no food, no water, no light. Even if she could go back, she would only cause more strife among her friends.
She sat for hours or days or years. It all seemed the same to her. Eventually, a faint glimmer caught her eye. At first she thought it was her imagination and she ignored it. But eventually she mustered enough hope to look towards it. It seemed as if a fire might be down that tunnel. Her ears strained to hear any sound of voices. She waited for some time, thinking that maybe the wilders had come looking for her. But the light neither came closer nor moved far away.
Sighing, she stood and began to make her way toward the light. It was much further away than she had guessed. As she approached, she realized that she was no longer in a mining tunnel. The walls were smooth and ornately decorated. Statues stood guard in recesses along the corridor. The air was dryer here.
Rounding a corner, she squinted as two torches lit a large room. Several passages left the room and two large doors took up most of the opposing wall. A bluish light shone through a crack between the doors. Salestria immediately forgot about Mohsar, the wilders, their quest or any other part of reality. Only these doors existed.
They were immense, standing three times the height of Connar. They were made of dark wood, ornately carved with beasts, men, and fortresses. Huge iron hinges reinforced the doors and were covered in orange rust. Dust covered everything.
Cautiously, Salestria pushed open one of the doors. It swung cleanly with only a slight grating noise. The room beyond the door took her breath away. A light shaft allowed the light of Caen's three moons to illuminate the room. The entire area was cast in a cold bluish light. All around the room were hundreds of statues, each a perfect replica of human physique. Each statue was in a different dynamic pose. Men in robes stood with staves in hand or in front of open books. Warriors in armor, weapons drawn, were in the midst of combat. Some men lay wounded or dead on the floor. The entire room was one large battle scene. Every statue in the room was facing the largest statue in the middle.
In the center of the room, a huge form arose from the midst of a grand melee. It was surrounded by pikemen, swordsmen, archers, and robed men with staves. It stood twice as tall as a man but was unlike a man in any way. It looked strangely wolf-like, as Cu did when he changed into a beast. But this creature had a broad reptilian tail like an alligator. It had a mouth like a mountain cat. It had spines along its back and four arms. The two arms closest to its head ended in hand-like claws. Its two lower arms ended in what looked like paws. The beast could clearly run on four legs as easily as it could stand on two. Its legs were powerfully muscular. They had large talons, like an eagle, which were crushing enemies beneath its mass. Its face was unlike any animal Salestria had ever seen. She could not decide if it looked like a furred animal or a scaled beast. The creature captured her attention and took her breath away. To her, it seemed as if this statue was the source of the presence she had been feeling.

"Impressive, isn't it." Salestria whirled around to see Mohsar standing at the door.
"Where were you?" Salestria eyed the Overseer warily. Something about his demeanor unsettled her.
"I was looking for this." His blind eyes were focused on the beast statue in the middle of the room.
"What is it? These are amazing statues." Salestria turned to face the statues again.
Mohsar paused for what seemed to be an eternity. "They are not statues."
"What?" Salestria spun to face the blind man. "What do you mean 'not statues'?"

"Our order has always maintained ties with beings deemed to be forms of Orboros on Caen. Over ten centuries ago, we had an alliance with a beast of untold power. It was the avatar of the Beast of All Shapes, the embodiment of that aspect of the Devourer in this world. It was a powerful ally and we fought along side it against the kingdoms of that day. Our order had much success against the weakly allied kingdoms of mankind in those days. We kept civilization in check and sought to prevent a well ordered society from taking hold.
"Perhaps we grew arrogant in our apparent success. But humankind began to establish stable kingdoms, fortified cities, and institutions of learning. This place was a bastion of human magical and military might. We assailed it openly, which was our first mistake. Our second mistake was bringing the Beast to the fight.
"The humans here were prepared. They lured it into this chamber and kept it locked in combat. Their magicians surrounded it and began to cast a holding spell. They combined their magics. Though dozens fell in the first few minutes, they were unphased. Any sacrifice was worth its cost if they could rob us of our ally, our god made flesh.
"Their spell was so powerful that it turned not only the Beast to stone, but everyone in this room. The Beast's soul is still locked here. Orboros has been tied to this location unnaturally ever since."

Salestria found that she had walked up to the statue during Mohsar's tale. She was enamored of the detail, the raw primal power she felt, and the size of the beast before her. She reached out a hand and traced the runes on the creature's armor. Her fingertips stuck to the stone. She cried out but was cut short when she saw that her fingers were stone and the stone was creeping up her hand. She screamed and turned toward Mohsar but he was gone.
The stone continued to creep up her arm. It felt cold and lifeless and it consumed her flesh. She looked up to see that the stone was melting off of the beast. It was as if the stone was being transferred to her. Her flesh was being exchanged for its flesh. The stone reached her chest and began to spread across her body. She screamed again. The stone was at her feet and moving up her neck. She tilted her head back to get one last breath. She heard voices, Connar yelling, Grania screaming her name, then silence.

Brandubh
12-18-2010, 09:13 PM
It was as if her vision was lifted to the ceiling of the room. She could see herself, a stone statue, gazing lifelessly up at herself. The beast stretched and roared, as if waking from a long slumber. Connar was at the door with Grania. His sword was drawn and bloodied. Grania was carrying a weighted staff and had dropped Salestria's scythe on the ground.
Connar gave a battle cry and charged across the room toward the beast. Grania, being of perhaps sounder mind, threw a pouch at the beast. Upon impact, the pouch exploded into a ball of green energy. If the beast was injured by this at all, it did not show it. Instead, it engaged Connar by parrying his rapid sequence of blows. Salestria realized that the creature had grown boney spines from its wrists, which it used to deflect the cleft sword. She also realized that the creature was toying with Connar at this point, perhaps because it was still stiff from its slumber in stone.
Within several heartbeats, the creature had tossed Connar back and batted a stone statue towards Grania. Grania deftly dodged the statue and Connar regained his footing, spinning the sword in his grip to gain a better grip. The two charged simultaneously.
Connar's attacks came even more furiously this time. He showed no fear as he thrust and chopped at the monster to no avail. Grania struck out at its legs and underbelly, hoping to find purchase there. However, the beast quickly planted a paw and lashed out at her with its tail. Grania tumbled to the ground even as Connar found himself backed into a pair of statues.
As the creature was about to strike, a sudden wind caused centuries of dust blocked all vision for a moment. When the dust cloud past, Connar was out of sight and Krueger was charging across the room towards the beast. He jumped an impossible distance and seemed to hang in the air for an eternity. He deftly planted a foot on the beasts forearm and pushed himself even higher, into a back flip. As he came down, he drove the tip of his spear into the creature's back even as the creature slammed him away with a clawed fist. His body flew toward the stone wall and crumpled to the ground.
This was all the opening that Connar needed. Tenaciously, he charged the beast's side, scoring a penetrating blow on the tough hide. It threw him aside but he quickly sidestepped and struck again. It was clear to Salestria that this hulking beast was not at its full strength yet.
Grania was up and engaging the monster as well. The two of them battered and beat and the creature with all of their might. Grania parried blows and countered attacks aimed at Connar, while the stronger wilder landed blow after blow on the beasts leather hide. The two fought savagely but were unable to make much headway.
The creature caught Grania's arm and threw her aside. Time seemed to slow down as her friend's limp form skid along the ground. Connar had maneuvered himself close to Salestria's stone body and handily delivered three vicious blows to the monster, but did little damage. The beast grabbed Connar's sword arm then his free hand and grappled with him. It was everything the wilder could do to not be tossed to the ground. By some miracle, Connar broke the grip and the beast's free hand slammed into Salestria's statue-body, sending it flying across the room.
The body smashed into a statue of a robed man, shattering both of them. Salestria felt pulled back into her body. She was covered in dust and rubble. Her entire form ached and her mouth tasted of blood. She could see Connar on the ground, alive and looking toward her. The beast was coming straight for her.
Connar dove at the beast, knocking it to the floor. The two wrestled for a moment before Connar was handily thrown aside and the creature stood and continued toward Salestria. It clearly wanted her dead. She tried to get up, but her body would not respond. She was helpless to run.
Grania was suddenly in front of her, cradling her head. She gazed up at her friend. "Don't let me die here" she whispered.
She could hear Connar screaming something and an orange light illuminated the room. She looked to see Connar holding a sword of fire. His whole body seemed to warp with strength, making him look far more fierce than she had ever seen before. He attacked the beast with a fury of blows that seemed unnaturally fast.
Krueger came from nowhere, lightning enveloped the head of his weapon. Something had changed. The wild presence she felt before was now feeding her companions strength. Somehow they were literally drawing the power of the beast away from it.
The two wilders forced the beast back, step by step, to the middle of the room. Krueger somehow managed to unleash a ball of lightning at the creature. For a second, the beast howled in pain. That was all the time Connar needed to end the fight. In three swift strokes, his flame sword cut down, then up, then across, tearing open the creature's chest and sending its head toppling to the floor. The body followed, throwing cloud of dust into the room, which caught the moonlight and gave the air a tangible appearance.
Connar and Krueger ran to where Salestria lay. They were all covered in gore and blood. For a long time, no one said anything. Grania bound wounds and applied herbal poultices. Salestria could not move her body at all but found she could talk, albeit in a whisper.
"Thank you...all."
"Shhhh" Grania chided, "Rest."
"Will she be okay?" Connar cleaned his sword and sheathed it.
"She'll be fine." The voice came from the door. Mohsar stood leaning on his scythe. "You did well enough."
"What do you mean well enough?" Connar challenged, "We could have died. Where in Urcaen were you?"
"You are free to leave if you think the training is too hard, Connar." Mohsar regarded the wilder with disdain. "That was an avatar of Orboros. It was trapped here on Caen by unnatural magic. You have released it to Urcaen."
The four looked at each other but said nothing.
"It seems as if the fight has also helped you realize some of your potential as druids. That is good. You will need all of your strength if you are to survive our next assignment."
"Next assignment?" Krueger asked warily.
"When young Salestria is able to walk again, we will meet with the council to discuss a pressing matter."

druidsandstuff
12-20-2010, 11:02 PM
Great, great, great, great! Nothing more can be said.

Brandubh
01-02-2011, 11:31 AM
Hey everyone. I appreciate your patience. I've been trying to paint up my remaining Circle stuff over winter break, working third shift, and my computer with all of my background data broke and has only recently been brought back on line. I am working on the next installment but it will still be a few days. I'm going to try and work in some additional character development. In the meantime, enjoy another side project I started here: https://privateerpressforums.com/showthread.php?46475-An-Unlikely-End&p=660251#post660251
Thanks,
Eric

Griffin745
01-07-2011, 03:29 PM
Well, just found this and sat here pretty much enthralled by it all the way through. Well done, really. I'll be glad to see the next installments.

Gsot
01-23-2011, 02:37 PM
Brilliant. I to have just found it and read in one go. Great stuff.

Brandubh
01-25-2011, 08:03 PM
Firstly, thanks for your encouragements and patience. I apologize that it's been so long. I've had some real-life things to attend to...not the least of which has been a very fragmented attention span which has inhibited my ability to sit down and write for long spans of time. This is the third or fourth version of this portion of the story. I hope you enjoy it. I'll try to be better about keeping up with it in the future.
Cheers,
Eric

Part 7 - Emergence

Salestria had no idea how long they had been underground. She drifted in and out of consciousness. Her fevered dreams were of dark forests with trees stretching like claws toward a moonlit sky. The eerie glow of predatory eyes followed her from the shadows. She ran, in every dream she ran. In every dream they caught her, ripped her skin from her body as she screamed and devoured her completely. She never died. The pain never relented and her screams never brought her relief.

When they finally exited the mine, Krueger mentioned something about "eight days". But in her state, Salestria could not tell if he was referring to the time they had been underground or the distance to their destination. She could walk fine. Her body was sore, her skin was still healing, but her mind was broken. Her encounter with the essence of the Devourer had left her soul ravaged by the predatory spirit. Part of her wanted to find a place to safely hide from every predator and stalker that could be hunting her. Part of her wanted to join in the hunt.

During her recovery, she had hours to think about what had happened. In her saner moments, she realized the sheer genius of Mohsar's leadership. The Overseer had led a group of novice wilders into an abandoned ruin, knowing that there would be little or no resistance. He had allowed internal friction to drive them apart, possibly hoping that they would be separated when one person found the room of statues. Once she had found it, Mohsar allowed her to activate the beast by touching it. He then allowed the group to battle the monster without helping.

Somehow, however, the party had survived. They not only survived, they came out of the ordeal stronger than they had been when they entered the mine. Something had awakened within them all. Whether the blind Overseer had foreseen all this or simply gambled with their lives was uncertain. Salestria hated him for it. She had nearly died. Her mind was forever changed. She did not feel entirely human anymore. Even casual conversation was an annoyance to her.

"How are you feeling?" Grania had come up beside her as she had almost every day since the battle. Salestria looked at her with vacant eyes. How could she possibly begin to describe how she was feeling? Words seemed so insignificant. Salestria opened her mouth to speak but it seemed like a waste, so she simply looked away instead. Grania sighed and walked away.

Salestria knew that her silence hurt her friend, but there was such a gap between them now. Salestria seemed hyper attentive to body language and posture. She noticed that Connar had been comforting Grania, that the two were forming a bond. She also noticed that they obviously thought something amiss with her. Their whispers and sidelong glances did not go unnoticed. Krueger, on the other hand, seemed locked in his own silence. His sharp features were ridged with concentration. It was as if he were locked in a perpetual battle with some force inside him or pondering some great challenge. His exchanges with Connar and Grania were curt and efficient. He still spent hours every day on his runes but his enmity for Connar seemed to have abated somewhat. There was clearly some other motive behind his incessant work.

Aside from her nightmares, night brought some relief to Salestria's mind. There was something comforting to her as the sun slipped beneath the horizon and darkness engulfed the world. If Moshar noticed her condition, he did not care. He said nothing to her or to anyone else in the group. His instructions had been clear. They were to walk for three days to a set of shifting stones and then would teleport to the Wyrmclaw, one of many meeting places for the Circle hierarchy. Apparently, there was some pressing matter to which the group of wilders were to attend.

On their second night of traveling, Salestria was sitting apart from the group, at the edge of the campsite. Her wooden bowl lay empty next to her as she stared into the night. Occasionally, her body would convulse as a ripple a fear gripped her. Mostly, however, she sat still, her mind a whirlwind of thoughts and memories. A motion from behind caught her attention and she turned her head quickly. It was Krueger, his black robes cast long shadows against the forest. As the fire danced, the shadows wavered ominously. The bald wilder sat next to her and gazed at the shadows.

"I know what you're going through." Salestria looked at him, his features were accentuated in the firelight so that he looked almost skeletal. "Sort of." He added uncertainly.

"That thing...it awakened something in us." Clearly, he was speaking for his own good as well as hers. "Orboros has avatars - loci of his power on Caen. They represent one of his aspects. The one we fought represented the Beast of All Shapes." He paused as if thinking but he did not look to see if she was listening.

"It had been imprisoned, I think. It was cut off from Orboros while it was stone. When you...freed it...it was confused. That's why it attacked us." He picked up a stick and meticulously pulled it apart, peeling the bark away.

"After we took you back up into the mine," Krueger paused for a while, obviously considering how he should proceed. "I," He threw the stick into the dark, "I snuck back into the chamber and I" He seemed suddenly engrossed with the hem of his robe. "I ate part of the heart of the beast." It was obvious that this was some sort of confession. If Salestria was supposed to say anything to his divulgence, she didn't know what it was.

"The villagers we used to live with were so-called Devourer cultists. The Circle looks down on them because they only worship one aspect of Orboros. Truth is truth, though, no matter its source." The words came pouring out like a torrent. "We shun an entire aspect of Orboros because we cannot control it...we fear it." Something about his words struck home with Salestria. She thought of Cu and his willingness to become a weapon.

"But what if they're right? Even if they're a little right? There is a power in their rituals. The Tharn believe that eating the heart of your victim grants you a portion of its strength. I couldn't risk letting the opportunity to gain a portion of the Beast of All Shapes' strength. What if we could combine the methodical mastery of Orboros with the wild power of the Devourer?" He let the last question hang in the night air as if he himself were considering it.

"What keeps us from doing it? Fear of the unknown? Fear that we draw the Wurm's attention? Fear that we would be unable to master such power? When were such considerations even our business? Does the sword question the will of the soldier? We're merely tools of Orboros. Our order has spent so much time manipulating the paths of mortals that we believe we can manipulate Orboros himself." He finally turned to face her. Salestria realized she had been staring at him for some time. For the first time since the battle in the mine, she made eye contact with another human. They stared at each other for a long while. It was Krueger who broke away first as he stood.

"You know it too. I can see it in your eyes. Embrace it, Sales. It's the only way to end your struggle. Stop being afraid."

The next day, the party continued on their way. Salestria was considering Krueger's words. What he said resonated with her but went against much of what they had been taught as wilders. Could it be that Krueger, a mere wilder, could have insight beyond what the heads of the Circle had? The path he was taking seemed dangerous and uncharted. Mohsar would certainly not approve. That notion, however, seemed more like incentive to follow Krueger than anything else. There was a sincerity in his words that she could not deny.

An odd scent shook Salestria from her thoughts. The smell was vaguely familiar but seemed out of place in the cold forest air. It took her a moment to recall it - gunpowder.

"Stop!" Salestria was shocked by the sound of her own voice. Apparently, her fellow wilders were as well. Grania stared at her in surprise. Connar eyed her warily. Krueger smiled at her knowingly.

After a moment of embarrassment, Salestria whispered, "We're being followed." As if in answer to her realization, a twig snapped in the nearby wood. The party spun to face the direction of the noise. A loud cracking sound rang out. Smoke and flashes could be seen. Bullets ripped through the leaves like a swarm of wasps. The shots, however, were poorly aimed and the thick woods gave the group cover.

Brandubh
01-25-2011, 08:03 PM
Like a perfectly timed dance, the wilders coordinated their movements. Mohsar summoned several stone pillars to emerge from the ground, blocking the assailants on one side. Connar and Krueger moved to intercept those moving through the wood from the other side of the path. Grania appeared in a flash next to Salestria, apparently trying to protect her friend.

The sensation of being prey unnerved Salestria. They had been traveling along a narrow animal path in dense woods. A group of unknown size was now firing on them and attempting to come to grips with them from both sides. It was clearly a planned ambush. She looked at Grania. Her friend had a quarterstaff at the ready and was watching the woods from which the shots had come. No. Thought Salestria. I will not be prey.

With that, she readied her scythe. "Go protect, Connar," Salestria knew her comment would be derisive, but she did not want to be protected. Without waiting for a response, she moved toward Mohsar's position. Several fur-clad humans were closing on him quickly. They had axes and swords ready. In spite of the heavy undergrowth, the moved quickly. It was clear they were adept woodsmen.

As the first one stepped toward her, Salestria felt a weird sensation. Her ears pounded with the sound of her own heartbeat. Every scent in the forest seemed to be amplified in her nose. Her arms burned. The warrior swung his axe toward her in slow motion. Lazily, she swung her scythe up and severed his arm at the elbow. Every drop of blood could be clearly seen as her weapon traced an arc away from her victim. With another stroke, she finished him off and stepped to meet another warrior.

This one came at her with sword held low. She neatly sidestepped the strike and decapitated him as she spun away. The headless body convulsed as it spilled blood across the forest floor. Something had triggered a state of hypersensitivity in Salestria. She could smell every scent, hear every heartbeat, every motion was extreme in detail and every color was more vibrant than the brightest flower.

Connar hacked at his opponents and beat them into the ground with fist and sword. He was utterly brutal in his assault. By the time the third warrior fell, the attackers had learned to keep their distance from his deadly blade. Several raised their guns to shoot only to have Grania appear from thin air next to them. As they turned, she sent a flurry of rocks at them, driving the survivors behind the trees for cover. She could see Krueger frantically engaging two of the woodsmen. He never was a good fighter. She laughed at his predicament. Her laughter echoed in her own ears above the din of the fight. It was a maniacal laughter.

An enemy had gotten within striking distance of her and lunged forward with his spear. In her distraction, Salestria had missed his approach. She avoided the brunt of his attack but suffered a deep gash to her shoulder. The cut made her drop her scythe. She pounced on her attacker, driving him to the ground. He was almost certainly stronger and larger than the young wilder, but the ferocity of her attack caught him off guard. Before he had a chance to leverage his advantages, she had gripped his head in both hands and smashed it against a rock.

The fight was over. The remaining woodsmen fled into the cover of the forest. Connar wanted to pursue them but Mohsar intervened. Grania approached Salestria and eyed her shoulder with a worried look. "Let me bandage that for you."

Salestria turned to look at her friend. She felt as though she was awakening from a dream. Her shoulder was just beginning to ache. She could feel blood tricking down her arm. "I'm alright."

"Are you sure?" Grania took a step forward and Salestria covered her wound with her hand, as if Grania were moving to hurt her.

"She said she's fine." Krueger limped to where the wilders were gathering. His robe was torn just above his knee and the tattered fringes of the tear were soaked with blood. His spear was bathed in blood. He smiled at Salestria. The two exchanged a knowing glance.

After the wilders had gathered their weapons and tended to their wounds, they continued to the shifting stones. It took the better part of the day. Krueger's wound slowed them somewhat. But the time allowed Salestria to collect her thoughts. Since the fight, she felt more at ease. Plunging herself into the battle had sated her darker thoughts. She engaged Grania in conversation about the local plants. She teased Connar about his lack of finesse during the fight. Several times she caught Krueger staring at her. Each time he quickly averted his gaze. She knew he had been right. The thing that she had most feared - giving in to her awakened predatory spirit - had proven to be the best path. Just beneath her consciousness rested a wild and violent storm of emotions and hungers, she now knew that if she was to be a successful druid, that she would have to plunge her whole self into that storm and allow herself to be a weapon of Orboros.

druidsandstuff
01-26-2011, 10:50 AM
I cant say enough about this story. It has me completely enthralled. I hope Seacat is reading it as well.

Gsot
01-27-2011, 06:11 AM
I'll tell you how good this is...

I tried to argue that something in here was in the PP fluff. I spent about 5 mins looking through the Forces book then it clicked. I looked it up on the iPhone and yup it was on here.

Kinda awkward, but then the other guy was happy that he then found the story too. I'm new to the faction so have been reading this at the same time as the forces book and it has blended into one entity.

Brandubh
02-06-2011, 08:09 PM
@ Gsot - that's pretty cool. I'm glad that it's been that believable.

Time for a new update guys. Enjoy! -Eric

Part 8 - A new friend
"Ah, new victims. Welcome!" A barrel-chested blackclad motioned for Salestria and her companions to join him. The man was taller and broader than Connar, though not as muscular. He had a wide smile framed with a raven black beard and mustache. Salestria guessed that he was several summers older than Grania, though not as old as Mohsar.

A number of wilders sat in a loosely organized circle where they were engaging in what seemed to be fairly frivilous conversation. Their robes were well mended and several wore lacqured bronze armor. Of her party, only Connar had any armor of which to speak and all were covered in mud and blood from their journey.

As they approached, the large bearded blackclad stood to greet them. "Good day, friends. Come and sit with us. I am Dahlekov. And what are your names?" His gaze fell on Salestria and she felt uncomfortable. Connar and Grania introduced themselves. Krueger could not be immediately seen.

"And who is this quiet beauty?" Dahlekov reached out a large hand and stroked Salestria's cheek. Reflexively, her hand snaked forward toward his neck and her nails bit into his skin. The great man could have easily batted her aside, but he was clearly shocked by her reaction.

Salestria stepped forward and hissed, "If you ever touch me again, I'll rip your flesh from you bones and feed you to the wolves." Releasing her grip, she left Dahlekov tending his bleeding neck and stormed away from the gathering of the wilders. She wasn't sure where she was going, but she wanted to get away from the assembly.

After a bit of wandering, she found a place where a clear stream cascaded onto some exposed rocks. The stream had carved a bowl into the bedrock, making an almost perfectly circular pool of water. Bright green moss and ferns covered the nearby rocks, fed by the moisture of the small waterfall. The sun shone down through a hole in the canopy. This place seemed ideally tranquil.

Salestria took the opportunity to rinse Dahlekov's blood from beneath her fingernails and to clean herself from their journey. It seemed like an eternity had passed since the simple days in the village under Maithleu's care. Her previous life in the city seemed like only the faint wisp of a dream.

For a while, she sat on the soft moss pondering the simple waterfall. Life at this moment was so calm and so orderly. The water constantly fell against the rock, always making the pool slightly larger. The plants fed off the mist and the sunlight to grow even on the surface of the rocks without soil. There were no complexities here. There was no predator, no prey. But she knew that eventually the stream would cut the rock into a huge gorge. She knew that the plants competed with each other for every inch of sunlit ground. She had learned that in every part of nature, there was a life and death struggle for survival. Still, here, at this moment, her life was peaceful.

The forest breeze carried a familiar scent to young wilder. She froze and placed a hand on the shaft of her scythe. Instinctively, she cocked her head to the side to try to triangulate on the position of the intruder better. In the past weeks, she had become the consummate hunter, almost a force of nature unto herself. A moment later, she relaxed. The odor was distinct, one she had smelled before.

"You can come out, Krueger, I know you're watching me. I'm not going to take my robes off and bath if that's what you're waiting for." A twig snapped to her right as he approached.

"How did you know I was there?" He sat near her and placed his spear between them.

"I could smell you. You stink worse than a Gorax cave." She smiled at him.

"I suppose we all smell pretty bad." He conceded. He began to rinse his face and hands in the running stream. "I heard you made a friend."

Salestria tensed. "He is a pig. I don't know whose charge he is, but he's clearly more interested in feeding his fat face and chasing village girls than anything else."

Krueger chuckled. "He's one of Jaryn's wilders. She wasn't too happy that you 'attacked' him either." He let the statement hang in the air just long enough for Salestria to become worried. "But I think you did what everyone else already wanted to do. So I doubt it will go any further."

"I don't care if it does." Salestria said indignantly. "Next time I'll-" She stopped herself short and stared intently on the waterfall.

"Don't you wonder why we're here? I mean at this meeting. Doesn't it seem odd that we were just fighting for our lives yesterday and now we're lounging about while our Overseer chats with his friends?"

"Sort of. Though I don't think our Overseer has any friends." Salestria elbowed him for emphasis.

"I suppose not." Krueger replied solemnly. "They're having a meeting in a few hours about us. We're allowed to attend if we chose to. The other wilders simply prefer to sit around and gossip, but I'm going to go find out what this is all about. Would you like to join me?"

Salestria simply nodded. In reality, she couldn't care less. She was just as happy sitting on these rocks as she was listening to a bunch of speeches by some people she had never met.

Brandubh
02-06-2011, 08:10 PM
The vast majority of the sessions of the Potents were boring, trivial matters. Land disputes, the fulfillment of ancient oaths, and reports of incursions dominated the debate. Salestria noted the Krueger was clearly chafing at the formality and the superficiality of the meetings. The inner workings of the order were certainly not what she had expected them to be. There were titles, bargains to be made, pledges of support for one cause or another. She tried to make sense of such a droll and lifeless process in light of the nature of Orboros. The two did not seem to line up.

The three leaders of the order, Omnipotents, sat stoically at a stone table before the gathering. There were two men and one woman, none of whom Salestria recognized. The assembly was composed of a mixture of Potents, druids who watched over a relatively large territory, and Overseers, those, like Mohsar, who led bands of Wilders and oversaw smaller territories. There were also barbaric looking tribesmen, the Tharn, and humanoid creatures which looked like pigs and alligators who were all there to make their case for some cause or another.

Salestria understood Krueger's unease. After two or three members of the assembly had presented their cases, the pattern was clear. A member would stand up and announce his or her title, dominion, and the background of their case. This could take a few minutes to nearly an hour in some cases. After the case had been heard, the Omnipotents conferred to determine whether the case had validity. If it did, then the assembly had the opportunity to support the case. This often involved haggling over mutual support or each other's causes or some sort of long term oath of support. It was very clear that certain Potents used these assemblies to garner support from their fellows by pledging themselves to a number of causes. The objective of these consolidations was obvious, a powerful Potent could possibly one day become an Overseer.

Salestria saw a scowl on Krueger's face. "What's wrong?"

"Everything. Is this how our order does business? Like the merchants of the cities?" He extended a hand for emphasis toward the assembly. "Is this how Orboros' will is to be carried out? Through hearings and judgements?" He shook his head. "This disgusts me. I can't begin to believe that this is the best way for our order to proceed."

"What do you suggest?" She could not argue with him. Not only because she agreed but because trying to stop Krueger during one of his self righteous tirades was like trying to stop an impending storm.

"Tell me, Sales, how do your wolves decide which prey to hunt?"

"They stalk a number of prey and chose the one which offers the greatest amount of food with the least effort?"

Krueger nodded. "And do they hold an assembly to decide which prey is the best?"

Salestria chuckled. "Of course not. The pack leader decides."

"Then why can we be led by a strong pack leader also? Are we not supposed to emulate the Devourer?"

"But the Devourer is only one aspect of Orboros." She reminded him gently. "Remember the pool of water in the rocks. That was caused by consistent, ordered activity over a long time. Eventually that small trickle of water might become a thundering waterfall. Orboros does not always have to act quickly."

Krueger grunted but said nothing. It was clear that her answer did not suit him. Krueger, she understood, wanted action. He wanted dynamic change on a massive scale. He was not content to simply wait until the right time to move. He wanted to force the hand of the world and he wanted to be the center of the change.

In a way she admired him for that. He was afraid only of stagnation. But part of her feared for him as well. These were not the ways of the order. These were the ways of the Devourer cultists who failed to understand the true nature of Orboros.

As if in answer to her thoughts, a thickly accented voice caught her attention. One of the Tharn chieftains was talking. His words were curt and simple. He spoke in a plain, direct fashion that did not match the flowery rhetoric of the druids before him.

"I am Diarmiut, Chief of the Bearnas Mor. I come here to invoke the ancient oaths sworn between my fathers and the envoys of the Devourer. My clan is beset by men of the woods and we are only a few. If we are to aid you in the future, you must aid us now."

The Omnipotents conferred for a few moments before declaring his case just. But none of the Potents moved to offer aid. The chief stood proudly but was clearly distraught at the lack of volunteers. Silence hung uncomfortably in the air.

"Won't anyone help this tribe?" Salestria turned to face Krueger but he was gone. She looked around for him before hearing his voice from the assembly.

"I will aid you, Chief Diarmiut of Bearnas Mor. I will uphold the ancient oaths between our people, though I am but one." Krueger strode proudly through the gathering of blackclads and stood before the chief. Salestria's eyes searched out Mohsar. She was surprised to see that he wore no scowl but a stoic expression.

The rest of the assembly was made even more tedious by Krueger's absence. He had apparently retired with the chief to discuss how he might aid the Tharn tribe. Only Mohsar's address was even reasonably interesting. However, the sun had grown strong and Salestria found herself nodding off in the warm air. Still, she learned that Mohsar had uncovered a plot by agents of the Dragonfather to establish a stronghold on the mainland. They had captured an ancient sacred site of the order, Dun Sobairce. He proposed that the order act quickly to disrupt the occupation before the site was defiled. The Omnipotents approved but no aid was forthcoming. After a long silence, Mohsar turned to leave the assembly.

"The clan Bearnas Mor will honor their ancient oaths on this matter." Chief Diarmiut's gruff voice broke the silence. He approached Mohsar and offered him the handle of his broad axe. The Overseer ceremonially gripped the handle, accepting his support.

That night, the four Wilders joined Mohsar, the chief and a handful of his warriors in a camp not far from the assembly's meeting place. Salestria could not fail to notice that Krueger was undeservingly proud of himself. Apparently, he felt that delivering a score of Devourer cultists to Mohsar's aid was some grand feat.

"How many warriors can you bring?" Mohsar sat on a fallen tree as the chief sipped from a drinking horn.

"Eight males. Maybe that many females too. Our tribe has had few children." The chief's tone betrayed his disappointment in this final statement. It was obviously a wound to his pride to have to ask for help.

"The Ten Ills." Grania whispered as she sat next to Salestria. She had relayed the day's events from the meeting of the Wilders. Very little of it had any real importance. However, it seemed as if Dahlekov had not been entirely dissuaded by Salestria's threat.

"The Ten what?" Salestria was trying to listen to Mohsar's count of the forces available to him.

"The Ten Ills." Grania repeated. "It's an ancient curse on the Tharn. No one has been able to unravel it yet. They suffer horrible complications with childbirth. If the Circle cannot break the curse soon, the Tharn will die off completely."

Salestria merely nodded, only half hearing Grania's explanation. Mohsar had stated that Maithleu's village could provide some thirty warriors, spearmen and crossbowmen. He could possibly create a couple constructs during the journey if he had the proper materials. It was clear to Salestria that the Overseer doubted that the assault would work.

"What of your village?" Mohsar breached the question with complete indifference. He had not promised himself to aid the Bearnas Mor and he clearly did not intend to waste resources to protect a backwater tribe of Tharn from the inevitable encroachment by civilized man.

"We had hoped to fight and preserve our homes." The chief took a long drink of ale from his horn. "But your student, Krueger, suggested that we might settle in this Dun Sobairce, should we help you fight for it. We could protect your sacred site in exchange for a place to live far from men with guns."

"Krueger suggest that?" Mohsar's disbelief was clearly evident. "Why did Krueger not suggest that you fight these men with guns?"

"He said that they would simply be instigated to fight us even more aggressively and that they would defeat us with numbers. At first, I wanted to drown them in their own blood. But there is wisdom in his plan."

Mohsar nodded. "And that is why it worries me. It is not like Krueger to exercise prudence. Perhaps he has suffered a head injury." Salestria and Grania could not help but chuckle at the joke. The chieftain, however, was clearly not comfortable with the exchange.

"Forgive me, Chief. Krueger is not known for his great foresight. So his pragmatism in this matter has surprised me. I think that it would be beneficial to both our order and to your people for you to settle at Dun Sobairce. When can you be ready?"

The chief considered the question for a moment. "Three days. One day for a messenger to get to my village and two days for the tribe to march here."

Mohsar nodded. "Very well. I will send for my warriors and we will depart in three days time." Salestria gripped her scythe. The next test would soon be upon them.

brokennecron
02-07-2011, 07:50 PM
again, very nice work, noticed a few spelling mistakes but overall, still up to your usual amazing standard

Balewin
02-20-2011, 02:16 PM
found this story about a week ago and I'm loving it. one thing I noticed however was that during the meeting you wrote about patents wanting to eventually become overseers. I'm a bit confused about that since in the circle book patents are ranked higher than overseers.

Brandubh
02-20-2011, 02:24 PM
found this story about a week ago and I'm loving it. one thing I noticed however was that during the meeting you wrote about patents wanting to eventually become overseers. I'm a bit confused about that since in the circle book patents are ranked higher than overseers.

Probably just an error on my part. I'll look through and fix it. Otherwise, I'm glad you're liking it. I probably meant "Omnipotent".


again, very nice work, noticed a few spelling mistakes but overall, still up to your usual amazing standard

I'll have to edit and fix those. Thanks for letting me know.

It will be a few weeks before another update is done. I'm working on another project right now that is going to consume some of my writing time.

Brandubh
05-21-2011, 07:13 PM
Long, long, long overdue. Many sincere apologies. I will try to do a better job of updating in the future.
-Eric

Part 9 - The Assault on Dun Sobairce

Anticipation pulsed through Salestria's veins. The young druid struggled with the primal urges which flooded her mind. The time of bloodshed was at hand and she could barely restrain herself. The Argus which had been assigned to her echoed her impatience. She sent it a mental command to remain calm.

After the conclave of druids, Mohsar had mustered only a meager force. He had only three constructs under his authority. One was a large man-shaped being made of stone and wood which was the size of a giant. The second was also man-shaped but perhaps only half the size of the first. These two remained under the Overseer's command. The third construct was assigned to Grania. It had a strange shield-like head and a single green gem which looked to Salestria like an eye. This contraption had no legs, but floated along by some magical means. The two had been trained on how to manipulate the warbeasts through the wilding. However, it was clear that their abilities at controlling them were amateurish at best.

Mohsar had summoned the villagers with whom the wilders had lived. Once again, the wolf-pelt clad crossbowmen and spearmen filled the ranks. Cu was with them as well. He looked as skinny and bedraggled as ever, but was clearly looking forward to the coming chaos. The tuath of Bearnas Mor was also present, though their numbers were few. They had only seven male warriors and five female. The men bore huge axes which seemed almost too large for them to wield. The women carried stone knives or stone-tipped javelins.

The previous night, the women of Bearnas Mor made ritual sacrifices before the coming battle. Salestria did not attend the ceremony, but Krueger has related the details to her. He seemed particularly fascinated with Devourer rites. From his account, she had learned that three sacrifices had been made, all Menites, under the three moons of Caen. The victims' hearts had been removed while the men were still alive and the participants feasted on the hearts while the priests were exsanguanted. The purpose of this ritual was to summon a thick fog to cover the force's advance and to gain the blessing of the Devourer for the fight.

It seemed to Salestria that the ceremony had been successful. The land between the woods in which the army camped and Dun Sobairce was blanketed in a thick, unnatural fog. The battle plan was straightforward. Under the cover of the fog, the Tharn women and Salestria would lead a feign toward the gate of the fortress. Meanwhile, Connar and the Tharn men, supported by Mohsar and his warbeasts would make for the north wall. Grania and Krueger had slipped down to the base of the cliff upon which the fortress sat. They would scale the cliff face and appear within the walls of the fortress. It was a huge risk to separate the much smaller attacking force against a larger and well-protected defending force, but it was a necessary gamble. The attackers could not hope to gain victory by any other means.

After a deep breath, Salestria gave the signal to advance. Silently, the young wilder and the Tharn women accompanying plunged into the obscuring fog. Salestria reached out with her mind. She could feel Mohsar far to her right. She could see through the eyes of her Argus. She attempted to feel her way forward toward the position of Krueger and Grania, but an unnatural cold stabbed into her mind. She stumbled into the wet grass. Pain throbbed in her head and the coppery taste of blood filled her mouth.
Gathering her wits, Salestria struggled to her feet and ran to catch her war party. She held her consciousness close. Fear replaced anticipation as she closed on the gates of the fort. What sort of unnatural presence abided here? Her pondering was interrupted as spectral forms coalesced around her and the Tharn women. The ghostly forms became heavily armored knights wielding oversized axes.

Instinctively, Salestria commanded her Argus to strike at the nearest ghost knight while she summoned her primal rage to guide her scythe through two who were now within her reach. For their intimidating forms, the black armored warriors fell quickly. A Tharn woman was struck down as an axe cleaved her body in two. For her credit, the woman uttered no sound. A moment later, the spectral knights were defeated.

A nod from Salestria signaled that the party should continue toward the gate. Sea winds were beginning to tear at the fog, exposing the assaulting force to enemy ranged attacks. Hopefully, Mohsar would be at the walls and ready to strike. The stabbing pain in Salestria's mind continued to grow as she approached the fortress.

Through the fog, the high wooden gate of the fortress emerged as a shadow at first. A sickly greenish glow emanated from two torches - balefire. Shambling creatures wielding makeshift firearms discharged their weapons at Salestria's party. The shots missed the agile Tharn women. Quickly, javelins dispatched nearly all of the ranged sentries. Now that Salestria was at the gate, she had no inclination as to how she would open the thick wooden doors. Several awkward seconds passed as she pondered the predicament.

Had it not been for the gravity of their situation, Salestria would have laughed at her situation. The small band of barbarian women, the young wilder and a single Argus stood in the shadow of the looming gate. They were relatively safe from any potential ranged attacks but were completely unable to damage the structure with their weapons. In frustration, Salestria knocked the balefire torches off their holders and kicked them against the gate. The greenish flame quickly ignited the ancient wood and thick black smoke rose through the fog. A harsh shouts from within the compound indicated that they had done their job, however. The occupants were aware that their gate was under attack.

The Tharn women managed to kill several more defenders before the party melted into what was left of the fog. They made their way northward toward Mohsar's position. With luck, he'd have enough time to breach the walls unmolested by the defenders. Salestria immediately began to doubt whether her ruse had drawn enough attention. Perhaps she should have created more of a diversion.

She arrived at Mohsar's position in time to see his constructs invoke their natural magic to create forests. The smaller construct unleashed a bolt of lightning at the defenders. Where the undead minions fell, trees quickly sprouted - fuelled by the power of death. The larger construct created a larger forest at the base of the wall. The Tharn men, having invoked their own magic to take hulking beast-like forms, bounded up the trees and over the walls. Their shouts were clear as they uttered ancient battle chants and called upon the power of the Devourer Wurm.

Mohsar blasted the crude stone wall with a wave of energy. A large stone pillar erupted from the ground, crumbling the wall before disintegrating itself. This left a gap in the wall which was wide enough for the larger construct to traverse. It was the first of Mohsar's party to enter the fort. Mohsar followed closely after. The villagers, arrayed in wolf pelts and armed with spears and crossbows also entered. Finally, Salestria and the Tharn who accompanied her made their way into the fort.

Brandubh
05-21-2011, 07:13 PM
The scene which greeted Salestria was grim. What had clearly been a sacred site of the Circle Orboros was now a charnel house of sorts. All about the grounds lay dead and decaying bodies. Some recently deceased others were nothing more than bones. To her horror, several bodies were filled with greenish balefire and stood to fight the attackers. Mohsar's forces had established a beachhead of sorts. The Tharn Ravagers hacked mercilessly at the undead abominations. Crossbow bolts ripped through the animated corpses. Spearmen thrust at the wave of rotten flesh which threatened to overwhelm them. The stench was unbearable. Black ichor soaked the soil. The throbbing of the death magic pried into Salestria's mind. She vomited and nearly fainted. A hand steadied her. She turned to see Cu smiling at her - it was a feral grin. Once she had regained her composure, he leapt into the fray, assuming his wolf-like form.

Though the attackers fought bravely, the sea of undead would not yield. Salestria could not muster her primal powers. There was something fundamentally wrong with the flow of energy here. She was afraid to reach out to Orboros lest she succumb to the counter magic which drove itself into her brain. Mohsar seemed to struggle as well. Still, the ground opened before him, swallowing the abominations. He blistered their tattered skin with blasts of heat and sand. Flesh, living or undead, was flayed by his scythe.

Connar fought with equal but less honed ferocity. Clearly inspired by the Tharn men, he threw himself into the fray. His broad sword dripped with the black blood of his enemies. There was an undeniable fire in his eyes. As a group of undead moved to intercept him, he extended his sword to them and laughed as they were consumed by a fiery blast. The action seemed to drain him, though, and he quickly returned to more conventional means of slaying foes.

Salestria steadied herself on her scythe and closed her eyes. She reached out, forcing herself to ignore the pain. She plunged her mind into her primal essence and felt time slow as adrenaline surged through her body. When she opened her eyes, her heartbeat pounded in her head. She heard nothing but saw the open mouths of friend and foe yelling battle calls or orders to their comrades. Their movements seemed impeded, as if they were moving through water. Salestria, however, had never felt so awake or alive. She struck out at the nearest abomination. Her scythe flashed with blinding speed and cut the decayed body at the waist. She spun with the motion and finished off two more warriors with quick slashes.

Salestria's awareness was high above the battlefield. She looked down on herself, in the midst of slaughter. Her body was a whirlwind of movement, black blood and rotten flesh covered her weapon and her hands. Her hair was drenched in sweat and dew and whipped through the air as she moved. She could see Cu in his battle glory, wading through the undead like some titan of slaughter. She could see Mohsar, Connar, the Tharn and the villagers, each waging battle against innumerable warriors. For every enemy which fell, two or three more pressed in upon them. They would be dragged down by sheer weight of numbers.

Her vision flew higher. She saw the sea cliff at the edge of the fort. How had they gotten so close? Realization set upon her. The undead were pushing them, step by step, toward the cliff. There was nothing they could do to stop it. The press of the enemy would drive them off the edge. Salestria willed herself back into her body.

Her vision immediately changed. She saw through her own eyes once again. Her arms and legs ached and her head throbbed in pain. She focused her concentration and pushed her way toward Mohsar.

"They're pushing us to the cliffs!"

"What?" The overseer stepped toward her.

"They're pushing us toward the cliffs!" Salestria shouted more loudly and gestured toward the sea cliffs.

Mohsar paused for a moment as if he were taking their bearings. He shouted to the warriors around him.

"Hold your ground! Do not advance or retreat one step! Hold here!" His orders were echoed down the ranks through knot of warriors which held off the wall of undead.

A driving pain lashed Salestria's mind. Mohsar stumbled as well. When Salestria opened her eyes again, a skeletal, robed figure was visible immediately to their front. He wore white and red robes, suspiciously familiar to those worn by Menite clergy. He wielded a gilded staff with a wicked blade at its top. A metal mask obscured his face, but balefire lit his eyes.

The figure pointed to where the overseer and the wilder stood. Pain lashed their minds again. Salestria had to lean on her scythe to keep from being driven to her knees. Wave after wave of pulsing pain assailed her. The nearby undead ceased their attacks. Instead, they simply pushed against the group, the press of the crowd forcing them back against their will.

Without the support of the druids, the party could not withstand the force of the undead. Corpses were used by the abominations as shields as they advanced. Salestria could not focus long enough even to land a blow. Even Cu seemed cowed by the power of the robed figure.

A blast of cool sea air broke over Salestria, giving her a moment's relief from the pain. A red blast came from behind her and slammed into the robed figure. Two more quickly followed. The figure collapsed and the pain in Salestria's mind ceased. Lightning jumped from undead warrior to undead warrior. A dozen fell in the flash. Salestria looked over her shoulder to see that Grania and Krueger had scaled the cliff face. The two fought their way to Salestria's position. The attackers renewed their slaughter.

For several moments, Salestria was able to plunge herself back into the battle with primal abandon. Her mind once again soared above the fort as her body danced death through the enemy. But one sight, on the edge of her vision, made her heart stop.

It was Grania. The young wilder was bound hand and foot and was being carried away by a dozen armored undead knights. The robed figure led the procession. A wild look of terror was in her friend's face. Salestria tried to call out, but instead felt a sharp pain stab into her leg. Her mind crashed back into her body as she tumbled to the ground. A boney fist slammed into her head and her world went black.

druidsandstuff
05-22-2011, 09:24 AM
And yet again you produce great work! I spotted a couple minor grammatical errors, but they didn't take away from the story in the least.

Brandubh
05-28-2011, 09:34 PM
Thanks Druids. I plan on going back through once I'm done and carefully editing all of it. Here's the next section. Enjoy!

Chapter 10: Disobedience
"Grania!" Salestria awoke with a start. She tried to sit up but a wave of pain plunged her back into blackness. When she awake again, she was more careful. Slowly, she raised her head and looked around.

She was in a primitive hut. The smoke of burning herbs stung her eyes. As her eyes adjusted, she could make out the form of one of the village's healers.

"Salestria, you're awake. I must go tell Mohsar." The healer hurried out of the hut before Salestria could muster a reply. The following minutes dragged on for what seemed to be an eternity. The young wilder used the time to examine her own body. She had sustained several vicious cuts on her legs and arms and a severe blow to the side of her head. In spite of her wounds, she wanted to begin the pursuit of Grania immediately.

Salestria closed her eyes and began the deliberate process of drawing on Orboros to mend her wounds. The process was not one with which she was completely familiar. That had been one of many lessons to which Salestria had only half listened. She inwardly rebuked herself for her lack of discipline and redoubled her efforts. She could feel a slight trickle of power from the earth around her as natural energies began to flow to her injuries.

Mohsar's entrance was so quiet that Salestria did not notice him at first. It wasn't until she heard the hushed whispers between the overseer and the healer that the wilder stirred.

"Grania," she began, "have you found her?"

"No." Mohsar was blunt and obviously frustrated with her question. "And I don't intend to. Grania is undoubtedly beyond our reach. A rescue mission is well outside the scope of our resources." If losing Grania was anything more than an inconvenience, he did not show it. Salestria was shocked.

"Don't you care about her?"

"No. No more than I care about my staff and perhaps a lot less since my staff does not have the habit of getting captured by enemies when I am in need of it. And you shouldn't care about her either. We have important work to do and sympathies only cloud our judgment."

Salestria sat dumbfounded. A tear ran down her cheek. "Aren't we anything other than tools to you?" Her voice was on the verge of breaking.

"No. You are not. Nor am I anything more than a tool for the Circle. We are all tools tasked with the job of culling humanity's civilization. We have more pressing goals than becoming friends." He said the last work as if it left of sour taste in his mouth. "Now. Get better so that we can continue." With that, he abruptly left the room.

The healer approached Salestria to apply a cool cloth to her head, but the wilder pushed her away. "Leave me." And she went back to channeling Orboros to close her wounds.

When night fell, two forms crept into the hut in which Salestria was resting. Connor and Krueger found their friend awake and staring into the nearby hearth fire. She gave them no greeting. Both looked as if they were extremely embarrassed by something.

"Sales," Krueger began, "Sales, I heard about what Mohsar said to you today." He ran his hand over his bald head, "I'm sorry".

"What he means to say," Interrupted Connor, "Is that the Tharn know where Grania is." Krueger punched the larger wilder inciting a short scuffle. Salestria looked at them with tear reddened eyes.

"What?"

"The Tharn. Two of the women, they're called trackers-"

"Blood trackers" Krueger interrupted.

"Yeah, blood trackers" Connor continued. "Two were sent after the robed guy who was leading the undead. The followed him to a Menite city."

"What city?" Salestria felt herself growing more alive at each word. Perhaps there was still hope for her friend.

"It's here," Krueger handed her a piece of leather which bore a crude map.

Salestria studied the map. "How far?"

"Two, maybe three days." Krueger seemed uneasy. He continuously glanced at the door of the hut.

"If we leave tonight -" Salestria began. Connor coughed.

"What?" Salestria eyed her two companions suspiciously.

"We can't go with you." Krueger apologized.

Salestria hissed, "What?"

"Mohsar made us swear an oath that we wouldn't leave the village with you." Connar kicked the dirt on the floor.

"He knows you're going to go after Grania." Krueger explained. "He said he can't afford to lose four tools at the same time."

Salestria was speechless. She looked at the map for a long time before looking back at the two wilders who she had once considered friends. "Get out." Her voice was a low growl. Connor made to apologize again but Krueger intervened and pushed him out first before hastening after.

Once she was alone, the young wilder began to gather her supplies. Her scythe and satchel were both nearby. She found a water skin and some dried meat and fruit in the hut as well. Her body ached but she knew she had to make haste.

As Salestria left the village, she glanced at her map and then at the stars in order to orient herself properly. It would be slow going at first, but with luck she would continue to recover as she journeyed on. She began to formulate a plan in her mind. She thought back to her first encounter with Mohsar in the city of her childhood. Perhaps she could use the sewers of this new city to her advantage. If she could access Grania's location through the sewer system, then she would have a chance of slipping in and out of the city unnoticed.

The night was quiet and cool. The dual moons of Laris and Calder cast eerie shadows on the forest floor while providing enough light for Salestria to read her map. The hours passed slowly and the moons rose in the sky until they looked like two bright eyes gazing down upon her. The night woodland no longer scared her. Instead, she embraced it. She was a predator. Even now she was stalking her prey. She would hunt the robed figure and kill him in his own lair. The distant howl of wolves seemed to confirm her predatory fantasy. Perhaps she would even cut open his chest and eat his heart as the Tharn did. What would Krueger think of her then?

She walked and thought for a long time. It had been a long time since she had been completely alone. She had forgotten how refreshing it could be. The cool damp woods reminded her of her first home, but not so smelly. She had always been different. In the city, she was an outsider as both and orphan and one touched by the wilding. As a wilder, she was an outsider because of her connection with beasts and her past as a city dweller.

As the night began to give way to dawn, Salestria thought it best to get a few hours rest before continuing on. She found a large tree with a crevice at its base which was just large enough for her to crawl in to. There she ate a scrap of dried meat and drank some of her water before falling asleep.

"What are you doing here?" A low growling voice startled Salestria from her sleep. She turned to the opening in the tree to see a massive wolf's face gazing in at her. She screamed and kicked the beast. The face quickly retreated from the tree but was replaced with a huge claw with human-like fingers. The fingers wrapped around her leg and pulled her from the tree.

A pure white warpwolf held her aloft, upside down, as it examined her. There was an intelligence in his expression which surprised her. It took Salestria several seconds before realizing what sort of creature had found her.

Brandubh
05-28-2011, 09:36 PM
"Guardian," she stammered, gathering her wits, "I did not mean to trespass in your woods. I am merely a servant of Orboros who is passing through." Salestria could feel her blood rushing to her head wound and it caused her to swoon and almost faint.

The wolf gently placed her down on some moss. "What is your name, little one? And why are you here?" His voice was deep and guttural, as if speaking were difficult for him. But his posture and speech suggested that he was less of a feral beast than Salestria had first assumed.

Composing herself, Salestria began, "I am Salestria. I am a wilder in the Circle Orboros. I am on a mission to free a friend of mine from a city." She held up the map as if to offer proof of her claim.

The wolf took the map delicately in his claw and examined it closely. "Mmmm. I know this city." He looked at Salestria again and handed her the map. "It is a large city, many defenders. You are a small girl and alone. You will tell me more."

Salestria took a breath and related to story of the assault of the fort, of the robed figured, of Grania's capture and of Mohsar's refusal to rescue her. When she was done, the wolf sat quietly for some time before speaking.

"Then you are disobeying, are you not?" His voice showed no condemnation, so Salestria answered honestly.

"Yes. Mohsar is wrong in this. It is the way of our order that we may challenge our superiors." The wolf nodded in understanding.

"There is much to ponder. But first we shall eat. Come." The wolf led Salestria to a forest clearing. In the center of the clearing, a large stone table rested. It was carved with intricate runes and stained with what may have been blood. Lichen and mosses climbed its supports. A freshly killed dear lay on the ground.

The wolf began to rip several pieces of meat from the carcass. "You eat your meat raw?" He held out a piece to Salestria. She cautiously took it and ate it. Something inside told her that to refuse would be an insult. Thankfully, through the meal, the wolf offered her no more.

"I am Aonbharr," the wolf announced. "I am the guardian of these woods. You are the first druid I have seen here in -" He stopped to sniff the air. His ears stood at attention and his body took an alert posture. "You will wait here" he hissed and vanished into the forest.

Salestria waited nervously for several minutes. She tried to see the wolf's white pelt through the trees, but he seemed to have some sort of uncanny ability to hide. She began to nibbled on a bit of dried fruit when she heard a familiar voice.

"No. No. Don't hurt me!" Salestria stood to her feet and strained her eyes in the direction of the sound. There was a rustling in the underbrush before a limp body came flying into the clearing. A raggedly dressed man lay in a bloodied heap before her.

"Cu!" Salestria shouted. She ran over to the poor man. He was bleeding, but not badly. His skinny form looked frail and close to death.

"You know this....this half blood?" Aonbharr growled menacingly.

"Yes." Salestria looked at the white wolf pleadingly. "He's a friend from the village in which I was trained. He's a faithful servant of the Devourer."

"He smells like a half blood to me." Aonbharr sneered.

"Yes." Cu spoke weakly. "I am a half blood." He sat up carefully, nursing his bruised body. "I'm not strong. I'm not a wilder. The only way for me to serve was to become a half blooded weapon." Cu spoke these last words proudly in spite of the obvious pain he was in.

Aonbharr relented. "I see." He looked away from Cu. "Very well. We will need all of the friends we can get."

Salestria looked from Cu to Aonbharr. "What do you mean 'we'?"

"You don't think that I was going to let you go to that city alone, do you?" Aonbharr smiled a toothy grin. "Eat up, half blood," he motioned toward the carcass. "We have a long road ahead."

After the three had eaten, they began to journey toward the city marked on Salestria's map. Aonbharr was familiar with the area and led the way. Salestria and Cu walked together a short distance behind.

"How did you know I was here?" Salestria whispered.

"I followed your scent." Cu smiled then looked toward Aonbharr with a frown. "But somehow he is forcing me back into human form."

"Do you think I can't hear you?" Aonbharr growled.

Salestria blushed. "I suppose I did. I am sorry."

"So, wilder," Salestria assumed that her name might be too hard for the wolf to pronounce, "do you know how to manage us?" Aonbharr cast her a wicked grin as he stalked through the underbrush.

"No." Salestria quietly responded. She suddenly felt very unprepared to rescue Grania.

"Then I will show you." Aonbharr turned and placed his head in front of hers, his eyes to her eyes. "Reach into my mind." His breath felt hot on her neck and smelled of rancid meat. Salestria closed her eyes and focused on the beast in front of her. She could probe his mind and send him commands, but she lacked the skills to tap into his more primal powers.

"Good." Aonbharr said as he turned to continue their trek. "Stay in my mind." For the next few hours, he guided Salestria through how she could reach into his spirit to access his abilities. She found he was a patient and forgiving teacher. She felt clumsy and uncouth when inside his well ordered mind. She did not know how long this great creature had lived, but she suspected it had been many years and that she was not the first druid who he had instructed in such a way.

Once she had mastered the basics of operating in tune with Aonbharr, the wolf allowed Cu to resume his wolf form and began to instruct Salestria in how to control Cu. Salestria found Cu's mind to be disordered, frightening and feral. In spite of this, she found that Cu was easier to control but his simmering rage frightened her.

The lessons exhausted the young druid. Though her feet and legs could still walk for hours, her mind and spirit were depleted. Aonbharr seemed to understand this and instructed the party to make camp for the night. The two wolves stood watch in turn as Salestria slept. She slept more soundly than she could remember. She had no dreams at all and woke feeling completely refreshed. It was not until after breakfast that she remembered why they were on this journey in the first place. It was a suicide mission to save her friend.

equilshift
06-17-2011, 11:37 AM
Just writing to say that I hope you haven't given up on this story, I am really excited to see where this goes

Doblin James
06-20-2011, 02:15 PM
Don't hurt mah Menites! D:

But still, really awesome story! Keep it up!

Brandubh
07-03-2011, 11:09 PM
Sorry for the delay guys. Here's the next installment. Enjoy.

Chapter 11: Suicide

"You should go back." Salestria's demeanor had become increasingly grim as the trio approached the Menite city. Several times, she had tried to get both Aonbharr and Cu to turn back. The inevitable failure of her operation weighed heavily on her mind. That even more beings should die due to her foolish rescue mission made her feel guilty.

The three stood atop a cliff overlooking the city. The human buildings were ringed with a large wall, twice as tall as Cu in warpwolf form. The houses were dwarfed, however, by a large temple-like building. Salestria was certain that Grania, if she were alive, would be in that building.

Getting there, however, would be a huge feat. There were no fewer than six guards at each gate. There were two gates to the city. She was fairly certain that a large building near the temple was some sort of barracks. She vaguely remembered similar buildings from her childhood. From her estimate, there was no way the three of them could enter the city unnoticed, much less get into the temple area. She didn't doubt that even more guards were stationed in the temple.

A low growl from Aonbharr stirred Salestria from her thoughts. Several forms emerged from the woods behind the cliff. Salestria relaxed as soon as she recognized the leading figure as Connar. She was overcome with mixed emotions.

Krueger spoke first. "Well, this is a fine mess." His eyes came to rest on the large pureblood warpwolf. He lowered his head in a silent greeting.

The Tharn tribe of Bearnas Mor emerged from the nearby woods. Salestria felt that they might actually have a chance, but hesitated at the thought of them all sacrificing themselves for her foolish mission.

"How? Why? Why are you here?" Salestria was already formatting a plan for the attack in her head.

Connar smiled. "We're on official business from Mohsar, of course."

"What?"

Krueger intervened. "That's what we told the stone keeper. We cut several days off of our journey thanks to it. I figure we'll be done here before he figures it out."

"But what about Mohsar? He'll skin you alive."

"He might." Krueger allowed. "Or maybe he'll overlook it. I got the impression that he wanted that black robed guy dead. Let's just not get ourselves killed."

"So what's the plan?" Connar eyed the city warily. It was clear that the large stone walls and numerous guards unnerved him.

"Well, with you here," She let her gaze fall on each member of her small army, "the plan has just changed."

*****

"Help! Savages!" Krueger, Connar and Salestria ran toward the city gates. Behind them, Cu, Aonbharr and the Tharn pursued them mercilessly. Five members of the city guard rushed from the gate to interpose themselves between the three humans and the Devourer cultists. The wilders quickly turned on their would-be protectors and cut them down with long two-pronged daggers lent to them by the Tharn women. Once the Tharn closed the distance, they swapped weapons and turned to face the interior of the city. The citizenry fled screaming as the hulking forms of the Tharn Ravagers and the two Warpwolves strode down the street.

"Well, we're in. Now what?" Connar's sword was drawn and he carried a skin and wicker shield which had been gifted to him by the Tharn chief.

"We wait for them to attack." Salestria's voice was like cold steel. Her primal fury boiled just below her consciousness. However, as the leader of this band, she felt the need to maintain her composure. Giving in to her rage had prevented her from protecting Grania in the first place.

"This road should lead to the temple." Krueger pointed out an intersecting street. Several blocks now lay between the small assault force and their goal.

When the team had made it almost halfway, city guard emerged from the side streets to block them on two sides. There were, perhaps, twenty guard, armed with halberds and wearing armor.

"Forward!" Salestria ordered.

Krueger advanced first, extending a hand in the direction of the guard, lightning smashed down on the first and jumped to two more, killing all of them instantly. The Tharn men howled and rushed forward. The Tharn women disappeared down an alleyway.

Salestria heard the commotion of the guard behind them rushing forward. She sent a mental command to Aonbharr to intercept them. She then nodded to Connar. Through Aonbharr's eyes, she saw half a dozen fall to a magical howl which hammered into the guardsmen like invisible fists. Connar's blade flashed in the sunlight, leaving red bursts of blood where ever he struck.

Confident their rear was secure. Salestria advanced with Cu and Krueger at her side. The Tharn Ravagers were finishing off the last of the guard and had already begun to gather trophies from them. Several bodies lay on the ground with their chest cavities ripped open. The Tharn had hands, heads, legs and hearts attached to their trophy belts. This gave them an even more gruesome and frightening appearance. She knew that there was also blood magic which could be weaved through these trophies.

Cu strained against her will, eager to join the fight. Not now. Salestria gave him a mental command to stand down. Through Aonbharr, she could sense that the last of the guard behind had fled into the alleyways. It was time for the final push.

"To the temple!" The entire assault force moved as one. All took up a brisk run down the final yards of the main road. While all of the attackers would have felt more comfortable fighting in natural terrain, they were unimpeded by the abandoned carts and hastily built obstructions which threatened to block their way.

As expected, the bulk of the city guard had fallen back to the temple to defend it. Salestria was keenly aware that their backs were now to the barracks, which was probably the other stronghold in the city. Most likely, the majority of the citizenry was also in the temple.

A wall of halberds now faced the assaulting force. Salestria turned to Chief Diarmiut, "Kill them. All of them."

The Chief let out a bloodcurdling howl and raised the heart of one of his previous victims toward the wall of guardsmen. Lightning erupted from the heart, consuming several guardsmen and filling the air with the stink of burnt flesh. Higher pitched howls echoed from the alleys on either side of the main road and blood soaked Tharn women leapt from the shadows into the flanks of the defenders. Some stabbed with stone knives. Others threw stone tipped javelins. The Tharn Ravagers charged forward now that the wall of halberds had begun to falter.

Salestria unleashed Cu on the enemy. He howled and dove into the fray. Connar charged forward as well, loath to miss his share of the bloodshed. Only Aonbharr and Krueger seemed to stay aloof from the mindless bloodshed. Krueger stared up at the towering temple.

Aonbharr addressed the young wilder in his growling voice. "You are thinking the same thing as I. Is our friend up or down."

Krueger nodded and turned to Salestria. "Do we split up?"

"Yes." Salestria was transfixed by the bloodshed before her. The steps to the temple had become slick with the blood of the fallen. The few remaining defenders slipped and tripped over the remains of their comrades. "I see no other choice."

Aonbharr nodded but said nothing. Salestria knew that the Pureblood disapproved but she knew that Grania must be found as quickly as possible.

*****

Brandubh
07-03-2011, 11:09 PM
Once inside the temple, the party found a huge portion of the citizens huddled in the main hall of the temple. "Bar the doors. Keep them in." Chief Diarmiut gave orders to two of the Tharn men to guard the doors.

The temple was a maze of halls and stairways. Salestria was immediately overwhelmed by the sheer immensity of the building. She had never been in such a large and confusing structure before.

"Krueger, take some of the Tharn and examine those passages." She gestured down one of the many hallways. "Connar, take the other Tharn and go that way. I'll take Cu and Aonbharr and check this direction." Aonbharr emitted a low growl but otherwise said nothing.

Other than finding a few stray priests and panicked guards, Salestria was disappointed. Grania was nowhere to be found. Worse, she had become lost in the twisting passages. She could not find any steps up or down, making exploring other levels of the structure impossible for her.

"This way." Aonbharr sniffed the air and began down a passage which was barely wide enough for his large physique. Salestria followed closely behind and urged Cu to keep an eye behind them.

The passage led to a flight of narrow stairs. They were too narrow for the two Warpwolves. Cautiously, Salestria descended alone. She heard the voice of Krueger giving instructions.

"Get her down from there. Be careful with her. Let's get her out of here."

Salestria's heart leapt and she ran down the stairs and around the corner. Too late she heard Krueger's final command, "Salestria, no!"

The scene before the young wilder was gruesome. Her friend, or what had once been her friend, hung by shackles from the wall. Much of Grania's once-smiling face had been carefully removed, revealing the muscles beneath. Lifeless eyes stared out in horror. Her naked body was covered in burns and whip lashes. Much of her legs had been flayed. Blood dripped from the corpse.

Salestria fell to the ground in tears and vomited. The Tharn women removed the shackles from the wilder and took down the body, wrapping it in Krueger's cloak.

"Sales, I'm sorry." Krueger approached her apologetically. "She was gone before we arrived."

Salestria looked at him with an empty gaze. Her rage was nearly uncontrollable. Instead of Krueger's face, she saw the tortured face of Grania. "They will pay." Her voice was icy. Wiping the vomit from her mouth, Salestria rose and bounded up the stairs to where Aonbharr and Cu waited.

"Salestria, no." Krueger's voice sounded only like a distant echo to her in comparison to the tempest of anger in her head.

*****

"Open the doors." Salestria's command was nearly a shout. She could not contain her rage much longer. Questioningly, the Tharn pulled the heavy bar away from the doors and let them swing open. The heavy wooden doors opened outward to reveal a large vaulted room with huge colored windows which cast an eerie light onto the gathered citizens. Incense hung in the air and many of the gathered were kneeling in supplication to their god.

Salestria screamed and raised her scythe. Her anger poured through her connection with Cu and Aonbharr and she felt even the Pureblood's will dissipate before her own. The three drove into the unarmed men women and children, slaughtering everyone within reach. Salestria lost herself in the bloodshed. She did not think. She did not react. She did not plan. She simply was predation incarnate and these weak humans were her prey. Her head throbbed. Her limbs burned. She could feel the two warbeasts on either flank tearing at their victims.

*****

Connar climbed the third flight of stairs and wondered why humans would ever make such an inefficient building. A handful of Tharn followed him closely. They had killed a number of guards on the way up. But it was clear that the majority of the defenses for the temple had met them outside. As rounded the corner at the end of the stairs, he saw a black robed figure round a corner further down the hallway. A familiar shock of pain jolted through his mind. His quarry was at hand.

"This way!" He ran down the hallway. The Tharn followed closely for several steps before a cold air blasted them all. Connar paused to look around. Shadowy forms materialized all around them. Black, skeletal claws grabbed at them from the walls, the floors and the ceilings. Connar was at the end of the hallway and suffered the least injury. But the Tharn were clearly hard pressed in such close quarters.

"Connar," Chief Diarmiut called to the wilder. "Go on. We will get free from this dark magic and come to aid you."

Connar nodded and continued his sprint. Thankfully, the hallway led to only one door. He was tired of this ridiculously complicated building. His sword arm ached for a victim rather than the chase. Now was his opportunity. Lifting his shield, he threw his shoulder into the door, smashing it off its hinges.

The room was wide and round with a tall ceiling. Balefire torches cast a green light on everything in the room. On the opposite side of the room stood the black cloaked figure, his skeletal face now clearly visible. He carried a large axe in one hand and stood as if he were waiting for Connar's arrival.

"Where is Grania?" Connar readied his sword and shield, warily entering the room.

"The druid girl?" The voice emanated from the creature's chest and his skull did not move. "Her body is down stairs...in pieces. Her soul is right here." He patted a glowing green canister on his hip.

Connar's rage overcame him and he charged headlong at the figure. Immediately, he realized his folly. The figure threw aside its cloak, revealing a mechanical body which glowed green from within. Connar's blow was clumsy and aimed with anger. His opponent, however, parried with a cool calculation. Connar was thrown back by some magical force. As he collided with the wall, he swore that his next attack would be better planned.

Regaining his feet, Connar stepped to his right and charged again. The figure swung to parry and Connar met the parry with his shield. He had only a brief moment of satisfaction as his sword slid through the armor of the figure. To his dismay, the figure laughed harshly and turned to smash Connar into the wall. Black dots swam before the wilder's eyes. The sharp bite of the creature's claws bit into Connar's side.

Ignoring the pain, Connar carefully raised his shield hand to the creature's side, grabbed the soul cage and ripped it from its chain. The creature immediately turned to look at where the soul cage had been. Connar head butted his foe and knocked him back. Putting some distance between his enemy, Connar slammed the soul cage into the ground, releasing a burst of green energy.

"No!" Hissed the creature. "You'll pay for that, fool. I'll cage your soul." Axe raised, the creature charged. It was Connar's turn to be calculated. Over the next few blows, the wilder studied his opponent. With Grania's soul released, he hoped now to find an opening in his opponent's defenses.

He noticed two things immediately as he probed the creature for weaknesses. Firstly, he noted that his opponent seemed to suffer no pain from wounds and did not bleed. Secondly, he noted that the creature seemed to guard a certain broach on its chest with a certain furor. This led him to ponder whether his opponent’s weakness was the broach.

Connar exchanged blows with the skeletal creature. The large axe proved to be unsuited for extended single combat. It was clear that the creature was used to killing opponents quickly and was unused to thoughtful duels. Seeing his opening, Connar lunged forward toward the broach. The creature desperately raised the axe to parry. Connar drove his sword down, slicing off the creature’s hand as the axe and hand clattered to the ground.

The creature immediately lunged forward, grabbing Connar’s neck. Connar fell back against the wall and twisted to disengage his opponent. This did nothing but put the creature behind him, holding Connar in a sort of headlock. Without both hands, it was clear that the creature couldn’t get a proper grasp. However, Connar found himself unable to break the grip of the unnatural creature. He found it hard to breath. The two stumbled around the room, each attempting to gain a better footing than the other.

Connar twisted, but it only seemed to give his opponent better purchase. He lowered his head to keep his windpipe open and spread his feet to keep from losing his balance. The skull-like face of his enemy was near the back of his head.

“You will die here.” The enemy whispered ominously to him. “I will kill you so slowly that you will wish that you had died a thousand times.”

The throbbing in Connar’s head grew as his brain became oxygen deprived. The copper taste of blood filled his mouth. He swung occasionally but could not find purchase on the creature anywhere. He knew his time was limited.

Closing his eyes, he imagined where the creature’s body was with respect to his own. By his estimate, the broach should have been located right beside his left shoulder blade. Connar reversed his grip on his sword and carefully aimed the tip. He fell forward and slammed the sword hilt into the wall. The sword swiftly cut through his shoulder and out his back, smashing the broach.

“What? No.” The creature’s voice seemed to fade away as the grip lessened. Connar’s body burned in pain. He collapsed to the floor and felt his life energy draining from his body. His head slammed into the floor. His eyes came to rest on the broken soul cage in which Grania’s soul had allegedly been held.

“I’m coming, friend.” Connar whispered as blackness overcame him.

equilshift
07-05-2011, 07:42 AM
Mohsar's gonna be piiiiissed when he finds out

brokennecron
07-17-2011, 03:59 AM
he died well... but where were the ravagers that whole time, i thought they were supposed to help.

Brandubh
07-18-2011, 12:19 PM
he died well... but where were the ravagers that whole time, i thought they were supposed to help.

They were tied up by the spell in the hallway. I guess I didn't explain that well enough. That spell is also why you don't see the undead guy use magic against Connar. Once I'm done with the story, I'm going to go through and rework certain sections as well as edit my errors. I'll make sure to expound on that.
Cheers,
Eric

brokennecron
07-18-2011, 01:07 PM
thanks, i wasnt complaining its just a reverberating question. is that an original character (iron litch?) or did you base it off say scaverous?

Brandubh
07-18-2011, 01:41 PM
thanks, i wasnt complaining its just a reverberating question.

It was a good question. Thanks for asking.


is that an original character (iron litch?) or did you base it off say scaverous?

It was an original character (which I might flesh out a little in revisions). Cryx has a number of operatives on the mainland and this is a generic operative. The way the operative dies (by stabbing the phylactery) was envisioned well before FoW: Cryx where Hayley kills the lich.

equilshift
07-18-2011, 03:13 PM
I am just curious to see how the rest of the story unfolds, especially why there was a Cryxian hiding in the middle of a Menite temple. I assume he is also the one who gave Grania to the Menites. What games were afoot here, to cause those strange bedfellows? Hopefully we find out soon in the next installment (*wink, nudge*)

Menite Ninja
08-05-2011, 12:30 PM
I just started reading this yesterday and I am on my way to my buddies house tonight to get my Circle army that he was going to sell for me after my LGS closed. I'm keeping them and finding a way to use them. Plus Grayel is too cool to pass up. This story needs to be officially in No Quarter or Circle's next army book. It is that inspiring. Keep it up!

Brandubh
08-16-2011, 08:51 PM
It's been a while guys, I appreciate your patience. I hope you enjoy this installment. I've tried to take the level of writing up a notch. My plan is to go back through the story and polish it up with some rewriting in the near future.

Chapter 12: Goodbyes

"No, Krueger, I can't." Salestria stared down into her hands. The fine lines of the green enameled runes danced with brilliant gold knotwork.. The beauty of the necklace was only enhanced by both the red light of the setting sun and the jewel-like form of her tears as they trailed across the metal. How long had it taken him to craft such a masterpiece?

"I can't." Salestria shook her head and offered the necklace back to him. Her hand, however, refused to open and Krueger stood motionless and stern faced. Eventually Salestria relented and carefully placed the ornament about her neck. The cold metal felt refreshing against her skin.

"Why?" Salestria searched Krueger's expressionless face. Since the confrontation at the Menoth town, Krueger had grown quite grim. Up until now, Salestria had ascribed the change to losing both Grania and Connar in the same day. But she suspected something more was at play.

"Because..." Krueger hesitated and averted his gaze. He stared into the sunset which cast his near-hairless face in a deep red. Salestria remembered his sun-burnt skin upon his return from Mohsar's training. She shuddered to think of what he had been through...what they had all been through.

"Because," He began again, "I don't want you to forget me. And..." He hesitated for some time. "those runes will help to protect you while you're gone."

Salestria touched the necklace and closed her eyes. This goodbye was harder than the deaths of Connar and Grania. Krueger would be gone but still alive. There would be, nor could there be, any closure to their awkward relationship.

"Krueger, I'm sorry." His face returned to meet her gaze but it was her turn to look away.

"Sorry for what? This is Mohsar's doing, not yours." There was a bitterness in his voice. Mohsar had been furious at their disobedience and failure. The few weeks since their return had been torture. They were given impossible tasks and the lowest of assignments at every opportunity. Every failure, no matter how menial, was met with the harshest punishment.

"No, it's mine too." Salestria couldn't rid herself of the overwhelming guilt she felt. "I shouldn't have gone after her."

This conversation had happened a dozen times in the most recent moon cycle. Krueger fell into his usual line of reasoning. "Wouldn't you ever have forgiven yourself if you wouldn't have gone after her?"

"No." Salestria's voice was small and weak. This was a old dance by now.

"Then you had to go...if there was any hope at all."

"But, Connar -" She started.

"He went willingly, as did the rest of us." Krueger interrupted.

"The villagers -" She tried another argument.

"Were sheep. They were prey. Those who weren't warriors of Menoth, fed the warriors of Menoth. Besides, they were harboring the servant of the Dragonfather." The presence of a Cryxian lich was confusing at first to Krueger, but it all made sense to him now. Their success in killing the abomination was perhaps the only thing which kept Mohsar from having them both executed.

"The children did not." The tears flowed freely down Salestria's cheeks now. The salt stung her skin and her eyes burned. How many tears had she shed in the past few days? The faces of the children as they wept over fallen parents or the horror as they were cut down by her and her warbeasts haunted Salestria. Her mind knew that they were prey and weak, but her heart could not help but feel compassion for them. How could such young ones be complicit in the death of her best friend?

"The children would grow up to be servants of Menoth. You know that. They were corrupted by civilization."

"I was corrupted by civilization as a child." She met his eyes with a fierce look.

"You were protected by the wilding." He answered matter-of-factly.

"If I didn't have the wilding, would you have killed me?" Salestria pressed her point.

"Yes. I would. And I would have expected you to do the same to me." Krueger's bluntness stung Salestria and she allowed her head to fall and the tears to return. But she knew he was right.

"So, Niall says you have finished your study of the documents we recovered from the temple." Salestria was desperate to change the topic.

"Curiosity is a dangerous attribute." Krueger chided even as he smiled at her.

"So is having a loose lipped priest as your assistant." Salestria retorted. Niall was one of the Devourer priests currently serving Mohsar. He had been appointed to help Krueger sort out the documents and to, no doubt, keep an eye on the wilder. Salestria had discovered that Niall had eyes for her and used this interest to keep an eye on Krueger as well.

"It is as we suspected. The lich Connar killed was a servant of the Dragonfather." Krueger examined a cobble as he spoke. "It looks like he was looking for religious artifacts and burial locations for high ranking Menoth priests."

"Why did the Menites let him in?"

"Because civilized people are stupid. Just like domesticated animals are more stupid than wild ones. You breed out all the traits that keep you alive in the wild."

Salestria sighed, she wasn't in the mood for another one of Krueger's rants about civilization and the superiority of wild man. "Surely not even Menites are that stupid."

"They allowed Scrutator Jareth Rosenach into the sanctum. It just so happened that the Scrutator had been murdered by the lich and had his identity stolen by him. Behind the mask and under the robes, the Menites could not tell the difference."

There was tense silence for another moment. Salestria really didn't care about the lich or the Menites. She just didn't want to have to leave Krueger already. But the sun was now barely above the horizon.

"So when do you leave?" Krueger broached the question without delicacy, as if he were reading her thoughts.

"Soon." Salestria could must no more of a reply.

"Steer clear of Dahlekov. He's a lecherous ogre." Krueger gave the stone a throw as if to emphasize his point.

Salestria shuddered at the name. "He's going to be my overseer, how do you propose I avoid him?"

But Krueger had no time to answer. Alarin, a huntsman, called out to Salestria. They were to leave at once for the Northern Dominion.

**********************

“It’s so cold here.” Salestria whispered to herself and pulled her fur cloak closer. The necklace Krueger gave her was icy against her skin. Even through hide gloves, the wind bit into her fingertips. Her breath froze in the air, forming small icicles around the bottom of her hood.

The past few weeks in the Scarsfell Forest had been disappointingly uneventful. Salestria was hoping that action might distract her from thinking too much...and distract Dahlekov’s advances. Scarsfell Forest as well as most of the Northern Domain was known to be an active warzone as far as the Circle Orboros was concerned. While many provinces sought to ignore the wilderness areas inhabited by the Druids and their allies, the inhabitants of the Northern Domain were constantly vying for control of the wilderness.

In her short time, Salestria had learned that the leader of their enemies was a legendary figure known as the Old Witch. The Old Witch was a strange figure who seemed to defy time and existence. She had, at one point, been a member of the Circle but had betrayed the Order. Her powers could be similar to that of the Druids, but her motives were clearly to protect the nation of Khador, which occupied much of the Northern Domain.

The followers of the Old Witch clashed frequently with the Druids of the Circle in innumerable skirmishes in the wilds of the Northern Domain. No side ever seemed to gain an upper hand, though the Circle frequently found their plots in the region thwarted by the forces of the Old Witch.

Unfortunately, for Salestria, none of this action had come her way. Ever since her arrival, Scarsfell had been unusually quiet. There were clashes in all of the surrounding areas, but all out of her jurisdiction. The only advantage to these clashes was that it distracted Dahlekov and forced him to meet the interlopers.

When Dahlekov wasn’t leading his forces to protect his territory, he was almost exclusively with Salestria. The relationship was completely one-sided with Dahlekov making numerous unwanted advances and always making innuendos about the “bestial natures” and “propagation of the strongest.” In spite of Salestria’s cold shoulder, her Overseer persisted in his pursuit of her affection.

When it became clear that Salestria would not willingly fulfill Dahlekov’s desires, his advances became more forceful. Salestria, though, was not some meek village wench who would cower to the will of a ranking Blackclad. On more than one occasion, Dahlekov left her presence nursing a split lip or a bloodied nose.

**********************

Brandubh
08-16-2011, 08:53 PM
Salestria walked along a moonlight path. The snow reflected the light so that it was almost as bright as day. It wasn’t only the abundance of light which unnerved the wilder. The night was unnaturally quiet. Typically, the sounds of night predators would pierce the silence, offering Salestria with some familiarity to the more southern forests.

However, tonight there was no sound except for her footsteps on the cold snow. The sound was conspicuous, She imagined as if she could be heard for miles. Suddenly, Salestria had the feeling that she was being watched. She probed outward with her mind, looking for some predator, a wolf, owl or bear which might be following her. There was nothing.

The young wilder continued walking for some time. All the while the growing sense of dread closed in on her. She soon found that she was unable to remember her bearings in the woods. Silently, she cursed herself for not committing the animal tracks and secret paths to memory more quickly. She gazed up at the moon, Calder, to get a sense of direction and determined that she should begin heading south again. Soon she came across a opening in the forest canopy where white moonlight poured in.

Stepping into the clearing, Salestria noticed a distinct change in the flora of the woods. Where woody undergrowth had been, now jagged, fierce-looking briars grew. The plants grew wildly and unnaturally, not with the deliberate pattern of living plants. These thorny vines were the result of dragon blight. A dragon’s blood had tainted this spot some time in the recent past.

“Ah, little vun, you have come at last.” A thickly accented voice greeted her. The voice was that of an old woman, though not frail. A heavily cloaked figure stepped into the clearing opposite of Salestria. The figure bore a staff in one hand...or rather claw. Both of her hands appeared to be sharp claws. The old woman’s face was obscured, but Salestria knew at once whom she faced.

Raising her scythe into a guard, she began to summon her predatory magic. Green runes circled Salestria’s feet as she felt adrenaline course through her veins. Her heartbeat sounded like a drum in hear ears and her hands and arms burned with natural magic. She let out a battle cry and charged across the clearing.

The Old Witch did not move or even attempt to block the blow. As Salestria brought her scythe down at the form of the old woman, she simply vanished. Salestria’s blade bit hard into the frozen ground and she struggled to extract it.

A whirring sound caught her attention and she jumped aside just as a large metal foot came crashing down nearby. Raising her scythe to block the next blow, Salestria was confronted with a large bird-like metal construct. The thing was nearly as large as Cu in his wolf state, though not as broad. Suddenly, Salestria found herself wishing that she would have at least Cu and maybe even Aonbharr at her side in this fight.

She sidestepped another kick from the construct and summoned her natural energies. She found the power to be slow in coming in this clearing. Undoubtedly, the Old Witch knew the blight would stifle her power and selected this spot well. Even without her powers, Salestria was faster than the construct.

A fourth kick lashed out at her and missed. Salestria neatly sidestepped the attack and caught the back of the leg with her scythe. Unleashing her magic, she forced more strength behind the blow, tearing a piston free. The construct attempted to put weight on the leg and found that it could only limp, like some great wounded beast.

A glowing box atop the construct whined and then shone brightly. A blast of red energy engulfed the construct and it lashed out again. In spite of her dexterity, Salestria found herself kicked to the ground. A burning sensation in her leg told her that it was dislocated but probably not broken. The construct closed in.

Summoning her power once again, Salestria extended a palm to the construct and it was buffeted back in a surge of natural energy. It seemed to hang for a moment in mid-stride, bound by glowing green vines. Salestria used the moment to forcibly shove her knee down with her hand, popping the joint back into place. The pain caused her head to swim and her eyes to go black for a moment, but she was able to stand once more.

The construct advanced again, the green vines having dissolved into the night air, and struck out. Salestria was prepared for the increased accuracy and blocked the attack with her scythe. Because the construct was forced to attack only with its damaged leg, the attack carried less strength.

Salestria threw the leg backward, causing the lanky construct to suddenly recoil the limb and step back. Salestria charged and threw her weight into the good leg, knocking the several ton metal monster to the ground.

The snow sizzled and became steam at the touch of the coal-powered boiler of the construct. A second or so later, the light of arcane power in the construct faded as the melted snow seeped into the firebox. Salestria breathed a heavy sigh of relief.

Suddenly, she felt the cold touch of metal to her neck. She froze in fear. The touch was not threatening or rough, but almost seemed like a caress.

“You fight vell, little vilder.” The Old Witch whispered in Salestria’s ear and traced a metal claw up her neck. In spite of the cold, sweat poured from Salestria’s brow and stung her eyes.

“What do you want?” Salestria challenged. She had heard stories of the Old Witch and knew she could not defeat her alone. But the devious witch often had ulterior motives for her attacks.

“Such strength, I can see vhy he loves you.” The claws tightened their grip, more menacingly but still not causing pain.

“Who loves me? What are you talking about?” Salestria tried to move to find purchase on the snow but the grip of the iron claws only tightened.

“Such excellent craftsmanship.” An iron claw fondled Salestria’s necklace even as the other claw began to cut into her neck. Realization dawned on Salestria that the Old Witch was talking about Krueger. She remembered words between herself and Grania months before about Krueger loving Salestria. Was that true? What did this old hag in the frozen north know of such things?

“He is skilled, you know.” The claw continued to trace the runes on the necklace. “His vork is nearly perfect.” The claw stopped on one of the segments of the jewelry. “Here he made a mistake.” A single claw swipe parted the metal and it fell into the snow at Salestria’s feet.

“You should know that your death vill not be in vain.” The voice was a hoarse whisper in Salestria’s ear. “Your death vill avaken an even more poverful druid than you knew. He vill unleash the dragons on mankind.”

“What do-” The question was cut off as the Old Witch’s talon cut through Salestria’s windpipe. A dizzying feeling swept over the wilder as blood rushed away from her brain. She felt the Old Witch carefully, almost tenderly, lay her in the snow on her back. She could feel the cold snow around her, sapping her body of heat, The Old Witch laid her scythe at her side and the necklace on her chest.

As her life drained out on the ground around her, Salestria stared up at the full moon in the dark night sky. She wondered about Krueger, about dragons and about what the Old Witch was planning. As darkness began to overtake her vision, she thought she heard her name being called. It sounded like Grania.

brokennecron
09-07-2011, 10:11 PM
oah......no way! thats a very cool ending (?), so maybe if krueger hadn't made the mistake the spell (upkeep) would've worked. PLEASE LET THERE BE MORE!!

Brandubh
09-11-2011, 08:01 AM
oah......no way! thats a very cool ending (?), so maybe if krueger hadn't made the mistake the spell (upkeep) would've worked. PLEASE LET THERE BE MORE!!

Thanks for the reply. I'm glad you're so invested in the story line. Maybe I'll write an epilogue with Krueger. But for now, I'm going to rework the earlier bits of the story and possibly flesh it out a little bit more (including more of the world knowledge and stuff so that non-PP fans can understand what's going on).

In the meantime, read Metamorphosis pp. 45-49. That was the inspiration for this entire thing. So it's a good follow up.