“Fair Thee Well, Avenger”
Midday of the 6th of Trisad, 1331 Avard.
Baron Wilhelm and his family and the dozen men-at-arms from Fasra began to make themselves at home in River Crown. The baron and his family squeezed into Sir Tyrne's manor, while some of his grandsons and the men-at-arms squeezed into the barracks. The baron and his retinue were friendly and understanding of the situation in River Crown, and made it obvious that they were there to ensure the survival of their people and not make the situation any more difficult than it already was.
As per the baron's orders, the clan put together preparations to leave on the morrow for the entrance to the cave where the elementals were known to be, where Boredmin Dunnigan and his crew had explored, and where the spirit of evil they had fought for the last three weeks might be found. Liam worked on pitons and hammers for the clan, as they knew not what kind of cave they were going into. Telemon prepared what healing poultices and materials he could. The others prepared, as well, in their own ways.
The baron, moving about the town and hearing people out, noticed the industry with which the clan prepared itself. He realized he was ordering the most beloved family of River Crown out of the town and up to explore what could be dangerous ruins. With that realization, he offered horses to the clan and Saebael, to ease their journey and carry their possessions.
Aelar and Saebael went to get the horses from the almost over-stuffed barn. The caretaker for the barn, one of the River Crown locals, gave them passable mounts. Aelar had other ideas, and with Saebael and her lynx's help, procured more sturdy mounts. One of the mounts was a bit too sturdy for Telemon; it was a mare that bit and fought with everyone and anyone. Telemon returned the mount, only to find himself with a terrified, flighty horse. He returned that one and took the third horse with resignation; it's only flaw was a severe weakness for treats. The Dark Lord himself could present the horse with a sugar cube, and the mount would take it.
After preparations were made, food was laid in, and the mounts were prepared for the next day's short journey to Wirebeard's Ledge, they laid in to rest for the eve, confident in the baron's men-at-arms to protect and defend the town of River Crown. Aelar made plans for the miller to safeguard his young pup while he explored the cave, and curled up and played with his pup one last time before the leaving.
The next morning, there was very nearly a parade of sorts. Even the baron had to leave his manor to see what was the heart of the ruckus. The villagers expressed their admiration for the Clan of Caerne, shouting blessings and luck and waving them off. Telemon's wife Tammi was near to bursting with pride over her husband.
Once outside the town, Saebael's draft-sized horse plowed the way for them, the others filing behind in a single line. Saebael's lynx Rumus padded quietly alongside the big horse, easily walking on the surface of the snow, where the horses had to forge ahead through the big drifts.
The route up the pass was well known to the clan. They arrived after some hours at the totem they had erected to protect them from the undead. The ritual-enshrouded totem kept the bones beneath the snow from reanimating, and protected the pass from the undead. Though the totem's base was buried under several feet of snow, the heads of the bandit horses had been left near the base of the totem in something of an offering to the Clan of Caerne.
The trail the kobolds had taken was obvious, as were the prints of Ethelen. Further up the pass from the totem, Ethelen's prints went up to Wirebeard's Ledge, and returned – and at the base were the prints of many snowfell. The party kept a watch for the beasts, trusting the totem to protect them from the undead, and yet still wondering at what Ethelen had done, and how.
Towards the top of the ledge, after many switch backs and much fighting of horses, Rumus the lynx began to growl low in his throat. The horses were scared of something, and the lynx had picked up the scent. Saebael warned them that there could be a bear nearby, her senses on heightened alert.
They made it to the top of the ledge, and proceeded along, following Ethelen's prints and with the guidance of Aelar's spirit hawk, which had been to the cave before them. The top of the ledge was covered with low, shrubby pines and small bushes, all covered by snow or just peeking out of the top of the snow. The sky itself was a leaden gray with the sun a barely perceptible silver disc, and the effect wiped out most shadows, making the prints even more difficult to follow for all the time gone by.
The ledge itself was large; fully a hundred yards wide, and hundreds of yards long, and relatively flat though sloping gently towards the edge. The brush obscured direct line of sight in any direction, though the followed the prints around snow-covered tangles and wind-protected places.
The prints were suddenly wiped out, where the prints of a bear crossed the path. Nearby brush scrapings revealed that it was a brown bear – not yet fully grown, but still easily three or four hundred pounds.
They proceeded cautiously, calming the horses, controlling the situation, keeping an eye out. When they could at last spy the entrance to the cave, they saw that it was guarded by a brown bear – wearing a harness. The bear roared a challenge at the clan, even as a crossbow bolt went sailing through Aelar's spirit hawk, and arcing far out over the ledge.
A brusque dwarven accent yelled from somewhere up the mountain, for all of them to surrender. The clan remembered Kwartz Spurbreaker, one of Boredmin's party, and how Kwartz had said he and his clan rode bears. They recognized Kwartz' voice, and knew that he had been within the cave once already. Liam called out to the dwarf, asking an explanation.
Kwartz, his voice echoing from nowhere, said that the clan could not have the treasure. The fist-sized diamond that had killed Aredis Dunnigan was only one of many such gems within the cave, though it was also full of elementals and traps. Kwartz seemed unsure of a course of action, but knew he wanted all the riches for himself.
After some negotiating, the clan surrendered informally, dropping some of their weapons or placing them nearby. The clan offered to explore the cave and let Kwartz keep any riches, but they were ordered to go in by the duke and the baron of the lands. Kwartz insisted that the cave belonged to the Baron of Lena, but still wanted the riches.
In frustration, battle broke out. The bear charged at the group in a maelstrom of claws and teeth, while Kwartz dove for cover, using his stealth and powers to snipe at the group from unseen places.
The fighting was brief – and the bear went down. Kwartz cried out in grief, tottering out of the snow, his crossbow left behind. The bear he had named Angle'Ise had been the first bear he'd found worthy of being a mount in fifty years. Though the bear was down, almost mortally wounded, it was not dead. Aelar and Saebael and Telemon worked together, staunching the bear's wounds for Kwartz, despite his insistance on being a problem.
Kwartz realized, through Liam and Telemon's words, that his greed had brought this upon him and Angle'Ise.
The leaden gray clouds continued to slowly move overhead. A small shaft of sunlight opened up from the heavens, illuminating River Crown, just barely seen from their position. A silvery dragon alit in golden light plummeted through the shaft of sunlight, and then circled River Crown. The dragon's wings were half the size of the entire village, and its massive wingbeats as it circled the town sent snow drifts flying in torrents. The dragon circled once, and then with a mighty beat of its wings, ascended back into the clouds.
The clan could only stare in awe. A dragon. They had half expected it to sear the town and burn with its pass, and yet it had only circled, looking, and then taken back to the skies. The members of the clan looked at one another, unintentionally leaving Saebael out of their group thought. History told them that the dragons had been nearly wiped out by the crusaders. Those dragons that were left were mighty, cunning, and dangerous, having founded their own nation. There was, however, another dragon not of the Dragon Nation.
The Chosen of Arpelos had once been a paladin of the Sun God. His chosen mount had been a dragon, just to thumb his nose at the Inquisition. In Kur Maeth, where the clan had lived for close to a decade, the dragon had occasionally flown over the city to remind the Inquisition that the dragons were still alive, and that at least one of them was a devout and faithful follower of the gods, and of Arpelos.
Lucard felt something stir in his heart, but he did not know what it was.
The clan turned back to the task at hand, as there was nothing they could do about the dragon's passing flight around River Crown. Kwartz agreed to watch over their mounts, when Saebael convinced him of the herd's strength against anything that would threaten his Angle'Ise. The horses would remain with Kwartz, and he would draw out for them what he knew of the cave – only he claimed it was not a cave, but a mining complex. Wirebeard's ledge was the tailings of the mine itself, a mine that had been shut down and sealed for thousands of years.
The clan struck torches at the entrance, and proceeded in. The rock had been carved smooth long ago, and whatever paint had been there was long since peeled away. The dust was thick – so thick that in places it was feet deep, and the ceiling almost too close for comfort because of it.
The entrance led them to a larger room, some thirty feet on a side, with three other openings at near cardinal directions. The entry foyer to the mining complex stank to the high heavens. Bear feces and rotting snowfell contaminated the foyer. The remains of a fire that Kwartz had made still smoked a bit.
There were tracks and traces where Boredmin and his party had gone a bit in several directions. To the east lay the trap Kwartz had spoken of – something of lightning and pain. To the north was a greater cavern, and near it, where they had found the fist-sized diamond that had possessed Aredis Dunnigan and made him into a fiercesome elemental creature of ice.
The bear Angle'Ise roared in panic, and then charged into the cave, Kwartz not far behind. The horses, too, panicked, and followed the bear into the cave. Their white-rimmed eyes and terrible fear made the clan that much more terrified of what was outside the cave.
Aelar, though, rushed out of the cave, arms spread wide in awe and wonder at the chance to see a dragon so close up. The old joke about, “What do you do to defeat a Dragon?” floated throug his head. The answer, was “Surrender, and give it anything it wants.”
Outside, the massive dragon's wings were furling, the snow and brush and small scrubby pines all blown away from the entrance by the massive beast's wingbeats.
Slowly but surely, the other members of the clan tentatively came forward.
The dragon identified itself as Artanus, Bonded Mount of the chosen of Aprelos.
Artanus peered at each of them in turn, and when it peered at Lucard, it's pupils dilated in recognition. Three weeks prior, the temple bells had rung in recognition in the Church of Arpelos. Arpelos pealed his joy that the first of his Avengers had become manifest. The dragon Artanus had been sent from Kur Maeth to find the avenger, and bring him to the Holy City of Karmen and the headquarters of the Inquisition. Lucard's task was terrible indeed; he was to enact Arpelos' revenge upon the Inquisition for their deeds against the mages.
Lucard's heart swelled with pride. Despite the danger, his calling had come to him. Aelar, in awe of the dragon and his brother's place in the world, took to one knee in recognition of the power of Arpelos.
Lucard climbed the harness to sit himself in the saddle upon the mighty dragon, and then the dragon blessed them all, before bugling his triumph and taking to the air. The dragon flew off over the ledge, circled River Crown once more, and then shot straight up for the low-lying clouds. Where the dragon struck the clouds, sunlight poured forth, and began to spread. The clouds began to break up, Arpelos' orb bringing them light and warmth upon their faces.
And then the avalanche touched off by the dragon's bugling nearly buried them, though Aprelos' blessings held and the entrance to the cave had only the barest bits of snow about it, despite the wall of snow and rock that had come down.
Mid day of the 7th of Trisad, 1331 Avard.
THU18MAR2010. This was Bo's last adventure with us, before heading off to Shanghai for a year. Bo is a great player; always upbeat, able to switch from player to character at a moment's notice, and bringing life to characters that are believable and fantastic all in one. We'll miss having Bo at the table, and the Clan of Caerne is now down to three. Good luck, Bo, on your journey to the far east on your own silver dragon.
Never underestimate the power of a glaring lynx. :)
Awesome session yet again Joe. Good luck with the English lessons and the cultural differences Bo.