July 5, 2016 at 9:15 pm #1871
Stern, you wake to the rhythmic sounds of someone chopping wood in the clearing of the cabin.
You look out the small window to see Cassiel, stripped to the waist again, in the center of the clearing a sturdy wagon is taking shape. He stops to wipe the sweat from his bald head, before he carries on hacking the branches of a small tree he had drug into the clearing while you all slept.
In fact it looks like he has been at it for quite some time. With the exception of the wheels and axles, the body of the wagon looks pretty much done.
Without turning back, his voice carrying well He says “Well Boy, seeing as how you’re up now, why don’t you come help me out. That is if any of you are skilled at anything other than fighting? If not well then I will teach you a thing or three.” And he keeps on chopping, pausing again “Oh and someone do make breakfast. I am starved.”
He begins singing to himself, his deep voice carrying easily through the walls of the cabin, waking anyone who is not already up.July 5, 2016 at 9:57 pm #1872
Stern stands to his feet, kicking his comrades feet to rouse them. And walks out loosening his robes and letting them fall to his waist baring his broad form. Gripping Sunder in one hand and showing emphasis on it says “Well if its one thing I know how to do well its swing an Axe… and the occational hammer.”July 6, 2016 at 8:56 pm #1873
It takes you all the better part of the day to get the wagon finished. Sure with magic it could have been done in a quarter of the time but Cassiel would hear none of that. Preferring the “honest” ways of hard work.
By dinner time the wagon is finished with its deep flat bottom and high sides, looking like a moving crate on four rugged wheels. The driver’s seat a wide plank upon the front of the box like structure, almost like an afterthought. The long and wide yolk big enough for Stern and Hrothgard to stand side by side within? When asked what manner of horse will fit the yoke, Cassiel just chuckles and smiles, enjoying his secrets. He has packed all his earthly belongings into the wagon, as well as many specimens from his gardens.
That night you sit on the construction refuse, felled trees and stumps, and enjoy a savory stew provided by Lone Bear, laughing and enjoying your last night in the special clearing. One by one you retire to the cabin to catch some sleep, preparing yourself for the trek back to Fan Lu. Leaving at the end of the night Cassiel and Stern alone. Looking into the fire and discussing their futures together as well as the road ahead.
The dawn of your eleventh day away from Fan Lu, is bright and cheerful. You gather your gear, scarf down a quick tasteless breakfast of porridge and hard biscuits. When it comes time to leave you stand aside as Cassiel walks to the head of his wagon, to the immense yoke. He looks around at you all smiling then pulls something from a pocket of his rough traveling robes, and places this object on the ground within the yoke whispering something.
In the blink of an eye a mammoth creature stands, straining the yoke. Roughly ten feet long from its stubby tail to the viciously pointed pair of in line horns protruding from its angular head. At about six and a half feet tall at the shoulder, it is massively muscled with four stumpy legs. Its hide is smooth as finely polished marble with dark veins running through a light grey base color. It has beady bright glowing blue eyes and its dual horns are of jade intricately carved with tiny runes and chased in copper.
“Everyone, this is Stone Solid.” Cassiel laughs with a big grin, then addresses the giant marble rhino “Stone Solid, my old friend, this is everyone.” The rhino gives throaty “Chuff” of hello as Cassiel gestures at the group, before leaping sprightly for such a big man into the driver’s seat. With a slight tap of his booted foot on the rhino’s rear, the rhino chuffs again and begins plodding forward.
“First we must go to town to pick up your horses and I have some…” Cassiel pauses looking down at your astonished faces, “…I have some business to deal with.” He finishes suddenly grim, eyes forward. He starts cajoling the rhino to go faster.
You fall into step alongside the wagon, slipping easily into the distance eating gait of far travelers. In less than an hour you arrive at the gates to Tsurui Village. Cassiel takes the wagon straight into the center of the town and parks it directly in the middle of the main, and only street. He motions you to go into the inn to retrieve your horses and settle any debt for their boarding. Should only take you guys a few to gather your horses saddle up and settle yourselves before falling in line behind the wagon.
Once you are already Cassiel prods the rhino into action again plodding along through the well-kept village. By this time most if not all of the village inhabitants are out looking at the spectacle before them, and for once it is not you guys. It is Cassiel and his wagon, His rhino and his grim countenance that has them all transfixed as you near the other side of town and the gates out of Tsurui. The expressions on the townsfolk range from relief to face contorting scorn, from amusement to sorrow, and many more. Well before you reach the gates Cassiel suddenly calls for the Stone Solid to stop. Roughly in front of a larger than most home. He sits deathly still in the driver’s seat, eyes fixed ahead.
On the extended porch of this dark paneled home, stands a hunched well-dressed elderly man with a vulture like face. Bald but with large white eyebrows and a long wispy beard. The old fellow’s expression one of disgust mixed with fury. Behind this elder is another man, significantly younger, with long black hair tied back with an iron circlet. His features easily mark him as a son of the elderly man, though he stands tall in much patched ashigaru armor. A sword rests uneasily at the younger man’s hip, his right hand absently playing with the red tassel affixed to the swords pommel, his expression grim.
Behind them in the open door way, her mien inscrutable, stands an elderly woman, in fine robes, leaning on a cane watching you all like a hawk. You have the impression of others watching from the hall beyond the door and maybe from a window or two.
After a tense moment the elderly man spits on the ground, barking something in Yun Shanian.
Like a boulder suddenly freed from the top of a mountain Cassiel slides from the drivers bench like a landslide. Gliding effortlessly up the couple of steps to tower over the old man, who steps back a bit bumping into his son. The elderly man, then rally’s barking off long streams streams of obviously affronted and angry language at the towering priest. Cassiel just stands there for a moment taking it, beefy fists clenched at his sides, you can see his back moving as he is taking deep breaths.
When the agitated elder spits upon Cassiel, what happens next does so in the blink of an eye.
With one swing of his might left hand Cassiel knocks the elderly man down and back to send him sliding past his son to slam against the wooden wall of the house. Knocking the wind from the crotchety old crow and putting the fear of Cassiel into his rheumy eyes, as he lay there all disheveled and shocked.
Cassiel’s other hand shot forwards swift as a striking serpent, even as the elder was flying through the air, to catch the younger man’s hands on his sword. Crushing them in one big hand, gripping them both tight keeping the man’s blade in its sheath. To his credit the black haired fellow struggled mightily to draw his weapon, but against Cassiel he did not stand a chance. The struggling man gave up pulling his hands away and out to his sides, weaponless, eyes full of fear.
There was a commotion in the door way, a pair of young faces looking out past their grandmother to get a better view. One green eyed dark haired boy with striking Yun shanian features, the other a light to his shadow. Blonde blue eyed with pale features, features somehow familiar….
At this appearance of these boys, Cassiel straightens up, whispering to the stricken man before him something you cannot make out. The stricken man’s shoulders slump and his hands falls to his sides, fear in his eyes replaced by something else something difficult to quantify.
Cassiel slowly releases his grip on the man’s blade, stepping back for him but keeping eye contact, Cassiel’s large shoulders bulked out his chin held high as he stares down the man before him, everyone ignoring the cawing of the vulture like elder, berating everyone in sight.
Cassiel steps away and turns heading back across the porch and down the steps pausing to look back at the elderly woman in the door way. An elderly woman who is smiling gently at the departing warrior-priest. She lets one fine boned hand drop protectively across the shoulders of the blonde haired boy and silently nods to Cassiel.
Cassiel turns back face impassive as his stone rhino, remounts and without a word begins driving out of the village not looking back.
You however do get to look back at, seemingly the entire village gathered, near where you had stopped staring on in awe. You could swear you can hear the old man’s bitching long into the distance as you put the town behind you. You last look at the village, through the trees, is of the two boys standing in the road way watching you go.July 7, 2016 at 2:02 pm #1876
You travel the rest of that day, in companionable silence. The road clear, the sun bright and the breeze cool. Stopping to make camp that night not off the road in the woods as you had on your way here but directly in the middle of the road. Cassiel simply stops the wagon, throws the brake and with gentle thanks dismisses Stone Solid for the night.
Cassiel starts whistling as he sets camp for you all, pulling off the wagon all sorts of comforts. You pass the night uneventfully, the old Priest telling tales of his younger days. Each of you beginning to get slightly nervous as nothing has tried to kill you in days. Sometime after midnight that night you are all awoken by a strange “Chattering” sound, like someone loudly clenching their teeth together over and over, the sounds swells and surround you filling the dark pines for the better part of an hour before just as abruptly stopping. The majority of you have trouble sleeping after that, some just lying awake as the night passes.
The next day you are up before the sun, packing up the wagon in the pale predawn light. Cassiel summons his rhino again and hitches it to the wagon and before you know it you are all back on the road making good time. Impromptu races and shows of horseman ship abound this day as you rotate around the wagon throughout the day. Jokes and pranks abound, tawdry songs echoing out across the land around you, as you all enjoy your time on the road. It really is not until the bulk of the day had gone by that you realized you had passed through the area where the Sword Wraiths attacked you, and through the choke point on the road where you had met the sprite pestered Black Smith.
Again Cassiel stops the wagon in the road and you all fall into what is fast becoming a nightly routine of getting the camp ready for the night, assigning watches, etc;
That night turns out to be a quiet night, introspective, less chatter and more relaxation by the fire. Some even turning in early as the lazy night drifts by, maybe still tired from the night before. Though admittedly some of you will be on edge, that’s just how you have trained yourselves. Tonight it is a good thing though. An hour or so after you have all finished dinner, Grognak notices movement in the woods around you. Fleeting man sized shadows, appearing and disappearing within the dark woods to either side of the road surrounding you, occasionally darting across the road in the distance.
You are ready for anything at this point, your defensive formation perfect, camp routine flawless. Nothing will get the drop on you. This last for less than an hour before the woods go deathly still, no movement, and no strange sounds. Only the normal sounds of the night time forest. Even then you do not relax for the better part of an hour, before sending Stern and Lone Bear to investigate. They return empty handed, without a single clue as to the mysterious nature of the shadowy troupe that had been circling you all.
You pass the rest of the slow night in tense silence, straining your eyes and ears, double watches for the remainder of the long night.
Already packed up from the night before, the next morning you break camp early, still vigilant as the sun rises. You travel maybe one hundred yards down the road, to just about where the trees give way to the gently rolling hills sweeping down towards The Blue Bayou. There in the road, where the shadows of the tress give way to light of the moors is a single emerald fletched arrow. Stuck point first into the ground. You guys being you guys immediately go into high alert as you approach…..and then gently pass the arrow by.
Putting the woods behind you, you soon pass the place where you encountered Noburu of the New Moon. A sense of eagerness begins to grow with you all as the Ancient Bridge that marks the eastern boundary of the Blue Bayou comes into view in the distance. Thoughts of your time there making you all smile and your spirits soar, like the circling hawks above you. You mood even infects Cassiel who has spent the trip so far caught somewhere between nervous apprehension and unabashed wonder as the world around him unfolds.
As the sun sets, the lights of the Bayou go up, a glittering expanse of fire fly like luminosity, and though you are not quite there yet you can hear the boisterous music radiating from the mystical little town.July 7, 2016 at 7:26 pm #1877
You can see the paper lanterns and the fire flies flitting around them. The smell of the bayou washes over you as you draw closer to the ancient bridge. The sounds of revelry spilling out of the Blue Bayou Inn roll over you, igniting the urge for drink and dance, singing and good times to be found within. The dark armored forms of the town guard, encased in their alligator scale armor roam the outskirts of the light, their eyes glowing golden in the dark night, the silhouettes of those strange swamp things visible here and there in the waters amongst the huge trees.
As the hooves of your horses begin to clatter upon the stone bridge, each of you feel that sense of peace and belonging you had last time settle upon you. Then you realize that Cassiel has stopped his wagon well before the bridge. His face pale in the twilight. You can tell he is having some kind of internal conflict at this point.
Finally, he squares his broad shoulders coming to a decision, He calls ahead to you all cheerfully waving you forward. “You kids go right on ahead and go enjoy yourselves. I know from you babble how much you have been looking forward to returning here. Me and Ol’ Stone will go back a few hundred yards and make camp there if you need us. We will see you here at dawn, or as soon as your able.” He finishes with a genuine smile. He begins turning the giant Rhino around and heads back the way you came. You can hear him grumbling to himself for a while as they plod their way into the dark.
You all sit there, mid span, astride your tired horses, maybe torn a bit. When Lone Bear pipes up from his usual station by Caris’ side, his rumbly voice full of unexpected wisdom. “He is not ready for place with many peoples.” Then with a gentle pat on Caris’ knee Lone bear lopes off after Cassiel. “I stay with him, things in common we have.” He calls back, vanishing after the Priest.
Slowly and maybe a tiny bit less jubilant than before you carry on to the Inn, checking your horses at the unusually full stable. BY the time you are all striding up the steps to the invitingly open double doors of the Inn, with its life and light spilling out across you lifting your spirits. You are all in fantastic moods.
Stepping into the maelstrom of people, you stop just inside the threshold, striking a pose unconsciously, a pose that says “Bad assess”.
Directly across the large common room on the stage you see a pair of female orcs dancing with a giant snake, the giant purple piano sits behind them covered with a black velvet cloth.. The bar wrapping around the left lower half of the room is packed with patrons of all descriptions. Many of the tables have been pushed back almost to the walls to provide even more dance space before the stage. The dance floor is full of people milling about watchi8ng in awe as the snake charming women cavort around with each other and the snake. The majority of the tables are packed, with many people just standing by a table full of their companions.
The second story balconies are also full of people talking, drinking laughing, and other stuff in darker corners. You are noticed right away by some many people you cannot keep track of them all, a round of cheers roars out as you enter, filling you with joy. Looking at each other, slapping each other on the back, or ass, you step down into the throng and get swept up in the feasting and drinking. The feeling of being welcome and appreciated amongst your own.
Remember there are examples of a lot of races here. Hulking nomadic pelt wearing orcs and in the corner furthest form the stage a trio of proud hobgoblins in red and white Samurai armor stand drinking and talking amongst themselves, they eye Hroth and raise their flagons in recognition. A pair of snooty looking golden haired elves stand back to back at the bar each conversing with the people around them, a quartet of long bearded dwarves stand at the edge of the stage heckling the orc women. On the balconies above, there is a cackling old man with a long white beard covered in fetishes and brandishing a gnarled staff telling some kind of joke to a stern faced well-dressed human in formal robes, his long black hair pulled back from his high forehead with a circlet of gently glowing jade, his robes a pale blue.
To name but a few of the notables in the Inn at the time you enter. It is not long into the night before you are all standing together, drinks in hand, cheering as The Prince takes the stage for a rousing piano number accompanied by the deep voices of the Dwarven quartet.July 7, 2016 at 8:17 pm #1879
Later that night, you find yourselves relaxing at a table. The Prince has just played his last encore for the night before retiring back stage. You are all well fed and watered by this point, just happy to be where you are and with your friends. (if you want a woman on your lap you have one)
A well-dressed young man appears at your table, his purple robes hugging a splendid specimen of a man. He bows smiling. “My master would like you to join him for drinks in his dressing room.”
I am pretty sure you all would just about fallout of your chairs at this moment, then begin scrambling to get up and follow the young man back around the expansive bar into a close hallway with draping strands of beads and silks along its length.
At a tee juncture the young man leads you to the left up a short flight of gilt stairs to a small landing, where two burly men stand arms crossed over ripped hairless chests. Biceps bulging at your approach and giving you the eye.
The effete young man waves hand imperially and the two hulks step aside to allow you to pass. Behind them is a large door of carved copper, spiraling dragons cavort on its surface with winged figures. The young man claps his hands and the door rolls aside into the wall, revealing a large room beyond, an intricately embroidered screen of flowing silk hangs neatly bisecting the room.
Large opulent couches and piles of silken throw pillows are strewn about this half of the room, with half a dozen finely crafted low dark wood tables, with gently glowing candles on them. Little spritely creatures move amongst the pillows and the tables. Adjusting the drape of the silk screen, or scraping candle wax from the table while replacing a candle that had burned out, another positioning the couch cushions to some exacting plan only it knows.
The young man steps aside at the threshold and motions for you to enter before him, “They await you within.” Gesturing to the area beyond the curtain.
Smiling your thanks you stroll through the room to the part in the curtain, Hrothgard in the lead. With one brawny arm Hroth parts the curtain and holds it up and aside. Revealing a purple lit room, with an immense black U shaped couch, the walls are covered with instruments, the end tables hold many bottles and cups, and the floor is a soft expertly woven rug with a design too big to take all in at once.
There is a single glass topped table sitting within the U of the couch, a pair of glasses, half full, with golden liqueur sit beside a fine crystalline decanter of the same liqueur, two fat red candles provide the magical violet light for the shadowy room. The Prince sitting casually in the center of the U, his bright white sequined suit brilliantly white in the dark room and against his dusky skin.
But all of these details escape you as you see Who the Prince is sitting hip to hip with, one of Prince’s delicate musician arms resting lightly, familiarly, across his guest’s willowy shoulder.
Grey smiles at you all and reaches forth to take up one of the glasses and offers you all a silent toast.
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