Wir, 4 Aufgasta, 3E998
… “I’ll take you up on it.” He crutched his way over to her and smiled. He held up his index finger in a pointer fashion, making sure she saw it, and then touched the tip to the front of his staff near the top. A small, faintly yellow aura surrounded his hand for a moment, and a single, small bud emerged from the grain of the wood and bloomed into a small, white five-petal flower with a little pinkish-red in the center. He picked it and handed it to her between his finger and thumb, “Thank you again. My name is Erendriel…”
No recognition of that name.
“Th-thank you.” Thia took the flower. “I mean you’re welcome?” Thia smelled the flower before looking back at the elf trying her best to hold in all the questions running through her mind. “I’m Thia. This is Potema. Where did you say you are from?”
Her name hit him like a lightning bolt. He froze there staring at her, his eyes rapidly tracing every feature of her face as if searching for an answer.
“Naïlo Thia?” He was squinting at her skeptically.
Thia looked at him slightly warily. “… Possibly?” She looked down. “I actually don’t know… I don’t really remember much before…”
He grasped her shoulder with his one good hand, pushing her back gently but intently to get a really close, thorough look at her face in the sunlight, diffused under the canopy of the trees. His eyes darted around her features once again, almost desperately. A few moments passed, and he let go of her and rested back on his staff.
His face could have been the boy from her dream, but older. His face was longer, his jaw and features sharper. His hair was no longer the platinum-saffron it once was, but had been replaced by a sandy blonde.
“Before what?” he said shortly, still looking skeptical.
“I got lost. Well really, I got found. By Lord Orias.”
He looked puzzled. “I don’t know any ‘Lord Orias’. What do you mean, ‘you got found’?”
Thia explained who Orias the Changing was and how he had saved her from the slavers who had originally abducted her. She told him about how Orias took care of her and protected her for the more than half-century he kept her in his hellish realm.
Thalolan listened attentively as Thia recounted from the beginning of her memory, already in Orias’ captivity. He still seemed skeptical, but instead asked, “so how did you get away from a Devil Lord?”
“I didn’t want to. I was stolen away from him. They came in the night and took us.”
Thia retold Thalolan of her time in Orias the Changing’s care, how an erinyes took her from her gilded cage and returned her to the surface, left her in the wild to perish, and the wolf pack that happened across her and took her in. She told him of her time running with the pack, what she learned from them, and what they meant to her… the horror of when she returned from the hunt that fateful day and found the pack destroyed… how she wandered until she mustered enough courage to enter the outskirts of civilization and earn some pay… equip… and begin the hunt, her hunt.
Thalolan listened intently, and sat quietly for uncomfortably long moments after she finished her tale. His eyes never left hers, always searching, always evaluating… until he finally said quietly, “Okay.”
She wasn’t exactly sure of what he meant by that, but when she asked, he clarified, “Okay. Get your friend. Do whatever you need to prepare for the fight of your life. After I heal and rest, we’ll go after Madcoil.”
Thia, Thalolan and Potema returned to the small campsite they had left a little more than an hour ago, and Thalolan laid down to rest. Thia left Potema to watch over him, her mind racing as to all the possibilities that have suddenly presented themselves before her. Is this really the boy from her dream? Does he believe her history? Does he still care for her?…
…Is revenge for the destruction of her pack, her family, before her, ready for the taking?
She continued past the edge of the treeline and across the northern farms into the township of Hellespont to fetch her friend and comrade, Lt. Diplo Norixius. His ‘extra firepower’ would be needed after all. She found him attending a small, impromptu ‘graduation ceremony’, put together by Jolene Hellen and Father Tristan, to celebrate Diplo’s completion of his advancement training as a Paladin of Bahamut. She quietly joined the back of the small gathering, clapped politely, and then pulled Diplo aside at the first opportunity.
She summarized to Diplo the situation with Thalolan and their plan to go after this Madcoil. Diplo needed no convincing, almost hungry for a real fight after all this training and practice. They grabbed gear and supplies, and then returned across the farms and into the woods to Thalolan’s campsite. He was still resting when they got there, so they were careful not to disturb him. Diplo made a cursory look at his injuries from afar, made a wincing face at Thia silently, and she opened her eyes wide and raised her eyebrows in a silent, “I know, right?!?”
Thalolan slept a few hours, awoke, and Thia introduced him and Diplo. They talked awhile, almost exclusively about Madcoil, until Thalolan decided it was time for another round of healing. He concentrated as before, muttered incantations, and the golden glow seeped up from the flora and ground cover around him, closing his wounds and mending his arm completely. Unfortunately, he was still missing his two fingers on his left hand.
He held up at his three-digit hand to get a better look. “Well, this as good as I can do on my own. These will have to wait.”
The three of them and Potema sat around the fire into the evening finalizing details of their plan and talking about the upcoming battle, until Thalolan, having spent all his magical reserves, returned to resting. Thia and Diplo talked awhile longer, and then each also caught some rest before their early departure to kill Madcoil.
0400, Zor, 5 Aufgasta, 3E998
It was the wee hours of morning when the three hunters roused themselves from slumber, dismantled the campsite, and mounted up to travel north along the road to Southpaw. Diplo summoned his Paladin’s Steed, deciding on it taking the form of a Dire Wolf to match the speed of travel and stealthiness of Potema. They traveled throughout the morning, and arrived at the scene of the attack on the merchant caravan around mid-day.
From there they turned east, following a long-gone trail of tracks familiar to both of the elves and Potema. Diplo rode behind in single-file, letting Potema carrying the two elves lead the way. They traveled for miles eastward, at least five, possibly ten, before Potema slowed to a crouching, cautious approach, and Thia and Thalolan slid off of her back. Diplo slowed his steed, but stayed mounted.
They passed the site where Thia found Thalolan barely clinging to life, and continued their cautious, stealthy approach to the east. They traveled several hundred more yard through an ever-densening thicket, darker and darker until he donned his Goggles of Night to ensure he could see. The elves ahead of him stopped, pointing ahead at something and whispering to each other. His wolf padded silently a little closer, and he could see it too… a wooded hillside a couple hundred feet ahead, and at its base a large, natural cave-hollow, like a bear’s den.
1400, Zor, 5 Aufgasta, 3E998
Thalolan peeled off to the left; Thia and Potema circled to the right. Diplo thought, “Good. Armor up the middle,” and slowly pressed his giant wolf forward, attempting to keep a coordinated movement with his two compatriots. Just as Jolene had taught… “Teamwork beats talent, every time.”
As the team penetrated within the last 100 feet to the cave, they started to experience an intense itching-burning sensation behind their eyes, painful and just short of debilitating. Thalolan climbed a tree roughly 50 feet outside the cave on Diplo’s left. Thia found a good firing position in a solid tree to Diplo’s right, and Potema took cover near its base in a good spot for an ambush. “Perfect,” Diplo thought, “Time to get it’s attention and keep it.”
The grounds around the grove of trees surrounding Madcoil’s den were littered with the dead and rotting corpses of every sort of fauna that lives in the temperate evergreens of the Paw Ridge Range, and all of them were in varying states of decay… some were just skeletons at this point, some were putrefying, some were so freshly killed they were still bleeding. The three of them thought they were passing through an animal graveyard, until they realized that there were a few… very few, but a few… humanoids in the mix… mostly peasant farmers, shepherds and merchants, but it looked like a ranger or two as well.
Diplo approached the cave. Suddenly, an unseen pulse of psychic energy washed over all of them, the three Heroes and the two wolves. Invisible daggers stabbed into their minds, red hot and searing, and hate and rage and fear followed with them. Thia had never experienced such pain and anguish, nor a torrent of emotions that weren’t hers flooding her mind. It hurt, and she couldn’t do anything but hold on to the tree in terror. Diplo spurred the wolf on into the cave, and in the dark he engaged Madcoil.
The giant head and front paws of a great black cat, melded at mid-torso into the body of a giant, slithering black snake, covered in shimmering scales and hissing with a forked tongue. It was just as Thalolan had described, but up this close it was even bigger and more terrifying. Diplo lit up his warhammer, and started smashing the monstrosity. Madcoil clawed and bit at him, but found the paladin’s armor and shield difficult to penetrate. Having trouble making out the exact extents of where Madcoil began and ended, but with plenty of light to reference where Diplo was, Thalolan cast a Moonbeam just in front of Diplo, sizzling Madcoil under a great beam of radiant energy.
Thia shortly recovered from the stunning effects of Madcoil’s psionic attack, and managed to fight through the pain and rain arrows into the cave around Diplo. Diplo and the wolf pulled back out of the cave mouth in a fighting withdrawal, trying to draw Madcoil out into the open. As he got out of the mouth itself, a sphere of Darkness also appeared just outside the cave mouth, and Diplo moved farther out to also escape the darkened area. Madcoil moved into the darkness, protruding only his head to claw and bite at Diplo again.
Thalolan kept the Moonbeam moving with Madcoil, piling up the damage. Madcoil psionic blasted again, hurting the wolves but the Heroes managed to resist. Madcoil then projected a cone of Fear at two-thirds of the party, and Diplo’s dire wolf fled. Diplo slid off quickly as to not get carried away by the fleeing mount. Madcoil then turned it’s attention to Thalolan, and snake-coil extended itself up to nearly 30-feet tall to reach him near the top of a large tree. Thalolan leaped out of the tree attempting to land on Madcoil’s giant back, but slipped off and fell to the ground flat, earning some bumps and bruises along the way.
Diplo continued smashing Madcoil with his warhammer, and Thalolan had lost concentration on the Moonbeam, losing the spell. He scrambled to his feet and cast Call Lightning. The Darkness had dispersed, but in the fray no one remembered when or how. Madcoil projected another cone of Fear, catching everyone but Thalolan, but only Potema was affected and fled. Thia rained in more shot into the giant, snake-like body of Madcoil, and Thalolan spiked a lightning bolt from the cloud he summoned into the tail area well away from Diplo.
Madcoil was losing and losing quickly, and knew it. Madcoil let out one last, vicious psionic blast, and then fled to the north. As it retreated with surprising speed through the trees, Diplo quickly switched to the longbow he had brought with him, and as Thalolan and Thia peppered the fleeing Madcoil with arrows and lightning bolts, Diplo put the monster down… permanently.
The two dire wolves returned in a few moments to the battlefield, but as Diplo and Thalolan approached Madcoil’s corpse, they pulled up short. Thia stomped up to Madcoil’s giant head with a viciousness in her gait that neither of them had seen before… it startled them to see such rage exuding from the normally stoic elven maiden. Thia climbed upon Madcoil’s spine, drew her longsword, and unceremoniously sawed Madcoil’s head off… uncleanly… unsurgically… and without mercy.
Seeming to understand the emotion if not the reason, Diplo, Thalolan and the two dire wolves stood there in silent witness until she, through the rage and the tears, was done.
Join us next week.