The Gaelean Chronicles: Heroes 4 Hire

Thia and Potema: Thalolan

Long Lost Loves

Mol, 16 Hili, 3E998

    While Diplo was in town for advancement training, Thia made it a point to visit and dine with him whenever their schedules allowed.


Zol, 17 Hili, 3E998

    Thia went to Father Tristan the next day and requested to use the Divination ritual, and asked what sort of offering would be required. Father Tristan paused, unnerving Thia a little.

    “Well, Bahamut does not put any stock in offerings or flowery words. He judges by deeds. Our deeds are our prayers to him… or at least, the only ones that he heeds.” He again paused, but this time looked at Thia with a mischievous smile. “Luckily, I happen to know a little something about the Platinum Dragon that most folks do not know.” He conspiratorially leaned in close to her to whisper, “…and if you can keep a secret, I believe we can use it to get his attention.”

    “Can you protect my deity’s deepest, darkest secret? Will you?”

    Thia considered the gravity of this before nodding slowly.

    “Excellent.” He stood and walked over to the alcove with several small secretarial type writing desks, where he and his acolyte performed ministerial (accounting, mostly) duties for the township. He opened a drawer and pulled a small bit of parchment from it, scribbled a note in one corner and then tore the corner from the greater piece and returned it to the drawer. As he walked back, he folded the note in half before handing it Thia.

    “Remember… absolute secrecy.” He had a broad grin across his face, as if trying to contain a giggle. “You’ll need to see Joe Hellen. If he cannot help you, then Mrs. Greentree at the Inn might have some on hand.”

    As Thia walked from the Chapel, she unfolded the note and read it before sticking it in her pocket. Scrawled in beautiful penmanship,

    “Chocolate (25 gp)”

    Thia raised an eyebrow at the parchment, paused a moment before smiling and shaking her head slightly. “Leave it to Bahamut,” Thia mused quietly under her breath. On the whole, she was still largely unfamiliar with the gods and worship of this world, but whenever she came into contact with the teachings of Bahamut, she couldn’t help but smile and think, "now that’s a true lord.”

    Joe Hellen welcomed Thia. He was a little shocked at the amount of chocolate she asked for, but he had it. The full 25 gp worth pretty much cleaned him out of his entire stock. A little of the amount was in candies (like a ‘box of chocolates’), but most was in ‘raw’ form… blocks similar to cheese, to be melted down and used in baking and confections.

    Thia thanked Joe for his time and chocolate and took the hoard back to Father Tristan.

    Father Tristan looked at the pile a little concerned. “This won’t do. We need these to be a bit more presentable. Can you see to getting these turned into proper candies? Perhaps Mrs. Greentree could help? Or someone else who knows their way around the kitchen?”

    Thia nodded and took the pile to the kitchen to see if anyone who was there could help her.

DM-Player Discussion:
Kat – “Thia isn’t a Cook. Who would be available to help Thia turn the chocolates into candies?”
DM Mike – “Diplo. Or Mrs. Greentree.”
Kat – “Mrs. Greentree. Thia had Diplo’s cooking back on the Dread Island and doesn’t want to risk something this important.”
DM Mike – “Okay… pretty hard to screw up melting down chocolate and pouring it into molds to cool, but this is Diplo we’re talking about.”

    Mrs. Greentree was more than happy to help Thia, and it took a few hours but she walked out of the River Bend Inn’s kitchen with a basket of chocolatey goodness worthy of Ghirardelli himself.


Wir, 18 Hili, 3E998

    She returned to the Chapel late in the day with her basket like Little Red Riding Hood, and after Father Tristan dismissed the acolytes for the day he set up the pulpit for the Divination ritual. It was a surprising simple arrangement… some incense burning in a simple holder, and the basket of chocolates. Thia sat on one of the pews located behind the altar where the acolytes sit during Sul morning services, and Father Tristan closed his eyes. He chanted a simple phrase in a language she didn’t understand but sounded a bit like Draconic, made several gestures over top of the incense and chocolate, and Thia saw his holy symbol of Bahamut on the chain around his neck glow a bright, silvery color.

    The scene held for a few seconds, and then the glow suddenly winked out and the incense instantaneously extinguished, as if a ghostly breeze had just swept through the closed-up Chapel. Tristan opened his eyes and looked at her, disappointed.

    “I’m sorry, Thia. Apparently, it doesn’t work this way.”

    He broke off a corner of chocolate from one of the bars in the basket, and left her to her thoughts as he munched it and receded down the aisle. Thia pondered the meaning of what just transpired, and how else she could go about discovering the whereabouts of Thalolan, when Tristan departed out the Chapel door. As the door swung shut behind him, a gnarly, knobby old hand grasped it at the last second before closing, and pulled it back open.

    An elderly, human gentleman, easily pushing 90 years old, entered the Chapel as he finished a customary greeting to Tristan outside. He was wizened, almost frail but his gait belied a certain spryness as he approached up the aisle. He was dressed in simple robes, blue edged in silver, which were worn threadbare and covered in the grime of extended road travel. His feet were shod in dilapidated sandals, barely hanging together over the miles they had suffered. He assisted himself with a gnarled old walking stick about the same height he was (about the same as Thia as well), and curiously, several canaries managed to sneak into the Chapel when he entered and seemed to be following him.

    He stopped at the altar, noticing the basket of chocolates for the first time, a look of delight spread across his wrinkly face. With a knuckly hand he shooed away a couple of the canaries, who seemed to take a mischievous pleasure in pestering him, and began to pick through the basket when he glanced up and discovered Thia sitting behind the altar, a few feet away on a bench. He started at her ‘sudden’ presence.

    “Oh dear good gracious me! I’m so sorry, young one, I didn’t mean to be rude, but you startled me something awful!” He clutched his chest as he spoke, and steadied himself on his staff… then his eyes darted back and forth from her to the chocolates to her to the chocolates to her again. “I’m not stealing from you, am I?” he said with a smile.

    Thia looked at the old man rather surprisedly. She stammered, “Um yes… I mean no! Uh.” She paused a moment. “I made them for… someone. But they didn’t want them. At least I don’t think… I don’t know,” Thia sighed.

    The old man looked at her with a raised eyebrow and chewed the inside of his cheek as he sized her up, obviously assessing her facial expressions and making a guess as to what seemed to be the matter. After a moment, he picked up the basket of goodies and sat down beside her.

    “Well, I’m ‘someone’. And you’re ‘someone’.” He took one of the chocolates out of the basket and handed it to her. “I know you elves live damn-near forever, but I’ve found that age… and therefore, wisdom… is really best measured in wrinkles.” He looked at her sideways under a pair of stark white eyebrows, that she could see used to be bushier but now were thinning like the white tufts on top of his head.

    “What’s his name, sweetie?”

    "Th-Thalolan," Thia stuttered out. Her brow furrowed slightly and she looked down biting off the corner of the chocolate to avoid saying anything else, unsure of why she just told this complete stranger her, arguably, most precious secret. Thia looked up at the old man somewhere between pleading and apologetic, yet thoroughly confused as to why she got the sense he had all the answers she could ever need. “Can you help me find him?”

    “Find him?” He mentally recalculated. “He’s not the one who ’didn’t want your chocolates’?”

    “No. I put out the chocolates for someone to help me find him. They didn’t want them but you do so maybe you can help me?”

    “Oh, so these come with a price, eh?” he grinned. “Okay, deal. Tell me about this ‘Th-Thalolan’ {mimicking her stutter in a friendly, teasing way}. I’ll help however I can.” He chomped into a chocolate bar and reclined against the wall to listen.

    Thia bowed her head slightly, smiling before telling the old man about the still relatively unknown boy from her dreams.

    Thia regaled the venerable old man with what she know of Thalolan, the dream, the emotions, all of it. When she finished, he looked at her and said, “Hmm, not much to go on. But, I’ve seen worse…” Thia then realized that during her short tale, the canaries stopped chirping and flitting to and fro and all landed on various perches around her bench… the altar, the candelabras, the edges of the pews in the front row… as if they were being polite to not interrupt her story.

    “…let’s see what we can do about that.” In a swift, fluid motion, he shifted his walking stick to his left and raised his right hand knuckles-up, and made a ‘shooing-away’ motion with a single finger, his index, directed at the canary perched at the edge of the altar nearest the two of them. However, Thia caught something so tiny she almost missed it completely… as he shooed away the canary, his finger made the subtlest little twist in midair, signing the smallest of gestures in the midst of the motion. The canary launched off the edge of its perch, twittering happily, and turned to fly down the aisle toward the door, but as it flew away it did not recede from them, but instead got smaller and smaller… and then disappeared in an instant as if it had just squeezed through a pinch in space-time itself.

    The old man’s gesture wasn’t like the divine castings she’d seen from Tristan, but instead was reminiscent of the few incantations she’d seen Master Taeral Brylen do on occasion. The old man noticed her slightly raised eyebrow and smiled. “Oh, you saw that, did you?”

    The two of them sat and talked as they awaited the canary’s return. He told her of how long he’d been traveling these roads around this part of Eridae, how much he really liked this little town of Hellespont and especially the quaint chapel, the folksy folks and beauty of the White River. He did most of the talking and the two of them spent the next half-hour pleasantly munching chocolates. Then, as suddenly as the canary had gone, it was suddenly back in the chapel, so unceremoniously that Thia didn’t even see it return. It flew directly to the old man’s opposite shoulder and landed. He leaned his ear in conspiratorially on the tiny bird like a defense attorney conferring with his client in court.

    “Oh! Very good!” He stood up and gathered his walking stick and the basket of chocolates, making to leave. “Good news, young lady. You needn’t do a thing, except continue your studies with the good Father. HE is seeking YOU.” He turned to Thia, standing in a very properly erect stance, walking stick clutched gently in his left hand and the basket slung through the crook of his right elbow. “… and, by happenstance he is heading this direction. I suspect he’ll be passing through Hellespont in the next few days.”

    “The charge for services rendered is the rest of these chocolates.” He smiled at her a moment, but then turned a little more serious as he looked Thia directly in the eye. “… this advice, however, is free amongst friends. Be careful of old lost loves that come back into your life suddenly. People, even you long-lived elves, change greatly over great spans of time. I seriously doubt he is the same boy you knew from all those decades ago. Take your time and get to know his heart again first, before you rush headlong off into romance.”

    “Heed your friend with all the wrinkles.” He reached down and kissed Thia fatherly at the top of her forehead, smiled at her one last time, and turned and proceeded down the aisle to the door. The canaries took flight and resumed following and pestering the old man, and as he reached the door he admonished them, “Quit your bickering! I’ll share the chocolate when we stop for the night.” He pushed out the door and was gone down the road to his next destination.

    Thia stood there a moment still reeling from all that had just happened and the news she’d just received. He was seeking her? But how? Why? Use caution? But how could she when everything in her was saying to go find him and get these questions and all the others answered? Where was she from? Did she still have a family? But one question rang forth and stood out among all the rest. Who am I?

    Thia dashed down the aisle and burst forth from the Chapel mentally calling Potema to meet her in the woods near the edge of town. She swung up onto Potema’s back ready to ride out in search but she paused, the rest of the old man’s words finally sinking in. He’s coming here but she knew not from where. She couldn’t go after him.

    Thia groaned and laid forward burying her face in black fur. What could she do but wait?

    Potema crouched and laid down with Thia still laying on her back. Thia gently slid off to one side and sprawled out staring up at the canopy of trees with Potema nestled against her and questions endlessly streaming through her head.

    Thia frowned. What was she doing? This laying around waiting from someone else to do something wasn’t like her at all. Maybe that’s who she had been, not that she could remember much from that time, but Thalolan wouldn’t be the only one who’s changed after all this time. Her heart fell. What if she was no longer the girl he cared for? What if she had changed so much that he could no longer – No. Thia stopped the thought as she leaped to her feet. Potema was up and at her side in an instant. Regardless of who she may have been it won’t change who she was now. Thia readied her bow and together the wolves went off in search of prey.


Zor, 19 Hili, 3E998

    Thia went back to the routine in Hellespont… studies with Tristan and his acolytes (several were also studying Medicine), hunting with Potema, enjoying the simple camaraderie of folks in the village… and tried her best to keep her mind off of Thalolan. The ‘next few days’ of the old man’s prediction came and went, and no Thalolan. Several weeks passed with no Thalolan, and, oddly, no dreams of Thalolan either.

    Thia realized that she hadn’t had the recurring dream in a strangely long time. In fact, she felt a weird sensation when she concentrated on the subject: more correctly, she felt the specific absence of a small, emotional sensation she was not aware she had been feeling for years… as if a connection had been severed. It was a little disconcerting.


Sul, 1 Aufgasta, 3E998

    On 1 Aufgasta, Thia was attending Father Tristan’s Sul-morning services… Diplo with her, in his last few days of his advancement training… when the service was interrupted with a sound that made their hearts sink. A single horn, faint, blown from nearly a mile away, instantly recognizable…

    …one of the horns carried by Thorbald’s deputies, signaling someone approaching the village… with casualties.

    A stunned, momentary silence beset the Chapel… and then the clergy and the congregation sprang into action almost simultaneously, running out and up the northern road toward the horn. As Thia and Diplo followed, she got a mental flash in her mind from Potema: A merchant caravan of three wagons and ten people, the front two wagons brimming and overloaded with wares stuffed in where they fit from the third wagon… the third wagon expediently turned into a makeshift ambulance… carrying wounded, several wounded… the smell of blood, both fresh and coagulated, the smell of fur… wolf fur… and something else… sickness.

    Thia described what she saw to Diplo as they dashed up the road, while Tristan and his apprentice priests organized getting their cart and following. The two made it to the caravan and Thorbald was already there organizing the efforts. There were four bodies in the third wagon, blood seeping through the slatboards and dripping onto the ground. One was already dead, slashed across the abdomen by the claws of some massive animal. Another had been similarly slashed across his back, deep and bleeding, moaning in agony as two caravan members were trying to bandage the wounds with silks from the inventory. A third had been bitten by a massive maw in his side, partly in the abdomen and partly in the chest, and was having terrible difficulty breathing while fighting to stave off some sort of necrotic infection streaking out from the site of the bite. The fourth was a timber wolf, also dead, also with the wounds made by the raking claws of a massive animal.

    Thia saw the timber wolf and the manner of its death, and she instantly recognized the Modus Operandi… this was exactly the way she found her entire wolf pack after it had been destroyed… by what she still did not know, but she recognized the method and style.

    Thia stood there dumbstruck for a moment, when Diplo snapped her back to reality by nudging her on the shoulder and saying, “Hey, you okay?”

    Thia said, almost to herself, “It’s here.” Before leaping up into the third wagon with the bodies, Thia told Potema to come as close to her as possible without being seen as she checked to see if either of the current survivors could be saved. She silently wished she had a cleric with her. Then she remembered Diplo and shouted to him to help the third body who was bitten and infected. Thia turned to the two attempting to bandage wounds and asked them “did you see what did this?”

    Diplo jumped up in the wagon with her and tended to the other survivor, using Lay On Hands to cure the infection and heal some of the damage. Some of the wounds remained, but not enough to appear to be life threatening.

    Thia asked the two merchants rendering aid to the other survivor the same question. They said no. Father Tristan and his acolytes reached the caravan with their cart as Diplo finished the last of his healing ability on the previously infectious survivor, and they started tending to the two wounded and collecting the dead one.

    The merchants relayed to Thia and the group that they were traveling south from Southpaw towards Anchorhead when they came upon a grisly scene: two wagons destroyed, several horses mutilated, and a group of eight travelers laying wasted around the road and off into the bushes. They searched the area and found these three survivors (indicating the three humans).

    “There was an elf with us, a druid of some sort. He asked to travel with us from Southpaw south to the coast… said he was looking for someone. He went deeper into the woods than the rest of us searching for survivors. We had these three situated in the wagon and were about to leave him behind when he came back with this dead wolf. He demanded we take it with us, and he didn’t look like he was going to take no for an answer, so we did.”

    “He muttered something about ‘pools of ancient magic gone wrong’ or some fool thing. He muttered something about him having to stop it, and then he demanded again we take the dead wolf south with us as proof. He said the right person would find us and understand. Then the fool ran off into the woods to the east, following some set of tracks he claimed he could see, but it was in the direction that we kept finding bodies and destruction. I saw nothing of the sort.”

    “We were about halfway between Southpaw and Hellespont, and he was adamant about SOUTH, so we decided to come to Hellespont for aid. This poor fellow (gestures toward the dead corpse) expired about an hour later as we were underway. We managed to keep the other two breathing until we got here. And then, well, here…” The caravan leader made a small, circular gesture around himself at the whole township. “We’re merchants and waresellers, not healers. We were way over our heads,” he said with a sigh.

    Father Tristan and Sheriff Thorbald had things well in hand, and healing was already being administered to the remaining two survivors. Thia looked at the dead wolf’s corpse again with that cold, nauseating knot in her stomach… the giant claw marks raked across the wolf’s back, side and abdomen, eviscerating it and spilling its guts… a kill not for hunger and feeding, a kill not for self-preservation or in some sort of law-of-the-wild contest between predators… a kill solely for the love of slaughter. She had seen this before.

    …And so had someone else.

    Thia looked from the bodies to Diplo to Father Tristan before jumping off the wagon and running into the woods where Potema was waiting. Thia swung up onto her back and told Potema where they were headed. They went as quickly as stealth would allow, and the closer they got the stealthier they became. Thia stayed alert, checking their surroundings as they went.


Mol, 2 Aufgasta, 3E998

    Thia reached the scene of the attack by mid-afternoon the next day. The corpses of the horses had been picked fairly barren by scavengers, and the two wagons were splintered and smashed by something BIG. She saw evidence of the massive claw marks on the wooden timbers of the wagons.

    Thia found splotches from where people fell dead and bled out. She also noticed fresher tracks on the road indicating another wagon or two had happened by, and she noticed that the bodies of the people had been removed, presumably by the other wagon(s) to be taken for burial.

    The destroyed wagons had also been emptied of valuables. Potema’s sniffing brought three-day old scents of dried blood, sundered organs and just a touch of rain, along with the typical forest scents.

    Unfortunately, it had been three days since the attacks, with some periods of rain. In the immediate vicinity of the site of the attack, Thia and Potema could not discern any specific tracks other than those of regular traffic on the road itself.

    Thia cast Detect Magic before she and Potema started off into the woods stealthily. Thia and Potema headed east for about 30 minutes, beyond the duration of her spell, before Potema hit on a scent. She sniffed around intently, and in Thia’s mind she got a thought from her.

    “Elf… and sickness.”

    Thia commanded her to follow it, and she continued tracking the scent to the east. The two of them traveled several miles deeper into the woods, which got darker and denser as they went. Thia realized she’d been also mentally following a track in the ground of something big; in fact, she’d been looking at it for a while and hadn’t realized she was. Whatever it was, it was huge, thick in girth, and it… slithered.

    As the two of them continued deeper into the forest, the thicket became so dense that it was dark under the canopy, and Thia and Potema were relying on their Darkvision to see. The scents of the forest were of moisture and decay here, and as they followed farther they took on a sharp, acrid smell as well. They were not sure how far they had traveled from the road… five, possibly even ten miles… when Potema’s pace slowed to a crouching, cautious prowl, her sniffing stopped and with her eyes fixed on a point she approached a body, lying in a crumpled heap in the middle of the tracks.

    Potema growled a warning. Thia drew an arrow and kept it trained on the heap as she cautiously approached and gently prodded the body with her foot.

    Thia saw a male elf dressed in forest-hued robes, raked multiple times across the torso and abdomen by huge claws. He lay in a pool of his own blood, matted into his sandy blonde hair, and his skin was pasty white from blood loss. Fingers of black necrosis radiated across his skin from every wound, up his neck choking him, and eerily from his eyes and ears though no wound was visible there… his gray eyes were open and frozen in fear, locked looking to the east… toward the receding, slithering tracks more than a day old. A shattered staff made of sandalwood and juniper, arranged like vines intertwined with each other, lay a few feet away, splintered in half and destroyed by some great paw. The elf’s face was contorted, seized in terror, but Thia could see he was probably in his early-100’s.

    Suddenly, she saw his chest move. Just barely, but a breath to be sure. Thia knelt down to check, leaning her ear close to his mouth and she heard it… a tiny, labored, rattling breath barely moving in and out of his lungs. The stench was overpowering, of rot and decay, as if he were already dead three weeks and putrefying. She also noticed one arm was nearly ripped off at the elbow, and he was missing fingers from the same hand, where some toothy maw grabbed him and shook him.

    The damage on the elf-man was baffling. Thia saw claw marks in raking patterns that looked like a great cat, though it would have to be enormous. The bite-and-shake damage looked like a bear; in fact, she’d seen bear-kill that looked just like this, with a limb nearly detached and extremities missing. Then there was the elephant-sized slither-tracks. And, the necrotic disease infecting every wound, and even the face where there were no wounds. But, no animal, no beast, no matter how ordinary or fantastic in this magical world, not cat, not bear, not snake, ever abandoned their kill to lay rotting in the dirt.

    And something else was off. He’d been laying here awhile, bleeding out slowly… where were the scavengers? The carrion? Perhaps the infection kept them away?

    Potema was locked looking to the east, in the direction of the tracks, and Thia was fully aware she did not want to be there. Her hackles were up and her fur was bristling. She could sense her nostrils were full of nothing but the gagging scent of the necrosis. She didn’t know what was out there, but she wanted to leave immediately.

    The elf was alive, but just barely. He had mostly bled out. His left arm was mangled and barely attached. He was missing two fingers on his left hand, the ring and the pinky. He had open chest and abdomen wounds, and he was infected with something nasty, and quite possibly not naturally occurring.

    Thia used half the supplies in her Healer’s Kit to bind, splint and bandage the multiple severe wounds the poor fellow had suffered. “Stable” might have been a bit of a stretch, but she got him “duct-taped” together as best as she knew how, draped over Potema’s shoulder, and Thia mounted up and headed west back towards the road. Once there she turned south, back towards Hellespont. Thia balanced her travel pace between the urgency for speed and exacerbating his injuries, but she traveled throughout the night without stopping. They arrived back in Hellespont area midday the next day.


Zol, 3 Aufgasta, 3E998

    They stopped just on the edge of the woods as close as they could get to town without being spotted. Thia slid off Potema and got the elf down as gently as she could. It startled her slightly when he whispered something, so low she almost missed it. He was barely conscious; she leaned in closer to make out what he is saying:

    “Stop… keep me out… of the village… Infection will spread… find snake weed, blue cap fungi… water, pestle, mortar… fire…” and with that, he passed out once again, his breathing frightening shallow.

    “You couldn’t have said something before we made it all the way back here?” Thia put the elf down and leaned him against a nearby tree. She cast Hunter’s Mark on him before she and Potema went to find the ingredients he asked for.

    Thia found a decent stockpile of potions and poultices in the Chapel Undercroft, but nothing along the lines of herbs, ingredients or an herbalism kit. She headed to Enchanted Elixirs and found everything there, for sale. 125 gp for the snake weed, the blue cap fungi, and the herbalism kit… she paid the gold and returned to the elf as quickly possible.

    Thia returned to where she propped him up against the tree beyond the edge of the wood, and found him there awake, peaked and shivering uncontrollably. Potema was sitting with him attentively. His bandages were starting to weep more than blood; a black, reeking fluid was present, darkening the wads of gauze ominously. She ran up to him, and the stench was worse. Potema caught her eye and she got an instinctual concept in her mind: …“stench of death”.

    The elf grasped her forearm weakly with his unmangled hand, speaking in barely more than a whisper. “She is amazing.” He looked at Thia a moment, with stone gray eyes through the mud and the blood and the matted sand-colored hair, before continuing. “We’ll need a fire to reduce the poultice. Whatever this is that Madcoil infected me with, it’s blocking my healing.”

    Thia gathered tinder and firewood and had a nice, small but suitable fire going inside of half an hour. He coached her through the grinding of the snake weed and the blue caps into a fine, powdered mixture, adding it to water, and cooking it down to a poultice slightly thicker than water. It came out a dark blue-gray color and had a pungent, slightly metallic scent. Thia realized she’d seen this in the Undercroft store rooms.

    When it cooled, she handed it to him. He thanked her and then choked it down, slowly, until it was gone. He sat quietly for a long while, and then said softly that he was going to sleep for a while. He scooched a little, painfully, into a more comfortable position, closed his eyes and was asleep in moments. He looked like he was going to sleep for a very long time.

    Before he fell asleep, Thia asked when it would be safe for him to enter the village and receive proper care for his injuries.

    “Maybe tomorrow. IF ever.”

    Thia left Potema to watch over him as she went to retrieve all of her gear and some more of the poultice. She headed back to the chapel and retrieved a couple more bottles labelled “Serum 100”, and donned her full combat kit. She found Diplo and Father Tristan, and found that the rest of the survivors were being well tended to… wounds were healing nicely, no signs of infection to be seen… having been under the good Father’s tutelage and watched his work first hand, she expected nothing less.

    He and Diplo noticed her change of attire and equipment, not to mention a two-day disappearing act, and asked her what the hell was going on.

    Thia explained to them the events of the last few days, including her suspicion that the elf knew somewhat intimately what it was that did all this. She just wanted to be prepared in case anything happened between now and when the elf woke up and could explain what is going on. Diplo and Tristan listened intently, and as she recounted the tale it again dawned on her that the description of the ‘crime scene’… the mutilated bodies left strewn about, almost on display, not for feeding but for simple wanton, indiscriminate slaughter… there was something eerily familiar about it that had been bugging her in the back of her mind ever since she got to the scene of the attack. It was exactly as when she came upon her wolf pack destroyed to the last pup.

    Thia edited that realization out of her story, and when she finished, Tristan said that he and the townsfolk had things well in hand here, “why don’t you handle your new ‘friend’ situation until he’s ready to come into town.” Diplo offered to come with her, in case she needed some additional firepower, but she politely turned him down, having got the impression the elven druid was a bit reclusive.

    Thia returned to find the elf curled up sleeping in a wicked fever-sweat, and sitting on her haunches beside him was Potema, like a show dog ready for inspection. He slept for a solid fourteen hours, and she watched him suffer through but eventually break the fever.


Wir, 4 Aufgasta, 3E998

    When he awoke, he sat up, painfully, against the tree cradling his trashed arm and holding his wounds and bandages, all seeped through with red and black. His pallor was better, but still a bit pale, and he seemed stronger now. He sat there and just breathed for a few minutes, looking at Thia, looking at Potema… scratched behind Potema’s ear a moment, and then said in Elvish, “Right. Let’s give this a try.”

    He closed his eyes and concentrated, muttered an incantation inaudibly, and a golden glow built around him, seeming to seep up from the plants and trees and vegetation surrounding the grounds around him, enveloping him. She saw his wounds start closing… the small ones completely and the larger ones partly. His mangled arm started to mend itself, bones and sinew reconnecting before her very eyes, but only maybe halfway. He opened his eyes when complete, surveyed the improvement apparently happy with what he saw.

    “Well, that’s a sight better. Still a bit of work to be done, though.” He pulled off the soaked bandages, and most of his wounds were healed. He definitely looked a thousand times better, his mangled arm was still partially wrecked and his fingers were still missing, and several of his more serious wounds were still open, but still mostly healed. He stood up with a little support from the tree and looked around. “Any chance my staff made it?”

    Thia shook her head, replying in Elvish. “It was in splinters near where I found you. Was it important?”

    His eyebrows flicked up and down once and his head nodded, in an “as I expected” gesture. “It was a gift… from someone very special to me…” He winced a little as he poked at the few still-open wounds on himself. “… a long time ago.”

    “I appreciate everything you’ve done for me; truly, thank you. But you wouldn’t happen to have any more of those dressings handy, would you?” He went to reapplying the splint Thia previously used to his now-less-mangled arm. She pulled out a few more from her medicine kit and helped him ensure the wounds were clean and properly bandaged.

    Thia couldn’t remember when, if ever, she’d had an entire conversation in Elvish. It felt… weird. All patched back up, he said, “I think after a Noae Elithor I should be able to heal the rest of this. In the meantime, I’d like to find a new staff. It’s so much easier to focus for me with a staff. I know, it’s weird, but it just is.”

    “Wanna help?”

    “Of course. What do you need?”

    “Right now? Mostly a crutch.” He stood a little unsteadily and put an arm out as if to put it around her shoulder to help support him. Other than his arm, the wounds that were still open were abdominal and thoracic, right across the core, so Thia bet it was excruciating to move at all. She slid up under his arm and helped steady him, and it all fit well, as he was only slightly taller than her. “Again, thank you.”

    “If you don’t mind, I’d like to look around a bit at the trees. Some species make for better staffmaking.” He looked at her under his armpit, noticed his dirty and shredded robes, and said, “I may have cured the infection and healed my wounds a bit, but I haven’t had a proper bath in a few days, so I apologize if I am a little ripe.” Other than the lingering scent of blood and that odorous Serum 100, she really didn’t smell much for him to be worried about. But his smile was familiar.

    Thia helped him walk through the woods for a little more than an hour, looking at tree branches and roots, and just as she was getting a little impatient, privately, with his perfectionism in selecting a freakin’ stick, he finally said, “Oh! I can work with this…” and stopped in front of a large, blooming deciduous tree. He smiled broadly at her and said, “Holly! One of the best mediums through which to channel nature’s power.” His beaming smile hit her like a ton of bricks. She had seen it before.

    He put a hand against the holly tree to steady himself, and then pulled on a lower branch bending down to where he could grab most of it. He concentrated, moved his hands in a slow, methodical manner as if weaving with his fingers and wrist, his eyes and hands aglow in faint gold. As he worked, the holly branch elongated, straightened, thickened and then tapered, twisted around itself several times as if growing to his exact will. When done, the branch pinched itself off from the tree naturally, the leaves and smaller sub-branches fell away in a moment, and in his hand was an elegant staff of holly about six-and-a-half feet long, braided about itself, slightly thicker at the top and tapering to an almost point at the bottom.

    He did all that in under a minute, and relieved of the need to support him it was actually pretty fun to watch. He looked tired again, resting against his new prize. Thia stood there slightly awestruck, whether because of his magic or his now unmistakable familiarity. After a moment, she shook herself back to reality and straightened up.

    Thia asked him, “What now?” He sat down at the base of the holly tree with his staff, having found a single ray of bright sunshine in the perfect spot.

    “Rest. And then more healing. Another day’s worth, and I think I’ll be right as rain.” He still looked tired, although he looked a thousand times better than before.

    Thia asked, “Would you like some fresh clothes?” He said, “Yes. But considering its doubtful you have anything for me with you…” He again smiled at her and retrieved from his pouch two small rocks, whispered an incantation, made a few motions over a tear in his robes with a rock in each hand, and before her eyes, the tear closed in the cloth until there is no trace of it. It took him about five minutes to fully repair his garb.

    Thia asked him if he was safe to enter the town. He answered, “Yes, I am clean of infection. But I’d prefer to stay out of town. I’m… really… not… comfortable there.” She unloaded the rest of her pent-up questions in a frustrated torrent at him, backing him up on his metaphorical heels.

    Having caught him unaware, he stammered, “I’ve been tracking something all over the Paw Ridge Range… a monstrosity that kills for sport. I have found countless fauna, alone and in groups, slaughtered in the same way as you saw at the caravan… mountain lions, beaver colonies, bears, herds of deer and elk and rabbits, entire wolf packs… laid waste to rot, uneaten and infected.” His smile was gone, and his jawline had taken on a hard edge.

    "And it’s getting worse. The farmers around Southpaw have recently lost cattle, sheep, even pigs ‘protected’ inside their pens, all the same way. And now, this thing hits a caravan… people!!” He looked away for a moment, as if there was something physically painful in his memory. “The one I just happened to be traveling with… Me, the person who had been combing the forest, tracking and trying to find this thing… the caravan I was traveling with. That’s the one it attacks.” He punched the emphasis of the “I” in his last sentence, and then let the Elvish words hang in the air for a moment under the weight of the implication. “This thing is no animal. It thinks. And… it has a name… its own name.”

    “It hit the caravan fast out of the brush, the way a crocodile springs from the water’s edge to surprise its prey. It was huge… slammed the side of one wagon, tipped it over, sent everyone flying… except for me, I was walking. Now, this is going to sound crazy…” He looked her straight in the eye, “it can project its mind into yours. Excruciating pain, hatred, fear, bloodlust… straight into your head like a dagger. Blindingly. You can’t think, let alone act. Meanwhile, it rends everyone limb from limb.” His haggard stare barely hid the pain of the memory. “And it has a name. It even tells you its name as it is stabbing you in your mind. Madcoil.”

    “I blacked out at some point. When I came to, everyone was dead and I followed the trail to kill it. Madcoil slaughtered its way through a small pack of timber wolves that happened by about a half-mile east of the road, and when I made it there my head had cleared enough for me to rethink what I was doing… taking on Madcoil singlehandedly suddenly started sounding like suicide. I needed help.”

    “I returned to the caravan, and help had arrived. And, I was happy to see I was wrong when I ran off, that several folks had survived. I healed who I could, discovered the infection and its ability to block healing magics, and tried to figure how to both get help and not lose Madcoil’s trail at the same time.”

    “I had heard of an impressively capable group of adventurers in Hellespont, and they had a rather talented ranger. I was thinking… well, hoping… that this ranger would understand my message, so I fetched and sent one of the wolves’ bodies with the rescue party. Then… I went back to tracking Madcoil. Tracked it over hill and dale, through twists and turns. But I was an idiot.”

    “Madcoil was fully aware of my presence. I thought it was leading me back to its lair or something; it was leading me to a convenient place to kill me.” He looked at directly her, his light, stone-gray eyes so earnest it was disconcerting. “Seriously, thank you.”

    “Well it’s a good thing we got your message then,” Thia smiled. “Though there’s only two of us in town at the moment.” Her expression darkened. “So, you’ve seen it? This Madcoil? Do you know what sort of creature it is?”

    He nodded. “A nasty puddle of old magic gone bad, like stagnant water turned fetid. Head and front paws of a great, black cat with a forked tongue, its body and hind quarters melded into a giant, slithering, scaly snake. It is huge… size of an elephant. Fangs and claws dripping with that black infection. Claws as big as…” and he opened his robe to expose his muscular, hairless chest and one of the still-open belly wounds, using his hands to frame and present the bandage somewhat comically in a ‘this big’ motion.

    Thia was simultaneously terrified and enraged, but she swallowed both emotions and remained dangerously still. “When will you be well enough for us to continue after it?”

    He looked at her contemplatively for a few moments. “I don’t think you and I can take Madcoil ourselves.” Long moments passed in silence, holding each other’s gaze. “I need another day or two to fully heal.”

    “What will it take then…” Thia said more to herself before she stood, returning her attention to the elf. “I’ll get you something to eat. The longer it takes you to heal the harder it’ll be to find Madcoil again.”

    “Oh, it isn’t going anywhere. I was close to its lair; that much I am certain. It has been marauding that same region for months, and when it was projecting into my mind it had no intention of leaving… It certainly wasn’t afraid of me.”

    “Doesn’t sound like that thing is much afraid of anything. How had you even hoped to beat it?”

    He sighed, sounding a little perturbed, “Well, I wasn’t exactly thinking clearly, love. When Madcoil blasts your mind, it’s like an ocean of fire ants flowing in through your eyeballs, ears, nostrils and mouth all at once. It’s blinding, searing pain, filled with rage and hate. My pursuit was more fueled by it than me.”

    “Are you saying it was influencing you to come after it?” Thia stopped a moment. “When did you first start pursuing Madcoil?”

    He squinted one eye thoughtfully. “Goading me is probably more accurate.” He got up painfully, using his new staff as support. “I walked into Southpaw about a month ago, and on my way in found some of Madcoil’s kill. I didn’t know what it was at the time, but something about it wasn’t natural. So… I started looking in to it.”

    Thia kicked herself internally. It had been so close and she hadn’t even known. “So, you haven’t been following Madcoil very long.” Thia noticed him stand. “Do you need to go somewhere? Do you need anything to help your recovery?”

Thalolan_0.png

    “Hurts to sit. Hurts to stand. Hurts to breathe. It all still hurts. I could use some rest.” He looked tired again.

    “Then you should rest. Don’t worry I’ll keep watch.” Thia sat and held her lute in her lap.

    “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.

    “…Thalolan.”

Comments

Kat – “Mrs. Greentree. Thia had Diplo’s cooking back on the Dread Island and doesn’t want to risk something this important.”
DM Mike – “Okay… pretty hard to screw up melting down chocolate and pouring it into molds to cool, but this is Diplo we’re talking about.”

OKAY. Thats cool.

Thia and Potema: Thalolan
DM_Mike

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