Private Tales Artifice

A private roleplay only for those invited by the first writer
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Character Biography
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“ Some ways uphill, the mountains if you will, is an old outpost. Beneath it, lies the lost repository we spoke of last year. Says so in this writ— “ A slip of parchment, sound like dry leaves in the wind. He snatched it from the air, neutral severity on his face slowly turning to outright dissatisfaction.

“ To me just says that it’s days away — What do you want from there? “

“ Didn’t you see the drawing on the flipside — “ An indicating gesture, amidst a sip of something warm. He merely glanced at the picture, a perfect sphere set on a triangle of legs. Some markings. Insufficient.

“ Some scribble. No weight, no material, no dimensions. What’s in it? “ He put the note on the table, tapping it with his fingers.

“ We don’t quite know. Historical significance not enough for you? “
“ No. “
“ Well, thankfully you owe me one. That’ll suffice am sure. ”

It did, his face a begrudging image of it as he flipped the paper back around, shoulders sagging as he gave a sigh.

“ I’d simply like to know how heavy it is. “
“ Heavy as a day is long.”
“ Well, that’s not much at all. “
“ Wrong. It depends. “


***​

The mountain stream splashed as he made across it, his burdened hop not enough to clear the entire breadth. Despite it being only early autumn, the air had already chilled up here significantly, the occasional trees a bunch of dark, leafless things. The moisture in the air made the cold travel through garments and all the way into the bone marrow at every gust. The only thing keeping him warm, sparing extremities, was the vigorous pace their shepherd of a guide had kept.

If the woman wasn’t a retired postal worker, he had a goat for an uncle. He’d never seen a single sheep walk this fast.

Well, some fortune if the breakneck speed granted them one less day up here. In this feeling he’d appeared to be rather alone, as the squire he’d taken with on this little impromptu expedition kept up brilliantly. Not a single complaint, no matter the thinning air and all besides.

No wonder he’d been told that she was just about ready to be sworn in. What with her being significantly taller and hardier than two thirds of people he’d met in his life, he almost felt silly calling her Squire. And that had been before the shepherd had taken him for the squire out of the two of them, first they’d arrived at the village some half a day downhill by now.

The travesty. Not to say he hadn’t half entertained just going along with it. Perhaps he would’ve then been excused from maintaining an amount of decorum as time was wasted with whichever menial task, so much faffing around before they could depart anew. Now, it’d likely be dark before they’d traversed all the way back down later today. He’d already decided he’d rather risk that, than spend a night camping out here.

Or worse, in the dusty cobwebbed outpost. There might even be a corpses, rats or mold there — a clear health hazard. Thinking of such things, he glanced past his shoulder at Gruki and hooked an index into his scarf, pulling it down from where it covered half his face.

“ You alright there, squire? That slip you took on the stones earlier looked rather nasty. “
 
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'It was!' The squire replied, smiling despite the ache in her knees from where she had fallen. 'Think the stones were probably worse off, though.' Using humour to cover up the pain, Gruki hurried to catch up. They had been walking for what felt like hours now, and there was no sign of slowing. A cold wind blew, biting through the furs and thick clothes she had wrapped herself in.

'And you, Syr? Are you doing okay?' The she-orc inquired, looking up from where she had planted her feet to meet the Knight-Sworn's eyes.

This was the first time they had served together, but Gruki was already starting to like Syr Kaarle of Dusk. Short but handsome, the dusker had proven himself to be a caring, compassionate fellow, if a touch sullen at times. I blame the climb for that. And her! Glancing past the knight, Gruki's gaze alighted on their guide. A slave-driver, through and through!

Still, they needed her if they were to find the repository. It was bound to be up here somewhere.

'Watch yourself, Syr!' Gruki advised, jumping aside as a cascade of loose scree ricocheted down the mountain slope. Their guide continued on, bold as a goat and hoarier still. Least the views are pleasant, she sighed, taking a moment to admire them. All this fresh air was doing her a world of good, Gruki felt. It was just a shame about her boots.

Damn things are falling apart. Hope we get there soon.
 
He gave a firm nod at her, appreciating the honesty. No use denying the fall or that it’d hurt. They’d all seen or, at the very least, heard it.

“ Yes. “ He responded simply to the question in turn, picking up his pace again lest the woman ahead leave them both behind. Okay as okay goes — he’d not lied, but things could’ve certainly been better, circumstances more ideal.

At the call from abaft, watch himself he did, gravel and dirt cracking beneath his heel as he broke aside from the irregular path. Well-beaten by wildlife and water, it wasn’t meant for leather soles. This wasn’t the first time he’d nigh slipped.

“ Thank you, Gruki. “ He spoke quickly, a spring in his step as he cleared a couple larger rocks, regaining visual on their guide that’d disappeared behind a stretch of stunted, bushy pines. She appeared to have finally stilled, stood upon a wall that rose abruptly some six feet from the rubbleridden ground.

Not only a shepherd, but a wizard too? The impatience must’ve been clear in his face, as she was quick to point out a narrow goatpath on the rockface to the side, one that’d require some scaling and balance. A steady foot.

“ I’m not doing that.“ He stated outright, approaching the wall instead. The shepherd gave but a shrug, eyeing the two of them curiously from the shade wherein she stilled to watch. SIlent for a moment, like in measuring, he stood with one gloved hand on the stone.

“ I don’t know about your skill in rock climbing, but mine aren’t anything to brag about. “ He started, turning to the squire. “ Mind giving me a leg up? “

Gruki
 
Gruki shrugged. 'Sure!' Brushing past Syr Kaarle, she put her back to the wall, bent down to make the mount easier. She could feel the guide's eyes watching her like a hawk. There was something odd about the woman that Gruki just couldn't put her finger on.

Cupping her hands, she nodded ready.

Kaarle stepped up, best foot forward. Taking the weight with nary a sound, Gruki straightened, heaved the knight up, armour and all, to the ledge above. A few small stones tumbled loose to go careening back down the slope. 'You good?' She cried out, hands hovering above her head to catch him if he wasn't. Of course, she needn't have worried.

My turn, the she-orc thought, throwing her pack to the guide. With a short run up, Gruki clambered up the wall, grabbing hold of the ledge a moment before gravity decided to intervene. A grunt and she was on top. 'That was easy,' she smiled. 'Where to next?'
 
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He braced, hands on her shoulders as he planted his foot into her palms. It was like being launched by a trebuchet.

Probably. The shepherd’s helpful hand added to the grace of his landing, which might’ve well ended in a bit of clamber otherwise.

“ Yes. “ He affirmed upon her checking in, one hand on his hip, his attention fully occupied with taking in the path that climbed onwards. Now, if we can find a rock to tie a rope so she can—

It appeared in alarmingly quick succession, that they’d need to bother with no such thing. A wild scrape of soles and a grunt made him whip around, just so he might witness Gruki having scaled the ledge without issue. He couldn’t but blink, watching sheepishly as she made a joke of it.

The orc he usually traveled with would’ve done no such thing. And hadn't, in his life.

“ An easier way I hope. We aren’t far from our destination, now. “ He managed in response, looking to the shepherd for confirmation.

“ No, we are not. A bit of a climb yet and it should be on a ledge to our right. “ She responded with some amusement, snorting and clapping him on the shoulder in passing. His astonishment had hardly gone unnoticed. Silly man.

“ Easy, huh? “ He parroted Gruki’s words belatedly on their way, once the shepherd had taken out of their immediate earshot.

“ Impressive, more like. Teaches me to not make a single assumption about your capabilities, from hereon. Keep it up. “

Gruki
 
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'Oh, I'm not sure about all that!' Gruki could feel herself blushing. It wasn't a good look for a tall, intimidating half-orc. She knew that. Still. 'Thank you! I won't let you down.' She made it sound like a promise, as if such a thing was within her power. Who was she to know how Syr Kaarle's mind worked, or what the future would bring?

Foolish, foolish Gruki! Don't go saying things you'll regret.

Too late. Slinging her pack over one shoulder, and her greatsword over the other, she made to follow the guide. The path ahead began to level out after a dozen paces. The ground to either side was treacherous, still, scored with coarse brush and pitfalls that could twist an ankle or snap a leg with ease.

Fortunately, the old mountain goat knew her business, knew when and where to step.

Gruki mimicked her, moving with exaggerated care. The ground began to climb again, angling up at random intervals. Why anyone would choose to build a repository this high into the mountains was beyond her. But then she had never been the smartest of people.

'Say, Syr Kaarle, may I ask you something?'
 
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“ Now, there’s a promise I can respect. “ He responded, purposefully severe to further drive in the tease. No pressure, whatsoever.

In time, the outpost begun looming. It was in the marks around the ground and walls, the occasional remnant of an old step, artificially smooth under one’s foot. The shepherd had begun slowing down, like keeping an eye out for something at every bend and junction. Somewhere, water was flowing again.

He almost started at Gruki’s voice as it called, inquisitive, pulling his glance past his shoulder. His advance slowed none.

“ Ask away. Fast, if you may — I feel we’re just about arriving. “

Gruki
 
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A nod, quick as you please. 'What are we looking for, exactly?' Gruki asked, innocent as the day she was born. 'I know it's a relic of sorts. Something worth hiding away up here, at the very least,' she mumbled some, glanced at her feet. Yep. Still there! 'Master Brambleshell was a bit light on details, is all.'

A shrug accompanied the smile she sent Kaarle's way.

'I just feel like I would be of more use to you if I knew some of the specifics.' Feeling like she had talked too much, Gruki went quiet. The high winds tugged at her hair like a child demanding attention. Even here, amongst the bones of their shared past, it was difficult to hide from the conditions. But not impossible.

The Guide had stopped by such a nook. Crouching down, she eyed the ruined entrance ahead with something akin to wary respect. There was history here, yes, but something else dwelled in the mountain repository. She could feel it in her marrow.

Gruki could feel it, too. Call it intuition.

Kaarle
 
Questions, suspicions, reasons. All warranted.

The smile and her overall tone, so careful and genuine, almost made him feel bad for withholding information. Details that he, frankly, largely didn’t have either. But what sort of an idiot would’ve told on himself like that.

He could name a couple. Was he about to be one of them, so disarmed by the sincerity about this girl. He gave a sigh within the shelter of his scarf, surrender in the depth of it.

“ I’ve a picture of it, if you’d like. “ He responded, meeting eyes with her anew, a smile in them. His pace slowed a little as he fished inside a small rectangular pouch at his belt, producing a slip of parchment folded in half. Urging her to hurry closer, a bit of a frown shading his look, he handed it over.

“ You are right to think it a relic, by the look of it. I was told it is a device of some sort, concerned with measuring and recording celestial events. Predicting weather, maybe. “

Gruki
 
'Lot o' hoo-ha for a weather thingamajig,' the she-orc commented, examining the drawing like how the investigators did in her murder mystery novels. 'Still, could be useful.' She passed the slip back with a grateful nod. It was nice to be appreciated. And trusted. Don't forget that part.

Walking on, Gruki approached the entrance to the repository with caution. A skeleton slumbered peacefully just outside the massive archway, its head lolled to the side. Rusted mail hung in tatters around its shoulders and midriff, and there was a broken sword on the ground nearby, just out of reach. Forever just out of reach, Gruki realised.

'Who did this place belong to, before...' Gruki hesitated, glanced around. For a moment, she thought she had heard something. A voice, perhaps. Or several voices rolled into one. The wind, playing tricks, she decided after a time spent listening, paying her instincts no nevermind.

Syr Kaarle would have warned me if this was going to be dangerous, she thought, the cold nipping at her exposed skin. Right?

Kaarle
 
“ A lot of hoo-ha. “ He repeated, unimpressed. “ Never met a historian, have you? They’ll get themselves into a twist over a shard of clay, and that, in a utilitarian sense, one might consider infinitely and irreversibly unuseful. “

The drawing and notes were quickly pocketed away as he turned to continue on, marching right past the guide and for the archway. He stopped next to the skeleton, regarding it in a tilt of his head, frowning with thought. Gruki’s caution dawned upon him only as she spoke, questioning.

“ The people of Belgrath. “ He responded, neck craning as he traced the archway, visibly and audibly unconcerned. “ It is possible we’ve a connection point to the underground roads here, even. Quite likely collapsed. “ One should hope. He turned proper then, spotting the guide that’d left herself behind, lounging against the rockface and enjoying her lunch. Ripping into some tough bread with her teeth, she met his look.

“ What? Is the door locked? “ She gestured at the tall archway, the clear air therein.
“ No. You alright staying out here, waiting? “
“ Quite. I’ve not been in, anyway. “
“ Great. “ Leaves us the honours, then.

At that, a shriek echoed from somewhere deeper in, stilling him to listen and peer at the gradual dark. Or was it just a roar, amplified and distorted. A birdcall traveling through airholes, a boar, the shift of a boulder. He shrugged.

“ Must be some animal, either living or gotten stuck here. " He muttered, slinging his pack off his shoulder and into the ground. The large knife strapped to it came off, tugged into his belt instead. Looking to Gruki, he kept his borderline weary tone.

" Still, doesn’t hurt keeping ones wits about oneself, an eye out and a blade at the ready. “

Gruki
 
'Didn't sound like any beast I've ever heard,' replied Gruki. But I suppose he's right. Pulling her sword belt up over her head, the tall orc brought her weapon down to her side. Three-and-a-half feet in length, with an extra foot for the hilt and pommel, the sword itself was a big, broad-bladed thing, well-suited for reaping cuts. It was, she believed, the kind of weapon most innocent people envisioned a knight wielding in their defence.

Or against them, as the case so often was outside the Order.

Shrugging off her pack, Gruki knelt down. 'Should I prepare torches?' she asked. 'Looks dark in there.' Her eyesight was better than most, but that was not to say she was without her limits. Everyone had them. Even Syr Kaarle, and he was a fully-fledged Sworn.

The sound came again, closer this time. Somewhere between a shriek and a snarl, it made the hairs on the back of Gruki's neck stand up. 'Forgive me, Syr,' she said, voice amplified by concern, 'but I'm pretty sure that wasn't an animal.' She was a student of the Wyld, and whilst her knowledge of the natural world was far from perfect, it was not so flawed as to trick her into thinking the sound could have belonged to an animal.

Unless...

Kaarle
 
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Torches?

“ Certainly. “ The affirmation was little more than a grunt, his attention occupied by the dark. He squinted, shading his eyes with a flat palm.

The little chamber immediately after the archway, while empty, terminated to a doorway which held but the remnants of hinges. After that, the gloom deepened, broken only by a little sliver of light made opaque by the ever swirling dust in the air. At least the ventilation works, then — what joy, to not suffocate to death in the underground.

Gruki’s remark roused him to attention belatedly, prying out a little inquisitive hmh and the arch of brows. Not an animal? Only pretty sure?

“ Then it is not an animal. “ He stated in a shrug, glancing at her like she’d just told him the grass is green. My, what groundbreaking news, we’ve some eldritch beast of the deep in our hands — cancel the expedition. Shaking his head in disproportionate disappointment, he dug in his pack for some of the reagents he’d prepared.

“ We’ll be fine, Gruki, whatever it is. I’ve a big knife. “ He said, tapping at the blade at his belt. From there, his hand gestured at her sword.

“ And look at the size of yours. Absolutely horrible to maneuver in confined spaces, so we should hope we don’t get surprised in one. “ Like all the corridors in this outpost, I bet. Showing not a flicker of worry on his face, he closed the drawstring on his pack and slung it back over his shoulder.

“ Let’s see what this does. “ One of the clay spheres in hand, he made a gesture to produce flame into its fuse. In a shift of powder and click of stone, he sent it through the distant doorway.

A shell gave way, releasing a sound like an elk’s call. And for a moment, within the rectangle was nothing but a bright red light and smoke with the tinge of sulphur.

Gruki
 
Gruki looked at Kaarle, then, her sword. 'Yes,' she said, 'I suppose it is quite big.' Drawing her steel, she gave it a test whirl before holding it up to the light of day. I can make it work, she thought, sliding it home with a satisfying hiss. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Syr Kaarle relax.

What? Did he think she was about to use it on him?

Preparing the torches -one for her and one for him- the big squire tucked them both under her left arm, careful not to damage the heads. There was a flash of flame-light as Kaarle lit the fuse on his little firework. The flash that followed was brighter, more powerful. Gruki detected a whiff of something sulphuric, as the smoke clogged the entranceway.

Was he trying to flush the not-animal out? Maybe. Whatever the case, they were left blind until the mountain winds dispersed the smoke, deeper into the ruins.

Striking life into one of the torches, she passed it to the knight. She secured her pack's straps as someone crunched up the path behind them. 'Coming with?' she asked the Guide, smiling up at her. 'Oh, heavens, no! No, I just came to wish you luck.'


'What for?'

'In finding what you climbed all the way up here for,' she said, wrinkling her nose at the odious smell. Like rotten eggs. 'Well, thank you!' Gruki stood, turned to Kaarle. 'Shall we?'

Kaarle
 
Well. Appeared it did a whole lot of nothing.

Humming thoughtfully, he watched the red flare fade. Silence reigned, residue of the smoke drifting past him where he stood in the middle of the archway. Curious — that usually roused at least some sort of—

The offered torch was accepted in but a nod, his stare undetaching from his point of interest. As the two conversed behind his back, he paid it no mind, ear perked to any which sound from wherein they were to stray in quick succession. None was there, of a sudden.

It’d turned to a tomb, biding ill. He drew in a breath, deep, like a man bracing for pain or a dive. Both?

“ We shall. “ He responded to the squire, glancing past his shoulder. Without delay, he made true to it and begun forth, steps slowly gaining an echo as he crossed the first chamber. Nothing happened even as he crossed through the doorway in a swift pace, one hand on the hilt of his knife and stare whipping about at every suspect shadow.

So far so good. Or not.

“ If you were to store an artifact, Gruki — “ He said, tone easy as he took a look around the second room, one long and narrow with slits for windows on the left and two staircases sinking to the stone floor at the end. They came together at the middle, then split again to separate headings. He walked on, figure aflicker as he passed through stripes of pale light.

“ Where would you put it? “

Gruki
 
Gruki moved in after Kaarle, close enough to lend her support but not so close as to foul his swing should he need to react swiftly. Of course, it appeared as if she was hiding in his shadow, but Gruki knew that wasn't the case. Nothing scared her. She was big and strong and brave. Nothing, nothing-

A loud shriek echoed up the steps, making Gruki jump. Her blade inched free of its scabbard on instinct. Was the Thing coming up to fight them? Was it even hostile to begin with? Did it have to sound so scary?

No! Stop! Foolish Gruki! Thinking is bad! Grimacing, the she-orc gave herself a mental kick in the shin. Now was not the time to get wrapped up in the bubble of her thoughts. Seek and destroy, find and retrieve. Mission first, always. 'Where would I put it?' Keeping her eyes on the branching stairs, Gruki pondered fast and hard.

'Somewhere deep down, where it can be locked away and kept safe. Either by myself or someone I trust implicitly.' She paused, listened some. She could hear the gentle chitter of crumbling stone and- yes! The beast, chittering too. What the hell was it? 'Were the Belgrath's known to employ magic, Syr? Wards and the like? And what of guard-beasts?'

The puzzle pieces shifted, slotted together. Others came undone.

Kaarle
 
The shriek was so much louder and sharper now, ricocheting off the walls around them. He didn’t as much flinch as stopped for a heartbeat, stilling to listen with his head inclined at the staircase.

As silence fell again, he proceeded forward with a warier pace, side and torch first as he took to the first step downwards. His stare kept at the heading even as the squire spoke, his advance pausing again as she did, allowing the both of them to take in the scraping sound. It wasn’t terribly close, but close enough to warrant it being worrisome. If only they could pick a direction to avoid it altogether, one in which their desired item preferably lay as well— Too much to ask?

“ Deep down, behind lock and key. All too sensible, but bad news to us, then. “

He paused at the diverging point, measuring the identical corridors that continued downwards in parallel, but quite definitely separate. Nothing indicated their difference otherwise, least of all when function was concerned.

“ Guard beasts and traps are more likely than magic. But that is assuming none has been here after it was abandoned. “ He answered, torch illuminating the carved images on the walls, looking for any sort of direction. Were some of the symbols a language he couldn’t understand, or just decoration?

“ I haven’t detected any wards though, so far. “ He reached out and tried the air carefully, like running the fingertips over delicate fabric. The weave of the Loch was still, without disturbance. Shrugging one shoulder conclusively, he drew the knife and went on.

“ We’ll go left, first. Keep an eye on the ceiling. “

It has strange marks on it.

Gruki
 
'Let us pray our luck holds.' Gruki replied, crossing her fingers and wishing for the best. Wards were a real nuisance to dispel. Kind of like eldritch horrors. 'Already on it,' she said, following Kaarle's lead and drawing her steel, careful not to knock it against anything in the process. Syr was right. The weapon was a bit too long for her to go swinging it about as she pleased.

Fortunate, then, that there was more than one way to hold a sword.

'The dust is thick here,' she remarked, reaching out to run her index across the face of a marble bust. The nose and chin had been chipped away at, but the pointy ears remained untouched, as did the rest of... whoever it was the bust was supposed to resemble. 'I doubt the place has seen any visitors in a long, long time.' A good thing, that. Chances were the relic they sought was still here, safe and sound.

The bad news? Whatever it was making the sounds was getting closer.

Coming to a wide room, Gruki halted in the doorway. The air here smelt musty, and was thick with motes of dust that swam in the flickering torchlight. A... library? The half-orc wondered, counting bookcases and broken tables. She could just about make out a spiral staircase on the far side of the room, hinting at an upstairs. The second flight of steps had collapsed, presumably under some massive weight.

But what could possibly have brought-

There was the chitter of claws on stone, and before she knew what was happening, Gruki found herself being deafened by an almighty roar from above. Flinching as the wall of sound hit her, the she-orc looked up. There was a shadow, there, huge and wriggling. Gruki saw a flash of pale skin, red and raw and slimy. The shadow shifted, pulling itself along the ceiling to dangle just above their heads.

It was then she noticed the teeth. Yellow and rancid, they sent a shiver of fear down Gruki's spine. The creature -whatever it was- seemed to sense her fear. Smiling an impossibly wide smile, it began to descend, heaving its massive body down the wall towards them.

Kaarle