Open Chronicles More violence, less violets

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Knights of Anathaeum

Blessed of the Forest

Blightspawn Spriggans
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The wind wailed like a banshee though the barren branches of ancient arboreal giants. Their limbs seemed to be outstretched in silent petition to the sky: please release us. The trees of the Balewoods were all dead, their bark blackened and oozing ichor, but yet still suffering from a sickness, a fury, a loathing. The wind carried a name in its wailing. Vyr…

Seed Mother found it to be a perfectly beautiful night. The sky was clear enough to see for miles, the stale wind bracing. Her bark-like skin crackled and twisted into a content grin when she heard the enraged snarling of some restless creature in the distance.

The spriggan knelt down to gently caress one of the delicate mushrooms she’d been tending. The fairy ring of ghostly-white fungi around her seemed to soak in her indigo glow and reflect it in the most astounding way. In the middle of this desolation, her garden was flourishing; an island of flowers and thorns and fungi cradled in a grove of twisted trees. Home.

“Time to eat, now, little ones,” she cooed, her voice creaking like an old tree in a storm. She turned and lifted a knotted twig of a finger to a form slumped near one of the trees, beckoning it forward.
the seedmother.jpg

Won’t you bring your siblings some food?

The form shuffled forward with awkward steps. Roughly human in shape, still partly clothed in rotting leather, her flesh had bulged and erupted to make way for the tiny jungle of warped plants and mushrooms that had colonized her back and head.

Come, my child, Seed Mother beckoned the colony lovingly. The walking corpse came towards her slowly, dragging another fresh corpse behind it. This one was elvish, male and somewhat bloated from death. Not in the best shape, but it was available. Fresh corpses were getting harder to find lately; she would have to remedy that if her garden was to grow. A task better suited to her impetuous underlings, she mused.



Vengeful Thorns was the first to respond to her summons. The stout spriggan waited silently as Seed Mother combed through the curtain of moss and fungal hyphae on her head, disseminating the seeds and spores she grew on her person onto the elven corpse. It was difficult for the mercurial one to wait so long, so patiently, when there was fun to be had. But she did not dare to arouse Seed Mother’s annoyance when she was gardening.

“My children are hungry. Bring them something so that they may grow,” Seed Mother said at last. She glanced up at Vengeful Thorns, the blue-violet glow of her eyes fiery in threat. “Bring something fresh.”

The branches on Vengeful Thorns’s head rustled with curiosity. vengeful thorns.jpg

“How far may I go? I daresay there are hardly any silly animals to play with in our woods now, and you did tell us we can’t go play with the silly people yet. And they have fire!

Seed Mother bent back over to her fairy ring, sighing almost sadly as she used her sharp clawed hands to snip one of the white mushrooms. She handed the cap to Vengeful Thorns.

“Go and play for a night or two, but bring me back something less than a day old… or even still alive, if you are able. This will protect you from flames for one night. Don’t waste it!”

Vengeful Thorns’s entire body glowed with an eerie yellow-green light as she thought of all the games she was going to play…

“Can I bring Grasping Roots?”

Seed Mother’s shoulders creaked sharply in the approximation of a shrug. She waved Vengeful Thorns away dismissively.

“Do as it pleases you.”

Oh, Vengeful Thorns planned to.
 

Josai

Sworn Spear Witch
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It was upon a boulder that Josai did sit, feet rest against crook of rock, her sworn counterpart away for the moment, as was the squire that accompanied them.

It was a standard ranging. Patrol the wilds, make contact with villagers and loging operations. Not her strongest suit, up until the note taking part. Few in the order could best her at that. And the thought alone was enough to have her smirk beneath the shadow of her wide brimmed steepled hat. And, she would be lying is she said she was not glad to be away from the monastery.

As much as she loved the dusty smell of the archives, and the cool air of the burrow. It was important to feed the mind new experiences.

Even if it was through practiced habits. Her hand, pushing and pulling a crumbly stick of charcoal across a well used and well worn leather bound journal. The collection of treasured paper inside, coal stained and full of valuable notes.

A lot of it was a mess. Things stuffed in here and there, with smears and smudges and stains that wrinkled the paper. But, enough of it was valuable knowledge. Sketches of monsters and notes on the shifting blight lines and trails. Recession in some areas, growth in others. Their efforts showed some fruit, but the notation, all the marks and measurements recorded. Sometimes it felt as if not enough was being done.

And how could it?

Their order was no great house with legions at their command. But hearty souls drawn to a cause. And if you asked each of them what that cause was, well, you might find a different answer given to you. Though all seemed to know that if not them, then who?

So, Josai sat upon her boulder, and sketched the corrupting sludge that twisted and turned the tree that stood before her. Proud and hearty brown graying and whiting as pitch tendrils spread and stuck. Some even seemed to claw. She made sure to note that down next to her drawing. Her spear rested beside her.
 
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Gromat N'Daego

The Beastmaster
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(In a field of wretched, withered dry grass a giant bovine creature scoured the ground for bits of greenery amidst the auburn sea of grass. Nearly everything here was either dead or dying, the few animals left driven near mad or to the point of going against natural instincts and preying upon others regardless of their normal diet.

The large, shaggy bovine creature snorted at the lack of food options and pawed at the ground in hope that it might dig up some roots with a bit more life than what lies above.)

Gromat: "That's enough, Thaja. Y' ain't gonna find nothin' 'ere. No use paw'n away like ye diggin' fer' gold, m'kay?"

(The large beast crooned it's neck up to regard the person sitting upon it's hump. It looked at what appeared to be a large, chubby half orc who stared back at it lazy eyed while sitting with legs crossed and smoking a pipe. The large beast snorted loudly in his direction, it's air sending the man's pipe smoke back with force.)

Gromat: "Oh, don't go start'n with me, lil' lady. We still got some grub saved up. 'Ere ye go."

(The half orc reached in his pack and produced a bundle of grasses. Though wilted they were still green and definite upgrade from the death which lied at their feet. Dropping the bundle on the ground the ground the bovine creature lowered it's head and started to chew away. Idly the half orc peered down at the spot where his beast of burden pawed the ground to get at some roots...)

Gromat: "Wouldn't want ye to go eatin' that mess anyways."

(...which started out with an opaline hue but ended in slimy black tips which dyed the nearby soil black. Taking out a book from their pack they proceeded to take down some notes on what's before him, sketching a picture to accompany his notes.)
 
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Juancho Ricco

The Charlatan
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Juancho wasn't much of an animal person, but found it wise to invest in a steed for himself recently. Below him, trotting along at a steady pace was a sizable donkey. Though not the steed he wanted, or even thought he was buying it’s the one he’s ended up with. The sly stable master that sold it to him had lied, and said that they were a strong but young mule and that they’d grow into a more suitable steed.

But old Pepper was no mule and wasn’t going to get any bigger. The stable master had taken advantage of Juancho’s lack of experience with animals. Though he was not mad, just disappointed in himself. Being a con man that allowed himself to be swindled.

However, Pepper was not the only steed, on Juancho’s shoulder sat Sophie, his pixie compatriot, riding along as if the man was her own steed with her feet dangling off him. Eventually the fresh and vibrant air was replaced with a bland scent of mold. Sophie noted the abrupt lack of natural health and beauty. Seeing it as well Juancho halted Pepper the donkey and slid off the mount. The pixie on his shoulder fluttered off him as well.

Similarly to his knowledge of animals Jauncho was no botanist, but could clearly conclude there was a local blight that he had ridden into. Stepping closer to a rotting tree as slimy ichor poured from it bark some. “Witches perhaps, the kind here that call this place home.” Sophie remarked, as they grimaced at the sight of the unpleasant ichor.

“It’s possible but I don’t think so.” Junacho replied, “I wouldn’t think they would want to corrupt their land. I believe they would rather harmonize with it. I’d say this is something else. It’s faster to get to our destination if we trek through here. The sooner the better too.” After his mild explanation Juancho mounted Pepper once more and urged them to continue onward causing the donkey to bray rather loudly. Possibly alerting any nearby inhabitants. Sophie fluttered back up onto Juancho’s shoulder as the three of them moved along, keeping an eye and ear out for any possible threats.
 
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While Josai sat and scribbled down notes and sketches, Tarid took a moment to briefly scout their surroundings. Weaving through the trees and thick growth that had taken over the land, Tarid stepped as careful as he could to minimize the disturbance to it. There wasn't any particular reason for his stealthy moments beyond practising for its own sake. The desert hadn't any plant life like the Vale did, and moving cleanly through thick growth was a skill Tarid needed to build as a Knight of Anathaeum. He was far from the desert dunes, now.

There was little of interest to scout, anyhow. More growth that looked much like the last, and a chaotic, endless expanse of trees that continued well beyond the limited range of sight through the wild and expansive growth. None of the plants looked remarkable, nor did he catch much sight of wildlife aside from squirrels scurrying up trees and birds sitting in their branches.

The patrol was a routine and simple enough task. Patrol the land, watch for loggers and take notes on the surroundings. Though prepared as always, Tarid hardly expected much out of the ordinary, Once he'd finished with his scouting, Josai would likely be done with her sketching and his report could be given.

Thus far, all he had for her was more trees.
 

Kallach

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From his soaring mount, Kallach watched as the mysterious substance consumed and reconstituted the local flora. His original suspicion—that it was some unusual amalgam of biological matter and magical energy at work—was confirmed by the fact that whatever it was quickly engulfed several trees, altering their color, form, and giving them an eerie hue unbecoming of normal plants.

"Hmm. I wonder."

He made a motion for his familiar, which resembled a large cartoon cloud with angel wings on either side, to slightly lower itself so he could see the scene more clearly.

But he was unable to get near enough! Too much obnoxious undergrowth was present. The body of the cloud would become entangled in the numerous low-hanging branches and prickly shrubs, possibly exposing his location.


"That leaves me only one option."

He looked at the cloud.


"Sorry, buddy."

But the cloud did not answer. How could it have? It lacked the apparatus necessary for producing speech, and it wasn't nearly intelligent enough to have thoughts of its own.

Kallach snapped his fingers and the main body of the cloud began dissipating. It was like unfurling a ball of yarn as the soft material under his feet spiralled out of existence. Soon he found himself falling, descending to the ground from the height of four meters. He pumped some magic into his lower body to keep it from incurring injuries upon impact.

Kallach landed feet first, raising a small cloud of dust as his soles crunched through the dead leaves and depressed the loose soil, leaving perfect footprints. He dusted himself off and looked around. Trees spanned as far as eye could reach, and then some. There wasn't much grass to go by, and the ground beneth him felt slightly damp.

From here on out, he was by himself. He couldn't risk summoning any of the larger familiars in fear that they would scare away the wildlife he so wanted to explore.
 
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Blessed of the Forest

Blightspawn Spriggans
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Ugh, how monotonous this had turned out! Usually mortals were such entertaining playthings, but Vengeful Thorns couldn’t hide her disappointment at the ease with which she and Grasping Roots had subdued this little camp of loggers. The mass panic that set in when the trees started attacking the loggers in turn was a fine joke, but she had to admit she’d hoped for a little more. Even with humans and goblins and an orc hanging inverted in the tree boughs like plump fruits, she found the humor had worn thin.

“This game has gotten a bit stale,” she declared with a pout, snapping her thorn-covered vine whip in the direction of the nearest captive, briefly enjoying the renewed moment of horror in his eyes.
She turned to Grasping Roots, who was considering the scene like an artist might consider a painting, moving the branches this way and that until her ‘mortal fruits’ looked just right.

“How about releasing a few of them?” Vengeful Thorns suggested.

“Doesn’t Seed Mother want them alive?” Grasping Roots asked.Grasping Roots.jpg

Vengeful Thorns scoffed. “She said she wants them fresh. She’ll be content if we bring one or two of the miserable vermin back alive.”

The other spriggan, smaller and more willowy than her counterpart, paused to consider something.

“Well, I suppose I should have some ground sculptures…” she glanced up at the groaning, squirming creatures caught in her tendrils. “Yes, I think that would look lovely. Do try not to completely ruin them!”

Grasping Roots waved a petite, bark-covered hand lazily and six of the tendrils dropped their prisoners in the forest duff. The prisoners each struggled to their feet, battered and disoriented. Vengeful Thorns gave them some motivation by cracking her whip in the middle of them. She grinned as they scattered in every direction. She enjoyed it when she couldn’t catch them all at once.

Vengeful Thorns withdrew her whip. Obediently it wrapped itself into a tight coil in her hands, the weapon twisting and warping until it was a braided ring about the size of a buckler with great sharp thorns sticking out on three sides.

Her arm creaked woodenly as she pulled it back, casting her gaze to the slowest prisoner, a goblin who had taken off towards the logging buildings in the nearby clearing. With a forceful throw and a greater force of will, the chakram launched from her hand and spun towards the fleeing goblin. It was a quick death; the goblin’s body teetered to the side and disappeared in a bunch of tall, brown grass.

“I think you took off his head,” Grasping Roots observed with some admiration.

Vengeful Thorns chuckled to herself as the sound of the wind whipping announced the return of her weapon. She caught it in one hand with practiced ease.

“Heads it is then!” she hissed elatedly, rushing off into the forest in search of other prey.
 

Josai

Sworn Spear Witch
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Josai could not quite put her finger on it, even as she hovered about a finger's length above the curious mushroom that sprouted from a discolored patch of earth. Oily masses spread and seemed to pulse about its base, but the spore fruit itself seemed... unchanged. She shifted the angle of her head, so low to the ground where she knelt that she had to be careful not to let her curly tresses fall into the oily pitch.

"Curious," she said with squinted eyes and a mask muffled voice. Her nose and mouth were covered by a half mask of special leathers, and her eyes were shielded by thick glass goggles. She leaned back until her torso stacked her spine upon her hips. She took small knife from her belt, and as she grabbed the mushroom with one hand, she cut deftly at its stem with the short blade.

It knicked free. She sheathed her knife with small click, and pulled a jar from her pouch. Popped its wide cork, and let the spongy little specimen fall into its confines. She plugged it shut, and slipped the jar into her belt pouch.

There at a line in the earth, where the blight of the Balewood met the fertile ground of the Valen Wilds, a country almost brackish as its colors dimmed and the blight spread along the edges, the Sworn Knight sat upon her knees. She made sure she still rested on ground that had not been turned, right at the cusp of cursed growth, the very same she had precariously hovered over just a second ago.

Her pack and her spear were rested safely some meters behind her, her wide brimmed hat hung upon the spear's head. A marker of safety, still upon the green life that spread. She stood, and retreated back to that little sanctuary, lifting the goggles free of her eyes and letting them fall about her neck as she strode. Her long fingers undid the buckles of her mask, and she hooked that against her belt to let it rest at her side as she came to stop before her field pack.

It was a box of wooden construction, in it, vials and jars and samples stored away. Along with other agents and components. She slid open one of the doors, and it folded to the side with its clever carpentry, and she pulled her mushroom in a jar out, and placed it neatly into a snug little section, padded with fine leather to protect the components.

A loud caw pulled her eyes up from her task, and she could see dark wings fly overhead. "Brother crow," she said with some concern in her voice. Its call told her all she needed to know. Death was near. Unnatural in its delivery. Her eyes set into a hard stare, and she closed up her pack, slung it onto her back, took her hat and fit it onto her head. She took up her spear, and set after the crow.
 
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Gromat N'Daego

The Beastmaster
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(The half orc sat atop his bovine mount, a giant, shaggy beast standing over eight feet tall armed with two wide horns from it's head. This bison stood uncaring as it chewed away at the meager bundle of grasses provided for it, it's rider simultaneously puffed away at his pipe in a similar fashion, both not having a care in the world aside their respective sources of enjoyment. Just then the animal's ears perk up and swivel to the right followed by it's head which does the same and scans the horizon.)

Bromat: "Hm? What is it, girl?"

(Gromat knew that few things could distract his shaggy friend once engaged in eating. Taking care to turn his head to the side and cup his hand to his ear he strained his senses to hopefully hear what spooked his companion. Far off in the distance he heard something running through the brush, crashing through thickets and snapping twigs as it went.)

Gromat: (thinking aloud) "Hrmm. Ain't no critter runnin' through like that unless it's chasin' somethin' or fleein' from somethin' else. I don' hear a pack o' them... just a stray? If it's anythin' like the squirrels we've seen 'ere then it's best to put 'em down before they become someone else's problem. Damn things were downright rabid and droolin' that black stuff. Ain't never seen anythin' like it. Nasty stuff."

(Gromat patted the hump of Thaja who snorted as if in agreement. Gromat reached for his bow and nocked an arrow while Thaja, who has seen this motion before and knowing what it was the precursor to, lowered her head to position her horns forward while pawing at the ground in anticipation of what was about to crash through the brush towards them!)
 
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Juancho Ricco

The Charlatan
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The air began to feel as tense as it did stale. Juancho himself staying alert as Pepper continued to trot along, whatever the blight was it seemed larger than he’d initially anticipated. Giving him a moment of doubt in himself and his decision to continue on and not backtrack to go around. He just wanted to get to Indenholm and get a ship ride back to the mainland.

Something grabbed the attention of Juancho, Pepper and Sophie. The sudden noise of a distant crack. Sounding like either a whip or a falling tree. Perking up on his steed Juancho looked around, his purple eyes dutifully surveying their surroundings. Though the withered vegetation offered greater sight lines for him, he still couldn’t see any movement.

Reaching in under his cloak Juancho grabbed his crooked wand in preparation though hadn't pulled it out.. The tarnished trees began to thin in number as he entered into a clearing where there were a few buildings. The place looked like a logging camp of some kind, but there didn’t seem like there was anyone in sight.

Pepper brought them in further where someone, or something came into “sight”. It seemed to be a vaguely humanoid bundle of wood, roots and similar vegetative tendrils. They possessed a mild green glow as well. But not too far from the plant creature lay the corpse of a goblin, a possible resident or worker of the camp they were in. Sophie shifted on Juancho, practically hiding behind him as she peered over his shoulder.

Narrowing his eyes under his cloaked and shaded visage Juancho gazed with his mind at the creature likely responsible before speaking to it. “A spirggan…” He called it, diagnosing what the mangled collection of vegetation was. “I see now what has blighted these woods.” He didn’t entirely expect the creature to communicate back to him. He had no doubts that these were malevolent spirits. Juancho was worried if it really was a true spriggan he was perceiving. He didn’t know too much about them, but that they were rather nebula creatures and likely psychic in nature.

Juancho has yet to make any hostile movements or even draw his wand yet, unsure if that would even do much. “I only desire an undisturbed travel through these woods, not to come into conflict with any of its inhabitants mystical or otherwise.” He stated rather clearly.
 

Kallach

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He ducked and weaved through the verdant labyrinth of shrubs and low-hanging branches. Slim, thorn-covered vines snagged at the fabric of his attire, slowing him down. Thankfully, Kallach was in his field clothes, and thus wasn't worried about the possible tears to the material that this would cause.

He was wearing a turquoise vest with long sleeves and a high collar. His lower body was clad in thick, belted pants, which he tucked into the ends of his boots. The boots themselves reached nearly to his knees, protecting him from potential snake bites.

He grasped one of the wooden protrusions barring his way. He wrapped his fingers around it, and he gauged it must've been as thick as a grown man's forearm. And although remarkably stealthy for his bulk, Kallach felt the sudden compulsion to snap the branch in half and hurl it off into the distance. An urge he had to beat down, lest he be spotted by wild animals or the forest's less-than-natural inhabitants.

"This forest is damn funny."

He thought to himself and went around the obstacle, causing him to nearly collide with a humanoid shape.

He stopped, straightened himself up, and, through squinting eyes, discerned that the humanoid shape was none other than that of a human man. A human, much like he himself was, in the middle of bum-fuck-nowhere? Now that was unusual!

Kallach took a moment to speak up, for his eyes immediately locked themselves onto the stranger's features. Kallach dissected his face, height, constitution, and the clothes he was wearing.

He saw the curved sword that the stranger was carrying and grinned in response to the revelation. This guy was either an adventurer or a bandit.

"Ah, hello there," he intoned, finding it difficult to rise to his full height due to the low-hanging branches overhead.

"It seems that I almost bumped into you. You have my apologies, stranger."


Tarid Ra’leem


 
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He’d not be much longer, for this was not meant to be a lengthy break. While Josai sketched and recorded what she saw, Tarid continued to scout the immediate surroundings. It was something to do. Still new to the order, the notion of sitting idle while he could be honing his skills wasn’t terribly appealing to him. He knew he still had a ways to go yet, and ever looked forward to the day when he’d make Knight Sworn. Until then, he’d practice and prepare for it.

There was a crow flying overhead, emitting a loud caw that bid an upward glance from the squire. As common as the birds were to the area, the call did not sound typical. It could not be a good omen. Distracted by the sound, he nearly bumped into another who'd been wandering these woods as he had been.

"Ah, hello there," The man said, and Tarid made a sudden turn to face him. "It seems that I almost bumped into you. You have my apologies, stranger." He continued. The woods were more crowded than he thought. Well whoever the man was, he wasn't a logger. Beyond that bit of non-information, Tarid hadn't a clue who he was or why he was here, nor how he nearly bumped into him in shrouded woodland so far from civilization. He'd just emerged from the thick growth out of nowhere like he was some forest spirit, though by his appearance and manner of dress he clearly wasn't.

Tarid had more questions than answers, but the encounter made one matter clear – scouting in woods so thick was a futile endeavour. He could barely see more than ten or twenty paces ahead of him before the wild growth obscured all beyond it anyhow. It took only a moment of distraction for this man to cross it and nearly bump into him.

It was about time to head back to Josai anyhow.

“Oh, uh, no worries at all. I didn't know there was anyone else wandering around these woods.” Tarid spoke.

“And you didn't either, huh? Didn't hear or see me until you nearly bumped into me.” He added, a touch prideful at his stated assumption.

Kallach
 

Kallach

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He’d not be much longer, for this was not meant to be a lengthy break. While Josai sketched and recorded what she saw, Tarid continued to scout the immediate surroundings. It was something to do. Still new to the order, the notion of sitting idle while he could be honing his skills wasn’t terribly appealing to him. He knew he still had a ways to go yet, and ever looked forward to the day when he’d make Knight Sworn. Until then, he’d practice and prepare for it.

There was a crow flying overhead, emitting a loud caw that bid an upward glance from the squire. As common as the birds were to the area, the call did not sound typical. It could not be a good omen. Distracted by the sound, he nearly bumped into another who'd been wandering these woods as he had been.

"Ah, hello there," The man said, and Tarid made a sudden turn to face him. "It seems that I almost bumped into you. You have my apologies, stranger." He continued. The woods were more crowded than he thought. Well whoever the man was, he wasn't a logger. Beyond that bit of non-information, Tarid hadn't a clue who he was or why he was here, nor how he nearly bumped into him in shrouded woodland so far from civilization. He'd just emerged from the thick growth out of nowhere like he was some forest spirit, though by his appearance and manner of dress he clearly wasn't.

Tarid had more questions than answers, but the encounter made one matter clear – scouting in woods so thick was a futile endeavour. He could barely see more than ten or twenty paces ahead of him before the wild growth obscured all beyond it anyhow. It took only a moment of distraction for this man to cross it and nearly bump into him.

It was about time to head back to Josai anyhow.

“Oh, uh, no worries at all. I didn't know there was anyone else wandering around these woods.” Tarid spoke.

“And you didn't either, huh? Didn't hear or see me until you nearly bumped into me.” He added, a touch prideful at his stated assumption.

Kallach
"Can't say I have," replied Kallach, half-heartedly. It wasn't like he was paying attention in the first place.

He was more worried about wild animals and such. His mind assumed that running into another person this far from the nearest settlement was highly unlikely, which begged the question: who's this guy?

"I wasn't watching my step and you got the better of me, but nevermind that. Who might you be, stranger? "

Kallach's eyes twinkled with an uncanny sort of childlike curiosity. He examined the man before him, which left him with more questions than answers. The stranger was too well dressed to match the description of a bandit, and his sword, long and curved, didn't constitute for a ruffian's weapon.

"Ah, and before you ask, I'm Kallach. I happen to be something of a sorcerer and a field explorer. "

He outstretched one of his dish-plate sized hands towards the man, expecting him to shake it. It would've been discourteous to do otherwise, even if the stranger happened to be no more than a wary traveller.
 

Blessed of the Forest

Blightspawn Spriggans
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Out in the dry, barren patch of grass where Gromat and Thaja have readied themselves for whatever lurks in the woods:

The weird, half-blighted brush beyond the clearing rattled and rustled as something pushed through them in a hurry. No doubt Gromat and Thaja heard the deep, labored pants echo from the undergrowth before a lone figure emerged into the sunlit meadow.

A young human man, tanned and muscular from many days spent working outdoors, paused twenty yards away from the half-orc and his companion. He stared wild-eyed at them, his breaths coming in ragged gasps. His shaking body was a manuscript written in cuts and scratches, blood and dirt.

“They… they’re coming! They’re going to kill us all!” He rasped, casting a fearful glance back at the treeline. But it was silent beyond the trees, where the mid-morning sun did little to penetrate the supernatural gloom. Whatever had been chasing this man was nowhere to be seen.

His shoulders slumped in exhaustion and he blinked. Trauma settled in where primal fear had been only a moment ago.

“Or is everyone already dead?” he breathed into the warm morning air. He blinked again and looked up at the bison, as if for the first time. Then he collapsed.


Back in the logging camp, where Juancho had crossed paths with something unsavory:

Grasping Roots had been occupied with appreciating her work when the most marvelous thing occurred; a man had walked into her canvas and even began a conversation! He had a wonderful specimen of beast with him. And a faerie! How jealous Vengeful Thorns would be at her find.

The smooth-barked mask of her face pinched together as she studied him and his entourage.

“Well, hello there mortal child,” she crooned, her voice wispy like wind blowing through willows. “Has anyone ever told you that you’d make a lovely statue?” She gestured into the field, where several corpses had been arranged in varying positions like grotesque scarecrows, their bodies upheld by blighted roots.

“You know, you look hardy… Seed Mother would quite like you, I think.”

She waved a petite hand at him as a maiden might a handkerchief. The forest around Juancho’s party seemed suddenly alive, the tree canopies creaking overhead and the earth beneath Pepper’s hooves restless. One tree in particular, an old fir marred with hatchet gouges, uprooted itself but somehow remained standing erect.

Grasping Roots smiled, as sweetly as a creature of bark and gnarl could smile, while roots and branches sought to embrace the trio.


Meanwhile, in the air above, a lone crow trailed by Josai is attracted to the smell of death:

The scent of blood was strong in the air in this part of the forest, and it wasn’t long before the crow found a potential meal in the woods. Some two-legged animal, of the variety that built tall nests on the ground and made frequent noise, lay dead in a thicket. It mattered not what it was to the bird, only that it would fill her belly for a good while.

The crow alighted on the brambles near the body with a coarse caw of happiness. The best part of the meal, the eyes, were intact.

But this bird was no yearling; she had survived many seasons, raised a fair amount of successful broods, and she had seen many things. She could see and smell the sickness within this corpse. The great madness had already taken it, and it would make no meal for her.

A twig snapped in the trees, and the cautious old crow took back to the air. An unnatural predator was stalking around here, and she wasn’t going to wait around to become its next victim.

Gromat N'Daego Juancho Ricco Josai
 

Josai

Sworn Spear Witch
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Deeper into the woods she would go, behind the trail of the lonely crow, and so thick did the growth grow that where she went was hard to know.

It was the crow's happy sound, bright in its first rumble, that helped Josai find the right track. Where Tarid or their accompanying Dawnling had gotten off to was not at the forefront of her mind. Singular and focused as she tended to be, at least, not until she happened upon the scene that came clear with the next break of thicket and bush.

There perched the crow, its wide round eyes, so black with curiosity, shined in the light of the day as its head twitched and examined the dad thing strewn across the ground.

It smelled horrible.

"You are too clever by half, aren't you," Josai said softly to the crow matron before the sound of branch breakin broke the thick silence of the clearing.

The crow took flight, black feathers falling from its wings and fluttering to the ground in lazy loops as the black pinions spun. Josai narrowed her eyes, and took hold of her spear with both hands, lowering its head down in the direction of the sound. She drew in her breath, and let her feet plant firmly on the earth beneath her, her knees supple and bent.

The air was dry, no swirling mists, or feint dews of morning, but she could still feel some moisture tickling the inside of her nose. Her lips cant an old spell, softly, but a whisper on her warm breath.


Light of loch,
dancer of ripples and ebbs,
Let the land give way,
Let the winds follow your currents,
Ancient mover,
carver of paths
find what my eyes cannot find alone.

In the pool of her eyes, there would be a pulse of blue light that shimmered silver and moonglow. Like ripples on a pond, the light would diffuse across her gaze, but in her eye, she would see with sight beyond sight. Magick, of this world or the next, would swirl and dance like wisps of light in her view.

Blessed of the Forest
 
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Well, the man wasn’t nearly as enthused by his observation, but he didn’t deny Tarid his claim. Practice was paying off, and he was getting better at fieldcraft in the forests of the Vale. Naturally, he glossed over the fact that Kallach wasn’t actually searching the woods, and had hardly even been paying attention in the first place. A success was a success, especially for a squire still learning the craft. Doubly so when said squire had been raised in a desert, where trees were rarely seen far from an oasis and sand naturally muffled one’s footsteps.

Who might you be, stranger? " He also asked who he was, and considering he was a stranger who looked rather out of place, the question was fair to ask. Tarid wondered who the man was himself. Clearly, neither of them were local to the area.

“I am Tarid Ra’leem, a squire of the Order of Anathaeum.” He replied, looking up to the company he’d encountered. Kallach responded with his own name, and a mention that he was both a sorcerer and an explorer. Was there something of note to explore around here then? Tarid imagined there likely was, as Kallach currently appeared to be conducting more exploration than sorcery.

“A pleasure to meet you.” He replied in polite etiquette, shaking the man’s hand with a firm grip.

"Ah, and before you ask, I'm Kallach. I happen to be something of a sorcerer and a field explorer. "

“I take it you’re here to explore, then? I’m something akin to the sort, really, I’m just scouting for its own sake. What brought your presence if I may be so curious?” Tarid asked next, already seeking out an answer to the question that had come to mind earlier. He revealed the reason he’d arrived at the woods, albeit without specifics.

Kallach didn’t need to know of them. It seemed doubtful that he had any sympathy for the loggers, but Tarid wasn’t about to take that chance on a man he’d just met, or to speak of quarrels with him.

Kallach
 

Gromat N'Daego

The Beastmaster
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(As a man burst forth from the brush before them Gromat nearly let loose his arrow out of reflex, Thaja however began to lurch forward to charge!)

Gromat: "Whoa, Thaja, whoa!"

(Hearing his cries Thaja took only three to four steps before slowing to a stop. Patting her hump in appreciation, Gromat then listened to the man who claimed something was going to kill him. As the man looked back he lamented how there were more with him which may mean that they didn't make it. Looking back at Thaja he then collapsed, no doubt from exhaustion.)

Gromat: "Wonder who or what was chasin' ya? A shame we can't ask more questions. Tch, can't leave ya 'ere alone either. Can't take ya with us if whatever it is comes our way an' we gotta fight with you as dead weight. Don't wanna have that disadvantage out 'ere. Hmm."

(Gromat sits upon Thaja and rubs his chin while she bends her massive head down low to sniff at the man's face. After a bit of rumination Gromat grasps his quarterstaff and leaps off Thaja to land on the ground.)

Gromat: "Alright, I'll go take a look and see how bad it is ahead. Thaja, stay here with 'im. I'll be right back."

(Gromat slips his arrow back in it's quiver and loops his bow around his torso before walking forward but Thaja starts to approach his flank. Gromat turns around and addresses Thaja again but this time with gesticulation.)

Gromat: (using hands to signal downward) "Thaja, stay here! Sta~y. I won't be gone long. Promise."

(The bison softly mooed in protest but then slowly laid down beside the unconscious man as Gromat made his way forward through the thicket crouched low.

Though he was relatively large he kept his body low to the ground and under the height of the brush around him as he moved, showed awareness of where he placed his foot falls as to avoid cracking twigs and crunching on leaves, bent branches carefully aside to avoid snapping them which would signal his approach and shifted his torso to lead with his shoulder rather than have them at his sides which would rustle more of the surrounding thickets as me moved. The combination of these actions led the large man seemingly disappearing from sight and sound once he entered the high grass and brushes!

Making his way forward was slow and the thick foliage seemed to go on forever at this speed but he knew it was necessary to keep himself safe. His years as a hunter for his orc stronghold had provided him good training in such situations. Once he reached the edge of the brush he peered out to see what laid beyond. He expected a predatory beast, maybe even a pack of them but his eyebrows rose as he gazed forward to see what was before him.)


Gromat: (whispering) "What the 'ell!?"

Blessed of the Forest
 
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Juancho Ricco

The Charlatan
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Juancho continued his intense gaze upon the creature before him as it spoke. They seemed to have a malicious intent to string him up like a horrid effigy like the rest of the other victims around them. Sophie clenched tightly to him, scared of the vegetative menace as she continued anxiously to peer over his shoulder. Pepper huffed in anticipation as well, as if knowing what might happen.

Juancho’s eyes widened as the trees with their roots and branches began to rapidly close in on them from all angles. The pixie cried out in fear, and Pepper loudly breyed for it seemed they would meet a similar fate. As the branches and roots began to cover them under a thick canopy Juancho acted.

He raised both his hands up and rapidly brought them together with a clap. However as he did a thunderous boom came from his hands. Unleashing a concussive and magical shockwave around the three that blew apart the roots and branches that were about to ensnare them. As chips and splinters of wood shot out and away from the trio who were spared from the blast Juancho’s purple hues stared down the spriggan sternly.

Finally he drew his crooked yew wand from his cloak and flicked it into the air above them. “ɒƚᴎɒꙅoƆ ᴎɒ̀ʜƚoᙠ!” Jauncho shouted in ancient Ïzä, the language of the fae. As he did, a magical protective dome formed around them in a 10 foot radius that would ward off the offending vegetation. With Pepper and Sophie protected, Juancho could better focus on the threat at hand. “Both of you stay here.” He said to the Pixie and Donkey before dismounting Pepper and walking out of the protective dome. Though it offered amazing protection to those inside, he could not counter attack from within it.

Wand in hand Juancho aimed it at the spriggan and threatened the assailing spriggan. “You speak of a seed mother. When I’m through with you she’ll be next.” He was never much of a fighter, but with Sophie’s and Pepper’s safety at stake he couldn’t just evade and avoid the fight at hand like he normally would when by himself. So he stood opposed to the spriggan ready to throw down.
 
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Kallach

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Well, the man wasn’t nearly as enthused by his observation, but he didn’t deny Tarid his claim. Practice was paying off, and he was getting better at fieldcraft in the forests of the Vale. Naturally, he glossed over the fact that Kallach wasn’t actually searching the woods, and had hardly even been paying attention in the first place. A success was a success, especially for a squire still learning the craft. Doubly so when said squire had been raised in a desert, where trees were rarely seen far from an oasis and sand naturally muffled one’s footsteps.

Who might you be, stranger? " He also asked who he was, and considering he was a stranger who looked rather out of place, the question was fair to ask. Tarid wondered who the man was himself. Clearly, neither of them were local to the area.

“I am Tarid Ra’leem, a squire of the Order of Anathaeum.” He replied, looking up to the company he’d encountered. Kallach responded with his own name, and a mention that he was both a sorcerer and an explorer. Was there something of note to explore around here then? Tarid imagined there likely was, as Kallach currently appeared to be conducting more exploration than sorcery.

“A pleasure to meet you.” He replied in polite etiquette, shaking the man’s hand with a firm grip.

"Ah, and before you ask, I'm Kallach. I happen to be something of a sorcerer and a field explorer. "

“I take it you’re here to explore, then? I’m something akin to the sort, really, I’m just scouting for its own sake. What brought your presence if I may be so curious?” Tarid asked next, already seeking out an answer to the question that had come to mind earlier. He revealed the reason he’d arrived at the woods, albeit without specifics.

Kallach didn’t need to know of them. It seemed doubtful that he had any sympathy for the loggers, but Tarid wasn’t about to take that chance on a man he’d just met, or to speak of quarrels with him.

Kallach
His mouth opened, curling into a toothy grin.

"A knight in the making. How quaint. "
Kallach snapped a young sapling in half, fiddling with its twiggy body. He twirled the dead plant in his hand and presented it to the knight.

"The forest is dying. For every healthy tree, there seems to be half a dozen mutated ones. "


"I came to study blight and its effects on local flora and fauna. With a bit of luck, I should be able to sample some of it and take it home for further analysis."

He discarded the twig, crushing it underfoot with an audible snap. It looked alive and well on the outside, but the insides were dry and rotted. Soon enough, many of the plants he'd encountered today would be twisted and turned by the blight's unnatural power.

It was sad to think of it. An entire biome would be destroyed, its denizens culled by either starvation or degeneration as a result of the blight's baleful influence.

His ears pricked up. He could've sworn he had heard something like a muffled explosion or a dull crash in the distance. But that couldn't be.


Then it hit him—a familiar, electrifying sensation of magic that washed over him in waves. Each hair stood upright as his forearms broke into gooseflesh. The prickly feel in his nape, like being stabbed with a bunch of tiny needles, wouldn't go away in spite of his attempts to shake it off.

Somewhere, not far from them, someone had cast a spell of great concussive potency. Its backlash reached Kallach's magically-adept being, and he nigh-instantly knew that things were amiss.

His wide, boyish eyes framed by long lashes locked on Tarid's, seemingly glowing as they did so.

"I don't think we are safe here."
 
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Blessed of the Forest

Blightspawn Spriggans
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In a small clearing not far from the scene of a grisly crime, Josai had cast a spell. What did she see?

A subtle shift in reality, a stray current in the flow that runs through existence – Josai saw it alight before her in shades of astral blue. Something had been here recently; crossing the clearing, drawing near the corpse’s resting place and then passing through another thicket. A wicked energy diffused across every shrub and tree as if a handful of hopelessness had been dusted here.

The ethereal trail beckoned her onwards like the will’o’wisp of yore, through gully and thicket. It wasn’t the path of something wandering a place wild and free, but rather the straight and hard path of the hunter who had found its prey.

Then there was a loud peal of thunder that echoed through the forest from where the trail had come. A portentous omen, perhaps?

Tarid and Kallach’s tense meeting had also been punctuated by this clamor.

Indeed, it seemed that not all was serene within these woods. The blast sounded no farther than a half-mile away to the north, but the mosaic of healthy and blight-touched forest proved a stoic mask for whatever was happening out there.

Closer still, a flock of dark birds circled something in the trees.

Gromat had found something where those birds circled:

In the gloom of the forest floor beneath spreading old-growth trees, the figure before Gromat looked like a person standing still with hands outstretched towards the sky. It was the scent of old blood that told the orc hunter something was amiss even before the reality revealed itself before his eyes.

A human woman’s corpse had been posed this way after death, a network of vines and roots supporting her bizarre posture. Although her flesh was laced with a few lacerations similar to the man Gromat had first found, none of them looked to be the cause of her demise.

A few large crows were competing over rights to the feast, while the rest of the murder watched silently from perches on nearby trees and others still wheeled silently above the canopy. The largest of the birds, half-bald from mange with withered skin and a knobby growth on part of its head, glared at the hunter through bulging eyes.

Gromat was the closest of the scattered band to Juancho’s spell. He heard a raised voice, indistinct at this distance, break the silence before a crack of thunder ripped through the air. This was met by a hurricane of wings and disturbed caws as the surprised scavengers fled. Except for the mangy one, which continued to scowl at Gromat while it pecked greedily at its meal.

While not far away, Jauncho had his hands full.

Grasping Roots was pleasantly surprised by this human’s reaction. It had been so long since the prey had any vigor, any real life. Seed Mother would be surely be very pleased to add him to her garden.

She laughed at the sliver of a tree in Juancho’s hand.

“Oh yes, she will like you!”

The awakened fir tree ambled up behind the spriggan. She took a step back into its bark, and her form melded into the tree. She stepped back out from the trunk of a nearby ash tree as easily as if she’d just opened a door. The fir tree advanced towards Jauncho impassively.

Hanging upside-down from the branch about ten feet above them, Grasping Roots grinned malevolently at Juancho and his friends.

“How about some more of those pretty words before we go meet Mother?”

Kallach Juancho Ricco Gromat N’Daego Tarid Ra’leem Josai
 
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"The forest is dying. For every healthy tree, there seems to be half a dozen mutated ones." He spoke, and that was a surprise to Tarid. The woods hadn't shown much sign of that as far as he was aware. He might be a squire, but Josai was a knight of more experience than he, and she had been busy studying whatever she could during their patrol through the forest. He snapped one of the branches, and sure enough it was dead.

“Really? That'd be news to us. I can't recall mention of anything like it.” Tarid replied, as Kallach continued to speak of his purpose here.

"I came to study blight and its effects on local flora and fauna. With a bit of luck, I should be able to sample some of it and take it home for further analysis." Kallach continued. Tarid bent down to pick up the broken branch. They had the means to tend to the forest, should there be need. If matters were as he'd just been told, it would do Anathaeum well to study this disease, too. And if not, it was still better to verify it. He doubted Kallach was here for nothing, but by his own account he was still investigating further himself.

Tarid hadn't even the slightest clue about it. This required knowledge of botany that the young squire simply did not have yet. Kallach carried the composure and appearance of a talented scholar, and that implied it was a matter worth investigating.

Another matter stole Kallach's attention next, and he turned to face something Tarid also had no awareness of. But it was also important, for his eyes widened before he spoke.

"I don't think we are safe here." Kallach warned aloud, prompting Tarid to take a hasty check of his surroundings. He'd left Josai behind, and would need to return to her promptly.

“If it's danger you speak of, there's another I must get back to.” Tarid replied, satisfied with his cursory search. He gave a nod, before departing back towards Josai at a brisk pace, whether Kallach would remain in company or not.

Though the search would take him a while, for she was nowhere to be seen. Her belongings were gone, and it would take a bit of searching to determine she was nowhere near where she has been when he left.

“Josai?” Tarid called out, eyes scanning the trees for sign of her.

Kallach
 

Juancho Ricco

The Charlatan
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Juancho watched as the spriggan moved into the tree that came up to her. He imagined that they’d merged with the plant, possibly to augment their size and strength. Aiming his wand at the new coniferous opponent. However, before he was about to make another arcane command he was distracted as something felt off.

Looking up he saw the spriggan above him now. It confused Juancho and threw him off. Wondering if she’d managed to transport herself through the trees. “Look out!” His high pitched voice cried out from behind Juancho. Sophie warned as the tree rapidly approached him.

Snapping his attention back at the tree Juancho wasted his next move distracted by Grasping Roots tricky maneuvering. In an attempt to avoid the force of the tree, Jauncho dived off to the side just before the fir tree reached him. As he did the tree crashed some against the protective dome around Pepper and Sophie. The donkey let out an anxious wail but the two of them would remain unharmed so long as they were in the protection of his spell.

Jauncho himself hit the ground hard before he scrambled back away and onto his feet. Stepping back a bit more before he quickly he raised his wand again and shouted. “ǝzɐlᙠ ɹɐǝ̗ɟS! Once more speaking in Ïzä. He wanted to end this quickly to avoid a prolonged fight and unutilized a higher end spell of his. After he did so a growing sphere of fire formed at the end of his wand before quickly shooting out from the tip of his arcane focus basically centered on the magical bubble protecting Pepper and Sophie. When it made contact the ball of fire rapidly expanded and exploded out destructively in a 20ft radius, enough to engulf Grasping Roots and the enchanted fir tree in his pyromanic blast. The force of which knocked Jauncho back onto his butt.

From their position still offered by his prior spell the donkey and pixie would be spared from the harm of his fireball. As the initial fire and smoke dispersed Jauncho would see if his attack had any effect.
 

Josai

Sworn Spear Witch
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Through the woods the spear witch went, her shoulder angled, her spear aimed down, she followed that wicked trace through the dusted growths and pressed through the grasping branches and snagging thorns. A path of change, rapid and strange. A feeling most unnatural. Her box rattled with her haste, and when the sound of thunder's clap blast through the forest air, it gave her pause, her eyes widened, her expression one of shock.

She gulped down what spit gathered in her mouth, and re-gripped the heft of her weapon, fingers loosening and tightening as her arms adjust how the held the load as the cry of crows echoed and cawed countless across the canopy.

In a moment of clarity, she thought of what she carried. Her pack, heavy and cumbersome. Full of precious resources. Samples that could prove critical. She turned her head about, found a suitable landmark, a strange squat pine, whose body was gnarled with burls and whose bark looked more papery than most. Some part of her thought it may be the blighted, but it was the silvery green needles that she knew were natural and verdant that caught her eye, along with the round growths that looked very much like bosoms.

Quick movements slipped her pack off, and she stashed it in a crook between twin trunks.

Supply pack stowed, Josai fixed her hat, only to have a blast of hot air rush over her and blow her hat away. She stood with spear in hand, and blinked. Sure to pick up her hat, Josai put it on, fixed its fit, and carried onward, breaking through the brush to find a scene of smoldering steam and a silvery dome of magic.

Her eyes, traced with loch's light, saw the beckoning trails call once more, and noted how they waft in two directions. One low to the ground, but her eyes followed up, and her hands held firm her spear.
 

Kallach

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"Take care," he said, gesturing at the squire.

"Someone cast a pretty potent spell not too far from here. I'm going to investigate. If you wish to find me, I'll be around."

He waited till Tarid was out of sight. Once the squire was gone, his body slipping into the thicket, Kallach spun on his heels, facing the opposite direction. He chewed on his bottom lip, wondering what to do next, till it dawned on him that he could scout the forest from an aerial perspective.

Kallach sucked in a sharp breath, feeling the aroma of damp soil flitter through his clenched teeth. He concentrated, clasping his hands together.

Suddenly, a massive floating tome appeared out of nowhere. Its surface was chased with precious stones and fashioned in the likeness of evil beasts.

The book opened gently, allowing them to rummage through its pages (or lack thereof). The insides of the book were a single reflecting mass of blankness. It appeared to be a portal, though it was difficult to discern and even more difficult to look at. Plumes of smoke rose from the edges, spilling out into the open and condensing quickly into a single point.

They were eventually successful in re-forming the cloud that Kallach had used to reach the forest in the first place. The bizarre construct appeared to be both corporeal and non-corporeal at the same time. The cloud hovered a good meter or so off the ground, its wings motionless. They were larger and more pronounced this time, offering a significant boost in speed. Kallach hopped atop it, planting his bum firmly onto the pile of cotton-like material.


 
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Gromat N'Daego

The Beastmaster
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(Looking from the thicket out at the grotesque art upon display, Gromat furrowed his brow trying to discern what manner of creature could have created such a grim totem from a corpse and plants. Even as he wracked his brain he couldn't think of what it or they could be as his meager experience with foreign lands had prevented him from ever seeing such a thing.

It was at this moment when he heard a voice in the distance followed by what sounded like thunder but curiously the noise didn't come from the sky but instead from the direction of the previous voice! Instinctively Gromat dropped to the ground and laid there motionless for a minute, unknowing as to what just happened or if his position had been revealed. After the minute passed he pushed himself off the ground and proceeded to make his way to the source of the noise.

Keeping his staff parallel to the ground to not has it's shaft emerging past the thicket's tallest branches, he proceeded south east to view a curious sight. About thirty or so feet away from the edge of the brush he used as camouflage, a donkey and a some form of tiny humanoid with wings stood within a protective bubble while a twenty foot ring of ash and embers surrounded them.

This being the first time seeing magic of this kind Gromat was intrigued but also on edge, the fact that he was dealing with something utterly unknown to him meant that the situation was unpredictable and also dangerous. He rubbed his head wiping the sweat from his brow as he looked beyond the bubble shield to see a man preparing to do battle with what looked like a woman made of wood. his keen eyes noticing a green lump nearby... a dead goblin.

Slowly making sense of the scenario he deduced that the wooden creature was the aggressor because the corpse he previously saw was held in place with an amalgam of flora, medium which obviously was similar to it's body. If this wooden creature was anything like the shamans and druids of his people then it was a good guess that it was the culprit behind the macabre art behind him. If the man about to do battle were the aggressor then he wouldn't be standing protectively before the tiny person with wings and donkey. No, he was on the back foot!

Gromat clenched his teeth and gently laid his staff down on the floor, slipped the bow off his torso and knocked an arrow taking great took care to steady his breathing as he took aim at the wooden creature's head. He knew from the little bit of experience he had that the best way to make use of a sneak attack was to either eliminate the target it one fell swoop or set up the field so they couldn't make a comeback. Intending on letting his arrow fly if the human combatant lost his advantage in battle or if it the wooden creature tried to flee, Gromat sought to ensure the human's victory by watching over him like a guardian.

It was at that very thought Gromat then noticed something moving overhead above the two combatants. Being some distance away he was able to see more of the soon to be battlefield and thus saw another wooden creature hanging from branches above them! The human's advantage had been lost from the start! Seeing as the situation had already went south Gromat aimed up and let his arrow fly at the creature, shouting an alarm to alert the man.)


Gromat: "Human, above you!"
Juancho Ricco Blessed of the Forest