Titanfall Preventing Disaster

For threads related to the Titanfall event of 2021

Heike Eisen

Knight of the Golden Blade
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ALLIR STONE


Mercenary. Heike had once held a less than stellar opinion of them. But, funnily enough, it was her time as a vampire, working with some, that changed her general view on sellswords. Not all of them fit perfectly into the oft-told reputation, that of men and women whose true allegiance was to coin and coin alone. And Dal seemed very much to be of the more distinguished variety.

Never come across your kind though. She knew that he likely didn't mean it this particular way, but she felt the sting of loss for her compatriots of the Golden Blade regardless. Yet the sting was another stirring to action, a reaffirmation of what she must do. With a Reikhurst restored from destruction and rising to a newfound prominence in the world stage, mayhap it would be that warriors like Dal could again have the chance to encounter Knights of the Golden Blade. She had nine fleeting years left to live, but this was a legacy that would bring honor to the Eisen name and that she could, in her final moments, hold with pride as she joined her fallen brethren in what lay beyond.

Then Dal removed his helmet. And Heike stopped her circling around the Portal Stone and scrutinizing of its runes and regarded him.

Was she surprised? It would be a lie to say no. Hers was a chord lightly plucked, vibrating softly and for a sole moment, and then gone--the mild surprise of a reveal adjacent to one's expectation. There was a time that seemed ages ago when Heike, less traveled and hardly having left the boundaries of the Kingdom before, thought that orcs did not exist. A silly notion, but one she had had nonetheless. Through some prolonged fluke of chance, she simply had never seen one until her years as a vampire. Dwarves were a substantial population in Reikhurst, elves, Komodi, other fantastic races traveled through on journeys eastward into the Spine or came seasonally for trading. There were orcs, certainly, but she'd simply not seen one in her more insular years. The notion had since been discarded.

Presently, she could relate quite well with Dal's account. Of being judged by what you were instead of who you were. A touch grave, she said, "I am well acquainted with the manner of prejudice you have endured, Dal."

She thought to say how this was so. To confess to once having been a vampire. It seemed right. Something of a fair trade, where on one side of the scale was Dal's taking off of his helm and on the other her admission of former vampirism. But...she stayed her tongue. She may have looked like she wanted to say something, and very likely did, but stay her tongue she did. And she did not feel so good about doing so. Yet, this did mark the first time for this sort of situation, of telling someone she had once been afflicted, someone who did not already know. What would they think? Heike knew that she herself would be aghast. Appalled perhaps. She worried (perhaps ironically, given the subject, and this was not lost on her) that she would be judged. And rightfully so, even in her own opinion. Her loathing of vampires was immense indeed, and it eclipsed the creature she herself had been. This was part of the reason for her quest to restore Reikhurst, a part deep and dark and like a faint and distant drumbeat rumbling in a cavern. She did want to be judged, and judged by her peers and her people in the Reikhurstan way. She had to be held to account for her failure, in the defense of Reikhurst, and for her ignoble deeds, in the parasitic taking of innocent blood to slake that abhorrent thirst. Her own Oaths of Justice and Honor demanded it.

Still. She did not want to risk turning Dal away with such an awful admission. She would be Oathbound to answer if asked directly, but she did not need to volunteer the dreadful information. Not yet.

"You will not face the same from me," she said. A brief glance to the Stone and back. "I do not know what lies ahead, but your character and your merit will endear you to me. As well it should be."

And the same of her character, her merit, to him. An earned respect.

Others about the ad hoc camp had coalesced into their own small groups, their own circles. Heike felt as they surely felt: that it was good to have company when venturing into the unknown.

And facing whatever may be lurking there.

Dal
 
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Dal

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ALLIR STONE

Dal's features did not betray the sensation of relief as he watched the reaction his doffing of a helmet from the knight. Perhaps a softening of the eyes for a moment if one were so sharp to observe that in the orc. He had sometimes received the fair judgement of those he removed his helmet for, but not often enough to make it common habit when he serve alongside other units. There was no war on, no skirmish with battle lines being drawn. Just a stone and a message to all to gather near or lose it all. Not the strangest reason he could think of for people gathering to serve under one cause, but one that made him guarded against putting any faith in the majority who appeared, despite the knight's so recently spoken optimism.

So, Dal thought, this one too knows of the taint of judgement. There was no suspicion as to her recent vampirism; Dal's thoughts were towards his own kind, thinking that perhaps she had encountered another orc who had defied their heritage. Not that she herself had endured prejudice. The golden armour did much to suggest privilege to Dal, not that Dal held it against her. The wealthy can afford to have the finer equipment, and so they should. He himself has spent a good amount of coin on his own plate mail, and it had saved his life countless times. It was pointless making too many risks with oneself unless the payoff was worth it. In regard to his latest risk of showing his face, he felt the reward was worth it. He chose not to replace his helmet for now, enjoying the breadth of vision he was now afforded, the feeling of a gentle breeze upon his face.

He considered how best to ask his next question. There was no pomp and circumstance about this knight's presence, no companions. She surely would take no offence. She's a professional, Dal reminded himself.

“Seems we can afford a slither of time while we wait. So a question or two, if I may. Are you under orders to be here? Can this group, whatever name we can be called, expect more steel from your organisation? You don't appear to have a retinue. I admire that in a knight. Not that you need such admiration from me,” Dal quickly added.

“If you do stand alone, I'm impressed. Or you've endured some attrition. I have a feeling we're going to have to make do with what we have. Tell me, Knight-Valiant, have you ever duelled to carry a day with the longsword? One on one I mean. Or do you typically find yourself operating in larger engagements, as part of a host?” Dal probed. He sincerely hoped the answer was yes, that way he knew he could rely on this person's experience in single combat. Some knights rose in rank due to their presence on the battlefield and their sense of propriety towards one's duties, not the valour of combat. Dal sensed that this was not the case with this one, but he wanted to know.

Heike Eisen
 
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Mirielle Merlon

Noble of Lazular
The Empire
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ELBION STONE
Ezra Archiva Velaeri


A year ago, Mirielle Merlon would have accompanied a party of Lazulari horsemen in maile. Now they accompanied her, an armed escort of the kind that she'd earned. Counselor to thrones, secret blood magician, horsewoman, servant of thirsty reptilian gods. Protector of Lazular, until magic lost its reliability. Until the lizard gods went deaf no matter how many murderers she slit open.

She and her guards reined up not far from the Portal Stone and Ezra.

"Hello, College mage," she said, sliding down from her red mare. She wore Lazulari clothes but spoke with the language and accent of territories farther east. "Here to answer the whispers too?"
 

Tess

Skull like a Coconut, Arms like Toothpicks
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Her question was initially answered by a boot pressing into her chest, a sensation she was used to, though mainly from bar patrons and the occasional city guard. Her arms still ached, especially the one that hadn't been set, and she was definitely in no position to give much of a fight back magic or not.

And then Tall Dark and Homicidal just... walked away. Sure, they eyes changed, but Mr Murder-You-Messy just up and left, leaving her with Fop and Mystery Lady, though Tess made a mental note to call her Elf Lady now that she'd picked up on her mention of race. The strange words and odd accent told her the woman probably hailed from the Amol Khalit, but the young mage knew only a handful of words from the region, namely "beer", "toilet", and "No, no, don't stab me". The woman's next comments, and her bag dropped on her chest, brought Tess back to reality a moment.

"Soooo, magical multiple personality disorder. Got it," she fiddled with the flap on the satchel a moment before finally getting it free. Awkwardly, with her splinted arm stuck straight, she gingerly dug around, the words of power muttered under her breath. She could feel the magic slipping here and there, the power sliding from the occasional word as she spoke them making her redo the word entirely. While dangerous, the worst thing she knew could happen was a 'pocket' in the bag rupturing and spilling its contents everywhere. While not a problem, really, if the garment or money pocket blew, she knew it could get dicey if, say, the volatile alchemical reagent pocket dumped itself out. Again.

"Fuggit. Gonna go with something already made. Don't wanna fiddle with Spine Tiger Blood with magic being ditsy."

Contrary to its more feline name, Spine Tigers were elemental reptiles known for their extremely caustic, highly corrosive blood. Handled incorrectly, it could rapidly melt fingers, hands, bones, and most things that weren't specialized metals. Plus, the reactions often produced toxic gas, especially with organic materials like the ground, leaves, or Tess. Instead, she yanked out what looked like a dinner roll and downed it in a few bites, cringing at the taste.

Chaceledon Seteta
 
The Mission

Velaeri

Judgemental Catbird
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As the beings of Arethil gathered and conversed, putting their curiosities to test against one another, the air about the portal stones slowly became quiet, became still.

Birdsong ceased.
The winds dwindled to a halt.
The sounds of the wilds drowned into an overabundant silence.
The voices of the gathered even failed to echo, and then to carry.

A flux of magic - something that all could feel in their hearts - as the world almost fell to a standstill.
The portal stones began to glow, runes and sigils casting a soft silver light reminiscent of the moons.



"HEED MY WORDS."


The voice echoed out from the stones with a reverent boom.


"Dire days lie ahead.

To prevent this catastrophe a ritual must be performed at each Portal.

Twelve Runes you must make.

Three of stone.
Three of wood.
Three of metal.
Three of blood.

Six runes can be found at the eye of the unsung Wilds on the archway that opens the mind,
six more in the heart of the sleeping Sea on the tomb of where She lies.

At the height of the first moon, I grant the way to the Wilds,
at the height of the second moon, I grant the way to the Sea.


Act with purpose, for the good of all."


As the last echo of the voice faded, the silence surrounding the stones did, too. Illuminated runes died back into stone, the breeze returned, the birdsong drifted in. Everything became as it was before.​
 

Heike Eisen

Knight of the Golden Blade
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ALLIR STONE


Can this group...expect more steel from your organisation?

Heike shook her head. "No. I am afraid that I might well be my Order's only representative."

That sting of loss once more. There were still Knights of the Golden Blade out there, scattered--she had come to learn that they were not all dead. Had they thought the same? That all or a crushing majority of their fellows had all perished, as she herself had thought for years following Reikhurst's sacking? Likely so, given the extent of the devastation and the massacre. Did they still wear their armor? Had they stayed true to their Oaths? Were some on their way to this Portal Stone, or perhaps arrived at other Stones, if they too had heard the voice and its call? Was Herr Elias present? Unanswered questions all.

Endured some attrition, indeed. That was a way to phrase it, even if Dal had done so inadvertently.

A question of dueling. Not of the sparring kind, the kind used for training and competition and judicial settlements. Fighting the enemy, whoever he may be, one-on-one. And before, when the sun was shining on Reikhurst and all was right with Heike's world, she would have said seldomly. It was the latter more often for her, or had been, fighting as part of an errantry (or squad, in common military parlance) or company of Knights. Yet, funnily enough again, her time as a vampire had changed that to a significant degree. Now, though, as a human once more, she did have and could not rely upon the unholy and unnatural powers she had the displeasure of using while she was a Slaughtern vampire. The longsword sheathed on her hip felt familiar in her hands, yes, much like an old friend. But it had been so long since she could properly wield any such weapon that she might well have to--in a manner of speaking--polish the rust.

"There was a time," she said, perhaps with something of a forlorn tone that she could not hide, "when I did operate as part of a host most often. But I would maintain that any company is only..."

...as strong as its constituent members. She spoke those words. She did--she felt her lips moving. But the very sound of her voice seemed to be drowned in the creeping silence that had come over the air and the birds and the winds and come to surround all around the Portal Stone.

Heike glanced, then turned to face fully the Portal Stone when the runes began to glow, one eye asquint in bemusement for what was transpiring. Perhaps this was it, then? Perhaps her timing had been such that she arrived within only a few moments of the unfurling of this enigma. Others about the ad hoc camp had stopped what they were doing, were glancing about and some as well had spotted the glowing runes and were looking with gazes that suggested a range of reactions, from eager to intrigued to apprehensive to worried.

The voice then. The exact same as had originally called to Heike and Dal and every adventurer so gathered. A new message relayed.

Sound returned. The glow stopped. And it seemed in the first moment of the return to normalcy that none of it had happened at all, so stark was the difference between said normalcy and the otherworldly, ephemeral strangeness that just happened.

Heike half-turned her head. Then turned it fully to regard Dal again. Said, "Please tell me you heard that as well."

Dal
 
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Mirielle Merlon

Noble of Lazular
The Empire
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What felt like a very long time ago, Mirielle had got into the habit of carrying a large notebook, a sketchbook. She pulled it out of her saddlebag and unfolded a wooden travel stool with a cordage seat. With the notebook on her knees, she took down the exact words as she had heard them. Then she asked her guard captain what he'd heard, and the rest of the men, adding notes and amendments where words didn't line up.

In short order she had a reasonably authoritative transcript. She copied it down and handed the copy to Ezra Archiva. "Does this match what you heard? And does anything here have meaning for you? The eye of the unsung wilds could be a place in the far south, wilderness islands, the Eye of Kiva I think it's called. Or the wilds could be what's called the Ixchel Wilds-" A place she'd been, where she desperately did not want to return but might need to.

"That's all that comes to mind offhand."
 

Dal

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Allir Stone

So this knight was alone for now, perhaps she needs my presence as much as I might need hers in the conflict to come, Dal thought. Pity that her host had suffered, and Dal might have offered some sage words about one knight being worth many more had the voice from the stone not brought about the deadening of sound. Portents as to what was expected to avert a cruel fate.

Dal watched as the words were robbed from his company and from all the ambient sounds of life about them. Ah, Dal thought, further instruction. As the words began to call out to those gathered about the stone he listened intently. Truer than any clarion call and more evocative than a ruler's words, they had been given their cryptic orders. Dal merely tilted his head and let the thundering sound resonate through him. It was refreshing in a way to receive such booming instructions, it could not be argued or refuted. Still, he'd prefer the instructions to be slightly less like a riddle, but it could not be helped. Dal squared himself to the task.

“Heard it fair and plain, Knight-Valiant. Think everyone did. Dire days ahead. Ritual at each portal. Six runes in the wilds, which opens up to us the height of the moon. Midnight as I understand it. Never received orders from a stone before but here we are, together, with that same task before us.”

Dal looked around to see the reaction from others gathered. There were chatterings as the people tried to decide their next course of action, what the words meant. Some confusion it seemed. At least everyone heard it the same, and were heeding it as instructed, Dal thought to himself while looking at the inside of his helmet. He considered putting it on again, but stayed his hand which his company remained with him. Communication in such a time came before his own want to protect his features from judgement.

He looked towards the knight once again, his features serious, his will galvanized by the instruction they had received.

“It falls to us. I don't know much about rituals. We can hope that those with more mystic persuasions can assist us once the journey is made. We cut and carve what foes resist our efforts to win the day on the other side. Something tells me this won't be that simple though. Making runes...three of stone, wood, metal and blood. Sounds like shaman work. But...it falls to us, prepared as we are. Are you ready? Because you're the closest thing I have to a point of authority right now.” Dal asked, his tone matter of fact, his candor carrying all the seriousness one might have before a siege turned violent.

Heike Eisen
 
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Heike Eisen

Knight of the Golden Blade
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ALLIR STONE


Fair and plain. Good, because--at least in the these first moments wading into the aftermath of hearing the even more cryptic message from the as yet unidentified voice--Heike was truly at a loss. There had been a Gallant, ahead of her by one class of initiation into the Order, who was a genius at riddles. Shorter than her and most of the other Knights by a good half of a foot, a young man with a wiry kind of strength and dogged persistence that carried him through his squiring, he was--as the saying went--smart as a whip. Taking on all challenges from fellow Gallants and even from some of the venerable and well-versed Knight Commanders was something of a pastime for him, and Heike had personally never seen him fail at solving any proposed riddle. If he was still alive he might have been able to crack this code.

But Dal's suggestion got her thinking, hopefully along the right line. "Midnight, or upon a full moon. Perhaps it is suggestive of either Pneria or Lessat, their positions or fullness, specifically. Or...both of them? Pneria could be the first moon--the beginning of its transit does mark the start of a month by some calendars. Lessat could be the second." She made a grimacing face, wishing that she had that Gallant here to smooth out the details. "Or...it could potentially be reasoned to be the other way 'round, Lessat the first moon and Pneria the second. I've some education in astronomy, but far less proficiency in puzzles."

She let out a breath. Glanced to some of the other adventurers about the ad hoc camp. At least one of them, fed up, declared to his mates that he had no time for "fucking riddles" and that this was probably all some big sham of a devious and mischievous wizard anyway before collecting his things and starting off.

Dal with another observation that rang true. This did seem the work for a shaman (or runesmith, or a few other choice arcane professions), this business of making four sets of three runes each. But, at least at first consideration of the message and whatever the "height of the first moon" truly meant, it seemed as though a way would be opened when this height occurred. A way involving the Portal Stone, most likely. Why else would they be instructed to gather here specifically? Such did fit snuggly into a certain mold of reasoning and logic. And once this Way was opened, it seemed further that six of these runes could be secured rather than made in that place, those "unsung Wilds."

It did swell her heart to be regarded as something of an authority to Dal. Those better days of being a Knight-Valiant, the title newly earned and she having risen up from the rank of Knight-Gallant to command her own, came back to her. The first of such an esteemed feeling since banishing her affliction in the Sanctum of the Night Watchmen. It was another taste of her former life, reclaimed.

"My sword-arm is ready. As is yours, of that I have no doubt," she said. "But, alas, it is neither of our sword-arms which can be applied presently."

A crucial facet of leadership: when you did not know, seek out answers. Listen, and listen well, to those who served under you if theirs was an expertise that surpassed your own. The adventurers gathered around the Stone were not her subordinates, no, but still there could be someone possibly among them who might have an insight, magical adeptness and understanding (or a keen mind for riddles, like that Gallant), that both she and Dal lacked.

"I think it would do us well to confer with some of our gathered peers. Some among them may have struck upon an idea regarding the message that we have not considered."

And what else was there? Waiting for the height of the first moon was unavoidable. She and Dal might learn something from the collective thoughts of those about them. Something that could be of crucial importance later, perhaps.

Dal
 

Seteta

The Dragon's Beloved
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FALWOOD STONE

Seteta quirked her head at the mage's words, sorting through them in her mind. Magical... multiple... personality... disorder. She knew or could imply the meaning of all of them, but she'd never heard them strung together like that before.

The Abtati stood and stepped over to Chaceledon's side again as Tess began shuffling to her bag and mumbling.

"I do not understand this creature," Seteta whispered to Chaceledon, in a way that implied less about Tess's language--though that was part of it--but also her behavior. It was like nothing she'd ever seen before. While Rheinhard or any of the Volkers struck her as dangerous because of their skills, this mage made her worry because of... how scatter-brained and careless she seemed to be.

Seteta raised an eyebrow incredulously as Tess pulled... bread out of her bag and began to eat it, and her confusion only multiplied. "Is she insane?" she muttered. "Not... driven to murderous insanity like the Volkers, but actually truly mad?"

Then, in a moment of quiet, Seteta realized that everything around them had stilled. No birds, no breeze, and even the sound of the river's waters was... muted. Far more distant than it should have been for the fact they were still standing on the bank.

Seteta looked over at the portal stone, still within sight, slipping her hand back into Chaceledon's, seeking the comfort of his touch as she felt magic... ripple, without even needing to reach out and touch it. Worry creased her brow as the stone began to glow.

She pulled her hand free of Chaceledon's and quickly strode toward the stone, checking to see if anything about it had changed.

She heard the booming voice, and tried to memorize as much as she could, and hoped that the woman-mage and Chaceledon were hearing it as well.

Chaceledon
Tess
 
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Dal

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Allir Stone

“Great,” Dal said sarcastically and secured his helmet once again with a firm twist of the metal. To rely on these bumbling fools for answers. It was the only option for now. Someone might have some answers in all of this noise and confusion. But it was not something that Dal truly believed in. He acted now out of necessity and solidarity with his new comrade. For all his misgivings he wouldn't be caught belly aching and refusing to try and glean information from those around just because he didn't believe anyone else useful.

“There's nothing else for it then. Time to hunt for some answers, if anyone has any that is...” Dal intoned as he stepped into the crowd. It was as if he was was embarking to wade within a swamp, his disposition was foul and his patience was thin.

He saw the three mages he had seen previously, all clad in yellow and were presently gripping their belts of components as tempers flew. Dal shook his head and approached their sorry lot.

“I told you, magic is failing because the moon is rising too severely! We must act now or be doomed, when the moon is highest I say we use our most powerful divination spells to try and find these runes! Perhaps a blood sacrifice is required, and I say we find someone willing to put their life in the hands of magic and,” one mage was shrieking to the others. As his eyes looked to Dal one of the others stopped his ranting mid sentence with a fistful of robes and a raised voice that cause the other to shrink down into his vest.

“No no, that's all wrong, we clearly have to step through the portal and find our answers once the time is right you numbskull! I swear the only reason we keep you around is because your flame magic keeps us warm at night! Someone might not think you were a truly mage from all that shrieking, honestly, you sound like a deranged prophet,” another mage admonished the first and shook his head is despair as he released his comrade.

“And what time would be right to step through, in your educated opinion,” Dal asked without much enthusiasm. The third replied.

“Why, are you going to be the one to step through? Before us three? I don't think so. Save the thinking for those versed in magic,” the third said with an upturned nose. The other two harumphed in unision.

It just gets better and better with these idiots, Dal thought to himself as he considered thumping a skull with the base of his crossbow. I might get better answers with intimidation, but then I'd have to inflict violence on every wacko here.

“Have to work together on this one if we're going to get anything done. Unless you're too educated to see that. So anything you know, please. Just share would you? Would save a lot of hassle,” Dal said suggestively and rolled his shoulders. The sound of plated armour moving was satisfying to the orc, it gave him a sense of control in all of this.

The three looked at one another and remained silent for a moment. And then came all three in rising tones of theorizing,

“Well it's obvious, at midnight the runes will converge on the other side of the portal and-”
“A blood sacrifice will be required by this ominous voice that will decide the fate of the-”
“Magic is failing and we've got to set it right by forming the runes on a dial of some kind, then we'll-”

Dal growled quietly and gave up. He turned elsewhere.

He saw a group of orcs whittling wood with sharp knives. They didn't seem stirred into action, hunched over as they were near a rudimentary fire they had constructed. They regarded him for a moment and looked back to their fire as they muttered in orcish.

Dal refused to indulge the tongue and spoke clearly, “Hail. Any idea as to what the message means?” he asked simply. His voice was a stark contrast to the gravel tone that emerged from the head orc, who's tusks jutted out and produced the orcish response.

“Means we have to act. Some time tonight. Let the others do the thinking and keep to fighting. Easier life that way. Runes not our business. Our business is fighting.”

Somehow it was a more frustrating answer than what the mages had offered. Dal nodded in understanding and let the orcs have their way for now. There would be nothing from them he knew. They were simpler warriors than even his own spartan sensibilities. At least, that was Dal's judgement on the matter.

He decided to rejoin the Knight-Valiant, content for a moment that he had least tried to get some answers. He walked beside her for a moment and provided a thumb to point out those behind him, “Useless,” he said. He was glad the knight couldn't see his face due to the helmet, he knew he had a sneer that was unbecoming of a professional, yet he couldn't help it. Perhaps this was an effort in vain. Perhaps this knight was all too optimistic about the import these fools could offer.

“I've had easier times negotiating a ransom. How about you?” Dal asked, his voice unenthusiastic and tired of this goose chase already. Give me an enemy, he thought to himself, that way I know where to cut, instead this wild inquiry from the rag-tags.

Heike Eisen
 
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Ezra Archiva

Summoner of Elbion
Elbion College
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ELBION STONE
Mirielle Merlon

The College mage in question quickly turned to look at the new group of people that approached him and the stone, granting them a smile and wave. Nobility and her guard, he presumed. "Indeed I have, though I imagine with your help it'll go far better than it is currently."

Ezra gestured limply to the unresponsive stone, about to lament its silence and lack of meaningful answers when, as if on cue, the voice began once more as the world halted to listen. In a rush, he patted himself to remember just where he put that damned notebook so he could take notes, only to realize his newfound companion was one step ahead of him.

Satisfied at least somebody could maintain a transcript, he returned his focus to analyzing the ominous message. Thanking the noblewoman for the copy, he scanned it over.

"Yes, this all matches." As he spoke, he idly reached over to the side of his steed's saddle, pulling out a map and rolling it out a nearby flattened stone. With a minor incantation, a small spark of light apparated into being atop his finger. With every place the woman mentioned, he placed a marker of light.

"I'd have to go for the Ixchel Wilds to be the one the voice speaks of; it's by far the most prominent region to be associated with the wilderness, and it certainly is quite unsung." The marker hanging over the region hummed with a slightly brighter glow as his finger drifted over to point it out. "Not many explore it, as far as I'm aware. I suppose we could find that archway there."

"Now, the Eye of Kiva is certainly an option, although I was actually more inclined to believe it to be the 'Sea' that voice was talking about. That voice, it mentioned a tomb in which 'She' lies, right? Isn't there an old myth about that place? Something about it being the body of a goddess, Kiva herself. I can't remember if she was dead or asleep according to the story, but it fits the riddle, I'd say."
Another marker appeared, hanging above the collection of islands.

Looking back up at his companion, he asked, "I'll be honest, I've got no clue what those runes it's talking about are, or any rituals that have to do with..." he gestured vaguely around them, "...whatever it wants us to be doing. This is all strange—very, very strange."

The conjurer bit his lip in thought before suddenly realizing something, quickly adding with a slight chuckle, "Ezra, by the way. Ezra Archiva. I figure if we're going to be hunting arcane runes for a mysterious voice together, names would be a good thing to have."
 
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Mirielle Merlon

Noble of Lazular
The Empire
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It became urgently clear that bumping into Ezra Archiva was a stroke of excellent luck. As the College mage spoke, Mirielle jotted down notes. She glanced back at her captain of guards - "We'll make camp here, Seresh."

The Lazulari horsemen began to set up broad, airy tents within a circle of eight ward-marked stones, a fortification every bit as good as a palisade - and better, if the enemy could fly. The camp quickly dominated a small hill within bowshot of the Portal Stone, leaving Mirielle and Ezra to work in relative quiet.

"I'm Mirielle Merlon," she said. "I'm a counselor to Amir Farid ibn Baha of Lazular." She gestured expansively at the horizon to the northwest. Lazular, one of the breadbaskets of the continent, lay two hundred miles that direction. There was a pretty good chance that any given College mage, on any given day, ate Lazulari grain sent down the Cairou.

"Will you camp with us tonight? I feel we could make significant progress. And since we're in the realm of folktale, my men are well-travelled - they'll be valuable resources."
 

Heike Eisen

Knight of the Golden Blade
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ALLIR STONE


They split up for the time being, Heike going one way and Dal going the other. Heike was neutral, leaning on hopeful, about the prospect of sharing thoughts with their fellows, Dal--it was fair to say--less than enthused. But to Heike, even if their foray among their fellows gathered at the Stone garnered nothing of note, this did provide something of an occasion to go in search of Herr Elias.

So she went. And, like Dal, heard a number of arguments from opposing sides of just about every line of reasoning (that very word stretched in some cases). One of the most prominent arguments was the debate, having spawned independently among quite a few of the various circles of comrades, between the voice's use of the words "make" and "found" regarding the runes needed for the rituals. Was it possible to simply make the right runes, without having to wait and then be shown the way by the two heights of the moons? Were there instructions on how to craft these runes, templates perhaps, in the Wilds and in the Sea where six of each were to be found? Then, simplest enough, mayhap it was just that the runes were ready and waiting to be found at those locations, and just brought the fuck back--a no nonsense former mercenary captain's opinion.

Then Heike stumbled across someone who was more or less by himself. A shorter man, middle-aged and mousy in appearance with a complexion that suggested he didn't venture outdoors much, who needed optics either handheld or resting on the bridge of his nose to read the notes he was writing (with incredibly beautiful and elegant handwriting) on rolls of parchment. Indeed, his satchel was full of writing implements and supplies instead of weaponry, and he wore no armor of any kind.

His name was Joseph Aldmar, a scholar and historian from Dornoch, who happened to be in the Allir Reach when the first call from the mysterious voice had gone out. He wasn't so concerned with his lack of combat equipment--he had simply gestured with a demure smile to all of the men and women who were so equipped, Heike included. They spoke for a while, and it was clear to Heike that this man--perhaps overlooked by the others--might well have the best insight to offer. She bid him to follow her, and he (perhaps a touch too dutifully, as was often the case with a certain kind of man from Dornoch) did so. And Heike reconvened with Dal close to the Portal Stone itself.

Heike smiled slightly at Dal's succinct account of his time. Easier time negotiating a ransom. That was a way to put it. That remark and his tone told her everything she needed to know.

"I did so happen to become acquainted with someone who offered what I believe to be a worthwhile insight." She gestured back, and Joseph stepped forward, his head bowed in either a subservient, shy, or contemplative manner. Or perhaps all three. "Dal, this is Joseph Aldmar. A learned man from Dornoch."

"Scholar and historian," Joseph said, offering a hand that was tiny in comparison to Dal's own to shake. "I contribute what I can to the greater body of knowledge among the academics of Arethil."

"May you say again what you have told me in our discussion?"

"Oh. Right. I will be more brief this time. And, ah, the perfect aid," Joseph said, gesturing to the Portal Stone itself and specifically down at the runes arranged at the base. "The numbers match up perfectly, Mister Dal. Twelve Runes you must make--three of stone, wood, metal, and blood--and twelve active Portal Stone destination runes, as you can see. Do note that I am making an exception of the Thagretis rune--that one...there. This one was more recently opened, and perhaps not in the company of the older and more venerable runes that have been active for all of recorded history. S-so far as we know, of course."

"And so that begs the question."

"Right. Of which rune is to be used at which Portal Stone. Take the Allir Stone: is it a rune of stone that we are meant to use for this forthcoming ritual? Or is it one of wood? Metal? Blood? Perhaps it matters not, but I do not think that to be the case. It is then my hope that the mysterious voice provides answers to this, but, if not...it may be incumbent upon us, we Gathered, to decipher which is the appropriate rune for which Portal Stone."

We Gathered. The Gathered. Hmm. Heike considered it. She had only been semi-serious about finding a name for the collective group of people who answered the call, but The Gathered seemed to fit well enough. Simple and straightforward.

Joseph adjusted the optics resting on his nose. Offered a cordial smile to Dal. "I suppose this does also suggest that there are like-minded groups present at every Portal Stone across Liadain and Epressa. It is good to know that we are not alone in this endeavor."

Dal
 

Jürgen Kaiser

The Third King, Slaughterer of Reikhurst
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THE MASSACRE AT CROBHEAR STONE


Every adventurer who had answered the call and gone to the Crobhear Lake Portal Stone lay dead at its base.

King Jürgen Kaiser walked among this field of the dead. They were some fifty or so in number, these adventurers whose fate it was not to be heroes or saviors of the world but to be slaughtered down to the last in a sudden surprise attack that lasted fleeting minutes and which none were adequately prepared to defend against. Fifty of them, a large enough group, but Jürgen had a formidable retinue accompanying him. Thirty of his own and most venerable Slaughtern vampires, led by his former Lord Commander of the Golden Blade during his reign some four hundred years ago, Lucius Reik. Twenty of the most cunning Mistweaver vampires, led by none other than their own insidious progenitor, the Dread Lady Minerva Terris. A massive Wargheit (despite the disappointment that was the attack on Fort Endurance) and several smaller vampiric fiends--twisted mutations of wolves called Cabras--led by the devious mastermind of their creation, Lord Perrius Mulder of his namesake Mulder clan.

Jürgen held in his right hand the Bloodstone, forever clutched in his claws, within it the quiet, hungering, slowly swirling malevolence that always watched and never spoke. At his left and holding onto his arm was his wife, Queen of the Third Sofia Kaiser, her endlessly serene visage a mask hiding imperfectly the silent and constant fright of her own husband.

None of them, Jürgen nor the subjects of his vampiric host, had heard the call.

But they had someone who did. A captured adventurer, Gilles, whom they otherwise would have drained for the pleasure of drinking blood. Jürgen and his retinue had been moving south, returning home from negotiations in the north, when they had come upon this hapless soul discussing this odd matter of the Portal Stones with his fellows at camp. Those fellows were long dead, and Gilles their captive.

As the Slaughterns and the Mistweavers--cloaked and hooded all--and the beasts of Mulder had their fill of blood from the corpses, Jürgen, Lucius, Minerva, Perrius, and Sofia stood around Gilles (who was forcefully prostrated by Lucius before Jürgen) and were close to the Portal Stone itself.

"There was another message, wasn't there?" said Jürgen. The deafening of the world. The lights of the runes adorning the base of the Stone. It was clear.

Gilles, a man thoroughly defeated, told them what he had heard in sullen tones. And the leadership of the Slaughtern Vampire Host all exchanged glances with one another.

Minerva had an arm across her body and a hand flat to the bottom of her chin and she was looking down at Gilles with utter disdain. The Dread Lady lived up to her title indeed. She was clad in a pitch black dress, matched with long black hair that stretched like the threads of a thousand fates down to the small of her back, skin of stark porcelain white, and startlingly red eyes that gleamed with a malice to match the Bloodstone itself.

She spoke in her quiet, whispering voice, "I see no merit to this cryptic game...Sire."

Perrius Mulder, a vampire turned at an old age and hence one that retained his wrinkles and his wreath of graying hair, said, "The corpses of these gullible cretins will be useful to me, Sire. Mayhap we'll take them?"

"'Tis a lovely day," said Sofia, glancing in a manner that was aloof by intention to the clouded sky above, blocking out the hateful sun.

Lucius Reik, forever clean-shaven, his strong jawline on clear display, and his hair fuller on top and tapered down at the sides of his head, was the image of a military man. He said, "Sire, if I may: I confess that I side with Dread Lady Minerva's thoughts on this matter. 'Tis a pointless game for mortals and nothing more."

Jürgen scowled. Despite its usefulness, he despised the term mortals. As if he and Lucius and the greater collective of all vampires were never once the same, as if an insurmountable wedge was driven between who one was before their turning and who one was after their turning. As if there were no going back.

He let it go. Quoted, "'A ritual must be performed at each Portal.'" Then looked to each of the other vampires, save his wife, whose input was useless.

Jürgen smiled. "And we control one."

Then Minerva Terris, Lord Mulder, and Lucius Reik all came to smile as well. It was not a cause to which Jürgen was willing to devote much resources and time. Yet, while the cost of both was relatively low, there remained opportunity. The rising of Drakormir and Neha had been...pitiful. Hardly the dire and ongoing distraction to captivate the world's attention that he would have liked.

But this...could be.

With just enough disruption.
 

Pern

Thish Ishn't a Time For Jokesh
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ALLIR STONE

"Right. Of which rune is to be used at which Portal Stone. Take the Allir Stone: is it a rune of stone that we are meant to use for this forthcoming ritual? Or is it one of wood? Metal? Blood? Perhaps it matters not, but I do not think that to be the case. It is then my hope that the mysterious voice provides answers to this, but, if not...it may be incumbent upon us, we Gathered, to decipher which is the appropriate rune for which Portal Stone."

"It'sh all of them," said a voice from behind the two knights and their academic acquaintance. Heike would be forced to look up to find the owner of the voice, while Dal need only turn his gaze just slightly down his nose. The orcess that approached wasn't armored or even armed, but she did present with a journal, a quill, and a rucksack hanging from one shoulder.

"I do not believe the voishe meant what you think it meant. I believe we will need twelve runesh to perform the ritual at each portal. Runic rituals rarely ever incur a shingle rune alone."

Heike Eisen Dal
 
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Dal

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Allir Stone

Dal shook the scholar's hand as gently as he could. He didn't know what was liable to break had he given his usual grip. An academic was what they needed, Dal thought to himself. He listened as best as he could but found himself lacking in comprehension to some of it. His mind was well tempered to the din of combat, the barking of orders and the snapping of the jaws of defeat against his best efforts, not these tasks of riddle and knowledge. He gave a slow breath out of his nostrils as he heard the academic speak his council, it was beyond his following for now. But who knew what could pivot on his own understanding? Dal redoubled his efforts to follow the conversation. This wasn't some brawl, this was a complicated series of arcane actions. Dal was beginning to wonder if all of this would just be for the academic to solve, if the steel he carried was better served on another battlefield.

But once a cause was chosen, Dal was loathe to abandon it in favour of another. He'd never changed sides in his career, and refused to give into that languishing voice that said abandon the field.

Dal gave a low hum of acknowledgement to Joseph's final comment.

“Good. If we're not alone then the task is shared.”

It felt like meek platitudes to the orc, simple words to fill the air with something pleasing to the idea of them working together. Fine words for a noble, not one for one trying to be useful. He gritted his teeth at his own milquetoast response.

At this point, further company joined the three of them, and Dal regarded her with suspicion for a moment but quickly lowered his guard towards the newcomer for fear of becoming that which he had so often faced. More assistance in such a cryptic venture was always glad. Despite Dal's best efforts to be open to the newcomer, the moment that Pern began to speak he was reminded why he had spent so many years perfecting his almost too perfect way of speaking, smooth and decidedly well pronounced. He had been born lucky, his own tusks wide and allowing for his words not to be ruined by his own features, yet had to work hard to ensure his natural advantage became a source of pride, his tongue was not hampered by his heritage. He did all this so would not be viewed as an orc while wearing armour, stumbling over their own teeth to pronounce words in common in a council like this.

But the words this one spoke seemed to come from a source of knowledge, so Dal put his initial prejudice to one side, alongside all the petty sources of irritation he had amassed throughout his day. No point dismissing a fellow orc for the very reason he had carefully laboured over his own dialectics and helmed visage. He knew such would be hypocrisy, a flaw in the armour of himself, and would not weather the trials to come if he allowed it to remain within himself.

He spoke up.

“Well met. Glad to have you here. I'm Dal. All twelve runes you say? You have experience with runes? Are these things larger than a fist? And how can they be found?” Dal asked, his voice a bit more relaxed now that there was more than one source of knowledge to be distilled into information to guide their efforts. He still felt he was somewhat aimless in his inquiry but his succinct addition to the conversation might guide things to the practical he reasoned. He often found himself boiling down the rhetoric of those around him so a simple soldier could understand the heart of the matter. For now, however, he was amongst peers. No tarnished equipment or slow wits from what he could judge. He eagerly awaited further elaboration.

Are we the only ones to dedicate ourselves so to this task with a want for an answer? Or are others around the other stones as aimless as they first were? He hoped that they were not alone in their galvanization of minds and resources. The Gathered...a fine name for us hopefuls probing in the dark by the candlelight of academics.

It was better than roaming the dark without any flame at all, Dal knew. He crossed his arms and waited for the next torrent of theory and information to work itself into the conversation so he could try and decipher it for it's portents.

Pern Heike Eisen
 

Chaceledon

The Draconian Diva
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Chaceledon sighed as he looked at his ruined coat, and tucked it away in the small pocket dimension he’d made for himself. He could live without the outer layer for now. He looked at Seteta, then toward the trees where Rheinhard was camping. “Darling if the woman is mad, we’re hardly the ones to throw stones in glass houses.” he told Seteta affectionately. “Madness is as madness does, and I’d rather a scatterbrained idiot than someone intelligent and dangerous.”

The air had gone still around them, and Chaceledon felt the small surge of magic in his veins. The stone was calling to them again. He hurried back to it as fast as his feet could carry him, the woman muttering on the riverbank forgotten. One arm was set, anyway, and Tess had drunk something to help it. Whether she healed or Rheinhard turned her into tomorrow’s brunch was really not his concern.

The stone spoke again.

"Dire days lie ahead.

To prevent this catastrophe a ritual must be performed at each Portal.

Twelve Runes you must make.

Three of stone.
Three of wood.
Three of metal.
Three of blood.

Six runes can be found at the eye of the unsung Wilds on the archway that opens the mind,
six more in the heart of the sleeping Sea on the tomb of where She lies.

At the height of the first moon, I grant the way to the Wilds,
at the height of the second moon, I grant the way to the Sea.

Act with purpose, for the good of all."


Chaceledon stared at the stone as birdsong slowly returned. The sound and scent of the river. He marched up to the rock angrily. “What the devil is this? Riddles? What do you mean we have to draw twelve runes? What the Devil are you talking about the Wilds on the archway that opens to the mind?!” he rapped on the rock as though he could command it. Riddles! They were instructed to make all haste and then wait for the full moon? “Damn you and your stupid riddles!” he snapped in draconian at the portal stone.

“When is the full moon? Lord knows I have better things to do than stare at the night sky like a mooncalf.” Chaceledon groused.

Seteta
Tess
 
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Tess

Skull like a Coconut, Arms like Toothpicks
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The dinner roll-esque item tasted absolutely horrid both in taste and texture, but it was a great must-have on the trail when it came to injuries. Essentially, it was an organic loaf of ingredients mixed, meshed, and baked into a lumpy ball shape. The ingredients were unusual, to say the least, but effective and mostly nonmagical. Goblin Moss was a primary ingredient coupled with cliff lichen while dried aether paste held the whole thing together before, during, and after cooking. The result was a concoction that tasted unspeakably terrible, but would numb pain, knit bones, and heal the body while the paste sped the whole process up ten fold.

Or, at least, that was what it was supposed to do.

As she downed the offending lump of yuck, the portal boomed, the voices spoke, and magic fluxed. Tess was startled, choked, foamed, and then managed to cough up the last bite of her medicine before grimacing and swallowing it back down. The mostly-mushroom-cake immediately started working and her arms and hands tingled as the painkillers kicked in. She could immediately feel the bones knit and pop back into place, the catalyst working overtime, possibly even faster than what was usually achievable before. Tess gave silent thanks that magic was out of whack since it seemed it boosted magic at times, though that thanksgiving quickly died out soon enough.

The flux was a sudden surge before dying out, if only briefly. The healing was mostly done, if not completely finished, but the biggest benefit of the magically attuned aether paste was it not only catalyzed the process, it nullified the mild nerve toxins given off by Goblin Moss. Her arms were, for better or worse, healed. Now, however, they hung absolutely limp at her sides. She could feel them, but not move the limbs at all.

Tess twisted her torso back and forth, trying to get the dead arms moving, but they flopped limply to and fro. Huffing in frustration, she turned to the strange couple who had pulled her from the water and flopped an arm.

"Well… this sucks," the young mage said, her speech slightly slurred from the concussion. Or fatigue. Or the toxins. "Name's Tess."

Chaceledon Seteta
 

Heike Eisen

Knight of the Golden Blade
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ALLIR STONE


Heike turned, with mild surprise, when she heard another addressing them. An orc, like Dal, and a scholar, like Joseph. A tall woman, as was natural for orcs, and she spoke with what, to Heike's ear, sounded like a slur of intoxication--though her face wasn't flushed and her balance was just fine. This new orc did offer another possibility and, in truth, even if all of the more outlandish thoughts and theories about the latest message were all discarded then there would still be enough reasonable ones left to leave the true answer well in the chasm of uncertainty.

Joseph touched his chin as he considered what Pern said. The mousy man (looking almost like a child standing among the much taller likes of Dal, Pern, and even Heike) was not irritated or angry at all, but rather intrigued and considerate of the newly presented idea. He said, mostly to himself, "Oh...all twelve at each. Ah, yes...those numbers match up perfectly as well...twelve runes for twelve destination runes...again with the reasonable exception of Thagretis."

Dal introduced himself, and so did Heike, shortening her full address down to just her name, "Heike Eisen."

While Joseph had taken to jotting down a few extra notes, Dal had a quartet of questions for the scholarly orc. Heike wanted to ask her, if for no other reason than for curiosity's sake, about the meaning of the heights of the first and second moon. But decided against it. No matter how it was interpreted, it seemed invariably that a period of waiting would be involved for the respective "Ways" to be opened. Thus it would be prudent to make preparations to stay for a while--as the others had, clearly evidenced by the tents ringing the Portal Stone grounds.

Besides, the scholarly orc had a number of questions already to stab at. And sound speculation was better than being completely in the dark.

Dal Pern
 

Pern

Thish Ishn't a Time For Jokesh
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“Well met. Glad to have you here. I'm Dal. All twelve runes you say? You have experience with runes? Are these things larger than a fist? And how can they be found?”

Joseph touched his chin as he considered what Pern said. The mousy man (looking almost like a child standing among the much taller likes of Dal, Pern, and even Heike) was not irritated or angry at all, but rather intrigued and considerate of the newly presented idea. He said, mostly to himself, "Oh...all twelve at each. Ah, yes...those numbers match up perfectly as well...twelve runes for twelve destination runes...again with the reasonable exception of Thagretis."

Dal introduced himself, and so did Heike, shortening her full address down to just her name, "Heike Eisen."

If Pern had noticed any suspicion or animosity coming from the orc Knight she did not show it. As a matter of fact, she seemed rather preoccupied with her notes - any other day an orc Knight would have left her jaw on the ground. She quietly shifted her attention between the three, smiling faintly at Joseph's musings and finding herself reminded of her late father.

"Yesh, ahm- I am Pern. I have shtudied runesh shinsh I wash very young," but so rarely had she ever the opportunity to put her studies to any use, "the runesh of the Portal Shtonesh have long shinsh been the shubject of much debate and conjecshure among scholarsh, but runesh can come in many shapesh and shizesh."

She licked her lips, finding the repetitive hard syllables a bit numbing to her tongue, "runesh are merely shymbolsh represhentative of anshient powersh and runic magic hash undergone many formsh and changesh throughout hishtory. The mosht shtudied but leasht undershtood being thoshe of the Portal Shtonesh. I think what the voishe meansh ish that we do not have the runic shymbolsh required to fulfill the ritual, and they musht be found at two different locashunsh."
 

Seteta

The Dragon's Beloved
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Seteta couldn't help but disagree with Chaceledon on madness. Intelligent and dangerous was predictable. Scatterbrained idiocy was not.

When Chaceledon marched over and began... knocking on the portal stone, though, Seteta just rolled her eyes. She knew he was frustrated when he switched to speaking draconian without even realizing it.

“When is the full moon? Lord knows I have better things to do than stare at the night sky like a mooncalf.” Chaceledon groused.

"Sehejib, it didn't say anything about a full moon," Seteta clarified. "It said the height of the moons. That means when they're at their highest points in the night sky. So, presumably, both doorways will be open tonight at different times."

She turned back to check on their other... companion, of a sorts, then, and was relieved to see her at least still conscious. At least... she thought she was relieved.

Seteta watched as the woman twisted back and forth, her arms flopping.

"Well… this sucks," the young mage said, her speech slightly slurred from the concussion. Or fatigue. Or the toxins. "Name's Tess."

"I'm Seteta," she answered. "This is Chaceledon. And it seems like we need to figure out some runes."

Chaceledon
Tess
 
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Ezra Archiva

Summoner of Elbion
Elbion College
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ELBION STONE

Seeing the guards make their way beyond the portal stone in an effort to set up camp, Ezra waved them off and returned his attention to his newfound companion. At Mirielle's official introduction, Ezra bowed in what he assumed was the proper show of graciousness to a noble. "It's lovely to meet you, counselor. Lazular is a wonderful place, so I hear. The grain certainly is. I presume Amir Farid is also curious about these mysterious whisperings."

Glancing back at his steed and recalling the less-than-comfortable circumstances of his last night's camping experience—he really did need to remember checking to see if he was near a den before turning in for the night—he quickly nodded. "If you and your men would have me, I'd be happy to. It beats camping out on my own." He moved over to take his belongings off of the horse's saddle, adding, "Agreed, I get the feeling we'll have to be doing quite a bit of travel for these runes we're after. Some companions with experience would certainly be helpful and, if I do say so myself, we seem like we'd make a good team."

Mirielle Merlon
 

Dal

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Dal decided to resist looking at the Knight Valiant for deference here. She might be the only point of authority to his military mind, but he knew when he shouldn't let the others do the talking. Might lose some face if I am as cattle to a driver, were the thoughts Dal had as he stood his ground in a beleaguering prospect. It was slowly becoming clearer, if by fractions.

“So the portal stone lack something to complete this ritual. And if we fail to collect even a single rune, we are lost? We'd best be as thorough as we can. Depends if you want to drum up order from this lot, Knight Valiant. The Gathered I mean. If you want The Gathered to gather stones when we all tear through. I assume there's an extra step to all this, the portal giving us way once the moon is at it's height. If this stone speaks, it can know the limitations of our transport and import. Unless there are magic users required to open the portal to these destinations? I sincerely hope we don't because it'll be like herding cats if any of the robes I've encountered are to be judged by. Do we have a hope of making this journey as we are?”

Pern Heike Eisen
 

Chaceledon

The Draconian Diva
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Chaceledon glared at the stone, then back at the small woman who seemed to be having trouble with the use of her arms. Chaceledon pursed his lips and thought. Twelve runes.

“Ah yes, exactly what I need when I’m on the run from a psychotic ex-husband. Riddles. To my ears it sounds as though the stone is going to open six of the runes to us when the moon is at its zenith, like you said. Which...” Chaceledon glanced at the sky. “I don’t remember what time it is. I suggest we make camp and try and untangle the rest of the riddle.”

Making camp without Rheinhard was going to be difficult, but the poor man was already struggling to keep himself in control. Chaceledon looked to Seteta for help. “Six are in the Wilds...Ixchel Wilds? For the love of all that is holy not there and if it is we’re taking Rheinhard. I’ll take Klaus over being swallowed alive by gigantic bugs and monsters any day.” he looked down at his clothing. “...I suppose that means wearing pants again. You. Short mage. Tess. What do you make of this nonsense?”

Seteta Tess