Alexi looks a bit startled to hear Moire speak. He just shrugs his shoulders, while Kasimir smiles and says, "Yes, that's very generous of you. I'm sure we can use all the help we can get. The rest of you as well?"
Tegan steps forward and grins. "Sure, what else are we here for?" He winks slyly at Moire.
"Aye, me as wel...." Hircus puts the back of his fist to his mouth as he stifles something then swallows with a grimace. "...me as well. Just tell us how we can help you find your missing little one. We may be new to this land, but with your guidance, we can aid in a search party. Before we leave, please allow me to attend to your injuries. It won't take but a moment, and you'll be better off for the task ahead." Hircus grasps his amulet with one hand and motions for Alexi to approach.
The elf nods at Moire's offer and tilts her head towards Alexi, smiling a little to Kasimir. "Of course - this situation is serious in any land." She leans forward in pretence of tightening up her boots in preparation, holding the lace in her mouth as she hastily sends another message - this time to Tegan. "You know I'm fond of you Tegan, and I am often down for the more...exciting ways of doing things, but I would caution you to be more tactful with matters like this." She finishes retying the laces and stands, rotating her foot to check her work. Satisfied, she shoots a look to Tegan and then watches as Hircus approaches Alexi.
"Geez, what did I say?" Tegan whispers back along the channel opened by Ina's cantrip as he fixes a bemused smile on her.
When Hircus offers to magically treat Alexi's injuries, the Vistana holds a palm up. "No thank you. They will heal on their own, in a day or too," he says darkly. "Save your spells for finding the girl. She needs them more. Come." He gestures for everyone to follow him.
Hircus' belly sloshes painfully as he and the others step out into the damp morning air. Unbelievably, his lips and tongue are a bit dry again, as if another sip of water wouldn't be the worst thing in the world.
More Vistani have come down from the hilltop, on foot and horseback. Moire and Ina spot the young woman Lala seated on a roan stallion, brandishing her prize rapier. Luca is standing nearby with his gray-flecked beard blowing in the breeze. He slaps the roan's flank and it gallops off with Lala towards the trees on the east side of the clearing.
Having seen Lala off, Luca looks around and his face lights up when he sees Moire. He walks over with his arms spread wide. "Moire and friends, you have come! And you have survived your first night in Barovia."
Luca's familiarity visibly surprises Alexi and Kasimir, but he changes the subject at once. Only Ina understands the words he speaks in Vistani. "Lala rides for the castle. King Strahd will help us, I am sure." Kasimir's eyes find Ina's with a sideways glance.
"You know these mist-walkers?" Alexi asks Luca. "They say they'll help find Arabelle. The fat one has magics."
"Not well," Luca replies. "We met them yesterday on our way to the Yester Hill. Why not let them help? Leave them with me. Kasimir, you old devil, go get your scouts in order."
Alexi, Kasimir and the other two elves leave you with Luca and strike out for one of the other houses built into the hillside. Alexi limps a bit and Kasimir relies on his walking stick for support.
"So, Moire," Luca says in the common tongue you all understand, "How has it been for you here in Barovia? Not too bad, I hope. Did you bring the wine as we discussed yesterday?"
Alexi's disinterest in being healed is noteworthy. Moire ponders for a moment if it's some kind of cultural bravado. But then the Vistani urges them to head outside and there's no good reason not to. The Paladin follows in Alexi's wake.
The sight of the first people they'd met in Barovia makes Moire smile and she grins in welcome to Luca, spreading her own arms wide and quite willing to exchange a hug. "So we did! You gave us good advice, my friend, and I hope we're in a position to return the favor soon."
The exchange of Vistani language leaves Moire politely puzzled but she simply waits patiently for the conversation to wander back to one she can follow. When the rest break off, she takes a half-step to follow before noticing Luca remains. Given no one else offered instruction, she waits patiently and perks up once he starts speaking a language she understands. "I can't say Barovia's been the most hospitable of lands but the people have been, for the most part, helpful. Including yourself. In fact, the wine was to be our next stop but for wolves yesterday and then learning this poor girl's missing today. We'll get to it soon. How can we assist? Shall we spread out, say, a schooner's distance in length so we can keep each other in sight but still cover a goodly area? Or do you happen to know where she went missing?"
"Very well, I will do as you ask, but know that it is an option should you change your mind." Hircus stands at ease and considers their best course of action.
When the familiar Vistani come down the hill he nods and smiles as they speak with Alexi. Even though he does not speak the language the name Strahd does not escape his ears. Watching the girl names Lala ride off on the horse makes Hircus' already sick stomach turn. The lines between friend and foe seem more blurred than ever. Even Tegan now seems to be distancing himself from the group and slipping into Van's way of thinking. He looks toward the fighter and wonders if he and his invisible friend will follow Lala.
Waking from his contemplation Hircus is once more struck with his aching stomach and need for water. He mutters to himself. "Torm lend me your will." as he tries to resist seeking out a drink. At the mention of wine, Hircus looks to the sky for distraction. "Yes, Moire. These are good questions. Also, who are this child's parents? Will they be accompanying us? I am sure that they must be in a state of panic. You ask about our first night in Barovia? Well, I learned enough in the past day that leads me to believe these woods are no place for a lone child."
"Just be careful, okay?" Ina exhales deeply at Tegan's reply.
She can't help but smile and incline her head to Luca when he and Moire hug, despite her reservations about these people. She was secretly pleased she didn't have to interact with Lala - The previous day's insult still stung somewhat. She watches the interactions between the Vistani carefully, feigning ignorance as they converse in their own language. Not having any experience in tracking but not wishing to insult anybody, she refrains from asking why a young girl would take off into the (obviously dangerous) woods despite having grown up here and knowing better, nor does she voice the question of whether this Alexi had something to do with it.
It's not every day you get a second chance to be a better person and she was damn well going to try. Outwardly, at least.
Luca leads you off, away from Alexi and Kasimir, in a wide circle of the hill.
"It is too bad about the wine, Moire," says Luca. "I thought you might come upon a stray bottle or two in Vallaki. But all dry, eh? They must be feeling the pinch about now. Is that it? Very soon they will be cranky children without their drink."
"You mustn't think we're like them. A Vistana drinks only to heighten enjoyment of life, while these sad Barovians drink to put a shroud on their sorrow. But why am I explaining to you about wine? I know you must have the same where you come from. It is universal after all."
Luca waves to someone up on the hill. It's Cappi, Luca and Lala's large, taciturn companion from yesterday. He's standing with a bare-chested man whose shaggy hair frames a saturnine scowl. The frowning man holds a folded whip in one hand, which he shakes out and then coils up again.
"Luvash," says Luca, indicating the man with the whip. "Arabelle's father. He still has some cooling to do. Meanwhile, his brother Arrigal leads the search." Luca points to another man some distance away, sending riders off in different directions.
"When and where the girl disappeared is difficult. Alexi, who you met already, his job is sometimes to keep an eye on the children when they are out on their frolics. But I think in this case he was a little ..." Luca winks "...instead. Alexi said everything was fine. It is almost always fine, so why not? But this time, not so fine, and nobody knew until this morning, when Arabelle was missing."
"But she will turn up soon. You will see. These elves are the best scouts and trackers. And the children are clever. The woods are their playground. No wild beast in Barovia ever lays a paw on a Vistani child. You could learn a thing or two from them if you were teased by wolves. Still, if you want to help look for Arabelle, I can show you a parcel of woods nobody else is checking just yet.But there is another matter, very obscure, that you will maybe look into for me instead, just in case."
"I spoke to some of the other children—Arabelle's friends. The other adults are off-putting to them, but I have an easy way about me, and they told me something. A man from the village, not one of us, was talking to them in the woods some days ago: big belly, short beard. He also had a funny little hat. One of the boys was clever and got this gift from him." Luca reaches into his pocket, winces, them produces what looks like a small yellow and green insect made out of feathers and thread, but with a barbed hook at its tail. Moire immediately recognizes it as a fishing fly.
"I know, it's very little, and probably a wild goose chase, but Vistani and elves, we are not welcome in Vallaki, while Moire and friends, so clever and charming, have no doubt already made many connections there."
"I'm sad to be sending you away when you've only just come here, but what do you think?"
Luca's easy manner makes it tempting to entirely relax around the man. But then, Moire grew up a pirate. She saw far too many men who masked cruelty with kindness. Not really knowing this particular man, the Paladin simply smiles and nods agreeably as he speaks.
"Yes, we haven't had the means or the opportunity to find a bottle. As for the girl, we're happy to help our friends given the occasion. And I'd like to consider us friends, Luca. Your advice yesterday was very helpful. If there's something we can do for you, something we can do more easily than a Vistani can, then of course we'd like to help our friend. We can look into this man for you."
Moire briefly attempts to mentally recount all of their respective leads and quickly frowns, losing count. Then she shrugs and glances at her companions to see if they have an opinion.
"Yes, I would agree, Moire. As much as I would like to leave that odd town behind." Hircus winces a little from his jostling guts but attempts to stand a bit more upright and sticks out his chest. "We can return there immediately. There is another one of their strange festivals..." Hircus slows himself to think back on what today's festival was to be, "Festival. There is a festival today. What was the name of this celebration? Do you remember Moire? Ina? Tegan? The festival of The Blazing Sun. Do you recall the requirements?" Hircus turns to Luca and nods. "We will seek out this man and if he exists in Vallaki we will be sure to find out what he may know about your missing young one."
"Just that there will be a parade," Ina mumbles absently to Hircus, preoccupied with watching the men at the top of the hill, eyeing the whip warily. She shakes her head and joins the conversation properly. "We should go now, try and find this man before things get too busy in town."
"Oh, excellent!" says Luca. "This will be most helpful and informative. Here, take the trinket. The boy will not miss it." He places the yellow fishing fly in Moire's hand. "Watch out for the barb," he cautions. "And hopefully by the time I see you back here we will have found the girl. Just try not to get caught up in this festival; I hear the infamous celebrations of Vallaki can get out of hand. Just ask the wolves, eh?"
Luca shakes hands with, or embraces, each member of the party before standing back to watch your return to the short forest trail that leads north to the Old Svalich Road. He holds up one hand in a closed fist with the thumb protruding between the middle and index fingers. It's a sign that Ina and Hircus both recognize as variously representing good luck or warding off evil, though it can have other, bawdier meanings as well.
After leaving the camp to its ongoing search efforts and walking back among the misty trees for a few minutes, Tegan stops, and with a pained smile says, "Well, this isn't easy, but when that old friend of Ina's, Kasimir, mentioned Strahd, it knocked a few things loose in here." He taps his temple. "I've got an idea how I ended up in the terrible land in the first place, and now I'm feeling, well, there's something I'm anxious to check on and I think 'Vanwandir' actually has the right idea about going to this castle directly, not getting caught up in the problems of these Vistanis and Vallakis. So we won't be joining you back in the town. Our road goes another way, at least for now. Oh, Moire, let me give this back to you." He reaches in his pocket and hands Moire the amber heart of the smoke imp. Ina can see that he's putting some effort into maintaining a cool demeanor about this sudden break with the rest of the group. Vanwandir is visible on Tegan's shoulder once more, watching with his tiny black eyes.
Hircus watches as Luca hands the yellow fly to Moire then reaches out and pats the Vistani man on the shoulder. "We will do out best to find this man you seek, Luca. I pray that it is for naught and when we return you have the missing girl back in your camp." The cleric eyes the man's hand with one eyebrow raised then remembers the hand gesture has an alternate meaning of good luck. He smiles and nods as they turn and leave the camp.
Walking behind Tegan Hircus comes to a halting stop then holds his hand on his lower back. "What is it Tegan?" He says with a grimace. Hircus listens to Tegan and shakes his head, "Don't be so hasty my friend. What could you possibly have remembered that would tempt you to walk straight into the Count's arms? I fear that Van is a devil on your shoulder. The little beasty is leading you astray. Please reconsider. We have learned so much today that can help us find our way. We must stick together if we mean to get out of this place with our skins. I am more certain with each step that we are destined to follow Torm's path to this castle, but I am certain that we will stand a better chance together."
"Well, I wouldn't say straight into his arms, Hircus," says Tegan with a thin smile. "Give me a little more credit. Even if the old Count does remember my face after all these years, he won't see it, but another instead." He moves his fingers in front of his face as if applying makeup. "And besides, my dispute was not with Strahd, but with another. It is this other person who's grave I need to see before I can think of doing anything else. If all goes well, I hope to be back with you again soon. From what I gather, this land of Barovia is so small that we're like fish swimming around in a bottle."
From his place on Tegan's shoulder, Vanwandir pipes up, "If I may interject at this juncture, Haskafadoux, Noolabax, Loopanom, while I have greatly savored your company on our peregrinations about this rustic landscape, and will miss you dearly, it does seem that, working alone, Tegan and I might be best disposed to infiltrate and reconnoiter the Powdered Lover's fortress, at which point some incidental groundwork may also be laid for an eventual detente, if that is what you collectively desire."
Tegan rolls his eyes and shakes his head in amusement at the tiny familiar's oration.
Tegan's expressed intentions worry Moire and she makes no effort to hide that concern on her face. His suggestion of doing reconnaissance is...well, candidly, a good one but also very risky.
"I don't deny there's sense in what you say, Tegan," the Paladin says at last. "But there's also risk. And beyond the obvious. We still don't understand how or why we were brought back. None of us entirely remember what we did when we were last here. But what I do remember is fighting alone more than I should have. I remember each of you, but not in the way I do now, working together as we have since we woke up yesterday. I believe we're stronger together, even if not all of us are equally stealthy."
"If you will go, Tegan, I won't stop you but I would plead with you to reconsider. And if you must go, consider taking Ina, so you're not alone. Vanwandir notwithstanding," she adds with a smile to the entertaining, if morally dubious familiar. "Ilmater recognizes the need for risk, for sacrifice, and I'll respect you for yours. Just don't make it needlessly."
"Now look here Moire! If Tegan wants to risk his neck that is on him, but don't persuade Ina to be party to this madness." The cleric pauses for a long moment and takes a deep breath. He looks to Ina and Moire and Tegan then releases his breath in a defeated sigh. "I can't believe I am saying this, but maybe Tegan is right. Maybe we could use a little reconnoitering if our ultimate destination does indeed end up being the Count's castle." Hircus turns and puts a tight grip on Tegan's shoulder. "You need to display more caution than you have shown me in these last two days Tegan. I want you to be sitting next to me in the tavern when I relate the tale of the four of us venturing into the cursed land of Barovia. I want to see your cheeks flush red when I tell them all that you went alone to the castle of our enemy. Sorry, Vanwandir too." Hircus steps back and presses his hand over his chest. "May Torm draw your path safely and loop it back around to rejoin us. Tegan, be safe." Hircus turns to continue on the road, "Ina, you'll be staying with us. Moire?" he clears his throat and pulls anxiously on his backpack straps. "Say your goodbyes and let's be off. The three of us."
The elf opts to shake Luca's hand, smiling to hopefully impart that she means nothing by it, just personal preference. Ina begins picking the remnants of berries from her pack as they walk through the trees, her nose wrinkling in distaste - a bit confused by the rapid deterioration of them but it's hardly worth mentioni- she stops short both mentally and physically when Tegan turns to address them.
"Tegan, let's discuss this," she tries to keep the hurt from her eyes but her words still catch a little in her throat. "Do... do you really believe that somebody who has ruled this inescapable place for more than three hundred years isn't going to see through a little glamour?" She raises her eyebrow's at Moire's suggestion and holds her hands up, leaning back slightly. "I am not going until I know more about this place. That kind of recklessness is probably what got me here in the first damned place." Her teeth are gritted at this point, nostrils flared. "Vanwandir I appreciate your frustration but we're trying not to end up like the last lot you were with. I'm not having it." She steps back to join Hircus and crosses her arms, scowling at the floor.
Tegan listens to the objections, and doesn't really have much to offer in way of refutation. Nonetheless, he seems set in his decision, almost fatalistically so. "Anyway, if I'm already three hundred years late for my own funeral, what's the point of being cautious anymore? If I do find something that might be useful, and need to get word to you, I'll bury a note at the base of that old signpost we passed yesterday. Doesn't seem like that thing's going anywhere. You do the same if you have a message for me."
By this time the footpath has left the woods once more, giving way to the view across the withered meadow to the Old Svalich Road that leads into Vallaki. Tegan says his farewells here, leaving the path to follow the treeline east, on a course that will skirt the south side of the walled town. Based on all you've learned so far, that way lies Madame Eva's camp and the village of Barovia, as well as the castle of Count Strahd von Zarovich. Still a tiny bat, Vanwandir takes wing from Tegan's shoulder and flies ahead, flitting among the trees and morning mist at the edge of the forest.
With a rueful sigh, Moire bids Tegan farewell and gives the man a firm handshake. "Come back to us, if you can," she says quietly, just before they part. "Whatever we remember or don't, whatever happened to us or didn't, you have stood by me and mine. I will always do the same for you, my friend."
Once the roguish warrior has made his way out of sight, the Paladin sighs and manages a smile for Hircus and Ina. "Come on then. Our legs are getting their share of exercise and I for one wouldn't mind a decent meal to go with our investigation once we return to the village."
How did it feel so long ago yet not at the same time that Syvis had attempted her hunt? Perhaps it was the unfamiliar smells, strange scents carried on the wind, both familiar at their base but unknown in the layers upon them. Gone were the marks she'd come to know over time, living as she had with a pack, the territory markers spread throughout the forest ... yet the pack had begun to disappear, their territory shrinking as others recognized their weakness -- even with an elf in their midst. Nature did not show pity, it pounced on opportunities -- as the pups in the pack had been taught over time and in their play.
Syvis' furred head lifted, ears twisting this way and that as her nose sniffed -- sounds she understood, the stomping of feet along a path, the smell of metal and processed leathers, the faint jingle of buckles and chain... Silently on her paws she dived deeper into the woods, giving a silent snarl to the mist that seemed ever present -- the last thing she had seen before finding herself lost, a rare sensation she did not care for.
Keeping an eye on the strange group she listened in on their conversation -- at the very least considering them a source of information -- perhaps she was somehow transported to a region unfamiliar in her wandering ... some of the symbols they wore she faintly recognized, but a few of the words they spoke did not match what she knew. Vistani? Vallakis? Strahd? Barovia? Syvis had not often studied maps created by people, but even still in her travels she did not recall any such place, let alone one considered inescapable.
Following the group, she began to feel the hold on her form waning ... briefly considering maintaining her shape she shook her head, fur covered lightly in the damp from the mist that had collected on her. In memory she had not seen such a thick mist that did not fade over the day ... taking one last sniff of the air, noting at least she might find a pack nearby to speak with if all else failed, approaching a tree the wolf form grew and shifted, shedding fur as a female wood elf emerged, leaning slightly against the tree as the sensations faded and her original instincts returned -- namely how to walk on two legs. Copper skinned, black hair done in a thick braid to the middle of her back with bangs that framed her face, the thinner woman had vibrant amber eyes that didn't look all that different from the gaze she had as a wolf. A shortbow rested in a holder on her hip, a quiver on the opposite, simple leggings made of leather covered her legs while she stood barefoot. Her chest also had simple leather while on her back was a pack full of supplies, a staff wedged into it, spare clothes and her currency, her hunting trap as well. From her neck rested a leather necklace, a thick wolf tooth tied into the leather with small runes in druidic etched into it with care.
Seeing the fourth step away she watched him go for a few moments, then turned her gaze onto the others ... a lone wolf rarely survived long in an unfamiliar area. A pack was best, even if they might not favor her at first, but she knew how to prove herself useful if needed. Moving from behind her hiding place she gently approached, hands with her palms out as though she were approaching wild animals -- for all she knew she was -- and coughed slightly, having not used her voice to speak in a while, words took a moment to return to her mind.
"You ... I listened, you are strangers here too? My forest ... my pack. I cannot find them?" Syvis rubbed the wolf-tooth between her fingers, "Aid? What is ... Barovia? What is this ever present mist?"
The arrival of a stranger comes as a surprise to Moire. But the Paladin is rarely surprised for long. The young woman with black hair and a naturally somber face turns to greet the stranger with a warm smile. Clad in a simple tunic tucked into pants that have plainly seen some hard traveling in the last day or two, the handaxe on her waist and the shield across her back mark her profession despite the lack of armor.
"We're strangers to Barovia, yes. After a fashion," she adds after a moment of thought. "We also came through mist. You did as well? You're alone now?" The smile fades into a concerned frown and she takes a thoughtless step forward in a reflex of providing aid before checking herself. With a slight bow at the waist, the black-haired woman says "I'm Moire Cassiel, Paladin of Ilmater. These are my friends, Hircus and Inawenys. We're headed to a nearby village. You're welcome to come with us, Miss...?"
"The trees of Barovia bear no fruit, but strays! Strays drop like overripe walnuts in the fall." Hircus says with a cocked eyebrow toward the elf. "As she says, I am Hircus Horbrow a cleric of Torm the True. I follow the path he has set out for me. Sadly, it has led us here." Hircus holds his arms out gesturing to the woods around him.
"As Moire says, you are welcome to come with us. We are traveling back to the nearest town, Vallaki. Just don't expect much out of it. The town and it's occupants are just as odd as everything else in Barovia." Hircus takes a few steps along the road. "If you all wouldn't mind. It might be best to walk and talk. I would prefer to not have a repeat of yesterday's wolf brawl. Besides, my guts are aching."
The elf bowed as well, "It's ... been a long time since I've given my name to two-legs -- people. I am Syvis Glynrel." Syvis turned to look at Hircus as he spoke, stepping closer to the trio, "I have not been in towns in a while either ... but you speak of wolves? I wonder if any were from my pack ... I tried to seek them as they'd been disappearing, only to land here." She frowned, almost mimicking a snarl, "The few I did find had tracks around them of a larger wolf ... a type and scent I did not recognize."
Crossing her arms, she trailed along behind a little slower than the others, but her gaze was on Hircus' belly. "Hm ... did you eat the wrong type of berries? If I had the tools and materials I could perhaps make a pill or similar to aid you." Syvis bowed her head again -- perhaps a remaining trait of being in the pack to show subservience, "If you all are so willing to aid me ... I wish to do so in kind. Nature is uncaring to those alone, but tends to bend against a group."
"Your pack?" Hircus furrows his brow as he lets the newcomer absorb the question. "So you have wolves for pets? Are you some kind of dog trainer? If the wolves we ran into were trained they didn't show it. These beasts were feral and ferocious. The first few we encountered were just looking for a convenient meal, but the second pack. Yeah, the second pack had a much larger leader. They nearly ended us." Hircus places a hand on his hammer's hilt. "I would very much like to stay away from the wolves, but if we meet them it may be on more even ground this time."
Hircus walks along the road with the back of his hand pressed on his lower spine. He rubs his stomach with a grimace. "Berries? No, the ailment I suffer is one of the mind even though it presents itself in my guts. This land is my disease. I suspect I will ask Torm for aid in this matter tomorrow." Hircus nods along with Syvis' as she speaks about safety in numbers. He can't help but consider their recently parted friend Tegan who has just struck out on his own. These thoughts of safety and talk of wolves lead Hircus back to alertness. He scans the woods as they walk.