It is night where you wake, here outside, your joints stiff and achy, your backs damp and chilled by the dewy grass that has soaked through your clothes.
For Varius and Cassandra, the experience is one of dislocation in space and time. Where are you? What watch is it? Straining to see with blunted human sight, Varius is aware that other people are stirring nearby, but can make out nothing except the clear sky full of stars overhead.
For Faria and Astryos, the dislocation is only that much more intense: how often in a long lifetime does an elf wake from unconsciousness? Only when so rendered by a blow to the head or a serious illness. The experience is so much harsher than coming out of a rejuvenating trance. It's like swimming up from the bottom of the ocean in a suit of platemail.
While Varius struggles with his other senses, you three elf-kin can see that the damp grass stretches all around, black and gray, to the extent of your darkvision. Countless stars adorn the clear sky above, and lazy fireflies careen about, buffeted by the occasional breeze. One pale blue star in particular shines brighter than the rest, like an uncut, polished aquamarine.
At least there are familiar faces here, at least for Cassandra, Faria and Astryos. Each of you feels you know the three others you see quite well. The details of their personalities and lives drift through your minds. But, if asked, you'd be unable to say how any of you met, or recall any shared experiences. It's almost as if each of the others is a character in a different story heard over and over again. Everyone wears similar, simple traveling clothes. Nobody wears any weapons, packs or other equipment you can see.
Despite the damp and chill, it's quiet here, peaceful even, though there is something strange and foreboding about that pale star, like a distant, mournful cry carried on the wind.
Varius struggles to his feet, eyes darting left and right in the darkness as his hands reach for his weapons. He doesn't like being blind at the best of times, and when he finds himself in a place he doesn't know, with no recollection of how he got there, the feeling intensifies several times over. Finding nothing where his trusty axes should be, Varius tries to keep his rising panic under control as he keeps his ears tuned for the faintest of sounds that might indicate he is not alone, hands curling into fists.
As soon as she woke, Cassandra knew something was very wrong. She ached, but it was what she didn't feel that troubled her more: the pressure of her back against a hard surface, be it tree or wall, wasn't there. The open air stabbed her back like daggers. Her muscles tensed in rote preparation as she sat up a quickly scanned her surroundings, once, twice. There were others around her, but they seemed just as sluggish to move as she was. Then she realized the other thing that was wrong: her equipment was gone. All of it. She looked around again and again, but none of her belongings were within site. A dwarven vulgarity, an old favorite from her days in the streets, passed her lips. She paused as another voice spoke up, and turned to face Varius. "I'm here. Do you have any idea what happened, or are you as confused as I am?"
Asteryos awakes with a startled breath. Eyes wide with surprise. His eyes search his surroundings and seeing that he is with allies, remains seated on his knees, staring out into the darkness, listening for...He was not sure. He closes his eyes and focuses on the sounds of their surroundings listening for any footfalls or signs of enemies.
Cassandra watched the man slowly move towards her. She tensed for a moment, but relaxed. He wasn't any more armed than she was, and with his progress she assumed he couldn't see as well as she could. Any apprehension was just her paranoia getting the better of her. "I have done a lot of travelling, so you might, but I doubt it. My name is Cassandra. And who are--" the question caught in her throat. As the figure neared, his face seemed to spark some memory. Or, perhaps not a memory. It was strange, foggy. "...Varius." she said, "you're Varius." The name felt familiar on her tongue, like she had been speaking of a friend, few as she had. But they hadn't met, had they? It seemed obvious they did, and the trust she felt spoke volumes on its own, but she didnt quite remember how...she squirmed a little in frustration. "I remember you. Do...do you remember me?"
As Cassandra speaks, Varius manages to place the voice, his mind slowly managing to put his thoughts back in order. He continues approaching the source of the voice, hands out, hoping to find something physical to grab onto.
"Cassandra? Yes...yes, I know you. But how do I know you? We haven't met, have we? Do you know where we are? Or how we got here? Is there anyone else here, or is it just us?"
A million more questions raced through his mind, but he tries to sort them out before unloading a barrage of questions on this person he couldn't even see.
Faria woke up. Something about that she knew should bother her but she stretched slowly sitting up. What had she done the night before that had exhausted her so much that instead of mental exercises she had ended up expiring into unconsciousness. As she yawns for a moment she looks around seeing her companions already up and moving about, and notes how none of them are armed. "I had the weirdest dream guys, I was in another land with a weird kid that kept calling me 'sneaky friend' and a bit of a snobby elf noble. I really hope if that is what dreams are Varius that they aren't as horrible as that was," says Faria looking down at her hands in the dimly lit surroundings.
The thoughts about her weapons missing was curious and she reached down checking the back of her boot where she usually kept a spare knife. One learned that you could never have too many knives. It wasn't there which was a sobering thought. "So what kind of party did we throw last night? Or rather... tonight? I don't remember exactly how we got here. Any ideas Varius? Kaz-Cassandra?" asks Faria as her gaze drifts from those two and then goes over to the silent one of their party. "Asteryos?"
She repeats the name silently as if trying to roll her mouth through an unfamiliar word, and yet she's heard of it before. "Whatever we had, I think it's side effects are still active. It's funny... I can't even remember how I joined up with you guys...?" she says half jokingly though there is a sudden edge to the realization at the end as for a moment she wonders if they really are friends. Or... were these people trying to trick her by getting close to her? Faria shakes her head putting a hand to her head for a moment. 'That's ridiculous, I wouldn't even be important enough of a person to do that. Still... maybe I shouldn't let my guard down just yet. They don't need to know I don't trust them though...'
Faria finally sure of her bearings stands up and walks over to Varius and Cassandra. "Sorry Varius, If I had a light I'd light it for you, or a jar of those fireflies would probably help you see a little bit but it seems we are missing quiet a bit. Doesn't look like there's anything dangerous for you to run into in the area but one of us can guide you if you need it." says Faria starting to poke around the area. 'A weapon... I should look for a weapon. Just in case....'
"We should probably try and figure out where we are, or find a better place to take a nap than out in the open," suggests Faria as her search begins to expand to an ever growing ring.
Cassandra turns as she heard one of the elves speak. Faria. Her mind fills in the blank as though she has always known. Which....did she? The half elf frowns. The whole ordeal is equal parts confusing and frustrating. The name Asteryos clicked similarly in her mind. Her knowledge of the people around her is present but...strange. It reminds her of muscle memory: reflexive and natural, but not something to consciously consider.
She frowns at Farias words. "I don't think there was a party. Something weirder is going on. This isn't adding up." She gets to her feet. "But you're right. Wondering about it here isn't going to do us much good."
She offers a hand to Varius. "I really don't know about any of your questions. But I can at least help you get around until we dins some light. No sense in you twisting an ankle."
It is Varius, aided by the contrasting darkness around him, who first spots the small, dim light that bobs gently in the distance. Exactly how far away is hard to tell, but it's certainly outside the range of anyone's darkvision.
When Cassandra also notices the distant light, her years of travel with Master Quarion bring two possibilities to mind: someone with a lamp is moving out there or a malignant wisp is trying to lure you into danger.
As they are going along Faria being far from the most perceptive of people, takes awhile to notice the light in the distance until it is pointed out by someone in the group. She frowns but seeing no other stimuli readily available in their surroundings she focus' on the point ahead. "Hmmm... a weary traveler or someone that might be able to point us in the direction of the nearest town? I've a feeling we don't want to be wandering around lost in the woods, for too much longer with no gear..." she says before finishing her thought. 'or weapons.'
Faria knew she was one of the fastest runners of the group so she took up the front of the group heading towards it. She just rather hoped whatever it was, if it was hostile didn't run as fast as her.
Asteryos gets to his feet, "It is an obvious statement, but, it seems something quite strange is amiss. I hear little more than the music of the night rustling about." The wood elf shivers, "Perhaps we should..." He forgets himself briefly, "...Then again, without any equipment, a fire to warm ourselves by is going to pose an obstacle. Faria is right. We need to figure out where we are."
Asteryos looks to the sky for familiar constellations.
Cassandra squints as she sees the small light in the distance. Apprehension bubbles inside of her. She knows plenty of stories of people who followed strange lights in the woods. Most of them don't end well. And with the strangeness already going on... But it's not like there's a lot more direction for us to go on, is there?
"Hey!" She calls as Faria moves ahead, "don't get too far ahead. We don't need a wisp separating us when we already don't know where we are. It's probably our best bet...but we should at least stick together."
She follows along, already questioning if this is a good idea.
Cassandra moves forward, considering their options. What were ways to deal with a wisp? I should have paid better attention to Master Quarion she laments, not for the first time. Her musing is cut short as she hears the sound of Asteryos dropping to the ground.
Instinctively, she moves her weight to her back heel, spinning back around and moving quickly to the fallen elf. "Faria!" She calls ahead to the trailblazing elf, "something happened to Asteryos!"
Upon reaching the fallen elf, she crouches low and checks to ensure that he is still alive. As odd as it would be, with how the night had been so far she couldn't rule out people simply dropping dead for no good reason.
Leaning low though, she sees the steady rise and fall of breath. Good. "He's breathing!"
Faria spun at Cassandra calling out and noticed the figure on the ground she was heading to. "Tymora's push..." she cursed under her breath as she headed on back jogging a bit until she arrived with Cassandra seemingly checking on his condition. When she exclaimed that he was breathing she smirked a bit. "Oh good, I though my poison might have killed him instantly," said Faria feinting worry before kneeling down herself to pat him on the face to try and get him to wake up. "Did you see what he was doing or did he just fall out of no where... well if we have to carry him well at least us elves are light as a feather. Some of us more than others."
She winks at Cassandra for a moment waiting to see if he wakes up, and then prepares a good slap if he doesn't wake up from the gentle pats of her hand.
Varius takes Cassandra's hand, which had been offered to him, and lets her guide him through the darkness, only to find himself being yanked this way and that as the smaller half-elf deals with a situation he can't see. It's only once he hears her mention that something has happened to Asteryos that he lets go of her hand and crouches down, feeling around until he finds the unmoving form of his third companion. Placing a hand just above the mouth to confirm he's still breathing, Varius grunts.
"Well, we still have no idea where we are, or how we got here, but it seems that this place is more dangerous than it appears. Well, appears to the rest of you in any case. Do either of you know what happened here?"
Three minutes pass and Asteryous wakes with a start. His emerald eyes wide with terror. He recall his training and regains his composure, wiping sweat from his brow, "We are no where familiar to any of us, I fear." he says in a quiet monotone, "There is something...otherworldly, about the sky here. I advise none of you witness what I did lest you wish to dance with madness." He climbs to his feet, "We should find a road. Or some fresh water." He looks around for any hovels or hollowed tree trunks, "Is it possible that we stowed our equipment someplace?"
Cassandra casts a glance around the group as they crouched around their fallen companion. Her frustration of the situation rising, she replies to Varius, "No idea. I thought he was just looking around. Figured he'd just be following us." She pauses for a moment, watching the fallen elf rise and begin to speak. The words are...confusing. "Something wrong with the sky? It's the sky." Yet she did not dare look up to prove the elf wrong. Something in the pit of her stomach tells her that his words were true, despite what her mind might protest. "...anyway, there's still the light up ahead. I'm not convinced its not a wisp, but at this point we can't be any more lost." She looks up in the direction where the light was before, checking to see if it was still there.
Faria drops her hand quickly from the slapping motion she had been preparing and innocently acts like nothing of the sort was about to happen. Instead she listens to his words, and almost as a jerk reaction her head starts to tilt upwards towards the sky before her mind catches up with her motion and stops her from looking up at the sky. Maybe it was best to heed the words of her friend, at least for now. "Yes, where ever we are it is most mysterious though I don't think answers will come from sitting around, we must press forward and I guess try to avoid looking at the sky. I rather hope this light ahead does not share a similar quality," says Faria looking hesitantly towards the light before standing up and taking point once more. "Regardless we'll proceed carefully from now on..."
While Cassandra, Varius and Faria have been clustered around Asteryos, the small light has drifted closer, and now the wizened, robed woman who carries it is can be seen about a hundred feet away. Stooped of stature, she meets your gaze with a broad smile open to any number of interpretations.
As she walks haltingly closer, the dim light from her lamp introduces color to your vision, and Varius can see the grass and the rest of you for the first time. The woman adjusts a bundle of cloth held under one arm and tips her beaming face skyward, where you have resolved not to look too hard. "Great Zhudun, the sleepers awake! The pact is complete!"
Looking back to the four of you, she nods in approbation. "Yes, fine work. You see, Zhudun's word is good. Here you are, restored in body . . . and mind? It took some doing to track you down, and Zhudun will not confine himself to our limited perceptions. No, I think the arrangement is satisfied."
"May I?" She points to a spot on the ground. "These bones are frail."
Faria watches as she approaches. "You...." she says with a vague sense of familiarity. It is frustratingly beyond the grasp of her mind to hold. The memory flowing between her fingers like water... no not exactly like water but more of a amorphous liquid that refuses to be confined. Her words are confusing and within whatever context the woman is speaking it is clear she is more privy to the whole picture than any single one of them.
"Pact? You mean like a deal? I don't recall.... well much of anything to be honest," says Faria looking to the others to see if there was any sort of hint of recognition. Falling to see a spark in her companions eyes she turned back to the woman who asked if she could have a seat on the ground. Faria shrugged at this unsure of why she would have any sort of authority over the woman. "Don't let me stop you."
After a bit of thinking, desperately running her mind over possibilities something struck her. "Is Zhudun what Asteryos saw in the sky?" asked Faria who really wanted to know what the heck was up in the sky that was so interesting, but her companions fainting spell was still fresh in her mind. Her eyes instead stayed fixed on the bundle the woman had moved under her robes. Was it a weapon? Surely this lady someone she could almost remember wouldn't try to attack four people on the road even if they were unarmed? Then the second thought of whether she was really alone of if the others who held similar and shifting spots in her mind were truly her allies. Faria decided that line of thinking was dangerous and once again squashed the notion down.
Cassandra tenses as she sees the old woman. There is...something familiar about the woman, but the familiarity didn't seem to comfort her like her familiarity with the others around her did. The smile she receives only deepens this feeling. "Maybe we should--" Cassandra begins quietly, being cut off as the old woman begins to speak. She uneasily listens, and waits to hear the wizened woman's response to Faria's question. All the while she remains tense, waiting to move at any necessary provocation.
The old woman's smile falters at Faria's questions. "Oh dear, then there has been some loss. As I said, it took some doing to find you all. More time might have passed than you would have liked." She slowly extends a wan hand towards the high elf's forehead, as if to check for fever. "And here, fool I, I thought you would appreciate a familiar face." She gestures at her own visage. "Yes, Faria Alderwood, I have it on excellent authority that you have met it before."
"As for Zhudun, the Corpse Star . . ." she looks up again at the starry expanse, then shakes her head in vigorous denial. "No! That was not part of the agreement. I will not speak further on these ancillary matters. In the future, best to clarify such perquisites up front."
She puts down her lamp and unfurls the bundle under her arm, revealing a heavy blanket, which she begins to shake out onto the grass in front of her. Then, with a slightly pained grimace, she slowly lowers herself onto the blanket and waves her arm to indicate that any who like may join her there. "Please, sit with me and we will complete this business."