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Prelude - Nivirea and the Wrathful Shadow

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
(Mood Music.  Singer: Helene Boksle.  Nighttime Journey Through the Eiglophian Mountains from the Age of Conan Hyborian Adventures soundtrack)







A simple treasure map.


It all started with a simple treasure map that Nivirea the Sorceress had procured in the shimmering city of Summerset with its lofty spires, looming castles, and shadow-filled alleys.  Lowin the Crafty, a convincing old dwarven merchant if there ever was one, had sworn upon his own family name that the yellowed vellum scroll the sorceress held in her hands was indeed a treasure map buried by Galefas the White, the age-old wizard who had carried his legendary Staff of Power to riches but was not found buried with it when he finally passed from his adventures upon Sharseya's shining lands into realms beyond life.


Of course, now it dawned on the magical miss that Lowin had never once spoken of his family name even in greeting, and odd too, the little chuckle he gave that made his white beard quiver with delight when the sorceress handed over all of the gold she had procured from her previous adventure.   Hard-earned gold at that...  


But the chance at a fabled Staff of Power?  Or perhaps the wizard's Robe of the Archmagi?  Or any of the number of the enchanted wands and ensorcelled rings he was known to possess with great prowess?  It was the sorceress's first real lead to items of this kind of power and rarity - how could she afford to pass it up?


How indeed, she may have wondered, was she here after weeks of long searching in Shandra's Evergreen, enduring day after day of evading wandering monsters and natural denizens of the forest?  And the storm!  There had been no evading that!  For two miserable days and nights, with no refuge to be found, the sorceress's clothing was soaked through with the biting chill of rain borne from angry, haunted thunderclouds.  Only now was it dry again.


Perhaps she felt wonder when she saw the falling, flaming ball of fire that zoomed like a god out of the star-lit heavens not a week before.  Something in her told her not to chase it, and she knew full well that she would not be the first to reach it.  But perhaps that was for the best.


And now.  The clear afternoon had drifted above her through beautiful oak and maple trees, their branches swaying softly like dancers in the wind.  The sorceress was standing above the very spot the cracked treasure map had indicated.  "X" had indeed marked the spot.  Doubtless, this was it.  There the sorceress stood with no shovel, no Dig spell at the ready, and absolutely no reason at all to need either...  


...for the cold pit before her was long-empty.  


The old hole in the earth gaped up at her like the open mouth of a laughing madman, unmercifully ridiculing her for her failure.  These past three weeks had come to naught but starry nights out in this dangerous wild and empty hands to what should have been sweet discovery.  


Had Lowin known?  Only a scholar or wizard could be sure, really.  The scroll was on old vellum and the pit seemed just as old.  Galefin the White had passed two years ago almost to this day and both scroll and pit were about that age, if the sorceress had to hazard a guess.  It was a pickle her striking beauty and effortless charm could in no way help her with.  


What did help her was her trusting of her own human senses.  It did not take female intuition to know what to do when the stomping sounds of large, bullish creatures reached her ears.  Their dull, moronic voices were almost always loud, and the sorceress may have wondered if all ogres were partially deaf as well as incredibly stupid.   She heard them blasting through the green, swinging their tremendous clubs mightily and carelessly, roaring about in their own language.  Certainly, this was not the first time she had to dodge such creatures in the past weeks.


What else was there to do but flee?  As skilled and sure as the sorceress was, a quartet of ogres was not only a bad match in terms of odds, but the chances of them carrying any reasonable treasure worth such a battle were as slim as a pixie's wings.  


Deeper into Shandra's Evergreen her feet swept her.  She knew to be quiet and careful, for ogres were hunters of a kind too, and the hungrier ogres were, the more likely they would long to taste the fey-blooded, fine flesh of a young creature like the sorceress.  Better that they not catch wind or sight of her at all.  


Looking over her shoulder, she heard their voices coming closer and closer.  She remembered that their strides were longer than hers, especially given their great size.  Great also was the argument they appeared to be having in their native tongue of Giant, but what they spoke, the sorceress could neither say nor understand.  Their brutish tongue was as crude and ugly as they were.  Not that it mattered if they caught her.  


So could anyone blame her for not seeing the hole hidden by the grass there before her hurrying feet?  What critic could critique her if she cursed as she fell pell-mell down the hard, natural rock shaft?  And what cleric could rightly reprimand her as that downward tunnel battered and bruised and otherwise failed to improve her journey?  No.  There were no critics to crack at her and no clerics to cooperate with her as she finally smacked the bottom of the rough, mossy hole.  


She had fallen far, yet not so far as to miss the sounds of the ogres rumbling like storms above her.  Like a raccoon in its burrow, the sorceress stayed soundless and watchful until those trudging, lazy feet ushered past.  Silence eventually resumed, but the feeling of safety did not join it, for there was no light down here in the belly of the earth.


But the sorceress was not without her gifts.  One such sharp gift was nearly always at hand; her blade.  With a spoken command word, it lit like a torch - a torch that the wind could not touch and water could not douse, for this was magical light from a magical blade.  


It was then that she discovered two more tunnels passing through the earth.  The climb back to the top would be treacherous.  Perhaps, logic suggested, there might be an easier route?  Neither of the tunnels bore any hint of wind, but one smelled "cleaner" than the other.  It was as if wildlife was growing down here in the brown earth far from where the sun could reach with her golden fingers.


Light in hand, the sorceress followed her nose through the straight corridor of earth until it wound upward ever so slightly, where her radiance could not reach.  There, the scent of evergreen was stronger.  As the sorceress lifted herself up the ridge and climbed over the top, she found herself looking down a corridor large enough for her to stand in.  Her magical light filled the room with odd shadows.  The way before her spoke of natural cover and yet, there was a stirring uneasiness forming in her gut, like the feeling one gets when they are too close to something that perhaps should be left alone.


It was at that precise moment that the sorceress heard the ever-so-faint sound of a string being pulled.  At the edge of her blade's radiance, an arrowhead could be seen protruding from the dark; a blood-red arrowhead aiming straight at her bosom.  A guttural, savage growl, from something perhaps humanlike, filled with unmistakable feminine warning and wrath echoed through the tunnel like no light ever could.  


Eyes.  Eyes in the dark.  Or rather, one eye to be sure.  Green like a wet fern in a springtime dawn.


One eye, one arrowhead, and one petrifying snarl at the edge of the magical light the sorceress held in her hand - all aimed at her.


And one question: What now does the sorceress do?
 
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Wolf Rawrrr

Wolf-Knight
Eauq tse Munrefni 1, she thought. Not said, like when she tripped and fell down the stupid hole. No, something told her that cursing in Infernal would be the worst possible response right now. Or pretty high up the list anyway.


With that established, what was the list? She had a couple spells that would work, but the arrow would be faster. On reflex she pressed her thumb against the ring of Force Shield on her index finger. But no, she couldn't rely on such meager protection under the circumstances. She'd have to count on her natural attributes instead. After all, whoever stood behind the eye and arrowhead could have skipped the warning and shot her already. Since they didn't, they could probably be reasoned with. And of the half a dozen languages that Nivirea spoke, Sylvan was probably the best choice.


"Cé a théann ann?" the girl asked softly, trying to sound frightened while adjusting her posture to non-threatening. "Ciallaíonn mé tú aon dochar.2"


Referenced translations:

1 Infernal: What the hell.


2 Sylvan: Who goes there? I mean you no harm.
 
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Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Nivrea's reply is met with an anger-filled growl.  A woman's voice asks, "Tà tù an chéad, 'cara,' agus coinnigh labha go bog.  Do ainm.  Cad a thugann tù síos anseo?"  


From behind the speaker beyond where the light reaches, comes a soft clicking sound that stops suddenly, but Nivirea's ears are uncertain what it is.  The smell of evergreen is strong in the cavern air.  The tunnel she is in is about 5 meters wide and 6 meters tall.  Your voices are soft enough that they do not carry far or echo.


Translated from Sylvan

"You first, 'friend,' an' keep speaking softly.  Yer name.  What brings ya down here?"
 

Wolf Rawrrr

Wolf-Knight
The reply was almost friendly compared to what Nivirea envisioned as the worst case scenario. The woman spoke Sylvan, and her words seemed to radiate caution rather than hostility, which helped her relax though she tried not to appear too calm before her. Only a fool or a foe could remain unfazed at arrowpoint like this; Nivirea aimed to be taken for neither.


"Tá mé Nivirea." she said softly. "Nivi do ghearr. Bhí mé ag rith thit mé isteach i bpoll sa talamh.1" She spoke with the tone and mannerism of a much more shy and timid girl than she was, keeping her eyes loosely between the woman's and her weapon. The faint clicking sound unnerved her ever so slightly, but that could only bolster her performance. She knew she wasn't exactly the very icon of a helpless maiden lost in the woods, what with her fancy yet stained robes and light-enchanted knife, so she had to strike a fine balance between that and who she truly was.


"Le do thoil, tá mé ag iarraidh ach a fháil ar bhealach amach.2" she added, hoping the woman wouldn't prod too deep.


Referenced translations:

1 I am Nivirea. Nivi for short. I was running and I fell into a hole in the ground.


2 Please, I'm only trying to find a way out.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
But prod she did...   From  the dark, there was a sound like a chuckle leaden with the hint of either pain, anger, or exhaustion.  "Mar sin Nivi...  cad a rinne tú le an óir?" she asked.  "Tá a fhios agat ...  An óir thug siad tú le haghaidh ceachtanna ag gníomhú?"  Then as both eye and arrow receded into the dark, a heavy rumbling could be heard, like the growling of some deep-chested creature that was not the speaker.  


"Tell ya what," said the speaker in the Common tongue.  "You drop yer disguise, I'll drop mine, an' we all work together ta get outta these caves safe an' sound?  Otherwise, ya turn back the way ya came.  Fer I can't let'cha pass this way as we are..."   The faint clicking sound upon the stones returned but only for a moment.  It was joined by the unmistakable sound of something breathing heavily there in the cavern ahead of Nivirea.  Something large.  It stayed in the dark, not approaching the glow presented by Nivirea's enchanted blade, but for out of preparation or caution or something else, Nivirea senses could not tell her.  Ever-present and mingling with the stale earthy scents of the cavern was the strong scent of evergreen.


"Work together or work alone?  What's it gonna be, Nivi?"


Translated from Sylvan

"So Nivi...  whaddya do with the gold?" she asked.  "Ya know...  The gold they gave you fer actin' lessons?"  
 
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Wolf Rawrrr

Wolf-Knight
"I speak the truth." the girl replied, slightly offended. "I've said nothing to deceive you. While you've said nothing at all so far! How am I supposed to work with someone I know nothing about?"


For the moment, the girl was too herself to remember the threat she faced or think of the proper thing to say. "And what manner of beast have you hidden there?" she puffed, pointing at the presumed source of the clicking noise with her free hand.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
"Now we're talkin'," says the woman sounding unworried at the offense and a bit relieved at the whole affair.  There is a long sigh.  And then...


"Ya wanna know?  Take a few steps closer with that light of yers.  You've got the guts ta do it, don'tcha?"
 

Wolf Rawrrr

Wolf-Knight
Nivirea frowned hard, fixing the woman with a sharp eye - sure signs of a challenge hastily accepted. Yet looking into the darkness where there was something more but the dark, she hesitated for a moment. Or rather, she took a short moment of recollected thought. And then she made the few deliberate steps that were needed to shine a bit of light onto the mystery. And though her steps were strong and true, her body did tense in anticipation of what she would find.
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
The first thing that greeted Nivirea's eyes was a lowered bow and reddened arrow.  Now that Nivirea was this close, she could see that the arrow seemed to have been steeped in something, but what, she could not tell.  


As the bright white light from Nivirea's blade shone forth, it revealed a young human woman wearing red leather armor.  She was badly bruised on the left side of her body.  Her face showed bore shades of purple and yellow and her torn left shoulder was dark with dried blood.  The bleeding appeared to have stopped.  Her left leg, while protected by strong leathers, bore signs of great impacts, as if she had seen horrible battle but recently.   Injuries like these, Nivirea knew, must have been excruciatingly painful and yet up until now the young woman had spoken as surely as if they had been speaking from inside the comforts of a warm tavern.


Now the facade dropped.  The young woman's breaths were labored.  Her left eye was swollen and nearly shut with ugly bruises, yet there remained a steady toughness in her right eye, green as morning leaves.
 




Nivirea's ears suddenly alerted to the telltale sounds of clicking.  Soon, she realized she was being rapidly approached and that the sound she has heard all along was that of hardy claws tapping against the stone of the tunnel.  Warning snarls, deep and lusty, bellowed from the throat of a massive black wolf - one big enough to pick either human up and easily carry them away if the wolf so desired.  Those growls echoed eerily, amplified by the close walls of the underground tunnel.  The great wolf's eyes were narrowed with ears raised, tail straight back, and bloodied teeth bared at Nivirea as the canine moved protectively between Nivirea and the wounded human.  


The wolf's meaning was unmistakable - "Threaten her and you die." 


Unlike the human, this big black wolf's health appeared to be just fine.



(Large-sized Black Wolf)




"Well, Nivirea," sighed the young woman with a weary chuckle, "ya wanted ta know.  There's yer answer."  


The woman looked tenderly to the wolf.   Out of the human comes a wolfish sound like an unthreatened grumble.  The wolf's ears turned toward the human for a moment.  In reply, the wolf's dagger-long teeth closed back into her bloodstained maw.  The scent of evergreen was as strong as it had ever been since Nivirea descended these twisting tunnels.


"I'm Little Cub.  This here's my best friend, Chomper.  We're in league with Highwind against the Armies of the Black Fang."  Cub laid back against the stone, propped up against the wall in a sitting position.  "If yer runnin' from those ogres, then it looks like we've got mutual enemies."
 
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Wolf Rawrrr

Wolf-Knight
As frightening as the big black wolf was, Nivirea still grew a lot more relaxed now that she wasn't held at arrowpoint anymore. Her heartbeat steadied and her posture returned to her confident self, though she remained cautious not to accidentally provoke the beast at the woman's side. "Chomper." she repeated the name in a neutral to friendly way, establishing eye contact. Then she looked to the woman. "And Little Cub. Pleasure to make your acquaintance... And live to tell the tale. " Nivirea also leaned back against the wall of the tunnel, albeit in a standing position. The still-glowing kunai remained in her left hand, held in reverse so that the pointy end pointed at herself. She stared at it for a short while before looking up again.


"I am no friend to the Black Fang, 'tis true. So what happened here? Are you in flight from the ogres as well? Do you..." she paused, clearly looking carefully over the woman's injuries, "Need help? I'll help, if I can. Though I am no healer."
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
"And Little Cub. Pleasure to make your acquaintance... And live to tell the tale. "
Little Cub winced in pain and grinned.  "Ya know what they say - 'a cornered animal is the most dangerous.'  An' here you are with two."

"I am no friend to the Black Fang, 'tis true. So what happened here? Are you in flight from the ogres as well? Do you..." she paused, clearly looking carefully over the woman's injuries, "Need help? I'll help, if I can. Though I am no healer."
Cub's words came slowly.  "We were haulin' tail outta here.  These giants?  They were goin' after Melshaef's Tree 'cept Chompy an' I nabbed it right out from under 'em, before they could get their grubby hands on it."  There was a strong touch of pride in Cub's voice at that, but it was short-lived.  "We were ready for the first two Formorians.  Heck, the next pair even.  It was the six after that that nailed us."  She looked up toward the ceiling, her one eye shone with resolve.  "Shoot, there must half a tribe or more up there.  Either way, we've gotta get Melshaef's Tree outta here an' back inta Mielikkian hands."  


"As fer the tree itself..."  Cub looked fondly to something near her rear end.  It was about three feet in height and incredibly beautiful, like a force of nature entwined with deep forest magics that were old long before Nivirea, Chomper, or Cub ever walked Sharseya.  Although it was out of water and soil, it in no way looked diminished.  Instead, there was a vibrant and sure power emanating from it now that Cub revealed it.  




(Image credit:  wallpapersonthe.net)



"So yeah," Cub sighed.  "Could I use a healer?  Yeah.  Otherwise, I don't think Chompy an' I are going anywhere for a few days.  But then again," she paused and listened.  "I don't hear those knobby feet of the ogres an' Formorians...  I find that strange.  If they were after you, the stubborn cusses would still be topside."  Her teeth clenched under her crimson mask.  "There's only one answer - something or someone else is up there with 'em now.  Whaddya think, Chompy?"  


Chomper had not taken her eyes off of Nivirea.  Her ears flicked and turned back toward Cub when she heard her name.  The muscular she-wolf grumbled low and frustrated.  "Yeah, me too." Cub nodded and sighed wearily.     


She looked back to Nivirea.  "Mebbe yer not a healer, but you wanna go up there and sneak a peek an' see if there is one?  Somebody with yer fey-like features seems...  more likely ta blend in Shandra's Evergreen than ta stick out."
 
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Wolf Rawrrr

Wolf-Knight
Nivirea's eyes flicked to the artifact in question as soon as Little Cub produced it. For a few moments she just stared at it, with the appreciation and longing befitting of a young sorceress. Eventually she shook her head.


"I don't think they actually spotted me." she said. "I was quick. Doubtless they've trudged on. I'll go see." The girl looked behind at the direction she came from. "Can't go that way. How's the tunnel on your end?"
 

Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
"Open," Cub pointed with her thumb.  "Thank Mielikki fer small favors, right?"  


Chomper followed Nivirea's every move with watchful eyes, her claws clicking on the stone.  She did not growl, but nor did she lower her guard.


Little Cub looked like she wanted to say more, but fatigue was taking its toll on the young woman.  She leaned now against Melshaef's Tree and soundlessly watched Nivirea from behind her bruised countenance with her one good eye.
 

Wolf Rawrrr

Wolf-Knight
The girl glanced between wolf and woman once more, nodded, and promptly headed down the tunnel with her glowing kunai held forward to force apart the dark.


She remained on guard throughout, though she did not really expect to run into any trouble until the exit. And then... Well, hopefully not even then.
 
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Dannigan

Kaerri's Man. =)
Supporter
Nivirea indeed found no trouble whatsoever down Cub and Chomper's sloping tunnel.  In fact, the gentle grade was easy to climb all the way to its top where she discovered a cunningly disguised covering between her and the surface.  No dry leaves or twigs trespassed beneath her feet to warn creatures above of her presence.  It was as inviting an opportunity to peek up at Shandra's Evergreen as she was going to get.


Hearing nothing, she did so...  and her eyes caught a scene most peculiar!  Not only could the sorceress detect many a flat and unmoving ogre corpse about her, but there near their center stood a blond-haired elf in fine robes, deep in concentration and obviously weaving magic!  He did not reach for material components nor did he make any motions with his hands.  Only his mouth moved.  There was no sound from it when he did.


Beyond this, she could not tell much.  Nor did there seem to be any danger in continuing to observe.


This concludes Nivirea's prologue.  Feel free to post in Chapter Nine: Crossroads.  =)
 

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