Ephemeris

To Berylbrown
Bumble in the Ju-FIELDS

They had left at first light and traced back the route the boys had taken. Atop horses they followed the road, twisted along the rocky, arid hills. It was evident the received little rain, brush and pointed plants scattered around. The sun continued its climb.

Parched, Rustiver’s hand shakily moved toward his flask. It was instinctual but he stopped himself at the last moment. Casually glancing over to Aelen he found the hyvalim preoccupied, lost in contemplation. Jerold too hadn’t noticed, his eyes focused on the landscape and his head turned frequently.

They followed the bend in the road and slowed their beasts. Ahead the path carved deep into a hill and the shoulders of the road formed tight walls all along. The three paused for a moment.

“If we’re intending to find some bandits around here, that path could be a deathtrap,” he said flatly.

“It’s certainly a chokepoint,” Rustiver added. “I’ve been surprised on the road before.”

“If we keep the sun over our shoulder we can fall off the road and still keep West,’ followed Jerold.

“I’d prefer to take caution before promenading into town,’” Aelen said.

Rustiver nodded and Jerold led them from the road. The marched directly along the red dirt and avoided this plant and that. They swapped stories, a couple of times bursting into uproarious laughter, but well past midday they hadn’t encountered Berylbrown.

“The horses are thirsty,” Jerold finally spoke.

“Let’s stop,” Rustiver said. He dismounted and moved to the head of the beast. He cupped his hands together and held before the horse’s mouth. Rustiver closed his eyes and mouthed a pray.

Water pooled in his hands. The horse sniffed and immediately lapped it. Though it drank copiously, the water level stayed, never overflowing or depleting. Rustiver watered the other two beasts and watched Jerold return with an armful of the brush.

“This will work,” he said and offered it to the horses. They ate it greedily, despite the red scrapes and inflammation on Jerold’s arms and chest.

Aelen stared up at the sky, watching an unusual number of birds circling over a far hill. Jerold then Rustiver spotted the birds and again they looked at each other.

“It’s odd,” Rustiver muttered. “It might be the bandits.”

“We’re already off from Berylbrown, " Aelen snorted. “We should get there first and then think about worrying over birds.” Jerold nodded and Rustiver relented.

“Alright, to Berylbrown.”

Horses fed and watered, the three remounted and striding toward the setting sun they made for Berylbrown.

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Humble Beginnings
More like Bumbled Beginnings, mirite?

Dunhollow Inn
Following the group’s formation, the adventurers settled down in a small crossroads area known as Dunhollow. With a river trickling steadily behind it, the large inn rose amongst the steppes that surround it. Situated along what could be called a highway, if it was either high or more a way than down-trodden grasses, the Dunhollow Inn was a welcome sight.

Congregated outside along the hitching rail, horses of no particular pedigree were gathered. Tails swatting lazily at flies, their heads bowed refreshing themselves with the cold mountain runoff water placed in their trough. Inside, the scene was largely the same, common men refreshing themselves after a day’s labor. There were a few buildings that had been built around the inn, mostly houses or storage buildings. If Dunhollow were noted on a map, it was after a lazy cartographer realized he had dripped ink when drawing the Tao marketplace.

The adventurer’s had originally come south from Tao encountering small bandit raiding parties, an unfortunate aspect of the areas peripheral to the barbarian war path. Although they became friends with the innkeeper (in no short part due to their love of revelry), the regulars eyed them with trepidation. One day ago, Jerold traded words and drinks with a boisterous shepherd’s son, resulting in at least one broken arm. Aelen himself, half bored, half manic, began playing with a fire spell and lit a portion of what he believed was an abandoned building’s roof on fire. The resident peasants were neither amused nor thrilled with his explanation.

Given their desire to rest and remunerate for their devious nature, the adventurers traveled to a nearby farm to train the owner’s sons in combat. He had seen the work Jerold and Aelen did on Dunhollow and figured it was the best his boys were going to get outside of bandits. On their return, the party noticed more horses than usual, odd for the sleepy pass-by.

Inside the Inn, there was banter and clanking. Immediately out of place were two young men standing against the bar, talking to Padar, the owner. Padar’s face was grim, and focused. Rustiver notes the younger boy has been coughing, but likely is shying his face away as he chokes up and wipes his tears away. To try and ligthen the mood, Rustiver offers to buy the elder one a drink. Although the boy ignores Rustiver, Padar’s face softens and he advises the boys to tell the adventurer’s their story.

Jack and Jeff, the lone survivors of their trade caravan had ridden away from onslaught and massacre outside the village of Berylbrown. They were asking Padar for help in getting their sister back, she was taken by the bandits. Aelen deftly asks the boys about their parents, his mystical nature and voice off-setting the otherwise outrageously awkward question. The boys relayed the horrors they witnessed, men and women who fought cut down, the weaker women convinced by their elder, Mona, to cut their throats to avoid capture and an the uncertain future. Before their sister, Jemma, was cut, hands reached into the wagon and threw Mona to the ground. A lone bandit, rode up and eyed her tentatively. He pointed and turned. The men grabbed Jemma, threw her, kicking and screaming, across a saddle and began riding off. At this point, the boys must’ve fleed.

After a night of rest, the adventurer’s set out along the path the boys provided. Worried about missing the bandits simply following the trail through the steppes to Berylbrown, the party decided to venture straight north, however the noon sun provided no guidance and they found themselves heading northwestern that afternoon. Although they corrected their path to head North, they felt unease as they saw a large circle of birds in the distant sky. Floating above something out of sight…
Mongolian_steppes.jpg

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Meetings Perchance: Part 4

In disbelief of what had happened, the screaming Aelen heard gave way to a grand silence. The magic was still there, but it was less. Those around him at the Ephemeris College felt the disturbance, too, but nobody either knew or seemed to not want to say. For days, Aelen would go to the library and sit with his, now-unremarkable spellbook. No whispers. No insights. Just the wind against the glass and the opening and closing of the library doors. Eventually, Aelen woke up in acquiescence. Just as in his home College, whatever innate magic was there was not going to help him excel. It was the failure that led him to the grimoire, he thought, it would be this failure that would propel him further.

On a walk of the grounds, planning his next move, he saw a Battlemage who wore a tabard of the Eston Knights exiting the central tower. The human was gaunt and weathered, his tanned skin pockmarked and adorned with scars. His hair was shaved to the skin, completing the practical adornments of a soldier. Aelen had never seen the Battlemages at the College look so haggard or serious. The man also had a constant look of purpose, like someone who stared in the face of their own death. The pageantry of the College must fade when accustomed to such darkness.

Aelen approached and hailed the mage, his stare broke and he scanned Aelen tentatively. Aelen, not wanting to overplay his hand, introduced himself cordially and feigned ignorance in asking if the man was from Eston. He nodded and curtly affirmed. Aelen bluffed and mentioned a fellow had told him Eston had a great many arcane libraries. In particular, he wanted to get his hands on a tome about planar portals.

The man’s disinterested look sharpened and cut the silence that hung in the air. After a beat, his look softened and he cleared his throat. “Try Tao. Eston’s a place of functional magic. Plus, the way is fraught with war. Be wary, no Barbarians will cleave you, but plenty will jump to cut your throat for your coinpurse in that wretched bog.” Aelen thanked him and excused himself. Confirmed by the reaction, he immediately fetched the College cartographer to get a map of the way to Tao.

About a week later, as Aelen’s approach neared Tao, he had a vantage over the city’s walls, which were, at one point, complete like its government, but now filled with holes and patched with wood, mud, and debris. Aelen had grabbed a book from the library about the town. Each night he studied it intently:

Tao was originally a kingdom whose bloodline died out. When conflicts rose to determine the successor, a group of merchants who owned many of the docks banded together to create their own government. Initially pitched as the “Marketplace Solution” to the lack of royal edict, power was traded for gold and sealed with blood. Indeed, many groups laid siege to the walls, some of the merchant lords were poisoned, shot, and stabbed but without the ability to restrict the naval trade, the town subsisted. As the surviving merchants became more paranoid and controlling, their margins, shrinking with every siege, the city of capital they envisioned quickly became autocratic. Ruling was equal parts iron and gold. Eventually, the competitors docks were burned, unfortunate fires seemed to plague all who tried to deviate from the controlling houses. Eventually, through marriage and integration, the houses melded into one: The House of Tao.

Ever since then, Tao had maintained a sort of tepid peace. The merchant lords had their enforcers ensure that commerce was not impeded, and indeed they offered what the other cities did not, a free marketplace. Free, of course, being in terms of restrictions, not the cut the merchants paid for the privilege.

As Aelen entered the town, a man who, presumably was a guard, wearing armor emblazoned with the same coat of arms as the gates, hassled the mage.

“Oi! You there, goldy. What business have you in our fair city?”
Aelen bristled at the slur, his hands clenched. He muttered an elven curse under his tongue.
“My business is my own, knave.” the elf shot back.
“Well any business is Tao is my business, you understand? If you want to keep that business and your head, to yourself, you better start speaking or start walking.”
“I am looking to find a trader of arcane tomes. Planar…things. It’s probably above your understanding.”

The man paused, confused looking, then his face snapped into a smile.
“Oi, well why didn’t you just say so!? ‘Course, Tao has the finest arcane tradeshops. We love us mages and elfkin! In fact, on behalf of House Tao, I’ll save you time by telling you the best one in the whole city. Good friend of mine by the name of Dorund. Always collecting trinkets, that Dorund.”
He gave Aelen the directions and patted him on the back as the elf proceeded by. “Oi be careful goldy, just cuz us guards are here, doesn’t mean you still can’t get a dagger slipped in your slender ribs.”

As Aelen followed the directions through crowded markets. Living up to its namesake, even in the open air, everything was for sale in Tao. Exotic creatures in cages were next to slave stalls with humanoids of all sizes. Outside bars and drug dens, smoke pouring out every crack and window, barely clad women dance and heckle passer-by’s. Aelen arrived at the alley the gaurd had described. Walking down the alley, Aelen squinted to translate the poorly handwritten signs. An elf’s stone throw ahead, he heard a door bang against its frame. A halfling sprung out from the portal, two men in leather armor, swords out, in tow. One wore an eyepatch and a bandana. The other was bald, with a necklace of bones draped about his head.

HELP!” He screamed as he dashed around Aelen.

The men slowed as Aelen stayed within the walkway, eyeing them.

“Yer in our way, Elven trash.” the bandana’d cyclops barked. They both held their swords out to the ready.

Aelen’s brow furrowed, “I think it is you who is in my way, Iantha.”

“We dont’ have time for this, Durgo, let’s gut this one and find that runt.” the other said, lunging at Aelen and although Aelen dodged his strike, he had thrown his body weight at the elf, and they came crashing to the ground.

Hitting the muddy stones, the elf struggled against the weight of the bandit, as he grappled on, having the upperhand. The bone-necklace bandit ended up kneeling upon the elf’s chest and hoisted his sword in the air, a dramatic finish for the mage. Aelen clenched his eyes, his every muscle taut at the impending impact.

A voice called out “Stop right there, brigand! Drop that sword.” Aelen’s eyes snapped open, acutely aware of the magic that coursed around him as the bandit, wide-eyed, dropped his sword. As it clattered to the cobblestones, the man’s expression turned from confusion to wide-eyed fear and stood up. Aelen flipped onto his stomach in time to see a hulking barbarian sprinting down the alley and grab the man into the air. The man kicked at the barbarian’s chest to no avail, the giant threw him against a wall. His body fell limp to the stones.

The one-eyed bandit, took a step back.
“Th—this doesn’t concern you, mountain man. Back off.”
The barbarian stood, planted and moved one hand to the large sword hanging across his back.
“I’m warning you! I know people! People that’ll gu-”

He was cutshort as he was lifted off the ground and thrown back a good 5 feet onto his back. The air rippled beyond where it had carried the man. Gasping from the air being knocked out of him, the bandit scrambled to his feet. The barbarian turned around to see the elf’s eyes lightly glowing, his hand pointing out at where the air had burst out.

“You…” the man coughed and inhaled sharply “You’ll pay for this!” as he turned and ran, leaving his friend behind, crumpled amongst the refuse that lined the alley.

Behind Aelen, a man in armor sauntered up. Aelen scanned him, fixating quickly on the book tethered to his hip, bound in chains. They locked eyes. The serious look of the man melted into soft worry.

“Are you alright, brother?” Rustiver asked as he smiled, his hand rising to offer a handshake.

“I was fine. I did not need your help.” The elf quipped, his pride surfacing.

“You were about 5 seconds from being fine.” The Barbarian quipped, relaxing as he watched for movement from the unconcious brigand.

“My name is Rustiver, this is Jerold. We heard the halfling’s call for helps and thought we should check it out. Are you a mage? What is your name?”

“Aelen. I should ask you the same thing, making him drop his sword like that. Do not try any mind tricks on me, you’ll find your feeble race can’t manipulate the minds of my kin.”

Rustiver and Jerold both chuckled at the dig.

“Nonsense, brother. I am…a priest of the battlefield, I can command men to fight or to peace. I am no mindflayer. You didn’t answer my question.”

Jerold muttered under his breath “You should be more concerned with bodyflayers…”

Aelen shot daggers at the large man, who received it with a smirk. He turned back to Rustiver “I am a mage. I am a visiting scholar at the Mage’s College of Ephemeris. I’ve come to this wretched place in search of arcanic tomes.”

Rustiver laughed, “Arcanic tomes? In Tao!? Where did you get that idea? This is a den of slavers, traders, and profiteers. Perhaps such a place exists, but I can’t imagine who would suggest such a thing.”

Aelen’s face drooped upon hearing this, before resuming a skeptic stoic facade.

Rustiver continued, patting the hyvalim on the shoulder. “Y’know, we’re heading South, these bandits may have short attention spans, but their grudges run long. We could use a mage with your talents to come with us. My cohort and I have already helped each other out of a few incidences with brigands.”

Aelen paused and stared at the man. His eyes twitched as though carrying on a conversation inside his mind. He perceived sincerity and in his ear, he swore he heard the quietest of whispers, sending his heart a flutter.

“Alright, but only because I owe you two. I am not some commonoid, I repay my debts.” He huffed.

Rustiver and Jerold glanced at each other, smirking and nodding affirmatively.

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Meetings Perchance: Part 3
Simple Luck

The night had brought little sleep. Hands and feet bound there was little ability to situate comfortably. Rustiver looked over at his captors, most tending to camp and beginning to bed down for the night.

Slavers by trade, they had surprised and ambushed him as he traveled along the path west of Mhavo. When pressed, with punches and kicks, Rustiver gave them a false name and their greed delayed further questions. The price they’d get for a strong slave was sufficient enough that they would let him live but his book, sword, and flask were confiscated.

Traveling south, he walked bound and tethered to a specific captor. The bandits would trade off shifts of supervising and cursing at him. He said very little back to their insults but their incessant jeering had begun to wear on him by the end of the third day. Feet aching he slumped next to a fallen log and tried to get some sleep before attempting his escape.

An explosion of yelling and activity roused him from his slumber. Groggily he looked over to the source of the commotion. The camp had emptied of the bandits who were collected around a hulking body some distance off. Glinting steel swung and flew in the air and Rustiver immediately began to search for his gear.

Scooting and inching, he checked a pile of cloth and burlap but found nothing. A scream, a whimper, and steel falling to the ground redirected his attention to the melee. Considerably less bodies were left standing and a frightened bandit surged past him. Rustiver shrunk himself into a ball and muted his breathing.

The hulking man stomped after the fleeing bandit and Rustiver caught sight of the gigantic sword he carried. The former adjudicator hastily fumbled with his bindings.

Finally the bonds gave and Rustiver heard the familiar sound of a blade puncturing flesh. Looking up he saw approaching him was the lone combatant, walking slow and purposefully. Having emptied the camp of bandits the man now looked at Rustiver and likely considered him apart of the ruffians.

“How’s your night going?” Rustiver asked, narrowly dodging the response.

Again the blade came around. He moved but was sure it wasn’t enough, he closed his eyes and waited for the contact that never came. Quickly realizing his luck he dove away from the man and toward a nearby body. Hoping for a sword, or shield, or anything to defend himself he reached the corpse and frantically searched.

The flambard impacted onto the corpse just as Rustiver’s hands gripped hilt. He pulled hard as he rolled out and immediately rose up to a knee. Extending his weapon, an unusually short dagger, he looked the warrior in the eyes.

The man laughed. Rustiver pursed his lips and waited a moment. The delight took hold of the savage warrior and he relaxed. Rustiver stood calmly but kept his gaze on him.

“Slavers,” Rustiver nodded to the bodies scattered around.

“I know,” the response came.

“They ambushed me on the road and took everything.”

No answer returned.

“You certainly did me a favor, cleaning up the camp as you did.” Rustiver thought he saw a sign of pride or possibly amusement peak through the man’s serious countenance. “Seems we have mutual feelings towards bandits. Two is better odds than one, I’m Rustiver.”

“Jerold,” the man returned and, bored of the conversation, began to eye the camp.

“If you see a big tome on a chain, let me know. It’s,” Rustiver paused. “It’s important to me.”

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Meetings Perchance: Part 2
Bound over blood

Although Jerold didn’t think about it when he decided to leave his brother and the other barbarians to pursue his revenge it was the first time he had been alone in years. The quiet of nature was oddly reassuring to him. As dusk descended on empty road Jerold decided to make a camp just out of sight from the path. Sleeping alone in the wild should have concerned him more than it did but, with the few supplies he had, he did what he could before drifting off to the sound of nearby branches swaying gently in the night breeze.

Eyes still shut Jerold could hear the footsteps of something approaching. He lay perfectly still hoping it was just some local game. He cursed to himself under his breath when he heard their voices. “He should sell well at market.” Fitting last thoughts Jerold thought. He grabbed his flambard and rose from his makeshift bed just as an arrow flew from one of the bandits striking his arm. This did little to quell the rage that those words had instigated. Before he could notch a second arrow Jerold had already closed the distance and skewered the archer.

As the body of the first man was falling to the ground Jerold turned to the second bandit. If that man had any intention of engaging Jerold it melted away when he saw the unfiltered anger in his eyes. He ran.

If there was ever joy to be found in killing it was at the slaughter of those in the slave trade. The laughter of the gargantuan barbarian spurred him on even faster. He only had it make it a few hundred yards and he would be within sight of the camp.

The men on watch initially started laughing when they saw their scout sprinting at full speed towards the camp. Thinking he had been startled by the wind. When he saw Jerold closing the gap he gathered the other men by his post thinking that they might be lucky enough to have a slave come to them for a change. They all figured that he would turn around when he saw the 5 of them standing at the ready for him. By the time they had realized their mistake their friend had been run down. They just managed to sound the alarm when Jerold reached them. It was the last thing they did. With one mighty swing Jerold had collected three of their heads and the counter swing from the fourth seem to have little effect glancing off the side of Jerold. He then brought his flambard down slicing from shoulder to groin leaving the man in bloody heap on the ground.

The last man saw wisdom in retreating back to camp. No longer in the mood for running Jerold used the severed head of one of his fallen foes to slow the retreat of the last man. There was a loud crack as skull collided with skull and the bandit fell, his comrades head landing next to his own. He was able to get up to a knee before the blade pinned him back to the ground.

There was no solid defense inside the camp, although they had heard the alarm no one know exactly where it had come from and there was no sizable group of intruders anywhere in site. One by one bandits fell as they came across him, some prepared, most not. It had been less than five minutes since he was awoken by the scavenging party and the bandit camp had been reduced to chaos.

With the fatigue of battle beginning to set in Jerold came across a bit of a rundown looking man. As soon as he had engaged him it was clear that he was no ordinary bandit. It was Rustiver’s reluctance to return swings that allowed him to convince Jerold of his true purpose of being in the camp that night. After a short conversation as they gathered what they could carry from the camp. Jerold discovered they were both headed in the same direction. He would have to be careful until he could discover his true intentions but Rustiver could make a fair travel companion.

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Meetings Perchance
Good things come in threes...

Before daybreak, in the early morning, the dry, cold wind chilled him to the bone. Rustiver pulled his tunic tight to himself and swore under his breath. The faster they rode the colder he felt but he couldn’t risk slowing his escape. Though the road leading west from Mhavo wouldn’t be guarded, he couldn’t shake the feeling that his departure had been too easy.

Grophen had said very little when he had divulged his intention to leave. Rustiver had learned a great deal in the years they had spent together but the recent developments had put a strain on event the most devout. Benitum’s orders at Mhavo were the ravings of a lunatic, a man gone mad with power and obsession, and Rustiver could no longer tolerate being a tool of oppression.

The grave resignation on the dwarf’s faced hung in his mind. Rustiver extracted his flask and took a deep pull from it. The intoxicant sent the familiar warm sensations through his increasingly numb body. Not as potent a feeling as it usually was, he took another swallow to compensate.

Stars were already fading from the sky as the cursory rays of light poked up from the horizon. Judging his distance traveled he estimated he was a few leagues from the accursed city. The chaos caused by Benitum’s mandates would provide enough cover for him to disappear completely, he thought to himself. Perhaps he’d open a tavern or apprentice as a smith, even selling goods was a possibility. No more suffering, sacrifice, or pain in his life sounded increasingly promising the more he thought of it.

Distracted with his thoughts, Rustiver paid very little attention to the treeline beside the road. The chill of the wind racing past him had drained him and he held the reigns loosely in his hands. Likewise, the horse’s gait had also slowed considerably and had his attention not been elsewhere the former Eston adjudicator would have roused the creature back to a swift gallop. Yet, he didn’t and the horse loped slowly.

The forceful hit came at once and cleanly extruded him from the saddle. He fell to the ground immediately and slammed against the cold, hard earth. Instinctively he raced to his feet but another blow knocked him back down. His eyes opened and with one last look at his horse, continuing to canter down the road, the boots and legs swarmed him; then, total blindness.

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