Drake thought about it a minute before answering. "I can accept that. It's better than the alternative." He said, knowing that to refuse the generous offer would mean his death.
He reached inside his cloak, fished out a coinpurse, and tossed it to the Durgerek. "For the target I was here to assassinate." Drake responded to the confused look on his face. "From the info I was given, he was that sorceror you just killed not long ago. I didn't complete the contract, so I have not earned it."
Griff looked up sharply when he heard the voice. He stood slowly from his kneeling position and scanned the nearby trees to try and tell where it was coming from.
"Hello?" Aquea said curiously. She started fluttering towards the trees when Griff put his hand in her path to stop her. He didn't know who it was or what they wanted, so protecting Aquea and the stone became his priority.
"I don't know yet," Griff answered. "What do you think it is?" Griff asked, hoping that this new arrival would answer and help him figure out where they were hiding.
H.F.S, replied 'I have no idea but you seem to have a fair idea of what this is, as you wanted to take it but something stopped you, so I would appreciated you didn't lie to me.', H.F.S stayed almost perfectly still in the tree, apart from H.F.S's voice and a minuet out line of his tail across a branch there was nothing giving H.F.S's position away.
"Clever..." Griff thought. He had determined the voice was coming from in the direction of a certain group of trees but he still didn't know which. "Gotta keep him talking," Griff thought.
"I have a guess of what it is, but I can't say for sure," Griff admitted. Griff was becoming more and more uncomfortable with the voice, Aquea however seemed to be enjoying the mystery of it.
'tell me your thought and knowledge of this situation, then tell me your certainty, I hate the waste of words' H.F.S said, starting to get frustrated with this creature.
By now Griff was fairly sure what tree the voice was coming from, and assumed from the questions that whoever it was hadn't come for the stone too.
"I'm pretty sure it's a fallen star," Griff said. "I don't know if you've heard but they've been causing plagues all over Osvar. I wanted to study it and find out why but it's too hot to touch,"
Aquea floated up beside Griff's head and sat on his shoulder. "Stars can fall?" Aquea asked.
"They aren't supposed to...as far as I know," Griff answered quietly.
'stars are the source of light that comes from the sky at night, while I have never seen one with my own eyes but form what I now they provide a yellow or white light, so why is a star black? and if it is causing disease there are only one of two logical reasons why you are trying to get one, either there is something else about it you haven't told me, or your a doctor but by your equipment I can tell the second of those options is unlikely.' H.F.S paused for a moment 'so I will say this once, tell me everything about this that you know or there will be consequences'
"I don't know why it looks like it does," Griff said cautiously. "But I saw something fall and land around here. This could be it, or it could be something else. I don't know yet."
Griff's hands slowly moved towards his sword. He readied himself to move Aquea out of the way in case a fight started.
'keep your hands away from your weapon if you don't want to anger me, just hopefully one last question before I reveal myself, why do you want this object if it causes disease, what other rumors are there about this that you would but your own live at risk to attain one' H.F.S paused once again.
The man you spoke to turns to one of his associates and then back to you.
'I would say it is worth the lives of hundreds. How much those are worth to you is beyond me.'
The orcs look at each other for a moment, seeking an answer:
'I don't really...know. Lit'le buggers are n't normally so rebe'y'ous. Krask says it's the fallin' stars of late.'
The form quickly douses it lantern and hisses at you loudly.
You hear it now running quickly down the tunnel away from you.
'I know you seek what others are too brave to seek. A certain something of wonder, surrounded by illusions of all manner that so many men call silly, but you have that air to wonder...I know it.'
figment of mind:
The stone you find is a dark shade of blue with a slight aurora of red to it.
No larger around than a horse's hoof, it sat poised in a small crater at the center of Wizard's Island.
As you approach, a whisper speaks to you:
'Questing adventurer, you are only here for you seek the stone...But we do not know if it seeks you. Are you ready to prove yourself?'
"I guess I'm not as stealthy as I used to be," Griff thought.
"I figured if I could find it, maybe I could find a way to stop it," Griff answered. "Or bring it to someone who could,"
Njall stroked his beard thoughtfully with a callused hand.
'Falling stars, eh? I just saw one hit the ground behind those hills. Was thinking of checking it out.'
He considered for a moment.
'Tell you what. You come with me, check out this thing. Four sets of eyes are better than one. You do that, and I'll take the little bugger off your hands'
H.F.S took a moment to think about what this creature said, H.F.S then dropped down from the tree, and said 'I am Hunts-from-shadows, it is nice to see that the first of the surface dwellers while cautious is a nice being. So apart from being close to a apparent source of death, what was your plan for this "fallen star", any plan to move it or knowledge of a person who could analyse it?' H.F.S was still talking in the same tone of voice as before even though he was trying to appear more friendly.
Interesting, can they....? No; mortals could never taste it. But, perhaps they can assist me.
"I have heard of such strange things; the stars I presume? No, I haven't seen any of the sort. Would you like some assistance in your search?"
Geron was beaming a black smile that almost seemed to eclipse the night, while Jasper began to draw his small sword. The lich began to take a deep breath.
Rafe stopped flailing with his stick when he heard the creature flee. He blinked rapidly, trying to regain his sight, then remembered where he was. Shaking his head he ventured deeper into the caves.
Soon he saw another light further ahead. Hoping it was the exit, Rafe pressed on. What he found wasn't the exit but the boat he had been riding on earlier. Something, A falling star perhaps? Rafe thought, had shot through the cave roof and some of it had collapsed into the river.
The boat lay half sunken in the middle of the river with a gaping hole in its bow. It being so dark in the cave, the people on the boat probably hadn't noticed the rocks and hit one of them. Although it was still quite dark around the boat, Rafe could clearly see it was empty.
They probably just went on on foot. Or maybe the were attacked and killed, or eaten alive, or worse. What could be worse than being eaten alive? Rafe stopped his train of thought before he could think up any more horrors. He was already on edge. Trying to think of something else, he pulled of his cloak and boots and waded into the water.
It was cold. Too cold. Though the river wasn't very wide and only waist deep, Rafe was shivering when he reached the boat and climbed on board. He quickly found his bag lying between some boxes. Someone had been rummaging through it but nothing seemed to be missing. His crossbow was lying nearby. Its string had been either cut or broken but otherwise it was unharmed. His dagger was gone though.
A shame. It was a nice dagger. Maybe one day I would have learned how to use it.
Searching some more, Rafe found some flint, rags and oil and used them to make a torch. Torch in hand he went back into the river. Holding the torch as close to the surface as he dared, Rafe tried to see if he could find what had shot through the ceiling. He was quite it was a star, he even saw a depression in the riverbed. Well, felt would be more correct since he mostly saw only his own reflection.
He finally stopped looking when his feet started to feel numb from the cold and he realized that his makeshift torch wouldn't last forever and he would need it to get out of here. He waded out of the river and pulled his boots back on. That left him with a question though: which way?
He had most of his gear back so nothing stopped him from going back the way he had come.
Or I could keep going. There could be another exit at the other end of the cave. Or a hideout or something like that. Why else would a boat come here? And if that goon and his pals have the star I could easily steal it from them. Or I may end up being eaten alive. Or worse.
Rafe shuddered at the thought but in the end decided to keep going. With a light in hand he could actually see where he was going, but it meant that others could see him as well.
After a while he saw yet another light. Three shapes where huddled around a small fire but Rafe couldn't tell if they were the goons or more of those creatures. They didn't seem to have noticed the thief and, not wanting to take any chances, Rafe doused his torch, plunging himself into darkness yet again. Trying to remain as silent as he possibly could, he started to creep towards the fire.
"I actually didn't have a plan," Griff admitted. "And I've only just found out it's too hot to touch, so transporting it won't be easy. What did you mean by 'surface dweller', by the way? Where are from?" Griff asked.
Aquea flew up from Griff's shoulder and drifted over to H.F.S.
"Hello," she said again. She began observing H.F.S. the same way she had been looking at Griff, as if other beings were something new to her.
"Well she's a child who has never been outside her home village," Griff thought. "Everything probably is new to her,"
'My kin's home is underground since my creation I, like most of my kin, have not left our home' H.F.S responded to creature's question, H.F.S then said 'what are your kin known has and what are you two called?' while saying this H.F.S cut some grass and threw the cut grass undo the black stone seeing if its heat would set the grass on fire.
"I know, I know." grumbled Saul, kicking a random stone out of his way. "The plague kills all who contract it and if these stars cause the plague then its suicide going after them blah blah blah. Didn't you also say it was suicde to attack those bandits? And how about taking on that troll? I fried it to death and we were hailed as heroes in the next town!"
True. But I can't fight plague, and neither can you. I don't want to have to look for a new host if you cough yourself to death
Saul laughed "Hah! A Greater Demon who can't even fight off a plague! You truelly are a master of evil aren't you?" If Saul had learnt one thing about the creature, it was that it didn't take kindly to having its power questioned. No Demons were perfect, no matter how powerful they were, they always had one tiny little flaw...
DO NOT MOCK ME! The voice was more a shriek than a hiss for a moment, and Saul felt its fury, its powerful, dark anger boiling behind a thin screen in his mind. It recovered itself As a matter of fact, while I can't personally stop the plague, I do have a solution. Interested?
Saul grinned at his victory. He might be stuck with the creature, but at least he could make the Demon feel like IT was stuck with HIM
"Why, a solution would be splendid my friend! How nice of you to prepare one!"
There is a temple I once heard of, when Mariev the Bane of Pilgrims visited my domain. Its a sort of druid coven. They worship Monubaka, the Herb Father. They have a book listing all plants everywhere, a gift from Monubaka to the faithful. If there IS a medicinal cure to this plague, that book will point us in the right direction.
Saul swallowed "And I don't suppose they'll just give it up freely?"
"Maybe if we explain.."
No. If you want the book, you'll have to take it
Saul hung his head in shame. Attack a druid cult? All they did was dance and worship nature...They were about as innocent as it was possible to get. Saul took a deep breath. How many had the plague killed? How many could he save? They needed that tombe.
For the greater good.
"Where's this temple?"
Viverin was taken aback by the whisper, it was not something he was expecting. He was expecting to find the crater, see the star, maybe see a near blinding light, maybe see someone else come to investigate, but not anything like this. He wasn't even expecting to take it for himself...
But why not? What's the worst that...Let's not ask that.
He thought of the pros and cons of taking it, immediatly thinking of more cons than pros. It could turn out to be possessed, or worthless, an ordimental paperweight. It could and probably would attract people, causing them to outright attack him, or hinder his plans with revenge. And that would be only if he could even touch the thing, maybe it would vaporize him on contact, or worse, maybe it was supposed to...
On the other hand, maybe it would give him new powers, help out with the search for those he swore to kill and that little traitorous bastard along the way. Maybe it would give him a pro and a con...would it be worth it then?
He pondered that for a few seconds before realizing, 'I have absolutely no idea who's offering it to me.' Maybe it was a bunch of demons, waiting for someone stupid enough to fall for some fake star ploy and use him like a puppet? Maybe it was a holy being, willing to bestow it's power to him if he proved himself? Maybe it was something within the star itself...
"Before i say yes, might i ask who is contacting me? Just to rid myself of suspiscions, really."
"My name is Griff," Griff said. "And this is Aquea,"
"If what he says is true, there's no way he could know about me," Griff thought. Meeting two others in a row who knew nothing about him or his past was a relief to Griff.
The grass landed on the black stone. The grass that touched the stone directly singed and smoked until it looked like the burnt ground around the stone, but it wasn't hot enough for them to catch fire. Aquea watched the grass burn, but the heat and smoke bothered her, so she flew over to the river and took a quick refreshing dip in the water before returning to sitting on Griff's shoulder.
The orcs agree with your proposition as they are quite eager to get rid of the goblin.
On the way towards the stone's crash site, they explain that the relation between goblins and orcs has always been a rather docile one, but the moment the stone crashed, goblins became rather hostile in an incredibly short span of time, though their tribes have never felt they could do anything about it.
The oddly presentable orcs you met, themselves, have lived generally aloof from the orcish villages.
Some orcs live in secluded groups in the wilderness working to avoid combat in stark contrast to their traditional ways.
At that, you realize these orcs are not carrying any weapons.
'Hm...Yes, assistance would prove helpful. We are going to be setting out in a short while to find the fallen stone in this area.'
The man gestures for you to join them at the fire...
As you draw closer to the fire, it becomes clear that the forms gathered around it are quite humanoid: 2 humans and an Elf sit talking in the warmth of the fire.
'Well I reckon,' one human says 'that there is little to be said about it: our boat is sunk and the shit that sank it is not worth anything; it's just a rock.'
The next human speaks:
'It may be a rock, but the fact that it fell from the sky means something: the gods never send us waste or refuse.'
The Elf makes his piece known as well:
'Galsaver is right, clearly there is some importance to this stone. Whatever it holds would surely compensate for our sunken boat.'
You are told that in a nearby town, there is a wheat field formed in a straight line.
If you walk from one of the field down towards the other and continue in that direction into the forest, you will eventually come across the temple.
As convoluted as it sounds, who else are you going to believe?
[Roll a d20; a roll of 15 or higher will allow you to evade any detection by forest sentries of the druid cult, but anything below a 15 will end in you being assaulted by a group of druids...]
figment of mind:
On this very dawn, many stones like the one you stand before now fell from the sky as objects of true divinity.
Many kinds of people have begun a journey on this day to find these 'stars' knowing not what power they hold.
You are the first we have chosen to speak to.
Others have found our stones before you, though.
However, no more shall be spoken of this to you until you prove yourself, should you choose to...
Geron swallowed the miasma building behind his smile, and motioned for Jasper to walk ahead. The pygmy looked hesitated before sheathing his weapon and walking forward into the light, followed by his master. Light reflected from the lich'shorns and midnight smile as he stalked forwards, though making sure to not get too close to the flame.
"I do hope my appearance does not unnerve you. There seems to be a great bias towards my kindin this country; very closed-minded and incredibly rude."
Viverin thought of what they said and was satisfied with the answer. Moreover, he had decided that nothing bad enough that he couldn't handle would come from the stone.
"Alright, i accept. I shall prove myself worthy of the stone, tell me how and i shall do it."
The thief smiled in the darkness. Stealing the star from these three shouldn't be too hard- find out who has it, create a distraction, grab the star and run. Still, it wouldn't hurt to be careful. Rafe had no wish to be caught a second time. Quietly sneaking around the fire, he observed the men.
"And for the lost bounty," the second human, Gal...something, added. He was in his late 40's, armed with a longsword and had the look of a man who's seen more than his fare share of fighting. In short, not someone Rafe wanted to mess with.
"It's your fault we lost him," said the other human, a young fellow almost twice the size of Rafe. He sat furthest away from the fire, sharpening a large battle axe.
"My fault? I was the one who said we should just kill the little bastard and take his head" Galsomething retorted.
"And throw away all the money? He was worth three times more alive than dead."
Three times? Rafe thought, a little worried. It was normal for bounties to be worth more alive but not that much. Who on earth would want him caught alive that bad?
"Can't the two of you be quiet? This is no place to argue." The elf said, sounding annoyed. Rafe shook his head- he'll worry about the bounty later, right now he had a job to do.
The elf sat on a rock, seemingly unarmed, which worried Rafe. He'd rather face Galsomething than a mage, even a bad one. And elven mages were rarely bad.
Rafe looked over the three again. No one seemed to be carrying the star but two had travel sacks next to them and it was impossible to tell which one the star was in. He'd have to grab both. Going through the details one more time, the thief finally settled on a plan. It wasn't a very reliably one but it was the best he could come up with on such short notice.
He changed his boots for the quieter, soft soled one and then, fumbling in the dark, picked up a handful of small rocks. Sneaking behind the larger of the two humans, but still staying well away from the circle of light, he threw one of the rocks.
The stone flew with a small arch and hit the large fellow on the head. The man, startled, jumped to his feet instantly, and looked around.
"What's wrong?" the elf asked.
"Something hit me on the head."
"Probably just a rock that fell from the ceiling," Galsomething said dismissively.
"Probably," his comrade agreed and sat down again, this time a bit closer to the fire.
Rafe waited until everyone had settled down, then threw another rock at the larger man again.
Njall was rather surprised by the orcs' revelation.
'To my eyes, a life spent in peace is a life not lived. But I'll not fault you for staying true to your philosophy. Surely though, you would not stand there and take it if someone chose to attack you?'
Striding ahead of the group, Njall at last walked over the crest of the hill, seeing the impact site for the first time.
'We tend to handle things in a more..."At All Costs" manner.'
Eventually the group breaks camp as you and your servant watch.
Odd: they never questioned the little, blue savage's presence once...
One of them flips a map open, sets his bearings on a compass, and begins to trek onward.
The others follow him silently...
figment of mind:
'I am Nargyst, the spiritual manifestation of the Stone of Nature & Contempt.
To pass my single trial, I order you to bring me a trophy.
A trophy of any sort; whatever it is shall determine your worth to me...'
The larger human slowly turns and glares at Glasomething:
'I see what you're up to now...'
'W-what do you mean "up to?"'
'You're miffed because I said something about you losing the bounty, and you're throwing stones at me now!'
'I am sitting next to you, how could I even do that?'
'You seemed to think that a rock from the ceiling could hit me easily enough.'
'Well what did you expect me to say?'
'You could always admit to throwing stones at me!'
'I may steal, but I don't lie.'
'I never called you a liar.'
[The two go on like this for quite some time...]
'Well,' one of the orcs calls after you 'We're mighty handy with our hands and fists: we caught this little guy did we not?'
They come to your side at the hilltop and gaze at the crash site.
'Ah well 'ould you look at that? There really was a fallin' star 'asn't there?'
Njall gazed upon the star with his one good eye. It seemed cool enough that he could get closer if he wished. However, years of rough living had made him wary of anything mysterious or remotely magical in nature.
Njall drew his sword and moved closer to the fallen star, motioning for the orcs to do the same.
"In that case, I suggest we head north. The sky is darkest that way, and darkening still. Your star should be there. May I ask for whom does your group search for?"
Geron always realized the value of cannon-fodder, and while these men would assuredly die in their quest, they would bring him closer to one of these "stars"; and then, perhaps, his sleep. Jasper was staring at one of the covered figures, as if trying to pierce the through the human's bizarre clothing.
"Alright, i'll get you a trophy...", he said, turning and walking away from the stone in thought. What do you get for a stone of nature and contempt that would apease it? Nature in and of itself would be easier but such a thing wouldn't be a challenge. On the other hand, if he knew what it held in contempt, then it would be easier to give it something. Maybe it held civilization in contempt, or maybe humans (granted, he wasn't human but he didn't think it cared to differentiate) or maybe it just held everything in contempt. Maybe it didn't want something physical and wanted something spiritual instead...
He shook his head. That wasn't a trophy, it was an offering. The stone wanted a trophy so it would have to be physical...unless it could take spiritual and mental things.
That didn't stop him from searching for something physical, though. He had made that decision and he wouldn't go back on it. He didn't have to give it to the stone but he would still get it a trophy, just in case.
For a long while, Winneke stared at the old man, weighing up the words in his mind.
"Too brave?" He eventually said, voice like velvet. "Am I a coward, then? Do I possess enough fear in my heart to pursue," the illusionist grinned wide, "to seek out that which other men wash with scorn?" Winneke straightened his back haughtily, his earlier air of unpredicatbility completely gone. The blind man blinked up at the former ringmaster's face; whether he saw or not remained uncertain.
"I am Saltur Winneke," he announced in a booming voice, flourishing a perfect showman's bow. "I once owned the greatest menagerie in the entire world." With a deft hand, Winneke slipped a ruby-encrusted gold crown from inside his coat. "I performed for kings." Without a pause, the illusionist threw the crown to the ground, causing an bright flash. On the dusty floorboards, a beautiful orchid began to grow, it's purple-fecked flower reaching up towards the blind man's face. Winneke spread his arms wide, a huge smile on his dirty features. "I have performed for Gods," he spat scornfully.
As the orchid continued to grow, more flowers began to appear, it's many stems wrapping around the old man's arms and neck. Winneke was unsure if the other patrons had noticed, but he didn't care anyway. The old man began to shift uncomfortably, picking at the vines that were coiling tighter around him. Winneke leaned close to his ear.
"I have seen everything the world has to offer me and I am unimpressed. I search for something to renew my interest in the world, to slake my thirst for something - anything - that matters in this place of desolation." The old man was very quietly whimpering. Winneke watched him for a moment, his eyes searching for recognition within the greyed eyes.
Suddenly, the illusionist clapped his hands together and watched as the orchid and its vines withered and shrank away, loosening their grip on the trembling blind man before turning to dust. Winneke crouched down and blew the dust under the man's chair before looking up into the wrinkled face. "You say I have the 'air to wonder'...." He closed his eyes for a moment and took a few shallow breaths. "But I believe that I need the 'air to wonder'. Please," Winneke placed his hand softly onto the blanket, "I implore you: point me in the right direction."
H.F.S took a moment to think about what they should do, 'well, griff, we need to find something that can be used like a rope though doesn't burn as easily as grass, other wise it would become to fragile and just snap when we pull' H.F.S then looked over at aquea, H.F.S's face lit up fro a split second 'forget what I just said, we carry as much water as we can over to this rock and start cooling it down with the water, when cold enough we just push it to it's required location'
Rafe crouched in the darkness, flipping a stone in his hand and trying hard not to laugh. The two humans were really at it, exchanging insults and accusations. While his comrades were arguing the elf, instead of trying to stop them as he had earlier, sat quietly on his rock and looked around him, trying to peer into the darkness. Seeing the elf sobered Rafe up a bit. Still, he wasn't going to stop now.
He waited until the arguing died down and everyone sat, staring solemnly into the fire. Then he threw a third rock at the large man.
"THAT'S IT!" the fellow roared as he jumped to his feet. He took two quick long strides towards Galsomething and punched him in the yaw before Gal could say anything.
The older human slowly turned to look at his companion, then calmly got to his feet, flexed his yaw to make sure it wasn't dislocated and then lunged at the younger man. They both fell to the ground, exchanging blows furiously.
Rafe, still crouching in the dark, couldn't contain himself any more and started laughing, covering his mouth with his hands in an attempt to remain quiet.
"Alright, let's do that," said Griff. "Hopefully it'll be light enough to carry once it's cooled off,"
Griff looked over his inventory for something to carry the water with, all he could find was his flask. With some regret, he poured the contents out before walking over to the river to fill it. Once it was full he brought it over to the stone and poured it on and a cloud of steam rose up. Aquea also cupped some water in her hands and carried it over, causing smaller steam clouds. They repeated the process, waiting for the steam to stop.
(Rolled a D20, result: 19)
Saul hurled himself to the ground as a group of robed figures wandered past. He'd reached the forest, cheerily announced by the evicerated remains of a hapless lumberjack strung from a tree. They might be servants of the the Herb Father but they sure weren't friendly.
The procession of five druids ambled past, the leader chanting in some ancient and sacred dialect, the others humming along in response. Saul listened for a while, and found himself swaying slightly to the melodic tune of their voices.
Its safe now, go
Saul crawled up and tiptoed through the trees. Wild berries and fruits grew in abundance among the towering oaks and ferns. Inbetween the trees, small tracks of dirt had been cleared.
Stay on the path, don't even touch the grass. It will call monubaka.
"How close is this temple?" Saul shuddered, glancing through the trees. It was still dark, but Saul had a feeling dawn was creeping forward, and he didn't fancy his chances of escaping the forest undetected in daylight.
As if in answer, a chorus of voices wavered through the gloom up ahead. Lying down flat, Saul crawled along the dirt path to the lip of a ridge. Beyond, lay the Temple.
And dozens of chanting druids.