28th day of Alturiak. Late Evening. Underdark.
Talimar tried to relax as he watched the buck slowly walk forward to the stream. He silently hoped that his pounding heart would not be heard by the approaching animal and startle it away. Having patiently waited most of the day in his crouched point of cover for the animal to come to the water, the muscles in his legs were now quite stiff. Ignoring the uncomfortable ache in his legs, he gazed across the stream at the elegant beauty and power of the deer. It's muscled neck slowly bent forward as it's ears laid back before taking a drink from the cool stream. With his hands on the bow and arrow already knocked, Talimar held the moment longer as he watched the animal continue to drink.
The grey elf silently marveled at his own maturity as he watched the deer drink from the stream. He knew that he was downwind from the deer so as long as he made no noise, he could watch the creature without startling it. This year marked the hundred and tenth to pass since his birth. In the eyes of his people he was now passing into adulthood, later this year would come the formal ceremony and he would leave them to make his own mark in the world. Although never before really noticing the passing of time within himself, he knew that a mere thirty or so years ago he would have already taken the shot and felled the animal, marveling in the kill but never appreciating the power and grace of the forrest creature.
As he slowly raised the bow and prepared to finally take the shot, a twig snapped off to his right and behind him, startling the deer and sending it rushing away from the streambed. Talimar's anger quickly flared at the loss of the deer as he turned to see what manner of idiot had startled the animal away. As he turned fear rose with the anger as he watched a rather large and particularly ugly looking orc rushing at him. A large, heavy bladed battle axe raised over it's head, the orc now rushed at Talimar yelling a war-cry as it came forward; it's element of surprise now lost due to it's own incompetence.
Having his bow in hand and ready, Talimar smiled to himself as he leveled the weapon at the foul creature and fired. Before the orc could manage another step the arrow flies true and pierces the throat of the beast. Having severed the vocal chords of the creature it makes no sound beyond the gurgle of it's throat filling with blood. Dropping the mighty axe to the ground, the dark hands of the orc reached up to it's throat to try and futilely stem the flow of blood. It's heart continuing to pump strongly, the dark liquid remained squirting out and through the fingers of the orc. Taking another weak step, the eyes of the creature roll back into it's head before falling forward dead to the ground. The shaft of Talimar's arrow snaps as the orc strikes the ground headfirst; the head of the bloody arrow pointing skyward from the back of the dead orc's neck.
Knowing that the cowardly creature would surely not attack him alone, his fears are realized as he hears the loud and clumsy approach of it's fellow behind him. Having time only to grasp the ends of his bow with both hands and raise it over his head, the defensive tactic works as he manages to stop the downward fall of the heavy mace attack from the orc. Quickly rotating on his left knee, Talimar turns the weapon to his left as his right leg reaches out to strike the left knee of the orc, knocking it backwards and to the ground. Twisting the bow once more, Talimar sends the mace flying from the hands of the orc and into the nearby brush. As his left arm continued forward in disarming the orc, his right hand reached to grasp the handle of the dagger at the belt of the young elf. Pulling the blade free, he was rising to plant a knee into the chest of the orc before it could gather itself and stand. Swiftly bringing the blade of the dagger forward in a sweeping motion, Talimar slit open the neck of the beast as his left hand clamped firmly over the mouth of the orc.
The foul-smelling beast struggled momentarily as it's lifeblood slowly slipped away, the grey elf crouched on the chest of the creature to keep it from rising. Quickly looking around to ensure that there are no further attackers, Talimar finally rises from the still orc before wiping the blade of his dagger on the flea ridden clothing of the orc. His hunt unfortunately ruined by the attack of the evil creatures, Talimar nonetheless takes heart at the outcome of the encounter. It's always a good day when one can rid the world of a pair of orcs, he thinks as he quickly retrieves his bow.
As Talimar relaxes in the quiet of his reverie, remembering a hunting trip in his distant past, he becomes aware of something going on with his companions around him. Unable to act upon it, he returns to the reverie to enjoy the remainder of it and catch some rest. Dain, however, has other ideas for his leader and friend.
Shaking Talimar softly and calling out to him, Dain manages to rouse the resting elf. Talimar is quickly disoriented from being brought out of the reverie and he fights to quickly regain his bearings. As he looks around at the furrowed brow of Dain, he makes a mental note to ask the mage if that is how humans feel when roused from sleep.
"What is it? Are we under attack?"
"No, nothing like that," responds Dain gravely. "Something's wrong with Ras."
Turning from the mage, the grey elf looks over to see Garth and Beleg leaning over what can only be the form of Ras. Squinting askance at Ras' new illness, Garth says, "Unlessen he was poisoned by that water he swallowed, I'm guessing he's got a bad case o' the ague. Tis a fearsome disease if left untreated. Stand a moment and hold the poor fellow still. I'm going to pray to Selune for her gentle and healing touch."
As good as his word, the little priest kneels on stubby legs next to his stricken comrade as Beleg places a firm hand on Ras to hold him still. Pulling forth his holy necklace to Selune, Garth places it uopn Ras' exposed, flushed neck. Clasping his hands fervently, he bows his head, his eyes are scrunched in concentration as he calls upon his goddess.
"Ah Selune, you are a good and kindly goddess whose radiance bathes the earth and all beneath it in your silvery and peaceful rays. I pray to you now for a boon, oh wonderful goddess. My comrade lies fallen in front of me. Bravely he has fought beside me striving to spread peace, justice and goodness to the world. If'n it pleases your ladyship, I ask that you touch him now as you have touched me with your blessings. Let your radiance bath him and purge this sickness from him. No illness or blight can stand before your gentle and healing caress."
Mouthing more prayers silently, Garth unclasps his hands while his eyes are still tightly shut. Bending forward, he places his hands on Ras' fevered body, pouring into him what silvery radiance and healing his goddess allows.
While Garth is seeing to Ras and calling upon the power of his goddess, Druckner elbows the snowing Gnore in the ribs to rouse him.
"ZZZZZZzzz*SNORT*SNORT*...Eh?...What?! I had me turn at watch!" Gnore grumbles but manages to comprehend what Druckner is saying. Slowly sitting upright, Gnore looks over at the group gathered around Ras. He then stands and walks over to see what's wrong. The stout dwarf takes in a shallow breath when he sees the condition Ras is in and listenst to Garth's prayers.
"You don't suppose he swallowed some of that bile water when I yanked him in, do you?" he asks in general after Garth has said his prayers. With the death of Kre still fresh, he would loathe to be the cause of harm to a member of his own. He tries his best to shield his concern but fails.
"Even if he did, you still saved his life friend Gnore. Had you not tugged him out so quickly, he would be in some creatures gullet rather than under the wise and tender care of our friend Garth," Beleg says with an expression of sincerity.
At the words of Beleg, Gnore simply nods his head though the true meaning of the Paladin's speech is not fully understood. He steps back to let the others, who have the skill, administer their aid to Ras. Knowing not else to do, he moves over to the edge of camp to stand watch for the remainder of the night.
Talimar looks on with concern as Garth finishes his ministrations to Ras and sits back, an exhausted look upon his weathered face. The grey elf echoes the silent thoughts of Gnore, hoping as well that the group won't lose another member so soon. Looking up in the direction of the Svirfneblin city he comments, "If Garth's spell has no effect perhaps we should make a litter and take Ras and see if the Svirfneblin healers could help out comrade?"
Beleg looks up from his place at Ras' side, "There's no need for a little, friend Talimar, I will carry our diminutive friend if it proves necessary."
Upon hearing the pledge of the Paladin, Ortho shakes his head in consternation. "Despite their vast propensity to rapidly reproduce, how could this race possibly come to rule the whole world?" he thinks to himself. "Ah have no doubt that ye could easily carry our wee friend back to the Smerfs," speaks Ortho to Beleg. "But what would happen should we be attacked? If ye carry our friend on yer back, he will surely be the worse fer wear as ye swing that great meat cleaver around ye. If ye carry him in those great arms of yers, what would ye do then? Take the time to place the wee one down before coming to the aid o' the rest o' us? I have no doubt that ye'd turn yer back and take a hundred orc arrows to protect the little one as ye gentle placed him down!"
Beleg looks on impassively at the dwarf speaking before him, an expression of unconcern on his face that shows Ortho that the young Paladin would think of doing nothing else but that to save his friend. "We need yer sword arm readily available in case of attack," continues Ortho as he ignores the stare from the Paladin. "Druck, see if you can find a couple of poles amongst our own equipment then lash them to eash side of my mule Noah. Ah'll find some spare cloaks or such to lash to the poles to form a litter. Gnore, ye find a blanket or two to cover him with. We'll let ol' Ras ride back to Smurfdom in the comfort of his own bed." So saying, Ortho moves off to see if there are any blankets that might be of use, silently wishing that they were closing to the Troll encampment that they might could look for suitable wear there. Druckner goes about the appointed task of finding the poles while Kersath looks for a spare cloak or two, noticing that Gnore was not about to leave his guard post.
Snagger stumbles out of his bedroll long after he is awoken. Not yet fully awake his eyes don't focus so he isn't quite sure what all the commotion is. No matter. He goes over and sits on a nearby rock, not sure if it is his watch or not since it looks pretty much like there are more than two people over there. "They are probably keeping watch," he thinks to himself. "Maybe it wasn't his shift yet...could somebody have just accidently bumped him? Who really knows...He really doe....zzzzzz..." With that, Snagger nods off to sleep again.
As the others make the preparations to transport Ras, Garth leans back and tries to rest as Beleg stands over he and Ras. The prayer to Selune and casting took a toll on the small dwarf and he slowly kneeds his forehead with his knuckles. The intoxicating power bestowed upon him from the goddess Selune was once again difficult to release. Every time he calls upon that power it becomes increasingly more difficult to relinquish. This time he called upon even more power to cast the more difficult spell. As he sits and stairs at the still form of Ras, he thinks back to his days of his heaviest drinking. The desire to drink, the feeling that came over him when he was, has become to resemble so closely the feeling he now has for Selune's grace. It takes all his discipline with each casting to stop himself from drawing in too much power, to stop himself from calling in enough to consume him bodily in an awesome display of brilliance.
His thoughts are interrupted as Ras begins to stir, the halfling's eyes open slightly and he is finally able to focus in on his friends all around him. Garth calls the others over to the halfling. As Gnore arrives, he echoes his earlier comments of endangering his friends life and apologizes. "Tttthat wasn't yyyour....yoooouuuurr fault, you...yooouuu saaaved me. Thhhank you." Ras turns as if concerned, feeling that he is almost dead he finds Beleg in his sight after several attempts to focus. He finally blinks hard and his eyes clear up long enough to see the full frame of his huge friend. "Beleg...Beleg...Will you pppromise me something? If I die..die.." he strains to continue, "pppllease take care of my mmmother...ppplease ppromise me!" The fear of death begins to take over but then the thought of his mother and the huge favor he has asked seems to take over. His will to live seems to burn in his eyes again briefly as he slowly drifts off to a fitfull sleep again.
Having knelt beside his diminutive friend as his first calling, Beleg places his hand on Ras' shoulder. "Don't worry friend Ras, nothing is going to happen to you. But if it makes you rest easy, I will promise to care for your mother should anything happen to you." The Paladin speaks these words to his sleeping companion in the hopes that the audible saying of them will somehow strengthen his friend.
"Kersath, how many more days before we get back to the smurf village? I am no good at judging time or distance in this accursed place," Dain asks of Kersath as the dark elf comes forward carrying a couple of sturdy blankets and a spare cloak.
"It is at least two days journey to the place where the deep gnomes left us. I do not know how much further from their to their actual city," answers Kersath as he hands the goods to Garth.
The mage walks over to Talimar, "We must keep him bundled up, two blankets at least. He is sweating, it is a sign that his fever has broken. It is of all importance that we press on at all costs. If we can march straight through, it would be to our advantage. We may be weary, but Ras' life may be at stake. The sooner the lad gets propped up next to a fire with a mug of warm, spiced wine in his hands the better."
Talimar nods his head at the words of his friend. Although unhappy about the company traveling with no rest, he knows that Ras' life may hang in the balance. "As soon as the litter as ready, we move out. Those not involved in the making of the litter, let's break camp. And wake that lazy oaf!" answers Talimar as he points to the snoring Snagger.
Druckner kicks the snoozing dwarf and manages to fully rouse him, quickly apprising him of the situation as preparations are made to move out. Within the hour Garth has had sufficient rest to move out and having placed Ras on the litter behind Noah, the companions set out north once again toward the deep Gnomes.
In the beginning the journey is quite slow as Talimar is concerned about the effect traveling in the litter will have on the condition of Ras. After being assured from Garth and Dain that his condition has not worsened, Talimar orders the pace to be picked up slightly. Ras wakes up from time to time, rumbling on in delirium before getting a sip of water from Druckner before falling once again into a fitfull slumber. After ten hours of hard travel, Kersath returns from just ahead of the others to report a small band of orcs moving their way. After quick deliberation, Talimar orders Kersath, Beleg, Druckner, Gnore, Snagger and Ortho to deal with the situation while he, Garth and Dain watch over Ras.
The battle is quick and amounts to little more than a footnote in the chronicles of the Red Feather Company as the angered companions quickly dispatch the lost orcs. Gnore barely has time to get into a clear rage before the battle is ended, managing to hurl only a few curses at the dying creatures. The frustration at having to halt their march causes a ferocity and ruthlessness seldom seen in a few of the warriors. No quarter is given as each of the ten orcs are easily slain. Within moments, the companions are once again moving north and leaving the dead bodies to the carrion of the Underdark to feed on.
As he passes the bloody remains of the vanquished orcs, Dain remarks that the shield device on the beasts is the same as that of the Bloodskull orcs that they destroyed in the caverns below the mines. He wonders to himself where these came from? Were they lost in the tunnels of the Underdark in the return to their caverns or part of another clan? Either way, he wondered how long before the denizens below and true beings behind the kidnappings became aware of the destruction of the orcs below the mines.
29th day of Alturiak. Late evening. Underdark.
Several hours after the encounter with the Bloodskull orcs, Kersath returns once again from scouting. This time however he has two small gnomes with him. The two gnomes say nothing as they acknowledge the party with a nod of their heads before leading them down the passageway once again. Taking stock of the situation with Ras, the gnomes realize the need for speed and continue the steady pace of the company.
The two gnomes expertly lead the companions through the tunnels of the Underdark for another four hours before Talimar finally has to call a halt to the procession. After learning that the Gnome city is a further day's march ahead, he calls a halt and orders the Company to make camp. Not only is Dain near exhaustion but the forced march has not been well for the mules. Another day of that pace without resting and he knows that they at least will not make it. Seeing that Ras' condition has not worsened, the others agree and make camp.
Thankfully for the companions, the few hours of rest that they receive pass without incident. The gnomes help out with the watch so that all of the companions manage to get some rest during the evening. It is a somewhat rejuvenated group that sets out earlier the morning of the 30th toward the Svirfneblin city. Everyone feels secure in the knowledge that they will reach the city this day.
30th day of Alturiak. Late afternoon. Svirfneblin city-maze.
It is a very relieved but weary group that finally makes the Svirfneblin city late in the afternoon that day. After traveling through several twisting and narrowing tunnels, the companions emerge into a vast cavern with the city spread out before them. A number of small huts and buildings surround are spread throughout the large cavern with small alleyways meandering through them. The gnomes come out of their huts and tunnels along the sides as they hear of the coming of the companions, Carmeneren moving ahead of them, a dark look upon her face.
As Carmeneren approaches, she quickly says something in her native tongue to the gnome scout that remained with the companions at the entrance to the city. It is easy to tell that she is quite angry and does not mince words with the scout. The gnome simply bows his head as he takes the verbal berating before pointing toward the sleepy form of Ras in the litter.
Kersath turns to Talimar to quietly translate the conversation as best he can. "It appears that she is quite upset with him for bringing us directly here. She fears for her people and that we will unwittingly bring evil upon her subjects. He pointed out Ras to her and his condition. He thought it was urgent that we get him here."
The dark elf just finishes his translating before Carmeneren finally turns her attention to the Companions. Once again, she speaks in Common, "You will forgive my anger. You were not to be brought here but were to wait for us to come to you. That is not your fault however." Coming forward to look at the still-sweating Ras in the litter, she turns again to address the group, "I see that you have one among who is in need. Any others? I believe there was one more among you? Where is he? When you did not return sooner we thought that the Trolls had bested you."
Upon hearing about the loss of Kre, Carmeneren closes her eyes and offers a quick prayer to Callarduran before continuing. "I am sorry for your loss. You will bring the other into the city so that we can insure that he does not follow the path of his friend just yet."
Without another word, Carmeneren turns and walks out of the tunnel and into the cavern of her people. The deep gnomes of her clan spread out before her and allow her and then the companions to easily move along the path toward the city. The gnomes stare at awe at the procession before them as the companions move toward the city. Most of the inhabitants have never seen the other races of Faeurun, the dwarves certainly but never the humans. Many of them marvel at the height of Beleg, pointing at the large Paladin and looking on in wonder. Kersath makes an effort to hide his face behind the hood of his cloak. Although sure that the gnomes knew a drow traveled with the humans, he still tries to hide his features to keep from scaring them unnecessarily.
Within minutes the Companions are lead into a large meeting hall within the center of the city. Although large by Svirfneblin standards, the building is still very small and cramped for the companions. Having a ceiling height of only four feet, Beleg is forced to drop down to his knees and crawl into the building. The dwarves laugh at the plight of the humans and elves as the merely stoop their heads to move about the building.
Water and a tray of food are brought out by servants as the companions await the arrival of Carmeneren. The priestess had the sleeping form of Ras taken to another chamber where she would see to him as the others ate and tried to refresh themselves. Although the water was quite normal and refreshing, the food consisted mainly of fungi and other strange concoctions of the Underdark. Kersath enjoys the food heartily as he is reminded of his home but the others pass on the offering.
After perhaps an hour wait, Carmeneren finally returns to the chamber. She appears to be a bit weary but she hides it well for the most part. Garth guesses that she must have attempted a casting of some sort on Ras. "Your friend will be fine with rest and proper care. He will be bedridden for a few days however. Now, tell me of the Trolls..."
Although still somewhat doubtfull of the companions, Ortho notices that Carmeneren appears to respect them a bit more than their last encounter.