North Hampshire: Crosswaters Farm
Well that was unexpected.
Vjerdt was already smiling when Benniflax knocked on the door of the Crosswaters, imagining the comforts of the bed awaiting him after this day's travails, the warmth of the hearth, of food and drink. But clearly none of this was meant to be, as a terse exchange across the barely open door made evident. Quickly, their Hafling companion disappeared with a shrug and the two of them - plus Pasquella - were left abandoned at the road. The bells were still ringing.
"I thought yew were a family friends of sorts," the Ice Gnome turned to Miiya, perplexed. It was not an accusation, not of the kind the pair had hurled upon each other at the Hollow. He was genuinely confused. "And what was all this talk about monsters and prophecies?" Were they referring to the Wicked Hickory? Were there other trees attacking in the area? But what was this to do with the winged woman? Is she some kind of bad omen? Vjerdt frowned. He had his own complex relations with prophecies, and did not enjoy the idea they'd be coming to intervene in his way again.
Vjerdt turned around to face the empty road. Now, the lack of any other living person around finally registered with him. The bells were still ringing.
"And what are we to do now?" Was his final, and arguably most crucial, question.
Miiya was nearly as shocked at the Crosswaters reaction as Vjerdt. She had known that they did not really appreciate the presence of foreigners in their home, and that her talk of the Oracle's prophesy of The Monster at Storm's End had spooked them. Still she had not expected to be summarily tossed out when the prophecy came true. Though, in retrospect, perhaps she should have.
Underbarn? Miiya knew where that was. Just around the corner and up the hill. "Turn around horse!" She urged. Pasquella ignored her. "Giddy up! Gee! Haw!" Miiya tried different noises she'd heard mounted grounders use before. None of them worked on Pasquella, who had decided, if she couldn't be rid of the nasty Aeros on her back, at least she could ignore her.
While she attempted to get Pasquella to turn, she tried explaining to Vjerdt. "They don't like foreigners, magic, or soothsaying." She wracked her aching brain for a quick explanation. "I came to this place following a prophesy of a monster appearing here." She said. "Now that it has come true, I guess they're spooked."
Now that it has come true. Miiya felt an electric crackle over her skin. She was on the cusp of saving Cahron! If only she could reach Storm's End without succumbing to her injuries. Laying on Pasquella as she was, she considered if she could roll off her and walk. It was not far... But no. She was rapidly recovering, but not that quickly. She might manage to sit up in the saddle, but dropping to earth and walking more than a few places? Probably not yet.
"Please!" Miiya said to Vjerdt. "I need to go to Underbarn, it's just that way!" She pointed. "Can yew lead Pasquella there for me?" After all, he'd blithely walked into danger on her word before, why wouldn't he do so again?
Miiya answered some of his questions, sort of, but her replies only led to more questions. The gnome processed the baffling information he was confronted with. They dislike foreigners and magick and soothsaying? Well, perhaps it is for the best he never set foot in their household, for they certainly would not have welcomed him.
But that now seemed like the least of his problems. The winged woman spoke of monsters and prophecies, and all this was brand new information for the poor gnome. “Yew guess they’re spooked? Guess?!” He exclaimed with agitation. “The whole matter is rather objectively spooky!”
Vjerdt watched Miiya struggling with Pasquella, as she pleaded with him to assist her reach some place called the Underbarn. Nothing here made sense. He had heard tales about the UnderNeath – a terrifying place in all accounts – was the Underbarn part of that? A nightmarish place of monsters and dark prophecies? The gnome shuddered.
There was no reason for him to comply with her request, no reason to walk heads-on into what was clearly spelled out for him as catastrophe in the making. But the truth was that he also had nowhere else to go – surely not at the moment, with bells ringing danger and all doors shut to strangers. And the Aeros seemed in genuine distress even if he understood little of what she spoke of. Her battles with the mare were so pitiful that Vjerdt could not but feel compassion at her plight.
“Fine,” he sighed, and drew near to soothe Pasquella with kind words, trying to follow Benniflax’s advice: “Come, come Pasquella, let’s walk away from here…” – and into the claws of some monstrosity…
What can he say, thought the gnome as he tried to coax the pony forward and back to the road, for a tranquil Hafling village, this place sure is rife with abominations!
((OOC: Will be offline for the next couple of days, and scarce also in the weekend))
"Thank yew!" Miiya said as Vjerdt guided Pasquella up the path. "The Jade Oracle said that the Monster at Storm's End; the place the Haflings call 'Underbarn' can help me save my brother." After she'd said it, Miiya wondered if she should have shared that bit of information with a virtual stranger. But that stranger was helping her, had saved her life, and was possibly walking into danger for her sake. Shouldn't she try to reassure him if she could? "So I think it probably won't eat us." She paused as they rounded the bend and the great insectoid form of the TonDen came into view. "Uh... at least not right away... Hopefully."
Pasquella was a good steed. She was reasonably unexcitable and docile. A steady and steadfast mount. Not so steadfast that she would go anywhere near the TonDen, though. She went farther up the path than most horses would, but when she stopped, there was no moving her closer to the terrifying creature.
Fortunately, Pasquella had stopped close enough for Miiya to hail the creature. Mustering her strength, she pushed upright in the saddle, holding the saddle horn until the worlde steadied. "Hail! Um... Creature?"
The great construct of Blue Ash stood impassively as the two travellers approached. The larger of the pair was winged and--more importantly--smelled of her. The smaller was on foot and was a type of creature the TonDen had never seen. It smelled of magic and something that was like water, but not water.
The winged one hailed the TonDen. In it's eagerness to speak with the one who had met her, the TonDen acted with great haste. If the pair remained nearby for the seven minutes it took the monster to impulsively react to Miiya's hail, the TonDen would abruptly lunge forward, covering the ground between itself and the pair in an instant. Four spiked hooves would cleave the ground around the pair and the great blank face of the construct would bend down low over Miiya and Pasquella. "I am TonDen-not-of-Rei. What is your name?" It thundered a polite introduction and inquiry in reverberating speech, generated by Magick, that shook the earth and sky.
The amount of new information Miiya was piling on him every minute was utterly baffling. Who is the Jade Oracle? What does this have to do with her brother? Did she tell him anything about her brother? At the moment, the anxious gnome could not recall, and the Aeros's reassurance that they are not to be eaten was not, well, reassuring at all.
And deservedly so, Vjerdt realized as he first caught sight of the horrid creature Miiya was seeking. The Ice Gnome released a small shriek of horror. Vjerdt as unable to determine what exactly he was seeing. For a moment, it looked like a giant caterpillar. A blink of an eye later, and it seemed horse-like, or as some kind of faceless crystalline sculpture. Vjerdt immediately regretted his decision to accompany the winged woman, but instead of turning around and fleeing as he should, he stood there transfixed - not out of bravery. He was simply frozen by fear.
The monstrosity's voice boomed, the ground shuddered, and the small gnome fell flat on his behind. Not even realizing that the question was not addressed to him, he blurted terrified, almost out of instinct: "I am Vjerdt son of Vjerdt of Vizhinm please don't kill me."
The TonDen stood immobile after her hail. Miiya tried again after a minute or two of uncomfortable silence. "Maybe it doesn't speak common tongue?" She suggested to Vjerdt, who was likewise silent, but a lot paler than he had looked before sighting the monster. Miiya tried hailing the monstrosity in her mother's tongue, and then the little bit of Elvish she had picked up from her brother. She was struggling to recall how to say "hello" in Dwarvish--it involved a LOT of glottal stops she recalled--when the TonDen lunged toward her with its thunderous greeting.
Pasquella was not okay with any of this, and certainly not with being approached by the monstrous TonDen. She reared and struck out at the crystalline creature with her forehooves before wheeling and fleeing at a full gallop.
Miiya was immediately pitched off Pasquella. She instinctively opened her wings to catch herself. Her short shriek as she fell was equal parts surprise, pain, and terror.
Well, at least Vjerdt retained the presence of mind to say something sensible.
The TonDen might react slowly when thought was required, but an attack was something to which it would respond involuntarily.
A great weapon-wing swung down with incredible speed to deflect the hoofbeats--though they were little danger even should they have struck its head. Another was raised to cleave its assailant in two, but held back as Pasquella turned and fled.
The massive left pincher swung forward to catch Miiya as she flew-fell. If it caught her, the pulse of thought that prevented the pincher from wringing the life from the Aeros girl was a visible wave of blue light streaking from the TonDen's head to it's huge arm.
"Why do yew attack me? Are yew enemies?" The TonDen's response was much faster this time. "I do not wish to kill yew." It thundered over the course of about a minute or two.
The construct of the Blue Ash thought on this for a while. It was probably quite a nervous thing to be an instant away from being crushed while your captor spent five minutes or so deciding whether to try to release or destroy you.
At last, it bent down and set Miiya upright upon the ground, its enormous three-fingered pinchers opening.
It was seven or eight more minutes while it decided whether to inquire about the winged one's needs, or question her about The Witch. Any further inquiries or comments from Miiya or Vjerdt during this time would be stored in the vast empty buffer of its mind. "What do yew need of me?" The TonDen finally asked, surprise registering in its tone. Its own questions about Miiya's connection to her could wait.
The TonDen had time. Endless time.
That other beings did not was a concept that had yet to cross its mind.
Terrified as he had never been in his young life, the Ice Gnome watched silently as the entire exchange unfolded in front of him. Pasquella made the reasonable decision to flee, but Vjerdt did not even bother to consider how Zenfe will respond to the nag’s loss. A fearful yelp escaped his mouth as the TonDen seemed to be crushing Miiya in his strange huge pincher-like hands, but the creature did not do so. Rather, he spoke again, and seemed almost… cordial?
“Slow? How so?” Coming from the Ice Krowne, the TonDen’s long silence did not strike Vjerdt as odd or even as that long. He took the time to absorb all the information he had learned, and also to wonder – perhaps monster does not necessarily mean evil? Miiya did not seem to think so, at least, as she sought this creature’s aid and attempted to reason with it.
The gnome shook his head when offered to run after Pasquella. Frightened as he was, he was not going to miss whatever was going on here in order to retrieve an old pony. Nor did he know what those pulsing lights were. All in all, Vjerdt was pretty wordless and did not assist in breaking the long silence.
Learning of Miiya’s brother’s plight, the gnome felt sorry for Miiya – although he had no idea how this strange creature could assist. Yet, he recalled an old saying from the Krowne: When it is not yer story that is told, yer role is to bear witness and observe.
So he remained silent, and observed.
The Home Guard
From: The Lorimar 1, Kiana, and The Western Watch
The Hafling defenders of Kiana had not been idle during the long slow conversation that was taking place between monster, Aeros, and Gnome. The patrol from the Lorimar that had first encountered the TonDen had finally caught up with the construct. They had been joined by the patrol from Kiana dispatched to Tobolds Hollow as well as the squad that had sallied forth from The Western Watch at the alarm rung from town.
In all, a sizeable force of sixteen Hafers now approached Storm's End, four of them Ishtar druids, with four more archers and the rest solid sword and pikemen. The six from Kiana were mounted on horseback. A seasoned Lieutenant from The Western Watch had taken charge and laid out battle plans to her troops as they approached the foreigners. "Arrows on strings, windlasses wound, but keep yer weapons pointed away until I give the order. They've done no damage as yet."
A rather frantic Crosswaters uncle approached the squadron as they continued to march up the road. "Help! Help! A 'orrible monster be attacking me relations in their home at Underbarn! They've got little ones trapped inside!"
The Lieutenant's expression hardened. "Who's doin tae fightin'? Any casualties as yet?" She asked, quickening her pace.
"Well, there baint no fightin' as yet, per se." The Hafling admitted. "But they're trapped under tha great beast up yonder!"
The lieutenant waved him back. "We'll see to it that they're free'd, sir. Git yerself ta shelter until the all clear is rung."
A few minutes later the squad crested the hill at Underbarn and spread out into a skirmish line. As they approached the trio with weapons at the ready the Lieutenant called. "Hail and stand to! By the authority of tae Home Guard, yer ta raise yer hands and put down any weapons in yer possession!"
"Sir! Tha be the Aeros messenger wots been flitting about tae shires, and tha blue haired feller be a newcome foreigner wot entered with inspection at th'port." The sergeant who had ridden from Kiana informed the leader.
"Alright." The lieutenant acknowledged. "Yew, the big blue feller! Ye've entered our lands wi'out permission. Declare yer intentions!" She shouted to the TonDen, signalling the soldiers to stop well back from the monster.
The TonDen, after a few minutes, bent down to examine the feather. It reached out and grasped it with the smaller set of hands.
This too, smelled of her. It smelled of death and Magick. Magick like hers but different--weaker, more carefully constructed. The monster considered Miiya's words, the feather, and its own needs and wants for a long time. A long time for Aeros, Gnomes, and Haflings at least. To the TonDen, its snap decision was so quick it surprised even itself. "Necromancy afflicts yer brother. I am no Necromancer, but I know one who is, and she may have the power to help. She freed me from a Necromancer, perhaps she will free your brother from his curse." It thundered while squatting to hand the feather back to the Aeros girl. "I seek her; the one named Irihi Spokelse, the one yew and yer brother have known. I sense her presence on yew. Tell me where she is, and I will take yew to her."
Miiya's response, and the appearance of the Home Guard, would take some thinking. As the Hafling soldiers shouted and if the Aeros girl spoke, the TonDen would stand impassive for quite some time.
If enough time passed, it would respond to the soldiers by repeating itself. "I seek Irihi Spokelse."