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A Very Big Dog

Farmers in the Crownlands have been recently terrorized by a very large wolf. A wolf of abormal size. Or perhaps it's just a dog. A very, very large dog. Whatever it is, it's causing problems. Apart from livestock, the beast has already killed a number of hunters that have sought to take it down. Strangely enough, it is not hunting like a wolf would normally. It seems to be moving through the crownlands. In a rather deliberate fashion. Whatever it's doing, the people it has crossed are not very happy. A desperate call has gone out. Please someone come kill this scary thing.

Will take the first 4 (maaaybe 5). No requirements by org or anything. If you want to be a part of it, hit me up. Getting hurt or worse is a possibility!

Date

Oct. 1, 2019, 7 p.m.

Hosted By

Fiora

GM'd By

Fiora

Participants

Cahal Rysen Bree Shard Ember

Organizations

Location

Outside Arx - Crownlands - Thick Woods

Largesse Level

Small

Comments and Log


Cahal checked perception + survival at difficulty 15, rolling 33 higher.

It has been a few days. The call was quite clear at first, though it became somewhat obfuscated the closer they got to the source. The beast is down that road, no he's back to the east. He's gone north! Each individual who has responded to the call for help has had to deal with no shortage of frustration trying to pin down the beast. But it is clear to each and every one of them that the closer they get, the more scared people get. But, slowly, the area is narrowed down. Those intrepid adventurers who set out from Arx eventually find themselves in the same little tavern in the same little hamlet.



Eventually the practicality of sheer convenience convinced the small group that sticking together was a fine idea. And so it is that the Bloody Baronness, the Prima, the Knight of Butterflies came to an unlikely alliance. And shortly thereafter an additional alliance made between the two Lords of Crovane and Blackram.



And so they set out to further investigate reports of this Very Large Animal. The closer they got the more rumors they heard. The gossip stayed consistent. A wolf. A huge wolf. Asking around it seemed like finding who exactly was attacked and when they were attacked was harder than first assumed. A shepherd and his flock two days south? Maybe. But further questioning south seemed to indicate that farmer was safe and living his best sheep life. It seemed that every lead they have on an actual attack turned out to be unsubstantiated. For the most part. But the tales of the beast itself, those never died down. It seemed that maybe, just maybe, this beast wasn't so violent after all. Perhaps the attacks were invented and this creature was just minding its own. Perhaps it was just people's fear that had gotten the best of them. Perhaps.



That was then...



It's dusk as the party comes upon the grizzly scene. Blood hangs thick in the air. Their most recent lead had led them this way, past a couple farms and towards some thick woods. As the sun began to set it was Shard who picked up the trail, and it was Cahal that led them into this small clearing. This small clearing that was just lousy with death.



It's a scene better suited for a tragedy of a battlefield than a little portion of woods so close to civilazation you can still see the chimney smoke. Bodies, half a dozen at least. Though it's not entirely clear, because there are bits and pieces scattered through the clearing. Blood litters the leaves and dirt, entrails drag on away from a few of the bodies. Though details are hard to discern at first, the bodies seem to be dressed similarly. Even if they are blood covered. There are a few weapons drawn, a crossbow lay over there, a sword still gripped over here. The group approaches the edge of the clearing as they look upon whatever took place here. It's quiet, for now. There does not seem to be any present danger but... It'll be dark soon.

Cahal goes very still as each piece of the violent puzzle comes into sight. He stays thus for a few moments and then gives a grunt and starts to carefully edge his way into the area. "If this was a wolf I can't imagine its still here. But we should still be careful."

Rysen follows Cahal toward the grisly scene. "Gods and spirits," the knight mutters under his breath, kneeling down to take a closer look at some of the wounds. Rysen's grey eyes pass over the entrails and pools of blood, and he rises again to his feet. "They look to have been well armed. Whatever did this must be very hard to kill - or it took them by surprise," Rysen says to Cahal.

The smell of blood is one familiar to the Knight of Butterflies, and although she is one of the last to pick up the scent, there is no pretending that what awaits them won’t be gruesome. Her imagination is not disappointed, either, the sights of bodies torn and ravaged, the smell of blood thick. Lines appear at the bridge of her nose, her brow furrowed, her expression pained. No stranger to death, the sight is no less heartbreaking. “This is a very real attack,” she remarks quietly to her companions, her hand going to the hilt of Kindness to withdraw it from its home, juuuust in case. “Right,” she nods to Cahal. “We should be careful.”



And so it is with blade out that the Knight of Solace moves forward slowly, coming to the nearest body, point of sword to the ground, a hand extended to touch a hint of skin - checking for warmth, and other things. She nods to Rysen at his assessment, forming one of her own.

Shard stands in one place for long enough to take the whole scene in, but no longer. She moves straight for whichever of the bodies seems most intact. Her expression is grim, but there's a certain set to her shoulders that seems as though she's only just containing a more energetic reaction as she bends down to examine it.

Bree checked perception + survival at difficulty 15, rolling 38 higher.



Baroness Ember Redreef seems rather unfazed by the beast's handiwork, though she does take care to avoid stepping directly into any pools of blood. Her face remains a stony mask. "Then let's not be taken by surprise,

Rather than focus on just one body Cahal tries to take in the overall scene as he starts to investigate the carnage. Who seems to have been attacked first? Where did the attack start. Was it a beast? Did anyone attempt to flee? Which way did it go... That sort of thing.



Baroness Ember Redreef seems rather unfazed by the beast's handiwork, though she does take care to avoid stepping directly into any pools of blood. Her face remains a stony mask. "Then let's not be taken by surprise," the Baroness says, softly. "That would go a bit easier if we all didn't speak quite so much."



In the inn where the party gathered, Ember's reasons for hunting the beast were made rather clear: to bring a bit of status to Redreef, and to try and move her reputation away from the 'Princess of Parties' burden crushing her metaphorical shoulders. In her hands, she carries what looks like a custom-crafted scythe -- an odd choice over, say, a longsword, but Ember remains a steadfastly odd woman.

Rysen flashes a wry grin to Ember. He begins to move in an ever widening circle around the scene of carnage, searching for any tracks that might lead away from the massacre.

As Shard surveys the scene it soon becomes clear that the clothes these individuals wear are uniforms. Tacky, crappy uniforms, but uniforms nonetheless. Though they are not of any house livery she recognizes. A mercenary outfit possibly? One that isn't extremely well funded, judging by the upkeep and quality of their equipment. But it becomes clear that these are fighting men and women. Or were.



As Bree goes to investigate one of the bodies, she will find that this attack was rather recent. She's able to determine that because when she touches the man, he starts to move. Squirming below her, eyes shooting open. Fatally wounded surely, but still clinging to life. There's a gurgling sound made as the man possibly chokes on some of his own blood. One hand flying up in desperation to latch onto Bree's wrist, holding at her with a firm grip without any real strength behind it.

Shard relays this information back to the others as she picks over her chosen corpse--uniforms, poorly equipped, possible mercenaries--and then adds, "But they don't seem to be ea--" And that's when Bree accidentally finds someone still alive. She jerks back from the body she was examining, one hand briefly going to the hilt of one of her swords before she recognizes what's actually going on.

That sign of life is all Bree needs to drop her other knee to the group, to sweep a gauntlet covered hand beneath the dying man’s head, to hoist him up just a fraction so he doesn’t choke on blood. “He’s alive,” she calls to the other, her other hand dropping Kindness to her side so she can try to stop the blood flow at one of this wounds. A useless endeavor, no doubt, but she tries. “What did this to you?” she asks the man, who probably has better things to do (like dying) than to answer questions. “Can you speak?” There’s a pain in the knight’s voice, a realization that she may be the last face this stranger sees before death.

Rysen turns when he hears Bree begin to question the man. There is a glimmer of admiration in the eyes of Rysen as he watches the kind actions of the Knight of Solace to the wounded mercenary, but he quickly returns his attention to the perimeter of the attack site.



Ember shows no outward signs of any empathy similar to Rysen's. She treats every detail of this affair as coldly as any other affair -- though at the very least, she doesn't come up to the dying man and behave coldly to him. Her eyes settle on the blood surrounding her for a moment, and then she moves to scan a different part of the perimeter. Her grip on her scythe tightens.

With his new gauntlet pillow the man's head goes face down into it. Eyes wide with fear, his body writhing and struggling with both the desire to speak and the obligation to die. Bree is thanked for her kindness by a spatter of blood the man spits up. "Cabin." He sputters out. "It knows.." Another few violent coughs. "Where. The cabin." He breaks off into another bloody fit of coughing.

“The cabin,” Bree says, more to let the man know she’s heard him, and he doesn’t need to say more than a true understanding of what that means. When the blood splatters, sharp red against her shining steel, she doesn’t even flinch. She asks him no more questions, makes no more demands. “Rest,” she urges him instead, her eyes glassy, her words soft, “And may the Queen of Endings watch over you.” And she stays there until he needs her no longer, allowing the others to keep watch over everything. “We will find the cabin. We will find what did this. I promise you,” she whispers. How she plans to do that is anyone’s guess. Cabin? It? So many questions, but what can you demand of a dying man!

"The bodies weren't eaten," Shard says, once Bree finishes talking. "And...this is going to sound weird, but bear with me, they don't seem to have been mangled more than necessary." 'Necessary' does seem to be quite a lot. "It killed, and then it stopped."

It's nice. Bree's prayer, her permission to rest. It's comforting. Those bloodshot eyes rest on the Knight for a few moments before slowly closing. To rest, to return to the wheel. And so, he dies, taking rest in the kindness of a stranger.



Or at least it seems that way for a second. The next moment there is another spatter of blood as the man starts coughing again. Apparently he wasn't done. His hand flinging up at Bree's arm once more. "Half a day-- north-east." Oh he forgot to give her the address, apparently. With that very important blood laden piece of information given the man lets out a quiet breath and his eyes slowly close once more. Truly at rest....



Probably.

"It doesn't sounds weird." Cahal replies to Shard's comments. "It means that whatever did this wasn't in some sort of frenzy." He eyes the scene "And the fact they weren't eaten means it wasn't done for food. So, assuming it was a beast, it was probably done in defense of territory or self rather than hunger."

Rysen makes his way back over to Bree. "Half a day northeast, then," he says, his gaze resting on the now probably really dead mercenary. "What do you think, Dame Bree? Travel through the night? Or make camp, and head out at first light."

Shard gives a single, sharp shake of her head. "If we wait, less chance that whatever is at the cabin will still be there. Or be alive. Or that what we're after will still be there either." She glances toward Cahal, but adds nothing.



Ember's eyes peel away from watching the horizon for signs of incoming trouble. She looks to Cahal in particular, as though he was saying something she appreciated. "Whatever we do," she notes to the group, "we should make sure to send a messenger to someone as to... this." She waves a hand at the assembled corpses. "It would be undignified to let them rot."

The first time he dies, Bree’s head lowers, and she’s saying a quiet prayer to herself. When he twitches, her head flies up, and she nods to those words - the address. That’s super helpful. This time she keeps her eyes on the man until the very end. Only when she is certain, does she withdraw slowly, picking up Kindness and drawing herself to her feet. “This was a fresh attack. If this beast is headed toward the north east, and we rest, we risk losing track of it. If there is something at this cabin that needs protecting, we risk arriving too late.” A beat as she waves a hand to Shard, her thoughts shared, apparently. “But if we travel through the night, there are countless other dangers in the forest.” She takes a step back, taking in a deep breath, her gaze still on the man, now a corpse. “Allow me just a moment to give them the last rites?”

"We have time I think Dame Bree." Cahal replies about the last rites. He takes some time to think about the rest of what they are saying "We wont beat a beast to its target if its heading straight there during the night and we'll miss any tracks or other signs which will tell us where its going. I think we should wait for the daylight."

Shard shakes her head again, sharp, somewhat impatient. "The dangers are likely to be there during the day too. And we'll have half a moon for light unless things cloud over. Waiting would be a mistake."

Rysen checked composure at difficulty 15, rolling 1 lower.

Rysen's eyes pass from Cahal to Shard as he drags the corpses over and sets them in an orderly fashion as Bree prepares the last rites. While dragging a particularly gorrey one, Rysen doubles over, and vomits, spitting into the blood soaked ground and wiping his mouth this mantle. Apparently, he is used to his body's reaction to scenes like this. He continues to help align the bodies in something of a dignified manner.

“Help me, Lord Rysen?” Bree looks to the man, as it seems she’s been granted the chance to perform this small duty. To Shard she says, “You are probably right. Give me fifteen minutes?” And then, with as much respect and care as she can muster, she pulls the bodies in, grouping this band of fighters once more. Once they’re arranged, she steps back and looks to the others.



Bree is not a priestess, and neither is she a Mercy of Lagoma, but she is a member of the Faith and she (vaguely) knows the rights. The prayer is short, no words of lost loved, nor remembrances given. Simply, “We pray to you, Lagoma, to watch over these poor souls, to make their transition to the other side easy,” she takes in a ragged breath, the effect no less powerful despite her lack of acquaintance with the deceased.



"We can vote on it," Ember says towards Shard and Cahal, calmly. "After Dame Bree finishes. I dare say that is more important -- and I suspect that all of these men and women would agree, considering it's their lives that are now lost." As Rysen turns away to vomit, Ember picks up some of the slack, pulling more complete bodies into position for Bree.

Bree is not a /traditional/ priestess. That’s what she meant to say.

Shard exhales through her teeth. "Courtesies now rather than later don't make them any less dead, and don't stop them going to where they were going anyway." That seems less argument and more a statement of protest at Ember's remarks, because Bree's request still gets a faint nod from her.

Cahal nods to Shard. "You're not wrong." He clearly considers going to help with the bodies but ultimately decides to stay on watch as they work.



"I'll remember that if I come upon your corpse one day," Ember replies. It's hard to tell if she's trying to sound cold or if she's doing some kind of weird sarcasm. It could well be either. "And if you find mine, I'd prefer the last rites, myself." She silences herself as Bree continues speaking, and folds her bloody hands in front of herself to bow her head to the assembled deceased.

And that’s all. Brief and simple, Bree looks up from the bodies to the group, moving to pat a hand against Rysen’s back (the one not covered in blood spit). “Who votes to continue on now?” she asks simply, not one for leadership herself. She’s more of a grunt than a commander, and she looks to the other’s votes before her own hand goes up, her gauntlet blood splattered, a stark reminder of the dangers that await them.

"I didn't say don't give them a ceremony," Shard retorts. "I said taking care of the dead /now/ instead of later is not a bigger priority than saving the living. And, honestly, if it were me I'd rather you catch my murderer first anyway." Her attention shifts to Bree. "Keep going." As if there was any doubt.

Cahal gives a shrug "I've no real objection to heading out now. I just worry we'll ride right by something in the dark and still not beat it to the mark." he tilts his jaw towards the horses. "We might as well get going."



Ember nods toward Shard, as Bree finishes up. She doesn't fire back a further response -- just the nod. This is Ember: infuriating to argue with, and also infuriating to not argue with. She lifts one of her stained hands. "Either way, this makes it three to two, at minimum. Keep our eyes open, then -- if we must sacrifice speed for awareness of our surroundings, then so be it."

Rysen glances at Bree, and a slight smile touches his lips in spite of the circumstances. Rysen glances at Cahal and says, "I don't have a strong feeling either way. Daylight will give us a chance to recover and maybe pick up new information, but speed is often vital, and if we can locate the cabin before daybreak, we might get a better chance at finding what we're looking for, and maybe even surprise whatever it is that's attacking - especially if it's being controlled."

“Then we’ve decided,” Bree says with a nod, her hand falling away from Rysen, and she moves forward to prepare for their venturing north east. Onward, to the cabin.

Shard likewise turns northeast. She doesn't seem infuriated...really, she seems briefly relieved, probably at the outcome of the vote. "Let me go first?" she suggests. "I've got some experience staying out of sight. And if we can all keep downwind, that might be more valuable than anything else."

"Will do our best." Cahal says to the request to stay downwind. "I don't mind you taking point."

Ember checked perception + survival at difficulty 15, rolling 36 higher.

Cahal checked perception + survival at difficulty 15, rolling 93 higher. Cahal rolled a critical!

Shard checked dexterity + stealth at difficulty 15, rolling 51 higher.

Rysen checked perception + survival at difficulty 15, rolling 30 higher.

Shard checked perception + survival at difficulty 15, rolling 34 higher.

Bree checked perception + survival at difficulty 15, rolling 22 higher.

As night starts to settle in the party sets out from their impromptu funeral heading out northeast through the woords. It's rough going, traveling through the woods at night. Especially when you're trying to move fairly quickly but quietly. However, the team seems fairly capable of the task. That is until Bree starts to wander off a sudden ledge she doesn't notice---



But is stopped as Cahal's hand falls on her shoulder. Tugging her back from the ledge, pointing out the danger. It is then that Cahal starts to hear them. Quiet at first. The howling. Not just one, but many.



On ahead Shard starts to hear them as well. Louder. This is not one large beast but a pack. Getting louder as the troop tromps through the night.

Shard may or may not be audible when she reacts to that sound, but it's a low, hissed, "/Shit/." She does not, however, stop her approach. She just gets much more careful about it.

When Rysen hears the sound of howling, he crouches down, spreading his legs into a combat stance, and resting his hand on the hilt of his bastard sword. He breathes out slowly, opening his senses to try and locate the direction of the pack.

Bree /thought/ she was paying attention, Kindness wielded, eyes scanning by the light of the moon. She crunches as softly as she can through the forest, and the next step she takes has her foot not finding purchase. She sucks in a shocked gulp of air, falling forward - but Cahal saw her! He saw everything, apparently, and the hand at her shoulder pulls her back. She turns, blue eyes wide to say a quick, “Thank you.”



That fear over, another is poised to begin as the howling begins. Distinct and from multiple sources. She’s more careful now as she moves, her feet shuffling, testing, making certain it is solid ground before her before she risks stepping forward.

Cahal whispers "Hear the howls?" to Bree before dropping his hand away from her shoulder and reaching to gently unhook his spear.



Ember stops not far behind Rysen when the howling makes itself known. She looks to Cahal and Bree -- apparently she missed Bree nearly going over the edge completely -- and then to Rysen, and if she can even still spot her, Shard up head. She very quietly draws her scythe, whose blade gleams in the moonlight.

Shard checked perception at difficulty 15, rolling 2 lower.

The group moves slowly, towards where Shard is. Though as she is currently alone. She is the only one to hear the deep voice emit from the shadows. "Turn back. I do not wish to quarrel with you. This is not your fight."

Shard checked composure at difficulty 10, rolling 3 higher.

Shard comes to a sudden, very abrupt halt. Her senses strain to detect whoever (whatever?) is speaking, but her response is only a beat late. "...What fight is it?" she asks, not quite whisper. "And who are you?"

"Shard," hisses Rysen, and he rushes through the woods, letting the moonlight guide his footfalls as he races to catch up with the mercenary leader.

"Stumble upon a folly, you still have a choice. A folly like nature, adheres to the rules. Cowards run. Cowards hide behind spears and shields, bought, not earned. I have been sent to correct what was not--" There's a rustle in the brush and the speaker pauses. "Cliff." And there is the sound of leaves crunching with /something/ moving away. Just as Rysen approaches from behind towards Shard. Not too long after the rest of the group catches up with the pair.

"Wait," Shard says, at the sound of the whatever moving. "I don't understand what you--" And then Rysen is there. She puts out an arm to stop him accidentally running right past her. "Wait, hold on." This might be to him and the rest. It might be to whoever was just talking.

Cahal doesn't hurry in quite the same way that Rysen did but he's not that far behind either. "What just happened?"

After her near-brush with death, Bree joins the rest of the group near Shard, not having been privy to the conversation, the warning given. She looks at Shard, brow knitting in confusion and concern, her gaze moving off into the distance to see what she might be speaking to. When Cahal asks the golden question, she nods, wishing to know the same.

Rysen skids to a stop right in front of Shard's oustretched arm. He drops his weight, with both hands resting on the hilts of his sword, as he scans the area, ready to react in an instant.



Ember is there as well, looking around with her neck craned, scanning the darkness as if it might simply spit out its secrets -- or as if something might lunge out of it from any direction. She's listening to the group, but not looking at them. She's ready with her scythe in case anything wants to disrupt this pow-wow.

"Complications," Shard replies to Cahal. "I couldn't see him. Or her. But there was something right here, talking to me." And she recites what was said. She recites it exactly. For her part, her outstretched (and then, as Rysen stops, dropped) arm the only part of her that's really moved since she was addressed, but there's a tightly leashed energy about her.

The dark does not answer back, nor does it reveal any secrets. But the howling continues, growing more faint now.

"A folly? Like the kind presided over by the Nox'alfar?" Rysen asks Shard. He stands upright again, and his body seems to relax a bit.

"I don't know if it's a folly, or a Folly," Shard says in response. "But the Nox'alfar don't have much to do with wolves, do they? And they're not supposed to be hunting people anymore. ...And it was a very deep voice."

Cahal frowns at the news. "Good and Bad." He muses. "They know we're here but it sounds like they've a reason for it. If we can work that out. Maybe theres some hope we can negotiate." He chews on his bottom lip as he considers Rysen's words. "He could just mean it in the sense of it being foolish."

“Cliff?” Bree picks up on the one word - because of course she does. She did almost just walk off a cliff, which she looks back to now. But Rysen is bringing up the Nox’alfar, and Bree’s attention snaps back to the group. “Do you think?” she asks, listening to the howling getting further and further away. “We should move on, if we still plan to pursue.” She looks between the faces, her own expression one of determination. The memory of the dead fighter is fresh in her brain, and she made a promise.

"Keep going," Shard says in agreement. "But be /careful/, and don't start attacking things until we know something about what's going on." A beat. "That includes whatever's howling."

Rysen nods to Cahal. "It certainly seems to think of itself as some kind of avenger." He frowns thoughtfully. "Not sure what it meant by cliff, but we should probably search for the cabin the soldier mentioned, and perhaps investigate the cliff Bree discovered when the dawn breaks."

Bree offers the faintest hint of a smile for Rysen, “’Discovered.’”

And so they press on. Through the perilous night, keeping an eye on each other. /Carefully/ proceeding. And then they /keep/ pressing on. It has been hours. The man said half a day and surely it has been half a night. Though there is speed lost when one has to avoid stepping off ledges and manage uneven terrain. And they continue to press on, into the now silent night for what seems like an endless journey. Initially the adrenaline kept them going. But as the hours pass, weariness sets in.



Feet start to move more slowly. Waterskins are consumed. Still they move on. Shaking the tiredness from their eyes. Until the night gives way to glorious pinks and purples, the herald of a new day. And just over the next crest.. Chimney smoke. Apparently, they are close.

Bree checked perception at difficulty 15, rolling 12 lower.

Rysen checked perception at difficulty 15, rolling 15 higher. Rysen rolled a critical!

Ember checked perception at difficulty 15, rolling 0 higher.

Shard checked perception at difficulty 15, rolling 4 lower.

Cahal checked perception at difficulty 15, rolling 22 higher.

Bree stays with the pack this time, using their eyes in addition to her own. Kindness is still drawn, although lowered so that she doesn’t accidentally stab anyone with it. The journey is long, the weight of her armor making itself known, but she doesn’t stop. The rising sun is a welcome sight, and the Knight of Butterflies even manages a brief smile. “We survived the night,” she says to no one in particular. Hopefully not famous last words.



Ember doesn't LOOK terribly fatigued by the journey -- either that, or she's just good at hiding when she's tired. In her expression, that is. Her feet slow just as much as the rest of the group's, but she doesn't dare let herself yawn. She motions with her scythe towards the chimney smoke, rather than speaking aloud. She moves towards the front of the group, perhaps as an opportunity to also give each member a quick once-over and see who's most in need of a nap (and therefore someone watching their back in a fight).

Shard's stamina, or perhaps her sheer stubbornness, seems to be serving her well, as she continues on at a steady pace even as the hours continue to pass, slowing only for obstacles or for occasionally needing to check the trail they're following. She's being as quiet as possible still, and still up at the front. It's only when that smoke appears that she finally slows, and glances back toward the others.

Cahal pauses in the endless trudging trek through the darkness. Worn down by the constant need to be on the edge. He rubs at his face with one of his hands, making sure to shake off any fatigue caused blurriness, and then cocks his head a little. First one way and then another. He grunts, much as he did when they entered the first clearing, and then announces, in a tone measured not to carry beyond the party "Combat over there." he helpfully points out the direction. "Least one animal and a person."

The forced march has brought Rysen to focus on his breathing, but his pace hasn't waned. As the chimney smoke comes into view. Rysen glances at Cahal. "I hear it too," he says glancing in the direction of the noise of combat.

As two of the group seem to hear something in the near distance, Bree follows the direction of their glances, trying to hear something. But just as she couldn’t see a cliff, she can’t hear the combat. “Come on!” she says to them all, already moving toward the sounds, the mere knowledge that combat is happening somewhere near them enough to spur her forward.

Shard pushes after Bree immediately, though she does weave a little to the side in an attempt to maintain some semblance of stealth. 'Some', because she clearly does not want to be left behind by her faster, louder companions.

Rysen's hand again rests on the hilt of his sword as he moves quickly to keep pace with Bree.

And so they arrive at the cabin. It's probably 'the cabin'. As they crest a small ridge down below them they see a quaint cabin currently in chaos. Windows are broken with crossbows sticking out of them, occasionally a bolt is let loose from the windows. There are a pair of men laying outside the cabin front door, both appearing to be dead. Their uniforms seem to be the same drab browns as the individuals previously encountered. The uniformed figures seem to be holed up in the cabin defending it. From what?



The group approaches from outside the perimeter which shows them a loose circle that completely surrounds the cabin three hundred sixty degrees. Dozens and dozens of wolves. Snarling, but silent. Pacing, occasionally darting to avoid a crossbow bolt. Or just getting hit by one. But despite taking losses, they stand their ground. What could compel them to do such a thing? Perhaps it is the rather large wolf that stands slightly outside of the circle. Not as big as they had expected, probably, but certainly larger than a regular wolf. A very beefy boy. But the wolves as of now, are not engaging. Perhaps it's because all the combatants are in the cabin. Perhaps they're waiting for something.



A call goes out. "People!" Is shouted, and then, "Quick, come inside, we'll cover you." A pair of crossbow bolts are let loose on a pair of wolves that might hinder the party's passage. But. It seems. The wolves are at least peripherally aware of the group. And they do not attack.



Likewise, Ember moves with the others. She's certainly not going to let the legend be told that as the others rushed into confrontation, the Bloody Baroness was slow to join. The sight presented to the group actually makes Ember's eyebrows lift and her eyes widen in surprise. "--!"



Ember keeps her eyes turning this way and that, and turning in her steps to face behind herself as well, as if she expects a wolf to leap out at any moment. "I vote the cabin," she notes to the group, quietly and more than a little bit dryly.

Rysen looks over his shoulder at Shard. "What the fuck is going on here?" He nods to Ember and says, "Make your way in if you like. I can't fight until I know the stakes." Turning back to face the alpha wolf, Rysen approaches slowly, his left hand resting on the hilt of his arming sword beneath his black mantle. He moves slowly, and calls out in a loud voice, "Why do you surround these people? Let us hear your reasons, if you can speak!"

When they come upon the scene, with two more dead - two more lost lives to this strange wolfpack - Bree’s initial reaction is to charge. And her hand tightens around her weapon, and she’s moving forward a step - but then the people inside call out, inviting them in. This snaps her out of her desire to fight, and her gaze shifts to the door. She nods, holding her sword aloft should the arrows not be enough. And, should the wolves actually attack, it would seem. But then Rysen steps forward! That’s all the Knight of Solace needs, and she takes a stand behind him, ready to defend if need be, or to grab him and hurl him to safety.

Rysen checked command + animal ken at difficulty 40, rolling 31 lower.

One might expect Shard's sympathies to lie with the possible sellswords being sieged by a veritable army of wolves, and one would be entirely wrong. She stops, stiffens, and takes in the situation before them with slightly narrowed eyes and a palpable sort of focus, and only when Ember speaks does she seem to break out of it. "...I vote we find out what the hell is going on before we start taking sides," she says, a little breathless and very rushed. Her head turns sharply as Rysen approaches. "Don't put your hand on your--" And then she just swears under her breath, and moves after him.

Cahal has his spear in his hand but he doesn't brandish it. Instead pausing to look over the formation of wolves facing the barricaded cottage. "I reckon they are waiting for us to pick sides." He waits until the bulk of the group has filtered in behind him. There is a slight nod for Rysen as he chooses to go after the head wolf but he himself chooses to call out to the cottage. "Why are they attacking you?" He waves his free hand to indicate the wolves. "Seems downright odd"

Rysen checked dexterity + dodge at difficulty 60, rolling 4 higher.

Rysen approaches the large wolf. The 'alpha' doesn't really seem to enjoy what he says. Or perhaps even understand it. As Rysen approaches there is a low growl and-- Too close! Jaws fly open and snap as the Crovane Lord nears. Bree leaps forward to try and pull him to safety but-- The nimble Lord has already danced back. But despite this aggression, the wolf does not pursue. He stands there, teeth bared.



A crossbow bolt pierces the ground a few feet away. "Come on! Quickly now!" From inside the cabin.



"I don't think the wolves plan to speak with us," Ember says. "And I don't have any particular fluency in tongues that are mostly spoken through growls and pissing on territory. Let's find out the stakes -- inside."

Shard's eyes narrow further. She stands her ground, neither moving closer to the big wolf, nor the cabin. But it /is/ to the cabin she shouts, "What did you /do/?" That bunch, after all, can definitely talk.

Rysen grits his teeth, and with a glance towards Bree, says under his breath, "Thank you." Turning back to the alpha. "I will approach no further - but you must communicate, or we must fight to defend these people you have encircled. We have taken vows to protect the people of the Compact! If there is a way to end this without bloodshed, tell us now, or must fulfill our vows without remorse!"

“Come on,” Bree says, a hand to Rysen’s shoulder, the near-miss a warning she can read well. “We should go in the cabin. We can, as Ember said, find out the stakes in there.” His words, and Shard’s, both seek to uncover the truth, though, so she won’t force either of them to stand down. She herself moves, the path to the cabin clear.

Cahal doesnt call out again since Shard has moved to ask the same general thing. Instead he adopts a generally immovable stance that suggests he's not moving until they get answers.

"Only one need die." The voice is loud, the voice is deep and the voice is familiar. To Shard at least.



From the treeline comes another wolf. It becomes clear quickly that the wolf Rysen had demanded answers from was not the head boy. The beast that slowly stalks out from the trees is easily the size of a horse. Dark black and brown furs, streaked with the crimson of blood. Heavy paws make deep impressions on the ground only to disappear moments later.



The giant wolf moves forward, towards the group, towards the cabin. Around its neck is what appears to be... a bright red collar. With something silver dangling from the base. The giant wolf regards the cabin, regards Bree ushering Rysen and Ember towards the cabin and finally settles on Shard. It sniffs, deeply. "I have not seen your kind in..." The large beast says, quite intelligibly. In Arvani. A deep voice, but he seems rather well spoken at least. "It has been quite some time. My fight is with the one who abandoned the Folly. He takes what is not earned. He would endanger what is precious when he has not proven himself. A coward. Hiring spears and shields with stolen riches. You may walk away from this place, unharmed. The shields and swords may walk away, unharmed."



There's a long moment. "The thief dies today."

Cahal looks to the others. "Seems pretty clear to me. We get all the others out the way except this thief and then we try and work out the truth of it. If what the wolf says is true.. seems to me he probably earned it."

Shard looks up at the newer, larger wolf. She just looks at it for a long few moments, but there's something in how she looks, a sort of unvoiced chorus full of questions, and something else. "...It's just me now," she says, eventually, despite still being in an entire group of people. And the way she says that is different as well. Quiet, yes, but without any of the flatness or impatience or general sour tone she often sports. "As far as I know." And when she looks back toward the cabin, her expression has hardened. "...If they're sellswords, there's a pretty good way to convince them to give this up," she notes.

Rysen nods to Cahal, and listens to Shard. He turns his storm grey eyes on the giant wolf. "You are assisting the Nox'alfar?" he asks, "And someone has stolen something without completing the terms of the Folly? Allow us to speak to the thief, and address the hired spears and shields. Will you wait and spill no blood while we speak to those inside?"



Once Rysen begins speaking again, Ember is already reversing course and taking steps AWAY from the cabin, because she's already seen how his first attempt at outreach went. The giant wolf has her attention as well, but she doesn't speak to it or with it just yet. Just gives it the same steely stare that everyone else gets.

Bree, also, arrests her steps toward the cabin. She is not one to negotiate, and so she stands at the ready should she be of need. The appearance of this creature, large and... collared? She squints, her head drawn forward as she looks at something. “Cliff?” she says the word, more like a name than the actual thing she almost walked off of earlier. “Your name is Cliff.” Her hands stay fast to her blade, her gaze lifting to meet the creature’s eyes. “Who named you?”

The large wolf looks over to Shard, "Condolences." Is stated quietly. He's a nice boy. This giant wolf. Other than all the murder he's been up to. The massive wolf takes a few steps back. "Not /the/ Nox'alfar as you mean it." The wolf growls. At his request however, "These are not my kin. They simply follow my strength. But I do not expect them to attack until I do. They are simple." The massive wolf moves away, lumbering back towards the treeline. "You may enter. If the thief is not surrendered when you exit, I shall count you among my enemies."



There's a pause as the wolf moves away. Turning to look back at Bree. "My name is Cliff." He confirms. "Faustus and Anaris. Of the Dusklight Grove." Then he's lumbering back into the woods, giving the group their time to.. parlay.

Shard inclines her head slightly to the word the giant wolf directs at her. Appreciative, it seems, even if her expression doesn't really change. Then she turns sharply to face the cabin. "How much coin were you promised?" she calls to those huddled inside. "Enough to die like this?"

Rysen breathes out and glances towards Bree and the others. His eyes linger for a moment on Shard, but as she speaks, be begins to make his way into the cabin.

Ember checked command + intimidation at difficulty 60, rolling 25 lower.

Cahal gives Shard a look full of unasked questions as she starts communicating with the group inside the cabin. He stays near Shard, keeping an eye out any attacks from expected, or unexpected, directions.

Knowing the creature has a name alters Bree in a way she can’t quite articulate. There’s an injustice here, and she is no longer sure the wolf is fully to blame. Still, she looks down at her gantlet, the blood spatters a reminder. She nods to Rysen then, moving to enter the cabin, this new knowledge only the beginnings of the moral dilemma sure to come.



Ember steps behind Shard and gives her a pat on the shoulder -- gently and while moving around her, so that Shard doesn't think a wolf is resting its paw on her shoulder or something. Ember moves to stand in front of the cabin and eyes the crossbow-wielding men in the windows.



When Ember speaks, she makes herself loud -- hopefully loud enough to be heard even at the cabin's furthest wall. "I am Baroness Ember Redreef. Some of you in there may be more familiar with my sobriquet -- 'the Bloody Baroness.' I assure you: it was earned. It seems one of you has brought this upon all of you -- and, like anyone else who steals, must face justice for it. It so happens that 'justice' is decided by who you steal from -- and you, whichever of you is the thief, chose very unwisely in your targets. Do not make a second unwise decision -- come out now."



Ember pauses for just a moment. "Otherwise, I will be coming in." She lets the threat (or promise) hang in the air before she starts advancing for the door.

Bree checked perception + empathy at difficulty 15, rolling 24 higher.

Rysen checked perception + empathy at difficulty 15, rolling 9 higher.

Ember checked perception + empathy at difficulty 15, rolling 3 lower.

As the group wisely splits the party, Ember, Bree and Rysen go for the door. From the sounds of it, there is an argument going on just behind the door. They wait there for a moment, then another. And finally the door is wrenched open, just long enough for them to get in. It is then quickly shut and a dresser is pinned up next to it by the two mercenaries at the door. It's a nice cabin. Though they can't see all the rooms, they see flashes of individuals moving.



All told there seems to be about a dozen of the uniformed soldiers present. They have brave faces. And even a crossbow or two are pointed in the vague direction of the incoming three. In the living room though is where it seems to be the base of operations. A crossbowmen at each window and in the center of the room a gruff looking woman with a large gathering of scars on her face. And a younger, dashing looking gentleman who is seated in an armchair. He is currently clutching a bag to his chest.



The woman steps forward. "I don't know what the demon said to you, but I am Lyda of Bertram's Butchers." A beat. "Bertram is dead." There's a little nervous chuckle from a few of the crossbowmen. An inside joke. Apparently. "We've been hired to protect this runt and that's what we intend to do. A butcher doesn't go back on a contract. You all can help us, or you can get the fuck out of here while you still can."

Shard, from her spot outside, waits a few moments, before she calls, "What company?" Whether she's addressing the mercenaries or her group members at this point is unclear.

When Bree enters the cabin with the other two, and they are essentially trapped in here by the dresser, separated from Shard and Cahal, she lowers her sword so the blade points downward. A sign that she doesn’t wish to fight, if she doesn’t have to. There’s a small lie there, as Bree always loves a good fight. But she also loves people, and surviving, and saving things that deserve to be saved. She listen to the warning of the woman, her gaze darting to the man clutching the bag. She shakes her head, “You don’t have to die for this. What is it you want? Protection out of this forest? We can give it. Money? We can give that, too. I held one of your brethren in the clearing. He died in my arms, and he sent us here to help you.” She looks at the other faces. “Let us help you.” Then back to the man in the chair. “What’s in the bag?”

A cold grin passes Rysen's lips, his eyes resting on the woman in front of him. "I admire your devotion, butcher, but you need to strongly consider the reality of your situation. I am Lord Rysen Crovane, terror of the Undrowned Sons, and this is Dame Bree Harthall, the Knight of Solace, and the Bloody Baroness has already been introduced to you. We have friends outside and good number of giant, bloodthirst wolves are waiting for you to make the decision you seem intent on making." Rysen takes a step forward and address the dandy with the bag. "What did you take that may well cost us all our lives? Perhaps you should explain to these good soldiers why they shouldn't abandon you, and take the large payment I'm prepared to offer them for seeing you get the justice you deserve?"



It's clear that Ember had no intention of coming into the cabin and mounting a charm offensive. After all, her prelude was a warning. Her brows are knitted in subtle but noticeable anger. She lets Bree do the talking for now -- her own contribution is holding her scythe in her hands as if it's clear that she'll use it. "Bertram's Butchers," she calls out the window, towards Shard.

Shard grunts. "Damn," she says, without any apparent care of who might hear. And she raises her voice further, "Well, I don't know what he's promised you, Butchers, and I don't know what my friends will chip in, but my name is Shard, Captain-General of the Valorous Few, and I've got a thousand silver back in Arx for each and every person willing to drop this fight and walk away. And I'm guessing there aren't many of you left in there, so I've got /two/ thousand silver for each and every one of you willing to walk away from this and sign on with me instead. We're hiring, and we only pick fights with actual demon wolves." Ha ha. A joke. Surely. Surely.

Cahal gives Shard another curious look before planting the butt of his spear in the ground and idly commenting. "It's kind of ironic how all the warriors charged right into the hut, abandoning a trained diplomat, and a mercenary commander, to the tender mercies of a pack of prickly wolves." His mouth curves up in amusement. "Don't you think?"

Lyda frowns, scowls. As attention goes to the young man. Though when attention is given to him, he immediately lights up. "Yes. Of course." He goes to open his bag and from it he pulls a...



Potted plant. It's a flower. He is protecting a flower. But as the three look on it they see that this flower is strange. The petals seem to.. glow. An irridescent light pulses through the thing making a rather beautiful blue-ish purple light. It's in a word, breathtaking.



"I'm an adventurer. This is from a place called the Dusklight Grove. I have a map. I can take you, I could show you. Wonders beyond your imagination. Illnesses, disease, cured just like that. Plants with properties that are deeply imbued with magic. An ancient, old magic. Everything from this place is priceless. I could make you all very, very rich. All you have to do is you know... Make sure I don't get killed."



Then Shard's offer is yelled into the window. The young man visibly blanches, especially when some of the mercenaries seem to be listening. "/This/ is priceless. This is /magic/, a handful of silver back in Arx will not get you what I can get you. What I can get you all." He kind of shoves his little glowing flower more in their faces.

The potted plant is revealed, the glow, the draw of it. Bree’s hand lifts, as if she might wish to touch it, to draw it in. And she sees the blood, the gauntlet, remembers the man she held. She blinks, shaking her head quickly, “No. What you can get them all is dead. Like the two outside, like the dozen we found in the grove. Your magic, your priceless gifts, are /useless/ when you aren’t alive to enjoy them. Is that the reward you’ve been promised?” The knight asks of them all. “Will I have to perform your funeral rites, like I did to them?” She eyes the flower again, a memory springing to mind - recent and still plaguing her thoughts. “Not all flowers hold joy, and the promise of that one is no different.”

One of the mercenaries is doing math, apparently. And yells out to Shard. "That's twenty four thousand for a dozen of us." A pause. "Add a zero and you got a deal!" There's a laugh from another crossbowman. Hah.

Ember checked command + intimidation at difficulty 40, rolling 20 higher.

Shard calls back immediately, "You're surrounded by an army of wolves thirsting for your blood and you want to haggle?" A pause. "You remind me of someone I used to like, and a lot of people I don't. Thirty thousand. That's a good amount of pay for walking out a door and living."

The mercenaries listen to Bree's words, a few of them exchanging glances. One of them looking over to the mathematician over there. There's some general shifting in the room. Eyes going to Lyda. Who is also looking out the window to Shard, then back to the glowing flower. The gruff woman looks to Bree her face sort of set in a permanent scowl. Then she marches to the window and calls out. "Seventy five."



The man with the flower swallows hard. His hand around the potted plant starting to shake.

Cahal says to Shard "Sounds like its just a matter of time until they agree."



Ember lets the mercenaries negotiate with Shard. She lowers her scythe as the flower thief begins his plea. The blade is turned toward the floor. Ember's brows knit further, and when he pushes the flower in her general direction, it seems like it's only her white-knuckle grip on the scythe that keeps her from slapping him.



"You are an idiot," Ember spits. "This-- this THING that you hold-- MAGIC-- Did you think any of this through? Did you seriously? If things are as you say -- did you imagine that you would simply march into Arx and name your price for -- for MAGIC? Did you not consider the response of the Faith? Did you not consider the response of the likes of the CULLERS? Being torn to pieces by wolves might actually be a step UP from the unholy STORM that you would bring down upon the city. You would TERRIFY people. You would ENRAGE them. And you would be promised all the coin in the world by those least likely to pay you and most likely to stick a knife between your ribs. You absolute cretin."



Ember draws in a long, tight breath through her nostrils. "Give me the flower. I will take it outside, and though you do not deserve it, we will attempt to parlay for your life, and those of the Butchers. You have about two seconds to decide." Ember brings up the blade of her scythe so that the flower thief might notice its tip poking very gently against his inseam. "And after those two seconds, I will geld you. One."

"I'm not sure you heard the fate that awaits you if the wolves attack," says Rysen to Lyda after Bree's words. "Your last moments will be filled with screams, and the smell of fluids and entrails. You will choke on your own blood as you fade from existence only to be banished to the Abyss for defying the Sentinel. Or, you can accept the Captain-General's offer, and live another day - wealthier than ever."

Shard smiles at the gruff woman at the window. It's not a pleasant smile. Her face doesn't seem to be designed for pleasant smiles. In fact, it may not actually be a smile at all, but a slight showing of teeth. "Thirty-five," she says. "Not a single coin more to save your skins. I'm not going to fight these beasts for you if you turn me down. You're not one of mine yet."

"Well I wasn't going to tell the Cullers.." Comes out in a quiet tone, as the man looks over to Ember with wide eyes. "I wasn't going to just walk down the street with it... There are buyers for this sort of thing. The Silver Harpies have already promised a /generous/--" He continues to make his protestations but when she demands the flower with the help of her scythe it takes about half a second for him to hand it over. Then he's plopping back into his chair.



Lyda on the other hand is turning away from the window. "Thirty five." She spits to the room in general. "We had our promise and it was a far sight more than that. Blood is our business, isn't it boys? And today is a good day to be in business!" A few of the butchers giver her a hearty huzzah but there seem to be more than a few that would have voted otherwise were this put to a democratic process.

Shard checked perception at difficulty 15, rolling 10 lower.

Cahal checked perception at difficulty 10, rolling 12 higher.

Cahal leans to quietly tell Shard "You got through to two of them. Look. They're trying to sneak out the back."

It's true. Two of the butchers have laid down their crossbows and sneaky quiet crawled out the back window, approaching Shard and Cahal with their hands raised, looking nervously at the wolves.



Ember lets out a little dismissive snort from her nostrils when the man hands over the flower. She walks to the window, behind one of the crossbow-men, and holds the flower up. "Cliff! Is this what was stolen?" she calls.

Shard tips her head toward Cahal, listening. And then she shrugs the bow off of her shoulders, and starts stringing it. She doesn't call anything more to the cabin, not just yet. Instead, she lowers her voice and says to the two deserters, "Get your asses to Arx. Valorous Few chapter hall. Ask for Tel. He'll get you sorted. Run as long as you can and do not look back."

Shard wields Winter, a recurve diamondplate bow.

Rysen lays a hand on the hilt of his sword, moving to cover Ember's back.

Bree’s words get through... to someone. Or Rysen’s do. Or Ember’s. Each of them, inside trying to make this right has a different approach, but there is movement, and a few cave. When Ember has the plant, Bree moves toward the man, a hand going to his shoulder. “What’s your name?” she asks him quickly, and quietly. “How did you get this plant?” She points back to Ember and the glowing thing.

Cliff pops his giant head out from behind a tree. Huh? He sees the glowing flower and bares his teeth. "One of. Inconsequential. A folly was accepted and a folly he escaped. What he stole was his own life. Surrender him to me. I grow impatient.." He takes a few long sloping strides from the treeline. Standing near Shard and Cahal. In a lower voice, Cliff explains. "I've just been on the road for weeks now. I find myself irritable."

"Blake." The young man says as Bree's hand goes to his chest. He looks over Bres's shoulder. "I was with a group. We were all in.. I don't know what it was. Some sort of insane game. The others were killed. But I saw what was in this Grove, beauty you cannot imagine. Cures, medicines. Little glowy bugs." Blake gushes, looking nervously about. "It's going to kill me if you don't help me." His voice sounds rather more pathetic now than it did moments ago.

Cahal looks aside at the wolf. "He offered to attempt to perform a folly and then left without attempting it Cliff?" A little voice in the back of his head is screaming that he's talking to a WOLF before getting smothered. "Did he even know what it was he was promising before he agreed?"

Bree hears the voice of Cliff from outside, sensing the impending choice that must be made. She tightens her grip at Blake’s shoulder (he has a name now), and looks toward Ember briefly. “Do you know how to finish the Folly, or is it too late for that?” She asks, looking back to the man quickly. “What were the rules?”



"Don't let me die, all right?" Ember says, apparently to Rysen, but probably more to the room in a general way. "And if I do, firstly have my Black Journals burned, and secondly tell my sister to avenge me."



Ember spares Blake one last(?) look and then motions for the Butchers to move the blockade out of the way of the door. She has her scythe in one hand and the glowing flower in the other. But she waits for a moment, to hear what Blake's answer to Bree is, before she steps outside. After all -- Cliff DID make a promise, earlier.

Shard tests the pull of her bowstring with two fingers as Cliff the Giant Wolf joins them. She's still facing the cabin. "He's getting impatient!" she calls toward it. "It's not a good thing, giant impatient talking wolves. Do you think ten of you can win this?"

Rysen gives a wry laugh at Ember's comment about the Black Journals, and moves with her towards the barricaded door.

Shard, quieter, asks Cliff, "Do you need to kill him? Or does he just need to be dead?"

Blake looks very flustered. "I don't know, they were fucking mad. Disembodied voices. It was terrifying. But they mentioned death a lot." He hisses watching as Ember and Rysen go to the blockade. When the Butchers open the door. Whoops. The two at the door just accidentally leave with Rysen and Ember.



Cliff however is looking to Shard. He is silent for a long moment. "I came all this way..." He starts. If a giant wolf can sound vaguely irritated, he does, right now.

Which means, also. They did not barricade the door back up. By the by.

"I understand," Shard says to the very big wolf. She sounds like she might. "It's more satisfying if you get to do it." Her attention wanders from the cabin to those exiting the cabin, and the corners of her mouth twitch downward.



Ember lets out another, quieter huff as Cliff's answer is mostly babble, to her. So out the door she goes, with Rysen and the two Butchers. "Cliff," Ember says, sounding calm in the way that frozen lakes are calm.



"The man you seek -- I will be blunt -- is a fool. However, he's a terrified fool, and one who will live the rest of his days jumping at shadows for fear that you will be there. He had pinned all of his hopes on this flower. I took those hopes from him. I hope that you can recognize that some things are crueler than mere death." She side-glances toward Cahal and Shard, as if hoping that they can assist in some manner of diplomatic alley-oop.

Shard tugs at her bowstring with her two draw-fingers again, but she doesn't say anything more just yet. She is...not a diplomat. And apparently not inclined to try, at the moment.

Cahal asks Ember. "Did he genuinely accept a folly or did he just stumble into a room and get thrown into one?"



"I don't think he even knows what a folly IS," Ember replies. "I wasn't lying when I termed him a fool."

Bree stares at Blake. The thought of just handing him over... she can’t. She looks at the back window, imagining an escape for him, but that would just keep the wolves hunting and hunting until... She keeps her hand on the man’s shoulder, trying to THINK. Not really her strongest skill, but she does have a keen sense of justice. Annnd... justice tells her that there has to be another way. She tugs on Blake’s shoulder, bringing him up to a standing position. “Maybe you can just go back... and finish it? If you run, Cliff will find you.” Somehow using his name makes him seem less dangerous. Just like a big friendly dog. “If you go back, you might have a chance.”

Rysen glances at Shard, and then listens to Ember, before addressing Cliff in a voice loud enough for all the mercenaries inside the house to hear. "You did come all this way; however, you are in the Crownlands. You have thus far exercised considerable restraint, but you did kill mercenaries that agreed to protect this man who fled from the folly. I'm sure, even in your rage, that you can understand that some us, like Dame Bree who has has taken vows as a Knight of Solace, and myself who also follows the path of chivalry and serves the Crown as a member of the Inquisition, cannot simply hand you a man to be killed at your word. Allow us to take this man to face the Crown's justice, and if it as you say, we will have him transported back to Dusklight Grove, to complete the folly or die. If you are an ally of a Nox'alfar, if not /the/ Nox'alfar, their ambassadors can confirm that this has been done."

Cliff takes a step forward, now towering over Ember. Big shaggy dog breath washing over her. "This is not a choice one makes. The thief has sealed his fate. I carry it out. You are only prolonging the inevitable." Cliff doesn't seem to really care about the flower, he simply pushes past Ember and starts stalking towards the cabin. Immediately, the circle of wolves start to enclose. And immediately then, two more Butchers are /out/ that back window and /sprinting/ just like Shard said. Now down half their man power, the remaining Butchers seem /awfully/ nervous.



A single crossbowman out of sheer nerves lets out a bolt. It flies and pierces Cliff's shoulder. Which has the giant wolf letting out a low growl, but other than that, not really reacting.



Soon Cliff is at the window. The Butchers seeing what a bolt did are just scrambling backwards, another one straight up throwing themselves out the window. Blake however remains still, with Bree's hand on his shoulder. Cliff looks through the window at Bree's back, she now being the only one standing between him and the thief.



"It is time." The wolf growls.



Bree is making a very good argument. Unfortunately, Blake is hyperventilating. Which does mean he's just kind of nodding.



Rysen's argument does not seem to sway him. But he does look expectantly at Bree.

Shard sighs. And when that bolt strikes Cliff, she visibly flinches. But as the giant wolf doesn't lose his temper, she strides after him, not to the window, but to the unbarricaded door--and when she finds it's not barricaded, she walks right through. "Bree," she says simply. Flatly. For the moment she's ignoring the remaining mercenaries.

Rysen moves into the cabin as well, with both swords drawn. He watches Bree, ready to risk his life depending on her decision.

Rysen wields Moria - a rune-etched bastard sword.



As Cliff marches past Ember, she closes her eyes tightly for a moment -- the sourness of her frown seems to indicate that it's not a 'whew, I'm not dead!' kind of moment, but rather a flash of self-recrimination for her failure. She turns to join the others, scythe in hand, ready to fight if it comes to it.

Ember wields a sinuous oak-hafted etched steel scythe.

Cahal follows the group towards the building with a frown. He still has that spear in his hands but doesn't look all that inclined to actually use it.

The sprinting sellswords, the sound of wolves closing in on them, have Bree spinning around, her blade, Kindness, brought up in defense. “Cliff, please,” she pleads with the giant wolf (and yes, later she will come to terms with the fact that she carried on a conversation with a giant wolf). “Please don’t kill him. Let him return with you, let him complete his Folly.” Her fingers move on the hilt of her sword, tightening, preparing if she must. “I cannot just turn him over to you to be murdered.” Despite her pleading, there is conviction in those words. She cannot (and will not) just hand him over for that. Of course, she maybe doesn’t realize the Folly will likely end in death, since all of Blake’s friends were taken by it. She’ll deal with those thoughts later! “If I have to fight you, I will.”

Cliff slowly regards Bree, that low growl grows louder and louder. To the point Bree can feel her hair lifting off her shoulder. And then. Sniff. Sniff. Sniff. "You serve the Thirteen. This man entered a sacred rite to the Queen of Endings. In so doing he volunteered his soul to the Queen of Endings. A sacrifice to the Goddess, Death." Cliff moves forward. But, you say, there was a wall there? About that...



One paw goes forward then the next and Cliff simply rips through the woode paneling as if it were paper. Wood splintering to the side, now completely removing any barrier that was between him and Bree. Cliff steps forward. "His living is as much a blight to my service as it is to yours. Fleshy things. Young things, you worry about the body. The soul has already been committed. His life is a blasphemy, the consequence.."



Now that hot wolf breath flows over Bree as he is /very/ close. But hey for wolf breath it isn't so bad. Kind of has a scent of flowers about it. "Death." Those golden eyes focus down on Bree's.



"Stand aside, Sworn to the Thirteen, allow the Queen to take what is hers."

Shard exhales. That's her one response to a massive wolf carving through the cabin like it were paper. Then she walks forward at a sudden, brisk pace, toward Bree, toward Cliff, toward Blake. She shoulders her bow in the same motion.

Blake is actively wetting himself obviously, frozen in place.

"Get Cliff to promise not to come back or kill anyone else and let him have him." Cahal suggests. "I've sympathy. I do. But he meddled in things none of us really understand. We shouldn't go meddling too."

There is a flinch when the wall gets ripped away. Bree is only human, after all. She does not stand down, however, still gripping her sword, although she is forced to lower it as the big wolf nears, or else she’ll stab him. Her chin lifts, her wide blue eyes staring into his golden ones. His argument about her service is a strong one, and she wavers, seems to crack, but then. “No. I serve all Thirteen, including Lagoma, who calls for mercy,” she responds, her voice quiet, but strong. “Take him back to Dusklight Grove. Let him finish his Folly. If he dies then, he dies as part of the ritual.” The words of her companions are heard, and she nods even when a promise of him not killing or hurting any others here is made, but she waits to make those pacts.



Ember's eyes go wide at Cliff's strength. Her grip on her scythe doesn't falter. Her eyes stay wide with a kind of brutal tension as she watches Bree attempt to steer Cliff towards taking Cliff himself away, as opposed to merely Cliff's life. She's taking a long time between breaths as she waits for the response.

Bree checked dexterity + dodge at difficulty 60, rolling 13 lower.

Shard checked dexterity + athletics at difficulty 30, rolling 18 higher.

Shard checked dexterity + medium wpn at difficulty 30, rolling 30 higher.

60 inflicted and Bree is harmed for serious damage.

Shard continues toward the trio as Bree speaks. And what happens next is hard to track. One of her swords is suddenly in her hand. No, one of her swords is suddenly in Blake. It's hard to even spot her hands moving until, quite abruptly, she's already done.

Shard wields Bitter Harvest, an alaricite shortsword.

"Commendable." Cliff growls down to Bree as he lowers his head some. And then one giant paw is flinging up and crashing into Bree's side, sending her flying into the wall. The wolf advances...



But Shard's alaricite blade is plunged into Blake's back, the tip protruding from his chest. There is a /very/ loud snarling growl, then what sounds like a roar let out at Shard. Cliff's massive jaws snap right in front of her. The giant wolf stamps, huge body bristling and coiling as if he might suddenly unleash on Shard. But Blake's eyes, wide from the sudden pain through his chest, slowly roll back. And the man drops to the ground dead.



Cliff jerks his head up to the sky and lets out a howl. It is soon echoed all around them and soon the group stands in a near deafening cacophany of howling. Then.. The howling ends.



The wolves start to run off, the Butchers, frozen in place just watch in terror. Blake drops to the ground lifeless. And Cliff slowly breathes. There is irritation, it is clear, even on a wolf face. "I came all this way." The giant wolf growls down at Shard.



There's a look over to Bree, then as she has been knocked into the wall. "You serve well. You are both strong. No doubt you would prove worthy to enter the Dusklight Grove." He slowly looks down at Blake. "Where he was not."



The wolf slowly lopes around turning to walk out his wolf sized hole. "The Grove has much to offer even if the world has forgotten it. It could enrich your people, if you prove your worth. I hope to see you there, some day. Should you choose it." Cliff looks down to Ember, and her potted plant. A growl. "Keep it."



Then, he is trodding out of his hole and back across the grass.



It's only when Ember is sure that Cliff isn't going to continue the fight that she rushes over to Bree's side, to make sure of certain things -- like, for example, that Bree is still alive. Ideally conscious and able to get up, as well, but Ember won't hope for too much. She does spare a glance to Shard, but it doesn't seem to be a judgmental one. At least, no more judgmental than the way Ember stares at everyone anyway.

"I know," Shard says to Cliff, with blood running down her blade and onto her hand. "I understand." She sounds strangely breathless, despite merely crossing a room, when she's already spent most of a night and then some tromping through the woods without showing strain. "...But you're all bound by oaths and duties, and I'm not."

Cahal looks at the rest of them in the aftermath of Cliff's rage. Reassured that they are all alive and as hale as can be in the circumstances. And seemingly not overly upset by Blakes sudden demise although there is a hint, beneath the veneer of composure, that he's somewhat shaken. "Did anyone catch where that grove was? It deserves a here be vengeful giant wolves signpost if nothing else."

Bree does not see how Blake dies, whether it was by Shard’s hand or by Cliff’s. Nope, because she’s flying through the air and crashing into the wall. Unlike Cliff, she does not have the power to create holes in buildings with her strength. Still, the building shakes from the force, the integrity of the structure already drawn into question from the new door he made. She’s stunned for a moment, the pain immense, her hand going to her side. Kindness got dropped somewhere along the way. She stirs as Ember rushes over, her eyes flashing to Cliff, and Shard... and the crumpled body of Blake. She failed. She catches the end of the conversation. Hears that it was Shard, not Cliff. She tries to stand as he leaves, and is mostly successful. The blood pouring from the crease in her armor might be the reason it is so difficult. She moves to look at Blake’s body, sucking in a ragged breath. And then, because of course: “We should give him his last rites.” And so she does, treating him and his soul with the same reverence she did the others. As she stands there bleeding. All the while, she does not look at Shard.

Cahal checked perception + investigation at difficulty 15, rolling 29 higher.

As Cliff the big red streaked dog makes his way away, Cahal goes poking around in Blake's satchel. Only to find a few notes. One of them being what appears to be some sort of map.



And so, they survive the day. A few piss-stained recruits, a glowing flower, and a map. But most importantly their lives.



The same cannot be said for Blake who's body is resided over by Bree, to ensure his passage back to the wheel is peaceful, at least.

Shard pulls her sword out of Blake's body with a lot more care than she put it in. She cleans it on the chair he was sitting in, sheathes it, and then, without saying anything further, she stands by as Bree prays over him.

Cahal tucks the map away somewhere beneath his armor and then looks at the situation with Bree and Ember. "We can put her on my horse. It wont be the most comfortable but I reckon we'll make the best time that way."



Ember moves to act as a human crutch for Bree, and nods to Cahal. "Indeed." After all, Ember didn't bring her own horse. She's still holding the glowing flower. She gives it a brief glance, before helping Bree towards the horse. "Just scream if anything comes loose inside from the galloping," she says to Bree, in what may or may not be a joke.



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