TAKASHI: "Hail and well met. We are travelers, recently from Skalfier, who are seeking knowledge from before the Doom, and hope to be heading towards Athenum. These are my friends, and we mean you no ill will, nor do we seek to disturb you or your lands."
The figure doesn't relax its posture, but it does reach a hand up to flip up the visor on the helmet. It is an older, mustachioed man, with deep lines and silver hair across his face. He squints at you all.
"Travelers usually stick to the road and stay in numbers. If you are indeed travelers and seekers of the old library, then you are welcome to the village of Appleton. It is under my protection... and if you mean ill, you will understand why I survived many campaigns in service to the Othars!"
He grips the pommel of his sword, but you can catch the wince of pain run across his face.
"Come. Follow and we'll talk at my home."
He watches to see what you will do.
TAKASHI nods as the stranger speaks, and bows deeply in respect after hearing of his service and seeing the obvious sacrifice made done in its name.
TAKASHI: "We appreciate your and are humbled by your offer of hospitality. I am called TAKASHI, the little one with the keen eyes and nimble feet is ATACIUS, GRAIAN is from the Elven lands, and the yawning priest of the Light is named CALLIN. We will follow you as fast as this stubborn cow allows..."
GRAIAN: Looking at the figure "Thank you for your hospitality and it is indeed welcomed, I would very much like to talk to you about your adventures and knowledge of the area."
The man chuckles. "The name is Flinigan. Sir Mark Flinigan. And if you want to hear the tall tales of an old man and his many adventures, you might be here till your mid-life, as elves are long lived indeed. And most bandits, or travelers aren't as courteous as you are, so you are either golden-tongued bandits or indeed as you say." You see him relax his grip on his sword and his shield now rests on one leg. He waits for you all to break camp and slowly paces his horse beside you as you all head towards the direction of the buildings.
"I have lived in Appleton for almost twenty years now, since leaving the good Duke's service. A quiet enough place, needs a bit of upkeep, but that's not what I'm good at, I leave that others. I ... am here because I must be. You are already familiar with that accursed place, the Athenum." A look of extreme pain... or maybe grief... crosses his face and he pauses for a moment.
"There's a small abandoned set of buildings to the north a little ways beyond the old place. I think some of your kind, GRAIAN, were set up there, although I've not seen them in a season. And there are few villages around, but mostly just groups of folks making a living. There've been some bandits, some of Delmonte's men I think, skulking to the south of Appleton a bit, which is why I came to see who you were. After I ran a couple of them through mid-Summer, they've left Appleton well enough alone, but if they come with many men..." ... the implication is left unsaid.
"So... why a cow?" he asks curiously. "Are you planning on eating your own fresh meat? Doing some trading?"
TAKASHI: "Unfortunately, we do not really know much about Athenum, other than the fact that you mentioned - that some of GRAIAN's kin were looking around it, and have not been heard from in a while."
Looking at the cow, he continues talking.
TAKASHI: "I fear you may laugh at us, or take us as fools when I tell you this, but stranger things have happened in these lands in recent times. While travelling, we encountered a flock of very large birds, led by a majestic creature as large as your horse. Initially, we feared for our safety. However, we made no rash moves and their matron who goes by the name of Apsuna introduced herself to us.
Yes, you heard that correctly! She was intelligent and capable of speach in our language. It was she who told us of Elves searching through ruins covered with leaves, and she invited us to visit her nest if we were ever in the area, and let us know that a gift of food (*wink towards cow* *nudge* nudge* *say no more*) would be appreciated."
TAKASHI pauses and looks at Sir Flinigan's face, hoping for the best.
Sir Flinigan studies the four of you very carefully for a moment, then nods.
"Well... now that's a story and one that I have to admit to believing, because I've spoken with Apsuna myself. I keep her fed from time to time with a young lamb or calf, good cattle are hard to come by and keep raised. If you've made peace with the bird, then I know that I have nothing to fear from you, she's been an unexpected benefactor to our small village. I think Delmonte's men avoid this area just because of her!"
He fully relaxes, places his shield on a handy strap behind his back and pulls off his helmet and mops his brow. "A hot one, by the Light, it's been odd weather this year."
TAKASHI: "The day before we left Skalfier, a fierce snowstorm struck and an avalanche followed shortly thereafter. Westedge was hit particularly hard. And today, we have ... this." (TAKASHI points towards the sun shining brightly above). "Very strange, indeed."
After a short ride, you arrive at the village of Appleton. As Sir Flinigan alluded to, it's a ramshackle collection of buildings clustered by an even more ramshackle and decaying manor. To the west of the village are groves of the village's namesake - apple trees by the dozens, maybe hundreds. Quite a number of men and women are around those trees, carrying baskets of apples to piles of apples, with several carts being loaded.
ATACIUS: "I bet you make good cider here!" the littleling wonders aloud at the sight of the extense apple groves.
"Although quite humble, this is my home." Sir Flinigan says with a touch of pride. Then, some memory comes to his mind and his face flashes with pain again. "You are most welcome to stay at my manor, although you might have to clean up the guest rooms a bit, it's been awhile since I've entertained." he says gruffly. He points to the stables where you can house the horses and to a small pen where the cow can stay. "Midday meal will be in a few hours, make yourselves comfortable and then we'll talk. I need to finish my patrol."
He rides off again, back to the south and west in the direction you just came from.
The cow moo's and seems interested in the tender grasses still growing in the pen. It's a quiet village and all of the inhabitants, even children, are busy with the harvest, although a few young ones and two elderly women peek out from the farmers' homes to see who arrived with the village's lord.
You are ushered into the decayed manor by an older woman, who introduces herself as "Enid the housekeeper." She has a dour appearance and attitude. You are taken to a sitting room, provided with water and clean cloths to wipe your faces with, and then left alone. The room itself is kept very neat, with several paintings of a young woman and a handsome man, obviously happy together. There are common books for someone who has money, and although the temperature is hot, a breeze wafts through the open windows and keeps the room comfortable, for awhile.
Just as the sun reaches midday height and the heat increases, you hear Sir Flinigan return. After a short while, Enid takes you to out back, where a small lunch has been set up under a tree. You can see a great deal of decay and damage to the north-eastern half of the manor, and the remains of a tower that seems to have been attached to the house at one time. Sir Flinigan is gulping down a mug of ale and wiping his brow.
"Welcome, my friends. I hope you have been comfortable. It seems this damnable heat will be with us again today. I thought under the tree would keep us in the shade as well as outside in the breeze."
Lunch is simple, but hearty fare. Meat, bread, apples and ale or water is given to each of you. While eating, Sir Flinigan tells you some tales of his earlier days as a soldier in the Ducal forces for Occidens, traveling across the length and breadth of the Duchy. He's an excellent storyteller, sharing tales of travel, of battles and of a few close scrapes. Finally, after one last story, he heaves a sigh.
"So... you are off to that accursed place, Athenum. You mentioned that you sought knowledge before the Doom from what is left there. What do you seek? And why there?" he asks. "It is a haunted and fell place, full of death and bad magicks."
GRAIAN: "A most welcome meal and conversation Sir Flinigan, thank you. We are heading to Athenum to see if we can find anything among the ruins that may help us understand something of what happend bfore the Doom, it seems the Migical Guild was based there. We know many have searched, but there may be more to find. There is also the question of the split wihtin my kind, there are some that think we will never find our Homeland and wish to go to war with your Human race, neither of us will benefit from that. If there was a library or such at Athenum there may also be clues to our Homeland, with some knowledge of that I think the murmurs of war could be quelled." Graian looks out across lands with concern, taking a long drink of ale as he lets the words sink in.
Flinigan dips his head to acknowledge GRAIAN's courtesy.
He listens and scratches his chin. "Most who have come to the ruins in my years here go home deterred by Apsuna. This spring, though, it was different. An armed group of elves set up in a small thorpe to the north of the place and seemed determined to root out the birds. There were even some human adventurers who joined them, but at the end of the day, they didn't make it within to the most protected areas. The elves lost a few of their kin and left by late Summer. A couple of ten-days ago, if memory serves me correct."
He leans forward. "The bulk of the ruins lie underground. They are fell and full of traps and dangerous things. To go there is to invite death and dismay. The infernal mage who built the place practiced dark arts. You may find books about what happened prior to the Doom there, but at what cost? At what cost..." he trails off, sniffles, wipes his eyes and continues.
"Aren't there other libraries to tell you of the time before the Doom? Even some old folks that you could talk to, like myself?"
TAKASHI: "We have found relatively few who know or are willing to speak about life defore the Doom, and Ramathia in particular. It seems as if the Doom has cast a shadow over these lands, and many are hesitant to lend a helping hand to strangers. And when some of those who in power are in league with bandits and murderers, how can you blame them?"
Flinigan nods to TAKASHI. "Unfortunately, a fertile field does not stay fallow too long. With the little strength that the Duke is showing in these parts, I'm not surprised at a local strongman appearing. I've spoken to one of his bandits, as he was wounded after a raid here. Delmonte apparently believes he is in the right for what he is doing! If Reffyndi doesn't pay attention, he may find his post taken from him by force!"
GRAIAN: "If there are other places we can also search we would be grateful to know about them, the more information the better. Certainly talking to those who remember events will help fill in the gaps but it does seem that Athenum has the potential for a lot of answers."
Pausing Graian looks at Sir Flinigan, debating how to ask the next question. "Sir Flinigan, clearly you have seen much and Athenum seems to stir strong emotions in you that seem very personal, may I ask that you would share with us what you know?"
Flinigan slowly sips his ale, deliberately. You might think he's having a senior moment, nodding off, but you all can see the intense concentration on his brow, as if he is facing and considering some extremely personal or difficult decision. Time seems to slow, as you all bear witness to the wrestling of his inner demons.
Then... something gives or something is victorious, and he sighs the sigh of a man who has faced his worst pain and fears.
"You see well and true, GRAIAN. The folks in this village know of this tale, and they know to not discuss it with me. But you do not, so my mourning is far more obvious to you."
"I told you that I had retired here, after my service. That I am here because I must be. That is true, but there is more to the story...
Many years ago, right after the Doom, the Duke sent us here to these lands to help assist with those fleeing Ramathia and the attack of the sea creatures. We marched many days from the city of Dawn to here and my company happened to spend a cold, uncomfortable night at a set of ruins. In the morning, we spied groves of apple trees and decided to purchase some. While visiting the village of those groves, I set eyes on the most beautiful woman I had ever seen. Her hair was a golden brown, her eyes sparkled like the deepest emeralds and her voice was balm and music to my ears. My angel, Christine.
I made a vow to return to her after I finished my service to the Duke. I wrote to her, I visited when I could, and our love deepened. She was gifted in the ways of magicks, but she left that alone, as most folks feared and blamed mages for the Doom. Still, her curiosity had her visit Skalfier and even Dawn from time to time, accompanied by me. We were married in Dawn, but after a life of service and surviving the Doom, I decided to settle here and raise a family with my angel.
Then... she discovered the secret entrance to the library. Most ordinary folks who've been to the ruins of that accursed place don't see what is so obvious to mages and witches. The door of the rune. She was excited, because she believed that she might finally find some way of training herself. She believed that her powers could be used to help Appleton, to help us... "
His voice cracks and he shamelessly sniffles and continues.
"Something inside me, old instincts from battle I suppose, warned me to not let her go further and we had our first argument, ever. We'd know each other a tenyear, and this was the first row. I stormed out, rode off for a bit... but she left too, and in a different direction."
"Because she had showed me, I knew the way in, so when she didn't return that evening, and the villagers told me that she had gone off in the direction of that hole, I went after her. I entered the secret door, I went down the stairs. I defeated several of that places guardians, who'd apparently been awakened by my angel's entry. Then... I found her. "
He sits up straight, his eyes far off, remembering the horror.
"She had fallen prey to three guardians. I don't know what type of creature they are. They had trapped her somehow, in a globe of pale, fell light and they... were somehow feeding on her. She was screaming.. screaming...
I tried to defeat them, but I felt them draining my own life. Then... I felt her push me away. My limbs moved on their own, my legs took me out of that place. I called for her, I screamed her name, but all I felt was her kiss on my cheek..."
He bows his head and sobs. After many minutes of his cries and coughing, he recovers.
"I have lived here alone for fifteen years. I have grown old, and weak, and yet I still feel that she is alive in that accursed place. I cannot return to defeat them and free her. I would gladly give my life, but only if I knew her soul would be freed.
You will not find what you seek in the remains of the library aboveground. Those have been picked over, used as kindling, exposed to the rain and sun. Little remains. You must go into the secret door and look within there. And for you to do that, you will need me to show you the door and how to open it. And for me to do that, you must come with me to rescue my angel.
I may be old, but I still have some fight left within me. Not enough for three of those foul guardians, but enough to help you fight your way through to them. After all these years of the occasional traveler, the treasure seeker and the bandits, you are the first to come and give me hope that you would listen to an old man and grant his request."
He stands, a bit unsteadily, but fully erect and he draws his sword. The tip of the blade points upwards.
"Will you touch my sword and come with me to free my angel? I will grant you my service and protection, and my life, to allow you in but to also free her?"
TAKASHI slowly takes in what the old knight has to say, and then stands. He draws his axe and then kneels before Sir Flinigan, raising the blade of his axe until it touches the blade of his sword.
TAKASHI: "As my axe blade supports your steel, so will I support your efforts to find what has happened to your wife. Your hospitality and honesty are a refreshing change from what we have encountered as of late, and I will do all that I can to make things right."
GRAIAN: Rising and Boeing his head in deference to the frankness and depth of feeling shown by Sir Flinigan "Indeed, I will pledge my aid in your quest. To know the one you love is trapped in a nightmare and you cannot help is a heavy burden for anyone. Lead us to the place and we shall free your angel and then find the remains of the library." Taking his staff he touches Sir Flinigan's sword.
ATACIUS: "Sir, you have shared with us, complete strangers, a most intimate memory. You've thought we were worthy of it, and for that I thank you. I would be doing a disservice to the memory of my ancestors, to my friends here, to you and your wife, and to me, if I don't pledge myself to help you."
With that being said he unsheathes his short sword, looks the old man in the eye, gives him a sharp nod, and touches Sir Flinigan's blade.
CALLIN: "My the LIGHT we shall cast away the shadows of darkness entwining your beloved. Let us pray for your wife, for her return and her safety." CALLIN then stands "And then do the work of the LIGHT and answer those prayers"
Sir Flinigan nods to each of you and lowers his sword. He wipes away tears with his other hand. He bends a knee in prayer along with CALLIN, echoing the words in a fervent manner. "Well said, priest, and thank you to all of you. Would that I had your courage and help fifteen years ago, this might have been a different story. But we will make it right..."
"I must rest, we must rest, and we will go in the morning to this place. We will bring your cow, Apsuna will be very appreciative of the gift. I must warn you all... this is a dark and mysterious place, full of tricks and foul, dark things. I have written down and rewritten the directions to find her until I knew them better than I know my own home. And I still worry that it will have changed."
"You may search the house for anything you need, although there is little here beyond my needs. My own gear, I keep ready in my room, and I will be ready for battle. I have two elixers given to me a long time ago by a cleric of the Light to heal those injured in battle. I pray they are still effective, but we will bring them. I also should warn you, some of these creatures can be bested only by holy or blessed weapons or those who carry the blessing of the Light upon them. I hope, CALLIN, that you are strong enough in the Light to do that for us! I have a silver sword of my own, which I will use and two silver daggers which I will lend to you all. Hopefully that will be enough. If not, I have a vial of water blessed by the Light that might be useful."
He sighs in weariness. Clearly the excitement and emotions have taken a toll on him. "I must rest. Let us be away at dawn. If you have any questions, though, I'll be happy to answer them."
TAKASHI: "I have never battled the foul undead before, CALLIN. I fear that my axe may have little or no effect on these damnable mockeries of life. Nevertheless, we have some tools at our disposal that may prove helpful, or so it seems. I would like to take one of the daggers in case my axe proves ineffective, if that is ok with the rest of you."
GRAIAN: "Ah, undead, they are my worst nighmare, my most useful spell has no effect on them. Not that I want to get that close to them but a silver blade would be useful, if we have enough weapons to go around, unless you can bless my darts Callin?"
CALLIN: "I will call upon the LIGHT and ensure that it is touched upon you all! When you are touched by the LIGHT, all of you as well as the weapons you bear, shall by extension be touched. The power of the LIGHT is indeed great, but it also must LIGHT the entire world, and therefore it shines bright in the darkness only briefly. I will pray this night that the LIGHT will stay with us as long as it can. But we swift my companions, for the darkness will attempt to overcome." CALLIN will then turn to Sir Flinigan "Sir Flinigan, may I perhaps fill a cauldren with water so I might bless it to prepare for our journey tomorrow?"
Sir Flinigan has you go see Enid, who will take you to the well and provide you with a metal pot to hold water in.
CALLIN will excuse himself and begin preperations for the day.
ATACIUS will try to find any spare jars or flasks, twine, rags and lamp oil, to make some crude grenades. He'll roam the premises to find them and, if he´s missing something, he'll wander the town explaining the locals why he need those things (embark in a quest to help Sir Flinigan and how pleased he'll be to know who helped us). As a last resort, he'll drop some silver coins if he can't talk what he needs out of people.
You can have up to 6 jars and enough oil to make the grenades from Flinigan's home.
ATACIUS will then sharpen and oil his shortsword and make sure his armor and equipment makes the less possible noise.
TAKASHI will practice with his axe, exercising the various positions and forms he is familiar with. Then, he will find the shade of a good, solid apple tree and meditate briefly on the mission ahead, to center his focus and prepare for the difficulties to come.