Circle of Stone (reprieve)

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:41 pm

Can you play the national anthem? Very Happy (must be music night on Forumshire tonight)

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Fri Jan 11, 2013 10:45 pm

The silence was almost unbearable to Tain, he was filled with a sudden longing to defile it, to shout out against it and prove he could not be cowed, but he did not, a sense of great fear was on him. When the rumbling had faded he heard first and then saw a wave of water, maybe a foot or two high sweeping towards him from the north.

Not caring now for the sound he might make but only concerned with remaining relatively dry he said, “bugger this!” and scrambled for higher ground among the reeds that clustered in a wide arc around the islands foot but the water caught up to him before he could evade it. It rose and fell slopping about his thighs leaving a tide mark of green slime about his tunic and cloak. When it had passed he realized that the water level had risen, by about three inches, or just enough he noted ruefully to rise permanently above the top of his boots and fill them with dirty marsh water. He shook his right leg hearing the muddy water sloshing in its bottom. He cursed under his breath but it was drowned out by the sudden resurgence of the insects all around. The marsh had found its voice again.

He was just about to move off and cover the remaining short distance of wetness between himself and dry feet when he heard a soft rustle in the leaves of the oak tree.

He crouched down among the reeds, trying not to get any wetter and yet remain hidden from any potential prying eyes. There was a slender figure up there in the branches. Partly concealed among the leaves the silhouette of a hooded head could clearly be discerned sticking out from above the crown of autumn leaves, looking out northwards. Whoever it was they did not seem to have spotted Tain approaching from the right.

The light of the stars in the clear sky behind made the figure an easy target; Tain silently took the composite bow from his back and drew an arrow to it. He watched keenly down the shaft; the figure was robed, or cloaked in a dark material, the attire of a Cleric, or a Magician perhaps? Perhaps they were watching their handy work from up there. But Tain was not about to shoot before he was sure, that was not his nature, he waited and observed.

After a short while the figure began to swiftly move back down the tree and Tain had to circle round to the southern edge of the island to keep them in sight. Creeping very slowly among a border of bulrushes Tain moved around the southern outcrop of rock until he could see up onto the island itself.

Towards the rear of it beneath the trees the figure was squatting over an unlit fire, he could see, much to his surprise that it was a woman, she appeared to be just sitting in silence with both arms raised before herself and the palms outwards, praying perhaps Tain thought distastefully.

It was a tall woman dressed in a black robe with a thick black belt around her waist on which various pouches hung or were bound. Tain could not clearly see the woman’s face but she did have long unkempt black hair that was tangled and matted.

As Tain observed the woman finished her prayer, if indeed it was such, and taking a small sprig of some plant from one of her many pouches and a small golden sickle from another bag she carefully and reverently cut the sprig.

Although he believed in the Gods Tain did not trust the religious and the sickle gave this one away as a druid, about whom many wild tales were told.

He watched as the woman put the sickle away and began to strike a flint. In short time the flicker of yellow flame was eating hungrily at the dry wood. Responsible for what just happened or not that was enough for Tain, he strung the bow to his back and feet squelching in his boots stepped openly and deliberately noisily towards the shore, hands extended, and announced himself loudly saying, “Greetings, Druid. Would you mind if I shared your fire? I seem to have gotten my feet somewhat wet in the marsh.”

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Post by Norc Fri Jan 11, 2013 11:02 pm

Pettytyrant101 wrote:Can you play the national anthem? Very Happy (must be music night on Forumshire tonight)

does forumshire have national anthem!?
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Fri Jan 11, 2013 11:03 pm

Eru Save the Queen

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sat Jan 12, 2013 3:42 am

The Druid had known the man was there since she had heard him swear in the marsh, but she had not manged to get a look at him. It was a man taller than she, dressed in muddy clothes of greens and browns, a bow was strung across his back alongside a quiver of arrows and a sheathed sword hung at his belt. The man wore a greenish-brown cloak the bottom half of which was dark with marsh water. He had keen brown eyes, friendly and open, under a fringe of dark brown hair.

“Well met,” she replied cautiously and stood forward to greet him and get a better look, “May I have your name?”

Now the Druid was closer there was something else about her that Tain noticed; her eyes. The whites were flecked with a shining green. Elven eyes, though otherwise she did not appear Elven, true as the Druid had her hood up and her face was shadowed he could not see clearly the colour of her skin but Elven eyes were fully green, whites and iris, and this woman’s were not, only the whites were flecked with green. A half-breed perhaps? If so then that was not a common occurrence. Indeed Tain had never heard of one before.

Curious but cautious he extended a marshy, damp hand to the Druid, replying, “I’m called Tain.”

The Druid accepted Tain's proffered hand in her own. Tain glanced down at it noting the lack of olive colouring that would denote a full Elf.

Smiling broadly into the Druids face in what he hoped was a nonchalant way he asked, “So was that your doing I just witnessed out there?”

“I think you may be overestimating my abilities,” the Druid responded without breaking either her suprisingly strong grip or Tain's gaze.

Tain had little experience of druids outside of the stories the Bards back in Stenor sung about them, where they were usually portrayed as shadowy figures; like spirits of the woods with bizarre animal assuming abilities. In the histories and sagas he had read as a boy in the long hours alone in his father’s library they had featured little, and female druids even less so. But there was always an aura of danger that hung about tales about druids, but with the promise of warm feet so close by he was willing to take a chance.

He looked into the green eyes trying to read them and said, “Well if a Druid couldn’t have done it you can be certain nor could I, and if I had then I would’ve made sure I was standing on drier ground before I started.”

The Druid nodded and broke the shake with a smile, “Please,” she said, “come sit by my fire and warm your flesh, you do seem to have gotten yourself a little, damp.”

Gratefully Tain approached the warmth and squatted down extending his hands to the flames and looked over the top of them at the Druid who sat down opposite him, “So what brings you out here?” he asked.

“I was about to ask you the same thing,” the Druid replied, uncorking a flask, taking a drink then offering the flask to Tain who took it, sniffed it, and finally drank from it. He winced, his eyes tearing at the corners. He passed the flask back.

“Home brew, secret recipe,” the Druid replied with a broad grin, “Not for the faint hearted but you get used to it,” the Druid took another long slug and went on, “There are not many other people in these parts, I was not expecting to meet anyone else out here.”

“I’m not from these parts,” Tain explained, “I come from Stenor. Ever heard of it?” The Druid shook her head. “It’s a long way from here, in the northwest,” Tain continued waving his hand vaguely northwards.

“So what brings you so far from home?” the Druid enquired.

“Boredom,” Tain replied, which was a lie, he laughed as if to himself and said, “My family are sort of important, really just glorified farmers. We own quite a lot of land in Stenor, but I never really fitted in. The truth is I don’t like the nobility very much, and I'm one of them there.”

The Druid took her pipe out from its pouch and filled it with a green herb from one of the little bags at her waist and lit it whilst Tain went on talking and drinking from the flask, “I came south through Faztom, I don’t know if you’ve ever been there?” the Druid shook her head again, “Don't bother, you haven’t missed anything. There’s nothing there but fields of vegetables and little hamlets full of very bored people,” Tain went on dismissively, feeling the alcohol beginning to course through his veins in a dramatic warm spreading glow that was quickly reaching his head and consequently his tongue, “And then I passed through Domina, the next country over,” he pointed out westwards over the marshes, then passed the flask to the Druid, “I was at an Inn there,” the Druid took another drink from the flask between puffs on her pipe and passed it back to Tain who unwisely took a larger swig this time, he winced again and let out a long whistling breath before going on, “The Horses Head or something it was called. All there inns seemed to be named after horses,” he stared at the flask a moment, “What is in this stuff?” he asked and took another drink, then without giving the Druid time to reply said, “Anyway I got talking to this old man about what lay east of there. And he told me a legend about some old tyrant who used to rule somewhere around here, centuries and centuries ago, and that he had a city. A city full of ancient artefacts, somewhere at the south end of the mountains. Between the rock and the marshes he kept saying. Between the rock and the marshes. A city no one had ever found. I plan on being the first. I don’t suppose you’ve ever heard of it?”

“I cannot say that I have, but then I am not from round here either I am afraid,” the Druid responded between puffs, “Besides I cannot imagine why anyone would want to build a city in a marsh,” she mused, “It would sink surely?”

“I was beginning to think maybe it did, but,” and here Tain reached out a hand and patted the collapsed wall whose white stones were warming in the heat of the fire, “somebody lived out here, once upon a time.”

Tain stretched out before the flames and pulled off his boots with a sigh of pleasure, he poured the water from them away down a gully in the rock; there was about a half pint in each boot.

“So what’s your story then?” Tain inquired warming his feet by the fire in bliss.

“I am investigating this marsh for a village of Gnomes to the south of here. They want to know why it is flooding.”

“Ah. And have you found out yet?” Tain asked, taking another drink, it had ceased to burn his throat now and he barely had to wince this time. It had the odd effect of making him very relaxed but not sleepy, he felt perfectly alert and quite drunk at the same time.

“In short,” the Druid said in reply to his question, “No, I have not. Though tonight was interesting. The Gnomes had told me about it of course but it is always best to witness with ones own eyes.”

“Gnomes?” Tain queried, “Why are there Gnomes living in a marsh? What do they mine? What do they make, mud jewellery?”

“Let me just say,” the Druid said with a smile, “if you ever visit their village I recommend you try the Plate Makis,” she took a long draw on her pipe and lay back on the flagstones and blew out a cloud of grey-blue smoke, “I wonder what caused that rumbling?” she pondered, staring up at the stars and making a silent blessing to them.

“It came from the north I thought,” Tain commented.

“It seemed that way to me too, from the mountains I deemed. Did you note the darkness that descended?”

“Darkness? You mean darker than normal night dark?” Tain responded, turning over onto his right side to warm his damp rear in the heat of the fire. He had completely shaken off the feelings of terror the silence had produced in him, indeed it seemed a little foolish now he was sitting in the light and heat of the fire.

“I watched it from the top of the oak," the Druid informed him, "It spread south from the mountains, I thought I saw shapes moving within it, but it was hard to tell, like trying to see through black fog,” she drew industriously on the pipe reflecting again on what she had seen.

“I don’t think I like the sound of that,” Tain remarked darkly, “I know it felt, odd,” he ended rather lamely not wanting to say how it actually felt, which was terrifying. “But you're a druid, you’re supposed to know about nature, are you not? Could it not be some sort of seasonal thing? We get the thickest fogs you'll ever see in Stenor, along the coasts, especially in the spring.”

“I do not believe so, I've never seen anything quite like it in my life, and I grew up in marshlands,” the Druid replied.

Tain nodded in agreement, “So what’s your plan?”

“Well, there is a Gnome, sort of a hermit who lives on these islands somewhere; if I could find him I might begin to get some answers.”

“If he's been around here recently I'll be able to find a trace of him, I'll comb this island from top to bottom when the suns up if you like. There's not a track I can’t find. Just try not to move about much or disturb anything till then or you might destroy any traces he's left,” Tain instructed.

“That would be helpful, thank you,” the Druid said graciously wondering if perhaps this meeting might be fortuitous, “These islands extend in a chain all the way to the mountains as I understand it,” she went on, an idea forming in her thoughts, “if you do not mind the company they might serve you best in finding your city and me in finding my hermit. If you wish our paths could lie together, for a day or two at least.” She had to admit a tracker could be useful and company welcome.

Tain considered this a moment, he had been travelling alone for a long time now and though he did not make friends easily he nevertheless did enjoy the company of others, especially women, although this one was a bit odd, and not just in looks. However he nodded in agreement, “I'll help you find your hermit,” he took another drink and passed the flask back to the Druid again, adding, “If in return you can find a dry route through the marsh and that when we reach the mountains you help me search for any traces of this lost city. Well?”

The Druid accepted the flask and drank from it, “Agreed,” she said.

They ate a meal together and chatted softly for an hour or so, telling of their homelands and their journeys before weariness and the Druids brew finally turned their thoughts towards sleep.

Tain took the first watch whilst his new companion fell soundly asleep by the fire. He puffed at the Druids pipe to while away his three hours of quiet watch in which only the occasional distant splash of some night creature disturbed his vigil. When his time was over he awoke the Druid and gratefully lay down by the smouldering fire and fell himself into a deep comfortable sleep, though always aware of the presence of the Druid close by. He slept soundly and undisturbed until dawn.


Last edited by Pettytyrant101 on Sat Jan 12, 2013 12:40 pm; edited 4 times in total

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sat Jan 12, 2013 3:43 am

cheers 2 chapters down! Thanks again to all those who are reading along.
And just to whet the appetite the next chapter is entitled 'The Dead of Night.'

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Post by azriel Sat Jan 12, 2013 3:43 pm

Very Happy

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sat Jan 12, 2013 7:35 pm

Chapter Three
The Dead of Night

In the pale light of the early morning sun Tain set to work looking for tracks; beginning at the marshes edge he painstakingly worked his way backwards to where they had made camp. From there he moved in an ever expanding circle back out to the islands edge. Then he examined all the ground beneath the trees on the upper tier of rock and the cliff faces leading down to the marsh on the east and northern sides, where it fell sharply away into the mire.

The Druid by contrast seemed to Tain to be just spending her time standing around staring at things.

“Well,” Tain eventually said approaching her whilst she was in mid-conversation with a reticent oak tree, “Someone has definitely been here. Come over here and I'll show you.”

He led the Druid back towards where they had camped and down towards the shoreline. “See these flagstones here?” he said, squatting down and pointing to a series of broken flagstones lying side by side, each roughly four feet square, they were partially covered in a thin layer of green moss. “Now, look at the moss either side, see how it’s thick and vivid in colour?” Tain said kneeling down by the stones.

The Druid squatted down beside him. “Yes,” she agreed looking at the moss, which she recognized as a 'glendors skin', a common marsh moss.

“Now look there,” Tain pointed to a similar part of the flagstone which to the Druid was indistinguishable to the first, “and there,” again Tain pointed at another patch of paving, and turning his body to the right a little pointed to a final, not dissimilar bit of paving saying, “and here.”

The Druid returned his look blankly, unsure what she was supposed to be noticing and said, “They all look the same to me.”

“You're not looking close enough; the moss in all these parts is thinner and paler. Look, in some places the stone is completely bare, and it continues all the way up,” he pointed up towards the trees to where they had camped, “but if you look at the pattern of the mosses growth on the rest of the stones, its uniform.”

“So? What does that tell you?” the Druid asked, following the thin patches with her eye up towards the tree line.

“Look at how far apart each of the bare patches are in relation to each other, see?” Tain stood and put his foot on top of one of the bare patches, covering it,

“The pattern follows where someone, someone Gnome sized, would put their feet,” he took a series of small steps, putting his feet each time onto the next bare patch, “Round the edges its undisturbed, but here in the centre it doesn't get a chance to grow back in, it can’t get thick. That's also why its greener there, those are new growth. Whoever it was they were here no more than a week ago I’d say; from the amount the moss has covered. Whoever it was went up from here into the trees and sat on the top of that wall. They ate some sort of cooked bird meat, duck I think, I found this bone,” he displayed for the Druid what looked like a duck thigh bone, “There's even gnaw marks on it. And they don't waste their food either, see where he’s cracked it? That was to suck the marrow out. And there are only three sets of marks repeated on this, so he only has three teeth. Whoever it was is either old or has had a lot of their teeth knocked out. And see here,” Tain indicated a series of small scrapes on the bone, “They’re small teeth, Gnome sized I’d say.”

He looked at her smugly.

“Okay, so what did he look like then?” the Druid asked.

“He had one leg was five foot six and had a patch over one eye. His friends called him Fredrick,” Tain retorted sarcastically, “How do you expect me know what he looks like from some moss and a duck bone?"

“Actually, he is shorter, about four feet I would say. He is a very elderly Gnome, but sprightly, he walks with the aid of a stick and he has very white hair, he comes here once a week to chant,” the Druid said with a slow spreading smile. “And,” she leisurely pointed north towards the next island, “He went that way six days ago.”

Tain gave her a long hard look, “Alright. How do you know all that?” he asked suspiciously.

“I asked the crows that are nesting in the oak tree,” the Druid replied simply.

Tain stared up into the branches and then back at the Druid. “You can talk to birds?” he asked with some amazement, then after a moments quick reflection added, “That's useful.”

“I can talk to birds, fish, animals, plants; it is just people that present a problem, at least usually,” she added with a quick glance at Tain, “But the plants around here, like everything I've spoken too are not keen to chat. I am not sure why, I think their afraid although I cannot find out what of because they won't tell me.”

“If you can ask the locals where this hermit is what do you need me for?” Tain demanded a little annoyed that he had apparently just wasted away a large chunk of his morning in pointless searching, not to mention a bit of what now felt like embarrassing bragging of his skills.

“As I said, I can talk to things all right but they do not always want to talk back,” she replied with a shrug, “And I am not much good at following a trail if they are not feeling communicative. Besides I was curious to see if you were any good. I am afraid it occurred to me that you might be a blow-heart; my homebrew can bring that vice out in a man. But I was very impressed with the moss bit,” she said smiling at him and patting him on the shoulder as if he were a small boy, she indicated a northerly direction with her hand and added, “Shall we go on?”

“You’re full of surprises,” Tain said, “I’ll remember that about you.”

As they descended the slope back down to the shallows Tain slapped at the side of his neck with the flat of his hand, “Can you talk to midges?” he enquired hopefully as they waded out among the green soupy water.

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Post by azriel Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:05 pm

Laughing

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sat Jan 12, 2013 8:37 pm

They approached the next island just as the sun was rising to noon in a cloudless sky.

It proved to be little more than a small hillock of rock occupied with a few straggly birch trees. But mainly it was populated by an overgrown gorse bush whose last fading yellow buds were popping in the warmth of the afternoon sun.

Although autumn was beginning it had been growing steadily hotter all day and beads of sweat ran down the foreheads of them both.

The trail as far as Tain could follow it with his eye led into the marsh round the edge of a wide pool.

He turned his gaze on the pool now. There were many shapes within it; mainly beetles splashing as they broke the surface but their were also glimpses of scaled grey mottled bodies that moved and rippled through the shallows.

The third island rose up on the northern edge of it directly opposite them, maybe ten miles away, possibly more depending how far round they would be forced to go. Behind the island the mountains rose, now nearer and sharper again in the bright light of the clear afternoon.

They took lunch together, perching on the bare rock of the islands edge with the gorse bush at their backs offering them some shade. They ate in silence and Tain stood when he had finished and stretched, grateful to be relived of his pack for a brief time.

They did not stay long however. Both were keen to press on, neither wanting to spend longer among the water and reeds than they had need to.

After about an hour of travel the trail drew close to the edge of the pool where a massive swath of eight-foot tall yellow reeds stood, ringing the waters western edge. As they passed between the first thick stalks Tain raised an arm to halt the Druid.

He had spotted an area of broken reeds, some ten foot or so in front and to his left. It could just have been from the passage of one of the marshes larger inhabitants, but maybe not.

He crept forward and noted that some of the reeds had been cut through; he picked up a handful of the stems and examined them. They were split in two near the base about three or four foot up their seven or eight foot length. He signalled the Druid to come over and showed her the edge of one of the broken stems.

“That’s a blade cut,” he explained holding the two broken halves, “These were cut down.”

He tossed the pieces away and parted the plants on the edge of the damaged area. Before him was a cleared space some eight foot across in the centre of which was a small natural bowl of water choked with fallen reeds. From the evidence around it seemed immediately clear to Tain that some sort of skirmish had taken place here; reed stalks lay cleaved and shredded all over the swampy ground.

Stepping out from the reeds into the clearing his foot kicked something among the fallen and scattered debris of stems. The object rolled away from him and fell into the bowl of water with a soft plop where it bobbed on the surface.

It was a small helmet exactly like the one the Druid had seen in the lap of the Gnome Chief. Tain picked it up and tipped the dark water from it and then passed it to the Druid.

“The missing hunting party,” she said sadly, “They have been gone for two days. I will take this back to their Chief. It will not bring him much comfort I fear.”

Tain drew his sword and measured out the length of the clearing.

“I don’t know what they were fighting but they seem to have been just slashing wildly,” he said, “There’s no pattern to this and no evidence they hit anything, except for reeds. But if they were killed where are the bodies?”

The Druid put the helmet in her backpack and turned to follow. As she pushed between the stalks she caught out the corner of her eye something moving fast in the water off to her left. Before she had time to shout a water beetle rose up in a surge of brown mud and plant matter.

Tain spun round in time to see the black under body as it rose up over him. It was so large it cast its shadow around him and the sun was haloed behind it. Its body was a dark black, shiny and slimy with the water of the marsh. Its antennae were waving back and forth examining the air; its mandibles snapped as it stood up on its back four legs and raised its front two up either side of the antennae, each limb was barbed.

Standing upright like this it stood nearly seven foot tall. Its lower segregated segments rattled together in a noisy warning and from its maw came a long deadly hiss.

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Post by azriel Sat Jan 12, 2013 10:36 pm

Very Happy affraid

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sun Jan 13, 2013 1:52 am

Even as it had arisen Tain was already throwing himself to the side and just in time. From between the beetle’s mandibles a jet of corrosive fluid leapt and burnt away the reeds where a moment ago he had been standing.

Behind it the Druid was faced with the impenetrable purple shell. Up close she could see that it was not smooth but rough and its edge looked as sharp as a blade.

She heard Tain's voice shouting to her from beyond the beetle, “Well, talk to the bloody thing then!”

The Druid reached out with hers mind to the beetle seeking to soothe it, but she sensed it had only the natural instinct to protect its young to drive it. Realizing that it would take too long to placate the beetles’ strong maternal instincts she instead drew her short sword from her side and with all her strength struck against the carapace. The effect of the blow was to knock the beetle forward into the pool where it sent up a fountain of water that sprayed Tain and left him soaked to the skin and gasping, but quicker than the Druid had hoped the beetle had scuttled round on its six legs and was already facing her out of faceted eyes.

But it had been long enough for Tain to regain his wits and draw his bow. The shell was however a problem. He searched for a chink but could detect none and in frustration he ran out from the reeds and from the rear he kicked the beetle as hard as he could.

It spun from facing the Druid to Tain and was momentarily confused between two targets. It decided, rose up in one fluid motion ready to spit but never got the chance. It was what Tain had expected it to do and he was ready for it. The first arrow passed straight into its maw and before it could even squeal Tain had fitted a second arrow to the string and released. The beetle collapsed in a bubbling heap, a green fluid flowed out from under it and discoloured the pool. The water began to hiss.

“I take it, that it wasn't, in a talkative mood?” Tain panted over the shuddering heap.

An acidic vapour started to rise up from the body forcing them to retreat into the reeds coughing and choking. “Maybe that’s what happened to the hunters,” Tain said to the Druid pointing back at the steaming carcass.

“Maybe,” replied the Druid, “but they were used to dealing with these beetles. This one has eggs nearby I felt it in her mind, probably on some of these reeds below the waterline. It might explain what happened to the bodies however, this type of beetle is a scavenger.”

“Whatever happened here I don’t think we should stay any longer. Just in case this is a popular nursery.”

“I agree,” the Druid nodded then glancing back at the beetle said, “It is just a shame you had to kill her, she was only doing what came naturally. Wait here a moment,” she hurried back towards the carcass of the beetle still smouldering in the shallow bowl. As she approached she was forced to pull her robe up over her mouth and nose in protection.

“Bit late for an apology,” Tain called after her.

He watched as she squatted by the carcass and began to pray, a soft rhythmic sound without words. A moment later something like a faded sparkle, though Tain could not swear it was not a trick of the light, seemed to move from the carcass into the Druid. He watched as she then drew a small gleaming knife from a sheath at her thigh and began hacking into the beetle’s maw, a moment or two later she returned holding up a small leather bound vial.

“Beetle venom,” she explained, “It might be useful. If we have to kill it is best not to waste the kill.” She put the vial into one of the many pouches around her waist. “Ready?” she said.

They pushed on northwards through the reeds being a little more cautious now.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Sun Jan 13, 2013 8:54 pm

They approached the third island just as the sun was drawing near to setting and the shadows were becoming long.

Even from a distance, it was clear that at some point a building had stood upon it, or more likely more than one. The remains of at least one wall, with faded white cut blocks, ancient and crumbling could be seen running out into the marsh from its southern edge. Like the other islands it was crowded with trees at one end but here there was a wide-open space upon which someone had quite clearly erected a hut.

Like the first island this too had a flagstone floor built upon it though here it was more clearly once a courtyard or even perhaps the floor of a large hall. An unlit fire was set in a ring of blackened stones before the hut. There was no sign of life as they cautiously approached.

The Druid had drawn her sword again and Tain had an arrow fitted ready to the bow and was walking forward looking down its length. But they were unchallenged as they approached.

Tain stopped to examine the fire and the ground immediately around it whilst the Druid went on to the hut.

It was constructed far more recently than the ruins but had made use of the plentiful supply of older stones around and incorporated them into the construction. However the person who had constructed it had not fully understood the process, it was riddled with cracks and gaps into many of which cloth, mud and even clumps of grass had been industriously stuffed. Piles of hardened excrement were heaped against the outer walls to insulate it.
It had no door but instead a simple hide sash hung across the space, there was a large gash in it such as might be made by a sharp blade. The Druid could hear no sound from within.

She pulled back the sash and peered cautiously inside. There was a small narrow window at the far end through which a tree root was growing. The root limited the light but what little managed to squeeze in fell in a slanting beam of shimmering dust onto a dirty stone floor strewn with old reeds. Ducking to enter through the low doorway she went in. The interior smelt of staleness and there was an undercurrent of rotten meat. A simple bed of heather sat against the opposite wall from the doorway. A rug of rough woven wool lay on the floor beside it and a crude shelf, little more than a plank of wood was above it.
The shelf seemed to have once contained several different types of rocks in various sizes and hues. Most were now scattered all over the bed and the floor around it.

A low table beneath the window, little more than a flat piece of wood propped on two large boulders had further stones on it. Most of these were also lying discarded among the reeds on the floor. Yet five remained defiantly on the tabletop forming a half-circle.

The remains of a meal; the source of the stench of rotting meat that underpinned the hut, lay dashed on the floor besides the shattered remains of a broken earthenware plate, green mould coated the old contents.

“Out here,” came Tain's voice from the other side of the sash. Taking a final glance around she went out to see what her companion had found.

What Tain had found was a second fire among the trees. It was cruder than the first and had no surrounding stones and whoever had used it had failed to tend to it properly so that it had spread, the grass around it was blackened and charred. All about the fire, among the ash the ground was heavily trampled so that even the Druid had no difficulty in picking out individual prints.

“These prints were not left by any Gnome. These are man sized prints, bare feet too,” Tain said bending down next to one of the larger footprints.

“Then I guess we are not alone out here after all,” the Druid said glancing around, “How long ago?”

“A while. I would say at least four or five days ago. There were at least four man-sized people here, they stayed long enough to eat and drink and then they left,” he pointed towards the foot of the now nearer mountains before which there was a final large low island crowned again with birch trees, “That way. Straight for the mountains. That’s where they've gone.”

“Well there is only one bed in that hut and it is short. I am pretty certain this is where the hermit lives, but you might want to take a look inside yourself, it seems like someone has smashed the place up.”

Tain hurried over to the hut and spent fifteen minutes just examining the ground at the doorway.

Eventually he said, “You've confused the tracks a little by walking over them, but I'm pretty sure that one small footed person has gone in and then two of the large ones have followed, but later, hours later I think,” he brushed a few loose stones away from a patch of ground to the side of the doorway, “The other two, yes, they waited outside, here, one either side of the doorway,” he continued gesturing to the tracks he saw as he explained them, “but only two came out, there is no sign of the smaller prints coming back out,” he concluded.

“Well he is definitely not still in there now, maybe they carried him out?” speculated the Druid.

“That’d be my guess too,” Tain nodded in agreement going into the hut to take a look around for himself.

Ten minutes later he re-emerged, the sun was beginning to set over the marshland and the mournful cries of birds fleeing home to roost for the night haunted the air. Outside the hut he found that the Druid had built a fire among the stones and was again as he had first seen her, sitting in prayer.

As Tain approached to sit by the fire she opened her shining green eyes, the flames danced in them in reflection. Her hair seemed wild and living, illuminated in the yellow light and stirring in the breeze, energy seemed to radiate from her entire body for a moment and Tain thought she was in that instant the most magical thing he had ever seen, and then she lowered her arms and the image was gone and she was again a rather odd women whose features were hidden more by mud than magic.

“I thought we might as well be warm and have a hot meal,” she said smiling at him, “We should not go back through the marsh at night,” she said undoing the straps on her pack and putting it down on the ground.

“You do realize,” Tain said stretching out in the warm glow of the crackling fire, “that we’re further north than where you said you saw that wall of darkness descend to last night?”

“Yes, I do,” the Druid replied solemnly, “But it might not happen again tonight. It does not happen every night,” she added somewhat hopefully.

“But it might?” Tain asked.

“Yes,” she admitted, “It might. I got the gnomes to go as far back as they could recall. Right to when they first noticed these occurrences, and if there is a pattern I did not find it. It can be consecutive nights or weeks apart, and anything in between. But if it does happen again it might be useful. I could do with having some answers to bring back to the Gnomes rather than just further tokens of their dead.”

“Just so you know, so it doesn't come as a shock, if things go really badly and the odds don't look good,” Tain said to her with a serious expression on his face, “I’m a very, very fast runner.”

The Druid laughed, “I do not think you will have to worry about me not being able to keep up.”

“Well, just so you know,” Tain affirmed, “I mean it. I don’t stay around for fights I obviously can’t win.”

As they spoke the sun sank over the horizon and the nightly chorus of the insects began.

With the beginning of night they suddenly did not feel in the mood to talk any longer and they sat quietly each in their own thoughts, passing the pipe between them as they waited for the silence to strike once again. When it finally happened it was as sudden and as shocking as the first time.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Tue Jan 15, 2013 12:19 pm

Have I lost my reader? Sad

I feel like the Great God Om looking for Brutha!

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Post by azriel Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:00 pm

Have you heck as like ! im still reading you wee haggis ! & were you quoting Terry Pratchett at me ? Bloody O2 isnt the best of broadbands to use I can tell you !

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:13 pm

& were you quoting Terry Pratchett at me ? - Azriel

I had a feeling you would know your Pratchett! Have you mentoned it somewhere or was it buckie intuiton? scratch So hard to tell, or remember for that matter. drunken

I reccocmend switching to plusnet- they are doing a great deal at the mo on unlimited- well worth snapping up, incredibly reasonable, good service.

'im still reading you wee haggis !'

Kissing (And just as well as I am going to post next bit later today!)

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Post by azriel Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:23 pm

thanks for Plusnet tip, Petty ! I wait in anticipation ! Laughing And NO,the buckie hasnt addled your brain completely! not YET anyway, I do like a bit of Pratchett,ooh yeah! Very Happy
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:32 pm

Im sure I made a Pratchett thread on here somewhere- if you can find it there should be links there to some of the BBC radio plays-worth a listen. Or just do a search on youtube for BBC- and then the name- theyve done Mort, Small Gods, Guards Guards, Wyrd Sisters and Nightwatch.

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Post by azriel Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:58 pm

I loved reading his books, it was the one & only thing that helped me get through being in hospital a few years ago. I also enjoy Tom sharpe, its not just the comedy is the sarcasm & dry wit I like. Very Happy

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Post by halfwise Tue Jan 15, 2013 3:59 pm

I'm sorry for having dropped out of the reading pool so early. For me the burden of reading fiction by an author known almost personally is greater than non fictional fact checking. I feel to give any appropriate response would require greater effort and deeper reading than I can afford. So I usually drop out unless the fiction is pure silliness, such as the Council of Odo and its ilk.

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:06 pm

Well its a fantasy story based on a game of dungeons and dragons- it aint Tolstoy*, I aim for it to be involving and complex enough but remain a relatively light and easy read.


*although if you do want a deeper read you could read it from the point of view of trying to discern what it tells you about the participants in the game- as the story and the things that happen are based on their actual actions.
But at the same time they were, to greater and lesser degrees of success, trying to roleplay a character- blurring the line between decisons the characters make and ones they themselves would make- and both types effect the actual story being told.
That should be thorny enough for those who want a deper level read! Very Happy

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Post by azriel Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:07 pm

pale words wrapped in silk, youde make a good ambassador, Smile Halfy.
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Post by Pettytyrant101 Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:10 pm

Porterhouse Blue- book and TV version is a fav of mine.

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Post by azriel Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:12 pm

Ive got the book, just havnt got round to reading it yet, Im TRYING to read "wilt" at mo, but not getting far ! Rolling Eyes

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Post by Pettytyrant101 Tue Jan 15, 2013 4:16 pm

Not read wilt.
I just finished reading the James Herriot books however and realised they share a trait for me with LotR's- they both take me completely somewhere else and leave me feeling warm and safe.
Then I have buckie and get crabbit about why the world isnt actually that way when it could at least give it a go. Mad

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