Chapter XXVIII - The Beguiling Host

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Senlui
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Chapter XXVIII - The Beguiling Host

Post#1 » Sun May 20, 2018 7:57 pm

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Trapped in a forgotten necropolis beneath the mountains, their adventures had taken a turn for the worse. It had seemed they had been led by the Commander straight into an intricate plot by the barbarian worshippers of the Chaos Gods, to face certain death in the form of an army of long dead skeletal warriors. Their salvation had come in the form of a regiment of Druchii crossbowmen, somehow who had followed and found them within the chasms and passageways below. Yet their intervention and aid seemingly had an ulterior motive. Under escort, they were summoned to join the camp of the Highborn of which these strangers served.

“If they attempt to turn on us, take out their leader,” Caranordor urged with a whisper to the Seeress, “It is our only chance should they try anything.” Ithilsyn nodded grimly then looked on, as Caranordor joined the head of the formation, alongside their scarred Captain who introduced himself as Keretharn. Whilst communicating with Regiment with the professionalism of an experienced Captain, there was no doubt that his demeanour would turn should the Druchii and their allies attempt to rebel against their wishes.

As the group emerged from the necropolis, a fall of dust and stones showered down from the mouth of the entry passage, clattering on the armour of the rearguard, who swiftly pivoted to turn back upon the corridor with crossbows primed and ready to punch holes in any who might be attempting to sneak up on their rear. Satisfied that no threat remained, they returned their attention to the party that they had recovered from the depths of the lost city, weapons ready, smirks on their lips.

Keretharn took a moment to view the lands below. At a hand signal, four of his men nodded and made their way ahead, pulling their hoods up and drawing their short curved swords, disappearing into the gloom before them as they performed their task of flushing out any potential ambushers along the way.

Vithari looked at her Commander, whilst Slaa grumbled to herself, causing Keretharn to throw a quick glance towards them, filled with arrogance and an unspoken challenge. “This way,” he commanded, turning back to the path ahead. The crossbow wielding Druchii to their sides and rear began to march, herding them almost, as they began the journey to the camp of their Highborn, Quorth.

As the march went on, tensions seemed to relax a little and the line of kindred grew longer as they fell into small groups under the cautious eyes of their armed escort. Ithilsyn noted that Andyrion remained close, his shield held between her and the crossbows to their right. Noogl saw fit to walk with them, his feet beating a percussive patter amid the steady march of the disciplined Druchii. After taking a moment to ensure that they would not be suspected of anything, Ithilsyn turned to the Goblin shaman.

“I want you to do something for me...” she began, as a small ward of silence was cast about her and the Greenskin, as she explained her task, and negotiations were made. Shrewd and cunning, the shaman understood what was required of him, and assured the Seeress that he was more than capable for the right price, then the bargain was struck. As the spell was lifted, it seemed that only Andyrion had noticed the strange business of a soundless conversation held between the two. Casting only a quick look with his eyes from beneath his helm as their voices returned, he said nothing as he performed his self-appointed duty of protecting the Seeress.

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The path widened into a wide gully, banked by low slopes to either side. Once, great armies had marched this way from Anlec, now only the bone-piercing winds of Nagarythe howled about them. One of the crossbowmen paused from his march, his eyes staring to the ridge on their right as his cloak flapped in the wind. A companion of his halted with a scowl, wondering what the fool was looking at, before he too caught sight of movement. Fleeting figures were seen dashing through the trees and rocks above them, moving like shadows as they prepared to take position on the higher ground. “Death to all!” came a cry from above.

Keretharn’s unit fell into formation immediately, the front line taking aim with their crossbows and shooting, before kneeling down to reload as the line behind them took their turn. Black fletched arrows rained down on them in return as the ambushing elves began their attack. There was no sign of the four Druchii sent ahead by Keretharn, and certainly they had not returned to report this troop of Shadow Warriors, which boded poorly for any chance of their survival. “Gah! I told you to secure the area fools,” Keretharn hissed as he drew his sword with a glare, “She will have you all flogged!”

A few arrows made it through, striking the travellers, as a handful of Druchii began to scale the ridge to tackle their attackers in close combat during the distraction of this ranged battle. One or two thalken fell with cries as bolts pierced their chests; the remaining elves gathered themselves as they noticed their foes scaling the rocks below them, before fleeing into the mist, disappearing as quickly as they had appeared. Knowing it would be folly to be lured into the terrain of the enemy, Keretharn called back his soldiers, who loped back to the group with looks of frustration and hate on their scarred faces.

“It will do us no good to pursue them, we must press onward to the safety of the camp,” he uttered, his warriors taking up formation again, closing in on the Regiment and its allies so that they were once again moving as a tight unit, eyes warily turning about all angles of the land about them as if expecting another attack at any moment.

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Eventually, the sight of a small garrison revealed itself ahead. Steel walls surrounded a camp, with wickedly sharp spikes on the battlements, over which watchtowers were built. The warming sight of torches flickering through the gloom was spoiled somehow by the feeling that they being marched into a place from which escape would be impossible. Vithari and Slaa gave each other concerned glances, as Keretharn ordered, “Quickly, into the safety of the camp!”

After a long and arduous march, the warband had finally made it to Quorth’s encampment, a welcome respite from the unforgiving lands of Nagarythe. As they filtered through the gates, the soldiers escorting them dispersed into nearby tents, from which the sounds of laughter and joy emanated. Morale in the camp appeared to be high; the small battle force numbering a little over two hundred, some of which paused from their revels as they turned to gaze at the strange party that had been escorted in to their garrison. A pitiful figure approached them, a hunched human slave dragging heavy manacles along his path, “The Goddess extends her invitation... follow me,” he uttered in a raspy, tired voice as he led them towards the largest tent, Norkalli staring at the emaciated human in disgust.

“Goddess...?” Vithari queried, watching Keretharn spit on the ground at the slave’s feet, before following. The Black Guard looked to Caranordor for guidance, then saw the decision was already made as the Commander obediently followed, removing his helmet. Wary of the vast number of troops within the camp, it would be unwise to refuse, and so the Regiment and allies stepped followed his lead and stepped inside.

Entering the Highborn’s tent, their eyes slowly adjusted to the dim light of candles, set in extravagant candelabras placed upon a large table. Above their heads, the hides of flayed High Elves hung from the tent’s supports. In the far corner, a brazier flickered with warming flames, the wood snapping and crackling as the howling winds outside were muted from within the tent. Close by, stood a lithe figure, attended by numerous slaves and adorned in Druchii armour of fine craftsmanship. She paused from her conversation to regard the new arrivals as Keretharn approached with a deep bow, announcing, “Your guests have arrived, Arafein.”

“So I see, Keretharn...” she replied with an exuberant smile.

Her beauty was not to be denied; even from a distance, the flickering light catching her noble cheekbones and sultry eyes, although on closer inspection it was apparent that her features were marred by multiple hideous scars. Noticing some of the party staring in surprise at her disfigurations, her smile fell into a sudden scowl. “It is impolite to stare at your... host.”

Enough to cause those looking at her in shock to look away, her dazzling smile returned, her voice taking a pleasant and warm tone to it once more, “Come, enter. Make yourselves at home.”

Her expression was placed on a curious border between playfulness and politeness, “Your reputation speaks for itself, and it is an honour to have you recover in my encampment, until you are yet again ready to do Malekith’s work. Please, sit down.”

“I shall show you what spoils I’ve acquired from our weak kin. I’m quite proud of my handiwork, if I do say so myself. Please, sit.” She chuckled, as her hand motioned to the many chairs at the table.

“Although, I see you have certain foreign elements with you,” she slurred, seemingly far less pleased about that, “Tsk.”

Barimar frowned, the champion noticing that the scars on the faces of Keretharn and his crossbowmen matched those of their host in near identical likeness. It would seem to be ritual scarification of some form, perhaps in tribute, or perhaps to mimic her own disfigurements so as not to insult her vanity.

Vithari looked on with barely veiled contempt, mentally assessing how easy their host would be to kill as she made her way inside with her helmet under her arm, glaive held firm. Ithilsyn followed, staying close to the ill tempered Druchii, holding fell power in her hand, ready to turn the whole pavilion to ash should the need arise. She chose a seat at the end of the table, close to the tent’s entrance, playing down her position within the Regiment and Coven. To stride to the head would signify some status, which in this situation could be very dangerous indeed. Vithari refused to take a chair, and instead stood beside her assuming a guard position, whilst the Seeress threw her hostess a gracious smile, fit for the courts of home, all the while observing everything with her dark eyes.

The Commander had taken his place near the head of the table, next to their host. “We thank you for your assistance against that undead horde... and for your hospitality.”

Quorth seemed to listen to Caranordor only with half an ear as she leaned in slightly, staring at Vithari with an almost predatory smile. “If you do not intend to take a seat, perhaps you’d like to stand outside, with the Gharbin? You certainly have their manners.”

As the pleasantries were exchanged, nobody seemed to notice the small form of Noogl walking about beneath the table. He shoved a flask under the table onto Caranordor’s lap, whispering, “Da bestest anti-poizun, boss,” then scuttled back beneath the table, taking a book out from his bag, beginning to read it out of sight.

Vithari realised the severity of this situation. Gritting her teeth, she moved to take a seat next to the Seeress, slamming her helmet on the table. Quorth winked at her, flashing her teeth as she threw a smile, most likely intending to infuriate the Black Guard further.

“Oh! Such heart warming decorations in this camp,” remarked Slaa, as she waltzed in gazed up at the hides hanging above them. "I’ve acquired a few things here and there from our wretched cousins too,” she grumbled, holding up her right arm, with the broken end of an arrow still protruding through a bleeding forearm. "Is there a healer about?” she smiled, seemingly oblivious to the pain.

“Ah, you might approach one of our medics with that,” Quorth replied helpfully.

The white-haired Witch Elf bowed her head graciously, and stepped outside, as Vithari growled, “Can we get this over with?” She leaned in towards Ithilsyn with a whisper, “Armour is not for sitting around in... is this really necessary?” The Seeress looked at her sternly, sensing danger herself, but saying nothing. Norkalli grumbled to himself, also seeming to notice something was very much amiss here.

Quorth turned her attention to Caranordor with a sweet smile, as Keretharn took a seat by the side of his mistress, looking at the warriors cheerfully but avoiding her gaze, “Quite sorry, Commander. What were you saying?”

“As I was saying,” Caranordor replied, “We thank you for dispatching the undead horde that beset us. Your crossbowmen have keen eyes, and thanks to them we yet live.”

“Pffha! It’s a minor thing,” Quorth replied, “You are worth the effort. You’ve become quite famous amongst the many military units, you know. A regiment of Black Guards and Sorceresses they say, elite and powerful.” She waved her hand, then snapped her fingers several times, as if remembering something. “Slaves! Bring the food!”

Elite and powerful. What did Quorth want? It seemed unlikely that her invitation was at best, for anything but than to negotiate use of their services, and at worst... well... would any of them leave alive?

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With thanks to Sylleth for the artwork.

If you wish to join us or learn more about us check this topic:
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Previous Chapters:

Chapter I - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=23964
Chapter II - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=24190
Chapter III - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=24669
Chapter IV - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=24808
Chapter V - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=24875
Chapter VI - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=24880
Chapter VII - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=24898
Chapter VIII - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=24937
Chapter IX - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=24976
Chapter X - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=24979
Chapter XI - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=25000
Chapter XII - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=25033
Chapter XIII - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=25053
Chapter XIV - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=25067
Chapter XV - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=25155
Chapter XVI - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=25174
Chapter XVII - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=25801
Chapter XVIII - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=25921
Chapter XIX - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=26031
Chapter XX - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=26114
Chapter XXI - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=26214
Chapter XXII - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=26233
Chapter XXIII - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=26323
Chapter XXIV - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=26342
Chapter XXV - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=26440
Chapter XXVI - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=26549&p=300189#p300189
Chapter XXVII - viewtopic.php?f=55&t=26612

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