Along the Base of the Aegis

A level, grassy plain extends from the base of the brown and gray stone of the Aegis, a wall more than six hundred feet tall that encircles the realm of Fastheld. Blue-green shrubs are nestled around lumps of granite that

protrude here and there.

A small fire burns here, well-protected against wind, and protected against being seen from afar in the approaching darkness of the night by a ring of stones placed around it. Alatar sits a little out of the way, far enough to be still warmed, yet not so close as to be directly shone upon by the fire. His hand holds a spindly pipe, and thoughtful wafts of smoke curl from his beard with each slow breath. A donkey with only one ear is grazing nearby.

It is from the West, though shrouded in the rolling fog of this cold evening in the wilderness of that which rests beneath the imposing shadow of the Aegis, that a horse of white gallops across the landscape. A horse of white that seems to stem to be born from the snowy mist of the fog itself, bearing a rider of shadowed aventurine mounted upon its form. A rider cloaked in that colour, a quiver set upon his back and the hood of the cloak set flanking his features, the edges flickering slightly from the light breeze that adds to that which the horse runs through. Evidently, the path of that horse is one that will intercept the camp site.

Alatar's eyes are firmly on the food sizzling softly in the pot placed on the fire, though his bushy brows, in their sombrely narrowed state, hint at something occupying his thoughts. He sucks on the straw-like mouthpiece of his reedy biinwood pipe, smacking his lips as he does so. He hrms then to himself, simultaneously with his donkey, whose remaining ear twitches as it lifts its head. The old hunter reaches for the bow placed nearby and carefully, almost gently fastens its strings before removing an oak arrow from his quiver. He does not cock the string, but stands, listening towarsd the approaching rider.

The approaching rider in question begins to slow his steed as they both draw closer to the fire, the fog now nothing more than a forsaken wraith in their wake, distinguishable once more from the horse that shares its whispy colour. "Ho!" The rider calls out, an expression of mild surprise as the figure near the fire is sighted in turn, at once stating his intention as something other than hostile for now, regardless of counter-intent. The riders voice is sullen yet regal, as if a fine mixture of the two had long ago been found. There are dark intones set against light perception, fitting the man well. The horse trots closer.

The old man's brows lift, once, and the tension in the arm whose fingers tease the bowstring ebbs. "Ho-hey!" he calls back, turning the nocked bow towards the downtrodden earth surrounding his camp for the night. "Well met," he then says, though whether he has recognized the rider or is simply polite out of disposition remains in the dark. "Come, share the fire. It grows cold."

The horse draws closer yet as the threat of arrow is turned aside, it's rider bidding the creature to draw level with the flames of the, but only as close as manners permit; after all, bringing a horse directly to the side of the campfire does not do wonders for the area and people around it. Yet, the hooded rider - though remaining upon the steed - does at the very least lower the hood of the cloak to gaze down upon the old man with a blue gaze untainted by the shroud of such things. "Your offer is welcome," the rider notes, his expression mainly neutral as the offered companionship is set against the darker things upon his mind, "But I have no need of fire, and no fear of this cold. It had been relayed that there was great trouble in the north. Great trouble here." He pauses, glances around as far as the fog and the shadows of night will allow, then glances back upon the old man, "Yet I find only another man of the wilderness, and a donkey. You are not, I assume, the trouble those messengers spoke of."

"Well, well, well. Trouble, they say. Hmmm," murmurs Alatar thoughtfully as he returns to the stone he had been sitting upon, picking up his pipe as well as he return the arrow to its quiver and unnotches the bowstring. "There are many things," he says, making a sweeping gesture with the mouthpiece of his pipe as he removes it from his lips by its head, "that may give rise to troubles in these lands. Well! You will know that, I gather, for it is a truism. More so for a woodsman."

"Indeed." Serath affirms, solemnly, as these words bring new thoughts and suspicions to mind. Suspicions as to just what the wildness could be hiding, and indeed what it has hidden before. Those suspicions lead the rider's gloved left hand to slowly move to his side, resting in turn upon the hilt of the longsword that rests snugly within the baldric, hidden under the cloak. Just in case. "I imagine that creatures of shadow and darkness are just as common for you as they are myself. Though those in the townships of this realm would think them nothing but items of sport and status, we know far better." The Ranger trails off at that, spends a moment in thought from his position upon the horse, then once again looks back upon his companion upon the ground, a light smile playing upon his lips. "We hunt the hunters, as it were. But, alas, these messengers - though vague in word - spoke of troubles more than bandits and poachers. You have seen neither in recent days, or anything greater, no?"

Alatar remains silent and thoughtful for a while, sucking on his pipe. "Well. I have not been here for long enough to say what hoodlums may be seeking refuge in the area," he eventually admits, exhaling a thin waft of smoke. "But you are vague, my friend." The old man looks up at the rider still on his horse, his gaze intense to pierce through deepening twilight and the ghostly sheets of fog. "Well, well. But be that as it may be. I gather I know of you, in any case. You are that certain one... that ranger of the crown, are you not?"

The rider inclines his head forward just a little as the assumption is made. A light gesture of affirmation if nothing else, yet the gaze that falls upon the old man is neither one of conjecture or certainty; it is merely a gaze befitting of the enduring features of the man, ice blue in its colour, and nothing more. "I am many things," he offers in turn, his voice having faultered little since last he spoke, "I have many names. Some of darkness, some of light. But Serath Greymist is my own, and a Ranger of the Imperial Crown I am. And you, old man... you have a name I should no doubt remember, and a face I should be able to place, but cannot. Therefore it seems you have me at a disadvantage once more." A second light smile finally plays upon his visage.

The old one returns the smile, his age and bearing giving it a warm, grandfatherly touch. "Well, my young friend," he says with an upward nudge of his brow, "I do suppose you know me. Of me. I, too, have many names, and am many things, as you. But to most, I am simply Alatar, the hunter." He gestures towards the pot still on the fire, sizzling away. "Now, even though you claim no need for a fire's warmth in the night, won't you at least sit and be of company to an old man?"

<The Imperial Crown indeed.> The voice is light, yet sly and seductive, but with a much darker undertone that should naturally flow with such things. It remains feminine without a doubt, though evidently not of female in this wilderness that one can imagine there to be. The words are spoken as if born from behind a knowing smile, each one carefully pronounced and dripping of clarity as they're sounded. <Such words have little meaning in the wilderness. A title that covers more than it reveals to those who can see deeper into such things, is it not?> A pause, and the owner reveals itself to be nothing more than a raven. Yet it is a raven that seems a little too animated to be of the natural world. It's eyes - violet - a little too cunning and perceptive to belong to such an avian. Of course, above all this, the shadowy creature is speaking. Speaking to Alatar, it seems.

"I would love nothing more, Alatar." Serath sincerely admits, a touch of warmth akin to that of the fire resting behind his soft words, though soon followed by a light sigh. A sigh that speaks of unease. "But I would not be the best company right now. These reports trouble me, and until I find out what it was that sparked them, I will not rest easy. Alas, distracted company is little company at all, I fear. Though it is something I will have to take you up on in the near future. That I promise."

The old hunter's gaze flicks to the raven, showing a flash of narrowing brows that lasts little longer than a moment. His fatherly smile and the inviting mien return as his eyes go back to Serath, and he nods simply. "As you wish, my young friend. Though I found a hearty bite of bison steak, washed down with spring water, to clear away many troubled thoughts. To spend a night in restless pursuit of phantoms does not bode well for the day that follows it."

<Perhaps he was looking for me?> The raven lightly muses, and though impossible for such creatures one might just about think that the bird is almost smiling. A dark smile. Not evil, but dark. <A great Ranger of the Imperial Crown, hunting an innocent little Raven. Though, one must admit that the desire to be wanted is almost welcoming.> The bird remains upon the rock which it has called a perch, continuing to permit it's violet gaze to fall upon Alatar. Sly. Seductive. <Evidently, my company is not.>

The Ranger sighs again, though this time the sigh is not of trouble, but of indecision. A sigh almost at amusement; not at anything in particular, but at the Ranger himself. "I am tempted by your offer, and I fear I may insult you by not accepting it, though it is not my intention to do so. Yet the trail of such creatures may still be fresh, and my own doctrine demands I follow this through to whatever end it may lead. But when that end is reached I will find my way back here, if your company will still permit it."

"Well, well, well," Alatar repeats to himself, mumbling the thoughtfully absent words into his beard past the mouthpiece of his pipe. He looks at the raven with great interest, and lack of fear, though the arch to his brows is not one of amusement. "Your company is most welcome," he then says, a little louder and quite decisively. His eyes are on the raven, but go to the ranger then. "Sit," he then says, firmly, pointing to a stone to his right, and the raven's left. His voice is without the undercurrent that accompanies commands, yet neither is it a request. It is as though a father tells his queasy son to calm before tackling the task at hand.

The Raven doesn't move much as it - or rather, as she - remains firmly perched upon her rock, occasionally flicking the odd wing or preening the odd feather. Just for effect. Though nothing about her manner, and nothing about her tone, suggests that fear - which Alatar has none of - is an emotion the creature is attempting to invoke. Apparently, she's just here to cause trouble, though only for the old Hunter it seems. <It seems that even with his taint, he can't see me.> the bird muses out of curiosity, <Perfect. I had assumed nothing less, but assumptions have been known to kill those not of my kind. Those of yours, my dear Human. Of course, it is not your taint that is permitting you to see me either. No, no, no. Or perhaps it is?> The avian smiles in that odd manner once again, as if it were the cat toying with a mouse it wasn't actually intended to eat. <Perhaps you're going senile in your old age. Seeing creatures that aren't there. Halluncinations. Very bad that. Yes indeed. Very bad. Talking ravens. Madness.>

Serath, accepting defeat in this matter, sighs a final sigh of amusement then proceeds to dismount his steed. It takes a few moments, and provokes a few sounds that one would accociate with the action, and all the equipment that comes with the one doing said action, but the Ranger finally places a foot upon the ground in a manner befitting of one who has done this far too many times, and then another. This done, Serath proceeds to check his equipment over before accepting the offered rock, leaving his horse to it's own agenda of eating grass. "Very well then." He muses, lightly.

Alatar nods once, approvingly, his smile being a warm welcome offered towards the other hunter. He leans forward and draws a knife from his belt, using it to poke at the slab of meat on the fire. "Almost," he tells himself before sitting back with a long sigh and a stretch of his feet. "Do you have a pipe, young friend?" he asks jovially while producing a small pouch from a fold in his robe. "I find that it does well in warming you from within while the fire does its part from the outside. Well! When you grow older, your appreciation of such things grows very keen." He proceeds to tap out his pipe and fill it afresh, offering the pouch to Serath. "But, don't think of me as senile because of such things, my friend. Age does not necessarily blunt."

<Perhaps not then.> the Raven casually states, stating that which the Hunter already knew. She preens her left wing for a moment, fans her tail feathers, then looks back upon Alatar. <Of course, your sanity was never in question. Just my curiosity. Though I must admit, I am nearly offended that you haven't offered any smokeweed to myself. Just because I am a Raven doesn't mean I don't enjoy the occasional smoking of things.>

The Ranger accepts the pouch without complaint, though offering a small nod of thanks before proceeding to withdraw his own slender pipe from a pocket of the pants he wears, now no longer blanketed by the weather-worn velvet cloak that usually shrouds his form. "Indeed I have, my friend." he notes, affirming such things in word as well as actions, tapping just enough of the smokeweed into the pipe before finding a small branch with which to present to the flames of the fire, smouldering the end just enough to cause a light ember to call the twig home; an ember that remains an ample source of heat with which to set the weed smoking. The pipe, as one might expect, then finds a home between Serath's lips. "Though I usually reserve such things for Tavern-bound thought. But it seems that an exception has been made upon this night."

"Thoughts under the open sky fly higher than those confined to the damp air of taverns," Alatar opines between puffs, and lifts a hand up to the sky. "Though it may be a cloudy sky they rise towards tonight, they are still accompanied there by our feathered friends." He smiles quizzically, and nods amiably towards the raven. "Isn't that right, my black-feathered friend?"

The raven, in an avian manner, nods back to Alatar in turn. However, something that the Hunter just uttered instills a new spark of curiosity into the shadowy creature, and with a sly smile the birds violent eyes fall gently upon Serath, and it is he that she watches for the moment.

Serath looks to the sky as the Hunter offers his profound words of wisdom, silently watching as the light wisps of smoke from the pipe that rests between his lips gently drift into the heavens of which Alatar speaks. "Though if our thoughts are witnessed by the birds that inhabit the skies, what then do the birds themselves think of?" His light musings seem only slightly sincere as he utters them, his gaze returning from the darkness above to the old Hunter once more... until the words of said companion sink in, at which point a curious quirk of the brow provokes the Ranger to look around for this creature of black feather, of which he percieves nothing of. "What manner of creature do you speak of, Alatar?" he asks, questioning.

Alatar laughs, shaking his head. "Well, a bird of my thoughts of course!" he tells the younger hunter jokingly. "You see, some of the time your thoughts happen upon a bird not inclined to carry them skywards. Instead," he adds, and the look he directs to the raven is but a short sideway glance, "it loiters about, being a troublesome pest. Well, to me it seemed as though that was the case when you rode out here -- your birds of thought were all sitting on your shoulder, pecking at you constantly. Is it not so?"

<Charmed> The Raven glances back upon Alatar, her gaze as sly as her voice, and spreads her wings in a mock-regal bow. <But I have yet to peck at you.>

"Ah, of course." Serath lightly notes as understanding comes with the elaboration that is Alatar's words, a smile now playing across his otherwise solemn features. "And I can relate; though often it is not birds that haunt me, though - thankfully - nor are they all that troublesome. But-" a light puff -"your words speak much truth, my friend." He sighs, glancing upon the ground for a moment as he contemplates. "Much truth indeed."

"Truth is a fickle thing, my young friend," Alatar says, removing the pipe from his mouth by its head to use it in an emphasizing gesture. "Well, what I mean to say is, the truth in my words lies in what you make of them. If you took them for senile ramblings, you would see none in it -- yet does that mean it is not there? Something to keep in mind," he adds after a pause, and procedes to puff his pipe a few times in silent thought. To Serath, his gaze is unfocused, yet in fact it is firmly placed on the raven.

It seems you have a talent for digging yourself out of holes too, old man.> The words of the Raven are amused ones as she tilts her head a little to the left in counter-observation of Alatar, her tail flicking ever-so-often in an idle manner. But, eventually, with a spread of her wings, the creature appears as if she's about to take flight. <Yet, I must bid your farewell. Though I doubt I'll be missed, I have other things to attend to.> If anyone is looking for anything more than that, you won't find it here; for as promptly as the avian gave her farewell, she takes flight... quickly, and soundlessly, fading into the obsidian heavens, leaving the Hunter and Ranger to their thoughts around the campfire.

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