As the expedition continues trudging toward the west in the shadow of the mighty Aegis, angling toward the setting sun, the land begins to grow a little more rugged, with shards of white-gray rock jutting like bleached bones from the grass-shrouded earth.
Corriden removes his helm to swab sweat from his forehead, looking out across the terrain in a companionable silence. Picking up his pace to keep up with some of the more lightly armored men on the expedition, he tucks the helm beneath one arm.
Grinn Harwel shields his eyes beneath a meaty hand, his gaze sweeping incessantly from side to side. "Ain't like the oldwives tales," he grunts, falling in beside Dradin, "Half figured th' bloody trees would uproot and tear us limb from limb."
Dradin bobs his head as he plods along, hand resting on the shiny crystal dagger at his side. "Yeah. Don' see no giants er nuffin' like that."
Near the head of the small expedition, Ashlynn walks with an easy silence that bespeaks of too much experience with long journeys, though her eyes roam more alertly over the sere landscape than they most likely do when she rides on imperial roads.
Aiden Zahir's frown is apparent through the open face of his helmet, but he pays Dradin no further mind, turning round, the better to meander his way through the increasingly rugged terrain. "If this be not the end of the earth, I cannot conceive what is," the Duke remarks darkly to himself. "The very bones and foundation of the world protrudes from the soil."
And along with the rest of the group are two Bladesmen decked out in full iron gear; they both wear their shields on their backs at the moment, spear portruding from a compartment within. What distinguishes them is their cuirass: one wears the standard flowing iron piece, while the other, Lucius Nepos, has donned a segmented breastplate of very fine craftsmanship. Lucius nods towards Aiden, expression neutral. "All sorts of Shadow must be at work here; we should remain vigilant, sir."
"Just looks like a bunch of empty space to me." Corriden grunts ungratiously, to nobody in particular. "Even the trees don't look special." He manuvers around a jutting rock to get to the top of a rugged incline, before resuming his even gait.
Grinn Harwel slips a finger beneath his helmet to scratch lightly at his scalp. "I reckon we'll see somethin' afore journey's end, though." Reaching into his pack, the sellsword withdraws a chunk of dark bread. He breaks it in half and offers a crust to Dradin.
Dradin scratches his nose with a gloved finger. "Yuh," he replies to Grinn, accepting the bread with a "oh, t'anks."
As the sun continues its descent beyond the jagged ridge ahead, the forward elements of the modest expedition start hearing a hissed chittering noise - familiar, perhaps, to some who have been witness to the depradations of Wildlings within Fastheld in recent years. But it's not until the group starts coming around the curved chin of a toppled monolithic stone head - a man's head, although it seems mutated with feathered ears and a beak - that their eyes have a chance to take in the source of the noise. More than a dozen mottled-skin Wildlings, bounding up and down, shrieking and hissing as they worry at the semi-blocked entrance of a cave in a rocky slope of granite off to the north.
Aiden Zahir affords a grim nod of head to Lucius' observation, before keen and attentive gaze returns to the road ahead, scanning both the craggy landscape and the darkening skies above for the slightest movement ... the faintest approach of danger. Eyes widening at the sound of that hideous chattering brings the obsidian-clad arm of the Duke in rise, steel sword flashing with defensive intent as the stationary abominations come into view. "Ready yourselves!" he bellows at his fellow adventurers.
Lucius Nepos adopts Aiden's frown very quickly, once the distinct chitter of Wildlings fills his ears. He quickly unslings his shield from his back and draws the shinier spear, gripping it by the throwing strap. His face adopts a look of hard resolve. The other Blade, the silent one next to him, mirrors his superior's actions. "Form up! Fighting them one on one is tantamount to suicide!" A pause, and a blink of his green-blue eyes. "Get into a hollow square! You all know what that is?"
Ashlynn snorts softly to herself at the various conversations that filter forward to her, Aiden's poetic rendition earning an arched brow before she tilts her head sharply at the new sound. Her steps slowing with caution as she rounds the carved outcropping, about to take a better assessment of the Wildlings' positions, she winces at Aiden's bellow and hisses, "Well, if they had not known of our presence before, surely you have given us away by now!"
Dradin stares wide-eyed at the Wildlings for a second before forcing himself to snap out of it and grabbing the crystal dirk from his rope belt. "A what square? Ain' them the cakes they make at the market?" he inquires to Lucius, looking a bit confused.
"Sweet light on a stick." Corriden swears softly to himself-- Late to notice from his preoccupation with the stone head, the large smith quietly considers the close quarters of the group and chooses to pull the longsword from his belt rather than the greatsword from his back. He unlimbers his shield to hold in the other hand, shaking his head. "We're not that quiet, and th' terrain wasn't suited to secrecy anyhow.. I'm pretty sure they knew we were coming." He murmurs, rather absently. He plods towards the edges of the expedition group, silent now.
Aiden Zahir scowls at Ashlynn's rebuke, answering as gauntleted hands go to adjust his helmet, "Of course they know we're coming. Did you think they were having a tea party? Doubtless we have been watched from the moment we exited the egress of Fastheld."
The unmistakable chitter draws a close to Harwel's attempt at polite conversation. He hefts his halberd in both hands, and momentarily forgetting himself, hisses, "Silence!" The sellsword slinks as quietly as a man in full chainmail can behind the stone abomination and out of the Wildling's view. Once there he presses himself against the beaked face and dares a brief glance up the slope where the shadow-creatures cavort.
The creatures aren't cavorting, exactly. Instead, they seem to be eagerly fussing at the somewhat blockaded entrance of a cave in the slope. But their single-minded focus is broken by Aiden Zahir's cry to action. Their chittering ceases and, almost as one, they turn slowly, fixing feral gazes on the toppled sculpture head.
Lucius Nepos adds to Aiden's assertation, "And Wildlings rely on their hearing and smell more than their sight, anyways. They knew we were coming, they smelt human and chainmail and all our other peculiar Fastheldian scents. It makes no difference, but YOU MUST FORM UP! We must work as a disciplined whole rather than squabbling pieces." Lucius raises his shield to cover the front of his body, moving so that his view of the wildlings is open. He is followed by the mute Blade, as usual. "Who else has missile weapons here? If so, fire them once they start moving towards us."
Missile weapons? While Lucius probably wasn't talking loud enough to be clearly heard by anyone outside of the group, it just so happens that at that time an arrow comes streaking out of one of the larger cracks in the barrier, buring itself into the back of one of the wildling's heads.
Dradin looks around uncertainly. "Ehm, don' s'pose any of you nice blokes got a shield I could hide behind? I'm feelin' a bit vuln'rable."
"Or not," Ashlynn retorts to the Zahir at the obvious interruption in the Wildlings' activities. As she shifts her weight uneasily, a hand resting reflexively on the hilt of the long knife at her belt though she does not draw it, she says after Lucius, "Wait! *Only* if they attack us. Now that their precious 'She Who Protects' has been released, perhaps they will leave us alone. There has been at least one other Wildling that did not attack mindlessly on sight - with a dozen of them, I would rather not start something if it can be avoided." Even as she speaks, her eyes flick between the Wildlings and the barrier they had been trying to get past, eyeing the rockfall with trepidation.
The Wildlings are about to scamper toward the toppled sculpture head when one of their number is felled from behind by an arrow fired from within the half-blocked cave. That yanks their attention right back to the barrier and whatever quarry lies within, shrieking and chittering.
Aiden Zahir shakes his armored head in tacit disagreement with the search party's guide and leader, but says nothing further on the matter. Preserving his own hide is the order of the day for the Duke, and he remains huddled behind the rock with his cohorts, watching, trepidatiously, as something else grabs the Wildlings' attention. Something else out there. Something else -armed-.
Corriden remains quiet for a moment, before turning an incredulous expression over to Ashlynn, mouthing the word 'Arrow?' silently, with a jerk of his head towards the cave. Looking back, the incredulous Lomasa raises his sword and sheild to a ready defensive position, waiting.
Relief washes over Lucius's features, although it is a measured relief; he still looks rather tense, and his shield is still held at the ready. "Only if they attack us." He says, quietly. As their attention shifts somewhere else, an eyebrow quirks upwards. "Hmmph. We should move out while they're distracted."
Dradin's eyes go wide again. "Light! Arrow-spittin' caves! This place be Shadow-Touched fer sure," he observes profoundly. Then he thinks of something else. "...or there's someone trapped in the cave," he says quietly. His helmeted head turns to look at Lucius. "Maybe it's a Fast'elder! We could rescue 'em or summat."
"Somethin's in that cave," Grinn notes, settling his dark eyes on Lucius. "Much as it pains me t' say it, I think we ought have a look. Bein as how we are a search party 'n all."
"He has it right," the Imperial Spymaster agrees with Grinn. "Whatever is in that cave, the Wildlings are either trying to keep it in, or get it out. And either way, we should investigate. Any stone we leave unturned could, in our negligence, prove the grave of our beloved Emperor."
Irritation crosses the Lomasa's features, as he stifles a sigh. "Who else fires arrows but men?" He snaps, fussily. "It's not shadow work. It's some of ours who're trapped or something. Dunno why the little bastards aren't attacking us, though. Can we cut through them yet, or what?" Nobody ever accused Corriden Lomasa of being subtle.
Ashlynn's mouth drops open for a moment at the sight of the arrow streaking out before she snaps it shut again with a wince, perhaps realizing what their next step should be. "Never mind, then. Does anyone here have a distance weapon? Or, perhaps, between the two sides, we can split the Wildling pack into a more manageable group..." she muses with a frown before taking a deep breath and calling out - perhaps equally to distract the Wildlings as to gain more information from the person within the cave - "Ho, in there! How many arrows do you have left?" Scowling back at Corriden, she snaps, "Feel free to rush ahead if you would like. I, for one, would rather not even you try to plow through two handfuls of Wildlings."
"Then we should move out, sir." Consents Lucius with a nod. He lowers his shield to his side but keeps his fingers twined around his spear's throwing strap. He points towards the cave. "We should move out in a square; it's the safest way to travel." He nods at Ash, and leans in to whisper something to Aiden.
Aiden Zahir exhales a soft sigh at Lucius' murmered question, returning the whisper with a sour expression upon his face, accompanied by a shrug of pauldroned shoulders, eyes never leaving the Wildlings as they scamper about. Or the cave which is the source of their present consternation.
At Ashlynn's call, a few of the Wildlings cease their attention on the cave and turn to glower hissingly at the toppled statue again. The other eight stay focused on the cave, tugging and pulling at rocks, sticks and other debris that have been piled to block as much of the entrance as possible. But the three drawn by Ashlynn's voice start skulking in the direction of the fallen idol.
"Ours maybe," Grinn points out, now directing his gaze at the Lomasa, "But... who's t' say there ain't men what live out here? An' who says they's friendly? The Shadow twists men just as easy as one of them... /things/." He spits the final word out with obvious disgust, unaware of the approaching creatures.
While the exact words of the courier may have been lost in all of the din and noise around the cave, it does get a reaction from the inhabitant blockaded within. A faint shout can maybe be heard in response. Something about 'more'. And 'bigger'.
"Yer in command, honey." Corriden replies to Ashlynn, with a shrug. "S'what it boils down to." That said, the man returns to his defensive crouch, waiting the matter out with a placid expression.
"Squares is safe?" Dradin quirks an eyebrow. "Then I votes fer squares." He gives a nervous little squeak as the Wildlings approach, gripping the dagger tightly. A string of profanities escape his mouth in a shaky whisper.
Ashlynn shakes her head with a resigned sigh at the nearly unintelligible call from within the cave, and watches the approach of the three Wildlings tensely. "I do not suppose you would be as amenable to communication as Four Splotch was?" she remarks wryly before saying in an undertone to the rest of the expedition, "As soon as they charge, slay them as quickly as you can, for no doubt the others will follow soon after."
Aiden Zahir readies his sword, gripping its pommel tightly in one hand, emerald eyes glinting in anticipation beneath the shadowed brow of his helmet, keeping careful measure of the approaching WIldlings, measuring their steps, and waiting the right moment, should it come, to wander into the fray and send them back to the Shadow from whence they've come.
Grinn Harwel remains pressed against the idol, vainly retaining some shred of surprise should the beasts prove... less than amicable. Hands flex around the halberd's thick biinwood haft and muscles cord in anticipation.
Two of the Wildlings scamper around the sides of the sculpture, while the third leaps up onto the prominent beak of the fallen statue and glares down directly at Dradin, claws flashing in the light of the setting sun. The other two lunge, one for Ashlynn and the other for Corriden.
Lucius Nepos moves to the front of the group, flanking with his fellow Blade Ashlynn and Aiden. Lucius presses his thumb against the rope strap, his eyes squint.. but the idol, for the moment, prevents him from tossing the weapon. When that moment is up, when those Wildlings come around the sculpture, he hefts the spear and releases it at the one going for Ashlynn. His companion looses at the one going for the brewer.
"I like this kind of communication better!" Corriden declares, his scarred face distorting into a less than friendly grin. As one of the combatants seems to single him out, the man waits for it to approach to a decent before charging himself, silver armor flashing in the misty and dimming light.
Ashlynn sucks in a sharp breath as one of the beasts leaps straight for her. Instinct prompts her to throw herself to the side, hopefully out of the Wildling's path, while the long knife is finally pulled from its home in the hopes of blocking any strikes that might flash too close.
The Wildling going after Ashlynn shifts sinuously, bobbing and weaving, so that the spear flung by Lucius Nepos clatters off the rock behind it. The one on the nose of the statue just narrowly manages to slap aside the spear thrown by the Bladesman's comrade. But Lucius did manage to distract that one. No longer does it want to attack Dradin. Instead, it leaps at Knapsack's cohort, claws flashing.
Grinn Harwel leaps back, obviously startled by the Wildling perched atop the very beak he took cover behind. He slashes wildly at it, missing entirely as it leaps past him and at the Guardian. Harwel pivots sharply and carries the momentum of his swing through to connect with Ashylnn's assailant.
Aiden Zahir's jaw tenses as the Wildlings approach, his wariness increasing all the further as they branch off in attack of Ashlynn and Lucius. Not content to let others do all the fighting, he moves purposefully forward towards the Wildling assaulting Dradin's guardsman.
The Wildling going after Ashlynn just barely escapes the swift silver of her blade, spinning toward the oncoming attack of Grinn Harwel. The one leaping off the nose arcs above Harwel's head as it comes thumping down on Lucius' comrade, tearing vigorously into the flesh of the soldier's throat as he falls backward. And the third ducks the swinging blade of Corriden Lomasa as it prepares to move closer to strike.
"SHADOWSPAWN!" Yells Lucius, his face taking on a look of rage as his friend goes down in a hail of claws and a spray of red lifefluid. Lucius quickly unsheathes his shortsword, the painted runes glistening in the light; holding his shield out, he runs at the beast, armour clanking. He aims his thrust for the beast's torso.
Catching her breath after the near miss, Ashlynn whirls around to try and assess the state of the melee now, her knife clutched tight while she maneuvers cautiously to try and help provide distractions for whomever might need it, all too conscious of her relatively unarmed and unarmored state.
The Wildling spinning away from Ashlynn collides head-to-head with Grinn Harwel's polearm, and topples over on its back in a twitching tangle. The one facing Corriden leaps, reflexes outmatching the drunk-prone blacksmith as it pounces on him, knocking him backward in a clanking mess and crouching on Corriden's chest, drawing back silvery claws to go after the man's throat. The third Wildling, just rising from the ruined throat of the fallen guardian, deftly dodges the sword attack by Aiden Zahir - but that effort proves an eloquent distraction for Lucius to stage his own stroke of the sword, beheading the Wildling.
Truly, the cumbersome nature of platemail and his large form don't work to the Lomasa's advantage against something as quick as a wildling as he's knocked backwards with a magnificent crash, but the bloodthirsty Lomasa doesn't try to withdraw from the fray. He still has his weapon, and tries to bring the longsword back down in a slashing arc towards the creature's neck, drawing his sheild arm up to try and protect the vulnerable throat.
Aiden Zahir levels a self-confident smile as his 'ruse' is taken advantage of by Lucius, felling the Wildling at a stroke. It all worked out exactly like he'd planned. Yeah. Rounding on the beast attacking Corriden, the energized Zahir makes to join in the repulsion of that cretin as well.
Well, he may not have gotten where he aimed, but in the heat of battle, you take what you can get. The Wildling crumples to the ground, spewing the contents of its neck into the dirt. Lucius quickly does an about face, the clank of his armour barely audible above the noise of the battle. Resetting his posture, the man charges at Corriden's assailant, ultimately intending to try and knock the beast off Lord Lomasa's chest with his shield. However, it'll take a few more precious seconds to get there.
Close as he is to the obstructive head, Harwel doesn't even attempt to bring his eight foot polearm around when he spots Corriden go down in a flurry of deadly fangs and claws. Rather the cumbersome weapon aside, rushing to his downed companion's aid. The ugly shortsword at his hip swings free of its sheathe, poised high overhead.
More action erupts from the direction of the cave, as another arrow lances out of one of the cracks towards the nearby gathered wildlings.
Ashlynn's eyes dart between the three Wildlings, mentally ticking off two as being either dead or occupied before she spies Corriden's plight. Shifting her grip on her knife, she takes a step to the side for a better angle and flings the weapon at the beast perched atop him - to distract first and foremost, careful not to let her aim fall too close to any of her companions should it be off.
The Wildling crouched on Corriden's chest leaps in the air in an effortless spring and then kicks the sword from the blacksmith's hand before coming back down with a breath-whoofing thump. The silvery claws trace a delicate whispering arc through the twilight and is about to rip through the man's throat when Lucius' already blood-slicked blade impales the Wildling. The impact shudders the beast back just enough so the claws wicker along the flesh of Corriden's neck, drawing a trickle of blood rather than a slurry. Furious, the beast is about to leap at Lucius when Ashlynn's blade chunks inconveniently in the creature's throat. Its glittering eyes go hazy and then it falls over in a bizarre sort of hug, arms draping around Corriden's armored body, fanged mouth kissing lightly against the blacksmith's neck.
Why must they always go after his throat? Regaining his strength, the blacksmith shoves the dead beast away with his sheild, throwing it away as well and beginning the troublesome process of getting up in full armor after a hard fall. "Light.." He breathes, green eyes wide with.. Delight at escaping yet another throat wound! "Thanks!" He calls to his comerades, reaching up for the greatsword wrapped in sacking on his back. Something very big to smash at the others if they get ideas that he likes wildling kissy-kissy!
Dradin, meanwhile, is still standing where he was when the Wildlings advanced, dirk-wielding hand shaking rather noticeably.
His sword dripping with Wildling blood, Lucius Nepos wears a hollow look on his face. He leans down to wipe his blade off on the beast's green-grey skin, rising once the deed is done and sheathing the sword. Then, he heads to the idol, where his fallen spear lays. He picks this up, placing it in his shield's compartment. Finally, the Blade walks over to his comrade's body; he kneels next to it and closes the man's eyes. "Light bless you, Waterstone." He says, a sad tinge in his voice.
Meanwhile, back at the tiny cave fortress, the inhabitant has managed to plink arrows into four of the remaining eight Wildlings - killing one and at least wounding or annoying the others, while the four uninjured Wildlings glance toward the sculpture and sniff the air. Blood. Wildling blood. Their kin defeated, possibly outnumbered and their prey in the cave proving too intractable, the survivors chitter angrily at each other and then apparently reach a consensus: Time to go. The Wildlings caper off into the shadows, vanishing over the ridge.
Aiden Zahir catches his breath, looking at his comrades with a broad, bloodlusty smile on his face. "Let us not be too congratulatory as yet, eh? We have tasted but the beginning of what promises to be an epic trial. The rest ..." neck cranes to take in the Wildlings retreating, "are, if wise, going for reinforcements. They will be back."
Sucking in a deep breath to settle her nerves, Ashlynn checks for any more live Wildlings with her eyes even as she hurries over to retrieve her knife. "Are there others approaching?" she calls warningly.
Corriden makes it to his feet, dusting himself off. "I'll go look over the statue." He replies, using his height to good effect as he tries to survey the situation over the ridge.
Grinn Harwel returns the sword to its sheathe and scoops up his halberd. His attention drifts to the fallen guardian, and he gives a slow shake of the head. "I'd advise against a blind rush. But then I ain't no strategic genius neither."
"We should see who or what is in that cave, if there are none approaching us now; but we must remain cautious; if we had been in formation before, then I can probably say that none of us would have died. We would have surrounded the Wildlings immediatly and slaughtered them; one on one, they will almost always triumph." Says Lucius, his voice authoritative and gruff. He rises from the ground, glancing as close as he can to the sun. "If anybody needs high quality weapons and armour, Blades issue equipment is availible;" He points at Waterstone's clawed corpse. "Furthermore, we must cremate him. It's what he would have wanted and is the quickest mode of burial. I will not leave his corpse out to be eaten by Shadowspawned beasts." He states.
Despite the fact that the attackers of the cave have left, the inhabitant makes no apparent effort to come out, just yet. Better safe than sorry.
Dradin's eyes take note of the retreating Wildlings, and he sighs with relief, arm dropping limply to his side. "Phew. Thought that 'un were gonna..." he frowns at the felled Bladesman, Lucius's companion, "Thanks fer takin' the hit, mate. Light save."
Aiden Zahir looks towards the yawning cave, echoing the sentiments of his comrades, "We must investigate whoever ... or whatever ... had the Wildlings working in such concert. They were in such rapt attention ... quite curious. And I am all the more anxious to see what they were hiding. Or attempting to uncover."
Seeing the other Wildlings escaping, Ashlynn contents herself with cleaning off her knife and returning it to its sheath, casting only a single, fleeting frown toward Lucius at the chiding before returning her attention to the cave's opening with a snort. Nodding absently to Aiden, she is already stepping cautiously toward the blocked cave with wary glances around, calling as she comes within more conversational range, "Hello? The Wildlings have departed, but we do not know if they will return. Hurry."
Corriden follows Ashlynn, climbing over the head statue and peering at the cave warily. He doesn't say much of anything, other than to wipe irritatedly at the trickle of blood along his throat with a grunt.
Grinn Harwel glances up to see the Wildlings gone, but no expression of relief crosses his stony features. It's with a measure of indifference that he rummages through his pack, producing a torch as well as some flint. He offers these to Lucius. "Wouldn't light this 'til we're ready to depart. Hate to think what the smoke might draw."
"I'd advise you to take Waterstone's armour with you, Master Harwell, as it is vastly superior to the maille you wear. For now, we must move on. I will carry his body." Lucius procures a white cloth around the fallen Blade's neck, stemming the drip of blood and making sure he gets the least amount of fluid on him as possible. He crouches down, slings his shield behind his back, and using both hands, hefts Waterstone's corpse in a 'fireman's carry' position, now following Ashlynn with no more words.
Aiden falls into step with the rest, the Zahir's glance raptly upon the cave, and wondering just what may emerge from it. At least, he hopes something emerges. If not, they'll have to go in. And that would be ... most unpleasant.
The inhabitant of the cave finally begins doing something that's visible to those approaching - that being beginning to push down the barrier sealing the cave. "There's more of them," Vhramis calls out in a hoarse voice, though still probably not visible. "Bigger ones. Black hides and bigger claws."
Grinn Harwel returns the implements with a grunt. "They served him none too good," he points out, already turning to join the other's at the cave.
Dradin follows the others, eyeing the cave warily but a bit relieved that it's someone at least resembling a Fasthelder.
Ashlynn's eyes widen sharply at the voice, now recognizable without Wildlings and the heat of battle as distraction. "Vhramis?!" she gasps, surveying the rockfall in a glance and immediately moving to scramble up from the side to help him, out of the way of the stones being pushed out by the steward.
"Don't test me. He got unlucky, and in the heat of battle, that's all that's needed for a death. They'd serve you well." Lucius shrugs, Waterstone's corpse bobbing up and down with the motion. He follows the group, as usual.
Corriden tails after Ashlynn, grunting in faint recognition as he sets his sword aside and reaches out to help clear the rocks. "Bigger ones, you say? " He asks, scowling at the thought.
Aiden Zahir's expression goes from one of anticipation to flat out disappointment. "Is that one of our own?" he inquires, knowing full well by the intelligiblity of the voice that it must be. "We must hurry to clear this before the Wildlings return." And with that, in a truly rare occasion, Duke Aiden Zahir lowers himself to manual labor, and joins in the effort to heave the rocks away from the opening. Forget falling boulders. One should be looking for the sky to plummet.
Lucius Nepos drops the body at the foot of the barrier and begins to use his gauntleted hands to remove the barrier as quickly as possible, working with the others.
"Someone you know?" Dradin quirks an eyebrow at Ashlynn before the mention of bigger Wildlings grabs his attention. "Shite," he mutters, and joins in on the rock-clearing.
Grinn Harwel doesn't press the issue. He doesn't bother with the armor for that matter, either. Swallowing a mouthful of ale, a precious commodity beyond the looming Aegis, he squats down on an outcropping of rock and watches the horizon in the direction the Wildling's fled. Someone's got to keep an eyes out... right?
Vhramis pauses for just a moment, blinking, before he responds. "Ash? Sweet Light..." And he's back to clearing the rocks again, making a clear path out of his prison and sanctuary. "Why are you here?"
Aiden Zahir levels an incredulous glare at the barrier remaining as the voice from within levels its inquiry. "We've come in search for the Emperor. That much is worth risking one's neck in the very midden of the world. But we might ask you the same question. What damn fool's errand led you here?"
After a few minutes of working, Lucius pauses to take a sip from the waterskin which formerly rested on his belt, and also munch on a piece of bread drawn from a pocket on the same belt. That finished, he gets back to work, listening to the conversation but not speaking.
"Because of you and the emperor, you big lug!" Ashlynn retorts unthinkingly in the wake of her relief, pushing back just enough of the rocks and gravel until she can see him clearly before she throws her arms around the steward in an embrace.
Corriden dusts his hands off, stepping back to go retrieve his discarded weapons, kicking a wildling corpse absently in passing. "Where do we go next?" He calls over a shoulder, frowning.
Dradin scratches his chin as he looks Vhramis up and down. "'Ey, you look a bit famil'ar."
"...Well I know that," Vhramis replies, still looking fairly amazed over the whole matter of his timely rescue even as he hugs Ashlynn back. The man looks, for no better way of putting it, as if he's been through hell, battle worn and sporting many a minor injury on him."
"Idiot," Ashlynn mutters, pulling back to give him a glower before kissing him soundly and then finally answering Aiden, "Vhramis Skinner left with His Highness some weeks ago in an attempt to track the emperor...His Highness!" she abruptly exclaims, eyes widening. "Where is the prince?"
Finished his job to a degree, Lucius moves to drag Waterstone's body near to the cave, in sight of Vhramis. He glances towards Grinn, and then Vhramis, whom his gaze fixes on. "We lost one coming here."
Aiden Zahir's ebon-helmed head shakes in mild exasperation. "I do not mean why he is out here, Mistress Birch," attentions returning to the phenomenally fortunate Vhramis, "but what he was doing within that cave, and how that barrier came to be between him and the Wildlings."
"We can talk while we march," Grinn chimes in brusquely. "Unless you care to wait for those shadow-spawned beasts to return with more o' theire wretched kind." He cants his head on one side, sparing the search party a glance out of the corner of his eye.
"The Prince? You were with the prince?" Corriden asks, trotting back with his things. "Aye, I'm all for walking. Speaking of.." He glances to Ashlynn and asks, "S'allright to use our lanterns, or y'think that'll draw 'em?"
"The Prince and I became seperated several days ago, to but it shortly," Vhramis replies to those gathered, his eyes lowering to the fallen bladesman. His jaw tightens for a moment before he continues. "There were many many more, and I was being hunted. We /should/ move. By some grace of luck, the ones you see here found me...but there are bigger ones. Much bigger."
Clasping the torch which Grinn offered him before in one hand, Lucius lights the implement and, sprinkling dead leaves and some old grass in sufficient quantities under Waterstone's corpse, he lights the pyre. The man's body begins to burn, the smell of charred flesh filling the air. He hands the torch back to the Mercenary, saying a quick prayer with his eyes closed and then pointing towards the North. "Yes. We must move out, quickly, and we must stay together. They'll be back soon enough. Hopefully the smell will draw them to the cave, and we'll be long gone." He gets ready to move on.
Aiden Zahir exchanges a slightly skeptical look with Vhramis, brow furrowing in scrutinous study of the lucky fellow as he makes to join the progress to ... wherever the hell they're off to. "And how, pray tell, did you wind up -behind- that wall? No man could have built such a barrier, least of all with Wildlings at his heels. Please explain, Master Vhramis."
Dradin shifts around in his armor, moving to keep at the front of the group.
Grinn Harwel stands to face the makeshift pyre, helmet cradled in his arm and head dipped in reverence. He spares a brief moment of silence for the fallen soldier, then snuffs his torch in the dirt and moves westward.
Corriden pulls a bread loaf end out of the pouch at his waist, chewing on the crust. Absently, the man reaches up to touch the mummified hand that hangs on his chest, checking it over for damage with his free hand while he eats.
Vhramis regards Aiden with a flat look. "As I said, I was being hunted. And I knew it. Would have been pretty foolish to not prepare for it."
As Lucius and the others continue on their way to the west, the man unslings his shield once and preps it on his arm. His eyes scan the horizon while walking. "Watch your step." He says, to no one in particular.
Aiden Zahir suggests to himself in dark appraisal, a risen brow at the fortunate Vhramis, "How remarkable." And thence, there is only the continued walk in silence.
Grinn Harwel balances the halberd precariously in one arm, meanwhile removing a strip of cloth from a pouch at his belt. He runs it along the sullied axe-like blade, wiping away the Wildling blood with great care.
Return to Season 3 (2005)