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On the final night of this Wildling event, rescuers search desperately for Vhramis Skinner...

Flames and smoke twist and billow from the wreckage of the Bane's View Tavern as a group of riders on horseback gallop through the inky darkness and pattering rain into the wilderness of Wallwatch Wood, just northwest of Wedgecrest. Ashlynn Birch leads the riders, while Norran Lomasa and Porker are among the people just outside the exploded tavern. Meanwhile, on the stone shore of an underground cavern, within earshot of a tumbling waterfall, Vhramis continues to fade under the effects of the Wildling toxin. And three Wildlings - one of them the creature known as Four-Splotch - scamper through the underbrush of the woods, trying to make good their escape.

Markus Kahar pulls the riding cloak from his eyes, his jaw clenched tightly as he exhumes plumes of bluish smoke from his nostrils. Kicking his horse onwards towards the small group - Norran, specifically - he taps the ash to the ground and speaks: "What. Happened. Guardian?"

Porker stares blankly at the ruins of the tavern, then screws his mouth up in rage and kicks a bit of nearby timber rather hard. The timber is also rather large, and the kick serves only to send from Porker's mouth the word that he and likely some of the others were thinking. "Shit!" He hobbles around a bit, uttering more curses under his breath, then settles himself down on the same piece of wood. He glares about angrily, and far too soberly for his liking.

"Suicide, M'lord. They lit the ale afire," explains the Horseman Norran Lomasa, as he begins to rush torward the stable for his horse, a large brown shire, which he easily mounts and settles in, grabbing the reins and looking to Markus. "A group of other citizens rode off south, something about they thought that's where they'd bring the Castellan. I sent two Guardians with them, Sir, to aide with the Wildling threat. I'm about to go follow them to reinforce."

Soram Nillu stands a reasonable distance from where the tavern used to be. He watches it burn, a frown deepening in his features. "Well..." he doesn't bother to finish that thought, just trails off and continues to look on at the smoldering wreckage.

Ashlynn spares only a disbelieving glance over her shoulder at the explosion of the tavern, blinking at the sudden burst of light from the flames in the evening's shadows before concentrating once more on the path she takes, directly toward the broken rocks that would line the most accessible entrance into the cavern and its hidden river and tunnels.

Sundust's nostrils flare as his flanks work, churning up the ground alongside Cleo and her rider, Ashlynn. Atop Sundust, Thayndor Zahir's face is obscured by the dim light and the cowl of the cloak drawn about his form. As moonlight breaks through the trees it casts a pattern of pale stripes across him.

Amore Nillu keeps far from the tavern now that it's ... well ... burning. She wipes some of the rain-water off her face and sighs, wrapping her arms around herself.

"Castellan," speaks a voice through the shadows to Vhramis. As he comes to clarity, he remains on the shore of the lake. The voice is that of Gerald, the friend of Ashlynn's who nearly died in this same cavern just a few nights ago. But it's not coming from the brown-haired man's mouth. It's coming from a Wildling - Four-Splotch - who sits on a rock next to the sprawling Castellan. "You're not doing so well."

Tor rides along on the back of Gavin's horse, trusting the other man to guide them after the rest. His gaze turns over his shoulder and he blinks against the light of the blast, shaking his head slightly before looking ahead once more.

Markus Kahar watches the flames burn, still somewhat shocked. "Ale doesn't burn like that. I cannot..." Markus growls, spits to the ground and leans over in his saddle. "We cannot wait here any longer - they're gone by now. We will rejoin Ashlynn and the others, -NOW- and find the Castellan - or his body. Where do they believe he was taken? Are there any more Wildlings here?"

Ardrek blinks his eyes at the explosion, and mutters a curse under his breath, before turning his head around, and returning his attention to hanging onto the back of the civilian, who he's riding with.

Back in reality, the three Wildlings fleeing through the wilderness top a ridge covered with shardwood trees. They stop in unison, glancing back toward the burning of the tavern. Then they regard the cloud-strangled sky and the occasional pale hints of moonlight peeking through the gauzy gaps that come and go. Finally, they descend beyond the ridge, clicking their claws with nervous energy as their flight continues.

Vhramis opens his mouth to try to speak, though he doesn't manage to make a sound for many a long moment. He blinks at the man...no...the Wildling dumbly. "Gerald...what in the shadow?" he finally manages to croak, wincing as he vainly ties to make sense of the situation.

"I should ask you the same thing," the Wildling with Gerald's voice replies within Vhramis' poison fantasy. "What possessed you to take the lead back there? I mean, I know you like your wine, but that was just silly."

Porker stand and approaches Norran and Markus, looking a bit worn out now but a fierce glint in his eye. "Well, /friends/, ya ride to face the Wildlings are save your pretty little friend?" He speaks to the group in general. "Well tonight's jus' been chock fulla surprises, and i'm not gonna find a good drink within a mile a here, so I guess i'm coming along with ya. I need a fight, a good fight, and I want it now." He flicks his blade from his pocket again and scans the ruins of the tavern again. "I'll slit their little throats then claim a big reward, and then we can all get drunk out of our skulls on wine an' glory! Ah hah, soundin' real good, aren't I, boys?" He staggers back and flips the weapon around a few times, now grinning quite hysterically.

Vhramis' head lolls about limply as he tries to look to the Wildling better. "He...was in trouble. Needed help. Needed to protect," he whispers, before a moan rises from deep in his throat. "This isn't real."

Another explosion erupts from the depths of the tavern ruins, sending out another spiraling pillar of flame and black smoke.

"Anywhere from 3 to half a dozen, Sir," is Norran's reply from the saddle, as he sets off Guster at a gallop down the route where Ashlynn and the others took, no words being spared to the peasant who asks for a ride.

Amore Nillu jumps a bit as another explosion flares into the air and presses her lips together, looking around uneasily in the darkness.

Markus Kahar wets his lips, his eyes looking upwards towards the heavens in the warm evening, and the sun setting to the west. At this, Markus growls at Norran: "You used to be a rider, yes? Take the fastest pony in the stables and catch up to Ashlynn and the others. Ride as you have never known before. The between-times of the day, the setting of the sun - is when the Wildlings are most apt to roam. They will either seek cover or try and return to the wall before nightfall. Tell them that they MUST try and cut the creatures off! If they dissappear at moonrise, we have lost Vhramis forever - they will eat him for sustenance. Ashlynn is a messanger: she will know the quickest way around them. The rest of us will ride after the creatures. Perhaps we will catch up to them. If you encounter them, do NOT engage - they will kill Vhramis. Stall them; fight only when you have no other choice! Blades patrols are already enroute to the area for containment. We have not a moment to lose!" The Duke glances towards Porker, arching a brow with some surprise, "... I saw you fight in the Garrison tournament. You pop up in the most surprising of places, Hog."

The Wildling shrugs, clicking its claws and tilting its stretch-lobed head as it regards Vhramis within the dream. With Gerald's voice, the creature says, "No. It's not real. In reality, I'm afraid you're dying. You may die anyway. You'll certainly die if you're here much longer. But, the dilemma, you see, is that I'm not real. I can't help you. And you're down and out. You can't help you." His fangs clack. "Bet you miss that smoking jacket now."

Joran, so far, has stayed on the horse as he rides double with Ashlynn, his sword arm holding on to her to keep him from falling off. He remains silent, so far, his concentration on not faling off.

Soram Nillu walks toward Norran and Markus. "I will join you," he chimes in, as the second explosion goes off.

"Then you certainly know mah value in a battle!" Porker exclaims to Markus, nodding. He spares one disdainful glance for Norran before looking to the stables, and Markus' horse. "I'll need somethin' to ride. Or try to ride. Unless yeh wanna skip there."

Thayndor Zahir lets his jaw slacken as he guides Sundust over a fallen log in his path, the horse's rear hooves dangling in midair before shaking the turf once more. Following close at Ashlynn's left, one hand grasps the reins while the right hand slides down to the hilt of his sword. His words are lost to the wind when he murmurs: "Should've paid .. .more attention ... to fighting from horseback ..."

"Never was a smoker...was just a hunter." Vhramis grunts, turning his brain over the words. "I'm...dying?" he whispers. An interesting revelation. For some reason it didn't have the effect Vhramis thought it would. "You think about death so much...then it just comes. What...why are you here?"

"Close...just a little farther, girl," Ashlynn murmurs, her eyes pinned on the thinly lit countryside ahead, and though the mare flicks an ear back as it labors on, it is questionable whether the courier speaks to encourage herself or her mount.

The Wildling crosses one leg over the other, resting its blunt chin on the palm of a mottled green right hand with long, lethal-looking claws. The claws drip with crimson blood, possibly from Vhramis' gut. The creature appears contemplative as it replies in Gerald's voice: "I'm not here." And then the creature fades. Soon after, Vhramis sinks back into pithy oblivion.

"What do you do...?" Vhramis mutters in vain as Gerald vanishes and the haze starts to creep back into his vision. His head falls backwards again and he closes his eyes, "Never wanted to die alone..." Unconciousness follows.

Tor moves along fluidly with the horse, the speed of the animal no trouble to the Lord Marshal as he slings his shield from his back and onto his arm. This done, he lays free hand on the pommel of his sword, preparing for combat.

Amore Nillu shifts uncomfortably on her feet. She can't fight. She can't heal. She's rather useless here right now. Her hands lift to wipe more of the rain-water off of her face before she flicks the water droplets from her fingers.

Ashlynn isn't far wrong. About a half mile from the center of town, the woods give way to a clearing with a crevice forming a jagged scar in the grassy soil. The rumbling sound of a waterfall can be heard nearby.

Whatever it is Markus ordered, Norran appears to have already done something to the like, as he speeds his horse at a fast gallop in hopes of somehow reaching the others who managed a head start.

Thayndor Zahir ducks under a branch as his horse flies through the wood, loosening his sword in its scabbard with one hand and guiding Sundust with his knees.

"Is that it?" Joran says, peering at the clearing over Ashlynn's shoulder. His grip on his loosens slightly, preparing to umount the horse.

Riding close behind Ashlynn, Orell, on his steed, draws his longsword too and readies it, preparing for combat if necessary.

Markus Kahar's eye twitches slightly. He nods Porker towards the stables. "Grab a mount and catch up, we have no time to lose. Those that can ride, take those that can't with you. Two to a saddle if need be - now - eyah!" The Duke smashes his crop into Frostproof's side, spurring the horse into a plaintive whinnie, but a speedy gait. As Norran becomes but a speck in the distance, Markus thunders off a final word to him: "It's nightfall! Hurry, they'll seek shelter!"

"Yes!" Ashlynn hisses, the sound one of impatience and triumph all at once. Riding Cleo almost recklessly close before she abruptly pulls the river trotter to a skidding, half-rearing halt, she simply lets Joran fend for himself as to which way off is best as she swings her leg over the mare's neck and slides off, landing with barely a stumble before she is scrambling toward the fastest entryway into the cavern.

Soram Nillu moves toward the stables, tossing a few Imperials toward the boy minding the horses. The Spymaster swing up onto a horse. "Hyaa!" The horse gallops off after Markus as Soram draws his sword.

Joran half-slides, half-falls off the horse, stumbling for a few feet. As he regains his footing, he draws his sword from it's scabbard, holding it ready, and follows after Ashlynn. His shield is already on his arm.

Tor lets the shield hang loosely from his arm, unable to grip it fully because his hand holds a torch. The light cast by the torch flickers around him. Drawing his sword, the light shines from that a dim orange, and then he strikes off after Ashlynn.

Ardrek slides off the horse he's been a passenger on, as it comes to a stop in the clearing. After regaining his footing, he draws his sword, and follows after Ashlynn and Joran.

Reining in his mount beside Ashlynn, Orell Mikin decides against a shield and holds a torch on his off-hand. He dismounts and follows after Ashlynn.

Porker nods and runs toward the stables, leaping onto the nearest and biggest horse. Not quite knowing to do, but remembering seeing some kids racing horses though the Shadow District once, prompty prods it on the rear-end with his dagger, drawing a bit of blood. The large horse takes off into the night, in the completely wrong direction. The horse is quite angry, as this man just near stabbed it and that for the first time in weeks it has an unarmored rider, whose bulk makes up for the lack of metal. Well damn. Porker jerks the reins hard to the side and the horse moves enough to that he is now bolting though the dark forest in the same direction he saw the others go, fearly quite rightly for his life.

As she gets closer to the crack in the earth, Ashlynn can peer through it and make out the sprawled form of the unconscious castellan along the shore of the rippling basin.

Thayndor Zahir pulls Sundust to a halt, pulling a rein to make the horse stop its momentum in a circle before dismounting. He draws his sword with a sharp hiss of obsidian on leather and advances, his other hand wrapping Sundust's reins loosely about a nearby tree branch - more encouragement for the horse to hang around than enforcement. Light bootsteps take him to Ashlynn's side.

Ashlynn freezes for a single heartbeat as she reaches the lip of the shattered rock cascade, gasping out, "Oh, Light preserve..." before she is pulling herself through and skidding down the opposite slope as quickly as she can. "Vhramis!"

Tor trails after Ashlynn, torch and weapon in hand. He peers down in the crevice as she descends, moving his torch around slightly to cast the light better. "Do you see any Wildlings?" Comes his worried query, all the while searching hard for any in the cavern from his vantage point.

Joran begins following Ashlynn down the slope, "Be careful, my Lady," he says, "Wildlings may be hiding in the dark." He relies on the light of other people's torches for vision, and holds his sword ready for a fight.

Walking towards where Ashlynn is skidding to, Orell Mikin looks around for signs of an ambush, his hand grabbing the Torch and the longsword in equal white-knuckled grips as if uncertain which is his salvation.

As Ashlynn scurries down the slope, something hisses and leaps at her from the shadows. In the darkness, it's not immediately clear what pounces upon her. But down she tumbles.

Porker, leaning low atop the highly agitated, bursts into the clearing. It would be rather heroic looking if we weren't whimpering. The horse manages to stop itself a few yards before crashing down into the river below. He hurls himself from the beasts back and spots the light of torches a bit away. He stumbles forward, still gripping his knife, and takes his place near the back of the group. After the horse ride, with the darkness settling in around him and the prospect of Wildlings attacking higher now than ever, he hesitates. Not so brave now, eh?

Thayndor Zahir takes a step after Ashlynn as she falls, his sword held at the ready. His eyes flicker to the left and right and for a moment he looks uncertain - the tumbling messenger and her assailant too closely bound for him to attack in the darkness. He takes a half-step and holds his sword up as if in preparation for another one of the things to attack *him* as he follows her in.

The only sign Ashlynn gives that she is cognizant of their warnings is a belated glance around as she is about to pelt across the shore toward Vhramis - and just before she tumbles back with a startled yelp, her arms flying up desperately to shield her face as she falls into the shadows pooled around the cavern's floor.

Markus Kahar manages, somehow, to arrive at the waterfall clearing ahead of Norran, and seemingly everyone else - but Porker. Following his initial instinct, Markus wheels his horse about as he attempts to find the remainder of his troupe. Quickly, he dismounts, Shimmer at the ready. He crouches near the edge of the brush, peering into the darkness as he surveys the situation. A glint of armor? A sound? A shadow in the night?

Ardrek follows Ashlynn and Joran down the slope as quickly as he can. He pauses as the courier is sent falling, looks quickly around holding his sword up, waiting for more attacks.

The first of the straggling line of would-be rescuers have reached the hidden cavern, and already, Ashlynn, Thayndor, Tor, Joran, and a few others have clambered through the cave's cracked edges to find Vhramis unconscious by the basin's edge. The courier, however, has fallen prey to - something - in her unwariness, disappearing with a yelp as she tumbles into a corner when it pounces.

The horse Soram rides skids to a halt at the clearing. The Spymaster hops off, sword at the ready. The frown remains on his face as his eyes scan the surrounding area for any sort of movement.

"My lady!" Joran yells, as something takes down Ashlynn. His grip tightens on his sword, and he tries to peer into the darkness in the direction Ashlynn went, "We need torches! And be careful!"

Sundust whinnies at Markus as he arrives, the horse's eyes wide enough to show the whites under moonlight. It paws at the ground impatiently but remains where it is, reins loosely draped about a branch.

Orell Mikin instinctively extends his longsword forward slightly towards where he hears the tumbling Ashlynn, and holds his torch higher in response to Joran, he speaks in a low tone, "I don't see anything just yet."

Tor tenses as Ashlynn tumbles, but stays at the entrance to the cavern. After a moments hesitation, he begins to move back toward the horses. His pace is slow, light, though the torch does not help to conceal his progress.

After a few moments of hissing, shrieking struggle, a very wet and very angry calico cat comes hurtling out of the shadows as Ashlynn flings it away. The cat comes down on all four feet on Vhramis' stomach armor with a soft clank, then the feline bounces effortlessly onto the rock scree pile that leads into a cramped-looking tunnel.

Thayndor Zahir's eyes widen as Ashlynn's assailant flees from the messenger, and he takes a bold step forward, sword drawing back in preparation to strike it dead ... halting only when the hissing cat steps into a patch of moonlight, and hops away. Every tensed muscle in his body loosens with an audible exhaled breath, and he takes a single step back into the circle of torchlight from Orell's torch. "Are you all right?" he asks of Ashlynn, turning eyes towards her direction and struggling to make her out in the gloom before regarding the rest of the cavern with quickly returning caution.

Markus Kahar looks up immediately to the sound of clanking metal. Crouching in the brush, sword drawn, Markus attempts to focus his eyes on the sound... when a familiar voice rings out. Sitting up slightly, the Duke whispers out: "... Thayndor - is that you? Where are you?" The Blademaster moves steadily toward the voice.

Apparently, Markus and Porker took some kind of shortcut through a mountainside or somesuch, as Norran Lomasa continues on his steady gallop to the previously spoken location.

"Shadow take you!" Ashlynn's voice gasps as she rolls back onto her knees, trying to catch her breath after the fright before her eyes - following the cat's flight - fall once more upon Vhramis. After a shaky scrub at a shallow scratch on her cheek with an equally scratched hand, she quickly climbs to her feet and scrambles over to the castellan's side, ignoring all questions as to her wellbeing. "He needs a healer!" she calls back instead. "Oh, Light, you better not be dead, Vhramis, or...or..." she trails off frustratedly, reaching for a pulse while she scans the castellan's form.

As he walks, Markus starts to make out the crack in the ground and the sounds of the waterfall churning below.

The brass armored Shadowscourge touches solid ground with a dull clank, turning side-on with a hasty wave given to her sibling that tends to one snorting Neider. Leaving the issue of the horse in his hands, Laeria Mikin keeps her sight on the bobbing torches as she moves through the dancing shadows. On edge this weary night, her hands are occupied with their respective katars.

The Castellan has a pulse, but it is faint and fading. His belly armor bleeds from a crease where he's been poked with three sharp Wildling claws. But he appears otherwise uninjured. As if further injuries would make matters all that much worse.

Aware that they are not /really/ being ambushed by Wildlings, Orell carefully looks around the area covered by his light from his torch and heads towards Ashlynn and Vhramis.

Porker grows more worried as he sees the lights of the main group dissapear. He stumbles onward faster, nearly tripping over the rocks, feeling his way almost blindly though the night with only the roar of the waterfall and memory of what direction the lights had been heading in to guide him. He squints as he draws nearer, shivering in the cold. Please light don't have let them leave him here. Not tonight.

Tor hears movement off to his side, and he turns in that way, somewhat on edge. The torch casts a small ring of light around him, though it does not help him now. He hefts his longsword slightly, moving toward the noise caused by Markus. "Who goes there?"

Markus Kahar finally stumbles on the cave - and the voices beneath. The churning sound of the waterfall inside raises heckles on the back of his neck. "There. They're down there." the Duke mutters to himself. He stands now, and stares back towards the burning tavern. As Porker and the others approach, Markus waves his sword in their direction - hoping he'll be noticed. He dares not make a sound.

Thayndor Zahir swallows and turns briefly to face Markus. His face is half in and half out of the torchlight; glimmers of glare flash on the sword held in his gloved hand and shadows partially obscure his features. His forehead is damp with sweat, shoulders heaving up and down as he takes heavy breaths. Licking his lips nervously, he nods. "I am here," the young Noble replies, doing what he can to make his voice sound certain. He takes a better grip on his sword, in both hands, and looks down at Vhramis' form. "He needs a healer immediately ... wiping the wound clean is all we can do here."

Porker doesn't notice the crack in the ground until it's too late - and he's staggering in a near panic when he thumps into Markus. And down both go, rolling down the debris pile.

Soram Nillu walks toward where the Castellan lays, still holding his sword. He raises a brow as he looks around. "Where is Duke Markus?"

Joran stands inside the cave, near Ashlynn and Vhramis. He glances around, watching for signs of Wildlings. Just because they're not visible doens't mean they might not be hiding.

Soram soon receives his answer, as Porker comes rolling down into the cavern at a rather extreme rate of speed, his arms wrapped in a bearhug around Markus, who he apparently has mistaken for a wildling. Porker eventually comes to a halt as the ground levels near where Vhramis is laying. Porker wrestles himself up and off of Markus as soon as he looks down and realizes who he is laying on. "Hello there!" He says are cheerfully as he can manage to the group.

Thayndor Zahir winces at Porker and Markus' fall, pausing in another moment of uncertainty. The sweat on his face glimmers as he takes a step out of the torchlight, narrowing his eyes in a particular direction - where the cat had landed, a few moments earlier. "Bring that torch closer," he requests in a quiet voice. He gestures in a vague direction with his sword. "I think perhaps we know a way to follow them ..."

The tunnel in question is in the southern wall of the cavern, and would seem to lead back in the general direction of Wedgecrest.

Orell Mikin nods at Ashlynn and Thayndor as they speak, "Let's get him out to a healer." At the crushing sound of two men falling, Orell hastily lifts his torch aloft to see what he can see is coming, but he stands before Vhramis, preparing to carry him away should some bumbling peasant decide to land on him. At the cheerful tone of the said peasant, Orell holds his torch closer to him, and recognizes the Second Blademaster being rolled over by the peasant. He nods in reply to Thayndor, "Do we have trackers available."

Tor frowns slightly at the noise, and moves back toward the cave. Again his steps are light, and despite the fact he is alone he seems comfortable. He holds the torch a bit higher aloft, moving toward the cavern with slightly clinking armor.

Markus Kahar tries to set up, growling as he digs his sword from the muck of the cave. His eyes try to re-focus, and he casts an unhappy scowl at Porker. "Fine landing." Markus rises to his feet, space allowing, and whispers in the darkness. "... Thayn! Thayndor, Orell, I..." It is then that Markus sees Vhramis - wounded and bleeding from the gut. The Duke rushes to him, responding immediately: "... trackers may do no good. That cut, in his stomach," Markus points, "... he's poisoned. They've left him to die... shadow-cursed savages. He needs an Imperial healer, one trained in these ways. Damned the *stars* if Rowena weren't here!"

Ashlynn looks desperately between the castellan and the others, barely suppressing a growl of impatience at the antics that follow Porker's bumbling entrance. "Where is the nearest healer that can aid him? Cleo is one of the fastest horses I've ridden, and she still has enough in her to carry double."

"I doubt", begins Porker, surveying the situation. "That we'll be needin' trackers. Jus' follow the tunnel..." He narrows his eyes in the direction of the tunnel. Wondering if he'll fit, likely.

The silence from Vhramis is suddenly split with a low groan rising from his throat, perhaps stirred by all the sudden commotion about him. "Ger..." he whispers, head rolling to the side before he falls still again.

As Thayndor peruses the walls of the cavern, he notices one moss-covered wall that has been roughly shredded by what appear to be claw marks leading up toward the crevice.

"They took that tunnel to *get* here," Thayndor mutters, brows knitting in the dark. Louder: "We have the quickest horse in Fastheld to fetch Vhramis to her," Thayndor replies to Markus, his eyes leaving the southern wall of the cavern and turning a slow circuit of the other walls. "Ashlynn ... I suggest you take someone to escort you and see your charge back to Wedgecrest with all speed." His voice is more even and movements more calm and precise than a few moments ago; his free hand goes up to wipe sweat from his forehead with the back of his glove. "What say you, then ... attempt to follow them, or thank the Light for our recovery of the Castellan and return him to Wedgecrest?" His eyes linger near the waterfall for a moment. "They will appear again elsewhere, that much is certain. It's only a matter of when." On 'when,' the young Zahir steps forward, pointing his sword towards another wall. "There," he says sharply. "Mikin, bring your torch closer." The torchlight dances near his bootheels, the rest of his form lost in the gloom of the cavern.

Soram Nillu gives Markus a curt nod. "Duke Kahar." He also turns toward the tunnel, frowning again and walking towards it, slowly.

Markus Kahar glances to Ashylynn. "Put him on the fastest horse you have. If you can, bandage the wound on the way - let as much blood fill the cuts; we think it dilutes the poison. If he can get to Wedgecrest, the Bladesmen I sent for will be there soon. With any luck, a healer will be among them. That'll at least keep him alive until an Imperial physician can extract the Wildling dosage." The Duke's attention is quickly turned, however, to the discovery upon the wall. "What... is this? Were they trying to claw through it?"

Orell Mikin steps closer to Thayndor as he nods towards Markus who has joined them, and looks at the signs of the claw markings on the wall, "We just need a few men to return to Wedgecrest with Vhramis. To have these evil spawns loose within the walls, what more evils will they perpetuate?"

"Vhramis!" Ashlynn exclaims at this visible sign of life from the castellan, clasping his face between her hands and encouraging desperately, "Vhramis, stay awake, please..." Nodding curtly to Thayndor and Markus' words, she snaps, "Someone help me carry him out," as she begins to slip an arm behind Vhramis' shoulders, bracing him up into a sitting position.

Tor steps down into the cave, eyes quickly taking in the scene. His steps quicken as he closes with the group, in time to hear some of Thayndors' speach. "Count," he calls out, still walking to close the distance. "We must pursue them. If we do not, this," he gestures to Vhramis, "Will no doubt repeat itself with some other good man."

When Ashlynn asks, Joran sheaths his sword, and moves towards her, "I'll help carry him out," he says, bending over the start picking up the wounded man, " It will be tricky getting him up the slope."

Thayndor Zahir shakes his head, presumably at Markus. "Not through." He points his sword towards the crevice, eyes following it. "Up." He swallows heavily as he turns back towards the defile which allowed him access to this place from the crevice above. "Duke Markus, you are a more experienced leader of men than I. One of us must go with Ashlynn ..." He licks his lips again, that nervous expression returning. "I for one have business to settle." His free hand touches his ribs as if experiencing a pain, but he works his way back towards the upper level nonetheless. "They have circled behind us, or are long gone by now."

Laeria remains silent during this leg of deliberations, scanning what she can of the cavern about Vhramis and his group of rescuer hopefuls. Its to the tunnel that the calico scampered off into that the paladin's eyes keep returning to, almost as if expecting there to be something of note or there to be something that will flood outwards. Idly, she twirls her dual blades across the palms of her hands. Twirl, tense, twirl, observe.

As he's moved, Vhramis groans quietly again, merely a slight bit of air being exhaled, before he gives a great twitch. Maybe his body is trying to fight off the poison. "He who destroys..." he whispers, perhaps a bit of a dream he's having becoming tangible.

Porker steps forward and grunts, ignoring Vhramis' groaning. "Every secon' we sit here wonderin' what the hell we're gonna do those Wildlings are gettin' farther and father away! Come on, now... we're gonna chase those bastard or we're gonna skulk on home. I'm not spendin' the rest of my evenin' standing in this cursed cave. So who's gonna lead, eh?" He asks that because obviously he isn't, which is made obvious by the tone of his voice.

Markus Kahar nods, quickly moving to assist the she-messanger with Vhramis' limp body. The Duke now takes a moment to glance around the area - the cave, the darkness. "No. Vhramis was left here as bait. It's very possible that they are outside this cave's only entrance, waiting for us. We have walked into something decidedly foul, and we have no choice but to walk out. It will be almost impossible to track them in the woods - that's hundreds of miles of forest, and we're a handful of men. They'd take us apart. We will -all-, leave -together- and escort Vhramis back to the healers. If this is indeed a trap, then our best chances are to group our numbers and fight our way out of it. Is this clear? Good. Now lets go." Markus spits out his cigar and crushes it underfoot.

Soram Nillu examines the moss, then looks into the darkness of the cavern. "Duke Markus, that would mean letting the Wildlings go. Would you like to see more people wind up in the same state as the Castellan, or worse?"

Finally, it appears, Norran's horse, Guster, makes it into the clearing. Norran grumbles at the fact that a number of horses already appear to be here, and not hearing the screams of agony from combat, he assumes it better to wait. He sits tall in the saddle, his shield held closely against him as he looks around the area.

Ashlynn nods to Joran gratefully as she ducks under Vhramis' other arm, stumbling a bit before she finds her balance. "What was that, Castellan?" she asks quickly upon hearing the whispered words, continuing to goad him into remaining conscious. "You are even less understandable than usual. Speak up, Vhramis!"

Orell Mikin tilts his head towards Markus, "I defer to you on such matters, Markus. But letting these go free... They might also have left Vhramis for dead, and left to pursue some easier game in the township, we're duty-bound to pursue.... Thayndor, are you able to tell how many sets of claw prints are there?"

"Leave that to the Blades, Spymaster - guided by your expert intelligence, no less." Thayndor pauses at the top of the defile, looking uneasy. "As much as I wish to repay blood for blood this night ..." The young noble makes a slashing motion with his hand. "Enough! I'm going back up there, because that is where the Wildlings went - three of them, perhaps more. I don't know about you all but I'd rather ride my horse home this morning than see it turn into Wildling food. Now will you listen to the Duke or am I going to walk up there alone?"

Markus Kahar growls a rolling, baritone snarl towards Soram - his eye twitching once more. The sharpness in his tone underlies his growing anger. "There will be -NO- discussion. You don't seem to understand me. It is pitch midnight. The wildlings are hours ahead of us. The forest is hundreds of square miles. Unless they are waiting for us, there is virtually NO chance that we can find three Wildlings until they find us. In the mean time, Vhramis is bleeding to death. This is NOT up for discussion - you -will- follow orders. I am NOT leaving anyone behind. Now get up, climb out, and LEAVE THIS CAVE."

Porker laughs low, under his breath, and give Thayndor a mock salute. "I'm up to it, m'lud. Give em hell, we will." Upon hearing Markus' rather vibrant protests, he hesitates. Glancing from Markus to Thaydnor, he waits, wondering who will win the argument.

"Let's take this slowly. If we fall, we will likely injure him more." Joran says, ignoring the noble's bickering as he slowly starts moving Vhramis towards the slope. And hoping Ashlynn moves with him.

Soram Nillu quirks an eyebrow. "I am not under your command, Duke Kahar," he replies. "And I'm sure the Emperor would like to hear that the Second Blademaster gave up in the pursuit of three Wildlings."

In the clearing Norran Lomasa stays upon his horse, drawing his sabre from his scabbard as Guster idles. He looks continuously at the surrounding area, making sure he's ready incase other dangers should arise.

Rolling his head about, almost as if he is shaking his head in protest to being moved, Vhramis nonetheless is hefted up. Whether he responds to Ashlynn's question or not, or his speaking is all just a delirious rant, he continues his babble. "She waits...guides...Splotch."

"Spymaster, I would not - expect this from - you," Thayndor says sadly, voice interspersed with grunts as he climbs back up to the cave; his voice growing farther. "A man is dying and you would squabble over authority. Mikin, please, come closer with your torch - I can't get any higher up in this dark." The clattering of rocks underneath Thayndor's feet gives some clue as to his location.

Ashlynn nods as she too ignores the discussion cum argument, simply concentrating on helping Vhramis up the incline and getting him to continue speaking. "You're confusing your genders, Vhramis...He, she...what does a splotch have to do with all this?"

Tor begins up the climb once more, torch held in hand. Then, he turns, regarding Soram darkly, eyes cold. "-You- were the one who wished to negotiate, Nillu. I would not speak of unwillingness to slay shadowspawn." He turns once more, heading toward the exit of the cavern. He nears Thayndor as the man makes his request, Tor's torch lighting the path before them. "Count," he greets the man.

Orell Mikin looks over with concern at Vhramis as he rambles, and frowns, "If we are to pursue them, we would need trackers." and he steps closer towards Thayndor, bringing more light to him.

Markus Kahar's eyes level on the Nillu, "You tell the Emperor just that. Please, tell the Emperor exactly what I did. Now we've got a Castellon to save." And without another word, Markus throws the entire weight of his girth into the hillside, trying to push Vhramis up the otherwise slippery defile, "... BAH! Someone push to Ashlynn's side!"

"He is hallucinating." Joran says, his voice sounding strained as he does exactly as Markus says - pushes to Ashlynn's side. Despite that he's got hold of the man's other shoulder.

Ardrek heads up the slope at the 2nd Blademasters order. He keeps his sword raised as his eyes warily look around in case any wildlings decide to show up.

Thayndor Zahir grunts his thanks at the light, his sword hand making it up into the crevice first. He puts his other hand on the ledge and starts to pull himself the rest of the way up, eyes wary.

Soram Nillu gives a general frown to those addressing him. To Tor he replies simply, "That was Norran Lomasa's plan, not mine." In response to Markus, "Yes. I shall, Duke Kahar. And I hope you have a good story to tell him when more and more citizens show up dead each sunrise." With that, he turns away from the cave and begins making his way back up toward his borrowed horse.

"See us. See? Watching wall. No. Dark." Vhramis moans, eyeslids flitting slightly before ceasing their movements again. "This isn't real. Not real." His body falls limp again, apparently exhausted.

In the distance, the three Wildlings move as mottled silhouettes as they swing through the low branches of close-growing shardwood trees well north of the cavern. One of the Wildlings, one with four rather distinct green splotches on the back of its left hand, dangles in the fuzzy moonlight and gazes back toward the still-burning tavern. "She yet waits," the creature hisses. "We yet search." And then that Wildling swings on to the next tree, one branch to another, until lost in the fluttering leaves and raindrops.

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