SC-Heroes' Ascent

A Most Unusual Meal

When they’d been escorted, for lack of a better word, into the Goblin headquarters, Leonis had been too busy trying to aid Nicole (or whatever her name was) to worry much about anything else.

Now, after dining with the General, Nog’ri, Go’ren, and others, he wasn’t sure what to think, or what to worry about.

They’d been treated fairly and honorably. The General had been surprisingly polite, really, given that they’d been fighting (and killing) so many of his men since they’d journeyed towards Dimlain.

Suddenly, Leonis’ eyes snapped open.

Or were they his men?

Until they’d encountered the Goblin warrior who’d aided them against the first Mesthot, hadn’t all of them been wearing the red hand insignia that the Arcanist had worn?

Does the general know that his ‘Advisor’ has been sending troops out towards Dimlain?

Leonis wasn’t sure how he could ask the question, but he suddenly had a great urge to find out.

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Trust

When Ainerun started his trip to Sebohin, he had no idea what to expect. All he knew is that Dimlain was in trouble, and that he was told by his dad to find help. All he had were Landrovel and Cedric with him as they traveled. Honestly, Ainerun had no idea what to expect in Sebohin, and boy was he in for a treat. He leaves his family and his betrothed in town, walking, on a dangerous mission that he might not come back from.

His trek into town was nothing noteworthy, but as he got into town, he had a spat with Landrovel and Cedric over which way to go. Being as proud as he is, of course, Ainerun took the wrong turn, into the bad part of town. He walked into The Blue Oyster and… well… we won’t talk about that anymore. Let’s just say that the patrons kept trying to give him a pair of “magic pants”.

Once he got out of there, gasping for air, he finally finds his way to Gutrods, on the other side of town. There he meets up with Landrovel and Cedric, and they form whoever they can, about 15 people, or so, and head out of town.

As they start on their journey away from Sebohin, he sees Brother Leonis get called by his patron god, and the brother’s ability to actually smite his enemies. At the same time, the musician is actually able to explode people’s heads off by uttering bad jokes. He’s concerned, he’s wondering, what kind of witchcraft is this? Surely the Tiefling musician’s work is that of the Anmat, but that does not explain Brother Leonis’ unwavering devotion to Andrikos. The only thing he knows is that they all are finding their calling as they get close to death, however, being that close to the edge is not something worth risking.

A couple nights later, he watches as Landrovel walks into a set of what can be called living bushes, and come out 20 minutes later as him, but as someone else, too. A wolf-man? Lycanthropy? Or is The Silence going away? If so, where were Ainerun’s powers? This is stuff that he read only in books. This is folklore. This is stuff that was last seen 200 years ago, surely it’s just a fable, isn’t it?

Then, one night, while keeping watch, a vision comes to him. It’s that guy from the bar who kept talking about the magical pants. The vision actually talks to him, explaining how to draw an arrow and use it even more deadly. How he can move and keep his eye on the target at the same time. The vision describes how to pull the bow just right and feel it so the arrow flies at the exact location. This is information Ainerun took to heart, but why that guy from The Blue Oyster? The information was surprising, but why him? Why here? Why now? Why was a humble man like him called?

The journey back home, for some reason, is much more dangerous than the trip to Sebohin. As they head back to Dinlain, the hobgoblins seem to be on this course to ensure that this group do not make it back. Every 5 days or so, there would be an attack, and a few would die. Problem is, there is no time for mourning. You have to move on, or you’ll never get home. It battle hardens him, but it also makes him weary about what is to come.

They fight on for a few days, and while they are fighting, and wandering, a handful of the party get kidnapped. The part that did not, which included Ainerun, decide that they are going to find their other party members and try to remove this small party of goblins (or hobgoblins). While on the search, The party finds what they think is one of the smaller strongholds for the hobgoblins. He’s relieved, until he finds two dead on stakes, and one… Eladrin?

What is she doing here? and what manner of control does she have over the leader? The leader is chasing her once she gets freed, but she keeps pushing them away, running for the group. The leader of this gang of hobgoblins is fixed on her, for some reason. Ainerun has never seen anyone so beautiful, or so absolutely deadly, in his life. However, once she finishes the leader, is she going to turn on him and his friends? What is she going to do? Again, more fables coming to life, this is some weird dream.

The Eladrin runs off, and instead of pursuing her, because he has so many questions, instead, he keeps heading home. About a day away from the home, they find a monastery on the edge of the woods that was attacked by more hobgoblins, and when they finally find the people who attacked, they teleport away into thin air, with the remainder killing themselves. More witchery? People can just do that? Finally, one of the members of the little monastery shows up, and can’t explain why, or what, but she seems like a good person, or is Hannah in on this as well? People keep flying in, flying out of his life. Good people gone, strange people staying. He doesn’t know what to make of it; he’s just not thinking about it.

Finally, he makes it home, only to find home completely boarded up. Why? It used to be such a free town. Now there are two sets of walls, patrol posts everywhere. Everyone’s got a bow and arrow or a sword on their hilts. Where was the peace? Where was the tranquility? He gets into town, and his friends are immediately put into what could be called “customs” to make sure that they’re not here to lay waste to the town. Why? Wasn’t coming in with Ainerun good enough? He can understand the animals, but what happened?

Oh, the Hobgoblins have declared war on the Elves.

Well, that changes things.

And so, a meeting in the council chambers. He sees people he came with, so that’s a relief, but who the heck is that on Brother Leonis’ arm? He thought Brother Leonis had a vow of celibacy or something like that, so who is that little wench? Wasn’t she that girl who was left in holding for 4 days? There had to be a reason why she was still in holding, and to get out like that? Who the, what the… Ainerun scans around the room, where’s Landrovel and Cedric? Where’s everyone else who was supposed to go ahead and meet them here? So he lost everyone but 4 people, and gained this arm candy. Yeah, this is going to look good in front of the council.

Fortunately, the council said that the members who showed up were already on route to Girithin, to try to get a head start on the hobgoblins to the north of that city. Of course, he would’ve liked to have known about this first, but oh well, better late than never. The meeting went well, and Siofra’s uncle know that woman on Leonis’ arm, but how? And if he knew this girl, why was she in holding for 4 days? That’s something that doesn’t make sense.

After this, House Cionaith found some Shifters from Sebohin. What, WHAT? Shifters? Yes, Shifters, and they wanted to know what happened to Storm, one of the people that left Sebohin with the group, but died early on. Crecendo told him what had happened, and he understood, and then, shifted into the form of the guy with the “magic pants.” Well, shit, it’s going to be that kind of night, isn’t it?

The town wakes up in the morning, refreshed, after a good party. Relieved that the plan is more intact that he had imagined, and that the people closest to him are the one he would trust with anything, he gives Siofra one last kiss before riding off to Girithin, hoping that the fate of that town is just as good as the one he is leaving.

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Partings

Despite the exhaustion he felt after addressing The Council of Seven and the Elder, the brief spurt of fear at their encounter with Flint and his shifter pack, and the grim shadow that hung over everyone from the encroaching Goblin threat, Leonis couldn’t help but feel a bit of awe as he left the House Cionaoith keep just as dawn began to break through the trees, bathing the city in golden light.

“Well, we made it…an Elven city! ” What a simple goal it had been…come to the city and protect it. How complex it had become, now.

Leonis was distracted from his thoughts in the early dawn by the gentle rustle of bridled horses. Turning, he walked back towards the keep as Alain and Hannah rode out, dressed for travel.

“So, this is it, then?”

Alain nodded, his voice quiet. “For now, at least. We’ll make our best way to Sebohin, and from there, we’ll see where Aerie and Alaric guide us.”

Leonis nodded, a sad smile crossing his face. “I’m sure that Father Brendan will be able to help with restoring the monastery. Maybe when this is over, I’ll have the chance to come see it.”

Hannah smiled back at this. “I hope so.”

“Alain…I’m sorry that it’s gone on like this, and that there’s been so much death and loss. But I am glad that you came with me, and that you’ve been by my side.”

The Alarite reached down, and the two priests clasped hands tightly.

“You, too, Leonis. May Alaric protect you, even as Andrikos guides your sword and shield. I’ve no doubt that the journey up to Girithin is going to be a dangerous one. Keep yourself in one piece!”

“Don’t worry – I will!” As they broke their clasp, Leonis suddenly looked thoughtful. “But, can I ask you a favor?”

“Of course. What?”

“After you reach Sebohin, can you take a message to Gutrod for me?”

“Gutrod? Sure.”

“Tell him that The Harbingers will be needed again.”

”...the Harbingers…” Alain’s face creased in puzzlement, but he nodded. “I will. Anything else?”

“Only that if he should ask where we’re headed, let him know that we’re bound for Girithin. I suspect he’ll know what to do, after that.”

They said a final goodbye, and as the priest and priestess road for the city gates, Leonis’ hand drifted to the spear and sun at his neck. “May the Light shine down upon you, and guide your path. May the Wind blow gentle upon your brow, and may the Blessing of Andrikos ease your burdens and speed your journey.”

His prayer complete, he bowed to the sun as it rose higher into the skies, the sounds of Dimlain awakening to a new day reaching his ears. Turning back to the keep, he returned to the room that Ainerun’s father had granted him for their stay. Alain and Hannah were not the only ones leaving Dimlain today, and he had his own preparations to look to before they set off for the North.

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Ashes

As the others continued to argue about what the strange Bugbear and Goblin might have been there to do, Leonis began the trek up the stairs, armored feet clanking noisily against stone steps.

What did they take from that shrine?

He was almost certain it had been an orb – glowing with some kind of light. From the way things had been arranged, almost certainly a relic the monastery had been built to protect. But why?

The other goblins had killed themselves rather than answer any questions after their leaders had made their magical escape. No answers to be had there. But perhaps, just perhaps, there might be answers once they reached Dimlain...either asking about the strange teleporting magics the thieves had used, or perhaps seeing if Artair might be recognize it. After all, it had been a shrine to Silionwe.

A long sigh wound its way up the stairwell. “If he’ll talk to us about it, anyhow.” That seemed unlikely, but it was at least worth a try.

As he neared the top of the stairwell, he could smell the smoke, laced with the scents of burnt oils, incense, and the sick-sweet undertone of burnt flesh. The fires that the goblins had set, apparently against the commands of the bugbear and his Master, still smoldered. Finally making his way to the hidden door in the traveler’s shrine, he wondered about the missing monk – the servant of Aerie who had apparently escaped the slaughter. He hoped that whomever the goddess had blessed with the fortune to escape would understand that they’d gotten to the monastery to late to save his fellows, and that they’d done their best to avenge their deaths on those responsible.

He hoped it would be enough.

As the others caught up to him, he stepped back out of the traveler’s shrine and onto the road, then froze. A horse and cart now sat there, where none had been before, and a figure sat in the road, on their knees, in horrified shock at what had happened to the monastery.

Stepping forward, his legs like lead, Leonis tried to clear a throat that had suddenly gone dry, a tongue glued to his mouth.

”...brother monk?”

At his voice, the woman(!?), dressed in traveler’s garb and wearing a symbol of Aerie turned to him, her eyes filled with tears, and Leonis could taste nothing but ash.

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Legends

The Hobgoblin camp was not noticeably improved by being the site of a pitched battle, Leonis thought. After cutting down the bodies of the goblins’ horrific sacrifices and giving them proper burial, he had gone off to a quiet part of the forest to pray over their spirits after Alain had helped him tend to everyone else’s wounds.

Andrikos, guide their spirits to peace and rest that they did not find in life. Let them bask in your radiance and run in the endless fields, and may they look down upon us and smile as you continue to guide our hands.”

As he walked back to where they were searching through the remnants of the camp before they made their next move, Leonis saw Carric and the other two Elves cluster around the strange woman they had saved earlier, who had commanded such astonishing powers. He’d caught Carric mentioning her as ‘Eladrin’. Could it be? The Eladrin were beings of legend – if they had ever truly existed at all!

On the other hand, an Elf who could turn into a wolf was certainly a being of legend. To say nothing of a Tiefling who could make a Hobgoblin’s head explode by insulting it. And then there’s the matter of a warrior of Andrikos who could call up on his Holy Light to protect his friends and harm the wicked…

Perhaps he wasn’t the right person to determine who was and was not a legend…

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Interlude - After the First Battle

The cairns had been built, from the stones they’d been able to find. The bodies of the wolves were burned. Dusk was settling in.

A bit away from the rest of the camp, Leonis sat upon a felled tree, his eyes resting on the fresh graves, then occasionally darting back down to his hands. If he concentrated on that strange warmth he still felt lingering around him, and pushed, just a little, he could feel the warmth concentrate in his hands, the tips of his fingers beginning to glow softly with golden light. Losing himself in the light and the shadow, a gentle voice startled him, almost making him fall to the ground.

“So, that’s what it looks like?”

Alain had apparently forded the river to come find him – his armor and robes were still wet, water dripping occasionally down onto the grass.

“Yes…well, that’s what it can look like, anyhow. Whatever it is. I’m still…I don’t know!”

“Sh. Relax, Le. It’s me. Calm down.”

Running a hand through his hair as his friend settled onto the grass in front of him, Leonis nodded. “Sorry. It’s all been a bit much…so difficult to understand. The fight…we were being overwhelmed. I thought I was going to die, Alain. The fangs kept finding weak spots in my armor, getting inside my shield arm…I wanted desperately to keep the wolf away from the others, but I couldn’t stop it.”

“You’ve always wanted to be Father Brendan, deep down.” Alain’s eyes searched, carefully. Leonis blushed a little, nodding. “A lot harder than it he’s always made it look, isn’t it?”

“Yeah. He’s always been so calm. So in control…his faith is his sword and his shield. I don’t think I’ve ever seen him look desperate as I felt. Ever since the day he saved my life, I’ve tried to live to his example.”

“It’s a hard standard. And he’s not perfect, Le. He just has about 20 years on you to practice.” The Alarite reached out, tapping Leonis’s hands. “And now…you’re going to have the chance to be different. Can you tell me what happened? I’ve heard a lot of stories.”

“Oh, gods.”

“So it would seem, anyhow.” At Alain’s quirked smile, Leonis couldn’t help but laugh, and felt a bit of weight ease off his chest. He hadn’t even realized it was there until it was gone…then, he took a deep breath and started to talk.

“I told you of the wolf. I was forced to one knee. I’d lost my sword when it clawed at my hand. I moved to support myself against my shield as it charged again, and my empty hand found my icon.” His fingers reached down of their own accord to gently tap the icon that rested on his belt. “I felt this…this great heat. Like I had been lying out in the summer sun in the fields, but instead of just being on my skin, it was running through my entire body. It…it was Andrikos. He moved upon me. And I asked…I begged…him to help me.”

Spreading his hands wide, he gestured to the pyre where the white wolf, largest of the beasts, still burned. “And he did. The warmth became this burst of light…the wolf was stunned, knocked away, and we were able to rally against it. I felt my wounds ease, and I took my blade back up. I charged to face the wolves attacking the Tiefling and the woman who he’s been…ah…comparing with. When I got there, she was down and bleeding, and the wolves were circling her. I felt that heat again, in my hands, and I knew I needed to help her. I reached out…and light leapt from my hands. Everywhere it touched her, it healed her wounds, and we were able to turn the rest of the wolves back.”

“You’re leaving something out, Le. I know that look from the time you wouldn’t tell the Father that one time we caught Artaer sneaking out of his cell…”

“Because I knew we’d get in trouble for following him!”

“Uh-huh. C’mon, brother. Spill it.”

“I…well, there were a lot of wolves.”

“mm. Against us, too.”

“More than just the woman were hurt. Some very badly.”

“Yes, I saw.”

“I…I tried to save them. I tried to call upon the light again to heal them. And I couldn’t.”

Alain sucked in a breath softly through his teeth, and reached out to clap Leonis on his shoulder.

“Listen….I can’t begin to know what is going on. But I have no doubt that you did everything you could, and that if you hadn’t been here, it would have been far worse. You fought to protect the others. You defended the camp as best you could against a terrible enemy, and you tended to the injured and the dead as you were able. Even if your….new gifts weren’t able to always come through.” Straightening, he gave a hard, determined look, speaking not as a fellow cleric or friend, but as a Priest of Alaric.

“Now, you have a responsibility to the living. You’ve been offered these gifts…these powers…for a reason. Andrikos obviously has a purpose for you. Don’t dwell on the dead. Follow your calling, and protect the living. Anything else would be to fail the oaths you took the day you joined the priesthood.”

Taking a long, deep breath, Leonis stood, looking back to where tents were beginning to be pitched. The elves were in discussion about something, their arms moving in an animated conversation. The Tiefling and the human woman that Leonis had saved earlier were comparing instruments and talking over something. The others broke out food or checked over weapons to see what had been damaged in the fight, and how it could be mended. The Goliath warrior he’d befriended earlier slowly sharpened the edge of his blade in long, slow, scrapes of a whetstone.

“You’re right, Alain. I will…I must...find out what has happened to me. Perhaps we’ll find more once we reach the Elven city.” He brightened. “Do you suppose it’s actually inside the trees, like the old stories say?”

The Alarite laughed. “That’s more like it. I’ve no idea, but I’m sure we’ll know soon.”

“Staying for dinner?”

“No, I want to get back to the camp on the other side of the river. Artaer’s been looking a little peaked. I want to make sure he’s doing all right.”

“mm. Fair enough, I won’t keep you.”

As Alain started back with one last friendly punch in the arm, Leonis strode back towards the elves, curious what they were discussing.

“Oh,...Alain?”

“Mm?”

“Thanks.”

“What else are friends for?”

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