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This is the result of several weeks of ICQ between myself and Seriana. It references near the beginning an rpnews event I haven't written about yet. I'll try to remember to link to it when I complete it. On with the story ...
Apparently something was in his favor. The half-elf had stopped back in the city (if city could describe it) of West Falls to check on the heucuva that inhabited it. The poor, but unfreeable, even if the ranger could, results of the vile thing's experiments had all died in their cages. However, the heucuva itself remained a blasted stain on the floor of his laboratory. He knew it was only a matter of time before it reformed, but it gave Lorsalian a sort of mischievous joy that it had been set back years.
A small tawny colored owl swooped silently to land on the ridge of a dilapidated roof, curiously regarding the two-legged figure moving cautiously through the cursed city. Humans and the like poked around here on a regular basis, and the owl merely watched.
In the darkness color was denied to her, but with her excellent sight, she noted the pointed ears, yet a slightly sturdier frame than that of the fey folk, indicating he was of mixed descent. The sounds of movement grabbed her attention, the owlâ€™s head shifting until her sharp gaze homed in hungrily at a mouse which had left the safety of the shadows and scurried across the cobblestone street.
The owl was on it in a flash, its death cry capturing the attention of the ranger. The owl ghosted up to perch on the edge of a roof, its prize pinned beneath her talons. She twisted her head comically to stare at the half-elf, before turning her head again to study him from a different angle and clacking her beak tauntingly. A sound similar to chuckling escaped her throat before she took flight, moving into the shadows of a nearby street where she perched on an old hitching post, her eyes glowing momentarily as she watched to see if he would follow.
The ranger stared in the direction the owl had flown off, wondering if it was merely providing room to turn around. Something isn't right here. Even putting aside the odd way it had looked at him, the twittering was that of a barn owl, and that wasn't a barn owl. He decided to test his theory.
He turned back around the corner, and into one of the sturdier rotting buildings. He called to mind enchantments to hide him from sight, smell, and even sound to a degree - the culmination of the half-elf's stealthy beginnings. Right before he started whispering each spell, he rattled the furniture in the foyer to cover the sound he was making.
The owl stared intently turning her head to better listen. She heard the shuffling in the nearby building. Her claws clenched around the post as she fought an inner battle of curiosity. To go or stay?
Satisfied that his preparations were complete, he sneaked back in the street, and settled into a nook opposite the door. A few moments later, the owl settled on the cobblestones to look into the building. It used the flexibility of its neck to gaze around the corner, bracing itself against the building with one of its wings.
"You should take more care, young druid," Lorsalian called out clearly, pleased to see the owl jump. "Not everyone is ignorant of what a mountain owl should sound like."
The sound of chuckling left her beak again, her wings carrying her into the air. With difficulty she hovered momentarily, staring at the point where the voice came from before inclining her head in an obvious motion to follow before silently drifting along the street.
The chuckling echoed from a nook behind her, but deeper in timbre as the half-elf faded into view with a gesture not unlike the drawing back of a hood. "Come now," a voice called out, "it's only fair. I've revealed myself with no harm other than a bit of a scare."
The owl landed on the edge of a roof. A loud sigh of what sounded like exasperation shook her body before she tilted her head and stared at the ranger. She made a series of soft hoots and twitters, before balancing on one foot and tapping the claws of her other in a staccato motion of impatience.
Okay, we can play it like that. Ensuring he was ready for something unexpected (if that is even possible) he began to stroll in the direction of the owl, his boots against the cobblestones a mere whisper. After several moments when the owl seemed about to burst from sheer exasperation, it took flight again, and Lor decided to quicken his pace to follow.
Flying ahead, the owl let out the occasional haunting cry to guide the ranger, slipping into the second floor of a building on the edge of the city. Working quickly, the druid shimmered into the form of her birth, the stretch of muscles and skin leaving behind a tingle. Her slender hands reached for the knee length tunic she had left on her pack and slipped it on, buckling her weaponbelt around her slim waist. She peered out the window she had entered and let out a soft hoot, the sounds coming from her elven throat and ducked her head back inside.
A few moments -- and a muffled crash from a broken stair -- later, the ranger turned the corner. He looked at the young elven woman and smiled, "You twittered?"
Eyes the same color as the owl she had been shortly before, danced with amusement. "That form isnâ€™t exactly conducive to conversation," she grinned, her common softly accented with her heritage. "And not knowing your particular flavor for the proprieties, I decided that shifting my shape in the middle of the street might have been a tad bit distracting if the undead patrol had decided to come around the corner at that particular moment."
The ranger nodded slowly, his eyes moving from floor back to their normal level, and grinned wryly. "That it might have been. Especially wondering if you would be able to offer any assistance, or just stand there shivering." The altitude of this valley in the mountain made the days dawn colder than one would think so close to the Calimshan desert. "And wondering why you are hunting mice in such a place."
"Oh Iâ€™m certain my teeth would have been able to chatter through a few spells, at least enough to offer us the chance to flee. I spend most of my time down here, and a fair amount of it in the out of doors in one form or another. The chill doesnâ€™t bother me as much as it does others." She wiggled her toes against the scarred boards of the floor. "Though my feet do get cold. If youâ€™ll excuse me, Iâ€™d like to continue our conversation while I put some shoes on." Stepping over to a small bag, she reached within and withdrew a pair of boots and thick stockings, sitting down to put them on her feet. "As for hunting mice... well that isnâ€™t my meal of choice, though they," she glanced over to the corner of the room where a nest containing an owl and two fledglings had been made from the remains of a mattress, "Seem rather partial to what I bring in."
He reached into his luggage, searching for a small drawn pouch. Within were a number of dried fish filets. After drizzling water over them, he tossed them just short of the nest. 'So what brought you originally to this area? There are far more interesting ruins, with less interesting neighbors.' After a moment, he added, 'Or was it the neighbors that brought you?'
"Curiosity," she stated, a mischievous grin on her face. As she directed her gaze towards him, she noted out of the corner of her eye as one of the fledglings clumsily hopped down out of the nest to investigate the offerings. "Actually, I was in the forest of our dark cousins. I like to watch them sometimes, and most do not realize I am not one of the owls that live there. But then I actually make the effort to blend in. You hear interesting things perched in the rafters of that big temple they have in the center of their city."
The similarly mischievous smile that the ranger wore as she began this response widened into a look of pure shocked surprise. No elven understatement was this expression -- even the most non-observant orc, wearing a blindfold, would be able to tell that he was just a bit taken aback.
"You've been there?" he said, his voice raised. Catching himself, he continued at a more suitable volume, "I've never dared. I know only of it from hearsay, and that was difficult to come by."
A soft chuckle escaped her lips. "My sister looked like that when I told her about my wanderings. Like I had lifted a log and applied it to the back of her head. Then she scolded me and called me all kinds of interesting names, acting as though she were a century older, though we are the same age." A grin spread over her face. "It isnâ€™t much really. It is created for the eyes of the dark ones, so I could not see much. Why anyone would choose to live in such gloom is beyond me. Though once in a while one of the males that stop to pray at the altar brings a light with him."
He lowered his gaze, looking for scars on what was still exposed, and raised his head again to continue his incredulous interrogation, "And you were never detected? No narrow escapes, no bored dherrow looking for target practice?" This seems too good to be true. he thought, Surely this is just an elaborate prank. After all, he couldn't imagine that anyone could be so unobservant - or at least not in their 'holy of holies.'
"I never said I was undetected," she grinned impishly. "There was one there who called me by the name of another. I decided it would be prudent to leave at that point, but he followed me, demanding I identify myself. If he had wanted me dead, he had his chance, so I revealed myself, prepared to flee if necessary." Reaching over to her pack, she shifted it off the cloak it rested on, tugging the garment free and twirling it around her gracefully, sending a little breeze to stir some of the dust as it settled around her shoulders. "He wanted to chat. Would you believe that? One of our dark cousins set aside his hostility for curiosity."
"Who did he think you were?"
The druid tilted her head and studied him intently before frowning. "Oh dear, how rude of me. I am Seriana Mae'nillalte, druid and servant of Angharradh."
The ranger's eye drew distant for a moment at the mention of 'Angharradh', but after a moment, he simply nodded, and smiled. "Lorsalian D -- Silvermist. Lorsalian Silvermist, ranger of Gwaeron."
She smiled, a true one without mischief or malice. "I do not intend to dodge your question Lorsalian, merely nudge it aside for a moment. I realized that we hadnâ€™t exchanged introductions." Picking an empty spot on the floor, she carefully sat down, arranging her cloak around her for warmth. Her expression grew thoughtful for a moment, her top teeth chewing her lip absently before she stated quietly, "Deshana I think it was. He mentioned it was his wife."
The half-elf looked pensive for a moment, then asked "So how did he react when he found out you weren't actually his wife?"
"Questioned my reasons for being there," she shrugged.
Lorsalian sat for a moment, waiting for Seriana to continue. When nothing was forthcoming, he smile wryly, and said 'So what did you tell Nilan you were doing in his master's temple?'
A single slender eyebrow raised in surprise. "So, it seems I am not the only wanderer who has made acquaintance with the strange drow," she grinned. "I told him truthfully. It was curiosity. At the time I was looking for my sister, and as I passed thought it too interesting an opportunity to resist. Iâ€™m curious. Many times has that driven my superiors to distraction, not to mention my family. If that doesnâ€™t, then surely my skill at getting into trouble does."
The ranger looked up for a moment, his shoulders heaving before a sigh escaped his lips. "We've met. Sometime when we've more time than we need, I can related more of the tales of those meetings. Let's just say that he isn't as ingenuous as he seems. As much as his curiosity seems to hint at a departure from the attitudes of those who came before him, it is as much a mask as the one he wears for his master - hiding the blade in the hand attached to Nilan's right arm."
Seriana shrugged. "We all wear masks. Mine differs from skin to fur, to feathers or scales. He is drow, and while I am naturally cautious wearing my natural form around them, I do not hate indiscriminately like some of our lineage." Her expression clouded momentarily before clearing. "I am aware of their... manipulative natures."
Tilting her head inquiringly, she continued, "So. Enough about our dark cousins, and enough about me. What brings you to these cursed ruins?"
"Are you familiar with the creature responsible for all this?" Lorsalian asked, his arms spread to indicate the entire valley.
"I have seen those who would investigate it enter the city," she replied. "Some meet rather bad ends and some are stalled. The creatureâ€™s menace is greater than they know. Each time someone thinks it is defeated, its somehow manages to return."
Lorsalian detailed briefly his journey with Lilira several months earlier, where they supressed the Heucuva and prevented him from making use of the sage he had kidnapped. "Some knowledge, it seems, is meant to never again rise to the surface," he summed up, his eyes briefly touching on his left arm.
Seriana nodded, her gaze following where his own landed before moving upwards to study his face. "Knowledge is valuable, but in the wrong hands a detriment. My sister is somewhat of an arcane scholar. She is... focused on spells of defense to protect the children of the isle. She had a rather bad experience that forced her to become someone protective against certain forces that have plagued our history." Her fingers plucked at the hem of her tunic, her face growing solemn. "Still she has learned much, and helped to bury some knowledge on her own. I am not certain I agree with her methods, for instead of burying it where no one may find it, she has handed it over to other mages of the isle."
"Myself, well with my curiosity and tendencies to wander, I enjoy knowledge that can benefit all, not merely a niche of societies," her face once more transformed into one of mischievousness. "Well that and it is fun to see what kind of trouble I can get into unearthing the knowledge. I have been called a busy-body." She grinned unabashedly.
He joined in her grin, 'Meddlesome. That seems to describe most people I know in some way or another.' He paused for a moment, considering his words. What do you think you would do with those secrets if you had found them -- perhaps a storehouse of truly dark power?'
The druid pondered Lorsalian thoughtfully before answering, her voice a slow cadence of soft tones. "Balance is necessary in this world. To destroy such could disrupt the balance forcing us to destroy a similar storehouse of "good" power." Weaving her fingers together, she bent a knee up and cradled it with her clasped hands before continuing. "But truly, there is no such thing as light or dark power that stems from secrets. It is how it is used that determines its properties. It would be better to move the knowledge and place it in the hands of a neutral party to guard. Even if the knowledge seems for a dark purpose, with the right usage it could be used for the right cause."
"Great care would need to be taken. 'knowledge for the good of all' has been the calling card of most of the ancient empires of this land. Thay and the great desert were the result,' was the ranger's reply. He looked down briefly, his arms half-crossing, 'And the recent troubles all too well demonstrate that some things should not be uncovered, regardless of the ultimate result.'
"Better keepers need to be selected," she shrugged. "Leaving the knowledge buried only increases the chance someone else will locate it. Things have a way of balancing themselves out."
"And who would choose these watchers? Some ruler, a group of magi who would rather have the secrets than have them hidden? A group of people told to do something might be full of zeal at first, but may well grow bored with it in a span of years."
"Wouldn't it be better for those who would do so anyway to simply meet one another? As you say, these needed things have a way of putting themselves together."
"Is there not a deity charged with the gathering and keeping of knowledge? Would there not be followers of him who would defend such if others gathered it for them," she asked, tilting her head inquisitively.
"Yes, there are many gods who have aligned themselves with the collection and dispensation of knowledge. Most search for the ultimate knowledge, or insure that knowledge is never lost."
"In the hands of this seeming benevolence, the secrets of ancient civilization might be known again. A golden age, you would say. But we don't see many of these civilizations here today. It is because the knowledge of ages eventually came to the possession of lesser students. How much lesser would be the people of today? It would be akin to handing a bright sparking brand to a child to play with in a forest," he frowned. "The child would believe they hold in their hands the light of a new tomorrow, ideas that find fertile ground to inflame the lands for miles in a bright light -- leaving little living behind."
"You say that the knowledge would come anyway. I'm not sure I agree, but could not the knowledge be hidden until the day that it is rediscovered on its own? Until we are once again worthy students?"
"If what is hidden is for the greater good, then we must hide it to ensure that it is used for such. If it is otherwise, then it must be contained, lest it destroy us all."
"There is a problem with merely leaving such a thing hidden," she countered. "Even a child can stumble across a magical item, and in playing with it stand the chance of destroying a playmate or sibling."
"Then it has been poorly hidden. By 'hiding' I speak more of vast libraries. Tombs of long-dead magi. Examples of ancient high magic. Things whose existence must be obscured, and cannot be moved."
Seriana grinned impishly. "Such places can be acceptable for the most part. Unless nosy druids find them and poke their noses in."
Lorsalian indulged himself in a mirror to the druid's expression before looking agitated again. "And if it should just happen to be the pr--" he stopped himself. "I imagine we could continue like this until we ourselves are found in ages to come, an example of how two people who almost agree can still argue," the ranger sighed before snickering and chuckling.
A soft laugh was her response.
"I was speaking before about those who take the responsibility upon themselves to secretly safeguard both ancient and contemporary knowledge; who generally insure that the world continues."
He paused briefly, looking the druid in the eyes. "Seriana, do you see yourself as one of these few?"
Golden eyes studied the ranger intently, her sudden stillness an eerie echo of the owls in the corner who watched the proceedings. After a long pause, she finally answered. "Actually ... I do."
The ranger continued to study Seriana's eyes for a moment after hearing her admission; then his intent expression broke into a smile. "It seems we both are right. Things do seem to work out, and those who would ward over these matters seem attracted to each other. For I also consider myself one of these select, and I call friends several others who have heard this call. After telling you this, it is my hope that I might call you one of them."
"Friend is a powerful title, brother of the forest. Usually one would start off as allies, friendship growing from that with familiarity. Please forgive my caution, but to many â€˜friendâ€™ is merely a word. I have so few its meaning is far greater." Her grin came easily, followed by a soft chuckle. "It is not often I slip into philosophy. You need not worry that I will spout such at every turn. I would be honored to aid in such an endeavor as long as its results are not one-sided," she cautioned, sobriety returning to her expression. "In the long term such an endeavor would remove the balance which has â€˜recentlyâ€™ been returned to the lands."
The ranger again tilted his hand to the side in a half-nod. "As it should be. A lasting trust is not something to appear overnight - that is what makes it so valuable. And since scattering one side or the other to the winds makes it so much harder to find them," he grinned, "I believe we are in agreement Are you familiar with a small way-house between the Baldur swamps and the city of Waterdeep?" Seriana tilted her head in thought for a moment before nodding. "If you would consent to meet me there in three months time, give or take a week or two, I can accomplish introductions to these others - who I am hopeful will also one day share that title with you."
Seriana bit her lip in thought. "Do you know Mistress Cleona? She sells items off her wagon just outside of the Trollbark Forest." Lorsalian nodded his assent. "I will stop any time I pass her to see if there is a message altering the timing of our meeting. She calls me Owl, and can pass it on." She grinned impishly. "You're clever. I am certain you will figure out a way to couch it vaguely."
They continued their discussions throughout the night until the rising sun announced that it was time for Serianna's roommates (and perhaps the druid herself) to rest for the day. As the ranger climbed out of the valley and called to mind how he could find his fellows, he grinned despite himself. Yes, something was in my favor today. Mentally bracing himself for the balance to turn back towards its normal setting, he started across the Calim desert to the pass northward, the sun at his back.