Chapter 07 - Across the Border

Cut Scene

Looking over the last hill, the group of five friends stare down at a small camp in the valley before them, covered in thin fog, cut ice and dirty snow. Throughout the camp are low fires fighting the dampness of the air, tall, blackened chimneys spewing coal-black smoke, and a few stone structures, built out of unfinished stone, but stable and strong, put down by the skilled dwarves, and capable of withstanding the strongest wind and hail.

The camp looks grey and black, with the ash discoloring the otherwise pristinely white snow, and chiseled tracks for railed carts that move between the camp and the nearbly mine. The entrance is obscured, but the path of dirt and hoofprints clearly shows its actual location.

Though they do not know it, not to far behind them hides a creature of terrible sight, spying the travelling companions, and bidings its time… It hides in the evergreen trees, masking its tracks, and staying downwind. It is a hunter, and it knows its prey. It studies the men, anticipating the fight, but waiting patiently… waiting for its time.

Scene 1 - Amber Guard

Slowly but surely, under the dusk of an early evening, the men arrive at Amber Guard, some attempting their best to “blend in”. This seems to be a hard task for Alisaar, William and Alec, and so they don't even try. But through skill (both magical and mundane) Fizbin and Arthus fair much better. Making their way through the camp, the companions come across the only structure that appears to be an inn of sorts - a place with a clear smell of gruel, roasted meat, and stout ale. "The Pick Axe" is etched on a large stone in front othe inn, with the object in question embedded in the top, looking old and rusted, as if left abandoned by a drunk dwarf after a long night of celebrating.

By the time the companions reach the Inn, their presence is announced by the murmurs of the locals. Though unusually clean compared to the locals, their clothes and armor quickly dull out from the soot and smoke that seems to hang in the air. Unphased by the staring eyes, and uncaring for the undo attention, they sit at the Inn and order their food, taking solace in the large stone fireplace and the sweet smell of dwarven mead. This seems to appease the locals enough, given the newcomers seem to have little interest in causing trouble, and paying a fair coin for their fare, and many return to their business, relaxing from the day of long, hard labor.

Arthus, having a better inkling of the innerworkings of the town, decides to get some information while the rest relax for a bit. After speaking with the barkeep for a few minutes, he leaves the Inn and proceeds to one of the other solid structures - to the local Mason's Guildhouse. Paying his respects (and coin), he cuts through the pleasantries and speaks directly to the guild's master about the his needs. The master, a stout, would-be gray-haired dwarf if not for the soot, introduces himself as Durkon Silverbeard, and, sensing that Arthus is on the level, returns the favor. Appreciating the honesty and recognition of his status as the leader of the camp, he listens intently and offers to help. Although he is unable to offer Notes of Citizenship of any quality that would pass a thorough inspection, he does trade with Hammerfell on regular basis, and will be sending a large shipment of ore in two days time. He is certain he could smuggle the group buried under the ore without too much difficulty… for a small fee, of course. Naturally, should they get caught, he will not be able to help, lest he'd jeopardize his business relationships.

Arthus thinks for a moment, and decides that the Notes of Citizenship are a good backup, but that they will take the master's offer anyway. He takes the information of the local notary and makes arrangements with Durkon to meet in two days time and be buried under the ore. He finishes his drink and leaves the building, walking back in the shadow of the setting sun towards the inn. He stops for a moment, spotting a large, grey-and-black creatures sitting at the top of the buildings, with long, razor-sharp nails and talons, but the creature is quick and disappears instantly. He seems to recognize it as something he has read about - an Abomination - but shakes the earie feeling off and unable to pursue the matter makes his way back to the Inn.

Sitting back at the table and mindful of any over-extended ears, he tells the group what he's found out. Impressed but not surprised, the group discusses the options and decides that he chose the right path. Collecting enough coin to pay for false notes and the transport, they decide to wait the two days and relax, even if for a brief moment. The notary will need a day anyway to make the notes. So the keep sipping dwarven ale for the rest of the night, eventually retiring in the large, hostel-like chamber upstairs.

In the morning they meet up with somewhat heavy heads and eat a hearty breakfast. Arthus, realizing it falls upon him to make all arrangements, excuses himself and finds the notary. After the arrangements are made, he again meets with the guild master, and confirms that all plans are set. Having thus attended to all the duties, he meets up with Fizbin and they explore the town a little. Fizbin, finding the local metalsmith interesting, decides to purchase a worn suit of chainmail, for purposes of enhancing his arcane disguise. Throwing the metal over his shoulders seems a bit awkward, but he loosens the links a bit, throws some soot over his face, and not needing arcane components since that fateful day in the library, Fizbin finds a way to blend in well enough to be ignored.

Seeking out the general store, Fizbin proceeds to restock on some of the uncommon items. Clearly plotting his next step, he purchases wax, sulfur, a burning dish and a simple cold steel knife. Though Arthus is puzzled he has long learned that Fizbin often purchases the weirdest of things, and instead focuses his attention on some strong rope and climbing spikes. When they're both satisfied with the day's purchases, both head back to the inn, where Fizbin politely disappears to a private room, not to be seen again for some time.

There, enhancing the privacy of the room with some arcane wards, Fizbin begins to etch the hit of the metal knife using melted wax and sulfur. Soon his etching begins to take shape, and after a few hours or meticulous work he ends up with an infinity symbol under an omega symbol. Intending to invoke a ritual that would signify the end of infinite power, he heats the hilt over a candle and exposing the scar over his chest burns the mark over scar that Sirilius inflicted on him. Though he screams out in pain, his voice is silenced by the room's wards, and laying on the floor, exhausted and collapsed, he feels a mental veil lift from his mind. Hurt but satisfied, not quite understanding the power he's playing with, he lies on the ground, enjoying the scent of burnt flesh and lavender candle, refusing to accept his fate, refusing to be a prisoner of another…

Scene 3 - Sneaking In

The two days pass quickly. Arthus picks up the Notes from the town's notary, aware of their average quality but expecting little more. The group pack up for their journey, devising a plan to have Alec hidden by Fizbin's spells and suspended above ground on a floating, invisible disk. The four men slide in under a metal case covered up with ore, while Alec floats above the shipment and waits in suspended silence for his companions to be covered up completely and buried under the massive, heavy bricks of mixed metal ore. Eventually the wagon lurches forward, pulled by four massive oxes and guarded by 3 men, and they make their way towards the border, tense, anxious, prepared for the worst. Durkon watches the wagon leave the town, annotates his shipment records, and then, turning to another journal, places a coded entry. He then pull out a pipe, and puffing smoke rings on the cold air turns towards the guildhouse, lost in deep thought and debating his next move…

Though they cannot hear much, Alec, suspended above the wagon and unnoticed by the guards, listens intently, paying attention to the road, the wagon, and the terrain all around. After an hour of travel they come across the border, and with little ceremony and a rudimentary search of the wagon, the shipment is allowed safe passage. The money changes hands, and the wagons are handed over to the soldiers of Hammerfell, and the caravan proceeds unmolested deep into the realm of Hammerfell.

Over the next day of travel, Alec listens to the soldiers, learning what he can of their conversation. He picks up from the soldiers that the ruler of Hammerfell, known only as the Overlord, has been acting spooked lately. Since his 'conversion' to the true faith, he's been amassing an army, known throughout the land as "The Children of the Eclipse". They wear a symbol of a sun eclipsed by the moon on their chest, and this ore, together with many more, are being carried towards his stronghold - towards Cliffkeep.

While on the road, the caravan turns away from the road, as if avoiding something. There is a body of a man in a black armor lying on the ground - a Blackguard, that the passing caravan only spits at, displaying a visible dislike towards the corpse.

"Damned Blackguard. I don't understand why the Overlord tolerates their presence!" says one guard, kicking away the bent and rusty helmet.
"I'm sure he has his reasons." says another, looking towards a distant haze of smoke, invariably implying a larger town or encampment. "Look at them! Took over Skaven as if it was their own! Bah, rotten bastards. Hopefully they'll be good for good soon - there seem to be less fires burning these last few weeks."
"I hope you're right" says the third.

And so, turning away from the road, they follow a temporary trail, avoiding the town, and passing unnoticed by their unwelcome neighbors…

Scene 4 - The Hard Way Up

After a day of travel, having just barely passed the smokes of Skaven, the caravan stops for the night, hidden between an overgrowth of bushes and tall, wild trees, out of sight of the Blackguard, or other curious eyes.

After a few pints of ale and a good meal, the guards doze off, giving Alec ample opportunity to make his move. Slowly and quietly, he climbs down from the floating disk and without a single clink removes the bricks of ore one at a time. Once enough bricks are removed, he helps his friends one at a time, sliding out from underneath the heavy load, and taking a deep breath for the first time in many hours. At that, they put the bricks back, concealing the deception, and slide away into the night.

Having made a good distance from the caravan, they pause, exhausted, dirty, and winded from the forced march. Hidden in the thick trees, they sleep the rest of the night, anxious but safe for the moment, lost in a strange land, uncertain of the future. Come morning they wake up late, having slept in well into the day, but feeling rested they make a quick lunch and resume their journey, moving north-west, towards the tall hills.

Over the next few days they travel unmolested, avoiding any settlements, guided by Alec's skill and Arthus' cunning. The closer they get to the tall hills, however, the harder the journey becomes, and there is something else … a presence … a smell of ash and soot … an altogether unpleasant rhythm on the wind that gets stronger as they climb higher and higher. Finally they reach the edge of the mountains, the supposed place where the "Morning Light" grows, their immediate goal and a cure for the Draconian King. So they climb, and soon they reach the top of the hills, excited to finally achieve something important for a change - excited to have a shining light in the dark journey they undertake.

And thus they crest the hill, welcomed by a horribe site. As the wind blows the full strength of the visage through their bones, they see before them miles and miles of burned, charred ash. The earth smells of oil, poisoned through and through. The grass is dead and burned, with no greenery in sight. In a distance, Arthus and Alec smell a fresh smell of smoke … different than the old, mist-soaked ash that clings to their boots. They sense presence of humans nearby. They sense the presence of fire…


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