This one will be out of order, since I was working on another in the middle. Think of it as a halloween treat.
The Stony mask: A pre- Halloween story.
When a ranger reaches his or her 12th season, they are paired with an older, more experienced ranger to go on a year long Journeyman expedition. This is a tale that happened during my own journey, so many years ago. Details of that journey will maybe be posted eventually, so for now you will be missing some background, but for now, just know that I was paired with a Pathfinder named Jankeck, a knowledgeable, but rather crotchety at times, old tracker.
We had reached the small village of Dunsteartg near the ruins of Mistmoore. The villagers make their living by collecting some of the more interesting fungi that grow around that area. Interesting place, especially for a shiny new wet behind the ears ranger?
I had been traveling with Jankeck for about a month now at this point. We were delivering medicine to some of the outlying areas for the cleric guild. Apparently some of those clerics get a bit lost at times. Jankeck would set up her tent, distribute the packets to the families in the village, and then settle in to mediate any disputes. (since we were acting on behalf of the government, us rangers often hear the details of a case, then take a transcript to the nearest office. The next official out that way delivers it) While I sometimes sat in on those sessions, but more often Jankeck would have me ask around the village for any tasks I could accomplish, to ?let the villagers get to know me? she always said. This usually consisted of tracking down some pest terrorizing the village, or foraging up some rare root . Always a good chance to get some archery practice in.
Today started out no different. We set up shop, and got down to business. Things went along normally for a while until about mid afternoon. Suddenly two crying woodelf children came running up to us.
At first they were incoherent, but eventually we were able to make out ?Help us! Our brother Tonith is lost!!!?.
Jankeck concentrated for a second, then nodded to me. ?He?s to the north somewhere. I don?t have time to deal with this today! Go find the little runt and bring him back before they flood the place? she said, gesturing to the two frightened children. That seemed to calm them a bit.
I grabbed my bow and swordbelt, and called back ?Alright, be back before dinner time!?, and with a wave, I set off into the forest.
It took me a while to get a fix on poor Tonith. He must have been at the very edge of Jankeck?s range, but eventually I got a lock. Cursing my stupidity for not having grabbed a SoW ahead of time, I plodded my way towards him, pot shotting the odd bat or bug along the way. His path led deep into a really old forest, I could tell from a few of the larger windfalls that it had been around for at least 2 ages. Kind of amazing to think that any beings are still alive from before the sundering.
As I neared the position where Tonith was supposedly at, I felt the forest begin to subtily change around me. The trees started becoming more twisted and overgrown, and I could almost feel a presence. Something about this place was nagging at the back of my brain, but I couldn?t for the life of me remember what.
I reached the place where my senses told me Tonith should be. Nothing. Puzzled, I broke out the see invisibility charm. Still nothing. Very strange.
Reaching out with my senses, I pushed my aura down. Sure enough, the kid was underground somewhere.
I began my search for a tunnel. After about 10 minutes of searching, I picked up his trail. He seemed to have been chasing something. I decided to ask one of the forest residents if they had seen anything, using my innate speech abilities. Nothing. Not one single chipmunk, squirrel, or badger in the entire area. Even the birds were gone.
Now I was worried. The denizens of the forest are everywhere, even in the most vile swamps or arid deserts. Their lack here was a sign that something was seriously wrong.
I drew my blade, then set off to the tunnel entrance.
As I approached, I could see that something was very wrong. Outside the cave was a large pile of bones. Mostly deer and antelope, but some that looked entirely too familiar. The entrance of the cave was surrounded by an age worn carving, in elder Tierdal.- hutea jnarg d?hokchow - Loosely translated, ?The depths of fear?
I went inside. The cave was easy to see into due to my half elven eyes, but there was a sense of oppressive gloom throughout that chilled me to my spine. The air smelled of must and fungus, but there was a hint of something else. Something acrid and foul.
I quickened my pace. Tanith was in trouble.
Along the way, I ran into the source of the bone pile outside. A large gnoll-warg was blocking my path. It was chewing on something?
I quickly ran it through. We didn?t need complications like that around. To my relief, I found that it was chewing on a fish, and not a person. There were large fish swimming around in several side pools, unfortunately fish are not very good conversationalists.
The next few tunnels were a maze of twists and turns, and at least one was booby trapped. I began laying signals so that if anyone followed me, or if I got lost, I could find my way back. I pressed on.
At last, I arrived at a large cavern. At the far end, I could see several shadowy figures standing around a stone alter. Yup, you guessed it. Tanith lay tied to the alter, screaming his lungs out.
The shadowy figures turned to face me. Turns out they were literally shadows. There were three of them, one of which appeared to be wearing a large stone mask. In an instant, I had arrows going towards all three. The two on the sides were armed with spears, and didn?t seem to be a great threat. The one in the middle seemed to be a great deal more powerful.
My first arrow took the one on the left hand side through the eye socket. He (it?) flailed around for a while, but a well timed DoT sealed it?s fate. I turned my attention to the second one, as the one in the middle with the strange mask seemed to be hanging back, waiting to see what happened.
The second was a much more adept fighter. He came at me, sweeping low and high with the head of his spear, trying to catch my blade in the crossgaurd. I parried and rolled under his guard, but he blocked my follow through stroke and I was forced to dance away. We circled then for a bit, both of us looking for a weakness. I didn?t have time for this.
With a lunge, I darted in, blocking his thrust with my forearm. The tip of his spear penetrated my bracer, but skidded off the scaly green skin beneath (being half dragon does have some advantages you know) sh*t! That hurt! No time to worry about it though.
While his spear was trapped, I thrust up through his jaw and out the top of his skull. Turns out even shadows have skeletons?
With a booted foot I freed my sword from the body and turned to face the remaining shadow. I could tell that he was much stronger than me, but the only choices I had were to stand my ground or flee, and with Tanith there on that slab, there really was no choice.
The shadow cocked his head at me and spoke in a voice still as death.
?You dare much for such a little one. I may have use for you once you are dead.?
?Not if I kill you first.? I lamely replied.
At this point, the shadow began to laugh. He pointed to the mask on his face.
?you don?t know what this is, do you?? he said, gazing out at me with his strange red eyes. He continued.
?this is the Funerary mask of Mayong Mistmoore. Already it provides me with tremendous power. Once I finish the ritual, you won?t have a prayer of stopping me?
And with that, he moved.
I am quick for my size, but there is no way I had a chance to keep up with this guy. Had he gone for Tanith right then, it would have all been over. Lucky for us all, he came after me instead. Wielding a wicked looking kris blade dagger, he stabbed at my side, raking open a large hole. I snapped off a minor healing spell, but this was definitely not a good way to start a fight. Three more times he darted in before I had a chance to even the score, and three more times he drew blood. He was toying with me.
Furious, I slammed his blade aside and punched him in the face with my left hand. As my hand came away, I saw with satisfaction that his face ran purple with blood. I had broken the bastards nose! Now though, he was really pissed.
He backed away. ?You fool! Before I would have killed you, but now you shall eat your own entrails and beg for death! You have ruined your lands, you?ll not ruin ours!?
I just grinned and shot off another mini-heal. He began to cast a spell. A bolt of ichor green fire shot out of his blade and hit me in the arm.
The fire crept across my chest, towards my heart. This was it. I knew I was going to die. Rageing with the futility of my situation, I threw back my sword arm to make one last desperate thrust. In doing so, the amulet I was given from my father at the beginning of my journeyman year shifted and touched the edge of the flame. Instantly a blue spark raced back through the flame and into the arms of the shadow, burning away the shadow flesh and devouring the inhuman remains. The shadow dropped his knife from his now useless skeletal hand. The blue spark continued to do its work, spreading throughout the vile creatures body. I decided to help it along.
Summoning all my rage, I begin to cast a spell. I had always been good with fire spells, and the situation lent more strength than usual. A massive column of flame enveloped the creature, burning away everything until all that was left was a pile of ash, and the mask.
I ignored that for the moment. There were more important things to take care of.
I untied Tanith. He seemed to have overcome his fear and was staring at me.
?Mister? Why are your eyes purple??
That was news to me. Until that morning, they had been a nice rangerly blue. They never did turn back, but that?s another story.
?I don?t know.? I told him truthfully. ?Lets get out of here, but first I have to take care of something?
I moved over to the mask. Except for some strange green veins pulsing energy throughout the face, you wouldn?t know that it was anything out of the ordinary.
I brought my boot down on it as hard as I could?
The mask shattered in a thousand pieces, but at the same time it seemed to release a burst of energy. It started small, but expanded to fill the chamber, shaking the walls and ceiling of the chamber. Then the tunnel entrance collapsed.
The only way in or out of the cavern. We were both trapped.
There was only one thing to try. I turned to face tanith. ?I need you to hold my hand very tight. I am going to try a spell to get us out of here.?
What I was going to try was risky for a druid. It was suicidal for a ranger. I reached out with my senses until I could feel the largest tree in the ancient forest on the surface. With it fixed firmly in my mind, I slowly began to expand my personal energy field ******d. Once it was big enough to cover us both, I started the mental exercise that would either free us from this cave, or kill us both.
Not a moment too soon. The last thing I heard was a sharp crack as the ceiling gave way, plunging thousands of tons of rock directly at us. Tanith gasped, and then the spell took form.
I?m not sure how long passed. It must have been a fair amount of time, because when I awoke, Tanith, Jankeck and a host of villagers were all standing around me. We were apparently back in the village.
I tried to sit up, but stopped as the pain from my earlier battle wounds came in full force.
?Lie still? Jankeck said to me. ?you?re pretty beat up, and whatever they used on their weapons is preventing the healing spells from working.
I noticed that my armor had been removed, and my green forearms were sitting exposed on top of the sheet of the recovery bed. Well, I guess she had to find out eventually, but I had wanted to put it off as long as possible. She noticed my glance.
?you?re just full of surprises, aren?t you?? she said in a quiet voice. ? I was tracking you the entire time, and when you went off the scope like that without any warning, well it was kind of a shock. I thought you were dead? she continued in seriousness.
I started to shrug it off, but she stopped me.
?No. I saw the remains of the cave. I saw what you were fighting in there, or what is left of one of them at least. You should be dead now. You are either amazingly lucky, or there is something more to the story than I know.? She paused, tears in the corners of her eyes. ?I almost sent you to your death, and just because I was too lazy to check it out properly. It?s my fault that you are in here now. ?
I told her what happened. About my history, about my ability to teleport when I shouldn?t be able to, the story behind the green patches of skin, all of it.
When I finished, she asked to see the amulet. I showed it to her.
?hmmm, the design on the front seems familiar to me, but I can?t place why. It was something I saw when I was in vellious last time. I?m sure I?ll remember it. ? she looked thoughtful.
?as for you, if you ever get in a situation like that again, I?ll kill you!? but she was laughing with relief as she said it. From that point on, she was much more like a mother to me than a taskmistress, and we remained close for many years, until? Well that?s a story for another day.
After we left the villaige, I did see Tanith again. A few years later, he joined up with the rangers of Kelethen.
That was the first time I had any inkling the amulet of my father was anything out of the ordinary. Of course, you all know what part it played later in my life. But without it that day, the world would be a much different place.
<deep underground in a long forgotten catacomb, tiny ants begin carrying seemingly random pieces of grayish stone flecked with green to a pile. The process is a slow one, but the patience of ants is infinite. It was a task that would take years, maybe even thousands of years, but slowly, ever so slowly, the pile of stone grows larger. The day will come. But not yet?>
Edited, Fri Mar 12 23:50:09 2004 by Kaolian
Edited, Oct 31st 2006 at 6:38pm PST by Kaolian
Edited, Oct 31st 2006 at 6:39pm PST by Kaolian