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RP:A Duplicitous Rescue

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Part of the The Ice Plague Cometh Arc

Ice Caves

Synopsis: Desert Legion High Commander Collin Eliason has been captured by frost giant exiles and is being kept underground in their barracks in a hidden network of ice caverns! Oh no! Never fear! Josleen, Hildegarde, Kovl, and Ezekiel undertake a daring rescue mission (and hopefully will gleam some enemy intelligence as well!). Kovl and Ezekiel go in invisibly. Josleen is disguised as an ice giantess. Hildegarde is her prisoner who she is bringing to Hakkon, the exile Jarl, as a gift. Things quickly go wrong. Ezekiel is separated from the group and Hildegarde assasinates Hakkon as knights are wont to do. Kovl disguises Josleen as he undead exil Jarl Hakkon and they set off to find Ezekiel and Eliason. Ezekiel finds Eliason first, being forced to battle beasts and now, a barbarian named Crombur, in an arena for the entertainment of exile giants. Ezekiel tries to intervene and takes a cudgel to the head and fall unconscious, still invisible. The rest of the group (after Josleen impersonates a giant jailer and Hilde murders the original jailer because reasons) meets up with Eliason, has no idea where Ezekiel is, just as the exiles sound the horn of war and prepare to attack a troop of Larketian knights recently arrived to Frostmaw to aid the City of War! The horn also awakens Lao Shen, the legendary frost worm who begins to cause a series of cave-ins. Ezekiel, partially visible and bloodied, catches up with the group and collides with Eliason and Josleen (who is now herself) and they are sent sprawling into another cave-in and separated from Kovl and Hildegarde, and their tag-along, Cromber the Barbarian. Kovl and Hildegarde face off against the frost worm, then Crombur, all while trying to rescue their friends. Meanwhile, Ezekiel, Eliason, and Josleen are helplessly trapped and begin to heal one another physically, while in the process becoming broken emotionally. Josleen is forced to choose between the two men who love her, and chooses Eliason, shattering Ezekiel’s heart. Once rescued, Ezekiel leaves the group and disappears. The rest of the party returns to Frostmaw, having succeeded in both rescuing Eliason and securing sensitive enemy information. Also, Hildegarde is allergic to pixie dust and pineapples. Fin!

The company agreed to meet the following day at dawn at the empty tent near the prisoner’s cages. It’s one of the few places in Frostmaw they can expect to be devoid of spies, and its proximity to the western gate makes it an ideal location for a swift exit. They need to milk every hour of light the day can offer. It may not make much of a physical difference in the deep caves and tunnels, but psychologically, it could mean the difference between courage and despair. Josleen and Hildegarde planned to meet at the prisoner’s cages about fifteen minutes before first light. Ezekiel is hard-pressed to stay in bed until sunrise and joins Josleen in the navy dark before dawn. The bard is quiet, withdrawn in her own mind. She tries to think of the mission to keep herself from spiraling into the fear that mission inspires. With each step, her heart races faster. It’s here. It’s actually happening. At the prisoner’s cages, Josleen and Hildegarde can find all the raw material they need to dress Hildegarde the part of prisoner: chains, mouth gags, rope, and a willing Frost Giant’s fist. No prisoner costume would be complete without a bona fide black eye and split lip. Josleen takes her time carefully dressing Hildegarde in bonds binding her hands and feet, mussing her hair, tearing at any clothes - which is embarrassing difficult for the bard to pull off without Hildegarde’s help. “Here, this knot is a stage trick. It looks like a real knot, but feel this piece under here?” Beneath the thick binding around the knight’s wrist, a piece of thin string loops and hides against her palm within reach of her pinky to hook into and pull. “In case of emergency, pull this. It’ll free your hands. If you want, try it.” Should the knight give the emergency cord a tug, the bindings will fall away quickly. Josleen once more binds Hildegarde with the same magician’s knot. She takes her sweet time, too, avoiding the impatient pacing of a nearby frost giant who will as cordially as possible give Hildegarde a brutal-looking beating. The sun starts to color the underbelly of low-hanging clouds long before its rays pierce the horizon. The time has come, Josleen. She gives Hildegarde’s hands a reassuring squeeze, her stare penetrating Hildegarde’s one good eye and digging for the knight’s inner world there. How does she feel? How is she doing? If the knight were to dig into the bard’s internal world, she would find it flooded by fear. “Are you ready?”

Hildegarde had agreed to meet with Josleen: the time, the place, everything was organised. All she had to do was bunk down for the night and rest, to just sleep as best she could before facing the day. Sleep did not come too easily to the knight, however. A restless night plagued her, but she didn’t dwell on it. There was no time to. The Silver rose to her feet and donned her blue iron armour, her halberd and Oathkeeper; looking as ready as she could for war. Steady steps led her to the prisoner’s cages, nodding to Josleen as she came into view. “My lady,” she offered, before they got to work in preparing her. The costume was unusual to her, she always dressed practically or for combat, not for the sake of playing a part or a role. But she insisted on keeping parts of her greaves on underneath, protecting the artery in her thigh from any attack that may come her way. At the emergency cord attached to her bonds, she smiled, “I wouldn’t have even thought of that. Bind those hands tight now; they know what I am,” she warned her gently. Hildegarde’s internal world seemed to be shrouded in warrior’s expertise: an experience of battle she wished she never had experienced in the first place, but a courage and sense of duty overwhelming it clearly. “Have heart, Josleen,” she said gently, as warmly as she could – which was surprisingly quite warm, sweet and kind – and offered her a champion smile, “We will not fail.” She glanced to the frost giant waiting to the side, ready to beat her convincingly. “You watch him, my lady, because they may ask you to hit me. You must hit me as he does, do you understand? You mustn’t hesitate. If you do, they will know. No fear, my lady, only courage. Fight for those you love and for the people of Frostmaw.”

Josleen was totally planning on looking away while the frost giant beat Hildegarde. Hildegarde's request that she watch causes her body to sag in resignation. "Must I?" She must. "I can't bear to watch." She can. And she does through squinted eyes watch as the frost giant nods to Hildegarde, waiting for the eye contact all soldiers recognize as the universal military code for 'do it.' When he has the okay, the frost giant pulls back a massive fist and lets it loose with full force on Hildegarde's face. He doesn't enjoy it, but he doesn't apologize or flinch from it either. Josleen, on the other hand, flinches with each blow. She apologizes several times into her hands throughout the beating. "Oh gods!" Whack, to the side to bruise, but not crack, the rib. "Oh no." Crack, there goes the bridge of the nose. "That's enough!" The frost giant finishes the costume with a split lip and nods respectfully to the knight, taking a step away to give her space. "You're a gods damned barbarian!" Josleen shrieks at him as she darts towards Hildegarde. Her hands lift as if to touch the knight, but don't. Instead they hover protectively around her, shielding her from any prying eyes in case Hilde needs a minute to compose herself. "Oh no... why did it have to be this way..." She shoots the frost giant a hawkish look over her shoulder to chastise him for doing what he was asked. He really doesn't care.

Hildegarde nodded, “You must. You cannot shy away when it happens for real, my lady, either. They will know and they will cut you down. I have promised to protect you, but you’ll need to help me do that by doing as I say.” That said, she looked to the approaching frost giant and eyes him up and down in an assessing manner. She had fought bigger. Although she had fought bigger, it didn’t mean he wasn’t any weaker. Certainly, it didn’t help that she couldn’t defend herself physically in that moment. Her instinct to roll away or to evade the attack was strong, to try and fight back, but she had to suppress that urge in order to serve Josleen’s best interest. With the fist to her face, she staggered back and nearly dropped to her knee; but stood tall and hissed angrily, “Is that all?” she demanded to know, earning the wallop to her side. That one winded her, forcing her down to that knee with a gasping kind of groan. Then her nose, sending her onto her back with the sheer force of it with a dizziness to accompany it. But then her face was burning with pain, feeling the blood oozing from her lip. Silver dragons were some of the physically strongest in the realm: their bones were tough and strong, unbreakable to most. Her nose did not break, but it still bled and began to swell, looking an angry red. The knight groaned for a moment before struggling to pull herself up to her feet with her bonds, “Because your life is worth protecting, my lady. A little blood and pain is a small price,” she smiled; teeth bloodied and stained as she did. “Now. Leash me or else they’ll question it. They thrive on demeaning their foe.”

Josleen grimaces at the bloody smile. That's the bloody smile of the City of War, she reflects. Once Eliason is saved, she'll want to escape a long way away from this place. "Why don't we wait until Kovl is here and disguises me? I certainly find no joy in leashing you." She does, however, retrieve a chain and leather leash. She stares down at it, her gaze growing distant as she reflects on its purpose. It's so cruel. How can the exile frost giant bring themselves to do this? But she knows how, for she has been studying their character with Drargon. The most frightening thing about getting into the mindset of an exile frost giant is just how easy it is to understand them. She blinks out her moment of reflection and murmurs to Hildegarde. "I'll leash you just before we leave." Dawn is fully here, and Kovl is surely moments away.

Ezekiel may have been hard-pressed to stay in bed, but she knew just as well as he that wasn't going to happen. He had followed along with her in the dark before dawn and stayed close when she met up with the knight, Hildegarde. For the most part, he kept quietly to himself, staying mostly out of the way by making the caged bars a home for his back to rest. He wasn't pleased with what he witnessed, the giant's brutal beating made him cringe and flinch with each blow, his stomach sank and he eventually had to look away. He didn't have the heart to watch this. Half of him wanted to interject and raise a hand, to say 'that's enough, or take it easy!' but the other half stopped him. He was nervous, he had anxiety and his mind raced with countless questions. All he could do for now was study the connection- their beacon to Eliason, it remained pointing in the same general direction, and it was still as visible as ever; that was a good thing, right? In time the mage found himself sliding down the bars so that his back was mashed against them and his rear planted in the snow. He had a few things he wanted to go over with when Kovl arrived, he had ideas and suggestions to keep the two from pulling-or giving too much energy, and how exactly they'd communicate once moving. For now he'd flash a concerned look to Josleen then force a smile. It didn't last long.

Kovl is not the one who traverses the snow-laden way to the cages in the still-dark early morning toward the trio. No, it's Kove, the pixie's avian disguise whose boots are lifted high with each step to move across the sea of white. The pixie is quite sure this journey is easier for frost giants than it is avians. As he stomps through the path, the sound of knuckles against a skull, Hildegarde's taunting and Josleen's protesting meets his ears. Are they discovered already? The illusionist's pace immediately quickens as he breaks into a run, unsure what he would see. Kovl's boot snags his other, causing him to lurch forward, tripping and then catching himself from a face-to-face meeting with the snow. Stupid running. He misses his original form. With a few more steps, Kovl spots the trio and the offending frost giant. Ezekiel's passiveness and the demeanor of the women causes Kovl to stop and realize this is not the scene of a premature discovery by the Exiles but a scene meant to decorate Hildegarde's face with bruises. The pixie's face flinches in vicarious pain as he encounters the last punch, but the punch also acts as fuel for the realization the four would be in serious trouble if frost giants did indeed discover them. The risk pumps adrenaline through his veins. "Well then. Let's do this." The pixie's expression is that of excitement and dare though concern isn't absent from his mind. The prospect of danger, however, serves more to adventurous personality than to the deterring worry.

Eliason’s Imprisonment

The roar of the crowd is not muffled in this room, instead it pierces Eli's ears causing him to flinch and nearly get pummeled by the giant fist headed for his face. This particular portion of the cave is hollowed out as a huge arena. Bleacher-like seats have been carved into the stone around a circular floor roughly 50 feet in diameter. Exhaustion makes the legionnaire commander's limbs heavy as barely pulls away from the death-blow. Eli has no idea how long he has been held captive, time means nothing this far below the surface, and he has lost count of the battles that he has been forced to wage. From Ice Devils to Frost Giants to various beasts, he seems to only have an hour or two between bouts and weariness is taking its toll. Eventually his strength will fail and he will die, but not this time. Taking a deep breath, he uses the deepest reserves of his strength to spin away from the giant's blow and kick out with all of his strength at the huge ankle before him. A satisfying crunch of bone meets his ears as the giant falls with a groan of pain. Limping forward, Eli clasps his hands before him and brings them down as hard as he can on the side of the giant's head. He'll never know if his blow killed his foe or simply knocked it out, but the pain in his hand tells the legionnaire that something in his hand has broken. This will be his last victory, this much is certain. Closing his eyes he calls out mentally to anyone that might hear. "I need help... Jos... Aela... can anyone hear?" With that, several hands grab him roughly and drag him to his cell.

Eliason wakes from the nightmare, body sticky with sweat and his hands shaking with the fear that only the sleep brings to the big man. Casting his eyes downward as reality slowly comes to him, he peers at his damaged hand with a frown. The entire underside of his left hand is swollen and an angry black bruise taints the skin. A soft curse lifts from the Commander's lips as he examines the damage. Movement outside of his cell draws his attention and the muttering of voices and jingling of keys reaches the paladin's ears. "Well, this is it..." Surprisingly, the man is not afraid of this fate. In a way, he looks forward to the peace that the afterlife will afford him. Closing his eyes, he lifts a prayer to Arkhen. "Arkhen, since arriving in these lands, I have strived to serve you. I hope that my offering of myself has honored you and these lands and that I will be remembered as a man of his word and ultimately, a man who has changed the lives of those around him for the better. I offer myself once more now as a sacrifice and if by my death, I can change the tide of this war, grant me the ability to do so. I pray that you grant me the ability to take as many of these bastards with me as possible." With that, a squeal of rusty hinges announces the arrival of his captors. Once more, those rough hands take hold of Eliason and drag him down the familiar path toward the arena. In defiance of his imminent fate, he grins and taunts the giants that have ahold of him. "I'm going to kill all of you, you know?! Each one of you, one by one... Your mother's gonna be disappointed that you couldn't survive against the puny soldier..." And the words go on and on until he is cast one final time into the center of the arena.

Eliason throws himself to the ground as the snarling wolf sails over him. His heavy breathing sends little flurries of dust up from the ground beneath his nose. Gritting his teeth against the pain in his broken hand, he pushes himself up and gains his feet, spinning around to face the creature. Baleful red eyes meet the vibrant blue of the paladin's. The winter wolf stalks forward slowly, lowering itself into a half crouch as it approaches. " At least it's not a Devil this time," the man thinks to himself before letting out loud battle-cry and rushing toward the wolf. The beast lifts itself onto its hind legs and opens its jaws to meet the rush. With a loud grunt from the human and snarl from the wolf, the two meet, the man's arms wrapping about the wolf's body. Ducking his head, Eli manages to avoid the direct bite of the snapping jaws as he painfully clasps his broken hand with his free one and squeezes. Spinning and pulling itself against the death grip of the man, the wolf manages to get its paw on Eli's face and pushes it back far enough to open its maw wide and sink its teeth into his forehead. With a cry of pain, Eli squeezes with all of his might and is rewarded with the crunching sound of breaking bones. The wolf gives a wimper as its last breath escapes it. Letting the corpse fall to the ground, Eli spins upon the crowd. The blood dripping down his face matched with the maniacal grin on his lips is a gruesome sight as he calls out to the gathering. "Come on! Who's next?! Come get me!" Riding on the frayed edge of sanity, the paladin welcomes the threatening embrace of death.

The Rescue Mission

Josleen’s grim stare greets Kovl. Her rattling nerves don’t allow for pleasant greetings. “Yea, let’s do it,” she echoes back to the disguised pixie. It is just then that Eliason calls out to her for help. Ezekiel would be able to see the thread between Josleen and Eliason glow brighter and tug. Although in her wakeful state Josleen isn’t aware of the tug, it is still able to influence her mood and behavior. A few uneasy paces chase the thread, and her gaze grows distant and restless in Eliason’s general direction, which is unknown to the bard but subconsciously felt. The connection can only communicate facts with her in her sleep, and thus the bard attributes her worsening mood to the encroach of the dangerous mission. A swift shake of the head punts her back on task. She looks to Hildegarde, then Ezekiel, her gaze lingering on his so that he may see her one last time before she transforms into a frost giantess, with no guarantee she’ll ever be given the opportunity to be Josleen again. To Kovl, she explains as she leads him into the empty tent. “Queen Satoshi’s craft is in here.” Much like they rehearsed in the garden, Josleen wears the frost giant ice sculpture like peculiar body armor. As Kovl works his magic, she closes her eyes and tries to get in character, recalling everything she learned in such a short span of time. She gives him some direction, building on their last craft. “I think her boobs need to be bigger. Drargon said they like breast. Oh, and her thighs should be really thick - even by frost giantess standards.”

Hildegarde looked between all who had gathered, “You mustn’t react to these things when in the camp, lest you want to lose your lives and have us killed in the process.” The knight didn’t mean to speak harshly, but she needed them to be aware that there was a very real danger in embarking upon this mission. “You will see sights and horrors that may plague your very dreams,” she spoke from experience here, “but have heart and hold still in the effort to save your own and our lives.” That said, she waited for Kovl and Ezekiel to do what was necessary; to transform Josleen into the form of a busty giantess who would so easily walk into the encampment and present her prisoner for some kind of reward or accolade. “We had best move swiftly,” she murmured, “I feel the stillness in the city to be an ill omen.” The people of Frostmaw often relied on such omens and Hilde had come to regard them with a certain degree of respect.

Ezekiel was reluctant to push off the cage and make his way towards Kovl. It had everything to do with the vibrant pulse in the thread linking both savior and captive together. He'd catch Josleen's worried glance and return one of his own, they needed to hurry. While Hildegarde's warnings were taken to heart, he'd pull his attention from the two women and lend it all to Kovl. Now that they were left to do their 'thing', Ezekiel mostly exchanged valuable information and helped figure out how he and Kovl were going to maintain their link; he was the projector and Ezekiel his battery. For the most part, Kovl would have to start things off by setting the illusion, once in play he'd step in. Ezekiel took a spare moment to glance Josleen's way, wondering how she was holding up. When Kovl started to weave her disguise, he'd nervously move in from behind and keep couple feet of distance between them. 'Like pouring water into a bowl', he used Satoshi's reference and the knowledge of filling both tome and fluorite alike to do the same for the illusionist. He took a knee and closed his eyes, focused on the swell of magic so strong, it threatened to burst at the seams sometimes. The same azure swirl of energy from before gathered around his only arm and in time was channeled into a pumpkin sized ball. He kept his mind calm and pushed any doubt away, focusing so carefully on the task at hand. How he managed to keep his thoughts clear at a time like this was a secret for another day. When he felt the draw of Kovl's illusion pulling inward, he'd feed his sphere of energy forward. The light disappeared, vanished in a misted state as it all drifted to the pixie. Josleen would still need to hold the energized stone he'd given her, but with a little extra 'juice', maybe the illusion would last longer before having to draw on the reserves. As for the two spell weavers, they were most likely experiencing something entirely new to them and their magical careers. Even if it wasn't visible, that same flow of energy was pouring into Kovl and cycling back; he wouldn't even begin to try and understand it right now. If he could treat the mage like his tome- or the powered fluorite -he'd let the arcane flow act as a current. Ezekiel opened a pair of azure glowing eyes and didn't say much else. He needed to focus.

Kovl follows Josleen into the tent to watch her don the ice structure Satoshi had sculpted the day previous in the pixie's presence, but before creating the guise, the pixie throws off his avian appearance, shrinking once again to his original form and cutting the image of avian wings which once covered his own. Kovl nods in agreement at Hildegarde's admonition. Prior to his casting, Kovl meets eyes with Ezekiel and warns, "Don't kill me now." Turning back to Josleen, the illusionist begins to weave his illusion, causing an image of one of Frostmaw's barmaids to blink into view, covering Josleen and her awkward armor. The pixie ties the joints and facial features to the arcane points instilled in ice just as the Queen of Frostmaw explained to him, and at this time he begins his alterations: a wider smile, a thinner nose, and bigger eyes. All of these alterations are meant to mask the likeness of Kovl's inspiration. The pixie chuckles at Josleen's request. Though his nerves are beginning to heighten, no sign of fear is displayed for the mission ahead of them. At Josleen's petition, Kovl enlarges the guise's breast and thickens its thighs. Pleased, Kovl stands in front of Josleen, dwarfed by a mixture of illusion and ice. He gives Josleen a thumbs up and a smile and looks back to Ezekiel nodding in approval. The pixie's wings buzz as he lifts from the ground and reaches into a pouch on his side. After ensuring Ezekiel isn't allergic to pixie dust, and only if Ezekiel isn't allergic to pixie dust, Kovl sends a pulse of magic down his arm to the dust in his clutched hand and tosses some onto him, rendering him completely invisible. The pixie follows suit, making himself invisible with the remaining portion. Kovl's voice can be heard calling to Hildegarde, "I can hold your weapons if Josleen cannot, but other than that, we are ready to move."

A bard’s inclination to believe fantastic stories lends itself well to believing superstition too. Josleen takes Hildegarde’s bad omen as fact, and the new discovery rattles her backbone. If she survived today and were to preserve this adventure in an epic poem, the first verse would be dedicated to setting a gloomy, stark, and hopeless scene. The narrator would be Hildegarde. In the second verse, woodwinds pick up a whimsical melody as the pixie hero, Kovl sets about crafting a buxom giantess’s shell. The bard closes her eyes and focuses her mind on crafting the giantess’s substance. However, Ezekiel’s azure glow backlights her lids and distracts her. She can’t focus. She watches him. Only once before has she seen the mage generate this much energy, and it was the same day he lost his arm. Now as she watches that same blue current gobble up his remaining arm, she can’t help but discover bad omens of her own. Then Kovl tosses some pixie dust in Ezekiel and he’s gone. Josleen wasn’t entirely ready for it, and frowns, her giantess lips looking far too vulnerable and sweet. Once Kovl disappears, she shuts her eyes again to focus her mind once more. This time Kovl’s weapon-logistic concerns snap her out of her descent into the mind of a frost giant and Josleen feels that initial pang of diva-esque frustration. This must be why career actors are so mercurial. She interjects, “You should take them, Kovl. If Hilde has them, they will be seized from her. I have a story ready to explain why she is unarmed. It is best if you have them so should the worst occur, you have a chance to get the weapons to her.” Pause. “Now, give me a second to get - ” her hands wave small circles on either side of her head. Woo-saaa. Big deep breath. To Hildegarde, she superfluously apologizes one last time, “I need to leash you soon. I’m sorry.” It just feels so inhumane, but when next the bard opens her eyes, it feels like justice.

As Kovl and Josleen agreed upon the day before, Josleen waits for Kovl to create the illusion of a common local bird to scout ahead of the company. The illusion is meant to expose any anti-magic wards before the company itself is unmasked. To any spectator, which includes spies in the forest, a frost giantess of generous proportions tows a beaten and bound Hildegarde, occasionally tugging on her leash abusively. Granted, the kind-hearted bard within the frost giantess ensures the abusive flourishes are doled out sparingly and that the leash slips past her fingers a few inches on each tug so that the extra slack muzzles the bite out of each jerk of the leash. The company heads for a well known entrance to an ice cave. The two-cave system seems isolated from the larger network of caves and tunnels, but during Josleen’s misadventure behind enemy lines, she learned of a secret passageway to the larger subterrane system. Their heels, visible and otherwise, click on the frozen floor and echo off the glowing greenish-blue walls of ice. In the second chamber, a few alleys of ice carve away from the main chamber. The frost giantess explores them, her expression unsure as she searches the forest of icicles overhead. Finally, she spots one particularly ordinary looking icicle, reaches up, and unscrews it! It screws right off. Isn’t even cold to the touch. Josleen suspends character and whispers a brief explanation, “They have these all over the place. It’s how they get into the hidden cave system cut off from public access. Kovl, can you go on ahead and see if the coast is clear? There should be a rolled up rope ladder tucked up in there.”

Hildegarde was no mage, so her understanding of magic was quite limited. A warrior through and through, she allowed the mages to work to craft Josleen’s disguise, as buxom and thick as it was. The knight merely stood still, glancing around like a wary sentry for any unwanted company who might stumble upon the supposed rescue party. “And when the giants ask what you did with my weapons?” she asks, glancing between Kovl and Josleen. “They are heavy,” she warned, trying not to outright say: ‘they could be too heavy for a pixie’. But alas, she would do as she was bid!

With raised hands and a shake of her head, the knight murmured, “Just be sure that you don’t break them. Break them…” she started, leaving it unfinished. It was obvious that if anyone of them were to break her weapons, the knight would be most unhappy. “I’ll be keeping a knife or two concealed upon my form. I may have my brute strength, but Eliason may have need of it,” she explained. In regards to leashing, the knight shrugged, “It’s fine, Josleen. Truly. I know you do not mean to really enslave me,” she offered a smile, “and it’s our best chance. So we had ought to do it.” That said and done, the knight staggered along with the group, muttering as she went: “If you are exposed, you should run, all you can hope to do is run while you are defended. As for our mages,” she addressed them, “magic is not something they are experts with or in. But if they have someone who is a necromancer, I have every confidence they will be able to detect or sense your magic. If this is the case, do not draw attention to yourselves. Do all that you can to remain hidden and do not extend your power beyond that, lest we are all exposed. In that case… well, hiding doesn’t matter.” Her advice spent, the knight fell into a relative silence, only occasionally offering a gentle phrase of courage to Josleen. “Have heart, my lady.”

Ezekiel needed only to establish the link between him and the illusionist, nothing more. If the time came, he could fuel the two of them without hesitation or preperation. If all went well, this would be useless on his part and he probably wasn't alone in wishing for this, actually. He watched with interest while he was enshrouded within the pixie's veil of dust, making a mental note to bother him about that later. The journey there was cold, both in temperature and in silence. He said nothing, instead choosing to watch the golden tether between bard and paladin. It wasn't until they were in the actual cave that he saw it pulse, Eliason's threats could be not only heard, but seen possibly miles away by the unnatural eye.

He stood silent as Josleen did away with the fake icicle and gave Kovl a chance to scout ahead. He watched patiently, his mind worked hard to keep his nerves calm. After a few minutes he started to worry, eventually worry turned to panic and just as he was about to say something the wooden clop and squeak of aging rope from the unrolled ladder filled their ears. His heart stopped for a brief moment, the silence was unsettling but the way it broke, even more. “I- I should go first..” he whispered, fog from his hot breath still visible, “They can't see us, I don't think.” His stomach tightened and a chill ran down his spine leaving a garden of goosebumps to spout along his arms. He didn't like taking the lead, but he needed to see which direction their bond led them. He struggled with the ladder, it was one thing to climb a rope ladder to begin with, it was another to do it with one arm. Two times they'd hear a soft hiss as breath was held and the outline of his body was embedded in the cavern floor. The rope swung and jerked around as he took a hold of it, making it seem like there was a breezy draft in the cave. One by one he'd slowly ascend, grunting and moving in quick succession. He had to grab the rung above him before he fell too far backwards. He was glad no one could see his embarrassing handicap and the way he struggled, especially Josleen.

However, in a couple of minutes he'd managed to reach the top and rolled his invisible body over the ledge and heave a victory sigh of relief. He took a minute to glance around, converse with Kovl about what he'd seen, and took a look for himself. He followed the line of golden thread along the cavern floor, followed it around a small bend before hurrying back. He was like a child walking down a dark hallway at night after using the bathroom. The closer he got to what he knew was safety, the quicker his steps grew. Quick now, before the monsters get you! Because even if there wasn't a soul around, something was going to get him! At least, that's how he felt. He'd give the word with Kovl, letting them know it was clear.

Kovl explains to Josleen before descending into the unfamiliar cavern that his illusions hold power over the mind of his victims. "Anyone who believes in the illusion will be affected by the illusion how they think the illusion will affect them. To them, you have the strength of a female frost giant. To them, you can take punches like a frost giant. As you appear, you are to them. But remember, to inanimate objects, you do not possess this strength. Don't expect to be punching out walls or anything. I don't know how Satoshi's ice form holds up against pressure, but if you are attacked by a living being, whether they have weapons or not, my illusion will protect you and the ice structure you are in. Also, keep eyes on the rat illusion I place in front of you. If the rat disappears, either antimagic forces disabled it, or I'm casting another spell. Don't let antimagic runes dare catch you offguard. My illusion will be destroyed in a blink."

A slight tug from an invisible force can be felt on Hildegarde's weapons from the one holding them. Less than five seconds pass before one after another shrink considerably in size before disappearing completely. The invisible pixie's satchel now holds the knight's weapons. "Too heavy, too schmevy. It's no problem for me."

At Josleen's request, Kovl floats ahead, unravels the ladder and decends immediately into the darkness. In fact, he is already in the tunnel far before Ezekiel volunteers. Knowing the one-armed mage, sees magic and thus may be seeing him, the pixie explains, "I, um, went ahead already." The magus begins weaving a spell, whispering words in his native tongue, and a sizeable rat blinks into existence ahead of the duo. The pixie floats to the top of the tunnel, telling the actors it's safe and to watch the rat. Returning to the tunnels, the pixie's keen senses hear the slight shuffling of feet. From Ezekiel, he guesses. Torches line the tall cave walls, casting circular but light shadows intermittently along the gaps between them. The pixie scans the tunnels for the runes Josleen has mentioned, and his pet illusion begins to scurry forward a few feet to allow room for the four of them to walk freely.

Ezekiel’s embarrassment curdles the air. The fumble cannot be seen, but the unnatural swing of the ladder and the thump of soft material on ice gives it away. Ezekiel’s silent suffering thickens the mood. Josleen, out of giantess character, looks away reflexively, her chin held high to feign ignorance. The excessive effort she puts into pretending she doesn’t notice ironically makes it unmistakably clear she is aware of his embarrassment. Once Kovl announces the coast is clear, Josleen looks to Hildegarde and offers what is meant to be a reassuring smile, but comes across nervous. “Here we go…” She re-assumes character as she ascends into the darkness above. The tunnel descends and widens. Air pressure builds oppressively against their skulls. Josleen has to equalize her ears a couple times before the tunnels give way to new sights - specifically, a faint blue glow. A natural geological alchemy causes rocks at this depth to glow greenish blue. Currents of ice fixed on the walls, ceiling, and ground act as natural light bulbs, amplifying that faint blue glow into workable light. The party can see each other (except those made invisible) in shades of blue and green. The world down here is bereft of any other colors. The ground turns marshy and caverns grow tall. Some chunks of ice have been carved and repositioned along the walls to act as torches. They come across a cavern empty of life but stock-piled with supply crates. Along the walls, Kovl may recognize some of the runes Josleen drew for him. The base structure is anti-magic, but they have been altered with sygaldry related to direction. The runes are one-directional and made to mask the caverns from magical snooping above ground while allowing for magic within the subterrane system itself. Kovl’s rat passes into the cavern without trouble. The cavern opens into five tunnels, including the one they just trespassed. Each tunnel is darker than the cavern itself, and Josleen decides to take an ice torch from a wall to better light their path. As she nears the wall, her illusion grows splotchy. Her giantess hand remains intact while the icey forearm beneath is revealed. Her right shin reverts to ice not unlike Satoshi’s prosthetic arm. Her face grows grotesque, part ice figure, part frost giantess. It’s like she stepped into an anti-magic slice of swiss cheese. It’s the residual effect of sloppily executed runic magic. Exiles are all but illiterate when it comes to magic, and this recent venture into runic magic remains a novice endeavor. Those more than a couple feet away from the runes remain unaffected. Stay away from the walls!

Eliason’s Imprisonment

The frost giant jailers grab Eliason and throw him roughly into his cell in the jail room adjacent to the arena. They grin smugly at the paladin’s derangement, seemingly satisfied with this development, and exchange knowing looks above his bloody head. The paladin’s cell is one of several, but most are empty save for two. In one cell sulks a frost giant they refer to as a traitor. The other occupied cell cages a man similar to Eliason in his build. The man has been here longer than the paladin and from time to time is afforded small luxuries - a thin, moldy pillow or a piece of over-cooked meat in his gruel. He was once even given catgut and a fish hook to stitch his own leg. Eliason and the traitor giant have so far been given nothing except their cold, empty cells. They don’t even have a cot. The other human, however, does have a cot. It's an enviable luxury in this purgatory. The other human has been sent out to the arena just as frequently as Eliason, and given the fact he’s still alive, he’s won many more battles than the legionnaire. They call him Crombur. Shortly after Eliason has been caged once more, his jailer returns and tosses him a ragged blanket riddled with mothballs and holes. “Your name Trarg now. Fight good, get things. Fight bad... ” His voice trails, bumped away by a sadistic grin and shrug. The jailer leaves, knowing full well that even that tense interaction can be a reward for a prisoner so solitarily confined. The exile forces are restless, and lackluster battles with dumb beasts and despondent prisoners do little to keep the small army’s energy focused. They need lively fights, and those who provide the most entertainment become headliners, and are even given a bit more time to heal between rounds. Crombur overhears the jailer give Eliason a name. After the jailer leaves, Crombur glares at Eliason from his cell across the room. He doesn’t like sharing his glorified status as a headlining prisoner. Down here in this small bubble of an arena, the only thing Crombur has to his new name is what little he’s earned down here both in way of material goods and gladiator status. Eliason threatens that. Welcome to the new rat race. Crombur is taken back out to the arena, leaving behind Eliason and the traitor who finally breaks his silence. He laughs gruffly, taunting Eliason through his voice alone; the two prisoners cannot see each other. “Glory to Trarg, King of Cell F. Like y’er new masters? They tax in blood.”

Eliason quickly snatches up the blanket and wraps it around his shoulders as he hunches down in a corner. His attention is diverted momentarily as the giants take Crombur. As they pass in front of Eli's cell, the legionnaire catches sight of the the other man and the look of loathing on his face. Somewhere deep within Eli's psyche, the paladin's senses cry out in alarm, a warning of what the man will become if he doesn't come to his senses. But the pain of his wounds and the exhultation of victory still assault his thoughts and keep such warnings at bay. The taunting voice of the traitor is all that breaks through the haze of confusion and insanity pressing into his thoughts. The sound of another voice, as haughty as it may be fills the man with a hope that he had not felt in a long time. Defiantly he calls back, "My name is Eli! And I serve only one master!" The words are muffled by the magic of the caves, but the feeling of saying them and the belief that he yet holds in his heart offer a brief respite from insanity. For a brief, lucid moment, the man thinks about what has brought him here. The loneliness and darkness remind him of something, something from his dreams... How did he get out of those dreams? What was it that broke through? "Josleen," the name slips from his subconscious like one of his uttered prayers. The tendril of a connection between him and the bard pulses with white light to any that can see it. Lucidity fully dawns with the uttered word and the paladin's face grows grim. Taking the blanket from his shoulders, he rips a section free and tightly binds the wounds on his head and hunches back once more to wait.

“TRARG! TRARG! TRARG! TRARG!” taunts the imprisoned frost giant incessantly. It attracts the ire of a jailer who storms into the room and crosses to a small table adorned with a blood red candle on a black holder, a small obsidian idol to Vakmatharas, and an obsidian two-piece sculpture of a mouth with a tongue poking out. The jailer lights the candle and removes the tongue from its socket in the mouth. The room falls eerily silent. Eliason can’t hear, but he can see the jailer pull the frost giant out of his cell, tie him to a whipping post in the center of the room and savagely beat him. Frost giants bleed red like the rest of us. In the arena and prison system, the underlying rule is the same as the basic rule underpinning all of Hollow: play along and be rewarded, rebel and pay the price. The only thing that changes from setting to setting is the game mechanics. The mechanics are set by those with power and influence over each location. Is Eliason a winner or a loser of the exiles’ game? Not a half hour later, Crombur is dragged back into the jail. He’s unconscious, his back sporting a new four-pronged gash. The wolves got to him, but he’s alive - the only indicator necessary to indicate he won. A jailer bullies into Eliason’s cell, strips the blanket from his head, and tosses it onto Crombur. Rewards earned are not necessarily rewards kept. Eliason needs to beat Crombur’s record if he wants what Crombur’s got. About two hours later, the room still muted through Vakmatharas’s idol, the jailers return to fetch Eliason and throw him into the arena against a frostmare. It’s the easiest opponent yet. Before he is exposed to the frostmare’s ferocity, he is forced several gulps of murky but potable water. It’s as if the captors want him to win this round and have accomodated somewhat for his serious condition and lack of hand. There is even a rusted crowbar thrown casually into the ring. Is this part of the game? Build up a headliner to lofty heights so as to make his inevitable fall all the more sweet for the bloodlusting audience?

Eliason clutches his hands over his ears in an attempt to quiet the taunting voice from the other cell. The pain from his wounds has grown nearly unbearable now and his hand has swollen to nearly twice it's normal size. That, mixed with the taunting voice, is once more assaulting the reason that the divine connection with Josleen has given him. When the tongue is pulled from the sculpture and all goes quiet, the legionnaire takes a long shuddering breath tries to close his eyes against the pain. Even the act of closing his eyes, however, sends jolts of pain through his eye sockets. This fact prevents him from shutting out the horror of watching the other giant get beaten before him. This, followed by the return of Crombur's nearly lifeless body do little to instill any hope in the man. When his captors remove the blanket from him and give it to Crombur, Eli truly begins to understand the game. He will have to outperform the other man if he wants to be rewarded. It is with this knowledge that he is cast once more into the arena with the frostmare. For a moment, the paladin regards the beast with pity. It is beautiful and it reminds him of the horses in the corrals back in Chartsend. That image is dispelled quickly when it bares its sharp teeth and charges the human. Eli has time for one quick thought, "Why is this getting easier?" before he casts himself to the side, rolling out from under the icy hooves of the frostmare. As he regains his feet, he nearly trips on the crowbar before reaching down to grasp the rusty iron in his good hand. Grinning, Eli turns to the creature and taunts it like a matador to a bull. Baring it's sharp teeth once more, the frostmare charges. At the last possible moment, Eli steps to the side and slams the crowbar down upon the back of the beast's skull. The sound of crunching bone issues across the arena along with a painful snarl from the creature. The legionnaire watches as the frostmare falls before him, then hold the crowbar above his head in victory.

The roar of the crowd embraces the victor! They cheer -for- him. The audience wanted him to win. They revel in his glory. To them, he is no longer a former legionnaire - a member of the enemy’s ranks. He is now Trarg: Gladiator of the “True” Frostmaw Arena (both sides of the war have their own version of truthiness). He is second only to Crombur, Reigning Champion of the “True” Frostmaw Arena.

The Rescuers

Three pairs of footsteps echo through the tunnels towards the group and Josleen remains unaware of the fact her illusion has been compromised. By sheer luck, at the sound of heavy footfalls she steps away from the wall and her illusion restores. She boldly steps towards the footsteps because trespassers don’t hide or cower. She owns the space. She has to - their survival depends on it. “Here!” she calls to the giants, lifting on open palm to show she is unarmed and means no harm. “I brought a gift.”

Hildegarde didn’t offer pity, sympathy or anything of the sort to Ezekiel: purely because she had none to offer. She didn’t think his fumble or any stumble he might have as anything to be ashamed of or to be pitied, she internally commended him and his bravery for doing so. But she would say nothing on it, for now was not the time, not the place, commendations of bravery and skill could wait until they were safely back in Frostmaw; drinking ale and laughing at the events of this seemingly dire adventure. If only they could hear what everyone back home was making of it. That’d certainly dampen their spirits! To Kovl, she offers a small frown, “Then you had best make sure you can get those weapons to me quickly. Will you be able to do that? I mean, can you so boldly leave Josleen’s side or will the illusion fade and leave her in enemy hands?” With a small sigh, she begins to consider the fact she’ll probably have to do this without her own weapons or any weapons for that matter, should they be separated. “Just look after them,” she finally concedes, “especially that sword.” That was a gift from Kirien, one she cherished. It’d be unwise to invoke the wrath of a dragon, so it’s advised that the pixie take care of her weapons. So with a smile offered to Josleen, she nods and heads up the rope ladder with an ease that suggested she had climbed rope ladders often; perhaps as part of her training or for some other reason, who knew? But up she climbed and quietly made her way along with the group, not taking notice of Josleen’s failing façade given her own apprehensions and fears about this daring quest. She draws in a breath when Josleen calls, murmuring quietly before the giants could come near, “Whatever they do to me, laugh, smile or be gleeful. Anything else will ruin us,” she cautioned, before falling silent and awaiting their fate. Whether it be good or bad, the knight simply wished it over already: she wished to be spirited away beside Eliason so she could hurry up and help him from his bonds, to help him from his self-made bonds of wanting death’s sweet embrace. The giants approached them at a relaxed pace, burly muscles near blocking the path that the four of them occupied. Beared, non-beared, long-haired, short-haired, thick, thin, tall and short, the four seemed to be a healthy mix. “Aye, an’ what’s all this eh?” the supposed group leader asked, before taking note of Hildegarde, “By my stars!” he hissed, immediately drawing his dirk and levelling it threateningly at Josleen; followed suit by his fellow warriors. “What be the meanin’ o’ this?!” he demanded to know of her, before his smallest companion surged forward to get a nasty grip of Hilde and tugged her nearer him. She struggled, as one naturally would do, but that only enflamed their temper. “I wonder what dragon meat tastes like,” one mused, “How much d’ye ‘hink they scales are worth?” another said, “’hink I could have made me da some armour out o’ ‘em!” the fourth said so lovingly. “Explain yersel’ wench, or else ye’ll be as dead as that silver’s gonna be,” he threatened, sword levelled at Josleen with a panicked expression. The guards were young. Fresh meat. Put on watch service because they hadn’t seen war or true battle before, something to keep them occupied and kept out of the way. The giant who had expressed interest in feasting on dragon meat growled suddenly, “I say we kill ‘er and take ‘er hide back to Hakkon! He’ll commend us!” he snarled with an eager sort of interest, pressing the point of his sword to Hilde’s chest. The knight only offered her own growl in response, “Are all you giants as stupid as that woman there?” she taunted to garner their attention; to pull attention away from Josleen and to focus it upon herself. The first giant reached out to grasp Josleen’s arm, “Come wench! Ye’ll be seeing Hakkon. He’ll know what to do wi--”, he was ready to finish until he heard the sound of leather tearing; the wet squish of flesh being torn and blood welling to meet it. The youngest one; the one who had spoken so sweetly and lovingly about his father, had sank his blade into Hildegarde’s chest with a snarl, “You killed ma da,” he told her, “tore ‘is head right off so ye did!” The knight merely staggered back and dropped to a knee, other leg still trying to push her upright to stand. “Oh Aramoth damn ye!” the eldest said, letting go of Josleen, “Quick! Get ‘er to Hakkon! If he cannae get information out of ‘er, he can use the body, so move!” he ordered, glancing to Josleen, “Ye best be followin’ me wench, lest ye want to be dead.”

The activation of the runes left the mage with a eerie feeling, like a tingling sensation that probably didn't exist past his mind. Imagine walking through airport security, passing through one of the full body x-ray machines. It was the feeling of, “I know this isn't possible but I swear I can feel the radiation coming off that thing..” The anti-magic runes held much the same effect. He wasn't entirely sure how the pixie's dust worked, but he'd began to see the tips of his fingers and backed off; either it was wearing off, or he needed another dose of the dust. Junkie. “Jos, hang onto that stone I gave you-” he was cut off by the sound of the approaching giants and it was here his heart stopped. He was going to suggest she keep that charged stone close, should the illusion start to falter on its own- either from lack of attention or simply deteriorated over time. He had faith in Kovl's, but just as the pixie was wary of Eze pumping magic into him, Eze was just as cautious about his own work. While the giants approached he took this time to back off and edge back into the tunnel they'd came through. There was no reason to risk getting bumped into, he could hear what they were saying and if need be, he could attack from afar. That, and he'd keep his eyes and ears open for any more patrolling units should they come from the back. Everything seemed to be going well for the most part, the giants- as colorful in variety as they were -looked more confused than anything, except the one demanding questions at Josleen. He echoed words of encouragement, chanted positive things, shouted whatever he could in the sanctity of his mind wishing at least one was psychic right about now. Ezekiel, as high strung and stressed as ever, seemed keep his cool from back here. He couldn't see Kovl, but he could trace the pixies magic. He lit up like a colorful beacon just like Josleen's illusion. Then there was a squishy stab and the sight of blood; more than she had started with. There was panic in ones voice and spite in the others, he took a step closer- his foot leaving another fresh imprint in the odd glow of the cave. What happened, why were they attacking- oh no! They found out? How could they, did the illusion fade, had Hilde jumped the gun, where was Kovl?! The mage panicked and started to carelessly make his way forward, his foot steps luckily masked in the chaotic confusion of things. 'Get her to Hakkon!' Whoever Hakkon was, should the group follow, they'd head parallel along side that golden tether that acted as a way point for finding Eliason. He tried to get a better look at Hilde, tried to meet Josleen the giant's eyes, even tried to find Kovl. He was ready to fill the pixie with enough energy to boost the illusion while casting whatever else he'd need.

Kovl's eyes land on the one-way anti-magic runes, this time knowing exactly what they were, based on an earlier conversation with his kitsune friend. He darts ahead of the group as they descend into the tunnel, occasionally turning back to wait for the others behind him. As Josleen nears the wall, the pixie feels a sudden tampering with his magic. The bard's disguise is inflicted with patches of reality... a nightmare of any illusionist. The pixie returns to Josleen, already hearing the heavy footfalls of the patrolling giants and whispers in urgency, "Stay away from the runes." By the time Kovl finishes his whisper, Josleen luckily already steps from the runes' reach and meets with the oncoming guests. With the stab into Hildegarde's torso, the situation reaches a new tier of realization in Kovl's mind. This is real. The risk isn't some game. Those same thoughts were fuel for the pixie's excitement earlier, but now they fuel a different emotion. Nervousness? Worry? Adrenaline pumps through the pixie's miniscule body as he darts midflight to Hildegarde's shoulder. His hand is already in one of the pouches at his waist, preparing to intervene, but Kovl stops himself. Any sudden magical action from the pixie will blow the visible duo's cover. No. Instead of taking any intervening actions, Kovl lands on Hildegarde's right shoulder and touches her cheek with his tiny hand as a reminder to her that he is present. The illusionist cannot see Ezekiel, but he trusts his invisible guildsmate is near him. The pixie would need to utilize his exceptional ears to locate him, and he would keep an eye for new prints on the dirt. For now, the giants hurriedly usher Josleen and the wounded dragon through the tunnels while Kovl hovers above them and, at times, between Josleen and the other giants. The pixie's rat scurries ahead of the giants, stopping at intersections until the pixie is aware of the directions the giants choose, and then it resumes its path. Kovl places hope upon hope that Josleen will stay away from the walls, and he watches as a guardian angel over Josleen in case -something- goes awry. And who is this Hakkon? Already, the group's infiltration mission seems to be paying off, but would any of them leave here alive? Will Eliason leave here alive? Kovl chooses to be optimistic.

Josleen tunes out her companions as the frost giants approach. She employs a useful visualization exercise learned from the stage to help her compartmentalize Josleen away from the Frost Giantess persona she will assume. Stagecraft continues to prove itself useful in this unlikely of settings. In the exercise, she visualizes two black river stones. In one stone she imbues all the traits of Josleen, and in the other stone, all the traits of the Frost Giantess. The Josleen stone gets palmed and hidden in a recess of her mind, taking with it all her doubt and anxiety. During the performance, Josleen experiences that stage adrenaline familiar to all actors. It’s a warm, thick, pulsing high. Everything occurs outside the native self. It is simultaneously an out-of-body experience and a vividly in-body experience. She’s never been more connected with her body, and never been further from herself. The Frost Giantess doesn’t react to the threats, implicit or explicit. Aggression is a way of life in this culture. The Frost Giantess keeps her chin held high, and expression impassive. She stands like the proud giant mothers and wives Josleen observed in Frostmaw. As Drargorn explained to the actress, the womenfolk in frost giant culture gain status through marriage and childbearing, and while they don’t have much political say, they do have political sway behind closed doors. The disapproving look of an upstanding giantess could cow any young frost giant, regardless of relation. It’s an involuntary response for most - when mother (or her look-a-likes) gives you -the- look, you best behave. When the youngest frost giant impulsively stabs Hildegarde, the Frost Giantess chastises him through a narrow look and pursed lips, disapproving of his lack of discipline. He’s a soldier, darn it. Act like it! It is clear she couldn’t possibly care less about what happens to Hildegarde. The Frost Giantess only disapproves of the impulsive behavior. The look is brief, her attention returning to the other frost giants. In an even voice commanding of the trustworthy station she wants to exude without imposing authority she cautions, “Ya’ll not call me wench again, and ya’d do well to let go o’me. I’m going t’same place you are - to see Hakkon. “This gift is f’him and f’all of us to enjoy. This wretch has slain my late husband, so I understand y’pain, but I’m not the enemy here. But let Hakkon tell y’that straight from his mouth. Y’don’t need to hear it from me.” If the Frost Giants choose not to unhand her, she’ll not pull away. Her compliance acts as evidence to her non-threat claims. During the walk to Hakkon, the Josleen stone in her mind rehearses her story and reinforces the traits of the giant persona. If Hilde is separated from the group, she’ll make no protest. Even an upstanding Frost Giantess can only go so far - this is still not her domain.

Hildegarde had not expected to be stabbed in the chest, that’s for sure. The impulsive strike of the young guard has taken her by surprise, yet she still attempted to stand; barely able to until the other guard roughly gripped her elbow and heaved her upright. “All right,” she breathed, subtly addressing Kovl upon her shoulder, but only catching the attention of the guard. “Whut?!” he snarled at her, assuming she had whispered some kind of insult about him or some sort of treachery. “I…” she took in another breath, “said I’m all right,” she motioned to his hand on her elbow. “I can walk,” she said, taking a staggered step forward as he watched her suspiciously. With a ‘hmph’ he accepts her remark for what she passed it off as, walking beside her as she stumbled and staggered in the effort to remain upright. She had to look strong, not just in front of the enemy, but in front of those she swore to protect. How could she protect them if she was unable to stand or save herself? So, she was putting on the brave face for their benefit. Hopefully it’d work. The biggest – and presumably eldest – guard let go of Josleen after a long assessing look. “Ye’ll be givin’ me yer pardons, Miss, but ye can’t be too careful eh? We know what they’re all like in tha’ city o’ theirs,” he said in a bitter yet compassionate tone of voice. He bought her story. He had literally gobbled it all up and looked upon Josleen as if she were a humble wife and mother, her disapproving look having sold the story for him. So with an extended arm, he gestured for her to fall in front of him, so he would guard the rear of their little vanguard. “Hakkon will be more than ‘appy t’ be helpin’ ye, Miss. Especially since ye brought ‘im a little gift,” he said with a little grin. The little vanguard marched on, leading the way to what appeared to be Hakkon’s central HQ with some kind of basic arena not far from it, as could be heard from the faint cheers of warriors off duty enjoying a brawl. “He’ll be seein’ ye privately,” the guard said, before gesturing for Josleen to step inside and shoving Hilde in with her. The knight fell immediately to her knee at the push, remaining there rather than forcing herself onto her feet. She needed a moment. Just a long moment to catch her breath was all. Hakkon, however, was upon them immediately. The stink of rot and death was all about him as he strolled towards the two. “I hear ye brought me a gift, m’lady!” he near purred, putrid flesh clearly decomposing in this light. Flesh hanging off his cheeks, fingers missing from his hand and a gaping wound in his gut all screamed how dead he was. “Please, sit yersel’ down. I’m a man of manners and propriety, I treat me guests fairly,” he said, ushering Josleen off into a seat before returning to Hildegarde’s side. Raising his booted foot, he rested it upon her shoulder with a satisfied smile, “Aye, yer no’ long for this world, I take it. So best give you a final meal. Can’t say I’m no’ fair like that,” he smiled, pushing down on her back until she groaned more loudly with pain and the strain of not bowing to the pressure. Indeed, her curled fist pressed against the earth to try and support herself against his might, before his foot slipped off and kicked her hard in the side. With a gasp, she sank down onto her uninjured side and shuddered with pain. Hakkon’s hand reached down to twine into her fiery hair, scrunching it up as he jerked her head upright, “Ye’ll sit at me table, ya piece o’ filth!” he growled, dragging the knight – who did not struggle greatly – towards the table and depositing her at the base of a seat. He’d wait for her to clamber into it before sitting down himself. “Now,” he cleared his throat, which was a rather horrible affair as you could see his vocal chords and oesophagus quiver and tremble with the movement, gore so very visible, “tell me how you found your prize. I want to hear it.”

Ezekiel kept a rough twenty yards of distance between himself and the five giants. Even if he was invisible, he traveled in a hunched over spy-vs-spy fashion to soften his steps. The lighting was dim and the footing manageable at best, he accidentally kicked a small rock in the direction of the group and stopped dead in his tracks. They were loud, their steps heavy; he cupped a hand over his mouth while he quietly sighed in relief. He couldn't help but feel utterly useless right now. Yes, they were headed in the general direction, but what good was he doing the group? It wasn't like they could tell the four to hold on while she and Hilde took care of some personal business. To top things off, they were headed for what sounded like the leader of this entire operation? He was going to develop an ulcer by the time this was all over with. It wasn't until the two were ushered inside that he felt a surge of panic flood both body and mind, the kind of panic one felt when hearing the music to Mario speed up because they were running out of time. He was too far back, and judging by just how much of the doorway the giant's took, he'd have no way of slipping inside without bumping into at least one of them. He hurried his steps and recklessly broke into a slow jog. He glanced from Josleen towards the Arena and the cells beyond, the golden glow in the tether was brighter than ever; they had to be close, but why did Hakkon have to be -this- way? 'No no no no no no..' he echoed in his mind as he turned that muffled jog into a barely noisy run. One by one they slipped inside until the door swung slowly behind the youngest of the giants, and slammed shut entirely. “Shit!” he hissed in a whisper, almost ready to pound the door with his only balled fist. All he could do was press up against it and listen. He strained his ears for any sound possible, any cry of help or gurgle of blood- hell, a cough, just a cough.. someone cough! The mage unfurled his fingers and eventually laid them flat against the door while slowly dragging them down. He balled them up and pulled back and pressed it softly to the door. He was useless, incapable, unable to help. He was guilty of having few intentions when talking his way into this rescue. Yes, he feared for these people, and yes he truly wanted to see to it Eliason made it out of this alive, but ultimately he traveled with the group in hopes of protecting and keeping the Josleen safe. It was selfish, so terribly selfish and he'd beat himself up over it late, but for now he needed to do something... anything. It was the bark and growl of two chained wolves that drug his attention away from the door and towards the two patrolling giant's. “Shud'up ye' mutt!” The taller of the two would plant the tip of his foot to the hind leg of a wolf and distract its possible find with a harsh yelp. Ezekiel did what he could, the only thing he'd ever been able to do best; he ran. More specifically, he ran in the direction of Eliason's golden tether, towards a blurred line between cell and arena. He needed to find the paladin. He had no idea what condition he'd be in, but maybe, just maybe he could help Ezekiel, help the rest.

Kovl's tiny figure allows him to slip into Hakkon's headquarters without a hint of trouble. He looks back to the door as it closes, but he could not help but wonder whether Ezekiel made it inside with the three. The pixie scans the ground for signs of footprints. Anything. No, nothing indicates signs of Ezekiel, but that doesn't mean he isn't in the room. Kovl's senses are immediately overwhelmed with the rotting stench of Hakkon's flesh. Why does his race have to be blessed with a heightened sense of smell? The pixie breaths through his mouth, so he won't have to deal with the odor. Hildegarde, though first used as a stool, is pulled on a chair at the giant's table. His nerves mix again to excitement. The pixie -is- prepared to react, and oh how he would love to react. Pre-emptively. Perhaps react isn't the right word. No, no one will die if the pixie can help it. And he can help it.

As the three interact, Kovl can't help but think of the many ways he can make this almighty Hakkon a fool in front of them. Oh, his laces are right under the table. It'd be a shame if somehow they were tied together. Hakkon's skin is rotting off of his bones. Wouldn't it be terrible if he has the sudden impulse to scratch it all off, courtesy to his pixie dust? No. The pixie cannot do these things -now-. Hakkon looks like the sort who would take the rage of his embarrassment out on his guests. And Kovl certainly didn't want Hildegarde or Josleen to die for the sake of a good joke. Though Kovl does like a good joke… The pixie decides to make use of his time, floating around the room in search of papers, maps, anything that would tell him more information about the Exiles, their plans, and their positioning. Yes, Satoshi would like that.

The Frost Giantess nods at the apology. “I appreciate y’need t’be careful.” She ignores when the giants shove Hildegarde into the room onto her knees, but she cannot ignore the stomach-churning decay of Hakkon himself. Shock pulses her eyes wide; Hakkon’s probably used to that. What matters is that the giantess shows proper respect, knee-jerk shock aside. She jerks her head into a brief bow, relishing the moment in which she is not staring into his esophagus. “That I did, sir.” She sits when beckoned to sit, choosing the chair furthest from the wall. If Hakkon looks her way while beating Hildegarde, the frost giantess smirks in sadistic approval. When asked to explain herself, she allows that smirk to blossom into a proud smile. “Aye, m’pleasure.” But first, a little background story to buy them some time - time to explore, time to get their bearings. Kovl and Ezekiel are here, right? The uncertainty would unnerve Josleen if it weren’t for the fact her mind has already shifted focus to the con. “This bitch killed my late husband, Jrahn.” It’s literally the giant culture’s version of John. It couldn’t be a more common frost giant name. Every family has at least one Jrahn, but probably two. “He served under Anbjorn, then retired to the life of a woodsmen. Always loyal to our plight.” She employs the royal ‘we,’ the plight of the exiles as a whole, including herself in their struggle. She lets her gaze grow wistful, reminiscing her late husband. “Sold lumber and pelts to y’men even when they couldn’t pay upfront, always trustin’ their word that they’ll repay him when they can, but… That isn’t what mattered to him. Then…” She glare at Hildegarde, “This curr slit his throat.” She spits on the knight’s face! A gross slimey hock too, aimed straight for the bad eye. Oops. “I vowed I’d get m’revenge and prayed to Aramoth every mornin’ ‘n’ night to help me avenge my Jrahn, and Aramoth was good to me, he was. Gave me an opportunity. This dragon bitch got too trusting of city folk. That city’s grown so big she’ll trust any smiling face. Used that t’me advantage, y’see. Caught her with her knickers down havin’ a wee in the woods!” She lets loose a wild laugh. Imagine that! A dragon taking a piss. She laughs so hard she tears up and wipes away a happy tear, exhaling to regain her ability to speak. The laugh was another sweet moment in which Josleen didn’t have to look at Hakkon’s nightmare inducing face. “Was easy pickin,’ if y’ask me. Didn’t see me comin’. Thought I was a friendly.” She chuckles cruelly at the memory, still enjoying the fact she caught Hildegarde during nature’s call.

Hildegarde had felt Kovl’s weight leave her shoulder, which filled her with the silent hope that he’d find something of use in the Hakkon’s room; something that’d serve their cause and assist the City as a whole, rather than just save one life on this mission. While Josleen retold the tall-tale of Hilde’s capture, the knight kept her gaze fixed to Hakkon to see how deeply engrossed in the conversation he was. She didn’t want his attention to slip and fall back onto her, especially while she was very slowly and delicately pulling the ‘emergency cord’ attached to her bonds, in order to free her hands. Hakkon grinned in a delighted manner when Josleen’s glob of spit landed on Hilde’s askew eyepatch, but he started to howl with laughter when Josleen did; glancing to Hildegarde to try and catch sight of her face and see if he could gauge her reaction. Her expression was icy; ashamed even. That wasn’t even acting! The knight was genuinely ashamed thinking of being caught in such a way, to her it seemed or felt dirty. Not the best word to describe it, but it was the only that came to her mind, that to be caught in such a way would be dirty or wrong. But all that laughter only served to make that torn and exposed oesophagus shake and shiver with his laughter, certainly disgusting those who couldn’t bear to look at it. Hilde could see the papers moving ever so slightly as Kovl rummaged around and decided that the time for action was now. Not mischief, no threats, just plain action. With a sudden jerk, her hand is at – no, in his throat, gripping that rotting oesophagus and seemingly mould vocal chords, pulling forward with a low rumbling kind of growl as she stood upright and out of the seat. The blood poured from the wound in her chest, streaking down her leather tunic at a steady pace as she stared at Hakkon. “I’m… going to kill you,” she told him, fingers on her free hand tapping along the table until she found the small dish holding a table candle. Dragging it towards her, she eventually lifted it and held it near Hakkon’s face: revealing the full gore of it to the room and those gathered here. He attempted to laugh but all he managed was a sort of breathy squeak, before rasping out: “Burn me with a teeny candle, eh?” he smirked, hissing angrily at her, “I’d say ye were Aramoth’s daughter hersel’, if ye weren’t a bastardin’ lizard.” The knight’s grip tightened on his vocal chords and oesophagus, glancing briefly to Josleen before she replied as strongly as she could: “A candle will burn like the sun to those who dwell long enough in the dark,” she drew in a deep breath before holding the candle to her lips and violently expelling the paralytic gas that was common to her kind. However, that gas was flammable and only increased the potency of the flame as well as gave it direction: straight onto Hakkon’s bedraggled beard and face. Hilde’s hand tightened its grip to silence him entirely, before she pulled hard to tear his vocal chords, oesophagus and voice box out in the one go. The Jarl’s face bubbled and melted as his deformed hand clawed at his face in an effort to pat out the flame, but it didn’t seem to be of any use or any good to him! He sank to his knees, unable to scream as Hilde took a staggered step toward him and drew in another deep breath. Like a cold wind had filled the room, she had expelled such intense frost from her mouth that it had frozen his head solid. The body was ready to fall to the side with a heavy ‘thunk’, but Hilde thought that might alert the guards waiting outside so she caught hold of his body and gently lowered it down.

With a glance around, she whispered to her comrades, “Are you… okay?” it took her a moment to catch her breath. Kovl, by now, should have found a list of names (the names of Frostmaw’s dead) with little jobs scribbled beside them, like ‘soldier’ or ‘agriculture’ or worse yet, ‘meat’. Soldiers had to eat something, after all, but they never need know what they were eating. Sometimes desperation would make sure you didn’t even care! He would also find a detailed map of Frostmaw, certain areas circled with different colours: silver, an icy blue, a deep red, a sort of grey, a green and some other small ones. The meaning of which was unclear at the moment. “Sword,” she said quietly, indicating she would be needing that, “We must quickly find Eliason,” she said with a certain nod.

Kovl pauses his hunt for information to hold a hand over his mouth to avoid laughing at the ridiculousness of Josleen's story. And Hakkon is actually buying it! A second passes before a couple of sheets of paper are carefully lifted above the table, shrink quickly to a miniscule size, and appear to vanish into nothingness. Wait! Sudden movement. Hildegarde is now standing and holding Hakkon by the neck. The pixie's head turns to Josleen, unsure if Josleen would uphold the act and subdue Hildegarde or would encourage Hakkon's death right there in the middle of his own headquarters. A candle, a flame, and the frost giant's head encased in a block of ice answers his question rather quickly. The pixie raises his invisible hands above his head exasperated and comments, "I thought this was an infiltration mission. Not an assassination mission." A smile can be heard in his next statement. "But phenomenal work nonetheless." Hildegarde's weapons appear seemingly from thin air, first nearly as tiny as a sewing needles and then quickly growing on the table in front of the knight. "So... Eliason." Josleen's figure immediately changes. Her bosom shrinks and becomes more muscular, her thighs are slightly reduced and decomposing flesh is now riddled throughout her body. Her frame grows, towering over Hildegarde and a telltale exposed esophagus adorns her throat. After studying his limp body collapsed under the table, Kovl promoted Josleen to the likeness of Hakkon. "Jos, you are now the big man himself, Hakkon. If you can't mimic the voice, silence will do. Ezekiel, where is Eliason?" Silence fills the room. "Ezekiel?" Oh no. The mage must not have made it into the door. "Looks like we're rescuing more than the holy man now."

Josleen jumps in her skin when Hildegarde lunges for Hakkon and spews gas in the monster’s face. Although the bard has always been aware of Hildegarde’s race and combat prowess, she has never seen those special talents in action. Josleen is still new to all of this. She’s never even thrown a punch! If it weren’t for the adrenaline pumping through her, she’d be cowering in a corner hoping to wake from this nightmare. Thankfully for all allies involved, adrenaline does course through her. She stands as Hildegarde slays the undead giant, whispering for the invisible companions just as Kovl works his magic. “Kovl, turn me into-” but he’s already done it. She grins at the fact she and Kovl had the same reflexive idea. Great minds, and all that jazz. She only elaborates, “You’re right, I can’t mimic the voice, so make the jaw look broken and tongue ripped out. Also, mask his real corpse into that of the dead frost giantess so if anyone comes in now, they won’t see his corpse. We can blame it all on Dame Hildegarde.” Nouveau Hakkon winks playfully at the knight, his decayed eyelid flopping like a leaf in the wind. Just then Kovl calls for Ezekiel, and the silence that follows wipes all victory mirth right off Hakkon’s face. Josleen doesn’t share in Kovl’s bright and cavalier reaction to Ezekiel’s disappearance. Dread paralyzes her. Her stomach drops. The constricting flood of anxious emotions grips her totally. Her chest fills with lead. It must be quite a sight to see Hakkon decompose not only physically, but also emotionally. His hand lifts effeminately to mask his quivering, rotten lips behind decaying knuckles. “We need to go,” he whispers in a female voice. “We need to find them,” he reiterates numbly, those words auto-moralizing and slowly melting the lead from Josleen’s chest. As Kovl perfects the brutal maiming of Hakkon’s throat and mouth, Josleen rebinds Hildegarde’s wrists to prevent any other frost giants from high-minded handcuffing or chaining ideas. She then takes Hildegarde’s leash and whispers one final direction as Josleen, “We’re in the thick of improvisation now. Remember, it’s ‘yes, and...’ Just accept.” She crosses to the door very slowly, taking a moment to re-employ those mental stones and construct Hakkon’s character. It’s slower this time. There is too much emotional and physical distraction: Ezekiel and Eliason, the frost giants just outside the door, the exit strategy (or lack there of), all crowd her mind. Ultimately she is able to reset the persona she exudes from girly bard to imperious Jarl. It’s evident in the stance, the squaring of the shoulders, the permanent scowl. She pushes the door open, dragging Hildegarde behind her. One open palm extends high above Hakkon’s head to quiet and stop his men. What now? Josleen scans the crowd and zeroes in on a frost giant wearing crude, enormous handcuffs at the hip. Hakkon points at the jailer and then points down the hallway opposite the way the rescuers entered. Josleen assumes the jail must be in that direction, and within it, Eliason. The connection tugging between them is the only confirmation she has that the paladin is alive, and it’s a blessing in its own right, even if it is hard to feel blessed in these caverns. As for Ezekiel, she can only hope and pray that Ezekiel still breathes. Hakkon doesn’t relinquish Hildegarde, making it clear he intends to deliver the knight to the jail himself, and gesturing for all men save for the jailer to fall back. Josleen does her best to shed the masses through Hakkon’s authority. Lack of speech is certainly an encumbrance. Hakkon throws around militant bravado. The Jarl doesn’t need an army to imprison one worm, damn it!

Hildegarde exhaled a heavy sigh at Kovl’s remark, raising her hand as if to call for quiet, “Don’t bother bringing out my weapons, we’ll make our way through the camp without more violence.” She sank down into the chair for a moment, glancing down at her chest to glimpse the stream of red coursing down the leather tunic she wore. The Silver had been knifed in the chest once before, but those were different circumstances, more emotional and far more frightening. Although at that time, she had Satoshi to immediately block the wound with those sharp shards of ice; a healing magic intended only for the undead. With a small shake of her head, she rose to her feet in an effort to rouse herself from this sinking feeling that had settled deep within her gut and her heart. The knight looked between them, watching quietly as Josleen retied her bindings. “We must move swiftly to Eliason,” she said firmly. “I don’t know what they’re planning to do with him, but I want to find him and be done with it. I was sure I heard chanting not far away, so I think we ought to go that way.” As for Josleen’s inability to speak like Hakkon, the knight only says: “Nudge me if anyone approaches us and asks questions. It will appear as though you are forcing me to tell them where we are going and it may buy us time.” To Kovl she speaks, “I need you near me, sir, so I can reach my weapons quickly. Hand to hand is all well and good, but a giant is a giant. I’d rather not take the risk.” That said, she gave a nod to the pair and waited until they were ready to depart. “We will find him,” she said with such certainty as they set out, off in the direction of the subterranean arena.

Kovl shakes his head at Josleen's question, forgetting she is not able to see him. "No, as soon as we leave Hakkon's body, my illusion will vanish. I've got a better idea." The pixie floats to the decomposing Jarl and first checks his pockets for anything else that could shed light on the Exiles' operation. "I've already found a couple papers that can be helpful." Then handful of pixie dust and a flip of the wrist, Hakkon's body begins to shrink to about 1 to 2 feet in height. "Hehe, not so mighty now, Hakkon." To the others he says, "He was living when he was decomposing. What's to say he won't wake up and ruin the operation?" The pixie takes Hildegarde's weapons once again, and places them in his pixiekin satchel. "Now we can stuff his body in a corner... or a box... or something..." Kovl's eyes catch sight of a bin the Jarl used to collect trash next to the table. "Perfect." The pixie uses his dust to grow, stuff Hakkon in the trash bin, cover him with garbage, and shrink to his normal size. Yes, Hakkon was thrown in the trash. Next to Josleen, a familiar frost giantess appears in place of the pixie's illusory rat, the same figure Josleen was disguised as moments earlier. "We don't want the guards outside to wonder where she is..." Kovl's frost giantess illusion follows 'Hakkon' and his prisoner out of the door, but she turns down another tunnel in the next intersection and blinks out of existance when the pixie is certain unwanted witnesses are not looking. Kovl flies ahead of Josleen and Hildegarde toward the jail and rounds the corner to see a corridor of empty cells accompanied by a cell occupied by a traitor frost giant. The pixie waits for the two, keeping an eye on his Hakkon illusion in effort to spot any problems before they occur. A familiar scent reaches the pixie's superior nose. Is that... Ezekiel? The pixie carefully scans the tunnel floors for disturbances caused by an invisible foot. He listens for his guildsmate but doesn't say a word. Is he here?

Eliason’s Imprisonment

The crowd chants “Trarg! Trarg! Trarg!” There is no taunt in their call. They found a new icon in Trag, and they embrace him fully. His jailers, however, aren’t as prone to confuse the gladiators with their prisoners. They roughly drag Eliason back to this cell. This time, he is given a tankard of water and a bowl of gruel. He is even afforded the dignity of a spoon. They toss used, dry blood-caked bandages at him as well, grunting towards his swollen hand indicatively. One jailer returns the obsidian tongue to the sculpted mouth, and the normal jail sounds resume. "I heard talk in the crowd. They want a Crombur v. Trarg face-off,” one jailer gossips to another. “The bookie is already calculating odds. He’s got it all wrong, if y’ask me. He’s got Trarg too low. Smart money’s on Trarg.” He taps his nose and winks at his co-jailer like he’s privy to some extra information. The same frost giant turns a sadistic grin on Crombur, who in turn passes on the ire to Trarg/Eliason through a glare. The imprisoned frost giant is a chatty one, and he chimes in, “Ooh, a death match between the fearsome Crombur and newcomer Trarg? Watch out, Crombur. You’re being replaced,” he instigates. As reward for his smart mouth, he is promptly dragged back to the arena, where no one cheers for the victory of this traitor to exile-kind. A third jailer rushes into the jail and yammers excitedly, “Did y’hear? The dragon bitch Hildegarde’s been captured! By a giantess no less! I not seen her, but the talk in the tunnel says I’oughtta give her a -personal- thanks, iffin y’know what I mean?” He barks a lewd laugh which is echoed by the other jailers. Talk of a woman, any fine frost giant woman will do, electrifies the tunnels. It’s been a long, long time since these men have seen anything but each other. The rumor mutates as it travels. It’s a band of giantesses! It’s one, but she has widowed sisters in need of shelter! But one fact of the rumor does not change, and it’s the fact that Hildegarde has been captured.

Ezekiel played a merry game of Frogger as he dodged back and forth between patrolling giants and roaming blood-crazed spectators. Tip toe forward, no- stop, back back back! Watch the wolves, hurry forward, oh no! Avoid the bus of a wagon as it barrels past, now hurry forward through the entrance. You made it! Only he wasn't greeted with cheers or the 8-Bit beeps of a new high score, he was startled by the violent chant of Targ! Targ! Targ! The exiles cheered, not for his retro-arcade reference of avoiding detection, but for their champion combatant, or so he led to believe. He didn't get to study the crowd, the arena or even the defeated frostmare on the bloodied arena floor, he saw what he needed, Eliason. For a brief sliver of a second he felt a wave of relief wash over him, the man was alive- in poor condition -but alive. He glanced along that tendril of a bond and followed its blurred line towards the main cavernous entrance he'd slipped in past. 'Please be alive and well..' his train of thought was broken by the persistent bark of wolves tugging at short leashes. After so long, patrolling guards and their excited hounds started to grow suspicious, each wondering what in the hell had gotten into the wolves today? Eventually, they quit kicking the mutts silent and followed Ezekiel's elusive trail, even if they didn't know he'd been the cause for all this unrest. Ezekiel's heart had been pounding from start to finish. From back when they ascended the rope ladder, up until this very moment when he was about to be discovered. It was the adrenaline pumping through his veins that kept him going. He silently cursed in the sanctuary of his mind and pushed off the arena's railing and fell back. Round Two: hop hop hop, dodge duck weave juke.. stand as stiff as a tree, breath, and continue. Somewhere in all this, he managed to find a dark stairwell leading down and wasted no time in taking it; it was quiet, mostly empty and devoid of all Eze-sniffing hounds. Here he dodged past a few exile guardsmen and maneuvered through a maze of tunnels that eventually dropped him right in the middle of the room with the obsidian-tongue statue. “C'mon, git yer arse out there. It's time to pay yer dues!” Each of the two champions were being stripped of their rewards and drug out of their cells. Trarg was taken in one direction, and Crombur in the other. The relentless crowd up top could be heard chanting for Trarg which only meant money to the bookies and jailers ears. They sneered back at each other as they disappeared down each tunnel. Ezekiel had no idea what was going on, only that Trarg wasn't Trage, but in fact Eliason. Just what in the hell was going on down here? Never the less, he'd keep pressed against the walls as he sucked in his gut while he tailed after 'Trarg'. He had to do something, but what?

Eliason takes the rewards for his victory, a part of him swelling with pride at the giants' apparent good will. Greedily, he sucks down the water and fills himself with the gruel. Looking down at his hand, he mumbles incoherently about the pain and the swelling. Somehow within the depths of his mind, Eli and Trarg are beginning to coexist and a short argument over the hand takes place. Trarg does not care about injuries, he will win because he is Trarg, but Eli wants to take care of the injury as well as he can. Eli wins the argument, though just barely. Setting his hand on the floor, he begins pushing and pulling at it, setting the bones as well as he can, then tying them tight with the bandages. Cries of pain and the snapping of the bones in place are not muffled by the magic within the room and Trarg is reminded of the cries of his enemies and exhults in the sound. Finally exhausted, the paladin falls to the floor and sleeps for awhile. That is until he is awoken by the sound of giants talking. Peering toward the sound of the voices, he barely registers what they are saying. The part of Eli that has not been taken over by Trarg registers the name, Hilde... and is strengthened by the sound of it. Collin Eliason has now been given a reason to survive and he takes over the mind, pushing Trarg to the back. If Hilde has been taken, she will be part of the arena battles and he must be prepared to help her if he can.

The Rescuers

Josleen has developed the assumption that everyone’s survival hinges on her choices. It’s the anxiety-inducing limelight effect at its worst. The pixie, given his size and invisibility, is in the least peril. The dragon, however, bleeds profusely in a sea crawling with enemy sharks who have a refined palette for Hilde meat. Josleen’s alert gaze flits into every cavern and down every corridor, pawing for solutions to Hildegarde’s immediate danger. As they storm towards the arena, she notices an archway to a small cavern marked with the same symbol as the one outside the shaman’s tent in Frostmaw. Faux Hakkon pauses in his gait to snap a hand into the cavern and get the attention of any healers inside. He points at a shaman, then at Hildegarde’s chest, then a supply crate, and waves at the shaman to follow them to the jail. Hopefully the message is clear, because the Jarl doesn’t break his stride and continues on his mission to imprison the knight immediately. Josleen knows that to do anything but this could raise suspicion. She has to take Hilde to the jail, and can only hope a shaman and his supplies will follow. The jail room is empty save for the lone giant prisoner. Dammit, where is Eli? Josleen was sure they’d find him here, and his absence causes her stomach to sink for a second time in the span of ten minutes. The other jailers are busy delivering Crombur and Trarg to the arena, and rigging the match so that the jailers are set to win the most money in the bets. The shaman soon enters with bandages and clean water. Josleen casually shuts the door behind herself, Hilde, Kovl, the shaman, and jailer. The bard had hoped the healer would bring some salve, string, and needle, but the giants don’t waste those types of precious, expensive supplies on infamous prisoners. Infact, the shaman seems wary of even bandaging Hildegarde at all, but Faux Hakkon stamps down any budding insubordination with a hawkish glare. It works well enough. Inside an open jail cell, the shaman does a sloppy, half-hearted job of cleaning and dressing Hildegarde’s wound. Thankfully, there is enough pressure to slow the bleeding and buy the knight some time. Overhead, the arena thunders with the excitement of an electric crowd. Crombur v. Trarg has attracted a larger audience than usual, and they loudly stamp their giant feet in anticipation. Just as the shaman rises to leave, Hakkon guides Hildegarde out of the jail, then slams the cell door closed, locking the shaman inside! The jailer across the room jumps to his feet, but halts in confusion before rushing Hakkon and Hildegarde. In that disoriented moment, so very brief and crucial, Josleen’s sweet voice cries out, “Hilde, kill him!” She darts towards the door, one hand waving impatiently in the air for Oathkeeper, “Kovl!” She attempts to slide the giant bolt into place, but bless her heart for trying, she can barely move it an inch before a normal patch of rust causes friction too great for her teensy muscles to overcome. “Eeaagh!” Hakkon cries out pathetically in a girly voice as he struggles to bolt a door. The shaman begins to shout for help, but his cries are drowned out by the roar of the nearby arena.

Hildegarde didn’t pay much mind to the antics of Kovl, given that she frowned upon them greatly. She was a woman of honour, combat and battle; she didn’t believe in dishonouring enemies in such a manner, no matter how badly they’ve treated her or acted against her. It was just a point of honour, a point of decency that she strongly believed in. But she wasn’t one to go telling people what they did was wrong or unnecessary, unless it was murderous or against the law, so she simply let it slip. Instead, she decided to focus solely on the mission at hand. When she saw ‘Hakkon’ gesture to the shaman however, she tensed up. Was Josleen handing her over to this unknown shaman so he could slay and reanimate her? Or was he just your everyday shaman who could tend to a wound and simply follow orders? Her luck was in. He was, indeed, just an everyday shaman who would reluctantly led a hand and follow his orders. Even though his work was reluctant and done shoddily, the knight still offered a quiet: “thank you,” never being able to bring herself to be rude or impolite, she simply had to offer her thanks and she obviously was being genuine! The knight, however, found herself being somewhat distracted by the loud chanting of the arena. Yet she was even more distracted by the very faint scents of those she recognised. Eliason? Ezekiel? Had they really came this way? Before she knew it, there was a girlish shriek from Hakkon and a giant guard racing towards them. Unable to wait for Kovl to produce her weapons and to return to their natural size, the knight simply ran towards the giant. It must have looked terribly stupid to Kovl and Josleen, to run towards the enemy, especially an enemy who is much bigger than her! The knight runs forth, recalling her fight with Korike’s summoned beast, as she slid across the icy ground and between his legs; popping upright on the other side to pummel her fist against the back of his knee with a resounding ‘crunch’. The jailer groans and drops to a knee but he went down swinging, throwing his meaty arm around to wallop the side of Hilde’s head. Her world spun as she stumbled back and away from the jailer, only to rush at him again and throw her fist forward with as much might as she possibly could. Her fist walloped against the back of his skull: caving in as her fist powered through the bone and meat of his head to protrude out of his mouth; skin bleeding from shards of bone and teeth having ran across her leather and flesh. It was often forgotten that Hildegarde was a dragon, that she was much mightier than she may have looked at first glance; that she often had to put careful thought behind every touch, for fear she might damage or hurt something. So the dragon stood there for a moment, staring at the gore that she had left in her wake, whispering a very quiet, “I’m sorry,” before withdrawing her arm. “We have to move.”

Kovl watches as the shaman works to heal Hildegarde, not expecting Josleen's quick and imprisoning reward to the knight's healer. The pixie begins to reach in his pouch for the dragon's weapons, but already Hildegarde charges into battle, slaying the jailor with her mighty fist. Twice Hildegarde had slain GIANTS without her sword. The pixie, impressed, wonders why he needed to carry her weapons in the first place. "Ezekiel?" Kovl asks. No answer. He's not here. Handing Hildegarde her weapon in the usual manner, the pixie scans the room for an exit. A heavy wooden door in the back of the jail was thoughtfully constructed to lead to a passageway into the roaring arena. "What are the odds the Exiles are cheering for a prisoner execution?" Kovl quickly unlatches the door and lets it slide open. A long hallway is located ahead of the trio leading both to the left and to the right. Both pathways are marked in dust with the scuffling of feet caused by rebellious prisoners. He has to pick a way. "Go right." Kovl darts right until the hallway opens into a large room. Weapons and shields hang on a wall adjacent to beaten targets made of cloth and wood. The pixie catches a glimpse of two guards standing in a caged doorway that opens to a makeshift arena, and through the bars, the pixie sees a battle underway. One of the prisoners looks familiar... Is this Eliason? Kovl knows he must act fast. But first, the guards. A few words are muttered and a wall of stone erupts from the ground suddenly and silently between the Frost Giants. Both cry out in surprise, unsure of how to interpret the work of a possible geomancer in their midst. The wall splits in two longways, and Kovl sends each side barreling at an immense speed apart from each other and toward the outer walls of the room. Trapped by their perception of reality, each giant is crushed between the meeting of walls opposite from each other. Their bodies reacted how their minds thought they should. Their flattened corpses succumb to gravity as their mangled remains fall to the ground. The pixie's illusion blinks from existence.

Had Eliason known that Ezekiel was about, he would have tried to formulate some sort of plan, but this becomes impossible as he is once more dragged out of his cell and toward the arena. Once he is forced out into the familiar area, he casts about for signs of what he will be facing and his eyes come to rest upon Crombur who is staring back at him with murderous intent.

In the arena, several bludgeoning weapons hang on the arena’s wall. Crombur wastes no time, and stomps towards a cudgel bigger than his head. A true creature of the sport, her raises an arm and the weapon above his head, showboating for the crowd, basking in the glory. If Crombur has any doubts about this battle, it’s impossible to see them. The muscular warrior turns on Eliason and charges, his arms poised defensively to deflect any incoming blows. The cudgel moves with Crombur as if it were extension of himself. The warrior’s main proficiency, much to Eliason’s misfortune, is with blunt weapons. Unlike the dumb wolves and mares, Crombur is an intelligent and skilled combatant. He knows that charging Eliason puts him at a disadvantage, and tailors his attack accordingly. His body remains poised high on the approach, feigning an intent to strike Eliason’s upper body or head. As soon as Crombur enter’s Eliason’s striking radius, he ducks low to the ground and aims to smash his cudgel against the side of Eliason’s kneecap, hoping to badly maim the joint and render the leg useless. Back in the jail, Girly Hakkon flinches away from Hildegarde’s barbaric assault, shielding his eyes behind a daintily upheld forearm. Josleen jumps in Hakkon’s skin on the audible crack of bone. Hildegarde and Josleen apologize at the same time, though Josleen speaks much quicker. “I’m sorry. Didn’t know what to do! They were going to imprison you!” Speaking of the imprisoned, the shaman still wails for help, threatening to draw unwanted attention towards the jail. He needs to be silenced, but Josleen has not seen the Vakmatharas idol in action. Oh sweet dramatic irony, you are a cruel mistress indeed. They could bind and gag the shaman, but that requires precious time they do not have. Alternatively, they could kill the shaman, but that requires a calculating martial backbone that Josleen does not have. Should Hilde or Kovl move to silence both the shaman’s shouting and heartbeat, she’ll not intervene. Josleen asks Hildegarde to help bolt the door. Hopefully it will buy them some time. Kovl takes the lead towards the arena, and his quick thinking soon leaves them backstage, unguarded in the company of two giant corpses. From where they stand, they can peer into the battle through ground level grating meant for draining blood. They can see Eliason and Crombur in the center of the arena engaged in battle. Josleen gasps into her palm at the sight of Eliason. Her invincible paladin looks bloody and battered, and for the first time in her memory, truly breakable. “We need to get him out!” she panics. That panic mutates, claiming other worries simultaneously. They’re trapped. Behind them, the shaman will soon be discovered and their treachery will be revealed. Before them, they face a mob of aggressive giant soldiers. Even if they get Eliason out of the arena alive, where will they go? To exacerbate matters, they have no idea where Ezekiel is, and while the mage’s disappearance is felt grimly by all, perhaps none suffers it as gravely as Josleen. As her mind chases all concerns, her breath becomes irregular, on the verge of hyperventilation. “Hildegarde…” her panicked eyes, dressed in Hakkon’s likeness, look to the knight for guidance. Josleen is so far out of her element here. But what can the knight do? She is one against hundreds. The very sight of her is a risk. It could incite a riot - one with a single target, the knight herself. “You can’t go out there,” Hakkon frowns. Josleen hopes the reasoning in understood as she trains her mind on one task at a time. Right now, she focuses on getting Eliason out of the arena. “Kovl,” she whispers, “Make me look like that jailer - with a big sword too. I… maybe I can break up the fight? Just… protect me out there, alright? Eliason, or the other warrior could attack me.” She swallows hard, waiting for the illusion to be complete. She really doesn’t want to step out into the arena, but Eliason would do it, and has done, it for her. The jailer keeps his back to the wall, his sword unsheathed. Josleen can’t speak as a male jailer, and can only hope that the jailer’s authority is enough to accomplish her goal. She raises an open palm to silence the crowd and battle, and much to her surprise, a thunderous war horn blows through the caverns. The crowd quiets, but not for the jailer, but for the siren. The war has started. They’re called to action. The horn blows again. Soldiers empty the arena quickly, pouring into the subterrane barracks to equip themselves and march immediately for war. Soon the arena is empty, save for the jailer, and two very aggressive combatants who have experienced abuse at the hands of a giant whose likeness now stands alone in the arena. Josleen freezes. This is the worst plan she’s ever had. What now? “Eli, it’s me!” she cries helplessly, her voice drowned out by the third blaring of war’s horn.

Hildegarde knew full well the danger the shaman posed with his constant wailing, so she merely ignored her comrades and began to stride purposefully towards the cell. Her arm shot between the bars to grip at his robe, tugging back forcefully to knock his head off the bars. She let go to watch him slump against the cell floor, glancing between Josleen and Kovl, almost as if to say: ‘problem with that?’ Her manner was professional, efficient and was never intended to be boastful. If anyone asked her, she’d tell you she wasn’t that strong; she wasn’t a bold and brave knight or many other things. The knight so no need to kill the shaman, he had helped her out reluctantly and he was most likely only following orders in this camp to avoid living as an undead slave. When requested by Josleen to bolt the door, she nods and moves to assist her: using her immense body-weight and strength to slide the giant and rusted bolt into place. The knight followed Josleen and Kovl, gaze fixed upon Eliason and Crombur; feeling as though Ezekiel might have been somewhere out there too but not entirely sure where. She could smell him, she was certain. But for where he was exactly? She couldn’t tell, too many scents crowded the arena, smothered his scent with theirs; blood, death, sweat and tears hid his location but not his existence. The Silver frowned, glancing around with a concentrated effort to find him, yet truly struggling. At the suggestion of Josleen going out there, the knight shakes her head, “I don’t like this idea. Not a bit,” she said quietly, but alas sending herself out would only lead to an even worse fate: for the lot of them! So instead, she watched as Josleen left, sword and halberd ready for action should the woman come under attack. However, as luck would have it, the war horn of the exiles was sounded and the masses rose to their feet to leave. The knight waited until they had most definitely left the arena itself, before darting towards Josleen, Eliason and Crombur, “We must go – now!” she ordered, “This is our only chance to escape without much more violence, so we ought to take it.” The knight glanced between them all, not entirely certain about Crombur and his fate, so she simply said: “Come with us. Make a life of your own in the city as a pardoned man. Betray us, though, and you’ll find yourself sent to the void,” the knight cautioned him before turning her back to escape the arena. She was hoping to scope out Ezekiel on the way out if he hadn’t already been found – or made himself known to them once again. The Silver was swift on the heels of the giants, cautioning her comrades to wait or hang back until she was certain that the giants wouldn’t catch sight of them as they proceeded through the subterranean caves. The knight spotted a turn that a few battle ready shamans seemed to be taking and decided to hang back for a moment… “I think we might get to the city quicker that way,” she said, hoping her niggling sensation might prove true. “Quick, we must decide, do we follow the shamans or do we follow the soldiers?” Hildegarde was convinced the shamans would attempt to get closer to Satoshi or Svilfon, to find the magical roots of power in Frostmaw and strangle them.

Kovl weaves Josleen's appearance yet again to match that of one of the unlucky jailors to stand in the tiny pixie's way. He follows the 'giant' to the center of the arena, still invisible to the naked eye, already preparing in his mind what he would do if they were attacked. By a stroke of luck, a war horn sounds, and the Exiles begin to file out of the arena. The pixie wonders at the meaning of the sound, but he is quick to assume they may have found Hakkon's body among the trash bin in his headquarters. Crombur stops immediately at the sight of the jailor, knowing that to do anything else would mean trouble for him. At the strangely female voice coming from one of the guards who has kept him for so long. At Hildegarde's suggestion, he simply stares. He's grown accustomed to the harsh rules of the jail. Fight and sleep with the occasional meal and blanket is the name of the game. Eliason's opponent is silent, not fully comprehending the situation unfolding in front of him, but instead, like a zombie following menial orders, he begins to follow the group without expression or resistance. An attempt to escape is a break from his routine, but it seems as if he hasn't fully realized what is occurring. As a tired and robotic prisoner, Crombur obeys Hildegarde's invitation as if it were an order. As the group moves from the arena into the tunnels, it becames apparent the Exiles are moving along separate paths, and Kovl second-guesses his assumption. If the Exiles are not moving to find Hakkon's assassin, something more organized is taking place. But how is that possible when their leader is dead? Was Hakkon their only leader? "What is going on?" Kovl's voice sounds from an unknown origin. Crombur's eyes show a hint of confusion before returning to their default robotic state. "War." He mumbles. War? What? The pixie knows that if the exiles are going to war, the war would be against Frostmaw. Events are escalating quickly. "If you think the shamans are taking the faster path, let's go that way." Kovl floats ahead again, staying a steady distance from the shamans ahead of them. One abnormally tall and nervous-looking shaman behind the others shoots a quick glance back as he rounds a corner. He pauses at the sight of Eliason, Crombur, and Hildegarde. "Da'yar gett'n away!" He shouts. The shaman points while two of his associates come back into full view of the escapees. The pixie freezes in place before quickly saying a few quick words. A stone wall blinks into existance, separating the infiltrators from the shaman. Shouts can be heard behind the wall, cursing and repeating the alarm the first shaman spouted. Kovl looks to the others.

Crombur has fallen fully under the psychological games of the Frost Giants. He is a barbarian to the full extent of the word and a good one. But Eli has not been fully taken from himself. Though Trarg has found a place within the paladin's mind, it is still Eli in control and Eli is will not fall to the simple skills of a barbarian. Crombur's attack, though usefull against giants and ice trolls is too slow for the big legionnaire. He rolls to the side as the cudgel misses his knee by a few inches. Eli pushes himself back to his feet and faces the other combatant. The crowd roars in approval at the move and the he grins in self-congratulation. Suddenly the crowd quiets and Crombur is looking over Eli's shoulder. Afraid that it could be a trick to distract him, the big man affords only a quick glance backward, but finds his jailer approaching. Crying out in surprise, the legionnaire quickly tries to scramble sideways so that he can keep both of his enemies in sight. Silently he curses the giants for introducing another threat. He knows that he cannot beat both of these enemies at once. The sound of the horn blows and Eli cries out in surprise. Rage swells within him at the unfairness of it all. He is no longer aware of the crowd that is now making its way out of the arena. Nor is he aware of the presence of anyone else in the arena. He is only aware of the hated face of the jailer, though it looks at him with such a strange expression... almost loving. More mind games, he convinces himself as he cries out the Desert Legion battle cry... "Bloody, but never cry submission!" and charges, intent on taking the jailer out by the knees. At full speed, he lowers himself and slams against... a wall of light. At the instant of his touch upon the jailer, a flash of pure white fills the arena and throws Eli backward onto the ground, leaving the jailer unharmed. Eli cries out as his entire form is encased in that light, pulsing through and out of him in all directions. Within, the voice of the divine speaks to his mind, soothing and healing the paladin physically and mentally. For what seems to be hours, the damage done to the man is undone. When the light fades, Collin Eliason rises from his place on the ground. Though blood and grime still cover him from head to toe, he is once again the Commander of the Desert Legion, the War-Hand of Arkhen, and Savior of the one that stands before him. Peering up at the giant he tilts his head to the side. "Josleen?" But the moment is broken by the flurry of activity and Eli is swept up in the group's escape attempt. There will be time for inquiries later. For now, the paladin takes up a mace from the combat weapons and prepares to fight clear of the enemy, or die trying.

Ezekiel's world spun, his equilibrium shot. So many sounds, so many sights, sensations blurred between the loss and regaining of consciousness. There was shouting, light, horns of war.. though nothing quite as loud as the woman's voice that strummed the cords of his mind. He coughed, spat out blood and pushed off the blood soaked arena floor. He made no sound in the noise of war, figuratively speaking and literally. The mage groaned as he picked himself up, staggering back and forth while he held his footing. “J-Josleen?” He coughed again as an explosion of light and sound assaulted his senses. Through squinted eyes, the man was able to see the group as they made their hasty exit. How he knew it was the group? There was a familiar golden tether linking both a giant and the arena combatant, Targ- or in this case, Eliason. He took a moment to figure out what had happened while the entire arena emptied to the cold chill of a war: he'd followed the bond between paladin and bard, down the halls and past the two guards. Once inside the arena.. Think Ezekiel, think- there were two, one was Eliason, the other.. He remembered now, he'd try to foil Crombor's rigged victory. He was invisible, Eliason was facing off in a one on one, it seemed logical at the time. But who was he kidding, all he managed to do was get in the barbarian's way and eat the tail swing of the knee-cap shot. Although he didn't take the full blow, it was enough to stagger the combatant and give Eliason some room to breath (before the Jailer stepped in) but it left Ezekiel seeing stars, half dazed on the floor. Even Crombur looked down at his weapon, wondering what the hell 'that' was. Ezekiel shook his head, reaching up to feel the blood dry against his brow. It felt bad, but he was alive; the all were, albeit running in the opposite direction of him. He had no other choice but to chase after them, hardly invisible by this point. Was the dust wearing off, or Kovl's magic weakening? “Josleen!” Wince, “Eliason- Hildegarde!” Someone, anyone.. it was too loud to hear him over the roar of the horns and the chaos ensuing down below in this subterranean cavern. He jogged after them. Hildegarde was right in sensing his presence, too bad they didn't realize he was right there beneath their nose! Literally!

True to self, Josleen cowers, feet frozen, when Eliason charges at her. It’s a wonder she’s made it this far given her terrible combat instincts, but then again, despite being in Eliason’s crosshairs, she doesn’t see him as someone from whom she must defend herself. Thank Arkhen for that divine intervention, which leaves her unscathed and the paladin restored. In that brief moment during which Eliason is enshrouded by holistic light, Josleen and Eliason share the same experience - their minds and souls become one and Josleen can feel Trarg leave the paladin’s mind. She runs to the fallen legionnaire and kneels at his side, still disguised at the giant jailer, and embraces him tightly, pressing her male frost giant lips against his temple. Before she can say anything, Hilde is giving the order that they must flee. Josleen sweeps her gaze around the arena for any sign of Ezekiel before taking Eliason’s free hand and fleeing after Hildegarde and the unseen Kovl. The caverns tremble under the weight of hundreds of frost giants running to their posts. The low rumble roars deafeningly in their ears. “Wait!” Josleen calls, her pace encumbered by the ice structure she wears. “Stop, we need to find-!” The chaos of war drowns out her voice. Furthermore, she can’t run correctly while carrying Satoshi’s structure, and the ice too efficiently insulates her body heat, causing the half-elf to overheat. When Kovl erects a wall to cut off the shamans, Josleen abruptly stops. She takes off the icey head piece and starts to strip herself of the ice structure completely. They’ve reached a point where the disguise makes little difference given the visible company she keeps. To her companions, she hisses, “I’m not leaving without Ezekiel!” Just then, the shouting on the opposite side of Kovl’s wall morphs from angry to fearful. “A FROST WORM!” The rumbling has awoken a beast more fearsome than a rag-tag group of escaped prisoners - even if one of them is Hildegarde! In the distance, Josleen’s sensitive ears can hear the frost worm’s body slam into a distant cavern, causing the ice to crack until a small cave-in ends the shouts of giants. Giants now run for one of three reasons: to war against a patrol of Larketian knights, or to kill the frost worm, or to flee the frost worm and series of cave-ins. Those fleeing the frost worm run towards Josleen and company, which must mean the gargantuan beast approaches! “EZEKIEL!” Josleen shrieks in a panic.

A younger and less experienced Hilde might well have been too panicked or too stressed with the situation to know what to do. Fortunately, Hildegarde was older, wiser, experienced in battle and – unfortunately – war. She could remain calm in situations that would otherwise steal the senses; that would cloud the mind and squash your courage entirely. So, drawing in a deep breath, the knight immediately changed her voice to the typical ‘commander’ voice that she had learned to adopt here in Frostmaw: “Enough!” she glanced between them all, “A frost worm approaches, Ezekiel is missing, our escape is within grasp.” The knight glanced between them all, before settling her gaze solely on Eliason, “Eliason, you are in the best health right now, take the front. Head down that path and with speed, we cannot proceed as the shamans did and we can only pray they will be crushed in the cavern.” The knight didn’t want their anti-magic ways or curses infecting the city once again or targeting Satoshi once more. She may have been on a mission that was independent of her Queen, but her duty was still to protect her, whether or not she was by her side. “I will have no arguments; you will lead the front and proceed with caution – yet with haste. I shall take the rear,” she said, “and I will find Ezekiel.” She had smelled him, she had detected his scent so she knew he couldn’t be far. Perhaps he was mimicking Kovl and using some kind of invisibility spell? The knight would have to chance it. With a growl, she snapped at all three: “What are you waiting for, *move*!” she ordered, before proceeding in the opposite direction so she might take the rear. Halberd and sword in hand, she stared down the way they had came, inhaling deeply to try and catch a whiff of Ezekiel’s scent again. There was a distinct coppery scent. Indentations in the snow, what looked like footsteps of a human size; staggered behind the ones Josleen, Eli, Crombur and herself had made. “Ezekiel?” she asked, glancing upwards as the cavern trembled and the frost worm bellowed with anger and irritation. “Hurry now,” she told the air, just in case he might be lurking there, “we are close to freedom, friend! I cannot leave you here to your death, so come quick, grasp my arm and we’ll be away!” she said, trying to coax him out of hiding if he was. Her arm extended, as if waiting for him to grab it so they might be on their merry way to catch up with Josleen, Eliason, Crombur and Kovl. “If you are hurt, tell me, I can carry you, I swear it. I won’t leave you,” she swore.

Exiled giants fled in every direction, the few brave who'd taken up arms in the immediate face of danger served as nothing more than fodder and distraction. The natives had a name for the beast, and that name was Lao Shen, the dreaded frost worm that had wiped out so many camps a decade ago. Several tribes had set differences aside with the sole intent of driving the monster back, and they'd been successful, too; as it ripped both cavern and arena apart, those who had been there could see the scars along its underbelly. It was as reminder of different times. The ravenous creature issued a bellowing roar that seemed to shake the very foundation of the mountain. It reached a height of nearly forty feet tall, its head nearly scraping the ceiling- and that wasn't counting the length of tail coiled under its body. Starting at its gaping maw, four jagged pincers, each roughly six feet, curved inwards towards its long, constricted throat. Lining that were hundreds of razor sharp teeth, the entire thing dripped with saliva and the gore of devoured giants. Each pincer flexed back and forth while the eyeless creature sought anything and everything it could devour. Along its pale, scale-plated body, thousands of spikes lined the length of its body, all the way to the tip of its tail. Ezekiel watched in confusion as the group of survivors fled the scene, leaving him with several giants. Some tried to fight, swinging hopelessly at scales they'd never penetrate. Others used their foolish (but brave) comrades as the ticket to their escape; all is fair in love and war, and in a three way war between Frostmaw and it's Beasts, -anything- went. As Lao Shen shattered the arena and rose up from within the center, Ezekiel turned hesitantly to stare up.. and up.. and up. With each degree his neck tipped back, his shoulders sank in retort. He was a mere speck amongst giant and giant worm. What started out as a slow jog ended up turning into a full on sprint for his dear life. Half invisible (seeing as how either the dust was wearing off, or Kovl's magic was fading) the mage found himself clumsily sprinting past giant's, shaman, and their wolves- if fear were fuel, he'd be burning it like a diesel. The knight barely had a chance to issue her orders before offering a hand to the skittish mage that wasn't even there, yet. The only thing she'd see would be a half visible Ezekiel, from the torso up sprinting from around the corner at full speed. “Run!” He was out of breath, “Go- Get out of here, Ru-” Lao Shen's piercing roar echoed throughout the cavern followed by an explosion of earth and debris. It didn't seem all 'that' interested in gobbling each and every living thing up, it moved in a way that suggested it was answering to the call of war, but helping its self to a snack along the way. Ezekiel tripped once, hit the ground and slid on his chest before kicking back up without missing a beat. Whether or not Hilde accepted his warning, he'd fly right past her and continue on sprinting. He barely had a chance to register both Josleen and Eliason in his thoughts before Lao Shen was upon them. The light of day could be seen, hundreds of giant soldiers poured from the cavern entrance so eager to file into their ranks, while others fled for their lives. Ezekiel glanced once over his shoulder and angled towards the wall where he'd accidentally slam into both paladin and bard. With a little nudge from Lao, the three were knocked violently against a small alcove of carved out rock. Rock falling from above would block them off from the rest, leaving them (hopefully) alive behind the cave in. Hildegarde, if she didn't get out of the way in time, would be knocked to the other side of the three, and possibly bounce off the wall- assuming she wasn't gobbled up or crushed to begin with. Kovl, poor Kovl- wherever he was, was left alone to flitter out of the way lest he end up a tiny morsel caught between Lao's many teeth. Ignoring them completely, the frost worm would slither recklessly out of the cave and once more, back into the open. It was good to be back.

Kovl blinks and furrows his brow at the news shouted from behind his illusionary wall. A worm? The tunnels shake and pieces of rock and dirt descend on the group, and the tiny pixie has to dodge the pieces to avoid being forced to the ground. The worm rounds the corner of the tunnel. The pixie's eyes are trained so much on the oncoming danger, he barely was able to clear the half-visible Ezekiel's hurried path. His escape is short-lived as Lao Shen's teeth frame his presence. Kovl let out a yelp as he darts from Lao's mouth just as the wyrm's jaw snaps shut. The already collapsing ceiling ahead of him traps Josleen, Ezekiel, and Eliason. The invisible pixie watches as walls of stone and dirt threaten the group's unscathed escape. The worm's roar echoes loudly against the narrow pathways ahead of it. Kovl has to do something. A blob of dark brown shoots from the path ahead of them. Its outline is blurred but it appears to be... a boulder? If Hildegarde is in the way, the boulder changes trajectory but is still moving at an alarming rate toward Lao Shen. Crombur reflexively ducks from its path. The worm, cramped in the tunnel, jerks to avoid the oncoming boulder, attempting to cram itself in the bottom-right of the pathway. A crunch is heard as the boulder connects with its left side. Another roar of anger escapes the worm's jaws. Its tail, in haste to avoid Kovl's attack, strikes the pixie sending jolts of pain through his body. Kovl plummets to Lao's feet, flaring his wings at the last moment to soften his fall. The pixie rolls over. Kovl cannot even think to calculate the damage done to him as pain numbs his mind. The pixie falls unconcious. The boulder blinks from existance. The pixie's illusory wall disappeared during his attack on the worm, and the shamans on the other side, terrified, scramble farther down the path they first elected to take, leaving the prisoners and their rescuers to face the beast.

Hildegarde waited until Ezekiel was running ahead of her, so that there would be room between him and Lao Shen. Of course, the knight felt that was all in the line of her duty: to sacrifice. If that meant giving the mage more time to run and give herself less, then that's what she would do. Only once he ran past her, did she pivot and run after him, "Go, go, go!" she shouted in encouragement, hoping he wouldn't stop running. Concern followed her, though, whenever the mage seemed to stumble, trip and nearly fall; surprised he managed himself so expertly yet incredibly relieved too! She was prepared to pull him back onto his feet, but he managed that just fine. So they sprinted down the cavern, Lao Shen close on their tails. The knight even went as far as to shove Ezekiel out of the road, so he was safely out of the way while the worm roared with anger; rearing his giant head and allowing the falling stones to smack the knight up against the wall, only to bounce back down with a thud. There had been a distinct crack when she impacted against the wall, but whether that was stone or bone was unclear at the moment. The cave shuddered and groaned, rocks falling into place to separate the group. "No!" she cried, watching as Crombur began to desperately pull at the rocks. Lao Shen was drawing ever nearer and the knight didn't want to kill him. The worms were sacred - in their own way - in Frostmaw: it was only an innocent creature that was reacting appropriately, it was doing no real harm to them. As Kovl sends that illusionary boulder towards Lao Shen, the knight roared, "No!" she didn't want to hurt it or anger it more! "It's done nothing wrong!" she said in defense of the creature. Lao Shen bellowed angrily as it slithered ever closer, "Crombur!" she growled, "Get out of the way!" she needed him clear of the stone wall, "That worm can break through the wall with ease," she reasoned, "we just need to get out of the way somehow..." that seemed just about impossible, what with their cavern being rather small and limited in terms of exits.

Kovl's dust begins to lose power, causing his body to become partially visible. A torso, a leg, and a wing fade into full view though the rest of the pixie remains unseen to the naked eye. The problem can be easily treated except the pixie's senses are dark. His mind slips in and out of consciousness, but his awareness remains limited. The illusionist groans, but the groan is drown by another roar from the worm beside him. Lao Shen only desires new territory in the midst of the busy footfalls of the underground exiles. But he is cornered and hostile. Crombur drops the debris separating the group and looks nervously to the worm, unsure whether to abandon his rescuers or to save their lives. Never has Crombur faced a beast so large in the arena, and now he is unarmed. Lao Shen, after knocking the knight against the wall, turns to Crombur and lashes out at him, his razor teeth snapping at his target. Crombur ducks, attempting to take refuge beside the debris holding back Josleen, Ezekiel, and Eliason. The worm's teeth dig into the stone and rock, only skimming the new wall and barely missing Crombur. The prisoner runs past the worm to its hind end toward Hildegarde, attempting to separate himself from Lao Shen's teeth. He reaches out his hand for a sword from the knight.

Silver dragons were renowned for their sensitive hearing, a blessing and a curse all at once. Kovl's groan did not go unheard by the knight, but Lao Shen's roar deafened her for a moment. Hildegarde reached out for Kovl, "Kovl," she said, desperate to help him somehow, perhaps by letting him sit safely on the pauldron of her leather tunic. It might offer him a little protection, which was better than none at all. To be as exposed as he was, with mana running low, the knight felt a stronger obligation to protect him. As Crombur asks for a weapon, the knight shakes her head, "I will not kill it or let you kill it," she said lowly, meeting his gaze should he dare to doubt or question her commitment to this notion. Lao Shen rumbles again, head rearing back as his body and tail thrashed; threatening to smack against them had they not been so pressed against the wall already. "We need to get out of the way!" she hissed. She knew full well the sight of the worm was limited; that they were dependent upon sound, vibration, movements in the earth: which was why Lao Shen was determined to get through that wall, it was the best way forward and he wanted to get out just as quickly as they did! Freedom was all he sought, nothing more and nothing less.

As if the idea had hit her all of a sudden, the knight groaned and looked to Crombur as if she was absolutely delighted! "Quick," she told herself, twisting Oathkeeper in her hand until the lion-headed pommel was facing the roof of the cavern. The knight thrust her arm upwards until the golden pommel 'thumped' against the ice and stone, "Please, Kirien," she whispered in a sort of silent prayer. The earth groaned and complied: curling in on itself above them to open a narrow tunnel. "Crombur, up!" she commanded as Lao Shen roared, watching as the giant clambered up the narrow tunnel with a groan of effort. "Up we go," she told Kovl, ready to move up.

Kovl's body is limp as Hildegarde lifts his half visible body from the ground. His head falls to his chest when lifted and another groan escapes his mouth. The pixie is placed in Hildegarde's tunic, and the Oathkeeper's pommel creates a mode of escape for the three. Crombur is surprised at Hildegarde's regard for the worm's life, and instead of arguing with her, he scrambles into to the tiny opening at the roof of the tunnel. Lao Shen, still angered by Kovl's attack, thrashes his body, swinging his enormous tail toward the trio, and after doing so, it begins to slither forward toward the path the shamans have taken moments earlier. More dirt falls from the ceiling and walls at Lao Shen's thrashing, but the debris settle as it moves once again. The tail of Lao Shen is still visible as he rounds the corner. More screams erupt from the tunnel ahead of him.

Hildegarde began wriggling up the narrow tunnel in an effort to escape the cavern and the angry Lao Shen who was still rampaging below her feet. Of course, the worm took up most of the cavern and thus made all movement quite difficult! Indeed, Hilde's foot became jammed on the way out: crushed between icy stone and the hide of the worm. The knight was aware that Kovl was hidden away in her tunic and she didn't want to cause him any distress by letting him know she - and subsequently he - was stuck. As Lao Shen burst through the wall and veered off to the right to burrow through the wall and smash into a pre-existing tunnel swamped with giants, the knight managed to wriggle herself to freedom! The Silver dragged herself up to her feet, eyeing Crombur over to make sure he was alright, before asking Kovl, "How are you holding up, friend?" she said, smiling in an exasperated manner. It may have came across as "I'm so crazy right now" kind of smile. Once her companions were checked upon, she drew in a deep breath and then addressed them both again: "We cannot abandon them to their fate," she said. With a glance downwards, she murmured, "They must be below us now... We could probably tunnel them out!" she said, taking a couple of strides forward before pressing the lion-head pommel to the earth once again, "Just once more," she asked quietly of the earth, of the terramantic gift bestowed upon her blade, watching as the earth began to slowly curl away and open up. The knight could only hope she had found the trio. Even so, she would still softly call down, "Lady Josleen? Ezekiel, Eliason? Climb up!"

Kovl begins to wake disoriented, crammed against a wall of stone and something else. Am I dead? The pixie winces as the rock wall shifts, sending its jagged, unwelcoming edges to rub against his skin. No, this hurts too much. Muffled grunts can be heard from Hildegarde's pockets as she crawls to the opening above them. As the three reach the top of Hildegarde's makeshift tunnel, the pixie reflexively moves his wings for an escape from the cloth tomb which is the knight's pockets, but he stops short as his efforts are met with more pain. Instead he allows himself to go limp in his prison. Where am I? What am I doing here? The pixie seems to have completely forgot for a moment. Hildegarde's calls fall on his confused ears as he tries to recall what happened. Crombur watches Hildegarde's magic in silence, relieved to be away from the clutches of Lao Shen. The ex-prisoner holds doubt that the three that were separated from them are alive.

Hildegarde even went so far as to wiggle her fingers, as if it might encourage Eliason, Ezekiel or Josleen to grab her awaiting hand. Still, there was nothing. Perhaps she hadn't picked the right location. Crombur had been silent for too long, though, and finally grumbled harshly, "They're dead, let's just go." The Silver, however, could not bring herself to accept that as the truth nor would she wish to leave anyone behind. "I promised to protect them and that's what I intend to do," she replied, barely containing her anger or desperation; her absolute need to make sure they were all okay. She couldn't lose people again. Not after Sabjorn, Tormund, Onjar or Gunjar. Not again. The knight pushed her weapons further away from her so she might angle her body better, arm sinking deeper into the cavern, as she wiggled her fingers again. As Crombur watched, he decided that he wouldn't die here. Not in the frozen tundra, not here while some stupid woman sought out her friends. Well, not even her friends, just people who she had offered to help. Friendship was a thing the knight had little of. People wanted her help, her mettle and strength, but they often didn't want her companionship or friendship. It was something she didn't let her thoughts linger on for very long, though. With a huff, Crombur darted forward to grasp her halberd and short-sword, even going so far as to brutally kick her side. "We're leaving!" he screamed at her. Hildegarde's side crunched at the impact, as rolled and scrambled desperately to her feet. "Put the weapons down," she commanded, "and help me, rather than fight me." The Silver could barely see the flicker of light below the ice, was that them trying to signal her? "No! We're leaving!" he said desperately, glancing from side to side as he weighed her weapons in his hands. "I'm leaving!" he roared at her, "and you can die out of your own stupidity, woman!" With another furious roar, the warrior stepped forward and swung the halberd for her legs; Oathkeeper screaming down as it came for her shoulder. The Silver stepped inward with him and took a steady stance, crying out as the halberd walloped her shin and Oathkeeper bit into the flesh of her shoulder. "Stop it," she ordered him, pummeling her fist against his gut, forcing him to stagger back as he wheezed. The knight, however, only ran after him. She didn't want space or distance between him, either of which would let him handle that halberd against her. But even that plan was flawed. You see, Hildegarde was always quite headstrong in battle: charging forward, reckless and determined. Putting herself at risk for the safety of others. The loud wet squelch came as no surprise, really, as Crombur fell backwards and Hilde atop him; the spear tip of the halberd protruding through her back. She had fell onto the weapon; rushed right onto it because she hadn't expected him to angle it so at her. They stared at each other for a long moment, shocked and afraid before Hilde reeled her head back and smashed her forehead against Crombur's. The key difference between the two was her dense bones. Strong like armour in their own right. So the hit to his head simply knocked him right out! The knight gasped as her adrenalin began to leave her, body throbbing in the wake of all her injuries. "Kovl?" she asked, "Kovl, are you okay?" she needed to know before she moved.

Kovl opens his eyes again at the raised and urgent voices. The pixie begins to climb with difficulty to be upright only to tumble as Hildegarde's body is impaled on her own halberd. The knight's crumpled body is tilted now in such a way that the pixie rolls out of the pocket in her tunic and onto Crombur's chest as the two contenders literally butted heads. "Owwww!" Kovl moans in pain from the impact caused by Lao Shen's wayward tail. His emerald eyes look up to see Hildegarde above him in serious pain. The realization of his surroundings suddenly snap into his mind. Josleen, Ezekiel and Hildegarde. Hakkon. Crombur. Lao Shen. "Hildegarde! What happened?" The pixie gingerly climbs from Crombur's limp body onto the ground below them and eyes the knight's most recent wound. "Can you move?"

Hildegarde stared at Crombur for a moment, listening to see if he was still breathing. Much to her relief, he was doing just that! So with a sigh, the knight smiled a desperate sort of smile; a smile full of exhaustion and terror. "We had a disagreement," she summarised, "but I need to get the halberd out before moving." The process could well be an unpleasant one, so she didn't want to put Kovl through that! "Will you check out those lights there? It might be our companions," she said with a champion smile, trying desperately to hide her exhaustion. The knight would wait for him to move or at least wait a while longer before wrapping her fingers upon the shaft of the weapon and slowly drawing it backwards. She did her best to suppress a groan of pain, but her best wasn't much. Even so, she couldn't quite stop the gasp that escaped her when free of the weapon. Once free, she rolled away from Crombur and looked at the ice. Hopefully they'd be free soon and on the way home. Home. She missed it already. Did it miss her? Were there people anxiously awaiting her return? With a shake of her head, she scooped up some snow and pressed it against the newest wound. It might help stem the blood flow.

Kovl begins to walk toward the lights in the ice at Hildegarde's suggestion, but he cannot avoid glancing back at her while she removes her weapon. A wound sustained like this is hardly nothing, and an impaling certainly does not complement a chest wound like the one she sustained earlier. He doesn't know what to think. The protector is now the one in need in this pixie's mind. "Stay there. I'll get you out. Where are the others?" Kovl nears the glowing ice, and upon inspecting it, realizes the source of light is not the ice itself, but it is from something below it. The pixie brings his sensitive ears to the ice and hears muffled voices. A male shouting. Another moment passes and a lower indistinguishable mumble meets his ear. "There are people below us. Two men I think."

In The Cave of Feels

Eliason takes only a split second to consider Hilde's command. In these situations it is usually he that gives the commands to the troops, but he quickly falls into the proper role as dutiful soldier and salutes Hilde. "Let's go, people. We need to get out of here!" Rushing to the front of the line, he moves quickly down the tunnels, dodging chunks of ice and rock from the tunnel around them as he leads forward. Sapphire eyes remain fixed on the path before them, watching for threats. But he barely makes it ten feet before a familiar voice reaches him, calling out from behind the group. Spinning about, he is taken aback by the quickly approaching apparation. It looks like the guy from Frostmaw that he had saved from the black ice, but he's only half there. With a startled cry, he reaches out to pull Josleen out of harm's way as he also catches sight of the worm behind them. Gritting his teeth defiantly, he hefts his mace and prepares to fight however he can. Perhaps he can at least afford the others a chance to escape. Taking a half step forward, he calls out to Hildegarde. "Get them out of here, Hildegarde! I'll... " But his words are cut off by the forgotten Ezekiel apparation who slams into the paladin and Josleen, forcing them into the shallow alcove. "Get off of me, I need to..." Once more his words are ended by the crash of rocks before the trio. Before any of them can react, they are closed off in the small, dark space. Eli tries to call out to the others, but with the commotion and a ton of rock between them, his voice is completely drowned out. Turning, he squints into the dark, trying to make out the form of Josleen. "Is everyone okay?"

Josleen is reluctant to take the lead with Eliason. While her hand stays with the paladin’s, her feet drag. Her gaze searches behind them for Ezekiel, and finds half his bloody face flanked by the heart-stoppingly terrible maw of Lao Shen. That gets her feet running! “Ezekiel! Hurry! Hilde! Kovl!” she shrieks. Rocks loosen in the ceiling overhead and crash down around them. Eliason deftly pulls her out of a rock’s freefalling crush just as Ezekiel collides into them, sending them careening into a small, dark cave. The cave wasn’t always small, but the cave-in made it an uninviting place for the claustrophobic. Her ankle rolls on a rock as her foot tries to find purchase. She crashes forward onto her hands and knees, yelping in equal parts pain and shock. The efficiency with with the caved in wall of stone and ice muffles the sounds outside suggests several feet of rock and ice have come down between them and their friends. Josleen moans as she rolls onto her behind to sit and nurse her ankle. Nothing is broken. It’s the type of sprain that heals on its own in a few weeks with a cloth brace, but in the moments right after injury aches and throbs terribly. She clenches her teeth against the pain, sucking in breath like an inverted hiss.

Once face down in the dirt, all the mage could do was curl his knees to his chest and cover the side of his head with his one arm. It was several minutes before the thunderous crash of rock, ice, and rampaging creature subsided. His entire body was trembling, aching in pain. His lungs felt as if they were going to burst and his head throbbed considerably. “Jos- Joslee- Elia-..!” He coughed in between each name after accidentally breathing in the dust that still hadn't settled. It was beyond dark in their cavernous prison, and despite his questionable gift for spotting various traces of magic, be it holy, arcane or nature.. he'd need time to adjust his sights. He scrambled in the dark, fingernails scraping at dirt and rock in a desperate attempt to find the two. He wasn't a religious man, but that didn't stop him from praying to the gods in hopes the two were alive and safe. He replied to Eliason, “I'm- I'm alright, where is Josleen?” There was obvious panic in his voice, he could hear her but she wasn't saying anything. Meanwhile, he fumbled around in the dark, edging towards their sounds.

Eliason pushes himself up from the ground and tries to peer about in the darkness. Silently, he curses the absence of his sword which could offer light in the darkness with but a spoken prayer. Ezekiel's voice reaches him from the side and he can hear Josleen's hiss of breath from nearby. Her lack of answer, however, elicits a jolt of concern in the paladin. "I think she's over here..." He scrambles toward the sound of her breathing, feeling about the darkness for her.

"I'm here," Josleen mumbles through pain. "I hurt my ankle." Eliason and Ezekiel's fumbling touch both find her bent knee, and each other. "It feels broken." No it doesn't, because it isn't. People tend to think their injuries are way worse than they actually are. If it was broken, she would be howling in pain. Anyone with cursory first aid training would know that, but alas, Josleen does not. The commotion outside continues to move down the corridor, leaving them behind, trapped but alive. Despite the peril they still face, compared to the threat of Lao Shen and the cave-in moments ago, this seems like a comparably safe space to take a breather and reasses their gameplan - all gameplans. "E-" Her speech stalls on a name. The concerned, soothing words that would coddle that unspoken name are cowed by their audience. "Um, I-" The silver-tongued bard loses her nerve yet again, unable to speak as freely as she desires to either Ezekiel or Eliason in the presence of the other. Unseen to them, she soundlessly mouths a word that rhymes with pit and starts with 'sh.'

Ezekiel's cough lessened as the dust finally settled. Pebbles, rocks and sifting dirt were sprinkling down from above, it was the metaphorical concrete that sealed them in. The mage grazed his fingertips across everything he came into contact with, from the wall and ice that trapped them in, to the pained knee and the hand on it. His touch lingered for a full two seconds, enough time to realize the hand he'd covered was too strong and rough to be a woman's. Naturally, he flinched away, curling his fingers into a ball at his side. “I- sorry..” The two might wonder what his force of habit was sorry for. “I can't tell.. Eliason,” He was a soldier, a holy soldier at that; it was nature for Ezekiel to assume he had basic field medic knowledge, or at least any way of checking on the leg. “is.. is it broke?” He'd reach up to brush the sweat away from his right eye, but winced as a flash of white light left him wincing. The cut above his brow had opened wider and that wasn't sweat he felt, it was blood. It dripped off his chin in the dark.

Eliason's searching hand finally finds Josleen, followed quickly by Ezekiel's touch. Had the situation been less bleak, the mage's reaction would elicit a laugh from the paladin. But under the circumstances he leaves his hand upon Josleen, breathing a sigh of relief when he finally hears her voice. "Give me second...," the big man utters softly in the relative silence of the alcove. Closing his eyes, the paladin begins uttering soft, archaic prayers. Through the darkness, his hands begin to glow softly with holy light. That light pulses forth from the paladin and into Josleen. Silently he hopes that the light will afford the others a chance to assess their surroundings and reveal any chance of escape. After a moment, the light reverses its flow, pulsing from the bard and into the legionnaire. The holy words on Eli's lips finally come to a stop and the light fades once more. "It wasn't broken... I've taken some of the pain, but not all. If I have to, I'll carry you." Had the man's eyes been open, he would have seen the cut on Ezekiel's head and offered some healing as well.

"It feels better." Josleen exhales a plume of pain as Eliason calls upon the power of Arkhen. She rotates the ankle a bit, proving Eliason's diagnosis. Under different circumstances, Josleen would feel sheepish, but currently, she faces more pressing concerns, though perhaps not quite aligned with the paladin's. In the light of Eliason's prayer, Josleen's stare should be sweeping their immediate surroundings for an exit, but instead they seek out Ezekiel and find a bloodied face. She gasps at his condition, wincing sympathetically. "Eze..." she coos, the nickname tender and familiar on her tongue. Her hand reaches for his, but doesn't quite take it, instead falling on Eliason's shoulder to get his attention as he withdraws from the prayer. "Eli, Ezekiel's hurt - pretty badly." Undeterred by her misdiagnosis earlier, she continues to try her hand at describing injuries. "He could bleed out." He probably can't, actually.

Since regaining consciousness in the arena after Crombur's glancing blow, the man's adrenaline had been pumping through his veins to numb the immediate pain that should have dropped him to his knees by now. Now that they had a moment to sit back and catch their breath, Ezekiel felt the burn of a good days work out. He was concuss, his right brow needed immediate medical attention, limbs were aching and lungs felt ready to burst. None of that mattered to him at this very second, not when Eliason illuminated their alcove with a hum of holy magic. He paid absolutely no attention to the paladin, his magic, or even their surroundings; he watched Josleen's face come into view, then gradually fade with the light. He tensed for all the wrong reasons, “N-No no no- I'm fine, it'll stop.” He wanted to step in, he wanted to kneel by Josleen's side, but Ezekiel did not know the paladin well enough to fully trust his magic and above all else, his touch. It was right about the time his dread was setting in, so to did that wall of aching, not-so-numbed pain. Ow.

Eliason sighs heavily, the ache that he had taken from Josleen weighing slightly in his ankle. Her words, followed by Ezekiel's quick denial leave the paladin shaking his head into the dark and biting his lip in thought. The last thing that Eli needs is to have to carry Jos and Ezekiel out of this place. No, something must be done about Ezekiel's condition. The fact that he is in pain is obvious by the strain in his voice. But the two don't trust each other enough for Eli to use divine power. Suddenly another thought comes to mind. Setting a hand on Josleen, he speaks to her. "Take his hand... Once you do, repeat after me." Praying that this will work, the man begins speaking that familiar chant that Josleen would recognize. With their connection, Eli hopes that the power will work quickly and effectively.

Josleen begins to protest Ezekiel's refusal just as Eliason suggests his superior idea. Despite the fact Josleen and Eliason did not come to the same conclusion, her hand is already reaching for Ezekiel's in the dark before Eliason speaks. Her thumb fans back and forth over Ezekiel's knuckles as she repeats Eliason's chant. The bard and paladin have been here before in an effort to save Eliason's sister, Aela. Now they unite to save someone dear to Josleen. Once again she acts as transmitter and amplifier to the paladin's power, and in doing so, shares in his experience. She feels, sees, hears, smells, thinks everything Eliason does in that moment. She is a voyeur in the present moment of his being, and vice versa. Eliason can feel her affectionate, desperate concern for Ezekiel, but wrestling that concern is the sensational bond and merger with the paladin and his god. To be one with another, especially one so much more powerful than oneself, is an experience that inspires awe, humility, and addiction. It's intoxicating - euphoric. What more, her ability to amplify Arkhen's power within Eliason also grants her the ability to cure the ailments the paladin absorbed when he healed Josleen and now heals Ezekiel. Light brighter than before swells throughout the cave and beyond like an auxilary flare, illuminating the ice above them so that the ice near Hildegarde and Kovl above glows in patches. In this new light, Josleen's gaze lingers on Ezekiel long enough to ensure the prayer is working, before sweeping over to Eliason to lock on his. The stare is brief, but keen. Her thumb on Ezekiel's hand is frozen in place, forgotten.

Ezekiel had backed up as far as he could in protest against Eliason's aid. This only left him stumbling over a small boulder and promptly landing on his rear end. He sat there against the wall of collapsed rock and ice, his one arm held up in front of his face as if to stop what ever it was that was about to come. To his surprise, it wasn't Eliason's forced hand, but Josleen's. Much to the same affect the bard had on the legionnaire, she too had her own brand of healing, even if it was nothing more than her presence alone. He was too high strung and on edge to be stressed like this, so when her hand took his, he tensed up. It was only for a short moment, when the realization hit he lowered his arm and stared up in the dark. Moments later the light from Eliason's holy magic began to light up the cave, he kept his eyes open long enough to shift them between paladin and bard before squinting shut. One had to remember, he saw more than just the bright light, he saw traces of the magic the other two couldn't. Once more he tensed back up and squeezed his hand shut, nervous and anxious. It was a new sensation, to be healed with this brand of magic. Eliason had saved him once before, but now he was conscious for it. His skin felt as if it were crawling, the gash above his right eye slowly began to knit back together while a few other minor scrapes and bruises receded. That wasn't what held his attention, it was that strange chain of emotion and thought, feelings- hundreds racing at him like a swarm of bees. To him it was one big blurred hum of excitement, incoherent from start to finish. He felt Eliason's magic reaching out through the chain, and what bothered him most was he had no control of his own grabbing back. Quite possibly to the same reaction, Josleen could have been flooded with the same package that was coming from Eliason, only from Ezekiel's side instead. His magic was everything core to him. Who he was, what he'd become, what he thought and felt, and where his desires lay. In a way, it was a documentation of his own being. It frightened him. After so long he couldn't handle the sensation, unlike Josleen. He reluctantly began to tug away, gently- unwillingly. “Jos.. No- No more, please.”

It is a strange thing when strong magic meets the touch of the Divine. The results are unpredictable. Very few understand the workings of a paladin's power. In fact, the power does not come from the paladin themself. They are merely a vessel for the power to flow through. Thus, Eliason's mind floats free as the power of Arkhen flows through him, amplified as it is by the bard clutching his hand. Because of this, he is free to feel everything that is communicated between the three. As if there is not wall left between their consciousness, each is able to experience the thoughts and feelings of the other. For a short moment, Eliason knows the bard's feelings for himself and for the mage and the mage's feelings for her. In turn, his own feelings are laid bare in that moment. When Ezekiel pulls away, Eli is actually thankful for the break in the connection. He realizes that he has been lost in Josleen's gaze through all of this and as the light fades, he is finally able to speak. His words are heartfelt, but pangs of guilt stab through him with each syllable because of the the knowledge of Ezekiel's feelings. But he has held back for so long and it is all on the table now. Meeting the bard's eyes in the last moment of light, he speaks low and humbly. "You have heard me tell you that I need you so many times, Jos. But now you know that it was a lie. Every moment that I have spent with you is not because I need you, it's been because I want you. I want to be with you and feel you next to me forever, not because of some connection that we share but because.." He pauses and lowers his voice, the room going dark before he whispers the words. "..because I'm in love with you."

Josleen wasn't expecting Ezekiel's consciousness to merge with hers and Eliason's. His consciousness's imprint feels so different from the paladin's. It's a completely different state of being: a nervous, scared mind with scars different from those suffered by the paladin, but there is tender core beneath that brittle shell. Josleen has come to know well that gentle, patient virtue which the possesses mage - he who is so totally devoted to her. That devotion is the only thing he shares with the paladin. They couldn't be any different. What more, Ezekiel's magical essence intimidates Josleen. She can understand Eliason's role as a conduit of a god's power, but Ezekiel's -is- the very source of his own. It is a terrible power to behold, and frankly, his power scares her, even if the mage himself does not. She's never comes in such raw contact with his magic, and struggles to keep her nerve. Thus, when Ezekiel asks her to let go, she's surprisingly quick to oblige, her hand recoiling away from that magical font she does not comprehend. Then Eliason confesses the words she had so often fantasized he would speak in the past; words remarkably similar to those spoken by the mage just the evening before. They leave her bereft of her silver-tongue. Ezekiel's presence robs her of courage. She can't rub this in his face. She also can't deny Eliason a response. Into what mess has Josleen gotten herself now? Her fingers weave through Eliason's in the dark, giving his rough hand a squeeze before she leans into a hidden embrace. She forgets that Ezekiel can see the gold tether disappear to a small point between their chests as they meet. Her cheek presses against Eliason's, and she accepts his freely given love with a barely-there nod. It's a meek acceptance, but a clear one at that. As Josleen and Eliason separate, the gold tether unfurls between them.

A sense of dread washed over him as he felt her pull away that quick. She wasn't pulling away to comfort him, she was pulling away to comfort herself, from him. And just as eager as he'd been to break the chain between the three in the first place, he was twice as fast to regret it. His hand hadn't even made it to his side before it was stretched out, reaching timidly. No, this wasn't what he wanted, he was fine. His head, wound, body.. everything was fine, he begged, he pleaded. Damn it Eliason, he didn't need the healing! There was no undoing what had just happened and his heart sank with each passing minute of realization. He'd finally gotten a chance to see it all, understand it all- fear it all. He not only found fear in it, he found pain. “Don’t look at me like that, black eyes. We know you’re quite ill..” As he listened to Eliason's words, his hand began to tremble, shaking there in the empty dark. Each word came with a new weight, and eventually the sum of them all pushed down on the mage's hand. “Succumb to this noble stranger, grant him his freewill..” He wanted to look a way, he needed to look away. Gods be damned, why couldn't he look away? Witch each syllable that left the paladin's lips, another wall went up. They were walls that Josleen had toppled in the weeks spent with him, but walls that doubt and insecurity rebuilt. “Had I known what trouble, lay in that black stone, I’d have turned him away, and accepted my tomb..” He was retreating within himself, just like that little boy had done in the twisted world of Harriet's imagination. It was the golden tether in between the two folding in half that sent the first of many fractures through his heart. He licked his lips, dry and cracked as they were, and spoke with in a cracked tone, “Th-This changes.. This changes nothing.. right?” Her words echoed in his mind, “Josleen..? It was the weight of everything he'd just felt in that brief connection , crushing his spirits against the wall of ice and snow. There was no room for question, suspicion, theory or doubt; they'd taken a one way express trip straight to the end of the line. It hit him like a train.

Josleen's actions, though meager, communicate her thoughts clearly. The paladin can understand, after sharing her thoughts and feelings so clearly why she does not wish to speak. In fact, a large part of the man wonders how he can be so cruel as to utter those words in Ezekiel's presence. The weight that those words carried has to be crushing to the mage. But to feel Josleen's fingers interlaced with his own and the to feel the soft skin of her cheek brush against the rough beard that has formed on his own... He cannot think of anything so wonderful in all of his memory. And then Ezekiel's words pierce the darkness and Eli grows still. The silence following those words weighs heavily against the thuds of the worm's passing. Will this be the moment of choice? With one uttered sentence, the bard holds the future of both men's happiness in her hands. Will she make a declaration either way? The room goes completely silent with as the enemies outside of the walls disappear to the surface. In the silent darkness, both men are tense as they await Josleen's words.

At the crack of Ezekiel's voice, Josleen withdraws her hand from Eliason's. Although unseen, her face pinches into that pained expression just before an unsightly cry. Ezekiel throws back at her the reassurance she so recklessly gave him. Yes, it was foolish and short-sighted to say nothing would change, but at the time (both times), she spoke earnestly. Her feelings and desire for the mage are real, but, as Ezekiel just learned through the most raw way, her affections are not uncontested. "Ezekiel..." she cries as she buries her face behind a trembling hand. This moment has been a long time coming, and everytime the bard has imagined this moment, she's never been able to face up to her mess and assume responsibility for it. However, she also never imagined this moment would occur in this setting, under these circumstances, after today's events. She didn't account for what Eliason's touch would reignite. She didn't account for the terror she felt when discovering Ezekiel's power. Josleen manages to squeak out a barely audible, "I'm so sorry, Eze." She sniffs and inhales through her mouth, her nose stuffy as she cries as silently as possible. This isn't the place, and Eliason isn't the audience, for her suffering over Ezekiel. "I'm so, so sorry. I've done you so wrong." Despite the fact Josleen and Ezekiel no longer share consciousness, she, like him, feels the same first of many fractures through her own heart. It doesn't feel like a broken heart, it feels like mutilation. She regrets the decision before it's settled. Her stomach bottoms out. She's gutted, and she did it to herself.

“To him my gratitude forever I shall pay. Return him now, return him swift, if only for a moment, I’ll take that gift.” The last of her song echoes in the depths of his mind, perhaps for the last time ever as he listened to her painful words. The inevitable decision she'd just made was the chisel against his fractured heart and every word following was the hammering blow that ultimately shattered it beyond repair. The mage sat there with his hand in his lap and his head hung low. He felt cold, and he felt alone; he felt like that little boy all over again. To say he was retreating within himself once more was an understatement, he was shutting down completely. He opened his mouth, nothing came out, he tried again. A cracked whisper was all he could manage, mouthing the first syllable of her name before giving up entirely. It was too good to be true, he'd later think. Who was he, to deserve such a blessing; this angel in disguise. A man so insecure and socially incapable, anxious and afraid, who was he to think he for a moment, he could find himself so deserving. Ezekiel sat for several moments, the world around him blurring out as her mumbled cries and apologetic words tuned to incoherent, and muffled tones. He pushed up against the collapsed wall behind him and used it as leverage while he struggled to his feet. He kept his eyes closed, he had to. To see that golden thread again would shatter him entirely, to see either of them right now- to even hear her crying was beyond painful. Because deep down, he knew he couldn't do anything to fix it, Eliason could. He stumbled around in the dark, tripped over loose rocks and eventually came down on his armless stub of a shoulder. He yelped before climbing back up, gradually clawing in the opposite direction. He didn't make it far; he couldn't make it far. Eighteen feet at best? It was impossible to tell in the dark, all he knew was he needed to get away, he needed to put as much distance in between the two as he could. In the end he found a corner, collapsed with his back to it and pressed his brow to his only arm, which lay resting across both knees. If Lao Shen collapsed his half of the alcove, he'd be alright with that.

Eliason lowers his face as Ezekiel and Josleen share this moment. Silently he curses the fact that this had to happen. This was an inevitable moment when someone's heart would rent asunder by helpless feelings. Indeed, as well as he knows Josleen, the paladin knows that her own heart will break at having to do what has been done here. A silent tear drips down his own cheek at the strangled attempts at speech coming from the mage. The quiet of the caved in area, however, calls the commander's mind back to the present and the hopelessness of the situation in which they have found themselves. If they cannot find a way free, all of this will be for nothing. Surrounded as they are by rock and ice, there could be little oxygen left here for them to breath. Raising his voice slightly so he can be heard across the cave, he speaks to them. "We have to find a way out of here..." His words are cut off however by the sound of something moving about above them. For a brief moment, he can hear the voice of Crombur and Hilde, though he cannot make out their words, followed by a few loud thuds. "That's Crombur... I know his voice. And probably Hilde." Hefting his mace, the paladin begins thrusting it upward against the top of the cave and calls out. "We're down here below you!"

Reunited and Freed

Hildegarde waited for Kovl to inspect the ice, taking the time to gather herself and try to calm herself a little. Panicking now wouldn't get her anywhere, not that she really had the energy for it, really! In fact, the knight could feel her energy fade fast. At Kovl's announcement, she nods and then hears the 'thunk' of Eliason's mace against the ice. "That's them," she said with hope, offering Kovl a sleepy sort of smile. With a groan, she pushed herself onto her feet and wandered over to Kovl's side; kneeling down so she may inspect the ice. She could see the rise and fall of the mace. "We need to get them out," she said, like Captain Obvious. The Silver glanced back at Crombur, murmuring gently to Kovl, "Will you bring my weapons over here, Kovl? I can't promise we'll be okay if he wakes up next to them," she warned. If Kovl did as she asked, the knight would show no embarrassment or shyness in allowing her forearm and fist to take the shape of her truest of forms: huge, bulky, taloned and coated in those silver scales. Pressing her knuckles to the ice, the knight cautioned loudly, "Get back!" before pummeling her fist against the ice. The first strike sent spiderweb like markings across it, indicating it was ready to break. With a second strike, her silvery fist hung there for them to either grab onto or to simply acknowledge. It was the last of her energy, really. She used her free - and unchanged - hand to prop herself up; to make sure she wouldn't slump onto the ice as her companions needed help.

Ezekiel's eyes were on fire, it was obvious what he wanted to do, but impossible to allow himself to do so. In a way, Eliason was the stronger one here, in letting his sorrow out; even if they couldn't see that lone tear. Eliason was everything here: strong both physically and mentally, exuding confidence and beaming with the power of Arken. The last was obvious and he'd try and not think about it, thankfully Hilde's draconic fist shattered the ice and rock above him. With it, sorrowful thoughts broke in its wake, and his attention was taken. He'd say nothing more for the rest of their escape, instead he'd cover his head from the showering debris over head and offer his hand in return. It wasn't Loa Shen, but it was the half way mark; he'd take it. Climbing back to his feet, he'd stand on a wobbly boulder and extend his hand out past the hole, there he'd feel her take it and hoist him out with a little effort. From there, the man simply nodded and avoided her gave. He'd avoid everyone's gaze, no. In fact, he'd avoid everyone all together. When Hilde turned to reach for the others, he'd use this time to start off down the tunnel they'd known to be the exit, hopefully they'd just assume he was scouting, really the two down below knew the truth.

Kovl nods and tests his wings. He muffles a pained groan. The pixie begins to slowly flex his wings hoping its movement will accustom him to the pain while he walks so he may fly once again. Making his way to Hildegarde's bloodied weapons, the pixie, visible for the first time before the group since the start of this adventure, sends a pulse of magic through his hand to pixie dust he specifically designed for such a task, and he tosses it on Hildegarde's weapons while the knight lifts his companions to rescue. Kovl lifts the weapons in his hands, feeling much like a warrior armed to the teeth. A couple of practice swings are thrown for the sake of feeling empowered in his small form before he makes his way back to the dragon. The weapons grow as his magic is dispelled at Hildegarde's side. Crombur's eyes begin to flutter open, and he curses silently. -Where is that fiend of a woman?- The ex-prisoner scrambles to his feet, and Kovl immediately turns at the sound. "Hildegarde!" Kovl warns.

Eliason shakes his head as Ezekiel scrambles up through the hole with Hilde's assistance. Another pang of guilt rushes through him at the mage's focused lack of eye contact. However, now is not the time, nor the place for this to be dealt with. A reckoning will have to wait until another time. Reaching down, the paladin offers Josleen his hand once more to help her stand. Once she has done so, he wraps his big hands around her waist and lifts her up into the hole and to Hilde's awaiting hand. Once he is sure that the bard has been pulled up, he reaches up to take Hilde's hand. He notes that her grasp is much weaker than it should be and he scrambles against the rock and ice to assist in his ascent as much as possible. The paladin is just climbing over the lip of the hole when Kovl's warning issues out. Sapphire eyes come to rest upon Crombur then swivel over to Hilde and her pained state. It doesn't take a forensic expert to put the scene together and a shadow of anger crosses the man's features. Taking two long strides toward Crombur, he sets a heavy foot on the man's outstretched wrist and lowers himself to the barbarian's side. "If you want to continue to live... You won't speak another word until we're back in Frostmaw. One more hostile move and I'll end you!" Crombur eyes Eli for a moment, considering his chances against the fully-healed paladin and finally nods his head in agreement. "Good!" Eli declares, before turning his back and heading back over to Hilde's side. "Hilde... can you walk? We need to get out of here."

Josleen doesn't lift her face from her hand until dim light pours in from above where Hildegarde smashes ice with strength that rivals Lao Shen's. In that cone of light, Josleen seeks out Ezekiel, which is the same as seeking out pain. He's not avoided her since the first day they truly met. To suddenly not be his everything hurts her in ways novel and unique. This is a different kind of heartache. They had promised each other so much. It is with shame that she takes Eliason's offered hand. She wants to hide this from him. The paladin doesn't deserve to see her go to pieces over another man. She needs a new cave in which to go lick her wounds, alone. Both paladin and knight lift the petite half-elf easily, despite the latter's injuries. When Josleen takes in the battered sight of Hildegarde, it provides a distraction to compete with Ezekiel for the bard's attention. "Dame Hildegarde..." she coos, her voice still tight and eyes still wet from her emotional distress. She fences off Hildegarde's body as best she can from Crombur's approach, but only after Eliason has put himself between the barbarian and the women. Her gaze sweeps the cave to ensure Kovl is there and relatively well, and finding that he is, tries to focus on Hildegarde. "Eli... can we do-" She wipes a hand over her mouth, finding it still difficult to speak properly. "Can you heal her, and then I'll..." A hand waves between them, to indicate she can touch him and do, well, whatever -that- is. As Eliason responds, speaking directly to Hilde and crossing to the knight's side, the bard looks after Ezekiel's retreating form, her gaze growing distant as she withdraws into her mind. Does she follow him? She moves down the tunnel after him, afraid to truly chase, afraid to let go.

Hildegarde was vaguely aware of her weapons being deposited at her side, offering Kovl a weak smile, “Thank you, sir,” she said with a genuine gratitude. The knight, however, bites her tongue as she pulls each companion from the cavern, forbidding herself from showing any signs of pain. One by one, they were pulled up, Hilde’s face slightly red from the effort; like the snow beneath her. As Kovl cries out, however, the knight is already attempting to scramble in front of the cooing Josleen but finds herself at a loss of what to do when Eliason so deftly handles the situation! The Silver barely managed to take a knee, but she still watched him and eventually laughed so tiredly. “Expertly done, sir,” she commended him, before nodding. “I can walk,” she said, “I merely need a moment.” Or a few weeks. The knight’s hands scooped up snow once again and packed it against her wound and the bloodied bandage. It didn’t offer any specific healing qualities or anything, but it made her feel a bit more comfortable. A dragon so attuned to frost and cold, the cold only made her feel better! “Is everyone all right?” she asked, before attempting to pull herself upright with her halberd. “We ought to move. I do not doubt Satoshi’s assistance in keeping the Ice Devils away, but I’m uncertain how long it will last for. So, leaving would be advised.”

Eze stood pressed up against the tunnels bend, his lack of a left arm letting him embrace it near intimately. From this angle he spied on the small group, watching as the two were pulled from the collapsed earth and snow. He grimaced at the knight's wound, and felt guilty about his apparently lack of attention for the pixie. It stabbed him in the chest to watch Josleen emerge from the hole, so much he had to fix his stare on their feet. He waited until the man crawled out next and when he was content with their well being, he'd take his leave. So long as she was safe, he could leave without a guilty conscious; he felt selfish for so many reasons, but this wasn't one of them. Hell, he could even appreciate the paladin for this, at least this way he knew she was safe. Safer than she'd ever be, right? The giants had thinned out over the course of the worms rampage and the cavern collapsing, Ezekiel would find it manageable to navigate the frozen wastes in the midst of a war. Where he went from there, he didn't know.

Kovl levels his eyes at the others on Ezekiel's abrupt exit and notes Josleen's tears. "What was that all about?" The curious pixie presses. If the paladin and bard refuse to tell him, the illusionist is confident he will get information from others elsewhere. He thrives on drama, especially if there's an opportunity to add to it. To Hildegarde, the pixie mentions, "If you cannot walk, I have an alternative solution." Kovl offers no other explanation than that. Crombur stands glowering and the remaining three and wishes the alternative solution is to either leave Hildegarde for dead or kill her right on the spot.

"Ezekiel!" Josleen calls out after the mage as he disappears from sight. She'll never know whether or not he heard her; never know if he heard, but ignored. At Kovl's question, she simply shakes her head, sniffing loudly as she wipes away a disobedient tear. Her mind needs to be busied, so she crosses back to Eliason and Hildegarde and helps the injured Knight in anyway she can. Crombur may be a curmudgeon, but he isn't an idiot, and knows not to cross Eliason under these circumstances. He makes like Ezekiel and leaves, without explanation, waiting for no one. He has no loyalty here, and that crying chick annoys him. Crombur out. Peace! The worm has pushed giants far from the caves, and thus it is relatively easy for the group to carve out a path, back to Frostmaw, back to safety.

Kovl offers the wounded knight of Frostmaw assistance on the way out of the caves. His alternative solution is not to kill or leave Hildegarde, but with a flick of the wrist, pixie dust specially designed to lift others helplessly in the air as an aggressive tactic proves useful for transporting wounded allies from enemy territory. Thus, Hildegarde, begins to float, and her weightlessness allows her escape to be much like that of a patient on an invisible gurney as the others pull her to Frostmaw.

Hildegarde raised her hand to Kovl to assure him she didn't need his assistance, but it appeared to be a bit too late! "No!" she huffed, as the dust was thrown over him and weightlessness was cast upon her. Much to the humour of her companions (who knows, they may not have found it funny) the knight immediately became red in the face and began to sneeze repeatedly. As she was about to explain to Kovl, she did not react terribly well to pixie dust - or pineapple for that matter - and really didn't wish it cast upon her while wounded, for fear her allergy may influence her wounds. Of course, her allergy was nothing more than sneezing, redness and a case of the sniffles, but it was all rather annoying to her. "Sir, can't you douse me in water or something?" she asked lamely. She'd rather stagger on than sneeze all the way home. It was at that precise moment, the screech of a wyvern permeated the air: the companion of Dami, known as Rocky, had arrived to inspect the trouble caused in the caverns. Of course, he recognises Hildegarde which is why he immediately growls, squeals and squeaks at her to communicate his presence and purpose for being here. The knight only offered him a nod and growly squeak of her own to reply and it seemed to satisfy him, as he walked along to escort them home to Frostmaw; offering the knight assistance should her weightlessness end.