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RP:Death, Doom and Rebirth: An Enchantment Tale

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Part of the I Got 99 Problems, and a Congenital Defect is One Arc

Synopsis: Josleen, Skylei, Lydrain and Kovl set off on a three-day mission to reach Trith, the Guardian of the Cocoon. They descend the moat and are assaulted by fey magic that puts The Fear in them. Lydrain discovers the runes causing the fear enchantment and dispels them. The journeymen come across the corpses of dragons and a mammoth, and the desecration of dragon eggs. A dragon corpse temporarily reanimates to utter a prophecy of death. Perturbed but not repelled, they continue marching forward for several uneventful hours. They could get lost in these caves, but Kovl knows the way to the dragon's boneyard, their next destination and where they will set up camp for the night. They arrive at the boneyard to find that all bones save the dragon skulls have been looted. Lydrain and Josleen stay behind while Skylei and Kovl scout ahead. They feel The Fear first and find the same runes that had affected them earlier. They decide to return to the group in the boneyard, secure the cavern (magically!), and rest before pressing forward.

During the night, Kovl, Lydrain and Skylei are disturbed by footsteps and voices in the distance. The voices seem to search for the adventurers, but Kovl's illusion holds and they are not found. The rest of the evening passes without incidence. The next morning, the group sets off westbound, and encounter the fear mongering runes again. Voices threaten the trio, and Josleen and Skylei urge Lydrain to assume his dragon form, completely ignorant of the fact that Lydrain is being stopped, by some unknown means, of assuming his saurian shape. The voices in the dark foolishly insult Lydrain, calling him a lizard, and he snaps, dissolving the runes and attacking the darkness. Kovl and Lydrain uncover shadow gnomes, who then summon a a golem of a bone dragon. A chaotic battle ensues between our heroes and the gnomes and their overgrown golem. Our heroes escape down a tunnel, Lydrain provokes a cave-in that collapses on the golem's neck, preventing it from pursuing them any further.

They breach the surface of the moors under a bright mid-morning sun. The moors are known for being home to all sorts of bizarre and intelligent predators, but the adventurers meet none during the six hours it takes them to cross the moors to the Fells - the large, sheer cliff that drops into the haunted plains. Skylei and Josleen brought with them ropes to rappel down the mountain. They had expected Lydrain to be able to fly, but the dragon cannot assume his winged form, and thus is set off on a winding path down the cliff through which he can free climb down, alone. Kovl stays with the halflings. As they descend, the stones about them move subtly, bringing upon them a series of painful accidents - one of which sends Skylei almost plummeting to her death. They soon discover that the terramancy is the work of a gargantuan, stone salamander on the hunt, who decided halfbreeds are a fine dinner. It tugs on Josleen's rope to bring her down into its mouth. Kovl shrinks Josleen down to pixie size and flies her out of harm's way, then rescues Skylei in the same fashion.

Note: This is being uploaded in pieces. It will likely be huge when all is said and done.

Nothing to Fear but Fear Itself (and dead dragons)

Enchantment Market

Josleen set an obscenely early meeting time. The group is to meet in Enchantment at dawn, which means that Josleen and Skylei need to leave Xalious well before the sun rises. Skylei spent the night on Josleen and Ezekiel’s couch in a living room crowded with two camping rucksacks, rolled up sleeping bags, a collapsible tent (one to share), and Skylei’s traveling circus of books. To Ezekiel they furnished a lie. The women are going on a girls-only camping holiday. Ezekiel is in charge of looking after Skylei’s tower of tomes. In preparation for this trip Josleen bought proper travel leathers. The only hint of her feminine sensibility is embroidered along the hem of her waterproof poncho in the form of flowers. The poncho protects her now against a light drizzle. The women take the shortcut to Enchantment through the Delicates Farm. The hike feels longer than usual and Josleen can’t separate her anxiety from her sleepiness. She made sure to get to bed early, but jittery nerves can chase you anywhere and they chased her to bed and kept her up all night. She keeps her head down against the rain and says nothing. On expanses of road she knows well she even dares to close her eyes to rest them as she walks.

Skylei didn’t sleep well either. As they had left Xalious in silence, Skylei had spent the journey trying to convince herself that there was nothing to worry about. But worry she does. Josleen had shared all she had learnt from Kovl with the scholar and that, combined with Skylei’s own research from the towering circus of books she had insisted on leaving at Josleen and Ezekiel’s place, has left her jumpy and jittery. The worst worry, however, remains the medium sized vials of shrinking solution that she has wrapped in a towel in the middle of her rucksack. What if it doesn’t work? What if they reach the point of no return and the potion fails in its purpose? These thoughts swirling around her mind along with the haze that comes with lack of sleep, Skylei’s one solace comes in the fact that Josleen has at least chosen to dress properly in Skylei-approved leathers. Whilst the main body of their outfits match, Skylei has, as always, chosen to accessorize with Ezekiel’s old coat. Unfortunately, it has no hood so the softy falling rain clings to her hair, leaving her with a dewy halo as they finish crossing the fields connected to the farm and enter the outskirts of Enchantment. Passing through the back streets, draped with colourful foliage and closed shops, Skylei would reach her hand out to Josleen and let her fingers make clear and purposeful contact with the bard’s for just a few seconds. Just a little way down the road the great castle of Enchantment looms, with its chasmic moat surrounding it. It is just beyond the currently closed market, and just before the aforementioned moat that Skylei and Josleen draw to a halt. The first cracks of light are beginning to creep over the horizon as Skylei makes the first comment since they left Xalious, “They should be here soon.”

Kovl jerks his head at the sudden sound of Skylei's voice and his hand is quick to rub the drool falling from the corner of his mouth. He had been asleep at the moat after crudely fashioning himself a covering consisting of a couple of rocks and an oversized leaf to keep the the light rain from stealing away his sleep. The pixie is packed light, and this is not new to him. He is quite optimistic about finding what he needs on the road when he travels, but of course, Kovl did not fail to pack a bundle of snacks in his satchel. The pixie's head pokes from the shelter, and upon recognizing Josleen, he lets out a quick shout. "I'm here!" Tufts of bed-headed hair stick from his head, proving to those who notice he has just awoken. However, his sprite and excited demeanor may cause anyone to doubt this. "I'm ready!" Kovl clutches the leaf which was his makeshift roof moments before, and holds it over his head as his wings take him to the air. He buzzes toward the two women and hovers at shoulder-height. Kovl smiles at Josleen. To Josleen's friend, he says "I don't remember if we've met, but you must be Skylei." The pixie extends his hand in greeting as if the size difference meant nothing at all to the feasibility of a handshake. "I'm Kovl." He pauses to give Skylei a charming and friendly smile. After the moment has passed, excitement stemming from anticipation for the journey can be heard in his voice as he asks, "Where is Lydrain?" The pixie's eyes gaze over toward the road, sifting through the early-risers of Enchantment, seeking for his fellow mage amongst them.

Lydrain walks through the rain, completely unbothered by the wetness. Magically enchanted clothing is wonderful for that sort of thing. Normally he would have flown, but he decided to take the long route, and stretch his legs, as it were. Unlike the two women of their motley crew, he had slept exceedingly well, for the first time in quite a while. He had a smile on his face when he saw the other two, and an even broader grin when he spotted the pixie fluttering about. The headmaster calls at, "Greetings and salutations, my friends. I..." As he came closer, the dragon noticed the rather grim looks on Skylei and Josleen's faces, "Is everything alright? Nothing has gone wrong has it?"

Josleen sits on a damp log as they wait. Her surprisingly dry buttcheeks intimately understand why this gear is superior to the bard's usual attire. She may start wearing leathers on other occasions as well after this - if there is an 'after this.' She flashes a sleepy smile as Kovl approaches. "Morning, Kovl." She yawns and corrects, "Stupidly early morning." As Kovl and Skylei introduce themselves and shake 'hands,' Josleen looks off in the direction from which she expects Lydrain to arrive. She sees him first and answers Kovl's question, "There. Perfect timing." She rises as Lydrain joins them. "Stupidly early morning, Lydrain," she greets with a hollow cheer. Her grim expression remains as she responds, "So far everything is perfect." She isn't being sarcastic, despite what her haggard expression may indicate. In fact, Lydrain's presence ensures that she is being genuinely optimistic, albeit not expressively so. How can everything not be perfect when in the company of an invincible dragon? "Shall we?" If everyone is good to go, the group starts to move towards the moat with no real leadership. Josleen is uncomfortable in the driver's seat, despite the fact everyone is here to help her achieve her goal. She simply doesn't know Enchantment or their journey very well. As they walk, she looks to Kovl and says, "I think you should take the lead since you know this area best." She casts a wary glance towards Skylei, who she knows at times can be prideful of her own knowledgebase which includes Enchantment to some extent. "That alright?"

Skylei would offer Kovl a finger rather than a hand, and content to greet him with that. “A pleasure to meet you, Kovl.” She says little more by way of greeting, instead wanting to fall back into contemplative silence and think through her worries. This, however, is ruined by Lydrain’s entrance. At his question Skylei would merely shake her head and allow Josleen to do the taking. The bard’s positivity regarding the whole endeavour might be deemed to be infectious and Skylei certainly has no desire to prick the bubble of hopefulness in which she exists in. Indeed, Skylei will consider this mission a success if all four return alive and unscathed. And so, she says nothing and the bard speaks for both of them, including choosing someone to lead them into the depths below Enchantment’s safe and civilised centre. Whilst Skylei does not know Enchantment all that well, and certainly not well enough to lead a band of adventurers through its bowels, she is slightly chafed by Josleen’s deferral to Kovl rather than to herself. Typical Skylei. She says nothing, merely nodding in ascent to Josleen’s ideas and plans allowing the bard to take full authority over her fate, however much in dents her pride. That pride, however, leads her to be the first to lower herself down into the moat, in spite of the fact that she has given Kovl figurative possession of the driving seat. Still, once all four are lowered into the chasm, Skylei would pause for a good log moment, and allow the pixie to move ahead of her. It’s not sneaky and not subtle at all, but the area into which they have descended gives her the creeps already and she doesn’t want to be the leader. It’s going to be a long journey…

Crystal Clear Moat

Kovl grasps Skylei's finger and gives it a firm shake before deciding to plant a flirtatious kiss on her first knuckle. "It is a pleasure to meet you too, Skylei." A wink is added for good measure. The pixie has always been a lady's man, and often his charm often has to outdo his preferred and natural stature when conversing with the larger races. The pixie generously nods toward the approaching dragon in an exaggerated gesture. He has become accostomed to large displays of tiny expressions as they are much more visible to the larger society who may not notice the nuances of his nonverbal cues. "Hello, Lydrain!" The pixie's attention turns to the bard as she starts toward the moat. His emerald eyes dance over the glimmers of the crystal clear pools as they approach, and the view causes lips to upturn in an appreciative smile. Though Skylei may technically be first to climb down into the chasm, Kovl is hovering beside her, descending as she starts. His tiny voice rings out. "Of course, I can lead." The pixie begins to hum. The humming is not of any particular song, but it is more of an expression of his excitement for what is to begin. "I used to play in the graveyard ahead, but we have to pass through this tunnel in the chasm. We get to see dragons! Big dragons! This cave has tons of them in it. It's a nest, you know!" Kovl declares in a singsong voice. "But don't worry, they've never caught me." The pixie turns to the group, smiling and he urges them forward toward the mouth of the cavern.

Lydrain takes Josleen's words at face value, assuming that everything is well. It must be intimidating, he thought, for the smaller races to face the thought of having to go up against his kind. He, however, was unperturbed by the idea. As 'smart' as the dragons are, they are moreso full of pride, and would never suspect anything short of other dragons, even then most often not, could pose anything of a threat. He chuckled slightly and followed Kovl's lead. Attempting to make idle chatter, the headmaster speaks up, "This may seem like dreary weather, but it serves as a buffer against those who loathe to venture out into this mess." Continuing to walk he has a large grin on his face. Speaking again, "So, Kovl, how have you been, my friend?"

The immediate descent is wet. The stone sweats with condensation from the moat on the otherside of the same thin stone. For Josleen, the least experienced climber of those who need to climb (lucky Kovl!), the descent is also slow and graceless. Despite the fact the initial drop is only four or five footholds down, Josleen requires about eight, never trusting any stretch of her leg, and often asking Skylei to help her find the next place for her boots, sometimes even questioning Skylei's guidance. "Are you sure?" "How do I put my weight in that?" "Ok my left leg is there, now what?" "I'm going to scrape my knee!" It's going to be a long, long trip. Thankfully Josleen can walk just fine, but you are forgiven if you began to doubt her ability to do so. All of this casual conversation of dragons unsettles Josleen's stomach. "Should we be more quiet?" she whispers nervously. "What if they hear us?" Pause. "Are there any vegetarian dragons down here?" Pause again. "Are there are vegetarian dragons anywhere?" As they approach the mouth of the dragons nest, Josleen spots the initial piles that belong to horde of mainly crystals. "...Where these stolen from the Pixie Queen's moat? Are they the dragons' now?" The protectice runes far up ahead are felt by Josleen first due to her lack of resistance to enchantment magic. They fill her with immediate dread. "Oh gods! Nononononono. No. No. We should go back," she whines.

Dragon's Nest and Dragon's Tunnel

If Skylei is charmed by Kovl’s greeting she does a very good job of disguising it behind a blank expression. It could be exhaustion or it could simply be Skylei’s special brand of oblivious rudeness. Once she, and Kovl and Lydrain have made the descent, Skylei would grow increasingly testy as Josleen questions her judgement. She’s lived in a forest for most of her life and been a ranger for at least half of those years. And so her responses go from the sweet and reassuring (“There’s a good girl” or ‘You’re doing great, Jos. Just a few inches further!”) to the irritable and unhelpful (“Just get on with it” or “Yes, Josleen! For the love of Sven, when I say put your foot there, I mean put your foot there!”) until Josleen is down into the semi-waterlogged moat with the rest of them. Skylei has paid no heed to Josleen’s insistence that they should be quiet and instead finds herself calling out to the pixie and dragon who are likely a little way ahead after Josleen had made a mountain out of descending into the moat, “How far ahead is the nest, Kovl? And what’s the likelihood that they’ll be aggressive?” At Josleen’s further insistence that they should go back, Skylei would move to her side and take one of her hands. In that hand Skylei places a dagger, unless Josleen insists on handing it back. The paltry weapon will do little good against a dragon or any of the other horrors that they will likely encounter, but Skylei’s aim is not for Josleen to actually defend herself, merely to fill her with enough confidence that she will carry on along the route they have planned. “Shhh. Quiet, remember? I’ll be with you. Nothing will hurt you.” For now, at least, Skylei has the patience to ease Josleen’s nerves and, as she does so, pulls the bow from her back and into her left hand, “Look, see? No one can hurt us. You’re fine, you’re safe. Shhh.” It’s probably at least 50% crap, but Skylei has no desire to drag Josleen through the dragon boneyard kicking and screaming.

Kovl does not stray too far ahead from Josleen and Skylei to hear the fruits of the bard's lack of confidence in her own footfalls, the lack of trust in her friend's words, and finally the incessant nervous questions about the dragons ahead of them. "I have been well, Lydrain. It is a pleasure to be traveling with you." The pixie cannot help but chuckle to himself at the scene of Josleen's descent and the silly natured questions, but Kovl makes it a bit of a game to answer each one. "Yes, we should be more quiet." "Perhaps they will greet us. But don't stick around. Their breath is horrid." "I've not known a dragon to be a vegetarian, but I imagine it would have a nice figure." The pixie answers each with a smile, trying to calm Josleen while entertaining the game though truthfully, the entertainment motive is winning until the bard's sudden panic. Kovl darts behind Josleen and holds up his hands. "Jos, we will be fine. Trust me. I've been through here on more than one occasion. You want this. I will protect you. I've protected you from worse." To Skylei, he responds, "The nest is just ahead. I see the cavern now. And it is probable they will be aggressive. I imagine the best way through is stealth. I can veil us with invisibility if this is the way we wish to do it." If the group agrees, the pixie will scatter dust upon each individual, and they will blink from sight, invisible to the naked eye.

Lydrain will listen to Josleen's comments with some sympathy, he has never known what it is like to be in a situation like hers, and it was difficult for him to understand, so all he could really do would be to give sympathy. When he finally does speak, his voice is calm and soothing, something he had developed over the past year, due to his current jobs as a headmaster and politician, "There is nothing to be afraid of Jos, I am also a dragon, and older than those down here, I wager. Not to mention you have Kovl and Skylei with you as well. I'd imagine that bow isn't just for show?" He smiles, trying to reassure the woman, before he feels it as well. A wave of magic washes over the party as they get near the nest: magic that was intended to make them afraid, to make them turn tail and run. It barely affected Lyd, really it just informed him that it was there, but it was still potent, none the less. Kovl would recognize it as Fey magic, if he was familiar with his own people brand of juju, though fear was typically something left to the Unseelie.

Josleen understands that Kovl is making jokes, and in another setting she would laugh hysterically at his wit. What a clever pixie! But unfortunately, Josleen is in the grips of the exact type of magic against which she has no resistance. The whole purpose of this trip is to fix this vulnerability, and ironically this vulnerability may keep her from that goal. “You don’t understand,” she gasps to her companions. In truth, Josleen doesn’t understand either. The magnitude of her fear is irrational and beyond her control. All of their arguments are logical, but unfortunately logic doesn’t dispel magic. Skylei, as the person closest to Josleen, may notice that the manifestation of this fear is abnormal even by Josleen standards. She grips the pommel of Skylei’s dagger tightly against her bosom, her grip incorrect and wrists weak. To Kovl’s question, she nods franctically; yes - invisibility is what she needs, but despite this protection she panics. “We have to get out of here! We’re going to die here!” She backpedals against Skylei and Kovl’s embrace, making little gains. Unlike her companions, Josleen doesn’t realize the source of her fear is fey magic. To the bard, her fear is natural and reasonable. She won’t realize she was under the influence of magic until she is out of it.

Skylei ’s reaction to the magic is somewhere in the middle of Lydrain’s casual awareness and Josleen’s extreme fear. She feels the wave wash over her, but unlike Lydrain who seems to be able to let the magic roll of the back of his skin, as one of the younger races, Skylei is more porous to magic and thus reacts with increased rapidity to its effects. Her heart pummels, her pulse races and the hand that holds her bow begins to sweat. Still, this will be nothing compared to the abstract terror that torments Josleen. It is for this reason that Skylei would accept Kovl’s offer of invisibility without question of its effects or the way in which it would work, or the possibility of side-effects. “See, Jos? Nothing to worry about. Kovl will make us invisible and Lydrain and I can protect you. Nothing to worry about.” In spite of her own reaction to the fear magic, Skylei would bite her lip, grit her teeth and take Josleen’s spare hand in her own, coaxing, begging and, at times, near dragging the bard along with them. As they continue onwards, Skylei would move so that she is following behind Josleen, just in case she decides to balk and run away from whatever it is that waits to confront them.

Kovl feels the enchanting aura around the nest, and the fey magic is not unfamiliar to him. It's an enchantment which has been long standing around this area, and the first time Kovl felt it was many years ago. While it did affect Kovl, it did not stop him from his hijinks around the nest when he was younger. A combination of knowledge that this was to come, previous experience with this magic, and his natural resistance to such magic allows the pixie to continue with nothing more than an increased heartrate, a more serious demeanor, and a higher likelihood to flee in the face of danger where he would more willingly brush with death. As the group becomes invisible, the pixie becomes worried that Josleen would turn in fear without any of the others knowing. "It's the magic. The dragons here protect their nest with this fear enchantment." The pixie estimates where Josleen is and lands on her shoulder, touching her cheek. "Jos, is this you?" Kovl's riding place will work to serve as a buffer to ensure a possible flight from the bard will not go unnoticed.

Lydrain twitches his head, only slightly, though no one else could see, "This magic is relatively potent. Especially as we draw closer." That statement, was, in fact, completely true. It was as if the magic was radiating from a cavern entrance, just a ways in front of them. Only the pixie would be familiar enough with this land that he would realize that this fear was much more malicious than it used to be. Someone had reinforced it recently, and made it more potent. Not just to keep people away, but genuinely meant to terrify. They were now at the point, presuming that they all kept a relatively even pace, that even Lydrain was beginning to twinge with fear. This both alarmed and excited the headmaster, as it had been quite some time since he had actually gone up against someone or something else that pushed him, magically, to his limits. As they drew nearer the cave, the fear continued to grow, but something else would disturb the adventurous quartet. There was a smell, almost impossible to distinguish from the murky ground, that had begun to grow, and now a rather horrid stench would begin to assail their olfactory senses. It smelled of rotten flesh, and a lot of it. Now whether this was just another symptom of the magic, or of something else yet to come, that remained to be seen.

Skylei and Kovl are right to worry that Josleen is a flight risk. Just as Kovl lands on Josleen’s shoulder, she is spinning around and crashing into Skylei’s invisible arm. “We need to leave! They’re going to eat us!” Kovl and Skylei succeed in making her backpedal deeper into the cavern. With each step, her voice grows increasingly shrill. “Why aren’t you -running-?!” The putrid smell assaults her nose and she nearly vomits on Skylei, choking down backwash just before it escapes her mouth. She shivers violently against the fear, smell, and the taste of bile on her tongue. “Oh my gods, oh my gods, oh my gods,” she whimpers, on the verge of tears. Skylei gets treated to that lovely puke breath. She pushes harder against the ranger, trying to claw past her friend and not afraid to use an elbow strike or two. “Skylei, you’re being ridiculous! You’re going to die! You all think you know dragons so well. Your hubris will end you all!” She speaks like a prophet of doom, an easy character to adopt for a bard in the grips of terror.

Not only is Skylei treated to Josleen’s bile breath, she’s also privy to an invisible elbow to the face. It hits her just north of her cheekbone and will leave a beautifully bruised eye in just a few hours. Gods damn it, Josleen. It takes all of the scholar’s control, not to strike back and instead wrap her arms tightly around the flailing bard and keep moving forward, forcing her onwards slowly. To Kovl, she’d mutter, “Haven’t you got something to calm her down? Valerian or something?” In spite of the fact that Skylei is physically much stronger than Josleen, the bard’s terror and desire to flee makes her far more difficult to move than she should be. As they walk forward with Josleen still half forced and half cradled in her arms, Skylei begins to feel her heart race impatiently as more of the magic becomes present and seeps into her skin impacting on her own psyche. She could swear it must actually be audible to all those around her and she’s near certain it’s about to leap out of her throat A sweat has settled on her brow as well as both of her hands; indeed, most of her skin feels clammy and cold. “Lydrain…” Skylei would whine quietly from somewhere behind Josleen, “she really doesn’t want to go any further.” Skylei uses Josleen’s fear as an excuse to leave this place and cloaks her own fear with the much more potent terror of the bard’s.

Kovl feels his wings twitch as the four approach the cavern, and the pixie is now experience more intense twinges of fear. More than he remembered feeling. The pixie's hand trembles as it rests on Josleen's neck: something he notices right away and pulls it from her, not wanting to terrify her more than what she is already experiencing. Kovl props himself up to whisper in Josleen's ear. "Be quiet, Josleen. We'll be fine." The mage's words act as not only a comfort to the bard, but also to himself as he feels increasingly affected by the enchantment. Though it cannot be seen, the pixie's face curls in disgust at the olfactory offense emitting from the cavern. It does not help to have a sensitive nose in places as these. quickly his hand moves to his nose, pinching it to overcome the horrific odor, and he breathes through his mouth. Skylei's words of protest come as a surprise to the pixie, but they are beginning to sound more reasonable to him. Still, he counters, "We can't turn back." Kovl does little to try to convince, and he does not truly believe in his statement. Fear is overwhelming them, and the pixie is wondering how they'll get through. "I have nothing, Skylei, except for a way to make it difficult for her to struggle. I'm sure she'll scream if we tried."

Lydrain let out a sigh, mainly because he wasn't near Josleen to begin with, and he couldn't find her without the chance of running into someone else, the damnable two-edged sword that is invisibility. So instead he turns to continue on, and in a rather commanding tone, laced with an enchantment spell, only strong enough to take the edge off of the fear, "We must march on." And march on he did. As they got nearer the cavern entrance, they could see a large shadow looming in the entrance. Lydrain had expected this, and, in fact, was simply going to turn into a dragon and deal with his brother-in-scales. However, the thing is, that he couldn't. It wasn't like there wasn't enough room. He honest to Sven couldn't turn into a dragon, and he didn't know why. It was a good thing he was invisible, because the look of panic that spread across his usually calm demeanor would have likely sent the party scrambling back from whence they came. The fear even became more real to him, as his frantic thoughts allowed his magical defenses to falter, and he began to seriously contemplate doing this some other time... so he could find out what was wrong with him. He looked left and right, searching for some viable means of escape, and that is when he saw them. Glints of runes etched into the cave wall, in a relatively old language. He didn't know it, for sure, but he knew the basics. They were meant to cause fear, and he was standing at its epicenter. As the giant shadow hadn't moved, Lydrain gained some resolve, if only to get rid of the magical fear influence. Walking over to the cave wall, he simply placed his hand on one of the runes, after some amount of difficulty, as the irrational part of his brain kept telling him to run, and he overloaded the rune with raw magical power, and, like christmas lights, when one went down, the rest followed, and the magical sense of dread vanished as quickly as it appeared, but the stench remained. Letting out a sigh, the magical fear left, and now he only had to deal with the real fear, that of no longer being what he once was. Should they be listening, the rest of the party would hear him say aloud, 'Maybe it is just temporary...' Turning once again to face the cavern, the large shadow still hadn't moved, which struck him as odd, as any dragon, feral or not, would have sensed that amount of magical energy. Approaching it, slowly and quietly, he would be the first to see it for what it was. Everyone would hear him say, What in the name of Xalious...." If they drew nearer, the group would see a corpse of a dragon, barely beginning to decay, which, in these environs, meant the death was relatively fresh.

Josleen has the idea to squat into a ball and roll past Skylei’s leg, nevermind that she has never performed such an acrobatic feat, just as Skylei pinches Josleen in a vice grip. “NOOOOOO!!!” she wails. By the sound of it, you would think Skylei is disemboweling Josleen. Lydrain’s counter enchantment spell cuts Josleen’s wailing short. “We must?” She stammers, stupefied and suddenly believing Lydrain. “We must! Lydrain! Wait!” She sprints towards the sound of his voice, invisible arms extended to feel for him. The fear still thickens the air around them, but a small beacon of bravery radiates off Lydrain, and Josleen needs to be as close as possible to the source of this magical morale to be buoyed by it. She feels around the air until she finds his clothes, then she paws her way down his arm to his hand and grips tight, not unlike a child. Taking a deep breath she announces, “Ok. I’m scared, but I believe you.” And she does, that is until he stalls. Fear is more than an expression. It affects postures and gaits, and Josleen can feel Lydrain’s fear communicated through the grip of his hand. “What? What is it?” It doesn’t matter, does it? The dragon is scared. Repeat: The. dragon. is. scared. Josleen tugs on his arm backwards, fleeing with him in tow. “We need to go. NOW!” But instead he drags her closer to the cave wall. She leans away from the shadow drastically, threatening to throw out her lower back. “What? What was temporary?” Lydrain!” He continues to drag her towards the shadow, and when she finally sees the corpse for what it is, her terrified wailing returns. “Oh goooods! Oh no, no, no!” Something powerful enough to slay dragons lives down here. Suddenly having a dragon in the group isn’t a fail-safe.

Skylei sighs as Kovl confesses that he has nothing that could limit Josleen’s fear, save something that will make it harder for her to resist Skylei’s grip. “I’ll bind her myself if I have to, and drag her through these tunnels and bloody get her to Trith.” Skylei hisses at Kovl, wary not to raise her voice any louder than she has to, not knowing yet that the thing she is attempting to avoid waking is already slain. Then, Josleen would break loose of her prison in Skylei’s arms and run for Lydrain, “Arkhen damn it, Josleen! Stay where you’re put!” Though invisibility doesn’t heighten her senses, without being able to spy where Josleen has fled to, Skylei relies on the way in which the air moves in the cavernous space. From that, and the conversation that Josleen is having with Lydrain leaves the ranger fairly certain that she’s not fled back up the moat. With the magical fear promoting runes blacked out, Skylei feels a new found sense of confidence in herself as she blindly stumbles upon Lydrain, near enough tripping over the dragon. Skylei’s fear had been vastly magically enhanced and now that the runes had been disarmed, she is ready to see what it is that is creating that noxious smell. That is when her own eyes fall on the corpse of the dragon, “Sven, Hind and Lore…” Lydrain isn’t moving, Josleen’s still screeching and so Skylei swerves around the duo and begins moving at a snail’s pace towards the deceased. Newly dead, she is almost certain it can’t be the source of the ever-present stink. “Can you make us visible again? Somehow I get the feeling that something that can slay a dragon isn’t going to have that much difficulty with a group of invisible men making more din than an ogre army on the march.” Skylei questions, with new found authority, over her shoulder to Kovl as she continues her slow creep towards the dragon corpse, “And at least we’d be able to keep our eyes on her.” Invisible Skylei gestures in the direction of Josleen who is still wailing like a banshee besides Lydrain.

Kovl is a bit calmed after hearing Lydrain's enchanted words, and as his eyes fall on the runes etched into the cavern, he parts his lips to inform him of their presence. However, before the mage even starts his words, the runes are destroyed before his eyes. The fear vanishes. An invisible smile crosses his face. At Lydrain's exclamation, the pixie now notices it too. The dragon guarding the entrance to the cavern is deceased? "Is everyone alright?" Kovl's nasally (and only so because his nose is still pinched!) small voice rings out among the quartet, hopefully not loud enough to attract unwanted attention. A tiny hand taps Josleen's neck to comfort her before the pixie takes flight toward the corpse, naturally curious about the circumstances of its death, why the corpse hasn't been dragged to the graveyard, and how long it has been there. "It's dead..." Kovl comments, announcing to those who haven't yet approached. For all the pixie knows the three others may not have even noticed its nonliving state. At Skylei's request, Kovl dispels his magic, and all four of them blink into view, one by one as the pixie touches them. "What caused this?" The pixie's head tilts in curiosity.

Lydrain turns to Josleen, "It's nothing Jos, just something I will have to work out later." His words were confident, but his tone revealed his actual state of mind. What good was a dragon who couldn't actually be a dragon? Sure he was stronger than almost everything his size, even in elven form, and tougher too, but he couldn't mount a candle to a bonfire against a giant or a dragon now... and something had been killing off dragons. He began to walk forward, magic at the ready, just in case, dragging Josleen along if necessary. The dragon nest was in ruins. There were two more dragon corpses and a clutch of eggs that were destroyed. There was also a half-eaten mammoth, which was likely the cause of the stench. Though now this place simply smelled of death, old and new. Anyone who is magically sensitive and looking for that sort of thing would be able to feel the residue here. Even those who weren't could feel the maliciousness that lingered in the air. Upon seeing the clutch of eggs, Lydrain's unsureness in himself became steeled by anger, "What madness is this?!" His voice rebounded off of the walls, "Dragons are not beasts to be slain lightly, nor are our unborn children to be wasted as such. Whoever committed these atrocities will have much to answer for." Almost as if his anger stirred the air, the putrid stench of death began to swirl about the room. Much to Lydrain's chagrin, the freshest corpse, the one at the entrance began to stir. As the headmaster called his magic to the fore, ready to defend himself and others, the corpse spoke, not in one, but many voice, echoing discordantly throughout the cavern, "Those who walk through the door of death, unknowing to their own demise. A golden thread to be cut, not all will make it back alive." With the 'prophecy' said, the corpse fell silent again, the swirling putrescence back to stagnation, and an awkward, foreboding silence falling over the group.

Lydrain doesn’t need to drag Josleen, but she does continue to cling to his hand as they walk. She grins sheepishly, turning bright red as she realizes a lot of her fear was unnatural. Still, even with the enchanted fear dispelled, there is cause to be truly afraid. Josleen is still afraid, but no longer paralyzed. Now closer to Skylei again, she lets go of Lydrain and clings to the scholar out of force of habit and comfort. “Sorry,” she mutters, jerking her chin towards Skylei’s blackening eye. She tries to keep the corpses equidistant from her path as she weaves through them. Lydrain’s anguish over this loss for his race on conflicting. On the one hand, the bard sympathizes with her dragon friend, but on the other hand, it is a relief to know that they don’t need to sneak past feral dragons. Granted, whatever killed them may be worse, but, “May be whatever killed them will be uninterested in us, in the way that lions are uninterested in grasshoppers.” This logic is comforting to the bard, despite the fact it is based on nothing but wishful thinking. When the first corpse reanimates, Josleen lets out a low yelp and grabs the entirety of Skylei’s arm, whipping her friend around as a half-elf shield. When the corpse collapses once more, Josleen breaks the silence by asking Kovl, “What golden thread?”

As the half-elf flickers back into view, her eye is indeed blackening but she has little time to respond in anger towards Josleen. First Lydrain spies the corpses and eggs desecrated by some kind of unseen monster. Perhaps surprisingly, Skylei actually rolls her eyes at Lydrain’s fury. She expects, had the dead been her kin, or that of Kovl’s race, Lydrain’s fury would not have reached such fever pitch. That is the problem with dragons. They have always, and likely will always view themselves as being worth more than other mortals. She keeps that eyeroll, well out of sight, instead using her sight to help guide Josleen forwards past the corpses until the ‘prophecy’ with all it’s tricks plays out before them. Once the tunnel falls silent, Skylei would comment in a voice louder than all others combined “Pretty, but thoroughly unimpressive.” Skylei remarks with a yawn as though she is bored, “Likely some pixie tricks with a little bit of necromancy thrown into the fray. All simple stuff, wouldn’t you agree Kovl?” The way the latter question is emphasised suggests that Kovl should agree with her. It’s a question not asked for a true response, instead garnered to pull Kovl to her cause of keeping Josleen calm and moving. Lydrain is shot a look too, one that screams ‘stop freaking out. Now is not the time.’ Is Skylei scared? Yes, of course. ‘Not all will make it back alive’ is never something one wants to hear, but she’s more focused on dragging Josleen further into this place of doom before she balks again. To Jos she turns now, offering her a still slightly sweaty hand, “Look, Kovl has been here before. He’ll lead the way for us, I’m sure.”

Kovl 's emerald eyes grow soft as he sees the death filling the cavern, understanding with empathy the anger which causes Lydrain to lash out. As the newest corpse begins to move, the pixie recoils, an automatic response to something that -should- be dead suddenly stirring. The prophecy is spoken, and the pixie listens carefully despite his wariness of the moving corpse. A finger is placed on his chin as he contemplates. The mage has always been a fan of riddles, but the last line causes Kovl to stop. As the corpse falls, the pixie waits in silence for any further movement. "Hm, well, a door of death. That could be the graveyard... Or..." The pixie turns toward the cavern entrance. Is that the door? "We've seen nothing but death since we've entered the cave. But who considers espousing a warning after we've entered the supposed door?" Answering Josleen's question: "As far as the golden thread... your guess is as good as mine. Is it good to cut the thread? Bad?" Kovl starts to the corpse and lifts his voice, "Do you have any input?!" No response is expected, but it is meant as a shard of humor in a room dank with death. The pixie understands the desire of Skylei to be comforting toward the bard, but an important balance needs to be maintained. To her, he answers, "I would not underestimate the power of whatever caused this, but I'm confident in our abilities to tread lightly and face whatever comes. We are only passing through, right?" The pixie flits toward the tunnel which leads toward the graveyard. "Perhaps we should move on?"

Lydrain simply nods in answer to Kovl's question, and he begins to walk out of the room. Then he does something strange, even for him. He begins to mutter something aloud in the ancient language of the dragons. It was a pseudo-prayer to Xalious, also a magic spell. He was laying a layer of protection over the dragon corpses, preventing them from being animated or otherwise manipulated with magic, at least not without overcoming the dragon's own magic, in which he should, theoretically, alerted to. The headmaster decided to keep the news of his draconic impotence to himself, so as not to worry any of the others. They would be more brave thinking they had a dragon with them. Plus, any threat that presented itself would simply have to be met with overwhelming magical force, which was something he had in abundance. With his spell finished and his prayer over, he began to stride out of the cavern, with a false sense of bravery, attempting to inspire his companions.

Josleen is placated by Skylei’s pompous affectation. Oh, this isn’t impressive magic? This is basic kid stuff? Josleen trusts that Skylei wouldn’t lie to her about this, despite the fact that 80% of the words the women have ever exchanged have been lies. In truth, it is likely that the bard wants to believe the lie. She is not completely ignorant to magic. Her father and beloved are mage’s guild members and she is a lifelong resident of Xalious. Deep down, she knows Skylei is putting on airs for her benefit, but it’s so much easier to believe the lie than focus on the truth. When Kovl screams at the corpse, Josleen half expects it to answer. It just did so a minute ago. But alas, nothing in this dark cavern is that easy. Unseelie fey magic is cruel. She has no idea what Lydrain chants, but trusts that it is for their benefit. His demeanor, along with Skylei’s charade and Kovl’s candor empower her to take a step forward without needing to be pushed. As they walk through the network of tunnels and caverns, Josleen tries to keep to the center of the group so as to not be attacked from the front or from behind. The tunnels are longer than she expected. Uneventful hour after hour passes. The stone grows monotonous, but monotony is safe. Josleen’s legs grow heavy; she is unaccustomed to walking with so much weight on her person. Her achy legs and rumbling stomach provide plenty of distraction from the fear and the corpses they have left behind. She asks the group to stop to give her a moment to rummage through her rucksack for a snack, but she can manage to eat and walk if they slow their clip. The caves feel deserted, and Josleen wonders if the prophetic corpse was bluffing. The bard entertains her companions with stories littered with inventive voice-acting. Did they hear the one about the Xalious man who was caught stealing from The Tower and was turned into a weasel? He’s a mage’s pet to this day. True story. What about the epic tale of the Cenrilian Admiral who beat back the Rynvalian pirates who tried to colonize Cenril on the secret pay of the High Elves? The High Elves deny it to this day, but their involvement is evidenced despite their testimony. Maritime swash-buckling is recounted with sound effects and wiggling fingers to stimulate crashing waves. And yes, there is a kraken in this tale; Josleen doesn’t tell boring stories.

Skylei is underwhelmed by both Kovl and Lydrain’s responses. She doesn’t like it when people don’t do as she wishes them to do, especially when she’s definitely (questionable) the most intelligent person here and thus her ideas are superior! At this point, she prides herself on knowing Josleen better than either of them and so would keep spouting off numerous unlikely but plausible explanations for what they’d just witnessed. “Did you know that some illusionists are so talented that they can fool every one of the senses, Josleen? It’s likely just that someone doesn’t want to be disturbed down here and so they’ve created the façade of death and some ridiculous ‘prophecy’!” Cue fake laugh, “That or pixie magic, like I said.” Her theory is that Josleen will want to find some safe but plausible explanation that will allow her to carry on with the expedition without freaking out and running away. It falls true and Josleen is eventually placated into moving again. As the hours pass by, Skylei would fall silent again, contemplating Skylei-esque things as she so often does. When Josleen begins telling her stories, Skylei would react at the perfect time in the perfect way, at every moment that the storyteller might want feedback from those she has captivated. It’s a charade they’ve had down from the time that they lived together. Josleen is the perfect performer and Skylei is her perfect audience. The art is so well practised that Skylei doesn’t even have to properly listen to the tale of high-elves, treachery and krakens. She’s so in tune with the cadences in Josleen’s voice that she knows when to laugh, when to gasp and when to exclaim in horror without hearing the actual words. It’s an endearing facet of their friendship.

I'm No Lizard! (No, really, I can't)

Dragon's Boneyard

Kovl tilts his head in curiosity once again at Lydrain's draconic speech, not knowing the specific purpose of his prayer or magic. Like Josleen, the pixie assumes that it is for the good of the group, but it does not stop him from asking Lydrain, "What did you do?" The mage stays silent, but he offers a smile to Skylei's explanations. The pixie hovers at Lydrain's shoulder, keeping his eyes open for more runes etched in the tunnel walls while Josleen espouses her stories. Unlike Skylei, the pixie's laughter and amusement is not feigned in the slightest. Kovl always enjoys a good joke, tale, and song, and the bard's antics entertain him. After hours of traversing through what seems like an endless maze of tunnels, Kovl perks up. "We're almost to the graveyard. We can rest there." The tunnels open to another cavern, and this one is immense, dwarving the travelers against its expanse. "See?" Kovl points but immediately lowers his hand as he actually lays eyes on the cavern. The area immediately in front of them, where the pixie remembers exposed bones and remnants of generations of dragons who have dwelled in the nest, is completely bare. The place is void of any bones or corpses: a graveyard apparently without purpose. "Um... There used to be bones here..." As the group's eyes dance upon the dark cavernous expanse and eyes adjust to dim light, towering figures of large skulls can be seen, unmoved unlike their companion parts. "I..." The pixie is silent.

Lydrain explains what he did to Kovl, "I prevented any more meddling with the corpses." Though he does say it quietly, hoping Josleen's stories would drown out his voice, at least from her. He looked around the graveyard, rather suspicious and on edge. His magic was crackling off the the tips of his left hand, hidden from the view of the bard, though it was very likely that Kovl could feel it, as raw arcane power had a rather detectable aura, even when not paying much attention. He quickly surveyed their surroundings, hoping to spot any problems before they arose, but, as the pixie was the only one familiar with the area, he would have to follow his lead.

Skylei and Kovl’s laughter eggs on Josleen to keep making even more jokes just to watch them laugh again. Her story ends when Kovl returns to the task at hand, announcing their arrival at the graveyard. “...Rest in the graveyard?” She gulps, but doesn’t protest further. Her legs need a break and the pack on her back in heavy. Rest sounds good right now, even in a graveyard. “...What do you mean? Do you think the bones were stolen? That makes sense, right? As magical regents, maybe?” Her creative mind continues to search for plausible, safe answers. “I wonder why they left the skulls…” Her companion’s tension sets her on edge as well and she draws closer to Skylei. Unsure of what to do, she lets mages handle the situation and awaits instruction.

Skylei is equally unnerved by this situation. “You must have just forgotten where it is.” Skylei suggests, though even she no longer sounds sure of herself. “Who knows, maybe they’ve just cleared it for the new lot we saw back there.” As completely inappropriate and utterly insensitive jokes go, this might Skylei’s best yet. Jokes aside, Skylei chooses to take advantage of the fact that the group have paused and pulls one of the multitude of bottles she has compartmentalised within her bag and holds it out to Josleen, “Juice? It’ll keep your strength up.” She isn’t entirely sure what else to do at this point save for leave it to those who are more likely to be able to ascertain what to do next to do what they do. They’ve encountered dead dragons, an empty graveyard and a peculiar prophecy that in spite of her bluffing leaves her nerves shredded.

Kovl knows that this particular cavern stretches for miles, and he wonders what force could have moved these corpses and where the bones were placed. The pixie, like Lydrain, is also on edge, but he is more intrigued than frightened by the possible presence of any lurking threat. Kovl darts forward toward one of the familiar skulls in which he played during his youth. Standing upon it, the pixie looks toward the group. "Someone light a torch." If no one complies, the pixie after much concentration would weave a spell to light the area with a fast burning flame. Pointing his finger toward a spot on his right. "No, no, Skylei. There used to be a ribcage here." Moving his finger, "And the remnants of a tail here." Kovl squints before inspecting the ground in the torchlight. The thin layer of dirt which lays upon the rock of the cavern appears disturbed. Footprints from seemingly humanoid creatures span the expanse of the cavern, and long lines indicate extensive dragging of heavy bone further into the cave ahead of them. "I... I don't know, Josleen."

Lydrain begins to walk around the graveyard, slightly more relaxed after the initial worry wears off. He shoots a smile at Josleen, "We could rest here. Even if there was a disturbance, it is honestly nothing we can't keep an eye out for. Plus I could also use a break. The runes were a little bit more powerful than I thought, and I had to use slightly more magic than I would have liked. Nothing that some protein won't fix." He begins to dig around in his pouch and pulls out a small bag of jerky and begins to munching on it, offering some to the rest of the party, though he wasn't really sure what their diets consisted of. He pulls out a waterskin, full of a strawberry flavoured alcohol, and the fruity smell began to permeate the air.

Josleen accepts the juice and jerky. “It’s good,” she comments without taking her eyes off Kovl. Her tone lacks enthusiasm. This isn’t the right setting for swapping juice and jerky recipes. As Kovl explains what is missing, Josleen feels the bones in her own body turn to jelly (figuratively speaking). “Sh-should we… or someone…” he corrects, “uh, scout up ahead? I mean, before we set up camp.” She follows Kovl’s gaze to the footsteps and asks Skylei, the ranger of the group, “Are these tracks fresh?” The bard is more or less parroting adventure stories she has read in books and rarely experienced for herself, until now.

Skylei complies with Kovl’s request for light and lifts a small flame in one of her hands, whilst the other contents to put away the juice. She’d abandon Josleen and Lydrain to move towards the pixie and thus offer him the light that she burns in her hand. The tracks of feet and dragged bones become clear as she approaches Kovl and thus Skylei is already examining the footprints that Josleen makes reference to before she speaks. Sky chooses to teach Josleen yet another life lesson; this time on tracking, “Josleen, you can’t tell if tracks are fresh in a place like this. The quality of tracks and the aging of said tracks are both dependent on the weather conditions, namely the rain and the wind. Do you see either of those things down here?” Skylei would turn from her examination and offer the bard a beaming smile. Instead of turning back to re-join her friend once she has concluded her examinations, she makes a beeline for Kovl and mutters under her breath hoping that Josleen will remain unaware of what she’s informing the pixie, “They look old to me. Could be wrong, of course… We should look ahead just in case. Whatever it is or was, it wasn’t alone.” Skylei would turn back to Lydrain and Josleen and offer a second brilliant smile, a sure-fire indication that something is wrong, “So, Jos, where do you fancy setting up camp?”

Kovl agrees with Lydrain. "I can use a break." The pixie delightfully takes one of the jerkys offered to him and gives the headmaster a smile. "Thank you." Kovl gnaws on the meat as he thinks about the absence of corpses in what should be a graveyard. He listens to Skylei's synopsis of the prints and nods to her. To the others, the pixie announces, "Skylei and I will look ahead just a bit farther before we set up camp then. However, here looks nice." Kovl smiles appreciatively at Skylei as she holds the torch for him. The pixie's wings start, and after stuffing the remaining jerky in his satchel (which magically aids the meat to shrink to an appropriate size for storing), Kovl moves ahead of the ranger. Once the two are alone, he comments, "I have no idea what could have moved this many bones on such a large scale. There were thousands of bones here before. Entire skeletons! I mean, you said the tracks could be old... Maybe whatever it is took its time. Or they." A familiar aura of magic falls on the two, a feeling of fear rises in Kovl: the same fey magic which affected the four earlier. The pixie stops. "Do you feel that? Those runes again. There's something ahead." Kovl squints again. Little can be seen with only a small amount of torchlight, but as Kovl's eyes adjust to the light, he notices a towering silhouette a short distance ahead of the two. The shape is that of a mountain. A mountain in a cavern? The mage points, indicating to Skylei what little he can see ahead with the small amount of torchlight available.

Lydrain stays in the graveyard proper with Josleen, "Honestly there is nothing to worry about. Perhaps it was just time that the graveyard be cleaned, and magic can move great many things over a great distance in the blink of an eye." Lydrain finds a spot, and sits, leaning against one of the skulls, "Honestly, this place is kind of relaxing. Not in the typical sense, but there is a sense of calmness here. You simply have to condition yourself that death isn't a frightful thing. It is a part of life." He smiles, once more, attempting to be comforting, but, in his own awkward way, he may have made things worse. Though he would do anything to try and ignore the turmoil that was boiling within him. Was he no longer a dragon? He doesn't know, but he needed to find out.

Josleen squints suspiciously at the back of Skylei’s head as she lingers conspiratorially close to Kovl for a duration of time longer than coincidence. Her suspicions are confirmed when Skylei turns around beaming. Skylei never beams. Just as Skylei knew Josleen well enough to bluff through the corpse animation, Josleen knows Skylei well enough to call her out. The eerie setting, the creepy skulls, and this fish-out-of-water feeling dry up Josleen’s patience and she says evenly. “You’re a gods damn liar.” But Kovl needs Skylei to accompany him on an exploratory search, and Josleen will not delay them for the sake of in-fighting. Her fingers walk the air between them as if to say they aren’t through. “You’ll tell me what the heck is going on when you get back, yea?” As the pixie and ranger leave, Josleen turn towards Lydrain. She has suspicions that he is excluding her from vital information as well, but she isn’t close enough to Lydrain to feel entitled to speak to him the way she spoke to Skylei. Still, her irritable mood does not welcome his philosophizing at a time like this and she responds with more bite in her tone than intended. “I suspect it’s easier to be brave in the face of death when you belong to a species that is amongst the most powerful and who live for millenniums on end.” She shakes her head ruefully, disappointed with her own tone, and jumps tracks to a more neutral topic. “Shall we set up camp?” Josleen has actually set up a tent before on several camping trips with her parents. She’s quite good at it, even under these vastly different circumstances.

Skylei ignores Josleen’s obvious chafing and irritation at her lies as walks alongside Kovl, being sure to hold the torch lit hand up high enough so that it lights as much of the cavernous space as possible as they travel onwards, “The footprints looked humanoid to me but that’s not to say that they were, I mean they could have been-“ The magic hits Skylei at much the same time as it hits Kovl, cutting her words short, and she feels that heightening sensation of fear begin to build up in her stomach leaving her wanting to cry and vomit all at once. She wants someone to hang onto, but the pixie is too small to do that and so she is forced to grip her own leg as they peer through the shadows, “That –is- a mountain. What the hell is a mountain doing beneath the earth. Have you seen that before? Did it used to be here? Do you think it’s connected to whatever it that’s been dragging away the bones? Do you think they live there?” Skylei has clearly picked up a few of Josleen’s storytelling talents as she spins her yarn around herself until she’s near petrified. That fear is only amplified by the same runes that had found earlier. “We need Lydrain.” Sky asserts. A dragon will ease her fears.

Kovl nods at Skylei, feeling his heartbeat quicken in the presence of some nearby rune or enchantment. The pixie answers, "Humanoids?" Kovl pauses. "Yes, we should get Lydrain. There's no need to continue. I've never seen whatever that is out there before. It's new. New to me at least. It can be anything. We.. Let's go." Kovl darts back toward the group, careful to keep eyes on Skylei as they retreat in the case of some unwanted event befalling her. The two arrive as Lydrain and Josleen talk. Turning to Lydrain, "We can wait to go further, I think. There are some runes ahead though. At least something with the same magic that we encountered earlier. The fear enchantments. I trust you can dispel them? We can do that tomorrow. Perhaps we should set up camp."

Lydrain nods his head, "That might be for the best. I do believe that the fear aura is omnidirectional, and should prevent others from coming down that tunnel. Between you and I, Kovl, we could likely reinforce our camp, just a little. Perhaps make us blend in with the background. You are the master illusionist, think of me simply as a power battery." He stands back up and goes about prepping the campsite for magical work. Turning to SKylei and Josleen, "I must admit that I am rather untalented in the art of camping, normally anyways. I tend to sleep all big and scaly..." He ended that with an awkward silence before returning to his magical workings.

Josleen is reminded of Ezekiel by Lydrain’s proposal. When Kovl disguised Josleen during their mission in Frostmaw, Ezekiel was Kovl’s battery then. Poor Ezekiel has no idea where she truly is or what dangers she faces. As her companions discuss next steps, she turns her back to them to shield an involuntary frown and a private moment. Her fingers slip into the inner breast pocket of her jacket and thumb the corner of a letter. She takes a deep breath, then turns back towards her companions with a neutral expression. As Lydrain and Kovl set about to perform their wizardry, she unpacks the small tent she will share with Skylei and sets it up without hesitation or confusion. If Skylei joins her, she explains “You know my father - a naturalist. Most of our family holidays were camping trips in exotic locations that where home to whatever species of flora or fauna he fancied at the time. Of course he only ever took my mother and I to safe places. The more dangerous trips he did alone or with a colleague from the Guild.” As she erects the tent, she glances casually towards Lydrain and Kovl to see what they are up to.

Skylei lets Kovl explain just what it is that they have found to Lydrain, nodding at his side before leaving the men to enchant the camp and make it appear as though they are not present in the boneyard. Her talents here are useless. Mana reserves minimal, and skills lying only in producing actual fire, Skylei decides it is time to rejoin her friend. She allows Josleen to set the tent up in its entirety, only contributing when and if Josleen needed her to hold and pass something. The tales of Josleen’s past holidays are met with with the appropriate noises of ‘Mhmm’ and ‘Oh really?’. This time, at least, Skylei actually engages her, “We used to get a lot of campers down in the outskirts of Sage before the… y’know” She would then lead Josleen in a merry discussion of whereabouts the two had camped. Skylei hasn’t been to any of the locations that Josleen had spent time at when she was younger. Most of Skylei’s include danger and near death experiences. Or libraries. Once Jos has concluded building the tent, Skylei too would glance over to Lydrain and Kovl, unwilling to go to bed before their work disguising the camp had concluded.

Kovl nods to Lydrain's suggestion although he moves near the dragon as he whispers, "I've never upheld an illusion while asleep, but I have used someone else's power to hold up my work. I am not even sure if this will work when my mind isn't focused to continue the image. But it's better to try than nothing, isn't it?" Kovl lands on the dragon's shoulder, his boots planted on his shoulder. Drawing power through his feet from Lydrain, the pixie weaves his spell after speaking an incantation very familiar to him. The area around the camp appears dark from outsiders looking into it. No torch can be seen. No campfire. Everything is dark, and even as this is so, Kovl adds a detailed touch: disturbed dirt upon rock to match the surrounding area. Nothing to outsiders who happened upon it would be indicated that something is amiss.

Lydrain listened to Kovl and simply said, "Don't worry Kovl, I will make sure the magic doesn't waver tonight. So long as you can make the mold, I will insure that the power does not waver." With that said, he opened himself up and let the power flow up into the tiny figure. Luckily, even though he wasn't able to access his draconic size, his power hadn't really waned at all. As he felt the steady drain of power latch on to him, he let out a sigh of relief. He knew the battery thing was feasible, but he had never tried it before himself. Turning around he smiled as he saw the tent up, "That is... fast. I wasn't sure exactly how that... how one of those things worked. I mean, the premise is simple, but I've never looked at one from this angle before. Interesting." He walked around the tent twice, making some 'Hmmms' and 'Aaahs', displaying genuine interest in this rather basic piece of camping equipment. After his curiosity is sated, he finds a 'comfortable' spot, and sits down, leaning against a rather large rock. He smiles, "If you all would like to get some sleep, I can keep watch."

Josleen grins at Lydrain's interest in camping equipment. The differences among the races have often been sources of strife, but on rare occassions such as this one, it is a source of comedy. "Isn't it amazing how it collapses to small for portability, then pops open into this?" From within the camp, Josleen can't tell if the illusion is up or not. She guesses from Lydrain and Kovl's comfort that everything must be ready, and wastes no time getting comfortable in a bedroll within the tent. It's been an exhausting day - both physically and emotionally. "Night, everyone."

By the time Lydrain and Kovl have finished examining the results of their combined efforts, Skylei is already in the tent she's sharing with Josleen, rolled on one side with both eyes shut ready to sleep. The ranger gets grumpy when she doesn’t get her full eight hours, especially after such a draining day. She would mutter an echo of Josleen’s goodnight to the group before falling quickly into a slumber. Bring on tomorrow.

Kovl completes the illusion, hovering outside of the makeshift camp to be sure no spots were missed. The pixie nods to Lydrain. "Thank you for keeping watch." Scanning the ground for a nice place to rest outside of Josleen's and Skylei's tent, the pixie chooses the edge of the outside of the tent's fabric to lie his head upon tonight. An hour passes, and Kovl's eyes snap open. The sound of footfalls echo from deep into the cavern, getting louder as they approach the group. The pixie casts his eyes upon Lydrain. No... it's not him. He's here. Kovl shoots up and peeks from behind the tent. The dancing light from the campfire does nothing to illuminate the scene outside of the illusion. Kovl has learned that an image which conceals light can be a double-edged sword. Those outside looking in will not see the campfire, but conversely those inside Kovl's spellweaves cannot use the light to see outside of the illusion. "Have you found them?" A light whisper is picked up by the pixie's sensitive ears. Another voice: "They were here an hour ago before they vanished in thin air. I saw them." Kovl waves to Lydrain and points in the direction of the noises.

Lydrain doesn't need Kovl's warning, having actually been diligent about taking watch, but heeds his little friend anyway. Good thing for him that he had learned to keep several of his draconic traits, even when in elven form, so his senses were heightened, though, a lot of good that did him while the illusion was up. So all he did was stand, very quietly, and crouch near a rock, hoping, that should they remain silent, the two would just walk away.

In Josleen's dreams, dragon corpses reanimate to do more than just talk, and at a time when her legs fail her and her vision is blurry. She tosses and turns and lets out a soft, disturbed moan. If the whispering voices share a body with keen ears, and if Kovl's illusion doesn't cloak noise, they may pick up on her moan - or not.

The sound of footsteps echoing through the cavern wakes Skylei at around the same time as Kovl wakes. From within the tent there is the rustling of bedding shifting around, as Skylei sits up and strains to hear what is being talked about outside of the illusion. Her hearing is good, but the extra obstruction in the form of the tent means that she can hear little that’s being said, but it’s clear that it’s not Lydrain and Kovl swapping over whom is guarding the camp. The ranger naturally sleeps with her bow besides her and thus quickly arms herself, though she doesn’t stir from within the tent. Equally Skylei pauses in waking Josleen from her seemingly fitful sleep. There’s no need to panic the bard or have her wake from the bad dreams with unneeded volume and stress.

Kovl nods to Lydrain's motion and stays very still while still peeking over the tent. The pixie hears Skylei and Josleen both moving within the tent, but he can do little to stop them from making noise without making noise himself. Instead, the pixie waits and hopes the two will remain quiet. The footsteps outside of the illusion stop from what sounds like a few feet away. It feels like eternity passes. For those with sensitive hearing, some hard to make out words are uttered between the two conversation partners. The strangers step back, and the footfalls can be heard sounding deeper into the cavern as they leave. Kovl looks to Lydrain, tilting his head in curiosity at what just happened.

Lydrain cocks his head to the side and continues to listen, but hears nothing but footsteps. Now, it could be that the men simply decided to leave, but he wouldn't leave anything to chance. So instead, he straighened himself, and placed himself in direct line of sight, should the men pierce the illusion. This was not some act of bravado, however, this was simply the best choice. Not only was his clothing enchanted to be at least resistant to forms of physical assault, he, himself, was likely the toughest member of their party, and should the men attack, he would rather the hardiest get hit first. He motioned for Kovl, and, should the pixie draw near, he would speak very very quietly, which hopefully no one else could hear, "Can you cloak yourself and see if they are actually gone? Without bringing down this illusion?"

Josleen also hears the distant footsteps and voices, but these noises do not rouse her. To this pampered civlian accustomed to living in a village, footsteps and voices are background noises that her mind ignores while she sleeps. The exertion of the day also adds an almost willful resistance to waking. She rolls onto her other side and the sleeping bag rustles loud enough to be heard by those keen of hearing.

All Skylei can hear is the rustling of Josleen and her sleeping bag. The sound of footfalls and Lydrain's whispered remarks are lost beneath the restless din of the bard. She remains upright and alert, waiting for some kind of signal from the men outside of the tent that everything was fine or, alternatively, that she needed to be up and moving.

Kovl nods to Lydrain and slips a tiny hand into a familiar pouch at his side before disappearing from the naked eye. The invisible fae darts from the illusion bubble toward where he last heard the footprints. Kovl squints while his eyes adjust to the darkness ever-too-slowly. Two silhouettes. Short. Walking away from the campsite toward the mountain Skylei and he scouted earlier. Careful not to make a noise, the pixie hurries back to the campsite. "There were two of them, and they are walking away. Maybe dwarves. Goblins? Gnomes? It's hard to say. I wasn't close enough to tell... They were walking toward runes Skylei and I found. You know, the fear enchantments." The pixie points.

Lydrain lets out a small sigh, but doesn't let down his guard, not yet. Still speaking quietly, hoping none else can here, "Hopefully they will just walk on by. It did sound like they were looking for someone, more specifically us." Feeling the pull of the illusion magic that he was sustaining, he opened up a bit more than a trickle and reinforced it with some more magical oomph. He sat back down, leaning against a rock, but was facing to direction that the voices left in.

Josleen is still sleeping, her dreams oscillating between real threats and imagined ones. She's a heavy sleeper.

As neither of the men seem to need either Skylei or Josleen, the scholar rests her bow and retreats back into her sleeping bag.

Kovl gazes suspiciously toward where he heard the voices and footsteps, lowering himself to sit again on the edge of the tent. An hour passes with no event, and the pixie rests his head up against the tent's canvas. Kovl closes his eyes, falling to sleep after he allows himself to relax. All is quiet throughout the night until the party decides to wake.

Lydrain will be the first up, or, rather, he never actually slept. As the others are being roused, or even still asleep. Lyd will walk away from the camp, a little ways, and begin trying to figure out what is wrong with him. He feels the magic that is holding him in this small form, and he simply tries to let it go, to snap the power cord, but nothing happens. The magic is still there, and he is still small. He isn't sure what could have caused this.. nor how to fix it, and he is afraid, for the first time in a long time. He continues to try to break the spell, but continues to fail. He hopes the others won't notice his problem, or his false confidence, but he was genuinely shaken to his core.

Josleen rises peacefully after exactly seven hours of beauty sleep - she's more reliable than a clock in that sense. The dreams that haunted her the night prior have been forgotten by the flutter of her lashes. She has no idea the rest of the party experienced a more material fright last night. She smiles at each of them a silent 'Morning!' as she packs her bedroll. The stone floor has made her hips and ribs sore despite the best efforts of the cushioned bedroll, but she moves well despite this. She packs the tent quickly as well and engages in oblivious small talk, keeping her voice hushed in light of yesterday's events which, unlike her dreams, have not been forgotten? "Did you sleep well?" "I have an apple that won't last until tomorrow, would anyone like it now?" "Kovl, do you know how much more is left of the tunnel?"

Skylei is woken by Josleen's cheeriness. The ranger is grumpy, having only attained a broken sleep permeated with strange dreams after 'dealing' with the things that go bump in the night and losing out on precious rest. To Josleen’s questions, Skylei would respond only with a series of grunts and assist in packing the tent, holding poles and helping to fold the canvas as requested, as well as finding time to pack all of her own belongings. Once that is done and camp has been cleared, Skylei would approach Kovl and Lydrain beckoning both to join her in plotting the day ahead, "So, what's the plan? I assume Lydrain's going to venture out and destroy the fear runes and one of us will go with him?" What's left unsaid is that the ther will remain behind with the easily spooked bard to ensure that they don't receive a reaction like they had the previous day. Skylei's bruised and swollen eye is testament to how little they want to expose Josleen to another set of fear enchantments.

Kovl has been able to find sleep that night, but he was woken by Lydrain's sulking early in the morning and then Josleen's burst of morning energy. The pixie smiles at Josleen, "I slept some, but not the best. But I'm ready for the day. At the other end of the cavern another series of tunnels leads us out of here. Maybe a couple of hours?" Sneaking aside with Lydrain and Skylei, the pixie nods at the two's plans. "We had some visitors last night. I don't know if they are a danger but they seemed to be looking for us. We have to pass the runes to get to the tunnels. Josleen knows you better, Skylei, so if you wanted to stay with her, you should. I'll go with Lydrain." With that, Kovl points in the direction the runes are estimated to be. "We haven't explored much past that yet, Lydrain, but the runes are that way."

Lydrain will simply nod, somewhat disgruntled from his lack of sleep and, more so, from his inability to actually become a dragon. He let out a yawn, which was louder than he intended, and then stood and began to trudge slowly towards the runes. As he passed through the veil of an illusion, he simply let the magic he was feeding go, and, with no source of energy left, it began to fade. Making his way to the tunnel, he began to concentrate. Finding the sounce of the magic nearing he began to steel himself against its enchantment. Feeling it wash over him, he continued to walk forward, staying rather silent, hoping to find the physical source of the runes quickly.

Josleen isn't an idiot; she knows they are plotting in secret because they have no faith in her. That stings more than she'd care to admit. What's worse, she knows Skylei is the ringleader in this motion to exclude the bard. Skylei's plotting is aided by Josleen's own docility. She stands a tense distance away, soaking in resentment as she fantasizes about a confrontation that is unlikely to claw its way out of her poise. If Skylei stays behind and joins her, the bard avoids eye contact and stiffens her back and jaw. She watches Lydrain and Kovl advance down the tunnel without a clue as to why the group has split, and is too proud to ask.

Skylei’s plotting doesn’t go quite as she had hoped. Rather than being allowed to walk with the men and perform the heroic actions, she is reduced to guard duty with a ‘prisoner’ whose face looks as though she’s smelled sour milk. Skylei leaves the group meeting and walks back towards Josleen with a beaming smile on her bruised face; the usual sign that something is amiss, “We’re going to wait a little while whilst they scout ahead.” Likely met by sullen silence, once the men have gone on their way, Skylei would stand and kick at the dirt of their, now demolished, camp in silence. Deep down, in a place that even she isn’t quite aware of, she is secretly relieved that she doesn’t have to face the agonising terror brought by the fear runes again but being near told to stay with Josleen, Skylei feels reduced to being a liability alongside her. As the silence begins to grow awkward, even by Skylei standards, she would gesture in the direction that Lydrain and Kovl had headed, “Shall we follow? It should be safe now.” She’d begin walking, hoisting her rucksack onto her back as she did, before receiving a response. Skylei hopes that Lydrain will reach and disable the runes before Josleen falls under their spell.

Kovl glances over to Josleen as the three are speaking, and his eyes soften at her resentful expression. He shoots a smile (as if she can see it) her way as an offer of apology, but leaves the explanation for Skylei to give to Josleen. As Lydrain continues down the cavern, the pixie shudders at the familiar enchantment, and against intuition moves toward its source, following Lydrain as they hunt. The runes, if the dark rocky earth is scoured, will be found everywhere; however, the simple fear pattern is not the only rune etched as the two approach the mountain-inside-the-cave. Kovl may have been the first to catch it: a rune just in front of Lydrain's foot. "Stop!" The pixie only recognized the symbol is different though he knows not the effect. If Lydrain were to continue his walk, a pillar of flames would erupt from the ground, singing his feet and legs and perhaps more. Quickly scanning through squinted eyes in the darkness, more markings of unknown effect riddle the floor in front of them. The pixie's eyes shift once again in front of them to the towering sihouette before them.

Lydrain would stop the moment the pixie bade him to do so, thusly preventing himself from being scorched. He looked over at Kovl, quirking an eyebrow, "Something else we need to be on the lookout for?" He hadn't yet noticed the rune on the ground. Standing in place he simply waits for the pixie's answers, trying to fight off his foul mood.

Josleen purses her lips and spits a response towards Skylei, and doesn't bother to muster the will to make eye contact. She isn't feeling very decent. "I have agency now, do I?" She's already moving forward toward the darkness that swallowed Lydrain. The buzzing speck that is Kovl was swallowed long before the dragon by near-sightedness.

Skylei doesn't bother replying to Josleen's biting comment. She simply walks in the direction that Lydrain and Kovl had headed in complete silence. Unless they begin to move quickly, Josleen and Skylei will reach them in no time.

Kovl glances toward Lydrain, letting out a sigh of relief but starting to feel his body tremble at the effects of the runes ahead of them. "I-I don't know. These weren't here before, Lydrain. But there are tons of them." Kovl extends his hand to point to the spots on the cavern floor. "This can take forever." The instant the pixie hears the clacks of Josleen's and Skylei's footsteps, Kovl jumps. The fear runes are making him spring as a coil. The pixie hates this feeling.

Lydrain begins to see the runes, just as he hears the footsteps of the two women. He grumbles something under his breath, "If you two would kindly stand back for a moment, we seem to have encountered a new problem." Pivoting on the spot, it seems as if the fear magic is taking a greater hold on him now, perhaps it was because it had something to work on... his inability to actually be a dragon. Inhaling deeply, he composes himself, "Last night a couple of... people showed up, it sounded as if they were following us, or looking for us, or something, and it seems that they have left a magical minefield for us to navigate. There are more runes ehre than there were previously, nothing Kovl and I can't handle, but it could take some time. All the while having to fight off the effects of the fear magic." He looks to Josleen, offering a comforting smile, though it might seem somewhat strained. He had already felt guilty about leaving her in the dark, and he did feel slightly better now that she knew everything they had avoided telling her, but, now he had to hope her resolve had become steely.

Josleen's bitter stomps slow as she enters the sphere of influence of the fear runes. When Lydrain addresses her, she stands at a distance in excess of what you may describe as "conversational." She glances left and right, behind her, beneath her and above her for all things that go bump. The dragon succeeds in informing her, but there is little he can do to reassure her, short of teleporting her to Trith's cocoon, shoving her in that enchanted pod and hoping for the best - dragon claws crossed for good luck too. "I'd feel a lot better if you'd assume your dragon form, please!"

Skylei takes a good step away from Josleen as the fear runes take hold of the group again. Whilst most of the fear is unreal and merely produced as a result of the runes, there is a very real fear that the runes will cause Josleen to lash out again and she is already sporting a painful black eye. There is no need for another. Once Lydrain has explained the situation, Skylei furrows her brow, “Kovl can fly, right? If there’s some kind of spring laden ground, can he not fly over and find some kind of solution?” Then Josleen suggests that Lydrain takes his dragon form, “Even better, Lydrain can simply fly us across. Problem solved.” Skylei clasps her hands together as though awaiting the aforementioned transformation.

Kovl nods as Lydrain speaks, crossing his own arms to hide any visible sign the poor soul is shaking as a result of the fear runes. At Skylei's suggestion, the pixie replies, "We could." Kovl glances to the dragon, expecting affirmation of the plan. "I don't know how to disable the runes except to trigger them. Lydrain is the exper-" The pixie stops mid-word as he notices a shift in the lighting already dark cavern. The blackness of the shadows appear to turn blacker, creating a thick cloud of darkness around the crowd. "Guys?" The pixie's voice rings out to the others. A seemingly omnipresent voice -no, many voices in perfect unison- surrounds the party, "Get out!" The command is loud and powerful, fueled by what sounds like tens of enraged voices blasting in force. The combined effect of the runes, the darkness, and the voices send Kovl, already tense in fear, to fling his body at where he last saw Lydrain, landing suddenly on his shoulder.

Lydrain is afraid his draconic impotence is about to come to light when things begin to dim. This was an obviously magical darkness as he couldn't see through it, and that began to worry him even more. Then came the ominous wording. Due to the fear already gripping him, and the sudden, threatening voice, the dragon did only what came natural to him, and he threw up a barrier of magic directly in front of him, wide enough to cover all of those behind it, for some ways back, should something happen. When nothing but noise and darkeness came forth, he gingerly let his magic go. Feeling a very light weight land on his shoulder he could only assume it was the pixie. Speaking loud enough that everyone could hear him, should the magic not be dampening their voices, "Is everyone alright?"

Josleen lets loose a spine-grating scream as the darkness coalesces and curls around them. She lunges towards Skylei, grabs her wrist, then sprints the short distance towards Lydrain with Skylei in tow."GO GO GO!" She demands, "Dragon form, now!" Fully expecting Lydrain to morph immediately, despite knowing it takes him more than one second to complete the transformation, she jumps onto Lydrain's back like a jockey on a race horse. One arm hooks around his neck as the other keeps a firm grip on Skylei. She looks down towards Skylei and the ground, expecting the latter to grow small as they all take off on the back of Lydrain's draconian effort, but lo, nothing grows smaller - save for Josleen's resolve. "WHAT'S GOING ON?!" She shrieks and sobs. Fear-hot tears wet her blubbering features. She shakes uncontrollably as she starts to slip off Lydrain's back pathetically. Rest assured, she is not seizing. She is merely overcome.

Whilst everyone else flings themselves at Lydrain, Skylei stays stock still at the pressing cloud of darkness save for the slight of tugging of Josleen. At first she finds that the darkness chokes her, her words are forced downwards, deep into her chest and cannot come forth however hard she pushes. Once sound eventually breaks forth, all that Skylei whispers as she moves to keep Josleen standing is, “She’s right, Lydrain. We need to move now.” The responsibility is placed solely on his back by both Skylei and Jos in this instance. She would prefer very much to move backwards rather than forwards, but she expects that suggestion would be met with approval by Josleen and the inevitable goal of this mission would then be failed.

Kovl's voice rings out in the darkness, "I'm not hurt." The pixie swivels his head in the darkness, trying to locate Josleen and Skylei: relatively simple tasks with the bard's screaming and the scout's resolute urging. The pixie's head snaps to the left with his eyes scanning an area he cannot see. Was that a footstep? The voices ring out again without a noticeable source of origin, "Ha! The lizard cannot take his form, insects. The squirmy one has the right idea." The voices are punctuated with a powerful and sudden boom, causing the pixie to jump and hold still, pressed between Lydrain's neck and Josleen's arm. He squeaks in the dragon's ear, "Illusion magic. It can be anything." Kovl's poor heart is beating out of his chest, but fear enchantment or not, the pixie is still the same pixie who had escorted a group of spies in tunnels crowded with enemies. A leap of faith is taken from Lydrain's shoulder, and the pixie shoots forward into the darkness, shooting toward the footfall he heard earlier. Kovl's hand digs into a pouch at his side, sends a pulse of magic through a grip of pixie dust, and tosses the powder as widely and generously as he can in the estimated area of the footfall. A second handful is thrown for good measure even farther down the cavern. "Ahhh-choo!" A sneeze echoes against the rock walls, followed by a long string of distracted sneezing. Bingo. "He's here!" Kovl cries out through the blackest of black magical darkness.

Lydrain listens to all of his companion's affirmations of life, and cringes when Josleen pounces on him. He holds her up no problem, but just as he was fixing to explain his issue, no matter how embarrassing, the voice cuts through the darkness. Now, if you know anything about dragons, it is that they do not like being called lizards, and that causes even the most level headed of the saurian kings to become unnerved. Now, normally, Lydrain is relatively composed and calm, but, at this very moment, he was fraying at the edges. No sleep, stressful situations, and a crack in the foundation of his core caused him to respond relatively unnaturally. His face hardened, and, anyone who was magically talented would feel the buildup of power surrounding the Headmaster. He would begin to glow, surrounded by an aura of magical energies. If this manifestation of magic dispelled the darkness, good, and, if it didn't, well, no one would notice, save for maybe Josleen, who was plastered to his back. Some of the runes near him would begin to dissolve, magically unravelling at the seams. Lydrain would then speak, in a low, but rumbling manner, "I am done with your games. I may not be able to assume my true form, but that does not prevent me from killing you, here and now. Get out of the way or I will remove you."

Josleen was one of those spies that Kovl escorted into the twisted and worming belly of the ice beast, and yet this rather impressive resume does little to boost her adventurer’s confidence. “What lizard?!” Josleen yelps at the voices in the dark. You would think that as a Xalious native Josleen may be familiar with saurian slurs, but frankly, apart from this very moment, when is the last time you heard a fool dare to insult a motherloving dragon? It isn’t until Lydrain responds in anger and confession to his impairment that Josleen realizes they’re all truly going to die - not in the hyperbolic swansong way that Josleen loves to shout, but in the ‘you no longer have your magical and physical powerhouse, so you may as well roll over and expose your necks and make it easy for the predator’ way. Despite lacking an astuteness for magic, Josleen can feel the magic pulsing off Lydrain’s back and she wisely jumps off, limbs extended and stiff like a cat who’s been snuck up on. “Sky!” She flees behind her new human shield, just in case Lydrain’s explosion results in allied casualties. “Sky! Let’s just go! Screw it. This- Let’s just go! Where’s Kovl?! KOVL! WE’RE LEAVING!”

Skylei , a.k.a. a human shield, would attempt to catch hold of Josleen’s wrist to prevent her from running back through the boneyard. She doesn’t attempt to get a proper hold on the bard, still fearing for her already beautifully bruised face and the wrath of Josleen’s flailing hands. Instead, scanning her head from Josleen and a newly glowing Lydrain, and occasionally casting a glance to unravelling runes, she uses the tactic of persuasion, a method learnt from Josleen herself, to convince the bard not to bolt back to safety, “No, Jos. We’re staying. Well, Lydrain, Kovl and I are staying.” Emphasis is placed on each name in turn, “If you want to run back on your own, be my guest. Just make sure you watch out for all those things that are lurking in the boneyard and whatever it was that enchanted those corpses.” Skylei hopes to manipulate Josleen’s fears in order to persuade her willingly to stay. If not, tactic two will consist of tackling to her the floor and pinning her down until she calms down.

Kovl opens his eyes wider, as if that would somehow work for seeing through magical darkness, trying to work his eyes to find the target of his sneezing powder, and by Sven's mother in law! The pixie can see! Well, thanks to Lydrain's arcane energy dispelling the simple spell which a moment earlier obscured the group's vision. And it almost felt tangible: the magically induced fear enchantment melting away. A shadow gnome's face cringes in a subsequent sneeze as the pixie darts behind him. Reveling perhaps too soon in his mini-victory, movement captures his attention... Another gnome. And another... And another! At least eight bodies, maybe ten in sight work to surround the group in a semi circle, and at least two were focused on the pixie, scowling in pure hatred. Kovl has to think quickly while scanning his surroundings. The mountain behind the enemies catches his eye. Are those... dragon bones? -The- missing bones? In one pile? There's no time to think. An incantation is spoken under the pixie's breath, and an earth rumbling crash erupts behind their foes: an illusion best imitating what the little pixie thinks a tumbling avalanche of dragon bones should sound like. Weighing between Josleen's desire to flee, and Skylei's resolve, Kovl knows something must be done, and NOW! "The tunnel is this way!" The pixie points past the still-intact mound of bones and rune-laden ground. It won't take more than a second for the gnomes to react, find the fib, and retaliate.

Lydrain lets out a growl, or maybe it was a spell simply spoken in a guttural language. An orb of nothing but pure magical energy would begin forming in his hand, quickly coalescing into an orb roughly the size of a head. As the dragon began to stalk forward, woe betide the first gnome he saw, as he would simply shove the orb into the face of the poor creature. If it connected, the thing would, undoubtedly, die. He continued to stalk forward, but only to look over his shoulder, "Comon Jos, Sky, we are leaving." If anything got in his way, he would simply shove, blast, or kick it out of his path, and, as he still had some of his strength, the gnomes would find it very difficult to resist.

Josleen rounds on Skylei and shouts, “What are you trying to prove?!” As Skylei blocks each of Josleen’s exits and Lydrain dispels the fear-runes, Josleen’s fear gives way to a more natural anger, but Josleen doesn’t even notice the change in her resolve. “HUH? What? What? Tell me, what?” She points at Skylei’s face then her own. “We’re still alive. So, we stay alive. Don’t you want to be alive?! Out there,” she points east “is where people live. This,” a stiff hand gestures roundly about them, brave and steady as is her voice, the fear-melting away to an oblivious and furious bard, “Is the literal home of death. This is where dragons come to-” The magical crackles in Josleen’s periphery, and she looks up to see what the pixie sees. “Gnomes!” Her father has told her about gnomes, and the message is succinctly ‘Don’t be fooled by their stature. They’re deadly.’ Thus, her newfound fear is natural, but controlled. She can think and act, which may not seem like much to steely adventurers like Skylei, but to Josleen, they’re the best and only weapons she has. Freed from the shackles of arcane terror, she catches on to Kovl’s auditory fib and follows his and Lydrain’s instruction to charge forward into the indicated tunnel.

Skylei shouts back at Josleen, although her own responses are much less creative and eventually turn into a constant refrain of ‘Shut up, Josleen!’ until the bard seems to relent, or at least gets distracted by the gnomes. Once Kovl has pointed out an exit, Lydrain has reached murderous levels of irritation and Jos has been convinced that onwards is the correct way to travel, Skylei would head up the back of the group, her main goal being to ensure that the flighty bard doesn’t make a further bid for freedom.

Kovl watches as Lydrain's arcane orb is shoved toward the nearest shadow gnome and how quickly the gnome darts from its path in time for it to explode upon the mountain of bones behind him, causing Kovl's illusion to come to reality. Bones cascade over each other, crashing and shattering in a short-lived avalanche. Two gnomes cup their hands which promptly fill orbs of darkness - shadow magic which is hurled toward Lydrain. Two more armor clad foes race toward the group with swords drawn while the others focus on a more laborious task. The bones which crashed to the ground begin to animate: the hip bone connects to the leg bone, the leg bone connects to the foot bone, until a golem of deceased dragons, standing nearly twice as tall as any dragon Kovl has even encountered is formed. Its hollow material stomps on the cavern floor and barrels straight toward the adventurers.

Lydrain simply lets out another guttural growl, over the raucous of the newly created warzone, it is almost impossible to hear, but, in doing so, brings his magic to bear again. The orbs of darkness will dissipate against the wall of magic now emanating from his outstretched hand. Once clear of those, he launches the magic wall himself at the two gnomes, threatening to smash them in between it and the cave wall. The gnomes in armor, he ignores, but the dragon skeleton come to life, well, that is difficult to avoid. For fear of wasting too much energy, too quickly, Lyd breaks into a run towards the thing, and, as he nears, he reaches up and grabs it by the jaw, but doesn't stop running, in hopes of ripping the lower jaw off completely. His momentum and enhanced strength should help.

Josleen‘s eyes try to flee her skull at the sight of that bone dragon golem. “Oh shi-” She puts as much distance between herself and the mouth of the tunnel, hoping the entrance is too small for the golem to pass. “Lydrain!” She gasps as he runs towards the thing. To Skylei and Kovl, without stopping her pace, she asks “Can we block the bones with a cave in? We just need to escape, not kill it, right?” It’s amazing what the brain can conjure up when freed from oppressive fear - which isn’t to say that Josleen isn’t terrified at the moment, but simply that her terror can be put to productive means.

Skylei is trying to ignore the bone dragon golem and the imminent threat of death and deal with the easier foes. Where Lydrain had chosen to ignore the armoured shadow gnomes, Skylei had made them her first priority. From as close to the mouth of the cave as she dare linger she attempts to pick off the gnomes. In spite of their armour and swords, they’re not exactly intimidating foes with their short legs and shorter weaponry. Pulling her bow from her back, Skylei would release a series of projectiles, each one lit with a small incantation and the wiggle of her forefinger before it is released in order to pierce the gaps in the armour. It’s not a particularly arduous task, in spite of the fact that the creatures are moving – their short legs make them much preferable targets. Once they have been amply dispatched, Skylei makes the short retreat towards Josleen in time to hear her fear produced idea and, for once, it’s not bad. “Kovl! Lydrain! Get here!” First things first, assemble the troops. Then they can ascertain whether to fell the cave with literal or illusionary means. Skylei doesn’t care which. She simply wants to get out of there.

Kovl 's eyes widen at the golem, and approaching gnomes. The mages assailing the group with shadow magic are pushed back for a spell (get it? Heh). The golem works to close its jaw to chomp Lydrain's fingers, but fails at its movement. The momentum and strength of Lydrain are enough to tear the jawbone from its face. Unflinching, the golem whips its tail at a high velocity, working to snap its assailant's neck if no action is taken to avoid it. One sword-wielding gnome is quick to brandish his sword toward Lydrain's back, its blade hungry for dragon blood. The sword has a history as a dragonbane, ending the lives of countless over its lifetime. If it connects with the flesh it is so hungry to taste, an explosion would incinerate all in its path, minus the wielder. A cry of pain is heard as a storm of arrows pierce the would-be assassin's flesh. Both assailants fall to their knees, but this does not stop the sword from swinging in a last-ditch rage-fueled effort to down Lydrain. Now that the golem stands tall, the pixie is quick to notice that the bones were not originally a pile in themselves. A shack, which was previously buried beneath the corpses, is now exposed to the travellers. Two more gnomes stumble out from the shack's doorway, confused at the recent actions and quickly run to their allies' aid, hurling orbs of shadows toward Lydrain and the others. Kovl is now split between whether to run to Lydrain's aid or to escape quickly. Outstretching his hand, the pixie's Xalious staff blinks into his grasp. An illusionary wall erupts from the ground, shooting toward the ceiling of the cavern, blocking the view of a majority of Lydrain's attackers from Lydrain himself. "Lydrain, get out of there!" A barrage of illusionary flame storms from the cavern's ceiling, raining on the assailants. The bits which hit the gnomes below, sear their skin, causing blood-curdling screams to echo off the cavern's walls. The gnomes who could see Lydrain are rightly distracted, and the golem works a second swipe of the tail at Lydrain.

Lydrain wasn't about to let his neck get snapped, and so he twists and takes the blow to the shoulder instead. Which sends him flying towards his friends, but also right into the blade that was swung at him, which cuts through his clothes, but misses his skin by a thread. His momentum carries him within a few feet from his gathered friends. Letting out a growl, this time simply a growl, he then pulls his power to himself once more, before launching it at the ceiling of the cave. Struggling back to his feet, he does it a couple more times, in various areas, to insure that this place would come tumbling down. Turning to the exit, he begins to move, as quickly as he could, "Let's get out of here."

Josleen is pleased when Skylei agrees with her course of action. When forced to choose between fight or flight, Josleen will always choose flight. Finally, someone agrees with her preferred method of survival. The cavern in which the fighting ensues is utter chaos. Josleen can’t keep track of every development, but cheers when Skylei succeeds in defending Lydrain from being stabbed in the back. Her heart slams against her chest, but her feet stay firm, waiting for Lydrain to join them in the tunnel so that they may flee as a whole. Her hands extended towards his to steady his rough landing, and as soon as he starts to rattle the earth, she takes off down the tunnel. “Sky! Come on!” Not that Sky needs to be told, but the bard is feeling the thrill and must vocalize it.

Skylei is completely disorientated by the constant string of actions that occur around her. All she sees is movement, light and dust and is only really brought back into reality as the mouth of the cave collapses blocking out everything that had been occurring at the exit of the boneyard. The sound of Josleen’s voice stirs her further from her haze and, strapping her bow back on her back, she would follow after the bard down through the tunnel.

Kovl watches his handiwork and would smile in content later when he knew his mage friend is safe. The pixie follows Lydrain's lead and darts into the cave's tunnel as rubble begins to close the entrance just as the golem rushes towards them, stopped at the wall of freshly fallen stone. it sticks its head into the cascading stone as if to snap its jaw at the group. Hey, no one said that golems were smart. Especially this one, since its jaw is laying on the ground behind him. Instead of anything remotely successful to a chomp, the golem's head is trapped in the cave-in, causing its dead, and now squirming skull to peer its eye-sockets toward Lydrain, helpless to move for the moment. The Xalious staff in Kovl's hand disappears as he follows his retreating friends, only looking back occasionally toward the jawless skull which so much wants to chew on them. Other than the disappointed golem, there are no immediate signs of pursuit from the gnomes.

Rappel Into the Belly of the Beast

The Fells

After escaping the shadow gnomes, the party is quick to escape the tunnels within the hour. They breach the earth once more and are greeted by the mid-morn sun. Its warm, yellow rays promise security with no proof of such. But the physically and emotionally drained Josleen accepts the sun’s snakeoil, believing in safety it cannot guarantee from across a solar system; and thus, she lets down her guard. The birds sing lazily as the sun creeps higher in the sky. The yellow, thirsty grass crunches beneath their feet. Josleen privately indulges in unspoken, self-pitying monologues, lamenting the sad state of her birth defect and all the trouble it has brought upon her and her friends. When she does speak, it is to entertain her companions with heroic tales of champions who have undertaken missions as dangerous as their own. Perhaps they can take heart in the fact that all of her heroes survive their plots. But most of the time, the company travels in silence. Even a bard doesn’t wish to speak for six hours on end. The plains quickly roll into lazy hills, and by the early evening they reach the imposing cliff drop of The Fells. There is still plenty of daylight left under the late summer sun, and so Josleen suggests they rest before trying their hand at rappelling down the cliff. They refuel with dry rations and unpleasantly warm water.

Finally, it is time to descend. It’s a fair 100 meters down, if one had to guess. Josleen and Skylei brought rope for precisely this part of their journey, and secure two lines at the top of the cliff. They didn’t think to bring a third rope for Lydrain, because they had presumed that he could simply fly down the cliff in dragon form. Actually, they had presumed that they could hitch a ride on his scaly back and skip this rappelling nonsense, but caution counseled them to prepare for the unlikely event that they were separated from Lydrain, and so they packed two ropes, which means that one of them - and I guarantee you now that it won’t be Josleen - will have to free climb. Josleen glances uneasily from Skylei to Lydrain, wondering who will brave the free climb. Josleen peeks down the cliff face and it appears to be quite sheer - bad news for any free climber. Hand and foot holds are spaced far apart and require extraordinary strength to pull off. “Maybe there’s another way down?” She looks down a second time to be sure, and quite to her befuddlement, she suddenly she sees a very clear, narrow and winding path for free climbers of some skill and some more strength. Height and long limbs help too. “Huh. Actually, do you see that?” Her finger traces the narrow spine in the cliff. From this angle, the path looks almost too easy for Lydrain, though more difficult for halflings. “Whoever descends without the rope should have an easy go of it on that path.” The path would take the solo traveler far away from those rappelling, who would lose sight of the climber as the path wraps around the curved cliff face and dives behind boulders. Josleen glances between the two, her expression a question mark: Who will it be?...It’s Lydrain!! Whew. Josleen is relieved, because although she cares for both of her friends, Skylei is more fragile than Lydrain - and also her favorite, but there is no need to say that outloud. The party finds a large boulder in the distance, just outside a copse of trees, and agree to meet there. Ostensibly, Kovl is free to choose who he accompanies, but seeing as how Lydrain is a powerful mage on his own two feet and Josleen and Skylei would be vulnerable to attack as they dangle from their ropes, Josleen tries to impose the choice on Kovl to stay with them. “Please.” She insists, her voice hitting the manipulative pitch of a baby’s cry. Who would deny a baby what it wants? Only a monster.

Josleen has never rappelled before, but she did read up on the sport before undertaking this journey. The rope curls around a hook on her belt, and her hand holds the other, limp end. So long as her hand keeps a firm grip on the limp end (and she does wear a thick leather glove), then she shouldn’t plummet to her death. Her novice leaps are underwhelmingly short. She looks for her next landing spot, gives some slack in her rope to allow her descent, pushes off the cliff but a few inches, and lands no more than a foot beneath her original position. At this snail’s pace, the descent will take forever. Josleen is embarrassed by her progression (a word generously applied here), but frankly, she never expected cliffs to be so strange. She scans once for a landing spot, and by the gods, she swears the stones shift ever so subtly whenever she dares to blink. She never sees them move, mind you, but the cliff’s shape is difficult to assess with any conviction. She wonders if Sky is experiencing the same difficulty, but is too embarrassed to ask. Finally she finds a vertical, sheer, no-nonsense drop. Perfect. She braves a larger leap onto an even surface four feet beneath her current position, Josleen pushes off the cliff and swings down. As she swings, the stone wall blinks from a straight, vertical drop into a concave hole, forcing Josleen to swing with greater force than expected into the concavity. The ropes twists on the lip of the hole, spinning Josleen onto her side, and -WHAM- she whacks into the stone, primarily battering her hip - and hard! Her tortured yelp bounces off the gray stone towards Skylei just as the ranger takes a leap of her own. As soon as Skylei has leapt, just above her head, a stone juts out against her line to shake her rope and twist and disorient her descent, with the hopeful aim to cause her to crash as well. If she loses her grip on the rope, even better! Though it is unlikely she would survive. Kovl may notice that as Josleen or Skylei shake on the line, a small cave mouth, no wider than three-feet, appears beneath them, but it disappears or is replaced by a smooth boulder as soon as it is obvious that Josleen maintains her grip on the rope. The same would happen for Skylei should she succeed in not falling. It’s difficult to say if the cave ever really appeared, or if the shadows are playing tricks on the stones and Kovl’s eyes.

Skylei has taken solace in Josleen’s near silence as they travel across the moors. After the mini-battle, Skylei needs some time alone with her thoughts. Indeed, the half-elf says near enough nothing until they reach the fells, where she instantly tries to take responsibility for ensuring that the activity is attempted safely in light of Lydrain’s ‘condition’. Skylei, though an experienced climber, has never rappelled before. However, the ranger possesses a natural conviction in her own abilities that she takes it in her stride, hooking her own rope and insisting on checking Josleen’s before the bard began the descent. Unlike Jos, Skylei doesn’t bother with a glove. Indeed, she turns her nose up at such princess-y attire; her hands alone will be strong enough to hold her weight. Her first few jumps are executed in the perfect image of beginners luck but, from that point onwards she begins to struggle with her footing, constantly wobbling from side to side. There is something queer about the rock face. Every time that Skylei moves, she swears she cannot ascertain exactly where the rock face actually sits. With every jump, Sky grows more and more certain of the fact that she must be dehydrated (in spite of the fact that they had just ‘enjoyed’ a good portion of their sun-warmed water at the top of the cliff face) and that it is her lack of concentration, not the rock face that has her tripping over her own feet. This is the only plausible reason that she would be unable to keep her footing. With this in mind, Skylei takes a particularly large jump. Unfortunately this is just as Josleen screams and the tricksy rock face decides to send her swinging on her way, “Jos?!” Skylei too is forced sideways into the rock and, with her focus on ascertain if Josleen is okay, her own hip, shoulder and the side of her face is smashed off of the rock face and, in reaction she loosens her grip on the rope and begins to slide downwards. Skylei is, if anything even more panicked as her hand slips torturously far down the rope with the fall. If there was ever a picture of ‘hanging on by a thread’, it is Skylei in those few seconds. She is forced to cling and climb her way back into a less perilous position, the rope refusing to hold steady as she does. “Kovl?!” What good can the pixie do? Likely none – but Skylei in her vulnerability would like to know that she is not alone.

Kovl is blessed with wings. Or more accurately in the pixie's mind, it is Skylei and Josleen who are cursed without them. He watches as the two carefully make their descent, grinning at Josleen's small glides in amusement in comparison with Skylei's more confident leaps. The happy expression leaves his face as soon as he watches the woman smash her hip into the cliff face. Skylei is not far behind. "Are you okay??" A hand lays idly on a pouch at his side just in the case of trouble as Kovl hovers just above Josleen, watching with concerned eyes. His attention is on the women and he fails to notice the appearance (and subsequent disappearance) of the cavern below them. As Skylei slides down her rope, Kovl dives to her side, ready as ever to prove her thought process wrong. "I have you both. None of you will fall." The pixie's voice is so confident despite his small size. "Are you okay?" he asks again, wanting to be sure that Skylei's and Josleen's grips are held.

Josleen shouts in a panic. “Sky! Are you alright?” The bard still has not grasped that there is anything unnatural about their predicament. She assumes that what she mistook for a dark, sheer cliff drop was actually a shadow and she has only her inexperience to blame. It would be absurd to assume that the stones are moving. Indeed, she hasn’t seen them actually move even once. Clouds begin to roll in, creating more shadows amongst the dark stones. The first few pelts of rain splash against the cliff, its traveller's hands, and their ropes, making them increasingly slick drop by drop. “Oh, what have we gotten ourselves into!” she laments. She is unsure of how to get out of her concavity rock formation. Are her legs strong enough to propel her back on the vertical path? The answer is no, but as she looks down at Skylei she notices that the distance between them grows smaller at an almost imperceptible gain. The concavity is very, very slowly swelling, pushing Josleen back out and down. When she looks at the stones around her to confirm this suspicion, nothing confirms it. Is her depth perception failing her? Was the concavity always this shallow? How embarrassing. She is still within the concavity, but suddenly the gulf seems surmountable and she braves another drop, this time without incidence, other than a sharp pulse of pain radiating from her hip as she lands against the rock. Maybe she’s finally getting the hang of this. “Hold on, wait for me. Let me catch up.” She drops yet another two feet, without any more struggle than a grimace. Buoyed by this success, she braves a large leap yet, and this time the smooth boulder beneath her visibly rises up, splits in two, opens into a 3-foot-wide cave, and tries to snap up Josleen in its cave-jowls, like a fish leaping out of the water for bait at a feeding frenzy. Black eyes open on the far side of the the predatory boulder, and if Skylei is paying attention, she’ll notice the shape of this animated threat greatly resembles a salamander - a gargantuan, stone, apparently carnivorous, astonishingly terramantically-gifted salamander. Josleen shrieks, finally convinced that no, she is not crazy; yes, the stones are out to get her; and yes, they’re all going to die (except maybe Kovl). The salamander catches the limp rope between its stone jaws and tugs on it, threatening to snap the rope and feast on one Josleen the Bard, tender meat from Xalious. The rain pours down in greater force and the clouds unhelpfully cast a grey hue on the cliffs, further obscuring the one visible salamander. It is impossible to know if there are more. It may fascinate you to know that the salamanders have no control of the weather, but are simply incredibly lucky in this moment - or conversely, Skylei and Josleen are incredibly unlucky.

As Josleen affirms her desire to catch up with her, all Skylei can do is attempt to get a better grip on the newly slippery rope. Oh, how the half-elf laments the fact that she had turned her nose up at a glove. What she would do for a glove in that moment! It is a constant battle with the rope; pulling herself back up with cold wet hands only to slide down a little further as she attempts to push her feet against the rock face. Opening her mouth, Skylei attempts to take on board some of the rainwater to combat her ‘dehydration’. Something has to stop the rock face from moving beneath her boots. She takes little comfort in the fact that Kovl says that neither of them will fall, a confidence that is further shaken as she physically sees the rock face open up and attempt to devour Josleen! And then there’s the unmistakable sight of eyes opening on the boulder’s sides. At these sights, Skylei loses all semblance of cool and starts screaming her head off about how they’re all going to die and that Kovl needs to do something now! Her demeanour is a mirror image of Josleen’s from earlier as she bellows and screams and panics. She is going to be of even less use than she already is.

Kovl 's gaze follows Josleen's out of curiosity, and his hand grips his pouch out of surprise. The pixie's priority falls on the safety of the two precariously hanging from a cliff inhabited by at least one gigantic salamander out for blood. The pixie's attention is torn between the two women. Both are in danger. Both are panicking. Since Josleen is in more immediate danger, the pixie attends to her first, "Josleen, unhook your rope from your waist. Now! Trust me!" Opening a pouch at his side, he pulses magic through his arm to a handful of pixie dust which lands on Josleen, aimed to hit her as soon as the rope is unhooked. Josleen would be quick to shrink, becoming Kovl's size in only a few moments. The illusionist dives after Josleen and wraps an arm around her waist, using his wings to hold her in the air and hopefully snatch her from the salamander in time. "Skylei, unhook! Now!" Kovl holds his unoccupied hand in his pouch, ready to toss the dust upon her as well.

Josleen has no reason to hang onto a rope that is about to snap. When has Kovl ever failed her? Never. And thus, she lets go and… plummets straight towards the jaws of the beast with no safety line or immediately obvious rescue plan. She lets loose an ear-busting scream that climbs higher in pitch as her voice box shrinks to pixie size. “AAAAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIIIEEeeeeeeeeeee!!” And there is dependable Kovl, in the 11th hour of her descent, swooping in not like a gnat-sized mage friend, but a hunky, airborne Fabio of appropriate size (relatively speaking). She holds onto him as he holds her, so that he may free up his other hand to rescue Skylei. Were she not in a state of terror, fearing for her life and that of her best friend, she would have noticed that, damn, Kovl is fiiiine when you get down to his level. Those pecs! That jaw! Woof, Kovl, woof. But as it is, Josleen misses his handsomeness and looks instead for Skylei, shouting tiny instructions for her to join them at this size. “We should have done this from the beginning!” “Hooray for Kovl!” The salamander which was in pursuit of Josleen appears uninterested is so bite-size and difficult a prey.

Skylei doesn’t possess the same faith in Kovl as Josleen had just shown and so, when he shouts, Skylei would bellow back with all the finesse of a tantruming child, “NO!” This rope is her lifeline and so she would cling to it and continue screaming at Kovl and tiny Josleen that they’re stupid and she’s not coming down, likely attracting the attention of the rock-face-salamader-thing as she does so. Very intelligent behaviour. She offers the reason (screamed, of course) Just because he had caught Josleen there is no guarantee that he will catch her as well! Skylei will take her chances with the salamander-rock-wall rather than risk tumbling to her death.Tears stream down the quickly blackening side of her face and her hands are growing numb from the rain as she presses her face against the moving rocks. She struggles for a good moment more, desperately clawing at the slippery rope as she loses more and more of her grip before giving up completely and without any prior warning, letting go. Kovl had better catch her. She’ll bloody kill him if he doesn’t (lol, irony).

It is not often when Kovl hold a flailing panicking woman in his arms, but it's not the first time either. The pixie keeps his arm resolutely around her waist, and his adrenaline keeps her there. Thank the gods that he is accustomed to carrying heavy big human things that don't come in his size. It's no regular weight iron-pumping, but it certainly helps. The pixie is surprised at Skylei's blatant refusal to trust him, even after he successfully caught Josleen. However, he is ready for Skylei's untimely descent, and with about 70 meters to drop, Kovl tosses the pixie dust on the falling woman, causing her to shrink. Luckily, the pixie already positioned himself below Skylei, and he catches her quickly, allowing her to fall on his chest before he is able to wrap his arm around her waist. The rain becomes more than annoying to the pixie now with each drop like buckets of water on everyone his size. Now full of adrenaline, Kovl's wings lower the group toward the ground, working with more weight than they are used to as he descends. Resolutely, the pixie's arms are locked. No one is leaving his grasp. Rain or not. Heavy or not.

Indeed, the terramander © did turn its sights on the tasty Skylei. Already it was using its gift of terramancy to erode the curvature of the rock face on which Skylei’s rope lays, so that the rope continues to slip forward and lower Skylei closer to the salamander’s position. But the ranger lets go fo the rope, in the process abandoning their game of cat-and-mouse and entrusting Kovl to save the mouse - and he does. Skylei’s miniature form doesn’t interest the salamander anymore, and he simply watches the trio buzz away. Josleen holds onto Kovl and Skylei both and lowers her head to shield her face from the massive raindrops. When they land on the ground, she crouches between damp blades of grass and looks up at the cliff for any movements. There are none. They should be safe. “Holy Sven, Lore, and Hind in High Heaven, my eye did not deceive me! I cannot believe the monster we just escaped. Had you ever seen such a thing, Sky?”

Kovl saves Skylei! What a hero! Once in his arm and in her miniature form, Skylei’s grateful for the rain and even goes as far as to turn her head upwards towards it. Though the drops are uncomfortably large, at least it wipes away the evidence of tears from the notoriously proud half-breed’s face. She says nothing as they descend, not even uttering a thanks to Kovl or expressing her joy at Josleen having not been eaten alive. Once back on solid ground, Skylei stalks a good few paces away from the others keen to sulk alone for a good while and nurse her new bruises. Instead Josleen seems keen to talk, “No, I haven’t. I expect it’s not even real. It’s probably an illusion.” The half-elf spits out her words with a clear tinge of bitter embarrassment and a desire to be left alone.

Kovl uses this moment to take a breath after his tiny wings carried two screaming and panicking women. His eyes glance between the two. This is one of the few moments he has been the same size as Josleen, and the only moment Skylei has been his size. It felt different, but good. He was in no hurry to dispel his magic despite the buckets of water pouring on the trio. Kovl walks to pluck the leaves of a weed from the ground, handing one each to the women to use as an umbrella before he smiles broadly. The pixie shakes his head at Skylei, "I believe they were quite real. And frightening. Although, strong man Kovl is here for the rescue. No need to worry." The pixie mock-flexes before laughing at his own joke. Kovl is quick to notice that the women's voices are not as big as normal. To them, he would not sound as squeaky.

Josleen has never used a weed as an umbrella, but there is something charming about this repurposing of foliage. She grins weakly at Kovl’s joke about ‘strong man Kovl.’ Had she not just faced death-by-salamander, she would have belly laughed, but alas certain death has a way of lingering on one’s mood. She allows herself the luxury of sitting in silence, breathing deeply and slowly to calm her racing heart. Sufficiently calmed, she remembers “Lydrain! I wonder if he’s made it down? Oh, we should hurry to the meeting place. I hope no stone beast found him.”

Skylei refuses to accept the weed, lightly pushing Kovl’s hand back towards himself when he offers it to her, instead letting herself grow increasingly damper underneath the heavy pelt of the rain. She figures that eventually she will reach the point where she cannot get any damper and that point must soon be approaching. At Josleen’s acclamation that they should hurry onwards to find Lydrain, Skylei would start walking in the direction that they had designated as the meeting point. She doesn’t speak, she doesn’t look back.

Kovl scratches his head at Skylei's refusal of the weed and only nods. He looks toward the path where Lydrain is supposed to descend. He nods at Josleen. "Yes, we should probably get going then. I suppose that means I have to put you up to your size, huh?" Kovl chuckles. "By walking with no wings, we would be travelling all day. May I?" The pixie places his hand on Skylei and then Josleen if they allow and dispels the magic keeping them his size. Josleen and Skylei grow quickly, leaving the pixie down at their feet. Kovl hovers to their shoulder.

Josleen frowns at Skylei’s mood. Normally it is Josleen who despairs, but the bard allowed herself to be buoyed by the escape of almost certain death. The life-affirming rescue has kept her chin held high, despite the murky mood that lingers amongst them. Tiny strides will get Skylei nowhere fast, as Kovl well understands and corrects. Josleen jogs up to Skylei’s side and nudges her unbruised side lightly. “Hey. We’re alright. Everything is alright. It could have been worse.”

Skylei continues to sulk as they walk. Once she is back to her proper size, Skylei increases her stride and attempts to out walk Josleen as she approaches her. Rather than actually addressing what Josleen is talking about Skylei’s reply is painfully clinical and she keeps her eyes facing dead forward. “We need to get there as quickly as possible. We’ve been walking all day. It won’t be long until the sun goes down. Can you pick up the pace?”

Kovl hovers at Josleen's shoulder before landing, using it as a resting place as they walk. The pixie stays silent at Skylei's sullenness, but he knows she is right. Getting to the meeting place will give them all time to rest after two near-death experiences in one day. He keeps a lookout for Lydrain as they move.

Josleen says nothing for the rest of their trek. Skylei is right to irritated. At least the weather is warm. Warm and wet is preferable to cold and wet. But as the sun falls behind the distant Xalious Range to the west, the cold will set in. They reach the meeting place and Lydrain is nowhere to be found. “Why don’t we set up camp? We can stay here the night.”


Grim Haunt

Skylei, Josleen and Kovl arrive at the meeting point slightly before Lydrain. With Skylei in a foul mood, she would insist that, once the group was fed and watered, and the half-elves tent had been pitched, that they head straight to bed. She wouldn’t take part in any retellings of the story of how they nearly died and would simply repeat the fact that they had a long day ahead of them tomorrow. The night passes without incident and, after the excitement of the previous evening all are free to get rest, should they be able to sleep. When morning comes, there is a quick turnaround as all are keen to embark on the last day of walking and end the drama that has been this expedition. Within twenty minutes of walking, the group make their way across the hills and up onto the moorlands.

This feel like the place people go to die. Whatever way you look, beyond a few feet all that can be seen is fog and mist. The ground is crags of grey stone and moss, unstable at best and deadly at worst. Cue Skylei making herself de facto group leader. The ranger feels that her specialties should lend themselves nicely to such a situation and somewhere, far in the distance, is a palpable mass of pixie magical energy; the cocoon – it must be. All in the group would be able to sense that energy and it is in that direction that Skylei intends to lead them. The air here has a heavier quality to it and a dankness that makes it stick in the back of the throat. One might debate that they were simply travelling further from the surface and deeper into this strange pixie lair. They would be wrong to think so. That unpleasantness on the air comes from the fact that the air is heavy with spores, hallucinogenic of course.

There’s a reason that the dragons never strayed further into the tunnel system than the boneyard. These particular spores are especially potent to dragons and thus the hallucinogenic symptoms take effect much more quickly. Kovl, in spite of his size, is in the best position. Pixies possess some element of natural resistance to the hallucinogens, whereas Skylei and Josleen face the effects of the spores with neither resistance nor weakness. And what would those effects be? They start with the victim growing increasingly irritable; likely all would have woken feeling slightly so. Things that should be minor irritations become annoying with increasingly intensity and frequency. Following that comes paranoia. The feeling that someone is watching, perhaps, or that one of the travelling party is plotting something sinister. Paranoia manifests itself in many different and unique ways. As the paranoia grows, the hallucinations themselves kick in; something moving out of the corner of your eye, the sensation that something is tugging you backwards or maybe the visualisation of a gruesome nightmare drawn from the depths of the mind. Eventually, at the height of hallucinating, exhaustion would take hold and each individual would fall into a forced slumber, lest their body be strong enough to fight it off.

Still, there would be quite some walking ahead of the group before the effects reach such capacity. For now their biggest worry would be staying together in the clouds of mist that impede vision further than a few feet and keeping their footing on the ragged, moss-covered rocks. Skylei takes the lead, nimble footed and confident, likely taking a pace that would be uncomfortable for those unused to such terrains. She doesn’t think to look behind her and ensure that the group are following; some group leader she is.