Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc
Summary: Mere hours after Krice is attacked, trolls appear in Chartsend without warning and pursue Pilar. She escapes with her life, aided by a conveniently intervening Esche. After the battle, Esche struggles in secrecy with his desire to help these people despite whatever it is that he may know about the coming conflict.
Pilar walked down the street, Medli by her side. The old dog was on the end of a slack red leash, tongue lolling out of her mouth. She seemed happy as a clam. Pilar wasn't quite that happy, but she was content. She had a good job be enjoyed, a lover she adored, and a nice house. She just missed her dear, departed sister. She turned off Bluebell street and down Violet Road, which hooked around and hit Bluebell again eventually. She always walked this route when Medli needed to go out.
Lionel | In the Shadow Plane, dusk and dawn have no meaning. Time is relative to the magical energies poignant in any particular place. Every Lithrydelian locale has its energies, be they good or ill. Even new settlements such as Chartsend are only new in their settlers’ eyes. Here in the great western frontier, where ruins of long-past wars stand as testament to things of which mankind and the other realm-wide races have no knowledge but for rare fables, an energy flows sure as the harsh sun beats down. In the Shadow Plane, the red orb masquerading as a star is never warm, but never cold; it’s tepid, an adequate yet vitally lacking rendition. The trolls, with their green skin as thick as hide and their mismatched eyes and boar-like snouts, wag their great heads and tense their lumbering bodies, crude bronze clubs and axes held at the ready. Thanks to the wonders of their master’s special artifact, an echo of the things on the other side -- on Pilar’s side -- can be seen like a see-through silhouette. They watch her, and her canine, and they snarl and snicker and sneer. They’re in on some joke together, the trolls, but they lack the language to speak it. Their only words are grunts, their only thoughts bloody murder. Her murder. For now, they watch. She won’t see them, not even a hint of them, and unless she has significant magical prowess she won’t sense a thing is awry.
Pilar had magical prowess, but it wasn't enough to put her on the alert. Mostly it just made her feel a little itchy. No, wait, that was just a bug crawling on her arm. She shooed it away, and continued on her walk. Medli stopped to sniff a light post, then squatted.
Lionel | In the real world, or so-called, anyway, dusk and dawn -do- have meaning. The sun, still warming Chartsend even at this hour and this time of year, dips below the horizon out by the oceanic waters further west of the frontier village. The townsfolk retreat to their homes, lighting lanterns which cast a mellow yellow glow upon the creeping shadows. By the close-cropped bushes of a garden near Pilar’s location, gentle green magic swirls to foretell the trolls’ arrival. They pop into existence seconds later, hidden in the shrubbery, quiet but attentive to their target’s proximity. One sniffs, and when it’s content that Pilar and her pup are alone, it taps the shoulders of its nearest companion with a sharp claw. The claw draws blood, alerting the fellow troll and enraging it, and all at once the shrubbery comes down in a ruckus as two trolls duke it out over much ado about nothing. There are five of them in full, and although this pair has made a right mess of any ambush, they’re still far more dangerous to other races than to themselves. Left to their own devices, trolls often kill one-another over these frivolous matters, but Kahran needs them all. If one should slay another without just cause, he’ll have the slayer executed for the crime. His army is not so vast as to spare these brutes. Not yet. So there Pilar will stand, her dog having squatted but a quintet of two-and-a-half-meter lizard-like killers breaking down the bushes and fixing their beady yellow eyes on her, weapons raised and howling. Soon enough, the pair of troublemakers collect themselves, ignoring the fresh cuts on their skin in favor of Pilar’s position. And then they charge.
Pilar | Medli just wanted to pee, gods damn it. But as the trolls materialized, she caught their foul scent immediately. Almost as immediately, the fight broke out. Pilar looked in the direction of the fighting and her eyes widened. She scooped up her dog and took off running down the street. Medli barked and barked and barked. If only phones were a thing, then someone could have called the guards. Alas, unless they happened upon a patrol, Pilar and Medli were on their own. Pilar looked over her shoulder at the stampeding trolls, then concentrated her magic, casting her signature invisibility spell.
Lionel | The trolls are not as quick as they should like, but they’re quick enough to keep Pilar in their sight… until they can’t. It’s terribly disappointing to them to suddenly lose track of their prey, and one might always feel the slightest pangs of sympathy when they whine. It’s a throaty whine, not without its bite, but it’s a shrill one nevertheless, and it amply illustrates the fear they harbor toward the prospect of returning without this woman’s head. As they whine, so too do they run, their heavy bodies banging on the paved road. They may have lost sight of Pilar but they have not lost Pilar’s scent. Panic is a sweet smell to trolls. It promises sweet meat and sweet reward. With snouts like these, panic is as fragrant cinnamon on a fresh-baked sweetroll. The trolls pursue, too slow to reach but too determined to fall behind. A woman of sixty or seventy years, holding a metal pan and grimacing, marches out of her house. “What is the meaning of this? I moved here to get away from tomfoolery, not nurse it! Do you heathens know what hour it…” She cuts herself off and drops her pan, her mouth agape. It thuds down hard on the ground, but the trolls are singleminded. They ignore it. They pursue.
Pilar raced to her house, constantly looking over her shoulder. The trolls weren't gaining, but they weren't falling behind. Impressive, to keep up with a vampire. Okay, so she was but a fledgling, but still. She soon reached her house, putting Medli on the ground to grab her key from her pocket. The trolls would have made it to her street by the time she got the door opened. She hurried inside, dragging Medli by the leash and slamming the door shut. Medli wheezed while Pilar looked out the window.
Lionel’s author retroactively pretends he remembered Pilar was a fledgling vampire, amending the canon for tonight’s chase such that the trolls do indeed lag behind at least a little bit. Let us say that they mostly keep pace, and then only because they are just that afraid of what Kahran will do to them if they don’t. Imagine a tyrannosaur chasing a person out of the blue. It isn’t hard to do, really, to imagine such a thing, when I helped make such beasts commonplace earlier this year via the Sauriangate arc. So let us say that an out-of-shape person suddenly sprints almost like an Olympian, because of the tyrannosaur. This is feasible, if only momentarily, due to adrenaline-pumping fear. That is what the trolls have done, now; it is written. Anyway, the trolls are fearfully pursuing Pilar, who shuts her door. Village people (not -those- Village People) open their own doors and shut them twice as fast, and the town guard just happens to be patrolling on the other end of Chartsend right now because that’s where local banditry seems to happen most frequently. This gives the trolls some time to start digging and clawing and prying their way through the door, which they do with remarkable gusto. It is not a common thing to watch five trolls trip and smack over themselves in heated passionate need to kill a person, but this is Pilar’s life now, XOXO. And when they rise -- and they do rise -- their eyes gleam with murderous intent. They raise their clubs and axes, and they snarl and growl and mutter one-syllable nothings to one-another. If Pilar could understand them, she would know that they’re arguing over who gets to kill a friend of Lionel’s and who must content themselves with watching. But she can’t, because trollic is not so much a language as a series of accented grunts. The argument, however, brings two of them to blows again, and they bash various decorations Pilar might have stacked about -- think pictures, goblets, even ornamental gnomes, no judging -- into oblivion. This angers the other three, but they press on toward the woman, saliva dripping all over the rug. Ugh, unkempt.
Pilar silently thanked the gods that Yozenra wasn't home. However, she did have a number of pets to protect, including Medli, who backed away from the trolls, barking up a storm. Pilar stepped in front of her dog and held out both her hands. Mist began to form, freezing, biting mist. It coated the walls, the furniture, the floor, and most importantly, the trolls. The mist turned to frost, which turned to solid ice. Pilar poured her magic into this freezing spell, focusing it on her attackers, on their feet and hands.
Lionel | With their thick skin and temperature-resistant breeding, these trolls aren’t as susceptible to cold as most. That isn’t to say they’re by any means impervious to it. They shiver as the mist turns to frost, and one of them drops its axe in a frenzy. Then, when ice is manifest, the shivering turns to shrill shrieks and howls. The trolls, who had thought themselves in control, are now facing the harsh reality that their master has sent them after prey with fangs of its own. That thought turns to hatred in their minds, and they begin to hack and slash their way through the ice. Even as they slip on the frozen floor, they press on, malice in their beady eyes, malice and scorn and hunger. They may forget to bring Pilar’s head, after all. Magical emerald swirls cascade through the chilled air ahead of Pilar, and Esche appears, robed in red, hood drawn back. His arms are outstretched even as he reveals himself, a spell of fire forging ahead of his hands. “Lar’athel shi’nnan!” He seethes with a malice of his own toward these trolls as his small fire rips across the room like a gust, crashing into all five and lighting them up like roasts. They squeal like pigs but still attack, disorganized and full of misses for they’re on fire now and accuracy is becoming rather impossible. Esche takes a step back and draws up his staff protectively beside Pilar.
Pilar backed away from the encroaching trolls, panic starting to set in. She yelped when Esche materialized in the middle of her living room, and shrieked as the trolls caught fire. She was even more flammable than they, after all. She knelt and hugged her whimpering dog, hiding her face in her fur while the trolls were immolated.
Lionel | The trolls have not backed down, scattered as they are, and their wild swings are sure to hit their foes eventually. Esche’s staff, made from the bark of some very durable tree, manages to deflect two swung clubs and the edge of a half-moon bladed axe. The axe has come perilously close to Pilar’s face. A troll on fire makes a maddening leap toward the vampire, arms wide in some distorted attempted embrace. Should it succeed, it’ll wrap its big arms around her in hopes of crushing her smaller frame, and the fire on its skin will surely wreak havoc besides. Esche mutters a foreign elvish curse as he lifts his hands up to protect Pilar as best he can, dark tendrils of energy swooshing across the room and then smacking the troll in its broad backside. With luck, this will help Pilar find time to escape. In any case, the elf has no time to waste; he casts more of this black magic upon the other intruders, slaughtering one in its tracks and giving the rest pause.
Pilar leapt away from the troll, bringing Medli along with her. She bolted, not for the exit, but for her bedroom. She threw open the door, knocking back her mutant badger Darmani, who'd been scratching at the door frantically. “Sorry,” Pilar murmured, placing Medli on the bed and opening the closet. She returned to the living room with a trident in her hand, then went to Esche's side, weapon at the ready.
Lionel | Between them, Pilar and Esche, the seared and chilled and panicking trolls should be dispatched easily enough. They’d chased Pilar to her home, but at her home she’s chased back with aplomb. Whether or not it would have been enough without elven intervention is hard to gauge just now, but there can be little doubting the combined effort of the pair regardless. As Esche takes a breath, apparently strained from his spellcraft, he taps each corpse for good measure. With another heavy breath, he twirls the fingers of his right hand, snuffing out the flames upon each of the corpses to prevent the fire from spreading. Then, as calmly as a monk, he speaks. “I came to deliver a letter. I had not thought to find you chased by creatures of darkness, my friend.”
Pilar looked at the troll corpses littering her house, then at the shattered, burned remains of her possessions, and sighed heavily. Her eyes went to Esche, eyes that had seen too much of violence, eyes that were sad, always so sad. “I'm glad you came when you did. Please, sit down. Would you like a drink? I have water, tea, and lemonade. Oh, and whiskey.” Pilar leaned Yozenra's trident against the wall. Gods, what a mess.
Lionel | Esche hesitates. He seems on the point of polite refusal. Something in Pilar’s eyes beckons him to accept; wisdom informs him it would be the wiser course not to leave her alone. There is also the matter of the Ishaarite spirit Levant nestled within his soul -- that magical being from the same land as Halycanos within Lionel’s fabled blade, Hellfire. Levant, who no one but Esche knows exists. Levant, who guides Esche, and who has guided Esche for far longer than the elf claims to have lived. Levant, whose wisdom eclipses even Esche’s. “Some tea would do nicely,” Esche says pleasantly, taking a seat despite the mayhem of the house. The sight of it, a prim and composed elf taking tea in a ruined living room where corpses are strewn like hay, might almost be morbidly amusing if life hadn’t come so close to death for Pilar and Esche just moments ago.
Pilar nodded and went to the kitchen. She returned moments later with a steaming mug of tea. It was entirely too soon for her to have gone through the whole process of making tea. In a world without microwaves, reheating had to be done with careful pyromancy. She handed the warm ceramic cup to Esche, then sat on the sofa. She looked again to the corpses and grimaced. She turned her eyes to Esche. Must look at something other than the carnage. “Thank you for your help. I owe you one.”
Lionel | Esche accepts the cup delicately, and he drinks its soothing contents ever more delicately. He nods humbly in appreciation of the offering, and after a few sips he places the teacup down upon the table with a softness. “Please, think nothing of it, or as little as can be thought given these incredulous circumstances. I merely did what any sane mind would: I saw danger and I acted accordingly.” He smiles before shaking his head and sighing. “An odd occurrence nevertheless. Do you have any idea why you were chased? And where these creatures came from? Trolls are not so uncommon in these parts, but to sneak past the guard takes more cunning than I’d thought possible for their lot.”
Pilar was as lost as Esche. “All I know is that I was walking my dog one minute, and they appeared out of thin air the next. I have no idea why they wanted me.” Pilar heard a whimpering noise and looked to the hallway. Medli and Darmani had ventured out of the bedroom. Pilar patted her leg and the two todled over to her. She pet them both, murmuring reassurances.
Lionel | Esche furrows his brow contemplatively. “Strange. I have never known trolls to possess magical prowess, nor to be led by one who does. Still, eliminating the impossible -- in this case, the notion that they made it past the walls undetected -- leaves only the possible, however improbable it might seem. Trolls cannot cast spells of any variety, meaning someone else did.” He purses his lips and breathes out through his nose, seemingly vexed by this development. “Someone has taken command of creatures notorious for their rebellious nature, compelling them in some way to do as instructed. Given the relatively peaceful state of the other houses I have seen, it seems their instructions were clear: your death.” Now, only Esche’s left brow is raised, and he finishes his tea with a haste. “I will have soldiers sent from Frostmaw for your defenses if you desire.”
Pilar swallowed. “My... but... But who...?” Then it occurred to her. The only mage powerful enough to do this, who also hated her. Larewen. But Pilar had stayed out of Vailkrin, as promised. Why would she send trolls to do her bidding? She was the kind of woman who'd slay Pilar herself. “I... I'll tell the guard here. I, I kind of have to...” Who else would clear out the dead trolls?
Lionel | As it happens, no sooner has Pilar’s mind drifted to the matter of clearing out the trolls than shadowy wisps swirl around them and in a blink they’ve all vanished. Their weapons vanish, too, and the majority of the blood they’d spilled in dying. Esche frowns, standing up and approaching the last known whereabouts of the nearest corpse. Cautiously, he taps the floor with his staff, confirming that it is well and truly gone. “Uncanny. The only other time I have seen such a thing… was when Frostmaw was attacked by those masked brigands who hoisted the various substances through its streets. They, too, disappeared in this fashion. Even their dead.” He glances to the emptied floor as if to accentuate the point. “I do believe you should have the guard redoubled, Pilar.”
Pilar gasped as the trolls vanished, one by one, leaving only smashed objects and burn marks in their wake. She nodded dumbly at Esche's words. Medli whined and Darmani trembled. Even they could sense something was wrong.
Lionel | Esche makes for the door. “I shall speak with them at once. I do not fancy the notion of these brutes returning.” He blinks. “Oh. The reason for my arrival.” He comes back, handing Pilar the letter with a polite gesture. | “Pilar, I’m sending you some coinage by way of caravan, as well as basic supplies. Chartsend is remote, and with winter coming, I thought it would be best to ensure you’re well-supplied. -Lionel”
Pilar nodded. “Th-thank you...” She read the letter and smiled softly. “Give Lionel my thanks. Be safe, Sir Esche.” Yozenra returned with dinner minutes after the elf left, took one look at the mess, and exclaimed, “What the HELL happened?!” Pilar sighed and went into the naga's arms. “I'll tell you over dessert...”
Lionel | Outside Pilar’s house, Esche paces with a frenzied step, grinding his teeth. He is taut, frustrated. Forging Lionel’s handwriting was easy enough, and telling the dwarves at Siochain to make the necessary preparations should be no great feat, either. Even should Lionel discover what he has done, Esche will have an easy time explaining the rationality behind the simplest of services. He will appeal to Lionel’s base need to help, to be the hero he will openly mock of himself until his last. No, the letter is not Esche’s woe; it had not even been written until two short hours ago, at the local tavern’s tables. Esche came to Chartsend because he knew there would be an attack, and he’s cursing himself for intervening. “You, too, have a base need to help,” Esche mutters in anguish, and Levant’s lilting tones ring through his mind in return. “It is for the best. Let them find small comforts before the end.” Esche remains unconvinced. And so the inner conflict rages on, as the elf disappears in much the same way as the trolls did, vanishing from this frontier town without a trace.