Part of the What You Leave Behind Arc
Summary: Bastion brings the survivors of the destroyed hamlet to Frostmaw. His eyewitness testimony of Kahran's latest crimes sparks the beginnings of a dangerous but hopeful plan for Lionel and Leone.
Leone doesn't necessarily have a standing appointment with Lionel, as the two briefly discussed meeting up just the night before, so it's only after the farrier has attended to the business of the two concerned sages from last night's affairs that the High Priestess makes her way to the Steward's office. Bertram, her personal-assistant Paladin is in tow - with a tray of tea. The sacred smith enters the room sharply, as crisp as a newly ironed bedsheet, and settles herself into the nearest available chair. Bertram continues to hold the tray of tea. The diminutive woman quirks a brow at the sandy-blonde man and inquires in her trademark gritty yet silken timbre, "Tea?"
Bastion was a bit hasty at this point, but he had good reason. Fortunately, he was known enough to be allowed to come this far, having stated that he had sensitive tactical information to share with those who stood against Kahran. He'd been directed to Lionel himself, after bringing a group of refugees all the way from Kelay. There were other places they could go, but Bastion didn't trust those places... Cenril, so full of crime and blind to the needs of the downtrodden, should they not show a particular sort of innovation and determination. Larket, because, well... that should be obvious. Xalious was already too vulnerable, the mages tower oversaw only so much. Frostmaw was a hard trek, but he'd promised it'd be worth the journey... because at the end of it, lay safety. Frostmaw was strong, and they needed such strength. Bastion was leaning heavily on a cane, his leg bandaged. He healed well, and magical aid helped immensely, but it'd still take a bit longer before this particular wound was healed. He came into the room shortly after Leone, looking for all the world placid and refreshed, in spite of the news he bore. "Lionel? I've come with sensitive tactical information pertaining to the warlord Kahran's forces. I only need a moment of your time." He didn't like being rude, and was talking over Leone, and shot her an apologetic look and introduction. "Excuse me, ma'dam. I don't mean to be rude." He'd extend a hand to her, and to Lionel, if they'd take it. "Bastion, a humble monk, at your service."
Lionel is up at dawn -- an easy feat for a man who hasn’t slept all evening. He snaps exhaustive fog from his body with a stroll through the courtyard; the fresh air and the frozen ground beneath his feet give his tired eyes no choice but to look lively again. “Lionel,” Esche greets with a bow, already in regal red robes again to match last night’s livery. Just when exactly does this elf take time to rest? Then again, Lionel has no room to talk. And, in a world plagued by so much darkness, Lionel is actually willing to keep his mouth shut for a change. The two converse for a time, watching the guards rotate and the snow-shovelers shovel snow as the swollen red sun rises to meet a Frostmaw littered with signs of the Yule Ball’s enjoyment. Eventually, Esche excuses himself to take tea with various diplomats. Lionel grunts and sneers at the notion, vastly preferring the company of alcohol lately. “Are you sure you won’t take some with us?” Esche’s plea falls on deaf ears. It’s rum, or wine, or whisky, for the morning’s chill. The emptied and half-emptied bottles of the stuff line his shelf like crude decorations, whilst the opposing shelf is filled with more than enough books to occupy even a Xalious mage for months. “Rum,” Lionel decides after staring into the fireplace. His desk, covered with stacks of letters ranging from trivial land arguments to truly absurd merchant outbursts, smells strongly of his chosen beverage already. What’s one more? Alone, Lionel cannot stop the world from burning to oblivion. Alone, he cannot prevent Kahran from his massacres, nor Macon from his totalitarian folly. Alone, he can’t even stop the bandits from raiding the Nameless Desert, or the Vailkrin Civil War. Not that he’d even try on that last count. But if there’s one thing Lionel can do all on his lonesome, it’s stick it to the man. Esche says tea; Lionel says rum. No one’s any the wiser for it but Lionel. The door swings open. Leone takes position upon a spare seat by the fire. That terrible monosyllabic word is uttered once more. “Tea,” Lionel repeats, smiling pleasantly as his head spins in defeat. He sniffs its scent, slurps it vigorously, and identifies its flavorful notes. It’s foreign to the tongue without the sting of alcohol in its bite. What a bizarre experience. “Kahran…” It’s the only word he manages before a goat-man takes him by surprise, takes that same word, and runs with it for multiple sentences. Lionel cants his head to the side, blinking. “You’re… that guy from the execution in Larket, aren’t you?” Bastion’s hand is shaken. Lionel is stirred by his arrival. “Nasty business, all that. I’ll not be standing for it. The real damned trouble of our realm right now is that it’s not even the worst of the lot. I’ll take anything and everything you’ve got regarding Kahran, but you look like you need rest most of all.”
Leone is slightly taken aback when Bastion bursts in, trouncing all over her oh-so-important meeting with Lionel. The farrier scowls - at first. Once the reason for the monk's intrusion is made known, the smith's forehead relaxes, and her brows ascend. Settling into the chair, she pours another cup of the special winterberry-flavored mixture for Bastion, and presents him with the cup. "Sit," she invites in monosyllabic measure. Her free hand sweeps toward the chair next to her. "Lionel and I were just about to discuss this very thing. Relax for a moment. Breathe. Gather your thoughts. And then tell us what you've seen." As almost an afterthought, she shakes his hand and pronounces, "Leone Svalbjorn. High Priestess of Aramoth."
Bastion had little real respect for titles, treated most people with the same deference and respect regardless of their station, saving his reverence for life its self over silly titles. Priests were an exception to this. Bastion paused, and gave a cherubic smile for Leone's introduction. "High priestess? Truly, a pleasure." He'd take her advice, and take a seat, breathing deeply, and centering himself. He looks to Lionel, remembering well Larket. All too well... such sorrow. "Another village has vanished to Kahran's forces, in southern Kelay. I managed to evacuate many, and brought them here. There are... few places of real safety for peasantfolk anymore. i hope Frostmaw can suffer this burden. But, I come bearing gifts." He whistled, and a boy brought in a birdcage, with a little spy in it. "I can recount the attack in detail if you wish, later, but here are the highlights of my discoveries. They used orc troops, bearing the ouroboros upon their armor. The orcs are controlled... poorly. They are brainwashed, magically. They likely do not even know what they are doing. I was able to charm a few using my Ki, and felt their vital energies. They are a chaotic mess, leavin their minds as soft as putty, easy to influence. It is a weakness born of a terrible burden upon the mind, a flaw of mass mind control. This bird was a spy, or a familiar perhaps. It was used to attack me, probably because I was the sole resistance to this particular invasion. There may be more to learn from it, but I haven't the means to know. I'm no magi, nor priest." He leaned back, rubbing his hand over his chin. "They came from another plane. They were not there one instant, beyond even my sight, then they poured in, prepared for battle. Whoever guides them, does so through another realm, and see's us well within it, most like." It wasn't his place to suggest tactics, but he thought it might be neccesary to fight Kahran on a plane of existence not their own. It was difficult for him to fathom. "Perhaps most importantly, in the end, I witnessed them doing something peculiar. A small family escaped from a house. There was an elf, and humans. They could not escape the orcs. The elf, they killed. The humans... they took alive. Threw them in sacks, took them with them. I can only speculate as to their intentions with these victims." With that, he took another deep breath, looking between the two, and feeling quite out of place. He was just a peasant monk, after all... this was a high priestess, and a high commander.
Lionel has to turn around to mask the shock upon his face as Bastion tells his tale. It’s a veritable deluge of new information, which makes him equal parts elated and uncomfortable. He crosses his arms over his chest, buttoning his scarlet silk shirt to occupy his fingertips. It’s a brief wave of normalcy to hear Bastion allude to the Shadow Plane amidst a storm of bizarre account. Lionel never thought hearing mention of that otherworldly realm would bring him back to a balanced sense of understanding in any conversation, but here we are, and orcs are kidnapping humans whilst marching to the mental leashes of their masters. “I… thank you, Bastion,” he manages to say. He turns around and unfolds his arms, although his hands feel all too idle at his sides upon hearing of yet another slaughter. “Thank you for saving so many lives. The villagers will be welcome here; I’ll see to that.” It may be cause for nominal discontent having a few extra mouths to feed, but this is war. Frostmaw can and shall find a way to make it work. “I suspected mind control was in play with the orcs, because there are just too damned many of them and we’d have heard if that many tribes went willingly to Kahran’s side. Knowing that chain is so breakable, though? Now ain’t that a thing. I don’t know what’s going on with those people you say were taken. I… I’ll need to think on that one.” Lionel fixes Leone a quick look. Maybe she’ll have ideas to that end. Somewhere in the back of his mind, however, he’s remembering the abominations Khasad created from human flesh deep within the Underdark a decade and more hence. His stomach is turning. “Kahran’s forces are attacking from a place we call the Shadow Plane,” he adds finally. “Full-scale warfare over yonder would be suicide. Even recon will be exceedingly dangerous.” He sighs. “But recon is what a few of us will be doing.”
Leone glances down into her cup. The cleric's hands clasp the porcleain walls a little too hard, and a muted slicing noise shatters the air. "Ah," the blacksmith says flatly, "We're too late. Too late for that village," she echoes in monotone, staccato syllables. The smith clears her throat, and lifts phosphorescent, peridot-hued eyes to Bastion. "We are grateful for those you could save, and of course for your own safety. Thank you," the clergywoman reiterates after Lionel. The luminescent gaze is swung toward the Steward now, and a curt nod issued at his significant yet subtle gaze. "Yes," she says simply, those brilliant, lime-green eyes sliding shut for a moment, as if she were pained. "Yes, I - history repeats, I suspect." There's a small pause, a brief moment of silence that unwinds like a ball of yarn pulled by a curious child. "I can look," the petite plover pronounces with an air of confidence. A brief nod is given before she turns back to address another subject. "These thralls," the salted-honey timbre slides over the words as if they were festive popped corn and not mutilated sapients, "Er. Have you ever raised a bird? Birds have a thing called "imprinting". You make yourself familiar to them, even caring for them to speed the process, and then they adopt you as one of their own. You become a parental figure, of a sort." The smith frowns, and looks back toward the one-time knight. "I can do that to people. Magically, I mean. I can...leave an impression, an imprint, on them and through it, I can see what they see. Perhaps the party doesn't need to be as big -nor as vulnerable - as we thought. If we can get our hands one of these...chattel."
Bastion listened to Lionel and Leone strategize. Well, this was in good hands. They were already planning, plotting, turning the information they'd gained into an advantage. This was, obviously, their sort of fight. It wasn't his, though. His fight was against famine, against tyranny and economic burdens. Turning bad crops into good ones, and turning bandits away from the common folk. He stayed where he was though, listening. "I don't know that I have anything of value to offer to such dangerous missions, my place is not in war. However, I might, with some help, have solutions to your issues of food. I have many... friends, and much experience in the works of the people. The people I've brought, the people of that small village, they are hard workers, and experienced, with generations of talent turned to a singular purpose. Give them land to work, and allow me to work with them, let me call upon my magi and fae friends, and the aid of some frost giants, and I believe I can feed your armies." Of course, in a land so rich in magic, there were many who knew how to work magic to see crops grow. But, he doubted many of them were so experienced as he in agriculture, or possessed such sight as his, such ability for unifying such efforts into united purpose.
Lionel | The wheels turn in Lionel’s mind as Leone suggests a course of action. It’s a sound one, as sound as they come in a land gone mad. “Now all we’ve got to do is find one of these thralls.” He says it grimly, though. He and Leone will both know it may not be so easy as stepping outside their door, and all for the better. But the wheels keep turning as Lionel reflects on that, and it dawns on him that there might be an answer to this conundrum right here and right now. “Ouroboros.” Lionel delivers the word with clear-cut pondering. “You said… ouroboros, Bastion. Earlier, I mean. It flew past me at the time.” His azure eyes flicker over to his expansive bookshelf. At once, he grabs a lacquered black tome and flips through the pages, humming audibly. “I thought so.” He places the book down gently upon his desk for the both of them to see, pointing at the relevant symbol. There’s text beside the book:
Lionel | “Belonging to a certain clan of Frost Giants rumored to exist far beyond the city, in the deep frozen wastes of bygone civilizations. The clan’s name has changed through the centuries. Legend foretells a great magical power within the proud warriors to whom the symbol ouroboros is emblazoned.”
Lionel | “This is where it gets weird,” Lionel carries on. “I’ve seen this symbol. Twice. First from a healer named Mulgrew who visited Frostmaw a few months back to tend to my squire, Rorin. Then upon the armor of a dwarf my friend Brand was hired to deal with by none other than Queen Hildegarde. With so much going on, I never put two and two tog…” He trails off, murmuring, and then he sighs into his tea. “These orcs are being supplied by the Frost Giants in question. Why else would they all be wearing such armor? And in good repair, I take it?” Lionel looks to Bastion for confirmation. “We find the tribe, and maybe we find out how best to capture a thrall. It’s roundabout, I won’t argue it, but it could mean a minimum of bloodshed. And it’d give us further clues to the inner workings of Kahran’s little shindig.” Would that it were little, or a shindig. “As for your kind offer, Bastion, Frostmaw gladly accepts, pending Hildegarde’s confirmation. We do things rather differently around here -- this is a culture of hunting and all it entails, after all -- but I’m sure something will click. We accept, right? We really should accept.”
Leone smiles gently at Bastion's offer of help. She nods, affirming that they, indeed, would appreciate a solution (or two. Or three.) to the shortages facing the wintry city. "You can also visit the Clinc, at the Frosty Herb, to speak to other healers who might make use of your talents and skills. If you go to the main road, near the center of town, you'll be able to speak to the merchants and peddlers. Find out what they need the most; what they sell the most that we're out of, what's being requested most frequently, and what they haven't seen (maybe for years) that used to be a staple. Perhaps we can use our own history to bolster today," the miniature metallurgist suggests. Her attention swings to Lionel, the repeated word bringing a furrow to her brow. She's also heard this word and dismissed it. The exact circumstances of its imparting is lost to the cavern of memories for the moment, but she nods in recognition. "Ah! Yes. I...believe I've...had to deal with them before," the blacksmith offers in halting consonants, "And approaching their camp unseen might proove difficult. We can scout first, and find the best route to take in and out. Where the most cover is, and surveil their patrols, as well as any visitors to the camp. Yes," the sacred smith agrees with the Steward.
Bastion bit his lip, thinking. He could work the land, help the healers, and bolster trade. If given the latitude to work on behalf of Frostmaw, there was much he could do, and he owed it to those he'd protected this day to do all he could. But, there was more. "Ah, I should mention... I can scry, if you need. Like magi do, but in a way that isn't magically detectable. My vision is... special. I don't see from my eyes. I see from... outside of my body. And my vision, it see's through things, both mundane and magical. I can extend this vision far, far outside of my body. If you need help scouting... I have the means to be of assistance. If you have need of it. I'm more than content to help in any capacity I may, and my talents are best suited to agriculture, healing, and bolstering trade." Not that he was a superb economist, but even the most tight fisted merchants loosened their purse strings for him with ease... in no small part because he was sworn to poverty, and no one ever questioned his intentions. He stood to gain nothing, and they didn't worry for being cheated dealing with him.
Lionel nods slowly. That damned recurring tension is back in his neck. Why does this this keeping happening lately? He perishes the thought before it joins all the talk of pending apocalypse on his ever-expanding list of woes. “Good call, Leone. I think it’s past time I got people on the same page with this war. I’ll host a gathering sometime soon, but we’ll need to be mindful we only invite those we thoroughly trust.” Too many spies. Too much darkness. The tension shoots like a dagger through Lionel’s spine; he bristles and puts his free palm to his desk. By the time Bastion has finished, Lionel has realized that he’s deeply indebted to him -- not only for all he has done, but for what he can do going forward. “Those we can trust,” he repeats. “Including you. We’ll welcome your aid in this mission. I’ll send word for the both of you just as soon as I’ve finished preparations.”
Leone rises from her seat, a smile offered to Bastion, along with a nod. "That is a most useful ability. We shall make use of it, I hope, in the coming weeks." The smith turns back to Lionel, her head canting to one side. "If you've further need of me: in counsel or in skill, I'm typically within the fort, and at least in Frostmaw." The petite plover steps forward, her hand delving into a pocket. A swirled yellow and red glass lion's head is produced, and slid across the desk to the Steward. "Hildegarde has a hummingbird, you get a lion. They deliver messages to me, promptly. Hand it a parchment, and tell it to go," the farrier explains briefly. A hand is waved toward her accompanying paladin toting the tea tray, who joins the smith in readying for departure. "I look forward to word from you," she states succinctly. The two then exit, leaving the Steward to his thoughts and his plans.
Bastion watches Leone rise and leave, and hopes he will live up to Lionel's expectations. There was a war coming, and there were many preparations needing to be made. Trust. He was easy to trust, thanks to his vows, his labors. Trust was handed to him easily, wherever he went, because he held it so sacred. He bit his lip, and nodded to Lionel. He rose, and bowed, and left. He'd get to work immediately.