Story of Reluctant Friends

The Village of Guilfort
The group enters Guilfort . . . and leaves again very quickly.

Chapter 7, Part 1: A Strange Invitation

As the three made their way into the town, the Lady Maire subtly

inched the group towards the shops and vendors that lined the street.
She would stop at any location that caught her eye. While Vladimir
looked more bored than usual, Lysandre took the time to investigate the
shops as well. In one of the shops, a small amulet had caught his eye.
It was a shield with a cross in it, decorated with a fleur de lis on
top. The Lady Maire thought it was too bulky for her, however, she did
express that it would look good on Lysandre. After not much thought,
the elf paid the shopkeep and donned the amulet.

The group continued their way down the street, still searching

for an inn that the Lady Maire would accept. Finally she pointed one out
and said with a smile and enthusiasm in her voice “That place looks
nice!” Lysandre read the sign, The Rusty Tankard. He wasn’t too sure about
the place, but before he could say anything the Lady Maire was already
dragging Vladimir in by his arm and shouting “Come on Lysandre! Vlad
says he needs a drink.” The elf sighed and made his way to the tavern.

The Shining Princess
Three travellers meet a precocious youngster . . . and his dangerous mother.

Chapter 6: The Shining Princess

The path through the mountains was much easier to follow than Vladimir could have hoped. Almost too easy, making Vladimir wonder if they shouldn’t have gone the long way around. The people in the trading post they passed spoke of dangers that ranged from bandits and demons to evil chipmunks that stole your trail rations. But so far the only danger they’d encountered was Maire’s incessant chatter. Despite all this time she never seemed to tire of new topics to discuss. Lysandre searched for repositories of information, and there was an open book walking among them that spewed out everything it knew. Vladimir wondered what would happen if Maire’s attention was put fully on Lysandre instead of him. The thought made him chuckle.

“I know, right! What kind of imbecile does that?! Everyone knows that’s not how that kind of trap works.” Maire chimed in happily, completely unaware that Vladimir had not been listening to her for at least two days.

As they came upon a pass between some boulders, a shadow passed over their heads. Lysandre looked up, a concerned look crossing his face, but continued without another word. Vladimir pulled his cowl back a bit and looked around, but the sun still shone high overhead and the rocks limited their vision to each side. So he pulled the cowl back down and kept moving.

All of a sudden, they heard a voice bellow in a slurred tongue, almost like that of a child, “Oh! She has come!” And with that a winged beast dropped down and landed in their path. About the size of a small horse, this beast had bright gold scales that shined brightly in the mid-day sun. As his eyes adjusted to the brightness, Vladimir saw gold and silver jewelry draped all over the creature’s body. It would almost look comical if not for the strong muscles that were beneath. Thanatos was quiet in its scabbard, so Vladimir drew one of his daggers and held it under his arm. The creature spoke clearly to them, “We haven’t had a princess grace us with her presence in soooo long, I am so happy to be making your acquaintance!”

The creature bowed its head deeply, and Vladimir realized it was bowing to Maire. Who quickly; almost too quickly, replied, “Fekiikiri, vorel othokent erthethurirl ghergo. It is so nice to finally meet someone who understands quality when it is before them,” as she flicked a strand of hair out of her face.

Lysandre’s hand tighteneed on the handle of his rapier, poised to unleash it at a moment’s notice. But the creature ignored the act and continued, “You are indeed beautiful my lady, but you seem too ill draped for one of your stature. If it pleases my lady, I have something for you.” And it lifted an enormous clawed hand and dexterously undid a silver necklace it was using as a bracelet.

Lysandre pulled Maire back, ensuring that the creature was still in his sight, and said, “I know this beast, it is a gold wyrm, a dragon. It is far more powerful and dangerous than it looks, we can’t trust it.”

But Maire’s face turned up a pout as she looked on the wyrmling and said, “Oh look at him, he is so adorable. Evil things don’t look like that!”

“No, I’ve heard of beasts like this devouring entire herds and destroying armies as if it were child’s play! We have to stop it before it gets a chance to fell us!” he said angrily. However, despite all the talk, the dragon never seemed the least bit concerned, it only sat back on its haunches and pointed up with its taloned hand. As they all looked, there on a boulder a ways away sat the biggest creature Vladimir had ever seen. It could probably stand up and tower over any building Vladimir had ever even heard of. One single talon was almost as long as Vladimir was tall. While beautiful, the sight made Vladimir so very happy his sword stayed silent, and he sheathed his dagger quickly. It looked at them and a trail of smoke escaped he side of it’s mouth. It almost appeared to be daring them to try something.

Lysandre blanched, and his hand leapt from his weapon. Turning to Maire said, “Perhaps we should indulge this little one. I mean he’s only asking for you anyhow.”

But Maire was already walking to the Wyrmling self assuredly. “Now, as you are a princess, you must know this, but your friends seem uneducated in the ways of proper folk.” It said as it glared at Vladimir and Lysandre in turn. “So I will have to remind them of the rules of a princess. Firstly, you must never do anything for beads.” And with that it draped the silver piece over Maira’s head. Vladimir had to admit, the beads fit all too well around her neck. “Your highness deserves them on principle, for she is definitely the prettiest. And second, you must find someone to buy you more shinies, ’cause a princess can never have too many shinies.” And with that and he glared at Lysandre and Vladimir again, keeping his gaze on Vladimir a tad longer, almost to accent the point.

“And from whom does this fine advice come?” Maire asked.

“I am Zarzithawthess,” said the creature with surprise dignity, prompting an enthusiastic introduction by Maire, and more grudging ones from the men.

The large dragon bellowed something in an unknown language, and the wyrmling replied back in the same tongue. Then turning to the party, the wyrmling said, “Mother says it’s time to eat, so I must leave, princess, but don’t let your servants mistreat you, or I’ll have mother punish them. She loves punishing dumb things.” And with that the dragon flapped it’s powerful wings and flew to its mother in the distance.

Lysandre and Vladimir shared a look of bewilderment, then shrugged. After a long travel, they finally exited the mountains and found a town. Vladimir was happy to finally be able to have a warm bed and a cold drink close by. The odd encounter with the dragon had Maire getting uppity about herself and talking about how they should learn to treat the Lady Maire with more respect, since she did so much for them.

The guards at the wall seemed confused to see people walking down towards them through the mountains, but didn’t question them. The town bustled with people, commoners, travelers, and even a group of people singing to passerby to their hearts’ content. Several streets presented themselves as options for an inn, but Vladimir didn’t have a chance to pick one as Maire turned him around and asked, “So what kind of shiny are you getting me?

The Three Finally Meet
An encounter in the monastery may create allies from strangers.

Chapter 5: The Three Finally Meet

The elf looked at the two with a confused look. It was clear that these were not monks. He drew his weapon and held it pointed at them. “Are you the ones responsible for this?” he said with a stern tone of voice as he made his way out of the tunnel. The sound of the creatures still beating against the door to the study could still be heard. Both Vladimir and The Lady Maire held their weapons aloft at the elf and studied carefully. They didn’t appear to be like the other monks here but no one could be too careful.

As the three stood with their weapons towards one other, Vladimir lowered his sword. “No, we had just arrived not long ago.” Vladimir said honestly. The Lady Maire followed Vladimir’s actions and sheathed her sword. Though the elf still looked skeptical, he too sheathed his sword. The elf looked at them both, and then relaxed. “We shall see.” He said as he took a quick look at the door; it wouldn’t be long until it would collapse at the hands of the monks. “Come, we’ll head back to the library and find a way out there.” The elf turned and walked back into the tunnel.

The Lady Maire sheathed her sword and looked at Vladimir with a smirk. “Told you so…” she said to him as she followed the elf into the tunnel towards the library, a strut in her step. Vladimir rolled his eyes and followed the two, only whispering something in his native tongue. As the passage to the library sealed, the door to the study finally gave way to the handful of monks that were thrashing at it. They looked through the room but found no sign of their meal. Several shrieked with anger as they left the study to find their food.

The Lady Maire had long since found the tunnel leading from the library to the monastery wall. However, fully aware that Vladimir tended to not appreciate it when she succeeded at a task quickly, she feigned further searching as the two men talked, verbally circling one another. The holy elf, finally introduced as Lysandre, was currently speaking.

“What are you doing here at the monastery? Why would you come here?” he asked, seeming calm. Still, the Lady Maire could hear the suspicion buried in his words, and decided to let Vlad answer, as it was really his quest after all. And also a bit because he hadn’t really explained it to her very much.

“I am looking for the origins of my sword, which I . . . inherited. The trail seemed to lead here. And you? I could ask you the same questions,” Vladimir replied, giving the elf a hard stare.

“A friend of mine, a mage named Caelan, was working on something before he died. I wish to continue his work, and came here.”

Neither man seemed to notice when the Lady Maire jumped a bit at this statement, as the two were engaged in an intense battle of wills. A moment passed, and both men seemed to relax fractionally. Lysandre continued, "The monks here were said to be scholars of _memento mori _and the danse macabre, and all I could find of Caelan’s work was a page torn from a book, which was in itself surprising, as Caelan was also a scribe. " He then drew a piece of vellum, brightly illuminated, from a sheaf of papers at his back. As the men looked at the paper, the Lady Maire could detect a faint amount of consternation on Vlad’s face. Taking pity on him, she asked the elf a question as she stood in front of the latch for the exit, disabling a small device meant to burn those who didn’t know the proper points to press.

“What is a memento mori? I know that danse macabre is elven for “Dance of Death,” which sounds kind of dreary. Is a memento mori better?"

Lysandre gave her a serious look. “They are both reminders of our mortality, that death will come to us all, and plays no favorites.”

“Sure,” thought the Lady Maire, “Doesn’t play favorites. Easy for an elf to say. Long lived jerks.” She pressed the lever before her, and the wall creaked open, revealing another dark tunnel. Out loud, she said, “Let’s get out of here.” Then she led the way to the open air at the base of the mountain.

The Holy Man's Tomb
Vladimir and the Lady Maire find more than they expected at a secluded monastery.

Chapter 4: The Holy Man’s Tomb

“I still say that it’s an odd name.” The man at the bar looked to his side as though unsure of what he would find there. As the Lady Maire slid onto the bench at the tavern, the taciturn swordsman raised his hand for another drink. The petite figure at his side blithely continued, “You should try John. Or William. Or Oisin. Those are good, normal names.” She raised her hand for a mead, then wiped the cup’s rim before taking a drink. “You never told me why you left Rus-” she looked confused, then shrugged. “Why you left home.”

“No, I didn’t.”

“Is it because your parents named you Vladimir? That would make me leave home.”

Vladimir realized that his mug was now empty. Once he gained the barkeep’s attention, he pantomimed a larger mug. He turned to the woman next to him while he waited. “Maire—”

“The Lady Maire,” she scolded.

He fortified himself with several swallows from his stein before continuing. “Lady Maire, we are here in town to accomplish something. If you are going to insist on following me, you will have to help me with this.”

She smiled, a happy, toothy smile. “I already have,” she said. “It’s a good thing you have me around.” Vladimir drank deeply of his grog, while signalling with his hand for another.

With one more strong kick the metal grate clattered to the floor with a pile of stones from where it once stood. Vlad pulled himself through the opening and dropped low, searching the light-less room for movement. There was none. Maire eased herself through, then proceeded to brush off all the dirt, dust, and cob webs that had accumulated as they climbed through the old sewer drain. “I still think you should have given me more time, I could feel the door giving way to my advances.” Vladimir didn’t look, but he could already see the self assured smile she had drawn across her face. He lifted up the makeshift torch he had fashioned before entering the tunnel and lit it with his flint. The room they were in looked like an old washroom, with basins around the outside that had mostly rotted away.

Maire did in fact get the exterior door to this ancient monastery unlocked, but it would not open to either of them, no matter how hard they tried. Vladimir had seen such enchanting done in his home country, he only knew that it was an old system, and not used anymore. Whether it was because they forgot how, or they thought it a hassle, he did not know.

It was only through sheer luck that he and Maire found this old sewer line that lead into the monastery. and despite all her objections that this was not how you properly entered an ancient ruin, she finally followed him. The crawl was long, but they finally made it to a metal grate that had become loose with age.

As they walked through the heavily stoned area, they came upon the main monastery. There were holes in the ceiling where the moonlight trickled in, but the torch still helped them see. They walked down one corridor after another, until they heard sounds. Moira had been chatting to Vladimir as they searched, and he almost missed the footsteps. “Maire, don’t torture me now, i hear something”. She listened for once, not even correcting him for not using her proper title. Instead, as they crouched around a corner and listened for the footsteps coming closer she whispered, “Vlad, we really must work on your English. You keep saying torture when you mean talk to”.

Vlad was ready with a reply when a whole new feeling washed over him. The dread seeped into his very soul, and before he knew it he had his hand on his sword. He peeked around the corner and saw a man wearing old tattered brown clothing standing with his back to him and wearing a loose hood. Ah, so there still are monks here, he thought to himself as he tried to suppress theis feeling of dread and walked towards the hooded figure. As he neared the man, some sand crunched on a stone, so the monk turned around. And Vladimir drew his sword.

The man’s face was drawn tight across his bones, and down the front of his robe was a long dry stain from where his jaw had fallen off. He saw Vladimir and it seemed almost like a smile of pure joy and rage crossed what remained of his face, and he lifted up two bony hands and lunged at Vladimir with a soundless scream.

Vlad threw down his torch and swung with both hands, his blade cutting through the ancient being easily, but despite a cut across the chest that would have killed any man the creature still moved forward. A crossbow bolt flew past Vlad’s ear and hit the man right in the forehead. His head exploded into dust from the impact and the crossbow bolt continued wide and impaled itself in a wood panel. The creature’s husk fell back and crunched under its own weight. As Maire came up to Vladimir she pulled the bolt free and muttered in her motherly tone, “I swear Vladimir, you’d never survive without me.”
“I seem to recall I wandered for many long years… before… you…. Do you hear that?”

The Lady Maire added her weight to the large doors, pushing them closed with great effort. She and Vladimir smiled at one another in relief. Vladimir then seemed to realize what he was doing, straightening with a frown. On the other side of the door, the sound of flesh on stone and wood continued, unabated. The Lady Maire could smell the stench of old death even from inside the room.

Looking the room over, they found themselves in a study of some sorts, a private room for a higher ranking monk to take books and scrolls and look them over with more privacy than the main library likely afforded. The table was miraculously intact, but the small bookcase and chair had long ago fallen into debris. As Vlad fortified the room, shoving a wrought iron floor candelabra into the handles of the door, and checking the small window, the Lady Maire poked around in the debris of the bookcase. Picking up a piece of parchment, she started to call to Vladimir, but her voice was drowned out by the sound of something large slamming into the door of the room.

Quickly stashing the paper, the Lady Maire helped Vlad shove the heavy table in front of the doors. She then began searching the walls, running her hands over the stone, and occasionally stopping to rap on a stone. Vlad looked at her in bewilderment.

“Maire-” he began.

“The Lady Maire,” she replied absentmindedly.

Vlad said a word in his native tongue. The Lady Maire decided she was glad she didn’t yet know his language. He attempted a calming breath, then with a concerned peek at the the quivering door, asked, “The Lady Maire, what are you doing? We need to find a way out of here.”

It was as he completed the sentence that he heard a great screeching of stone on stone. The Lady Maire stepped back and crossed her arms over her chest. Vlad briefly closed his eyes, no doubt in wonder, then rubbed his hand over his face. “That’s a tunnel, isn’t it?” he said wearily.

“It should run to the library,” she said. Her smile, however, was shortlived as the smell of several long rotting bodies reached them, with the sound of movement. She drew her sword, Vlad doing the same, noting that once again the sword fairly leapt from the scabbard. Both faced the entrance to the tunnel, and the approaching creatures.

This wave of monks seemed larger than the last, and both of them knew that they were nearing exhaustion due to the other wounds on their bodies. Sharing a concerned look, they had just cut down their first opponents when light filled the tunnel, sending a sense of comfort through them both. The light seemed to have the opposite effect on their undead enemies, though, sending several of them running, and even turning one to dust with its power. An elf stepped into view. He seemed calm, despite the several cuts in his well made clothing, and the dirt smudged upon his cheek. He set himself against the wall of the tunnel, and raised his hands again.

The Elf with the Divine Purpose
A man of god finds further meaning in life . . . and in death.

Chapter 3: The Elf with the Divine Purpose

The elf rested by the fire as he focused on his scriptures. It had been a week since the death of his friend Caelan, and Lysandre had been keeping to himself the entire time. His dear friend had passed in his early sixties, and Lysandre had taken this tragedy hard. He stayed absorbed in his scriptures; none of the other monks could tear him away from his studies. He seemed to be looking for something, a sign of why this had to happen. As he turned the page, he saw the picture of an angel dressed in what appeared to be a poor man’s attire. The caption underneath read:

“Azrael, the angel of death, is the Arch Angel who comforts the souls of the dying and leads them to the glory of heaven. Also know as The Comfort of God, he is depicted with a journal which he keeps the names of all those living on the world. He is forever writing names in and crossing names from this book. He also comforts the loved ones of those who have passed to the kingdom of Heaven….”

It was as if God himself had brought this before the elf. That night he spent reading, and finding out whatever he could on Azrael. Surely this would have the answers he sought. He looked through all he could find on Azrael, death, the passing of souls, even undeath was a topic covered in much of what he read. Soon, however, his resources at the monastery had expired, and he knew that he would have to venture forth into the world if he wished to know more. He wished Caelan could see him as he readied himself. He wasn’t sure what he’d be after, but he knew he’d have to prepare.

Over the next few weeks, Lysandre began focusing more on his combatant trainings. When asked why, he would just say “I can’t just remain here; I feel that I now have a purpose.” After a month or so, he took his sword, Athanase, and left the monastery taking only what he could carry, leaving a note addressed to his parents. As he walked away from the monastery, he thought to himself. “I still don’t know why, but I have to finish what Caelan started. I have little to go on…and not as much skill as he had. I feel that he’ll protect me, and that Azrael and God will see to it that my purpose is fulfilled before my time is over. Perhaps I’ll return one day…” He says, staring down at his prayer book opening it to the first page. He writes his name in. “Lysandre Carnavalet…and now it starts.”

The Travelling Swordsman
A foreign man with a magical blade enters the scene.

Chapter 2: The Travelling Swordsman

As he came upon the ledge, he looked down at the scene unraveling before him. The young woman seemed to almost dance around each of her opponents as she attacked and defended, scoring hit after hit against the thugs that surrounded her. But despite the bodies already at her feet, this was no dance, and without help she was doomed.

The largest of them all swung his giant ax like a club, obviously strong, but not well trained. The young woman used that to her advantage as she danced around his clumsy swings and struck at the others that moved in. But her skill alone wasn’t enough. She started to accept nick after nick and the strain on her body and mind showed as each of her movements began to slow and falter. Until the axe finally connected.

He was already in the air as he saw it happen. The axe which she had so deftly avoided finally connected, and despite her best effort to block, the axe bit into her side and she was launched through the air and landed with a resounding thud onto the ground. The thugs started to move in, but then Vladimir landed among them. They jumped back in surprise as he knocked an opponent to the ground with a resounding kick to his head. The other thugs reacted, and swung their weapons, but Vladimir rolled past them and put his body between the delirious Maire and their enemies.

He thought about saying something grand about them leaving with their lives, but knew from experience that for men like these, those words were pointless. He brought his hand back to his scabbard and grasped the handle tightly. Thanatos seemed to leap from its scabbard, almost as if it yearned for the blood of these men. Vlad wondered if that were not truly the case, but put those questions to the side as he focused on them. He held the blade up and pointed it at the large man with the ax who now seethed with anger at this newcomer. “You die first.” And with that, dove in.

The burly man swung the axe straight for Vladimir with a roar of defiance as if he would stop even death itself with his strength. Vladimir ducked under the blade and brought up his own sword with all his might. The blade sliced through bone and flesh just as easily. His roar of defiance echoed one last time in the ears of his allies as he fell backwards and blood pooled the ground around him. But this was not over.

His friends attacked Vladimir all at once, out of anger or fear they themselves probably didn’t know. But they were foolish. Vladimir’s blade struck through one, then another, and then another, until only one remained alive, the one Vladimir had kicked when he first landed. Vladimir looked at the young man who hadn’t even passed his teenage years. Both cleaning and sheathing his sword in one swing, Vladimir slowly walked towards the young man who now stood alone, shakily holding his sword with both hands. Vladimir walked up, and grasping the handle of the sword said, “It is not your time, there is still time to change.” Then with his other hand he knocked him to the ground, knocking him unconscious.

The young woman rose, clutching her side, her face betraying her awe at what she just saw. Vladimir grasped the healing potion hanging from his belt and tossed it to her. She caught it easily, but when she turned back, Vladimir had already raised his cowl and begun to leave.

The Lady Maire
An intrepid do-gooder finds herself in over her head.

Chapter 1: The Lady Maire

She seethed as the two bandits came into sight. Exactly as she’d thought. The two men were supposed to keep the peace here in the village of Belfort, and instead they took from the people their very livelihoods. She remembered the village seamstress crying as she hung clothing out to dry, and the young midwife’s son who was unable to play once he was attacked in the forest. It was said that his leg might not heal properly, he’d been so savagely beaten.

Luckily for the village, the Lady Maire was here to make things better. Lining up her shot at the village chamberlain, she aimed for his ill-dressed torso. She released the shot with a soundless huff of disgust. They weren’t even dressed properly to be thieves. Their brown doublets were dirty, their shirts stained. And she was incredibly grateful to be upwind of them as well. As the elf fell, she leapt into the clearing with her sword drawn, lining up an attack on the other man. Once he, too, fell to the ground, she stood over him, tossing her black hair. “That will teach you to steal from the poor!” she said to her fallen enemies.

“Will it, Guy?” said a man from behind her. The Lady Moire turned slightly to see an enormous man next to her, holding an axe nearly the same size as she.

“I’m not convinced, Jacques,” another voice replied. Just then, the voice’s owner stepped from the trees as well, an arrow nocked to his bow. Four more men, as badly garbed and holding various weapons, stood at his side.

The Lady Maire stepped over the body at her feet, brandishing her sword. “I suggest you surrender now,” she said with more confidence than she felt. Taking stock of her opponents, she made note of each man’s weak and unprotected points. She’d need all the help she could get in this battle. She thought to herself, “I really must stop wishing for bigger challenges.” Then she went for the man with the axe.


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