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  #51  
Unread 30th of March, 2005, 12:50
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Aashya

"Why did you wander off like that?" Aashya asks Heuwlen when they meet at the barn. "The farmer is terrified of something nearby, and you disappear into the darkness, alone!"

Aashya is scared. The wind picks up, spitting occasional, fine droplets of rain into her face, and chilling her to the bone. She tells herself that it's the change in weather that makes her feel so cold, but it might be something else.

Of course she realizes that Heulwen wasn't really alone when she followed her nose to the barn - the halfling had the wogren with her. Aashya hadn't actually been so much worried about Heulwen wandering off into danger as she was concerned about the group splitting up more than it already was.

"Let's stay together," she says again, this time with a note of pleading in her voice. "Roth, I know you want to find the girl, but you have to be sensible. We can't see a thing out here! What good will it do us, or that man's daughter, if we stumble around blind in the dark?

"Let's get him back into his house, and calm him down. If we offer to help him find her in the morning maybe he'll let us sleep inside tonight." Even in the dark, the others can see that she is staring nervously toward the forest. "We don't want to go into the woods... yet."
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  #52  
Unread 31st of March, 2005, 16:52
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Dun

A feeling of foreboding overcomes him as Dun remains quiet, trying to listen and take in all that is being said and not said, trying to make sense of it all.

OOC: Cad, PM sent.
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  #53  
Unread 2nd of April, 2005, 05:52
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Heulwen

Just to spite Aaysha for her rebuke, Heulwen very nearly turns around to head for the woods right now. What right did this girl have to tell her what to do? Heulwen may still be young, but she'd probably seen far more than Aaysha in her years as a slave to orcs and worse. She knew how to take care of herself.

That common sense, however, quickly brings her back to reality. Aaysha was scared, much as the farmer was, and a fear of the unknown was perhaps one of the most powerful in Aryth. For what was unknown to men, was probably known to the Dark God, and what was known to the Dark God, was invariably evil.

Shaking her head clear of such forboding thoughts, Heulwen steels her resolve, refusing to give into the fear as Aaysha seemed to be ready to do.

"If the farmer's fears are justified, whatever chance the farmer's daughter has, if it is not gone already, will be gone by morning. Are you willing to leave her to an unknown fate while you sleep in her bed?"

Heulwen's voice, when she asks the last question, is not harsh or bitter, as her words might suggest, but honest and open, as if she were asking about the weather or dinner.
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  #54  
Unread 2nd of April, 2005, 09:36
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Aashya

Aashya shivers as a weight as cold and heavy as an anchor stone drops into the pit of her stomach.

"Heulwen, please!" is all she can say in response to the halfling at first. Her cheeks burn with shame, but really, why should anyone expect her to take this kind of risk for a stranger? The girl's own father was too afraid to go looking for her, though he obviously cared much for his daugher. If he won't do it, why should we? she wants to say.

The thought of going into the woods terrifies her. Even under the best of circumstances she doesn't like the forest. Wild animals.... Dark shadows.... Sinister apparitions lurking behind twisted tree-shapes. It is a primeval fear.

And the girl's own father is too afraid to go in! Aashya can't help coming back to that thought over and over.

"It's dark," she finally says. "We'd fall into a pit or something, and you can't follow tracks without light. We'd need to carry torches, and then... and then we'd be easy to spot."

But Aashya knows that they are going to do it anyway. How can she argue in favor of leaving the girl to her fate, of doing nothing?

She wanted to make a difference in the world, and here she has found her first real chance.
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  #55  
Unread 4th of April, 2005, 10:20
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Lyr

The sincerity rings flat in his ears. It strikes him as odd that it should sound so. After all, if these men truly did lose their wives and daughters, wouldn’t he feel sorrow? Or would their loss pale in comparison to what he’s never had? The scholar shoves the thought aside as Callum replies.

“No. No slavers here,” he says with his characteristic glumness as if armed men stealing their women would be a welcome change. “Some of them just”—he catches a wary glance from a nearby patron—“vanished. Been happening for a while now. They even sent a patrol here, but they didn’t find anything. They didn’t want to go in the woods. I asked if they wanted to take anything out of my stores, but they said no. Can you believe it? Said they’d rather drink mule piss than me ale.” He sounds hurt.

Aashya

The forest is not a familiar sight. She’s seen trees before, of course she has, but they don’t feel familiar. Her people are creatures of cities and plains, not woods and groves. While things can lurk in the rolling plains, they can do it much more easily in a forest. Shadows lay thickly and a predator could find many places in which to ambush a unwary sarcosan girl.

But his daughter is missing.

Fear wars with conscience and the together they wreak havoc on Aashya’s soul.

Soradur clears his throat and lightly taps Aashya on the elbow. “Ah, what’re we doing out here now?”

Dun

Dun pretends to study his ale, taking an occasional pull for effect, and listens intently to as much as he can. Callum had only half-lied when he said that the drinks were watered down. Dun’s had much better than this, but he imagines it could get the job done. Casting a quick glance around he wagers these men could use it.

Their conversations resume, and they seem to have relaxed slightly. Perhaps it’s due to Shalm’s apparent acceptance of Aleina. Or perhaps they’re too weary to be suspicious. Either way, Dun listens.

The men talk of the harvests and fishing and when the next gnome ship is due. The missing women never even come near the conversation and Dun can tell that those sitting closest to Lyr are becoming increasingly uncomfortable by the scholar’s questioning.

Heulwen

Despite her naivetť, Aashya does have one good point: they’ll need torches for this and that will make them far easier to detect. If it’s men then they’ll need light too. They can’t be camped too closely to the forest’s edge or else the townsfolk would’ve been able to find them out. Yet Heulwen isn’t certain that this farmer would be so terrified by men alone.

The lack of knowledge is unsettling. She wracks her mind for any scrap of information to help, but nothing comes up. If a predator was hungry enough, they might very well snatch a girl over a goat or a pig. Grass cats have been known to stray into the woods in search of prey from time to time, but she isn’t as familiar with the forests as she is the plains.

One other possibility enters her mind and she likes it not. Fell. A newly risen Fell would have enough guile to wait until the girl was just close enough to the woods to snatch her up and if there were more than one…then the farmer would have plenty of reason to fear indeed.

Aleina

Sometimes her visions can take a while to leave her. This is one of those times. The thought of what has not yet come to pass can often be far more real than any true memory. The fact that they so very often come true is worrisome, but then again, she has seen worse. Not much, perhaps, but there have been worse visions.

Shalm nods his head, seeming to accept her answer, and then goes back to speaking with another patron. The mood hasn’t changed much in the One-Eyed Fish but it hasn’t grown more hostile. For that Aleina is grateful. She hasn’t fled across the Westlands from certain death only to be made into some pleasure slave.

The men here have gone back to their conversations, but the topics remain the same. Despite the sudden presence of Aleina and her companions, these men do not seem willing to speak of the women. Well, except Callum, but he seems happy to talk about anything that’s not. Yet even the dolorous bartender doesn’t divulge much in the way of details. He seems to know better than to do that.

Except…what did he just say about the woods?
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  #56  
Unread 5th of April, 2005, 03:59
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Aashya

She'd almost forgotten about the dwarf. She had explained the farmer's plight to him as they'd walked in the dark to the barn. But now he must be wondering what she and Heulwen were saying to each other.

Aashya switches back to using the Trader's Tongue.

"We're trying to decide what to do," she says in answer to his question. "I thought we should wait till morning to look for the girl, but Heulwen thinks that by then it may be too late to help her."

The dwarf is just a stocky shadow among other, less substantial shadows in the dark, except for the glint of his eyes. Aashya wonders what he thinks about the forest, if he fears it as she does. It's hard to imagine that grim face, emblazoned with such fierce tattoos, showing fear. Remembering that he can see better in the dark than she can, Aashya sets her jaw and tries to banish the demon of fear from her own mind.

"We'll need torches to see by.. if we go in now."

She starts to say more, but finds that she can't.
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  #57  
Unread 6th of April, 2005, 03:48
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Aleina

The woods

Her heart skips a beat. The same wood the others were headed for? She turns her eyes toward Callum, projecting relaxation as best she could. Her tone stays conversational.

"What has a patrol to fear of the woods?"

Inside, though, her mind has already moved past his answer. No matter what he said, she would need to confer with Dun and Lyr in private. And who was the man Feyd had named? Not Callum.
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  #58  
Unread 6th of April, 2005, 04:57
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Dun

Taking in everything that has been said thus far, and all that have been left unsaid, Dun liked it less and less.

He concludes, they've given up. They've resigned their loved ones to their terrible fate, whatever it may have been. Dun's initial impulse was to scream out at them, "Never give up! Never give in! Never abandon your loved ones!!" But alas, Dun knows now, as he have always known, little good that would ever do. Besides, even an orc patrol, for some reason, had feared to venture into the woods. What an awfully strange thing to hear. But what may be even worse is what's in those woods. Dun shudders at the thought, letting his imagination run wild.

Dun continues to try to read Callum's body language and gauge his reaction to Lyr and Aleina's questions.
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  #59  
Unread 6th of April, 2005, 19:38
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Lyr

"Ahh, well." The conspicuity of the sensitivity of this topic begins to wear on him. Lyr takes a long sip of ale, concentrating so hard on thinking that he doesn't notice the flavour at all.

Which is probably a small mercy, all things considered.

Unfairly, his companions are still relying on him to thrust to the heart of this conversation. Gathering his courage, Lyr continues to ask questions around a theme, unhappily calculating their chances of making a break for the door when these locals get tired of his prying. Whatever his flaws as a friendly conversationalist, however, his nimble and rational mind is good at seeking out the essential facts of the matter.

"What do you mean, 'vanished'? Did they disappear indoors during the night, or in plain sight during daylight? Were there signs of struggle, or missing possessions?

"How many have you lost? Were there any similarities or patterns of age or marital status in the women?

"A patrol? From where?"
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  #60  
Unread 13th of April, 2005, 21:54
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Heulwen

"A lantern would be better," Heulwen replies, "Ask the farmer if he has a bull's eye lantern. That way we'll be able to control the light better and cover it up if needed."
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  #61  
Unread 13th of April, 2005, 22:53
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Rhotha'ah

As the two women and the dwarf speak to one another in a language unknown to him, the big Dorn starts getting edgy. There was a girl missing and every second they wasted talking about what they were to do meant that she was getting further into danger, closer to death.

He starts to tap his foot back and forth, impatient with the inaction and needing some way to release the tension building within his body. He wanted - no, needed - to hunt.
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  #62  
Unread 14th of April, 2005, 00:07
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Heulwen

Noting Rhotha'ah's impatience, Heulwen switches to a language he can understand and reiterates her suggestion, "We're going to need some source of light to follow the girl's trail. One of you should ask the farmer if he has a bull's eye lantern we could borrow. It'll be easier to manage the light from it than from a torch. Allowing us to hide the light, if needed, without putting it out."
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  #63  
Unread 14th of April, 2005, 03:42
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Aashya

A bull's eye lantern.....

Aashya thinks that she knows what Heulwen is talking about - a lantern that will shine brighter than torchlight, and in just one direction. It's a good idea, better than carrying torches. IF they can get the farmer to let them borrow one.

She doesn't like what the halfling has to say about hiding the light if they need to though. It's all too easy for her to imagine the utter darkness that would surround them with no light out there in the woods.

"I'll go ask him," she answers Heulwen, turning back toward the field where they'd left the farmer. "Come with me?" she asks with a hopeful glance in Soradur's direction. She'd feel more secure with the keen-eyed dwarf going ahead of her in the dark.
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  #64  
Unread 15th of April, 2005, 10:48
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Aleina

What could frighten a patrol? The possibilities worry her. Be they orcs or humans in the service of the Shadow, it would take a good deal to convince a score of hardened soldiers to that their interests lay elsewhere. Yet what would do it? Brutal resistance could. Several dozen well-trained rebels could make the thought of traveling through the woods a less-than-ideal proposition. However, if there were rebels here, would there really be an issue with women going missing? Unless the rebels required payment…

Elves could do the job far better than the rebels and intimidate the hell out of any would-be shadowfriends. She’s heard tales of the resistance they put up even now in Erethor. Some say they’re as good as invisible when in the forest and that one doesn’t see them until it’s too late. But why would they be here? And what would be happening to the women?

The last possibility is the supernatural. A spirit, or a collection of spirits, could cause enough trouble to ward off any investigations. It would take a legate of no small power to banish them and perhaps the church doesn’t care enough about Fairbrook to put forth the effort. Or it could be newly risen Fell. Orcs have little love for the dead. Then again, they have little love for things that don’t feel pain.

But Callum is unwilling to answer her question. He shakes his head quickly and looks down, filling another mug with his watered-down ale.

Heulwen, Rhotha’ah

Aashya and the dwarf move off toward the farmstead. Heulwen notes that the young sarcosan seems downright quiet in comparison to the dwarf’s bulk. But dwarves aren’t built for stealth. Turning her eyes to Rhotha’ah, she realizes neither are dorns.

She sniffs again, trying to catch any more hints laying in the night air, but discovers nothing beyond the familiar scents of her companions. Rhotha’ah smells of oil and leather and dried sweat. Soradur’s odor is similar but has less leather and more stone in it. Perhaps the legends of dwarves being forged out of the earth itself were true. Aashya though, smells of almost nothing at all. She could stand a bath, but beyond that it’s quite neutral.

Rhotha’ah squints his eyes in the dark. Light from the house sheds little enough for his eyes out here. The halfling has the right of it when it comes to a lantern. It’s hard enough to see now, in the thick of the woods it would be as good as a cave. The secrecy is likely needed, but it doesn’t sit well with him. Better by far, in his opinion, to light up as many torches as they can and try and take the girl back by force.

Provided she’s still alive.

Dun
Callum is nervous, that much is plain as day. He doesn’t like being asked all these questions. His frown, while likely close to a permanent feature of his, deepens at some of the inquiries made by Lyr and Aleina. Upon second though, Dun supposes that Callum isn’t so much nervous as he is uncomfortable. Perhaps he doesn’t like talking about the missing women in front of the other patrons. Perhaps he has something to hide. Either way, he isn’t happy.

But given his demeanor, Dun wonders if Callum is ever happy.

Aashya

Soradur nods and walks next to her, a stout, but comforting, shadow amidst the rest of the darkness. Their feet softly crunch on the grass as they make their way back to the farmer. They find him in the exact same position as before: kneeling upon the ground, staring at his open hands. He barely moves, even when Soradur clears his throat to indicate their presence.

Aashya asks him as gently as she can about a lantern. It takes a few moments, but the farmer finally responds.

“Bull’s eye?” His voice sounds distant. “No, Elia. We’ve just got the hooded ones over the hearth. You know that.”

Lyr

His questions are precise and to the point, and if these villagers were predisposed toward helping him, Lyr might have gathered a crucial bit of evidence. Unfortunately for him, they’re not interested in speaking. Not even Callum, who will glumly reply to most questions, answers.

A man sitting to Lyr’s left, sporting a scraggly beard and thinning hair, leans over to the scholar and whispers in his ear. “Best not ask those questions, lad. Some o’ the men here have lost their wives or daughters lately.”
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  #65  
Unread 17th of April, 2005, 22:17
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Aashya

He called her Elia.

Aashya kneels down beside the farmer in the dirt of the fields. Maybe she looks something like his lost daughter. Or maybe she doesn't; she wouldn't have to, really, in order for his imagination to take over and lift him out of the painful reality.

Her thoughts fly backward, searching for a memory of her own father. But there's nothing that far back, just a vague, misty grayness in her mind. There might be the trace of a haggard face floating in the fog. A small man... stooped shoulders..... The image is accompanied by an air of despondency.... and indifference. That face never looked at her and smiled.

It's easier to think of the gnome fathers with their children. There was laughter, and scoldings, on the River. Play and work. Gnome children crowded around their fathers at the end of the day to tell stories and to hear them. Gnome fathers sat at the heads of the family supper tables, dished out wisdom and judgements, and basked in the glow of their children's love.

"Weíve just got the hooded ones over the hearth. You know that."

"I-- I know. Papa." Aashya can't bear to intrude on his fantasy by not being Elia. "Let's get you inside now. It's late." She helps the farmer climb to his feet, ready to lead him into the house.
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  #66  
Unread 19th of April, 2005, 04:50
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Aleina

Of course the glum innkeep doesn't answer her. It was clear that they had pushed their lukewarm welcome as far as was wise. She wanted to leave, to warn the others, but her heart begged otherwise. The ghostly afterimage of her impromptu vision still haunts the edges of her mind. What would happen if they left now?

Changing the subject, she tries to focus on what Feyd had told her.

"Well, we won't be staying long and we don't mean to intrude. Did you inherit the inn from Kerrich?"
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  #67  
Unread 19th of April, 2005, 14:33
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Dun

Shocked at Aleina's mention of the name, Dun almost missed out on what she initially stated, thinking, [i]What do you mean, we won't be staying long?[i] Nevertheless, he awaits Callum's reaction while keeping an eye out to see if she got the attention of any townsfolk.
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  #68  
Unread 20th of April, 2005, 09:36
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Aashya

Shadows lay thick throughout the humble farmstead. There is but one latnern that's lit and its light is weak. Yet even if it were high noon outside, Aashya can see all she needs to. To call this home sparse would be an understatement. A small wooden table is shoved in one corner with two simple stools and a plain brown rug sits across the otherwise bare floor. The hearth is against the far wall. Two logs dwell within, unburnt. She has little trouble finding a lantern.

Fresh light spills across the room, but it reveals little more about the farmer and his missing daughter. A few stray pots and some dried herbs hang above the hearth itself while a small black kettle hangs inside of it. A pair of small rooms without doors lay on the far side.

The farmer shambles past her and through one of these doorways. Aashya hears the sound of him lowering his bulk onto a simple bed. He sighs once and calls out to her.

"Don't stay up. We got a lot to do tomorrow."

A few minutes later she's back with Rhotha'ah and Heulwen.

Aleina

"Eh?" Callum raises an eyebrow, while watching Aleina return to her stool between Dun and Lyr. "Did you know my da?"

Last edited by Cadrius; 21st of April, 2005 at 02:19.
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  #69  
Unread 21st of April, 2005, 17:26
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Lyr

The scholar frowns in perplexity at Aleina, wondering of whom she is speaking. Being verbally cold shouldered by the crowd has left him rather dispirited, and not inclined to press his own questions further.
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Unread 21st of April, 2005, 22:57
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Heulwen

"Cytaill, a human girl has gone missing in the woods where we planned to camp tonight," Heulwen says, explaining to Cytaill what is happening, "We're going to go look for her, but her father seems to be afraid of something in the woods. I'll need you to keep alert for anything unusual while I follow her trail. I don't want to be caught off guard."

Nodding to Aaysha as she returns with the lantern (only a hooded one, not the bull's eye they had wanted, but it would have to do), Heulwen starts following the girl's trail away from the animal enclosure.
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  #71  
Unread 22nd of April, 2005, 01:13
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Aleina

The healer shakes her head slowly, glad that at least this gamble has paid off. Or at least, that it hasn't made the situation any worse.

"Not personally, but he is a friend of a friend - a good man, I am told. If he is here, I would like to meet him."
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  #72  
Unread 22nd of April, 2005, 01:56
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Rhotha'ah

As Aashya returns with a lantern in her hand, the Dorn man retrieves the two throwing axes clipped at the small of his back and looks to the woods with a gleam in his eye. "After you, Aashya. I'll watch your backs. He says, waving his hand forward after Heulwen, before falling into step behind the Sarcosan woman and the halfling with her wolf.
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Unread 22nd of April, 2005, 13:20
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Dun

It was subtle enough. Still, Dun was surprised she did not notice, or, perhaps, acted as if she was ignorant. Either way, he'd best let this strange night play out.

Dun keeps to his silence, having little to add and not wishing to push their seemingly tenuous welcome.
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  #74  
Unread 22nd of April, 2005, 19:08
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Aashya

Holding the lantern makes her feel like some kind of beacon.

"Here we are! Come and get us! You can't miss!!"

Aashya tries to keep her hand from shaking too much as she holds the light for Heulwen to see by. She knows they are moving toward the woods although she can't see what's coming; the visible world has become a small thirty foot circle, a tiny island in a vast sea of darkness.

"The farmer is back at the house, in bed," she tells Heulwen and Rhotha'ah, whispering because she feels conspicuous enough without making a lot of noise. She remembers the dismal little farmhouse with its spare furnishings. It must have been just the two of them there, the farmer and Elia.

"I hope we can find her," Aashya murmurs as she peers around, looking out for any threat.
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Unread 26th of April, 2005, 03:47
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Dun, Lyr, Aleina

"A friend, you say? I wish I had friends. Just got the wife," he leans forward and drops his voice to a conspirator's whisper. "And between you and me. I don't think she likes me very much." The glum bartender slings a pair of watery ales down the counter to some waiting patrons.

It seems to Dun that the tension in the room has eased, if only by a bare margin. Most of the men have resumed speaking with low voices in their half-guarded conversations. But every once in a while, one will cast a wary eye toward the two young men, or a different sort of look at Aleina.

"Who's the friend? Da's been dead for, oh, six years now." He pauses, either thinking about his father or trying to add up a sum in his head. Perhaps it's both. Callum frowns. "You wouldn't have been much more than a girl."

Heulwen, Rhotha'ah, Aashya

The night, already dark, grows darker as they pass underneath the first branches of the woods. The lantern casts long shadows of both the companions and the trees and shrubs within the forest. The branches, some of them bare, hang like great skeletal fingers. A slight wind ripples through the trees and the branches bob slightly, as if trying to touch those that walk below.

Heulwen finds the trail easily enough. The girl did not inherit her father's size, that's for certain. She leaves slight footprints here and there. Based on the size of the foot and the impression, Elia must be small or just barely a young woman. She also searches for the missing animal, but of that, she finds nothing.

Rhotha'ah, trails behind them, his body mostly in shadow. The paired axes feel good in his hands. Their weight and sharpness reassure the dorn. If whomever took this girl is mortal, then he can kill it. If not...well, he'd prefer not to think of that.

The woods are just as frightening as Aashya expected them to be. She has a palpable feeling of being surrounded. It's far different from a city; at least, she thinks it is. No memory of being in a place larger than Fairbrook springs to mind, but she does have the general feeling of knowledge when it comes to such things. The people aren't rooted to the ground and the buildings wouldn't look half as imposing, not even at night. When the wind passes through, the trees look like they're coming alive, and to Aashya, they don't seem to want her here. Not at all. It's difficult to keep the arm that holds the latern from shaking.

The move deeper into the woods, Heulwen moving carefully as to not lose the trail in haste. No sounds, apart from the rustle of wind sweeping through the leaves, disturb them. They can no longer hear the faint rushing of the two rivers.

And then the trail stops.

Heulwen frowns and turns around, rechecking the last dozen paces. No deviations. The girl didn't double back and the trail ends a good way from the nearest tree. She didn't start climbing, not unless she can jump a dozen feet into the air. To the halfling, it looks as if Elia simply vanished. And then she notices something about the dirt near where the tracks end. It looks to have been disturbed recently. Kneeling down, Heulwen uses her keen nose to find any scents that might still linger.

She finds two: the rich smell of earth and the sickly sweet odor of death.
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