Rannick’s Remaining Rangers

Kibb shifted slightly as the captain leaned back against the young bear. She scratched behind his ear, realizing as she had to stretch how big he’d grown. Soon, it would be time to release him to go about his life, if only because he’d be too big to fit through the doors of the Fort.

She’d tried not to think about the Fort for the time being. The little she’d seen in her futile charge at the walls was enough to paint a vivid picture of what they were likely to find inside. Dozens of men and women, some she’d known for nearly thirty years, reduced to food and toys for foul beast men. They should have made a push to wipe them out years ago, find their fortress and raze it to the ground, but it was too late now. For the second time in her life, everyone and everything she knew was dead, and all that remained was vengeance and a crossroads.

Her sole remaining friend in the world, not counting Kibb, wandered over and settled down across from her under the tree she’d found to get out of the rain. The dark-skinned Shoanti man flashed a winning smile, but she could see that it was a show: his eyes were just as haunted as hers. Vale was one of the few Black Arrows that had joined willingly, not suffering under a commuted death sentence like her and Kaven. Seeing the order he’d believed in for so long fall must have been just as hard on him as it was on her.

“The dam stopped groaning,” Vale said, glancing up the river valley from where they’d stopped for lunch, “I think it’s going to be okay. Turtleback Ferry’s going to lose their beaches for a few weeks, though.”

“We did a good thing. I guess we should have looked at the dam years ago… a whole tribe of trolls living within an hour’s ride of us for Erastil-knows how long. Between them and the half-breeds in the forest, I’m starting to wonder what the hell we accomplished. Our new friends don’t see any reason to take back the fort—they’re not afraid of it… seeing how little it did to hold back the monsters all these years, I’m not sure I blame them.”

“Don’t say that,” he winced, “They don’t know anything. They weren’t there for the days we’d fight ogres from dawn to midnight, then have to wake up and do it again the next day. They’re from the west. They probably don’t even have a concept of all the giants and ogres living up on the plateau, just looking for a weak place to push through, raid, and wipe out whole villages. They’re adventurers, task-oriented, probably don’t like to stay in one place for too long. They heard about the dam and they dealt with the dam. Now, they’ll figure out the most direct route to putting out the next fire. They would understand if they took the time… we’re just not especially important to them, this Thassilonian business is.”

“You’re right,” she said, glancing over and making sure the gnome was in sight and occupied rather than hiding behind her, staring with that too-piercing gaze, “Every adventurer I’ve ever met was like that, though. Have you ever heard about the grand dames in the Chelish opera? Divas? Adventurers are like that, only with killing. Their lives are a constant series of challenges and cookies. They overcome a challenge, they get a cookie. With a life like that, you start to figure out how to get your cookies as quickly and efficiently as possible. It makes you divide other people into two groups: ‘obstacles’ and ‘take for granted.’ Besides the handful of peers you rely on, everyone else can lead, follow, or get out of the way… and leading isn’t really appreciated.”

Vale grinned, “sounds like you were an adventurer before you joined up?”

“No… I was a diva, or at least as close an equivalent as my people have. In my mind, my entire tribe wasn’t much more than a delivery engine that got me from place to place. And then they were dead, I was here, and I spent years realizing that I’d never known much more about them than names and faces. I wonder if the next few years will be the same with the Black Arrows… have I really changed?”

Vale started to comment, but glanced over and saw Balekh wave at them to mount up and start moving again. He nodded, helped the Captain to her feet, and simply said, “I think it might be easier if all I could remember were names and faces.” He wiped what might have just been rain out of his eyes and went to get the horses.

The Least Dangerous Game (by Veshenga’s Player)

The woods had never been such a home as they were these days. Every step she took seemed familiar, as if she had been to this forest before even though she had never set foot in it. Still, she was admiring of the natural beauty surrounding her, even as the rain came tumbling down from the sky cluttered with swollen clouds above. Leaves were glazed in rainwater, looking like the wrapped candies back in the Magnimar shops. The canopy whispered as the treetops were pet by a passing wind, stirring up enough noise amongst them to cover her own footsteps. There was game just ahead that she did not want to disturb. The sound of pattering rain, and her already silent footfalls were enough to mask her approach upon the plump hare, a tall male that had his ears pricked high, his nose scrunching up and down to smell the air. Alone he probably could not feed the whole group, but perhaps Haggor could find a way to stew him. Anyone else would probably fail out here in the woods, but he was good. He could find a way to make the soil taste like chocolate cake if he wanted to.

Veshenga was soundless and careful, but the hare still knew, and by then –

Her fingers did not release, but instead relaxed. So did her arm, and the arrow was no longer notched to the bow. Nor had it found a place in the hare. Her mind had wandered briefly, and stolen across Vale. She sighed, and sat under a tree. Back in Magnimar he had asked for her help, and to this very moment she regretted her answer. Maybe if she had been at the fort she could have lent her aid, made some sort of difference. Not only did she regret this decision, but she regretted the one that kept her from catching up with him to buy him that drink before he left.

What she needed was some advice.

“You see, he is good looking – such dark skin! Oh, and his smile…- and I like that in a man. He is also very brave. I just wish I knew him better, but I am interested. Very interested, curious, and I feel very good around him. He is not so terrible,” she scoffed playfully, “for a Shoanti man.”

Uh… you could – Oh, yes, yes! You could *tell *him. You could *go *now (gulp) and tell him.

“I know, I know,” she glanced down, and then squinted at the sunlight. “I should just say something. Normally, this is not so difficult. You know, I can have any man I want? Any man! What I do is an art, a true art. When it comes to the ones I actually like? That is different.”

You said you only saw him only a bit. So why do you like him? Go see him more right away!

“I don’t know why I fancy him…” Veshenga scratched briefly at her wrist, leaving a subtle red mark that showed on the skin beyond the black poppy tattoo. “But when I saw him at the fort – alive! Of all things, alive! – I was relieved. I was so happy.”

Fancy. Fancy. You should *go *deal with that.

“You’re right. It could just be that – a fancy. Just a passing thing. Maybe I can just ignore it?” She grinned, more to herself. The falling rain did little to bother her, in fact she enjoyed rain. Drops cascaded around her cheeks, flowed around the braids in her hair to drop off the tied off tails at the bottom of them. “Like that will work, I think about him every now and then, and very fondly too. I think after all of this I will think of him often when it rains… Still, there are so many other matters to consider first. The fort must have been a terrible loss. Maybe we can still win it back…”

Veshenga smiled at the hare sitting on the stump in front of her now. He was terrified, eying the bow and arrow, his fur matted from the rain. He had lost a few brothers and sisters to hunters. Despite the fact this hunter seemed friendly, amiable, and altogether passive did little to calm his still quivering nerves.

“You have been so helpful, you know that?”

Thanks… C-C-Can I go now? No death, please.

She frowned. Obviously, she could not kill the hare after he was so attentive. She let him go with a wave of her hand, and he bounded into the woods as fast as possible. Veshenga straightened, and returned to the forest, redrawing her arrow and notching it to the bow.

“Well… no hare on the menu today. Might have to just find some different game.”

Deep Thoughts (by Haggor’s Player)

The boat rocked as Haggor stood up and cast his line. Sitting back down on the wide flat skiff, he watched the line and patiently waited. The lake was cool and calm. A heavy fog swirled around the small craft blocking out the early morning sun. Haggor was content here in this world of swirling white and hazy sunlight. He wished the world were as calm and serene as it was here on the lake at this early hour.

He admired the new pole he had crafted. It was strong and stout with plenty of spring to it. The giant fish wouldn’t escape him again because of a weak pole. He thought back to a few days ago when he had the monster nearly in the boat. It had been a hour long struggle with the enormous pike. Every time he managed to haul the fish closer to the boat, it would fight back, diving deep, pulling out the line. The back and forth struggle tested each opponent’s strength and stamina. As Haggor brought the fish closer to the boat, the surface of the calm lake had exploded into chaos. Splashes, ripples, and sprays of water exploded as the fish fought for its freedom. It was then, just at the last moment, that the old pole had broken and his prize catch had escaped. Now he smiled to himself. Not this time, my giant friend. Not this time.

Thinking about the lost catch and the calmness of the day, he realized that his entire life had been a mix of utter calm and utter chaos. No matter how much he sought for inner peace, there was a side of him that longed for chaos. He was always seeking new ways of finding understanding and inner peace like his new found love of fishing. Before that he had learned to cook and before that was gardening. All these things he loved for they allowed him to forget about the turmoil that raged inside him.

As the sun slowly burned off the fog, blue sky peeked though the patches of swirling white. It was going to be a beautiful clear day. Even in the rolling banks of fog, serenity lay just a few dozen feet above. He guessed that even on the stormiest day, if you could climb high enough, there would be peace to be had above it all. He noted that thought to ask Balek about later.

His mind drifted back to the day before when they had cleared the dam. He remembered a moment in the battle when he had rushed an ogre and knocked the giant brute from the top of the dam, sending it crashing to the forest floor three hundred feet below. Then he swiftly swept up the fallen ogre’s club from the ground and chased the remaining ogre from the dam. The ogre took the only escape route open to him, off the other side of the dam and into the lake beyond. As the ogre swam for his miserable life, Haggor hefted the giant club and hurled it with all the strength he had at the quickly fleeing monster. He was rewarded with the sound of a solid thud and then silence. He watched the ogre’s still form slowly wash back towards the dam. He smirked to himself but then quickly contained it.

These were the thoughts that caused so much turmoil inside him. How could he seek inner calm and peace if moments like that filled him with such exultant feelings? He thrived on the challenge of combat, pitting himself against these monsters. If it wasn’t ogres it was trolls. He couldn’t help himself. When he saw a worthy challenge he felt compelled to defeat it, to pit himself against it with just his wits, strength, stamina and training. He could feel the rush of energy filling him even now just at the thought. Was it wrong of him? He enjoyed helping the people his efforts benefited. He didn’t seek to gain from his efforts. He truly did it to help those who couldn’t help themselves. Or did he? In those moments when he could feel the blood rushing in his veins as he charged some monstrous creature, he truly wondered why he was doing it.

He stopped and meditated on it. Trying to calm the swirling thoughts in his head. Seeking the black peacefulness of nothingness. Taking note of each thought as it occurred, recognizing it, and then releasing it to the void, until he was calm and serene in the utter blankness of his mind. Then he felt a tug on the line. A large grin spread across his face. Then suddenly the calm was gone again, and he could feel the blood begin to race in his veins.