Thursday, October 19, 2017

A Solitary Crow - Elkall-Anuz - 5


Barrows on The Avenue of the Dead

Just before sunrise, he heard something which sounded like singing – and he opened his eyes to find out what was the commotion. It was not really commotion on the large scale of things, instead it was more lasting in his head. The creeping nature of light – which was barely visible – he remembered that it was called “ wolf's tail” by people of the Inner Sea, made an impression. Right now it was a lighter blue that the shade of night, but was still not morning. But he knew he was certainly awake, with a mourning dove far away above him. It did not surprise him that Loria was awake, and it only partially surprised that Gwynwyffer was already scrolling up her bag that she had been sleeping in. which meant at this he should get a as well. With practiced movements he was ready at the same time as Gwynwyffer – she was surprised how fast he could be ready. Then in the morning mist, has he heard the warbling of birds, and the low humming from both of his companions – he surveyed the situation.

Though there were low clouds, still it was just before morning. This meant that the sky was mostly clear and would become clearer as the sun rose. The Hunter's bright star was just winking out, with daybreak to come in about an hour. Then he turned his attention to the ruins – on his left – and the Barrows – on his right. Right now, he was facing West – and in the distance he saw the mountains which surround the vast inner city – called Lake Benath by its inhabitants. The problem that he was facing was this – should they go directly for the earthmaster dome – or should they explore the Barrows, in case they would come out this way again. Because there was something unusual contained within their twists and turns.

Turning his head towards Gwynwyffer: “I am the about exploring the tombs before venturing to either the ruined fortress – or the dome. What do you think?” most women would be flattered to be asked, but not Gwynwyffer, she took it as her due.

“If it were my decision, I would definitely explore the Avenue of the Dead – before we venture to the glass dome.” She of course was speaking of the psuedo-stone, which they both knew was not glass at all, and in fact they had never seen glass that was anywhere near the size. Not even close. Not that it was transparent, more translucent – it did not have that opacity of real stone, but it had the solidus that reminded one of it.

Realizing that something was wrong, he again kicked himself - because Loria had become invisible again, and he almost discounted this. Obviously, it was not just seeing that was absent, in this case, he did not even think of her. He wondered whether this was true for everyone, or if it was only him.
Two of them went up the gentle slope that carried them to the Avenue of the dead. The Avenue was East West facing, and has a white cobblestone layer which is about 10 yards across. Once they were on the road, it was clear that it was rather easy going compared to the dirt or grass. It was clear that the builders paid attention to this, for which he was grateful – it reminded him of the roads which the legionnaires marched on.

Though it was about an hour after sunrise, there were still shadows on barrows. Coming from East to West, there was a difference between the newer ones and the older ones. The ones, at the East and closest to them, were made of stone. There were five of these, largest one being by itself, with no pair along the southern side of the road. But the other four were placed to along the south side into along the north side. The nearest two work different in their nature, along the southern side there was a cross, wall on south side it rose up to form a trapezoid. Then the next two were basically the same, this being like the other trapezoid shape. Then there were five pairs which were just a mound, though they formed an oval like construction. It was obvious that they grew larger until the northern one had a distinct series of smaller burials which made it seemed grander somehow grander.

The last one on his left was completely different from the others. Either the 10 mound, or the four stone burials. First of all it was more than twice the size, and it was made of stone, but an entirely different kind of stone. It also does not have a runic stone between the road and the Barrows, but instead the writing is more modern script. The legionnaire imagined that there were names, but he was not close enough to read them. The two stone like barrows near him had been ransacked, and pillars were strewn to get at the contents. Or at least that is what he hoped, the other possibility was to ghastly to think about.

As silently as if she had been enspell, Gwynwyffer came up on his left shoulder, and waited just a minute, before asking: “ so what do you think of Lothrim's Avenue of the Dead.” He was going to reply, but then from behind them, the sun rose above the trees. There was something magical about it, and they could pull see a reflection in the last tower. The reflection was brighter than anything other than the sun, and swirling of many colors. For a moment it blinded both of them, and even when it did not – there was something elusive about it. There was no denying that it was meant to be an attractor, leaving no doubt that it wanted to be looked at – even though there was a darkness to it.

“That is exceedingly odd, and I would guess that there is some kind of illusion to it.”

“You do not know much about magic do you?”

“I work with miracles, not magic.”

“Illusion is a specific kind of magic, and there is no illusion to that. It is magic, but not all the kind you are speaking of. Mind you, there is illusion about the place, but it is a different spell entirely.”

“What are you saying?”

“In all my other voyages to this place, this is the first time that anyone has seen that, as far as I know.”

They had had conversations before, and he knew that Gwynwyffer and Loria had been here before. 

Though how many times he could not extract from either of them. Though he had many attempts at this in Trobridge. Apparently it was one of the myriad things they would not talk about.

“Are you say that it is new?” He queried.

“To not saying that. What can be said that this is the first time that anyone I know of, has seen it. When it was conjured, this is not public knowledge - though someone probably does know, but is keeping it a secret.”

There was a great deal of information, both said and unsaid, for the legionnaire to ponder on. But what should the apparent to anyone, was that the dome was important to the earthmasters, and venerated by succeeding waves of humans. And looking around him made him suspect that there was either something attractive, or repellent, to the elves. Which one would be answered by whether Loria was closer to the dome, or further away from it. There was something, not in his ears, but in his head. It was a kind of moaning, and distinctly heard the elves residence in it. Thus he imagined that there was something about the dome which disturbed Loria, but this was a speculation. Perhaps by talking with her, he would finally get out of her what it was. At least that was his hope, but hopes where the two of these were concerned were often frustrated.

In the end, they were transfixed by the multi-colored round object on the penultimate tomb – so some unknown wit had called it – and begin to walk towards it. Every so often one or the other had seen in the shadows of one of the crypt what looked like a face, or a body. But when they looked more closely, it did not seem to be anything. But they were careful nonetheless. Perhaps there were gargun. He did not want to think of what could be worse, though his mind conjured up visions. This went on as he glanced under the oak and maple trees. The also noted that there were no inhabitants – human or otherwise – that he could see. He hoped it was because they were absent from the area, but he rather doubted this.

Without a great deal of aplomb, the two set their courts for the second tier of the mausoleum, to discover what had created this flash, which was now gone. It was odd pacing this pyramid, holding some secret that was new to both of them, there was a kind of excitement in it – a thrill which was cerebral in nature, like a great artwork. It was at least an hour before getting to the base of it, it was stressful – and it seemed that there was magic involved. Every step was torture – so while they were excited, they were also tired even though the sun had not reached 8 o'clock. Finally they had to rest, and waited for an hour before tackling the obelisk itself.

But tackle it they did, though there were no stairs – and each of the four layers was almost 15 feet tall. At first they tried to climb it, but that did not work – it was just too high. Finally, the legionnaire cupped his and lifted Gwynwyffer – and then jumped on to the next level. They did this again, and it was smoother then figuring it out the first time. Then they did it again, knowing that they would probably find out what the material was that caused for a moment the flash that they had seen in our ago.

Once they were on top, they moved towards the east, and sited the exact point where the gleam had occurred. And finally they did so. At first they imagined that it would be a part from the repository, and would be obvious to all who had looked for it. But this was not the case, instead there was a6 feet wearing on the crypt itself, and why it was visible only when the sun had just crested became obvious.

A sorcerer had tried to open a way in to the barrow, only to be entombed himself. One could just barely make out his position, because he walked, and then was caught. In the bright light, one could see him, as if the vault was telling everyone that this is what happens to those who profane the dead. There was a chill in of their bodies, clearly there was still magic, magic which was lethal in its intensity.

“I can see that you and Loria are not the only people to test this place.”

“We know there is protections on these monuments. Especially the Barrows.”

“At least you are disturbed.” Because he distinctly saw her shaking like a leaf.

“Who would not be? Perhaps one of the undead would pass this off, but know one else.”

“Perhaps this is why no one comes to this place.”

They have had enough warnings, it is only the stupid or the clever who attempt to abscond with the precious contents. The gargun and the Chelini do not have to do much. But we are here just to make sure that there are no inhabitants, nothing more. Now that we know that this is not a threat, I think we can discount it.”

“I think we need to test this.” Very suddenly he reached into the barrow. He was wondering if he could reach inside, and found out that he could. “That is what I thought – this portal is open. I can reach inside” Then he held his hand away. “It's cold.”

“This is surprising you? Are putting your hand inside what looks to be solid, but it is not.” In the late morning light, though they could see a figure, it apparently was there. “ it seems to be what my people whisper is a hologram.”

“Have never heard that word before, explaining what you mean by it.”

“It is a way of encoding the three dimensional image, from a two-dimensional construct.”

“Still do not understand what you mean.”

“It is still a mystery to me, as well. But it is a technique – from where is another question – where a two dimensional image is projected on to a three-dimensional object. I studied this once upon a time, but it was a long time ago.”

“This is a subject which is a mystery. How does a flat image and as if it were a sculpture? Makes no sense.”

“But have seen what it does, and we should move away from it... taking note that there is a hole here.”

“You still do not understand, what if something comes out of the hole. What are we to do? We cannot just leave, and hope that all will be more the best.”

At this point it was Gwynwyffer turn to ponder. She thought for a great deal of time, and then responded: “ the problem is that if we reach into the tomb it will probably be very cold again. So it seems like we have to leave things as they are.”

“Could we plaster, or something that will cover the hole?”

“Do you have something?”

“No, not all.”

“Since it seems like a kind of magic that neither of us possess, it seems that we will have to live with it, even if that is not the best solution.”

“Perhaps when we find Loria, she may be able to shed some light on this.”

“Do not tell her this – but this area evokes great pain and her. It is part of the earth master complex, it seems that it eats at her, in ways I do not understand. Is probable that the same properties which make her attuned to the monolith inside the dome, also are painful.”

“You will have to explain this better than you have.”

“She can tune to a structure, but it is painful for her and indeed any elf. What I do, simply put, is erase the pain as she is working on it. That is really what I do, she does all the work. But I basically massage her mind. let us depart from this place, we can do nothing about it.” the legionnaire agreed with this, and he helped her down before jumping himself. The rest of the day they wandered all of the Barrows, but found nothing in them – but they had to inspect each of them thoroughly. At times they thought they found something, but in all of the cases it was just rubble.

They then camped at the same place, and for just an instant – each of them thought they saw the elf – along side the Avenue of the Dead. They did not see what she was doing, but he noted that the position was the same as Gwynwyffer's explanation. That is, the elf did not like the tomb or anything inside it. He looked again, and saw her – perhaps chanting. The moon – called Yeal – was just a sliver, but it was bright all the same. It seemed to him that she was praying to it, but that could be an illusion on his part.

He went to sleep, but it was a disturbed sleep. He then got up well before the sun, and he saw Loria still pray at her appointment spot. He doubted that she had moved, and therefore he was worried. It was not exactly human, but then that was natural. The elves were a different kind of creature, and he would have to adjust to their rhythms, then begin to understand their patterns.

It occurred to him that sleeping was not going to happen, so he got up and practiced with his short sword. Eventually Gwynwyffer got up as well, and meditated – though he did not know upon what. 
That back there equipment, and set off for the fortress, though they kept a close eye on the Penultimate Tomb– and hoped they would not find the ultimate tomb.

Gradually, the Avenue of the Dead grew smaller, and the fortress grew larger. It was not the greatest structure that they had ever seen, their was no wall which had escaped damage, unless it was hidden. The other thing that was interesting was that the rock that it was built on was black, and very precious. It would have to be from a long way, perhaps from Azadmere, or beyond. But then if one had a portal, the distance would not be a problem.

Coming from the direction of North, they found little of the walls. It was almost as if coming from the north was a tide – perhaps of Jarind – who swept aside all that they found. If one believed the tales, the foul spawn was that hated. Here and there they stopped and looked at the walls and other things, taking time to admire the structures, as if they were simply viewing. Then they found something.

It was old, it was ruined, but the complex was definitely gargun in nature. It looked like it had been deserted for a long time, but they would have to make sure of this. Gwynwyffer seen this before, but had realized the extent of it. So rather than dig, they discussed what to do. It was here that Loria's absence was most glaring. Then, the two humans slept.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

A Solitary Crow - Elkall-Anuz - 4

Like Summer Tempests Came His Tears

It was not a manor – that cornerstone of medieval life – but it aspired to be one. Just as it is owner wanted to be a knight, with all of the details that came with it. Instead, the aspiration was clearly a sham - though it is owner did not what was wrong. He had a keep – or so he thought. And the keep was at a forge of a river. It did not occur to him that the bridge was unmade, and people had to cross at a low hanging rapids. It also did not occur to him to treat his peasants – at least once in a while – with a degree of respect, or even ignoring them. Instead one could see by the welts and bruises that any infraction which a serf or a peasant would be set upon brutally by the owner. This had three effects. One was since it was the only ford for miles around, he could get away with it. But, on the other hand, no one was going to make more of the owners status then was absolutely necessary. Which brings us to the third thing, the owner was not particularly smart: so they would come to sample his food and wares, telling him that he could be knighted – and then leave not to think of him again until they need something from him.

The owner did not understand why this would happen – through the peasants new, and would make themselves scarce in that moment between that moment where the owner was desperate for a title.
For the three compatriots, the days days were long, especially for the legionnaire. Loria was not concerned with all of this, and would sleep very little and draw endless pictures of the stars. She explained that there were interlopers – comets and so on – that would appear, and she was obsessive about drawing them. It was clear that her eyes were more sensitive than his were, probably she could pick up a quarter of light that he could. But then, the stars were not his desire – other than knowing a few that would point him in the correct direction.

Thus, the spring left, and it was summer when they left the inn. unlike most people, they did not continue along the so-called “Salt Road”. Most people were headed to Tharda, the only Republic on the island, or to one the kingdoms beyond it – Kanday, or the evil Rethem. Rethems politics were dominated by the segments of Morgath, and of Agik fighting orders. It was at this point that the legionnaire listened, not to Gwynwyffer and her excessive talking, but to Loria and her explanation as to why the evil gods held sway in the West but not in the East.

They had not been bothered by any people – or assorted other things. It was Loria's theory that the attack was just too delayed them and the real assault would the at Ekall-Anuz when they got there. So the main practice of the legionnaire was to sharpen his skills with fighting, and with language – which he was better at than before. He met a few people – and drank with them – learning what he could about the politics and geography of the island. He noticed that there were very very few people from off of Hârn. From the mainland he had never thought of going to Hârn – and he saw that this was the case for most of the people.

From the East, he heard of the ins and outs of the Senate, which met in Cornan – and the goings on in Golgotha – a free city, so-called – which was entirely in the hands of the most wicked people imaginable. It was governed by a Council which was openly in the hands of the Morgath. Their people would be hung – and worse – for the most minute infractions of the rules. And the rules could be made up almost daily.

From the West, there was continual speculation arises out of when the king – Miginath is his name – will die. In Kaldor, when the old King dies a succession counsel is convened. When there is a clear heir, it will generally vote for the heir to be the next ruler. But when there is not, and the monarch does not make it known who he wishes to have succeeded him, there is a more delicate process. Since the King would rather have people guessing among which of the bastard sons he wishes to have in his place – there being no legitimate successor – there is already a great deal of politicking as to which person will inherent the thrown. The legionnaire had spent a great number of nights listening to people have their say, but in reality there are at most a dozen people who will be listened to.

The one thing that was important, was to keep secret Loria's existence. But he knew how to do this, not by asking the innkeeper, but by a trick which Gwynwyffer told him: go to the Severed Hand, which is an inn which normally does not take guests until Trobrigde his full, and arrange a long stay with him – paying a good deal extra for the convenience. This way, he can let the innkeeper deal with the proper authorities. This way the supposed innkeeper – Kurson – will take a cut, but will not make himself known. Or at least openly known, though he might quietly do something.

And he did, for within the tenday a group of Kaldor men came riding up. The ingratiated themselves into the Severed Hand, and searched the rooms. Needless to say, they did not find anyone but the legionnaire and Gwynwyffer – and there was no sign of anyone else. They departed, guessing that if there was anyone else she would have gone south into the Shava forest, and into Evael – the kingdom of the elves.

There was a great deal of discussion between the legionnaire and Gwynwyffer, wondering if more forces from Kaldar would be coming. So every morning they checked from the East, but no sign that they had been discovered by the nearest human kingdom ever came out. So they by day the hours of light grew longer and then shorter again, and it seemed as if they were not going to be attacked in Trobridge. But in the night, they caught a few glimpses of shadowy figures, which definitely were not human. But they stayed well out of the town, creeping around in the woods. It all three new that these were servants of Morgath, either directly, or more likely indirectly through one of his demigods. They watched and they waited, but no attack was mounted while they stayed within the village limits. Seemed as if they would have to defend once the were out of human site.

In last there came a day, which even as it kept over into mornings twilight was different – because the Elf got up that day, and prepared herself for leaving; it was 1 Larane, of the second month of summer. Loria had not said anything to either traveling comrade, nor it seems did she need to. Their was a silent court among all three, perhaps it was some magic from either Gwynwyffer or Loria. This meant that the other two also would get out - legionary paying a good sum of money for their stay – and they sent off North, towards the earthmaster city. Obviously they did say they were going to the ruins, but you can see from number of the faces, that one or two had guessed or suspected they were. There was not much to the north of Trobridge, and they were not the first to want a look at Lothrim's tomb, or the older sites.

By common agreement, they stole away without crossing the rapids – legionnaire again disliked how they had to pay for streaming the ford, it was distasteful to him. It was a bright sunny day, and it seemed no one had noticed there going, accept the owner of the Severed Hand – promised to say nothing. With the bright light of the sun at their backs, they sent forth as the woods grew to a misty deciduous forest; and then they started climbing, which gave way to a coniferous forest from time to time. They were cautious, because at any moment there could be followers of Morgath, roving Kadoric knights, or a band of male gargun – there are few females, and they keep in side of their hive, primarily making babies and running things as they see fit. The gargun culture is decidedly matriarchal in nature.

Birds, and assorted herbivorous animals was all they saw– they saw nothing for the first two days. But on the third day, when from the South came a drizzling of rain, things were quite different. First of all they got up – or at least Gwynwyffer and legionnaire got up – it seemed Loria was still awake – and it was colder than the night before. This plus the weather made for a miserable morning, and they packed up in silence, and were ready to go at the first signs of morning. Though they could not see the sun, there was light coming from it. But then things got worse – as the clouds became thicker, and the temperature dropped still farther.

At this point Loria pointed at the ground, and noted that there were Gargun tracks on the ground, and they were very fresh. They did not know whether or not the were living gargun – or the kind of undead which they saw just before Trobridge. Gwynwyffer shivered at the prospect, because though she was capable with her sling and quarterstaff, there was something about an undead gargun with upset her – though it was a quiet upset.

They started moving more slowly, and listened very closely to the surroundings. And they were not disappointed. Because the gargun, in this case, were noisy – blaring their way through the woods as if they did not care who would notice them. Normally they would attack at night, and while they were not extremely stealthy, they were better than the majority of people were. But this time it was different, and it seemed from on top of a hill that they crested, the gargun were spread out looking for them. It was clear that they were not hunting for them, but set out to capture them. Which means that they were under instructions. Because normally the only plan that gargun have is to eat whatever they find.

From the distance along the hill, the three of them watched as the gargun slowly and methodically checked everything, whether trees or holes or rocks. And their were such rocks here as could only have come from the mountains to the west. Clearly, there were markings on them – which Gwynwyffer recognized as Jarin burial designs. The letters were of a runic variety, though much older then the Ivinian type which came later.

The legionnaire took command and squatting bind one of these runic pieces, told the other two to get over here the river – which they had not strayed from – and attempt to sneak around this party. After all, if they were under orders, it would be probable that they would not be doing a good job – since everyone knew that the gargun were lazy about following orders. Only the very powerful could get them to do anything, such as Lothrim. Anyone else would have difficulties.

Grottoes in mist - eventually they reached the deep, torrential river – and the sound of it was deafening. It seemed that no one could hear them over this flood that came from the scattering of water. There was a spray, casting off rainbows from the rocks, stones, and pebbles. Even with the clouds, there was something spectacular in it. They had hit a minor tributary of the river, a bit outside the lake which was forming just ahead. When they reached the halfway point, that would be about half the distance to the ruins. If he could recall correctly, it was not a large lake – but with the gargun working there way across it, it was not size that mattered.

What he feared was that there would be falls, because he did not know what was in store for them – and he did not want to ask his two traveling partners. The map had been sketched, and not well. So he hoped that there was no interruption in the course of the river or its tributaries. He also hoped that the barbaric tribe was quiescent – if they were not the masters ordering the gargun to march. Then he definitely heard a twig break, and that usually meant that someone was creeping up on him. Where he found himself was in a V neck, with a stream flowing down the center, and firs going up the inside of it. It seemed that the noise had come from above them, and all of them stopped – they had all heard the sound, and all of them wanted to know what it was. It was probably something ill.

He looked at Gwynwyffer – because suddenly Loria had disappeared – and she looked back. Her face was calm, and serene. She got out her sling, and prepared to use it. Then there was an ominous quiet, as if both sides were trying to figure out where the other side was. Normal person would have had their heart racing, but he was extremely calm. This was the sort of thing that he lived for, and if need be die for. There was a flash out of the corner of his right eye, away from the river.

Quickly, he dove behind a tall fir tree – and he noticed that his human companion did the same. From the same direction as was first fired from, a stream of arrows came crashing down. It seemed that at least three were firing from the same position. For several breaths of air, the legionnaire and Gwynwyffer stood behind their respective trees, hoping that they would not be surrounded. At first it seemed that it might be an elf, or group of elves, so rapid was the pattering. But finally he got a glimpse, and realized that they were Rangers of Kaldor – and they had been following them for quite some time. He recognized them from the inn – and suspected that they were waiting for him.

With the Rangers, and the gargun, chasing them – it seemed like they would be frustrated from entering the ruins. But this only redoubled his determination to enter – because neither group could do what he hoped Loria could do – enter the pseudo-stone. If he could enter in, and then leave by the portal – it would be something that no other man from his army had done for, and a report of this would be a further in his cap. But it would take both strength and cunning, and the first problem was getting rid of the arrow. But he realized, that while they were shooting, they could not move. Thus a plan began to emerge in his mind. They were firing has fast they could, which probably meant that they did not know where their targets actually were. So his plan was to strike, and strike deliberately, aiming very carefully.

He unstrung his short bow – and then ignited with the magical flame that he conjured. Ordinarily the bow would not be hot enough, but it grew in intensity as it flew. Until when it crashed down, it made a spark. This was not enough to burn them, but it was enough to make them scatter. Then he made other arrows ignite, and let them loose. Instead of taking shot after shot, he aimed carefully. The first hit was on target, it was a tall man, with a heavy beard that was black. He got him in the beard, and watched it like up with thaumaturgical pyrotechnics. This made to others stop – and keep him another shot. But also from his left came a stone from a sling – he had immediately guessed that this was 

Gwynwyffer in action. Then another surprise occurred – Loria appeared right on top of two others which were aiming their bows. Unlike all of the humans, Loria was stretching forth the greatest bow that anyone had ever seen. So while he was pulling another arrow that was burning with fire – her shots were on target. It was something to see – the arrows that she was heaving were a mighty shot. He knew that he could not even imagine how much force would be behind it. But the damage was immense, each shot through the head brought an enemy down. The remaining Rangers scattered, because they saw what could be done to them – both by his fiery arrows, and by her great bow. And that was enough to teach them lesson.

Now came another question – to they case after them, or not? Remembering that the gargun were probably right behind them. Then he decided to signal the other two, and make a retreat, because after all there target was the dome and the ruins, not chasing after a few Rangers. He made hand gestures both to Gwynwyffer and to Loria. They understood his meeting, and took flight towards the river, and away to temporary safety.

So up the ravine they went, and when they got to the top, they saw the lake, emerging closer than they thought. It was a bit of trouble to cross the river, and eventually they decided that the best way was to open out into the basin, and find a place to wait as far as they could. When they could go no farther, they began to swim. It was at this point that he noticed that the lake probably have a basin beneath it, so cold was it. Did not know what this meant, but it meant something.

Over the course of the next few days, they saw nothing except gargun in the distance. They hoped that would be all, because they were hoping to escape from the pseudo-stone. They were careful, and stuck close to either trees or large stones. A couple times they hid from the gargun.

Then they came directly on to the ruins, and beyond that the dome that was made out of what they did not know. The trees empty out – and they saw a large tapestry. In the foreground, facing West, there was a toppled fortress – a castle that was built for the slope. This was unusual, because most castles or fortresses sat on top of the highest point. The fortress was unusually broad, and behind it on the right was a series of barrows, designed before the fortress. They carried over a broad highway – that was apparently for the dead. These were piles of stone, and were aging rather badly. Obviously, these were human – because elves do not bury their dead, and dwarves bury them underground. Behind the fortress was a hill dedicated to Lothrim, and on its peak was a designed pool, that was built by earthmasters.

Beyond that, they could see a dome, but only in the distance. The these were designed first, they were pristine. The fortress and the barrows were aging badly, the walls of the structure were crumbling. The entire area had a few trees, but only a few. Largely it consisted of meadows. Which meant that someone, or something, was clearing out the area. In the distant courtyards, and the portals, there was an uneasy feeling, as if someone was staring down at them.

Arriving during high summer – with the twilight coming right behind, and various forms of flowers and fruits beckoning to them, Gwynwyffer stopped and sniffed the lang. She warned both of them: “Do not taste anything, because everything is very poisonous.” They set up camp for the night, but it was a cold camp – so as not to disturb either men or other creatures.

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

A Solitary Crow - Elkall-Anuz - 3

The Piper at the Gates of Dawn

During the next day, rain came. But all three of them were use to it and trudged onward. Then when they rested, Gwynwyffer told them the geography of the region. Which Loria knew better than she did, but the legionary listened. Though only partially interested, he put on a face that said otherwise – it was the polite thing to do. And, he reasoned, many things that he liked to talk about probably were not of interest to his two companions.

The isle of Hârn was, in fact, a cloud of islands surrounding the main island. Hârn, itself, was easily larger than all of the other islands – and in fact the link which was in the middle was larger than the rest. Of other islands, however, there were several that judgment out prominently. The first of these was Melderyn – and if Harn was the wizards island, then Melderyn was the heart of it. In fact, it could be said that this island was the human half. While it was nominally a kingdom, it was rumored that the real power was wielded by a Council of wizards – but no one knew exactly who was on it. Call it more of an understanding, rather than an actual league. There were a series of smaller islands which clung on to this island kingdom – but there was also a few other key islands which had their own properties.

To the south and west, there was the island of Adaenum – after Melderyn the largest single island attached to Hârn – which was nothing special other than its size. Of a few herders raised goats, and other than the occasional ship – raised most of what they needed. Off of Rethem, there were few all scattered bits of land which were nominally held by the kingdom – and its quarreling mash of the evil gods: Naveh, Agrik, and most of all – Morgath. On the north side of the island were lands that had very little to do with organized structure. It is not that it has not been tried – mind you – but like the islands south and west, they were particularly stubborn. North of the island there are a group of Vikings which squashed the local Jarin cultures, but still wrestle with them for control. There are still three Jarin castles which swear allegiance to their Ivinia overlords. Then to the east of the island there is the point of Keron, which juts out from Hârn and is home to many of the strangest of little creatures – perhaps summoned by a mad wizard.

Then there are four creatures which are not human – the elves and towards he knew of, but there were to more. One was a giant – called Pradeylki in the Ivinian language – who settled here because he did not want to pledge allegiance to the local god, Sarajin – a God of the far north, involved in trading, raiding, and conquering. His name was Norn. The other interesting feature of this Hârnic island is its own restive God, who cares not for anything other than the creatures that he spawns. Thus, it does not care what the giant - or anyone else - does.

The legionnaire listened quite closely as Gwynwyffer spoke of all of this, but did not understand why he should remember any of this once he had left the island.

“This is all very well good – if I were to stay here – but unless you are offering me a position. And I will not that I accept – what good is this to me. Even assuming that all of this is true.”
It was at this point that Gwynwyffer rolled her eyes: “ is it not interesting to you whether there really are gods?”

“Of course there are gods.”

“You have seen many of them – yes?”

“I have not seen any of them, I just believe has everyone does.”

“Ilvir is a resident God. You may get to see him in the flesh, or perhaps his minions. And you will certainly see Morgath reaching out to you with his forces. Because he wants to know how the pseudo-stones work, and if he can send creatures through them. This is an just a place of humans fighting other humans – or even demi-humans. This is a land of magic. Which is why the majority of humans stay far away. Very far away.”

“This is all well and good for your scholarly mind, but I am just here to deliver the special object when it is time, and report back to my – all say it bluntly – boss. I do not care how the world is run. Its not very important to me, other than perhaps knowing that the goddess I worship is one of the true goddesses.”

“And which got us to you worship?”

“Larani, I assume you worship Peoni.”

“For me you assume correctly. But Loria is a special case.”

He looked around to see whether Loria was somewhere about the place. Then he realized that her obscurement was in full force, and he would have two look directly in to her. Only then would he in fact see her.

See that he was trying to locate Loria, Gwynwyffer motioned to the left and pointed her out. “There is a gift to knowing where she is. You just have to concentrate.”

This made sense, and the legionary nodded in his assent. He finally saw the tall elf, and would make a note of it so as to remember.

“So what has brought you two together? It seems very odd for you to to be together, if you do not mind my saying so.”

“Not at all. We are not together, but it seems like I have used to her. She puts up with my chattering, because when it comes time to … how do I put it? It is so much easier for her to manipulate the stones when I am about. I do not actually think she likes me, but that is neither here nor there.”

But, in all earnestness, the legionary was looking directly at Loria. “How are you a special case?”
At this point, Loria moved her head directly in two his, and said: “When my people die, they are sent to the Blessed Realms, which is a different world from where you as humans go. There is an understanding between my God – Siem – and Larani. I must do work for her, and she – in turn – will give my people the secret to accessing Yashain. Because otherwise those who are caught by the death gods are lost, and will not have either the Blessed Realms, nor go to Yashain.” Then she fell silent.

The legionnaire sat by the fire, and thought. He had not really worried before about how the gods functioned – it was, in his mind, something beyond his pay grade. Emperors did what they did, pontiffs did what they did, and obviously gods and demigods did what they did. None of this had any meaning to him. But now it was different. There was a God on this very island – Ilvir. There was at least one demigod on the island – Norn. This had been said to him, but it only begin to seep in to his skull. There were greater forces then merely human ones, and they were interested in what humans did.

Turned to the human woman, he said: “So what does this God, Morgath, want from us? It seems he could manifest himself wherever he wants.”

“He can manifest wherever he wants, and his demigods may do so to. But humans cannot, and so he wants a way to make them vanish and appear at will, on any major continent – and one way of doing that is by using Earthmaster technology.” the word technology was not a usual word in this time and place. Mostly people did not think of technology advancing, they lived a life very much like their parents and grandparents did. So the legionary again thought on what this meant.

“Your speak of the advancement of inventions as if it were a regular part of a known cycle.”

“That is the way it appears to me.” Gwynwyffer was looking away and unpacking her gear, and was beginning to rest.

“I hope you realize realize this is a different way of thinking than most.”

“Of this, it cannot be helped - what other humans think is none of my concern. Though I can say that I regard their kind of thinking as been rather...” She stopped a bit, and then continued: “ most humans do not actually think, they simply drift along through life. And earlier it was my mission to get them to think. But that was a hopeless proposition. So I have set myself to other things, which have been more fruitful.”

“That is a very different opinion, and it might seem a bit arrogant.”

“You are strange. Much of the world consists of people avoiding the obvious answer, and though it is not easy to admit … there is nothing I can do about. You have to decide whether your going to face the fact that there are other beings in the world which have greater power, more intelligence, and in some cases a singular gift for making life difficult.”

“And what order shall we list our enemies at?”

Their was a motion, near where Loria last enunciated, then both of them saw her. She began: “ I would say that the top of our list would have to be Morgath. He wants what we are close to delivering, and he wants it for himself. And what is more, he is mad god, and there is a reason why he is often called the Dark God. Unlike any other, he has a hatred for life. All of the rest of the gods at least remain neutral. Some of them even do favors, for at least some portion. But the dark God wants to swallow everything up inside himself. And we have earned a place at his special table. Though he wants to find out what we know. But there ever afterwards, he will kill us. And then he will do other things that are worse to our souls.”

At that point there was a moment of quiet, and then the legionary responded: “Why does not he kill us now?”

“He is not like a greater God, who can see inside our minds. He still has to wait for us to discover before he can pillage. Their is a difference between different worlds. And on this one, the gods are weak and reach in delicately from other worlds. And compared to many of the worlds, they are rather puny and have only limited power. But that does not mean they cannot crush us once they can procure the information from us. But they have to wait, and this is our advantage.”

It was at this point the legionary whistled. “I certainly have gone up in the world – I would never have been involved in any kind of conversation like this. But I will warn you – I do not actually believe all that you say.”

“That is good, because we do not believe in all of it either. Its just the best guess that we have going forward.” Gwynwyffer was talking very slowly as she went to sleep.

“You should take a rest, and leave it to me to watch over you.” Loria was talking gently, almost as if she was soothing both of them to sleep. In fact the neither of the humans could stay awake for very long, but it was not magic – just the limbs of tiredness resting upon them. Through the night while the humans slept, the elf knew that they were being watched by a member of the undead. She did not know what kind it was, but she could feel its presence – and thus speculated that it was a free undead, with some will of its own. She felt it panting, and speculating in that way that human creatures do – it was a lot of speculation which emanated into her head, almost driving out any thoughts of her own. She knew it was a member of the Dark God's retinue and would be reporting back to him. She also knew that the object given to them by their employer was in reality created by Morgath, and in the hands of one of the undead humans would work like a sword. But the substance of it was before Morgath touched it, and it had properties which were not from his creation. And it was those properties which Loria was interested in.

After a little while, the legionnaire awoke - and he knew that he was in trouble. In all of his training, he knew a stampede when he heard one – long before other people did. Guessing that the elf would also recognize it, he turned over and quietly woke his human companion. But as she awoke he put his head quietly in her face, and with his right hand quietly blew on his index finger in order to tell her to be quiet. Then he rattled in to his armor, with a quickness that few people could match. 

Unfortunately, some of the arrows which were sent hit Loria, and even with the protection – she was unconscious. He needed to figure out what was attacking them, and how long they had for the main force hit with swords, or axes, or spears. So he looked out in to the distance, and he could just barely see some humanoid – but clearly not human – figures in what looked like leather armor. He guessed that this was the Gargun which he had been hearing. Not only only were they ugly – but who is to say what ugly is? There countenances said that they were evil. He thought for a line which would describe them, but he was not so mellifuous. In fact, he had only read the word – not heard it spoken in any language that he had the privilege of speaking.

Taking his arms, he got up and saw Loria lying unconscious, and decided to stand where he was and fight the horde right there. Could see four running up to him – and he realized they were going to have a shock. Just than a wall of fire leaped from the branches – it was a spell given to him by Larani. 

The Gargun were distraught – they had not imagined that they would be expelled in this way. As they were roasting in the fire, he cut one by one, until all of them were dead. But the his enemy was cunning, and the second wave pulled short. They then reached for their bows – and were just about to use them. If they had, he would have been a pincushion. But at this point Gwynwyffer appeared suddenly buying them, and dispatched one with a pair of hits that were extremely vicious – it was clear that she was extremely good with her staff. It was at this point that the beasts collapsed. It seems they were not living beings, but on automata controlled by someone else.

With a great shriek, what looked like a man, but black, came out of the forest – though it was not heading towards them, but away. They could hear the shrieks for several minutes – growing wider with every breath. He was looking for it, but Gwynwyffer was involved in something different – that is checking Loria for wounds. Them suddenly, they were heaving with gulps of air.

First Gwynwyffer asked the question: “What was that?”

“Do you mean the fire? That is a protection from my Goddess.”

“It seems you did not say that you had such a thing.”

“I have surprises, not everything is as it looks to be. There is magic, then there are miracles. I do not do the first, but occasionally I traffic in the second.”

“She is going to be out, and then healing for a great while.” His companion said. “At least 10 days.”

“It is a good thing that we were close by.”

“Unless I miss my guess, it is very likely that she was giving us time to prepare. Otherwise by herself she would not have remained.”

“That is possible, but I think you are in awe of her strengths – and not enough aware of her weaknesses.”

Gwynwyffer said nothing. But gestured for the legionnaire to carry the female elf. The next station long way was Trobridge, and it would be slow because of the wounded nature of Loria.
Fortunately a caravan caught up with them, and they could bargain for passage, with both of them doing work. It was a long time for they were able to go. There were many stitches which Gwynwyffer made, and it was a very slow healing process. They manage to scrabble into the small wall village, and with the money which the legionnaire had on him, were able to rent a room. It was not even a village, and it was unwalled.

While it was called Trobridge, there was not any bridge, but a ford. And what made it annoying was they charged for it as if it was a bridge. For legionnaire had never seen anything like it, and while on his face he was polite – inside he was furious. Once again he was reminded that while it was a great wizards island, the accommodations were substandard. Very substandard. And the keeper of the Tavern styled himself as a Lord, though he had no right to bear arms. Another strike against this place.

For not the first time, he swore to himself that he would not be going back to this island if he could help it. It was not what it was advertised, the patina was of a great mysterious place, the reality was that humans largely did not go here and left the island to the beasties that lived here.

Monday, October 16, 2017

A Solitary Crow - Elkall-Anuz - 2

In the Fields

But the guards did not even question the legionnaire, in fact took no notice of him at all – almost as if he were invisible. In the man's mind, this would not do – he should have at least received an occasional salute, in difference to his rank – if they knew what it was. Out towards the gates, over the bridge along the wide river Kald, and over the fields which supplied most of the food with the exception of fish that were from the river- he went. Though he still noticed that he was given a wide berth. He shook his head, this sort of thing would not be permitted on any of the kingdoms or principalities which he had visited in his lifetime – and certainly not from the Azeyrani Empire. 

Where nothing was finalized until at least two different units had approved it, and stamped their seal.

Hour by hour more people were going from the road, and out on to the fields. Some were common areas, while some were owned. One could tell this, in some cases, by whether there were trees planted closed together; if there were not, it was common area; if there were, then it was owned by either a Lord, or one of the churches. Gradually, the vast rush of people had thinned – and by night fall he was the only person that saw. The sun had about an hour until sunset, and he saw crows grabbing on to the rails of the fence – that was falling down. This meant, of course, that while there was theoretically an owner, in practice, no one had recently touched these in many a year.

Then the crows scattered like the wind, and up ahead he saw a figure. It was not like a human – but more the outline of a human. It was about 100 yards away – and he ran towards it. But about halfway there it shimmered – and was gone. When he got up to it, he saw what was garb, made of black – but no footprints, either human, animal, or being. So he had not been imagining things. He looked both ways, but saw nothing. He was sure that something had been there, but he did not know what. He was puzzled and lifted his hand to his chin, and stroked it. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps – he did not know what it was but he was thinking on it. But he had to go forward, in two the oaks and maples which dotted the fields. There was absolutely no one who was working these fields – perhaps it was just that they were fallow, and would be worked next year.

Then the sun was interesting the lip of the world, and rapidly would be setting behind the hills. He decided that he would sleep the night, and take a fresh start. So he wondered away from the road, and sent up a small tent – about 200 yards away. You could tell that he was not in any particular hurry, though he felt that the marker which he sought for was close at hand. Better, he thought, to meet it in the morning – then blunder past.

It could not be said that it was a fit night for sleeping, he woke for a five times – but other than the naked sky he could see nothing and only heard the distant cries of a hoot owl. And though he felt that there was something nearby, he did not see anything, though he searched the field rather closely, before going back to sleep. At last he woke into just before twilight. He knew because there were a cacophony of birds chorusing the dawn. The light from the sky was just a little bit awakening, and he got up from his sleeping, put on his armor, and was trudging along up to the gate.

Over the fence he went, and was stiffly marching on his way. The field changed to woodland, which signaled to him that the idol which he looked for was probably close at hand. Just then the sun rose up a little bit to the left of the road. He still did not see any people, which was odd – usually a few people would be on this same road – since it was the major East-West byway out of Kaldor – and in to that space which was owned by no one. Evael was up ahead - the kingdom of the Sindarin – and beyond that between the large lake and the kingdoms of the West. But those were many moons away. Right now he was looking at the base of the road, and searching for his object.

Then he looked up – the sun was about an hour in to its course, and while there were a few birds chirping, and various kinds of rabbits – which froze when they thought they had been noticed – there were no signs of either larger life, or people. This was odd, because he thought he would have seen someone – because it was unlikely that no one had shown himself since yesterday. So he said of course directly perpendicular to the road, and into the woods – for it was not yet a forest.

Turning his head to and fro, he saw nothing – and a little bit of dread came up on him. It might be nothing, but it was a very loud nothing. Why was there no people – or anything else for that matter? At this point, he kept himself straight, and listened for anything which would tell him that it was normal. Only the birds did so. Thus he hid himself behind a very large maple tree, which was at least 50 years old. It was also dying, because he could see rot grown from its roots. He knew this meant something, but what he was not quite sure.

And men in an instant, the branches clasped around himself – sticking to him like glue. The leaves felt not like leaves, but like they were fingers grasping around him. They were at his hands, his chest, and finally his face – where they were plastering in his eyes. In fact, all over his head they were trying to subdue him.

It was at this moment that his training as a soldier came in to play: first he squatted down along his massive legs, and joined together his strong arms – making it very hard to displace him. His face was locked in a grip of intense will, making it hard to do anything but concentrate on his main objective – that is, releasing himself from the flurry of fingers formed as leaves. At first it seemed like he was going to fail, and if he had been a normal man – he would have – but his will dominated the motions that he made, and finally, he was able to break free. It was not an easy process, and his legs arms and torso were only slow to move. But move they did. He pivoted around on his right foot, pulling back on his left foot. Then see it was not the tree that bound him, but something controlling leaves – it was black, and shadowed – though he did not know what it was. He got a flash that it was the same thing that he saw the last evening, the shadow of a human form. But first of all he shifted to his right foot and begin the process of levering backwards again. Thus, he was still facing the tree – bought going away from it.

Gradually the leaves were torn away from his face, then from his arms. It was at this point that he was more able to deal with what saw – the shadow had placed its arms within the tree, and leaving them. He saw that the tree mimicked the motions, and at this point he drew his short sword – and tried to stab the intruder. But his sword passed right through its torso – not once but again and again as he plunged it in. then he thought it must be immune to normal weapons. The shadow moved to a higher branch, and swatted him down with it. Obviously it was not just immune to no weapons, but it could cause no damage to himself. So they were both laboring under disadvantages, but he had yet to find a way that he could hurt the shadow.

It was then that he saw from his left eye the form of an arrow loosed in flight. It was a long arrow from a long, and even then it was large. But he did not hit him but instead his opponent, which cried a noiseless scream. He only heard it in his head, where it was a bellowing sound. A host of crows jumped up from the oak tree, and infant birds of different kinds rose from their nests and screeched, though they knew not what caused it.

He looked around, and saw the most extraordinary site – he had been used to elves which were slightly smaller than humans. But instead he saw something quite different indeed. It was a female elf, but one which was at least 6 1/2 feet high, taller than he was, and that was saying something. He was used to being the tallest person in any group, so much so that when saw someone taller than he was, it almost made him wonder if the person was a giant. But this female elf was slender, but powerfully muscled. The sinews had not an ounce of fat that he could see, though it was only 30 yards away. And then he caught the face of this elf: and it was incredibly beautiful. The long white hair, and blue eyes set above the high cheekbones, and a face which was gaunt – but not overly so – wearing a green cloak with a long white dress underneath. There was a shifting aura about her, which tangled in her hair – it was white, but also slightly blue in nature. With a moment of care, she began:

“Are you hurt in the least? That was a follower of the Dark God – Morgath – who has fallen in two the state of serving only its master.”

The man was still dazed, but then replied back: “I have never seen a follower of the dark God, our you sure that that is the case? Or are you ...” he tried to find the local word for surmising, but then substituted “...guessing.”

Though he could not tell exactly what she was thinking, he guessed that it was a look of pity. “If matters are open to speculating, it would be my to say so. Remember that most elves you meet have been on the worlds great deal longer. Usually we do not openly speculate about something, it is not our way. You may call me Loria. What shall I call you.”

“You may just call me legionnaire. That will do. You are right, I had forgotten the difference in our lifespans. Where were you all this time?”

“I find you last night, and was here every minute of the day. You just got notice me, there was magic involved in that. I saw no reason to distract you, in your course of action. That would be rude. By the way, I just call you legionnaire many people will assume that are from Tharda, which uses Republic names for things.”

“Excuse me, you said magic?” He ignored all of the other details, and fixated on the thing that she said which was most important to him.

“A spell which makes me less easy to be observed, as well as protects from injury. It is not high magic, but it helps.”

The ease with which she spoke of an incantation was surprising to him in itself. Normally people would talk quietly about such things, obviously elves were somewhat different – they were like the giants and other folk of the North.

“And why were you so interested in my patterns and movements?”

“A friend of mine over heard to people talking at the small temple dedicated Peoni – she recognized that you were hunting for her. So she relayed the conversation of that encounter – because we were not certain whether you were a friend or foe. By the way, the priests of Peoni have led slip to various other members of other sects of your interest. And not all of them are friendly to you. In fact, one could almost say they were deeply unfriendly to you.”

Then it hit him. “You are talking about Gwynwyffer, the person I was sent to find. You realize that could have made this great deal easier by announcing yourselves at Tashal.”

“The problem that, is that we hired a magician to conceal you from the guards … you did not think that they would detain you if they knew that you were there?”

A great deal of what seemed to be coincidence, was in fact planned. He was meant to meet the two of them out here, not in the Tashal. The reason was simple: whatever force caused the shadow figure would have even more resources in the city, then out here on the road. He was just able to force one shadow underneath the tree, he doubted he would have done better against two – left alone more than that. He whistle, realizing that he had guardians that he did not know of, and it was these guardians who had made his life so easy. He was not going to forget that.

“So when are we going to meet your traveling companion?”

“She is up the road by the idol you were looking for.”

He was beginning to realize that elves were not merely long lived humans, and that how he would do things, is not how they would. But then he realized, that they were being careful – and it also occurred to him that the normal way for most individuals was that they were drunk most of the time. A bit of tipsiness was the usual state of affairs. It was not for him – and it was certainly not for them either – but most of the world liked a drink before breakfast, a drink before lunch, and several before dinner. In fact dinner would be superfluous, and they would begin drinking at sundown. Then he realized he had to say something.

“You will find that I am like you.” he wished the local language distinguished between you singular and you plural - “In that I do not drink except at the end of a day, when I am not on duty the next.” 

He softened his stance, because he wanted to express a kind of sympathy. This went well. Then he looked back, and saw the same thing that he had seen on the road – a black garb. The he went away with the elf, and into what he regarded as the unknown. But what he saw so far did not give him much hope – either it was unwashed, or it was populated by all manner of unearthly creatures.

Eventually, they meant a person – a rather saying woman, dressed in green who was of average height – but like her companion – was thin. In fact the helmeted men almost thought he could be thicker than the ball of them. But it was an enormous surprise when she spoke his native tongue, not fluently, but well enough. He gave her the letter, introducing himself and explaining the proposal that they were going to be on. She read it carefully, and then began to talk, and talk, and talk. She was burbling with questions, and unfortunately he did not have very good answers. He knew that they were supposed to go to Elkall-Anuz, a secret place inside the forest north of a place called Trobridge. It was very old, older than even elves and dwarves, back to the Earthmasters – who were the first people on the world as far as anyone knew.

Trobridge was a few days distance, even on foot. Then they would get off the salt Road – which was where they were – and strike out to the north. Enclosed was a map of the general region, and another one which was specific to the place where they would find the ruined monument, and all that was around it.

She looked at it closely, more closely than he had done, and found that there were three distinct regions. The youngest one was of a tyrant who had conquered a huge stretch of the South, except where the elves ruled. His name was Lothrim, called the Foulspawner. This had not been of interest to him, because it was a small empire, on a distant isle. So Gwynwyffer explained to him that this empire was run by a thoroughly nasty man – this everyone agreed with – who ruled the lower third of Hârn. His most devious plot was creating Gargun, a bipedal ape man who was very clever – several species of the same breed. Even without any course behind them they spread. And spread. Until they had warns in almost every place that was not settled. Then a second layer was from before Lothrim built, by an ancient people known as the Jarin, to venerate this place. And then at the heart was a fortress built of what is now called pseudo-stone, which is attributed to the Earthmasters themselves.

Finally she explained that they were to enter in to the secret entrance, and magically manipulate the pseudo-stone.

“And what are we to do with this stone?” The legionary asked.

“We are going to travel in almost an instant, to another place, also containing a pseudo-stone. The person who wants you to employ our services has contained something which will help. Which is how he is buying us. And unfortunately it will work - Loria has occasionally moved from stone to stone, but more often she is unconscious.” It was said in tone of voice that echo.

This was more than the legionnaire had bargained for, but he was on commission – and would not argue. If it was possible – and she assured him it was – he would do his duty. Whatever that was. He also noted, that they had had adventures in the past. And that the stones were part of this.

“So shall we go? It is getting on in the day, and I, for one, want to spend one day outside, not more.” Loria asked. She was patient, but not that patient - it was clear that even she had limits to letting Gwynwyffer talk.

So away a went on to the road, crossing ever more deeply – from fields, to fallows, to woods, and then in the forest, occasionally hearing a river in the southern part. In the forest, the canopy covered much of the sky – and clouds were coming in bespeaking of a rainstorm.