The Glowing Glade.
Border of Drasilian Lands.
Lady Utane Laich lifted her eyes to the rising sun, dragging the tip of her battered staff across a rune she had etched deeply into the soft soil of her glade. The line cut deep across the foreboding word, shaking morning dew from the nearby drooping grasses. The sounds of animals, distant and nearby, birds and bugs, mostly, accompanied the soothing sight; the forest illuminated with the vigorous yellow glow of a new day, reflected from myriad crystalline drops that still lingered on the still leaves. The Druidess smiled, standing from the ancient oaken stump she had rested upon, a genuine smile that stayed with her as she moved between tightly knit trees. They whispered to her in their sing song, yet sorrowful, tongue, greeting her with the highest esteem.
Hail, Keeper, offered a tree with a particularly wizened face carved into it, contorting the tight bark at the edges of its mouth into an equally bright smile, is it a new day, already?
"Yes, Thockuund, are you feeling well?"
Utane leaned close to the tree, nodding, looking over it with a careful eye. This tree was amongst the oldest in her glade and predated her by several centuries. It had given her cause to worry, in the previous week, afflicted as it had become by a strange discoloration in its leaves. She titled her head upward, pushing aside the dangling strands of her flaxen hair, placing her feet on Thockuund's roots to get a closer look. Only a few leaves left afflicted by the violent brown and yellow rot that had nearly consumed the tree's extremities. Removing herself from the tree, she nodded, walking away, hearing a light, slow whisper as she did.
Aye, came the ancient tree's response, better than I have in some time! I appreciate your assistance in this matter, Lady Utane.
Smiling, she turned and offered the tree a deep bow; which was received with a good natured snort. Leaving the most talkative tree in her care to sing to himself as she tread the well worn path that lead her through her most favored areas of the glade. Travelers came and went, sometimes stopping by her simple abode to trade stories or haggle for supplies; apparently, she had gained something of a reputation in the nearby Kingdom of Drasil and a good reputation at that. However, that was not to say she would aid all travelers. There were those who crossed into her territory that would find naught but woe and hardship in the glade of Lady Utane Laich. They were those motivated by greed, or those who practiced foul magics. The thought made her cringe visibly, the ancient silver leaves of her mantle shifting as she did. Strangely, she had attributed the tree's decline to the necromantic prowess of her most dire foe. Utane's mouth drew into a harsh line at the passing thought of her vile rival and slowed her steps, considering the strength of the magical wards she maintained around the glade. Remembering the location of the nearest ward, Lady Utane moved, now, with a sense of urgency through the glade...quickly beyond the staring animals and curious trees.
It was as she examined the pulsating runic circle that a great rumble echoed in the distance. Chills ran through her an instant before she felt the agony of the land. As she fell to her knees, stunned and suddenly breathless that it swept over her and through the glade. Trees cracked and tumbled, their voices drowned out by the great shaking that gripped the land. The soft loam of the glade bellowed, split and coughed out a cloud of heavy dust; in the distance, a massive gash across the land. She shared the pain of the earth, for a moment, trying to push it away and then embracing it; then rose, shakily, her bare feet finding purchase on the still trembling ground. Green eyes dared not to direct themselves toward the glade, knowing that her fury would give way to despair, as she gathered herself and her staff. She moved with purpose, beyond the northeastern edge of her glade and into the empty stretch of land that separated Lady Utane from her most hated foe.
"What evil have you wrought this time, fiend?!" She called out with force, lifting her staff high with rage; her face framed by the warm lances of still rising sun. The landscape before her was flat and devoid of significant traces of vitality, caught as it was between the conflicting magical forces of life and death; neither of which had prevailed before. When nothing responded to her, Utane raised her silken hood and draped it over her furrowed brow; drawing her cloak tightly around her body, staff clenched tightly in a trembling fist. Closing her eyes, she cast out her will, searching for the nearest trace of the Necromancer's blight. He was drawing closer, having left his lair but a moment before. She steeled herself for combat and offered forward
City of Marali.
Fluidity was important to Kard Strys, as was adaptability to unforeseen changes in circumstance, be they fortuitous or ill. He swept around the corner, dodging the pointed query and darting into the shadows, heavy footsteps clattering close behind him. Castle Wyewold was a maze of interconnected corridors and rooms, most of which were unfamiliar to the thief, except, for, perhaps, the servant's quarters he had been invited to a few months prior. It was there he sought to mask himself, or, at the very least, to escape the small troupe of guards that were rapidly approaching his back. They shouted for others, harsh voices echoing throughout the long hallway. Kard halted for a moment to swing open a door and duck inside, allowing it to quietly shut against his back. The handsome young man found himself in a sparsely decorated room, a small group of nearly disrobed women staring at him; their eyes wide with a mounting horror.
He pressed a gloved finger against his lips and stepped forward, his free hand reaching into the hefty bag dangling from his waist; nimble fingers reaching for a small orb he had stashed there for just such an occasion. One young woman trembled at his approach, clutching the loose linen of her garb close to her heaving chest, redness creeping into her face as she beheld the slim figure moving forward; his steps unheard against the cold stone floor. Outside, the commotion passed with a symphony of clanking chain and plate; weapons rattling in their scabbards as the procession bolted down the hall, cries of fury echoing in their wake. Kard grinned, keeping his eyes on the women, who eyed him with open suspicion. He hoped they'd hold their tongues until he slipped away from the main corridors. Moving quickly, he opened the door, slinging it wide open and breaking into a full run; the servants crying out to the guards as he did.
Castle Wyewold was alive, now, awaken from the peaceful slumber it had enjoyed, and furious at the theft of its most precious treasure; the Worg's Orb. Kard felt the orb resting in his palm, still, as he removed it from his seemingly depthless bag. It was a small thing, hardly covering his leather clad palm, that appeared to be made of a well tempered, azure glass that caught every passing light on its well polished surface. Distracted, Kard found himself stumbling down a flight of stone stairs; headfirst. The steps passed in a blur, blunted bites falling on his brow as he moved without the fluidity he so valued. He forced himself to keep quiet, tucking his body, allowing his knees and elbows to take the brunt of the damage. The final step sent him rolling across the deserted Great Hall of the castle and well into the open, spacious floor. Standing, slowly, ignoring the vibrant throbbing in his joints, Kard took a moment to find a nearby plate, a well polished silver platter left behind by the lackadaisical cleaning crew, to observe his features. He removed the hood with a swift, practiced motion, staring into his own large, amber eyes, searching for anything that went beyond superficial damage to his face. A large red mark marred his forehead, stretching down, in a perfect line, to the top of his ear.
He stared into the plate for a moment, admiring his jawline, after pushing aside his annoyance, tilting his head up and down, running a gloved hand over the stubble that covered his neck and much of his face. A sigh of relief escaped him, as his own reasonably good looks seemed to be well intact. The hood went back into place easily, sliding over his messy, dark hair, and his face was again obscured. Of course, that fact wouldn't stop the guards, who, again, were heralded by the rattling of their armor and furious shouts, who were opening the door he had passed through only moments before. By the projection of their voices, he figured they had gathered a few more followers in their quest to stop the thief. Grimness settled into his features as he moved across the room, sliding the Worg's Orb back into his Bag of Holding and retrieved a small number of poorly crafted smoke pellets and tossed them easily into the stairway. The smoke spread quickly, black and noxious, trailing behind Kard as he took long strides away from the blossoming cloud.
As the heavy door slammed shut, he could hear the muffled shouts of confusion; accompanied by a chorus of gags and coughs that followed him through the hallway. Corridors gave way to a singular hall, massive and lined with paintings of the Wyewold noble family. His feet fell on the soft carpet with haste, carrying him to the doorway that lead out of Castle Wyewold. Approaching, the sounds of a tumultuous night greeted him warmly; fires burning in their braziers, near the massive open gate, an alarm bell tolling somewhere in the castle courtyard, the distant shouts of the town guard from below the steep hill the castle stood on. Kard broke into a full sprint, beyond the castle, beyond the hill and did not stop until he had wormed his way through the alleys of Marali. It all passed in a muddled indistinctness, unimportant as it all seemed. What mattered was that the young thief had accomplished what many had said was impossible; Kard had acquired the Worg's Orb...an artifact of dubious origin and even more mystifying was the use of the Orb, something that he was completely ignorant of. However, with his recent turn of fortune, it seemed that he would soon be able to discover exactly why he had wanted to steal it.
He found himself standing outside of a familiar dive, a rickety tavern situated on the southern edge of Marali; a place named The Mystic Tankard. Kard pushed aside the door, admiring the familiar creak of its rusted hinges, bracing for the cloud of acrid smoke that billowed out toward the open night sky. Stepping through the thin veil of Quoto smoke, he cast a cursory glance around the room; removing his cloak and bundling it under his arm as he approached the counter. A stocky Orcish woman greeted him with a warm smile, motioning with one of her large hands to his preferred place at the bar. He slid into it easily, moving the cloak into his lap, his eyes met with a mischievous giggle from the barkeep.
"You're looking smug tonight, Kard," the woman offered with a wink, prefacing what she was dying to ask, "perhaps something went your way, eh?"
"C'mon, now, Luq, you know what I'm so happy about!"
A few patrons turned simultaneously at the baritone outburst, eyeing Kard and Luq briefly before turning back to their more private affairs. The thief leaned in close, realizing his novice mistake and slipped the Orb from the bag and into his palm; giving only a cursory glance to ensure that no one else was watching. It shimmered and shifted in the dim light of the tavern, light playing in its recesses; their faces, distorted and stretched, staring down with an equal sense of awe.
"It's magical, isn't it?"
"Of course it is!"