The journey back to Denerim seemed shorter than the journey to Logerswold. While all had ended well, Pryft’s use of blood magic the day before weighed heaviliy on Ashalla’s mind. When she inquired about it, Pryft admitted that while he knew that it was wrong- that the Templars would be stroking their swords at the thought of him being a maleficarum- he couldn’t deny the power he felt. He reminded her that it had saved her clan and possibly an entire valley of people, most of them innocent. Asha reminded him that the path to Hell is paved with good intentions. They both knew the risks, and while she was grateful that he had done it when he did, she made him promise not to do it again. Pryft agreed with a smile and laugh, and Asha found herself blushing.
After a long journey, the heroes were happy to return to Denerim. They had a rude welcome as they came across an assault on an elven woman in an ally by three human men. The men’s expecting smiles upon finally restraining the surprisingly combat-trained elf turned to to shock when the heroes demanded her release. Muttering something about “the wolves are here,” the thugs almost immediately gave up the fight and ran away.
The elf in question was a denizen of the Denerim alienage named Shayda. She was known to Kallian, and seemed to have a common ally in Izot Wulff. Izot had combat trained Shayda like she had trained Kallian; however, Shayda, while thankful for the expertise, seemed disillusioned with Izot’s personal campaign for the alienage elves. Izot seemed to hope to make the elves combat-ready to defend themselves, but Shayda and Kallian agreed that this could end up making skirmishes with humans more frequent and give humans greater excuses for violence against the elves.
Shayda was grateful for her rescue, but she became humbled beyond measure when it became clear that she was saved by Baranti’s Wolves.
The incredulous looks on the heroes’ faces were likely missed in Shayda’s excitement.
She thanked them profusely, explaining that Baranti’s Wolves were known to have not only saved the village of Vintiver from destruction by an abomination and a horde of darkspawn, but they also saved Logerswold from a bandit camp AND a sizable force of Tevinter slavers in same day. This news of their triumph came from a few traveling minstrels who had apparently hit the local taverns before the heroes got home to Denerim.
Kallian, while examining Shayda’s apple cart, found a small and light pouch in it. When asked about it, Shayda became defensive and asked that they leave it alone. Shayda thanked the Wolves, as she called them, and left for home after a generous donation from the heroes. The Wolves then decided that returning to their patron would be wise.
Naturally, Nicola Baranti was impressed by their work. They had gone above and beyond, and it seemed that they had become heroes overnight. Nicola certainly enjoyed the rush of thank yous and gifts to Baranti Manor, along with the influx of business and job offers that appeared at her doorstep.
Baranti heard the story from the heroes themselves, and was bemused by the title the people had given the heroes: Baranti’s Wolves. While she found the name a bit strange, she liked the reputation they had built for themselves, and for her house by proxy. She wished them even more luck in their adventures and told them that she had another job for them when they wished to continue their adventuring careers.
While conversation over baked meats, breads, and fine cheeses carried on, another visitor came to Baranti Manor. Jack, a human woman with bags under her eyes and an incredible appetite, nonchalantly walked into the building and immediately tore into the food on the table. While the other heroes looked on in worry and nausea, Alora challenged the woman to a drinking contest. Jack heartily accepted, but she lost the battle on account of her drinking earlier in the day.
Nicola Baranti told the heroes that she wanted them, including Jack (who, she assured the others, was a valuable ally), to go to a small town called Sothmere. There, they would secure a contract with the locals to supply Nicola Baranti with a steady stream of ryott bread, the town’s signature wheat bread.
The heroes were under no time constraints, so Nicola was happy to let them take a day or two off. Jack picked herself off the manor floor to return to personal business while the rest of the Wolves also went their separate ways for a day.
Asha spoke with Braedon on her way out of the district, while Pryft accompanied her. Pryft was not happy about his first impression of the situation, witnessing Braedon flirt with Asha. Braedon claimed that time apart from her was difficult, and he hoped she remained safe. She returned the sentiment, beginning to pick up on the fact that infatuation was in the air. Luckily, Braedon and Asha remained oblivious to Pryft’s distaste for the knight.
Kallian decided that she might take up Shayda’s advice and speak to Izot about her motives with the elves. Approaching her home under cover of darkness, she was discovered by Izot’s father, Arl Gallagher Wulff. The mountainous man forgave her trespass, but demanded that if she planned to speak to his daughter, that she convince Izot to abandon her crusade for the elves. Gallagher insisted her plans would only cause more unrest, and Kallian would be someone Izot might listen to.
Nervous and worried, Kallian nevertheless approached Izot in her room, only to find her further training Shayda in combat. Shayda gave her a knowing look as she left, leaving Izot with Kallian. Kallian took a deep breath and explained as delicately as she could the situation.
Izot caught on quick, asking if her father sent Kallian to say that. Kallian admitted that she agreed with her father a bit. Izot responded with a dagger digging into the wall behind Kallian and a simple “get out.” Izot began to cry, sobbing that her father didn’t think she could make the lives of her friends better, and neither did Kallian, someone who she had helped. She spoke no further, only fought to hold back her tears.
Kallian passed by an passive Gallagher who assured her that it was the right thing to do. Kallian wasn’t so sure.
At the inn the Wolves were staying at the for the night, Eshara and Alora retired to the same room. Alora, drunk from her and Jack’s contest (and further drinking at the tavern) seemed to bother Eshara. Alora failed to notice, and Eshara didn’t speak up. The next morning, Eshara treated Alora to heavy foods to lessen her drink haze. Alora harmlessly inquired about Eshara’s helpfulness as of late, but provoked a bashful response from Eshara.
Eshara asked Alora to be her mate.
Alora, slightly off-guard, shifted to a warm comfort, and agreed. She and Eshara would be mates. Alora wished that they could take things slow- but not too slow. The morning proved to be very exciting.
That morning, Kallian wished to make amends to Izot, going so far as to purchase a book of war history and dress it in wrapping and a bow that she actually paid for. Refraining from the urges to steal bows from a little girl’s hair or to swipe the book from the struggling bookstore, Kallian rushed to the Wulff’s townhouse. Her efforts proved to be in vain, as the Wulffs had vacated the house, save for a few servants who remained to clean and maintain the house. They informed Kallian that the arl and his daughter had left hours before Kallain arrived.
Although Kallain’s feet were swift to scale the buildings and scour the streets, she could not find the Wulff’s coach. They had left, and were likely long gone. Kallian sighed and looked down at her prepared present. She would deliver it another day.
Ashalla took Pryft towards the orphanage in the Dregs, but they were intercepted by the orphans themselves, accompanied by their caretakers. They were on their way to the local Chantry, and the boy Asha had rescued from the cultists before, Tom, was among them. His face lit up to see Asha approach. The stern sister who ran the orphanage was in her usual surly mood, making comments about Asha’s heritage and even going so far as to insult Nicola Baranti’s judgment of character (in hiring Asha as an agent), to her three sisters’ horror. Nevertheless, Asha was able to speak to Tom.
Tom was learning to pantomime his words, and expressed to Asha, with some difficulty, the difficulties of living with the sisters at the orphanage. He expressed, with profound and worrying belief, that the incident that caused him to lose his tongue was because he was a naughty child, and that he should repent through work in the name of the Maker. He was to keep frivolous pursuits, like his art and talent for drawing, from the eyes of the Maker, as it would not please him like hard work in his name.
Asha, needless to say, was disgusted. Pryft was similarly horrified, remarking that it was beginning to sound a lot like the Circle.
She promised him that she would find him a home, and encouraged him to continue his art. He was worthy in anyone’s eyes, and he should not listen to the sister’s lies. Asha and Pryft left quickly, so as to not strike at the sister.
Linnea took time to find a new weapon, discovering a dwarf from Orzammar. He sold her a fine sword of strong steel and a heavier shield. Her day remained quite uncomplicated.
Eshara and Alora found the same dwarven merchant, from whom Alora purchased a fine dagger for Eshara.
A hapless Kallian was approached during the day, in the midst of a large market crowd, by a painfully familiar voice. The voice, calling out to Kallian as his “hidden flower” and “beauty made more beautiful by her vanishing nature”, belonged to Nicola’s grandson, Adric Baranti. The crowd began to gather and ask questions, none of which suited Kallian well. Trying to salvage her situation as best she could, she slipped away at the first opportunity while the people around her muttered about her relationship with Adric. Kallain quickly left to find and craft a mask to hide her identity.
Eventually, the time came for the heroes to depart for Sothmere. As they gathered their things, Eshara offered to stay behind and scope out the elven alienage, which she hadn’t seen since their arrival in Denerim. Meanwhile, Pryft seemed eager to spy on the Templars, learn who was in charge, and discover where their patrols would take them through the city.
The journey to Sothmere was, thankfully, uneventful, but the village was not. As the sky grew gray and overcast, and a light drizzle softened the dirt for the village, the villagers were toughing it out, and for good reason. Normally a small hamlet of a farming village, the whole town was out in celebration. Games were being played, food was being offered at stalls, villagers were carousing, and any other manner of merriment was being had. As the heroes drank in the scene, they were hailed by a hunter with a heavy Orlesian accent. She called herself [[:fiala | Fiala], and she knew Linnea well. Exchanging hugs and warm greetings, she welcomed Linnea and her friends to Sothmere.
Fiala explained that the festival was being held in honor of a new stone fort under construction. With attacks from the Chasind in the Korcari Wilds becoming more common, the local arl saw fit to give the tiny town a new fort to replace the wooden one. Thus, a new Fort Sothmere was planned, and the people could already see the traffic that true security might bring to their village. New traffic meant more money for the village, meaning the small village might become a respectable frontier town. This was plenty of cause for celebration, and Fiala wasted no time in bringing archer-heroes with her to the archery contest.
Many of the games intrigued the heroes. Fiala and Alora matched their skills with a bow in the archery contest, with Fiala taking the blue ribbon in the end. Alora then tossed a jeering farmboy into the mud, taking the blue ribbon for the wrestling games. Linnea, with her talent with axes, handily won the darkspawn smite game, taking the blue ribbon as her prize. Linnea also managed to best her long-missed friend, Wanda, in a game of dueling. The energetic and spunky Wanda was eventually clotheslined by Linnea’s practice and patience. Recognizing the duo, most of the old-hands around Sothmere cheered them on and gladly handed Linnea the blue ribbon for her victory.
Watching Linnea from a distance, a handsome knight named Ser Vilem Richta seemed to take a liking to her. Her skills in martial matters appealed to his background, and he approached her with an invitation to sit near him at the feast in the evening. With a smile, Linnea accepted.
Kallian and Jack took their time scoping out the area, tasting the food and wines, and casing interesting stories and leads. Jack had to slip away for personal business, but was back before anyone noticed her being gone.
Uniterested in games or food, Asha simply observed the town, but was surprised to find a pair of Dalish elves performing for a small crowd. A beautiful elf woman, Dielza, danced traditional and exotic dances in an ancient elven style that Asha did not recognize, while her brother, Olek, charmed the crowds with his odd looks and swift hands.
Upon closer inspection, Asha found that the tattoos they bore were odd and seemed unlike anything she had found in her clan. She eventually surmised that they were not real tattoos, suggesting that these elves may be charlatans. She waited until their performance ended before confronting them about it. They seemed overjoyed to meet Asha, and confessed that they were not originally Dalish, but they looked up to the Dalish as “real” elves who were in touch with their heritage. To be like them was all Dielza and Olek really wanted. It took no time for them to be invited to Asha’s clan, and they were overjoyed and tearful at the news.
Dielza couldn’t help but notice Kallian, whom she seemed to recognize.
As Asha moved on, she eventually stumbled across a short, old chasind woman, Old Stoyanka. While strange and somewhat out of place, she seemed to have no fear in admitting her ability with magic, but seemed more concerned that Asha was not eating enough. She claimed she was a mystic of the village, and thanked their remoteness for keeping the Templars away from her. Offering simple yet accurate obervations and advice, Stoyanka urged Asha to enjoy the festivities, and hoarsely cackled as she moved to join the fun.
Eventually, the feast began. The village was gathered into a large tent with two rows of long tables covered with hearty food and drink. Linnea, Alora, and Fiala took places near the front with their blue ribbons affording them the luxury. The knight, Ser Vilem, sat the table opposite, but could still engage Linnea in conversation. Asha, Jack, and Kallian found seats near the back.
Sherrif Milo stood to toast the feast, but was interrupted by dogs barking. After clearing his throat to try again, he was interrupted by more dogs barking.
Then, everything was interrupted by screaming.
The tent was sliced through by an axe, and a chasind stalker stepped through, followed by more at the tent’s entrance. Something, however, was obviously not quite right. The man’s skin was jaundiced and yellowish, he exuded a potent stench, his eyes seemed to bulge from his skull, his mouth frothed with yellow spit, and his veins and muscles bulged as if they would burst. Wanda managed to move Milo, but not protect herself from a dagger wound that seemed to slowly turn yellow. The chasind howled and screamed as they cut down fleeing villagers and moved to harass the Wolves.
Linnea, Alora, Asha, and Kallian all received wounds from weapons coated in yellow blood and began to give off a stench while their skin turned a sickly, yellow tint. Jack avoided infection, but only barely, while she and the heroes defended themselves and several villagers from the attack within and without the feast tent.
The chasind threw themselves at their victims, weapons swinging wildly, like killers possessed by a cruel demon. Not only that, but even fatal wounds only slowed them down. Broken ribs, jaws, and arms only served to fuel their rage, and they required great force to bring down.
Even as the heroes killed half a dozen of the ragers, they could still hear screaming outside.