An Uncommon Want

Game Master Mowque


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I want a hero: an uncommon want,
When every year and month sends forth a new one.

Lord Byron, Don Juan, Canto I, Stanza 1.

The Storval Plateau. What outsiders called the 'High Country' or the 'Brown Lands'. Commonly viewed as an arid wasteland of deep ravines and rocky crags, all covered with gasping dust. Inhabited by little more then wild beasts and even wilder men. A land of brutal raiders best to be avoided and lacking the beauty and comforts of the low lands.

The Shoanti knew better. It was only their adoptive home, of course, they had long dwelt in the greener lands below, having been pushed out by the migrating Varisians in ancient times. Their old stories still spoke of the dewy dells and glades, of sandy beaches and green forests, lands long lost to them. But the Shoanti had grown to love their new home, and they named it the The Land That Breathed. The few outsiders who heard the name assumed it was related to the massive dust-storms that formed on the wide plains, raging for days across gorge and hillock. But it also had a another, deeper meaning to the Shoanti.

It was a living land, if one had eyes to see. Animals and plants abounded their, int heir own way. Vast herds of cattle roamed the rocky grasslands, great birds filled the sky and dark forests lurked in deep chasms. It was more then enough to provide life to the Shoanti, to the many Quahs that roamed the landscape. It breathed life into them, even as it sometimes claimed death in return. A lesson that Awenasa Windkeepr knew all too well.

But night softened the land. The hard ridges and hills of the distance faded from sight, replaced by vague outlines of shadow. The wind died away, no longer the dust-filled furnace blast of the day, but a cool gentle breeze. Awenasas' nose was long tuned to it, and she could detect the scent of night-flowering plants on the air, subtle and sweet. The gritty soil under foot was cool and soft, crackling softly under her feet.

The greatest change was the sky. It was not the daytime sky, a vast bowl of harsh blue, filled with the sun's blazing wrath, but instead a mighty canvas of the gods. Countless stars arched above, in every color from ice blue to dull red. They had stories, the stars did, stories that Awenasa had heard many times from the tribal elders. Some were heroic legends of victory and battle, others simple tales of hearth and home. Some even foretold the future....

Awenasa turned her mind from that final thought. She had no stomach for the future, not now. Not after what had happened to her sister....Almost against her will, the woman's eyes once again lifted to the heavens, searching for a pattern among the blue-black depths.

The Twins.

How the Quah had looked at her, when she and the warriors returned after the failed raid. More then the usual tears and loss after any loss of life, their had been the crushing burden of the dead prophecy. It had hung in the air after smoke from a wildfire, weighing down hearts and minds. There had been no rituals, no celebrations, none of the usual rhythms of life and war that were the way of the Tamiir-Quah. Everyone had simply slumped to bed, huddling in their huts and tents, grappling with the truth that their gods had lied or been mistaken.

Except Awenasa. Unable to sleep, she had begun walking around the encampment, pacing that thin line between home and the wild. Despite herself, her mind drifted to other dark nights, when she and Makayda had walked untroubled under the stars. They had talked of everything, of old stories of the Ulfen, of their bright future ahead, of the lands to be regained for their people. So many dreams and hopes. Now all as dry and empty as bones in the plains.

Lost in her thoughts, Awenasa almost missed the small sound behind her, of stone scraping stone. But no one survived in the Stroval Plauteua by being unaware and guided by instinct deeper then thought, the monk whirled, crouching low in a combat stance. It would be a brave predator that would come so close to a Shoanti village, but the Stroval plains had more then a few beasts willing to take the risk.

What confronted the young woman wasn't a pack of dire wolves, a sneaking giant or man-eating scorpion. Instead, it was an old woman, wearing animal hides and soft leather moccasins. In one hand she had a long staff, like a walking staff, while the other was behind her hunched back. Even in the dark, Awenasa could see the deep wrinkles lining her face and eyes, giving her a look of old leather or stone. Gnarled and bent, she looked like the stump of a weathered tree, still hale but worn by long life in harsh lands.

In an instant, Awenasa recognized her. She-Who-Upsets-The-Water, a village elder and one of the oldest. Awenasa realized she hadn't seen the old woman today, when she and the band had arrived back at the village. That wasn't unheard of, She-Who-Upsets-The-Water had a reputation as being an eccentric gadfly who seemed to do little then criticize the plans and dreams of others, constantly upsetting even the most genial meetings. Her name had been given to her with careful aforethought. Her other name was Dawnlight, for it was said the old elder never slept, and merely waited for the dawn.

Dawnlight stood in the dark, still as a statue, watching Awensasa. Finally she said, "You mourn. This is good." A moment passed, before she went on, "Come, sit with me. I am too old to stand to speak."

Without waiting for a reply, Dawnlight led Awenasa down a short slope of rocky gravel to a pile of jumbled stones, a long forgotten stream bed perhaps. The elder found a smooth stone she could rest on, and waved at another for Awenasa. With a sigh she sat on the cool rock, bracing herself with one wrinkled and scarred hand. She still clung to the staff, letting it trail onto the sandy soil below her feet.

"Beaten paths are for beaten men." She-Who-Upsets_The-Water said, glancing up toward the worn gravel Awenasa had been pacing in her grief and confusion. [b]"And women, so it is said. Is it true, are you beaten?"


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa had to keep moving in order to not be overwhelmed by the thoughts and feelings that were roiling within her. She looked up to seek out the comforting familiarity of the constellation she secretly thought belonged to her and Makayda only to be met with grief and lonliness as the reality of the loss of her twin washes over her. She chokes back the sob that threatens to erupt in the stillness of the night. She feels undone and lost. Part of her, some may argue the better part, has been ripped from her leaving a gaping hole in her soul. She had earned every single look of contempt she'd received when she got back. She may yearn for comfort but she didn't deserve it.

Years of training and honed instincts cause Awenasa to react before her mind processes the noise she hears. Upon recognition of She-Who-Upsets-The-Water, her body relaxes out of her combat pose and she becomes aware of wetness on her cheeks from tears which she furiously wipes away. She mutely follows the elder wondering if she is about to be chastised or lectured or worse. But she has always respected She-Who-Upsets-The-Water and so she obediently sits on the offered stone at the woman's feet.

"Am I beaten?" she parrots, "I guess that depends on your definition of beaten. I am gutted, utterly empty, without purpose or hope, a failure, alone, and probably hated by everyone in the quah. So if you define that as beaten then I guess I am. I don't understand why the spirits spared me and not her." She couldn't bring herself to say Makayda's name out loud. She took a few deep breaths to push back a new flood of tears. "It makes no sense."


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The old woman peered down from her rocky seat, cocking her aged head slightly. Suddenly she looked for all the world like an bird, bright-eyed in the dark, investigating some potential item of interest on the sandy ground. Then she cackled, her voice sounded as dry and worn as leather left in the sun for years uncounted.

"Purpose!" She snorted dismissively, "You children worry overmuch about it! Life is what you choose, not what fate decrees! Too many people set their lives by the shaman's fortellings, as if they are clear or accurate." This is close to attacking the entire Shoanti faith structure by Dawnlight seems unconcerned.

At Awenasa's mention of spirits, She-Who-Upsets-The-Water frowns and jabs her walking stick at the younger woman's head in a surprisingly nimble movement. It just misses her ear, and Awenasa's wonders if that was by design or chance.

"Do not try to understand the spirits! Fate goes ever as it must, as the wise say. Pondering them merely leads to sleepless nights and confused dreams. Do not dwell on them."

Dawnlight leans back on her stone, sighing with relief as the rock takes her weight. She is a dim outline in the gloom, a mere shape set against the endless stars.

"You sister has gone to the next journey. It is sad, for she had much to do here, and her people miss her. It is right and proper to mourn, but not to be defeated." Her voice becomes gruff, "For you have no changed, or your purpose. Do you not walk and talk, breathe and eat? The living must focus on the living, not the shades of those who go before us. Listen to your elders, for they are wise."

Softer she adds, "I declare you are not beaten, and I am not wrong. So you do not need a beaten path, either in dust or in your mind. You need a new way, a new purpose." Her smile was like old bones in the desert.

Looking sly she added, voice casual, "What do you know of Eivind of the Heavy Hand and his companions?"

Awenasa's head snapped up at the abrupt change of topic. Eivind the Heavy Hand? What didn't she know? He had been...was, the greatest Ulfen warrior in a century, or maybe more. His fame had reached to every corner of the north, and even in Awenasa's small isolated Quah, his exploits were told around the campfire. The fact that he was one of the hated foe only seemed to burnish his legend.

What tale was her favorite? Him personally ending the Jarl civil war by slaying three rival chieftains in single combat, on the same night? His supposed journey into the First World, the land of fey and spirits? When he treked into the frozen Crown of the World alone to tame a savage Blood Lion? Or was it when he had defeated the Black Necromancer of the Glacier in a battle lasting three days on the high ice? And who could forget his brutal struggle with the Bane of the White, a frigid linnorm who had been a scourge of Ulfen lands for generations? Eivind had tracked it into the very lair, where he slew it with his bare hands and teeth.

As child Awenasas had spent hours listening to such stories, and adding her own bits when the tales were unclear, filling in the details. When she was very young, she had even fantasized meeting the Ulfen hero on the wild plains of her home, seeing him striding across the Stroval Plateau. His legendary axe, Skæbne, would flash in the sun and he would greet Awenasa as a fellow warrior. And perhaps, just perhaps, peace would be gained not by a fight but by finding what they had in common.

But that had been many years ago. Awenasa had not imagined such for many years. Besides, The old woman peered down from her rocky seat, cocking her aged head slightly. Suddenly she looked for all the world like an bird, bright-eyed in the dark, investigating some potential item of interest on the sandy ground. Then she cackled, her voice sounded as dry and worn as leather left in the sun for years uncounted.

"Purpose!" She snorted dismissively, "You children worry overmuch about it! Life is what you choose, not what fate decrees! Too many people set their lives by the shaman's fortellings, as if they are clear or accurate." This is close to attacking the entire Shoanti faith structure by Dawnlight seems unconcerned.

At Awenasa's mention of spirits, She-Who-Upsets-The-Water frowns and jabs her walking stick at the younger woman's head in a surprisingly nimble movement. It just misses her ear, and Awenasa's wonders if that was by design or chance.

"Do not try to understand the spirits! Fate goes ever as it must, as the wise say. Pondering them merely leads to sleepless nights and confused dreams. Do not dwell on them."

Dawnlight leans back on her stone, sighing with relief as the rock takes her weight. She is a dim outline in the gloom, a mere shape set against the endless stars.

"You sister has gone to the next journey. It is sad, for she had much to do here, and her people miss her. It is right and proper to mourn, but not to be defeated." Her voice becomes gruff, "For you have no changed, or your purpose. Do you not walk and talk, breathe and eat? The living must focus on the living, not the shades of those who go before us. Listen to your elders, for they are wise."

Softer she adds, "I declare you are not beaten, and I am not wrong. So you do not need a beaten path, either in dust or in your mind. You need a new way, a new purpose." Her smile was like old bones in the desert.

Looking sly she added, voice casual, "What do you know of Eivind and his companions?"

Awenasa's head snapped up at the abrupt change of topic. Eivind? What didn't she know? He had been...was, the greatest Ulfen warrior in a century, or maybe more. His fame had reached to every corner of the north, and even in Awenasa's small isolated Quah, his exploits were told around the campfire. The fact that he was one of the hated foe only seemed to burnish his legend.

What tale was her favorite? Him personally ending the Jarl civil war by slaying three rival chieftains in single combat, on the same night? His supposed journey into the First World, the land of fey and spirits? When he treked into the frozen Crown of the World alone to tame a savage Blood Lion? Or was it when he had defeated the Black Necromancer of the Glacier in a battle lasting three days on the high ice? And who could forget his brutal struggle with the Bane of the White, a frigid linnorm who had been a scourge of Ulfen lands for generations? Eivind had tracked it into the very lair, where he slew it with his bare hands and teeth.

As child Awenasa had spent hours listening to such stories, and adding her own bits when the tales were unclear, filling in the details. When she was very young, she had even fantasized meeting the Ulfen hero on the wild plains of her home, seeing him striding across the Stroval Plateau. His legendary axe, Skæbne, would flash in the sun and he would greet Awenasa as a fellow warrior. And perhaps, just perhaps, peace would be gained not by a fight but by finding what they had in common.

But that had been many years ago. Awenasa had not imagined such for many years. Besides, Eivind's story was over. He and his most trusted companions had vanished long ago, both from the world of legend and song and from the real world under the sun. No one had seen him for a decade, not since he left the Ulfen Court, weighed down by honors and praise.

She-Who-Upsets-The-Water saw Awenasa's surprise, and smiled knowingly. "Old eyes see well in the dark, and old ears hear much. I know two things of Eivind. First, when he left the cold lands, he took with him a gift. A final honor, given to him by a people desperate to lay claim to him." She grinned, as if in admiration of someone else's cunning, "That he could ask the King of the Ulfen for anything he wished, and it would be given. Regardless of cost or claim."

Awenasa barely controlled rolling her eyes. She already knew that, it was one of her favorite stories. How Sveinn Blood-Eagle, King os Kalsgard and all of the Linnorm Lands, had laid a sacred necklace around Eivind's throat, which gave him a claim beyond all price. And then Eivind, without words, simply bowed and left the great hall.

"And I know where he went." Dawnlight added, eyes dancing in the starlight.

[i]Where he went[i]? But no one knew where Eivind the Heavy Hand had gone, after leaving the court. That was part of his legend. Sure, people guessed, but not event he boldest tale-teller pretended to know. Some said he went to distant southern lands, where no legends go. Other maintained he jumped into the sea, to conquer them as well. A few even contested he rose into the heavens, among the stars to take his place alongside the spirits and gods.

But no one knew.

Seeing her face, She-Who-Upsets-The-Water cackled again. "The Mordant Spire."

The name meant nothing to Awenasas and it seemed obvious to the village elder. She shrugged, pointing west. "I do not know other then this. It is far west, beyond the green lowlands and the bitter sea, where our people once dwelled. Far beyond where the sun goes to rest. West beyond west."

"You must go." This last was said with a finality that sounded harder and colder then the stones she sat on.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa listens intently, her face making a variety of faces in response to what She-Who-Upsets-The-Water was saying...doubt at her dismissal of the spirits, sadness at the mention of her sister, relief that she declared her not beaten, interest at the mention of Eivind, surprise the she claims to know where he was, and skepticism that any of this related to Awenasa at all.

As much as remembering stories of Eivind the Heavy Hand gives her respite from her grief, it all comes crashing down around her as the elder's last words hang in the air. In her mind, being told to go meant only one thing. "Go?!? I'm being exiled?"

The piercing gaze that She-Who-Upsets-The-Water gives Awenasa tells her that she had spoken without thought. Awenasa took a few deep breaths and started again, "No, not exile. I'm being given purpose, a new purpose."

Awenasa liked the idea of having a new purpose and she clung to it like a hungry dog would a bone. "So I go." Her words came out partly like a statement and partly as a question. She looked at her village elder with her eyes full of questions. "But this Mordant Spire isn't in our lands. How do I walk among outsiders? We've always fought against all who would enter our lands and now I'm supposed to change my thinking about everything I've always been taught? How are you so sure that I must go? And what do I even do if I find Eivind? He is a legend but he is still Ulfen."


This time the walking stick did hit Awenasa, hitting her shoulder none too gently. "Ayei!" The old woman shrieked, "Young and their purpose! It is not about purpose from outside, but inside!"

She sniffs, settling back down into her stony perch. "Is this really a new purpose? Did you not wish this all along, to help your people in any way you could? Bah, the young!"

She grumbles, before moving on to the young Shoanti's other questions. "How will you walk? You are a warrior of the Tamiir-Quah! You will walk tall and proud, unafraid of either blade or tongue." Dawnlight softened a bit then, voice growing quieter, "It will not be easy, and as you say the lowlanders have many strange ways. We often call them soft, but that is...say more subtle, and you would be closer to the truth. You will have to be careful and wise."

"As for the end..." She-Who-Upsets-The-Water shrugged, "Do not worry overmuch of that. Only the gods and spirits know what you may find, and how you may be changed by your journey. Cross that stream when you arrive at it, child."

Then she grinned, "For do you not trust the prophecy?"


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa winces as her shoulder is hit and her hand reaches up to massage it. She'd probably have a bruise in the morning. "What? Outside...inside...what does it matter? Purpose is purpose."

It looks like She-Who-Upsets-The-Water was going to smack her again and the young Shoanti raises her hands in surrender, "But I get your exclamation point, no need to make it again. And of course I want to do everything I can to help and protect our people, especially from outsiders."

The warrior tries to look sure of herself as her elder recounts everything she must be and do when entering the lands of the lowlanders. She could be proud and unafraid, careful and wise...right? She had been raised and trained to believe she could be all those things. The fact that her most recent failure caused her to question all of that shouldn't make it untrue, should it?

"Trust the prophecy?" Her voice got a little louder and strained, "Trust the prophecy?!? The prophecy died with Makay..." her voice caught on her sister's name. She made herself say it even though her voice sounded hollow, "with Makayda. Why would I trust in something that no longer exists?"

"If it ever did," she whispered with a note of bitterness.


For a moment the weathered old woman looks soft, gentle even, the dim light hiding her wrinkles and haze of gray hair. There is a look of sorrow on her face, as if she regretted something she said, but Dwanlight recovers quickly.

"Listen to your elders, young Keeper of the Wind, for we are wise and have seen much. Do not try to understand the will of the spirits and of prophecy. That canyon may still have twists and turns unseen. Do not give in to despair, for not even the wise can see all ends."

"As for your sister, let her rest. From what I guess, she died a hero's death. Her spirit will rest easy in the Next life, if you let it. Grieve yes, remember yes, but not not dwell or let it confuse your own path. For your goal has always been clear, as it is for every member of the Quah. To protect our way of life, defend our land, and seek freedom from outsiders."

She stands back up, and Awenasa can hear the old woman's joints pop loudly in the dark. "But let us not speak of the past, but the future. Your journey will take you into the strange lowlands and beyond. I do not know what you may need on such a quest, for it is long since any of our tribe has truly walked so far. So I only offer two items to help you."

"A good stick." She suddenly tosses her walking stick at Awenasa, without warning. The young woman snatches it out of the air without thinking, fingers circling around the polished wood. The staff feels oddly heavy in her hand, far more solid then it should. Both ends are capped with a silvery metal, inscribed with runes of power that Awenasa does not recognize. Was this some heirloom of her Quah or something captured in a long forgotten raid, plucked from the body of a slain lowlands merchant?

"And a traveling companion." She-Who-Disturbs-The-Water lets out a low whistle, which cuts through the n ight air with ease.

Awenasa hears a rustle from behind some of the stones and a small figure emerges. After focusing on the dark shape for a moment, she recognizes the person. A lowlander.

Not all in the Quah are Shoanti, as Awenasa is. Occasionally her people take captives in raids, bringing them back as living loot. The fates of these lowlanders can be varied. Some simply re-escape after a time, risking their lives to the wilds of the Stroval Plateau. Others simply live their lives as servants or slaves of the Shoanti, hewers of wood and drawers of water. A few even prosper and thrive, eventually rising to truly join the Quah in proper fashion, becoming full warriors. Awenasa had even heard of entire Quahs being led by such lowlanders.

The person in front of her was none of these however. Occasionally there were peaceful contacts as well, between the Shoanti and the lowlanders. Even the rugged dwellers of the Stroval desired some of the goods the lowlands had to sell. Iron blades, glass beads, magical artifacts. So, once in a great while, a Quah would announce a truce with the lowlanders and a few brave merchants would make the ascent. For a few days they would mingle with the Quah, trading their goods for what the Shoanti brought. Furs, wild honey, and bones of savage beasts. It was during one of these meetings that a man of Awenasa Quah had fallen in love with a lowlander woman. This was strange enough, but even stranger was that the woman returned his affections. When the merchants left, she remained at his side.

In time she bore him a son, and they lived a life as sweet as any could in the harsh Plateau. It was true love, or so Awenasa had been told. But no thing lasts forever. The man died in a wild dust storm, his body lost among the crags and ruins. The woman and her son were provided for of course, the Quah would never simply let them die, but it became a hard life.

They were always given the smallest cuts of meat, the worst tents and the most dirty and battered cast-offs clothes. After many years of living on the edge of the Quah, the woman finally died and her son was left alone. His name was Perey, and his place in the Quah was strange. Not an outsider, but not of it either. He was no warrior and despite being of age, had never gone through the rituals or other training Awenasa took for granted. He participated in no raid and was part of no family. Awenasa could only guess it was a lonely life for the slim young man.

Perey stepped closer, feet loud on the stones. Awenasa had learned from canny hunters how to move with grace and stealth, but Perey had no such mentors. His clothes were dirty and torn, poorly repaired. On his back he carried a small bag, which probably contained all of his worldly possessions.

Dawnlight smiled, "A lowlander for the lowlands."

Perey winced at this, grimacing at being reminded of his heritage.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa takes a sharp intake of breath as She-Who-Upsets-The-Water uses her name given after her rite of passage. In her own mind Makayda had represented wind and so with her death Awenasa no longer felt like she was the Keeper of Wind. Somehow she manages to hold her tongue not wanting to contradict her elder.

She nods slowly as the older woman speaks of letting her sister rest. "I know what I need to do but it's easier said than done. It feels like a piece of me is missing and I'm not sure I'll ever feel whole again. I hope that eventually the spirits show me how to let her rest without becoming a shadow of myself. Focusing on protecting our people will help. Having a task to accomplish will help."

The young warrior's head snaps up in surprise as Dawnlight offers help for her journey. Seconds later, a huge stick is flying towards her head. Immediately Awenasa likes the feel of it in her hands. A grin manifests on her face for the first time in what feels like an eternity. "Walk softly and carry a big stick, right?" She looks more closely at the runes and looks questioningly up at the old woman, "Can you tell me what these represent? Is it something I need to know?" Part of her feels undeserving of such a gift and that she should try to give it back but she also knows that such an action would be disrespectful. Instead she inclines her head towards her elder and says almost reverently, "Thank you."

With the announcement of a travel companion and the emergence of Perey, the ground feels like it is ripped out from underneath her. She looks accusingly at She-Who-Upsets-The-Water and asks, "How long has he been there?" Then she rounds on the young man and demands, "What all did you hear?" It is hard to bear the thought that he had witnessed her in such a vulnerable state.

Once the surprise of Perey's appearance wanes somewhat, Awenasa begins to see the wisdom of Dawnlight's plan and manages to calm her emotions. She takes a few deep, cleansing breaths. She studies Perey's appearance and sees that he already had been informed of her quest considering he seems to be carrying all his gear. "So you are to be my guide in the ways of the lowlanders?" She tries to place Perey's role within the quah and realizes that she doesn't know much about him other than he exists. She couldn't help but wonder what he had to offer other than who his mother was.


She-Who-Upsets-The-Water chuckles at Awenasa's quote, clearly enjoying a good proverb. "As for the runes, I cannot read them. The stick was given to me by my grandmother, and her grandmother before her, from the time when we walked free in the green lands below. She told me the runes were ours, Shoanti writing, even if the knowledge is lost. Carry it on this great journey, to remember who we were, what we are and what they may become again."

The woman looks unabashed when Awenasa questions her about the young, rail-thin boy who emerges from the rocks. She waves a hand, "he could hear nothing. I told him to wait for my whistle. Isn't that right, boy?"

Perey shakes his head, clearly afraid of the dominating old woman. He looks at Awenasa with barely less fear, visibly trembling slightly.

"Say not guide," Dawnlight says, "Say...helper. He wishes to help the Quah, right boy?"

The young man nods again, shivering even more. Somehow he manages to gather up the courage to squeak, "Yes."

She-Who-Upsets-The-Water laughs again, a dry, brittle sound, "A fitting pair. A young untried warrior and a stripling lowlander, off to recover the lands for the Shoanti and gain all honor to the Tamir-Quah. What a story it will make!"

"You must go tonight." Dawnlight says abruptly, "The Quah will not approve. Not all can see as far as me. They will object to a young warrior of promise, heading on a foolish quest alone. They still see victory by way of attacks, raids and battle. Foolish, but that is the way of our people. Proud in what our fists can do. Maybe it is time to see what hearts and feet may accomplish."

"I will tell your story, when they ask of you." The elder said, "And withstand their anger. But you must be far away by then, in case they try to bring you back."


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa runs her hands along the polished wood as Dawnlight tells her about the staff. She liked the idea of taking something on her journey that would remind her of her people. "It won't leave my side," she promised.

She looks clearly unconvinced when She-Who-Upsets-The-Water tells her that Perey could hear nothing of their conversation. But she knows better than to argue that point. She would have plenty of time to grill the boy on their journey. She could hardly believe that she was being saddled with a lowlander travel companion.

"Helper?" Awenasa looks highly skeptical as she glances at Perey. "How is he going to help?" Then she felt bad for talking about him as if he wasn't there so she turned and addressed him directly, "What can you do? Besides tremble?"

"Tonight?" The warrior sighs. "I guess that makes sense but I don't have anything with me. We won't survive camping in the wilderness without any gear."

Mention of withstanding the quah's anger gives Awenasa pause. "Are you sure you need to tell the quah anything? Won't they just assume I've run away because of what happened? Some of them may even be happy to see me go."


Perey visibly trembles more when Awenasa turns his skeptical look at him, and he doesn't seem to relax even when the young warrior softens her tone.

"I..I" he stammers, looking away toward the rocks instead of meeting Awenasa's eyes directly. "I know the lowlander tongues very well. My mother taught me."

This will be of some use, anyway. Awenasa could speak the so-called 'Common' tongue of the traders and lowlanders, but not as well as some. She knew enough to order captives around in a raid or barter the cost of a knife at a merchant's stall. Anything more had seemed unnecessary...until tonight.

"And he has other skills," She-Who-Upsets-The-Water adds, looking smug, "But I will let him tell that tale. For the night grows old and rocks are hard on my bones." Yet for her grumbling words, she pats the large stone beside with with affection, a gentle motion.

The elder rubs her chin at Awenasa's words, "Maybe you have some wisdom after all. Are you comfortable with being branded a coward and an exile? It may make your return more difficult, if you do return. Your name will be slandered, the feats forgotten. Some may even want to bury your memory with your sister."

"As for supplies," Dawnlight smiles, and Awenasa could see two rows of battered and yellow teeth. "I am not so old as to forget that. I told the boy to grab your things." She turned on Perey, "Well, did you, boy?"

He nodded nervously in the dark. A long moment passed before She-Who-Upsets-The-Water sighed and said, 'Well? Where is it!"

Perey jumped as if stung, and hurried back behind the rocks. He soon emerged with a bundle which he carefully handed to Awenasa.

"Everything there?" Dawnlight asked, "I told him to grab anything that might be of use. It wasn't easy convincing him to borrow your things, so do not judge him a thief."


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa raises her eyebrow at the cryptic answer that She-Who-Upsets-The-Water gives regarding Perey's other skills. Her mind races with possibilities ranging from the mundane to the fantastical. Did he cook? Could he change into a bird? Was he a secret assassin? Eivind the Heavy Hand in disguise?

The warrior inwardly beams as Dawnlight suggests she may have wisdom after all. She then shrugs at her other question, "I have no family left to be shamed should my name be slandered. They already think of me as a failure so adding a few more insults to the list won't matter. And as you said, I may not even return which means I am dead and my memory should be buried." The heaviness of Awenasa's words hang in the air for a moment until things take a turn when Perey produces her gear.

She looks at Perey with a look of disbelief and surprised anger, "You went through my stuff? I can't believe you went through my stuff! I don't even know you." She snatches the bundle out of his hands with amazing speed and kneels down to search through it. Awenasa is perfectly happy to revel in her justified anger until her eyes catch sight of a pair of identical dolls that she had recently dug out and left on her bed. One was hers from when she was little and the other had belonged to Makayda. The fact that Perey had packed something that wasn't of use but had great value to her immediately dissolved her anger. With a doll in each hand she looks up at Perey and says quietly, "Thank you," before safely packing them away.

She continues to look through the pack taking stock of her gear, "rope, torches, water skin, blanket, flint and steel, stuff for cooking, and most importantly my compass, survival gear, and a small tent. There's even a change of clothes." She couldn't keep the shock out of her voice. He may have invaded her privacy but he had done good. She repacks a bunch of the gear to make it more efficient to carry and is soon ready to go. She looks at Perey somewhat sheepishly, "Sorry for my initial reaction. You got what I needed so...good job."

She squares her shoulders and turns to face She-Who-Upsets-The-Water. She stands before her elder with the gifted staff in one hand and her gear strapped to her back. In that moment it hits her that she's about to leave the only life she's ever known. She is obviously torn at the prospect - she knows that there is nothing left for her in the quah with her sister and family dead yet it is all she knows and a key part of her identity. She shifts her weight from one foot to the other, "I guess this is goodbye then. Thank you for my big stick and for the travel companion, even if it is him. I will find Eivind the Heavy Hand or die trying."


She-Who-Upsets-The-Water seems to take Awenasa's shame more seriously then the young warrior does herself. She sucks on her teeth, the tiny gasping noise loud in the dark. "A buried name is a heavy burden, but it is your choice. I will keep your secret Awenasa, and the Quah will sleep untroubled.

When Awenasa reacts strongly to Perey's 'gear gathering', the young man flinches away and raises his arm. It reminds Awenasa of how a oft-beaten dog reacts when its master raises a hand. A sudden reaction of fear and shame. Awenasa realizes that some Shoanti probably had cuffed the young man a few times (or worse). Living with no status in the Quah was no easy task, and for the first time Awenasa wondered just whathe thought of the Shoanti way that had relegated him to such a life.

Her apology doesn't seem to brighten his spirits very much, for her stays a few steps away and looks at the gravely ground. Gaining his trust, if she wished to do so, would not be easy.

Dawnlight surveys Awenasa for a long moment, clearly measuring her brave words and stance. The night breeze swirls around the old woman, fluttering her gray hair, like a distracted lover. It curls over Awenasa's shoulders too, giving her a final chilly hug of farewell. The moon is rising in the East now, a bright arc of white light spilling over the dark crags and canyons of the Stroval Plateau. never has it looked so beautiful to Awenasa as it did now.

Suddenly, She-Who-Upsets-The-Water stirred. "Do not make promises you cannot keep. Only the spirits and gods know what your path may lead and to what ends you may find. You may fail or succeed in ways unguessed. Good luck, Awenasa Windkeeper. May the spirits guide your steps and the gods brighten your eyes. Walk tall, with straight back. You are Shoanti, even if your name is buried and you leave in the dead of night. You are no thief or exile, but a mighty warrior of a strong people. Go and be swift!"

Then, without further word she steps over to Awenasa. The old woman lays a knobbled hand on the taller woman's neck, pulling her down. The village elder gives Awenasa a kiss on the top of her head, a final benediction. Her lips feel rough and warm, dry as the Stroval rocks.

Then she cackles and vanishes among the stones as quick as a child.

The wind sighs and Awenasa and Perey are alone among the empty plains.

Now what?

She-Who-Upsets-The-Water had given precious little navigation. Only that this Mordant Spire, whatever that may be, lay to the West, over the sea. Awenasa had never seen the ocean before, but she knew the lowlanders traveled over it to many distant lands. Perhaps she needed to find a city with many boats? Maybe ships went to this Spire and she could pay her way aboard? Or sneak? Could one sneak on a ship?

But first, she need to get there and to do that she needed to descend into the green lowlands. This was easier said then done. Most of the Stroval Plateau was divided from the lower lands by rugged cliffs, far too high and steep to simply clamber down. There were ways down, of course, but they were jealously guarded by the Shoanti tribes, or other things. In the tribal lands that Awenasa knew best, there were only two ways down, the Silver Road and the Shadow Stream.

The Silver Road was a broad and easy path into the lowlands and Shoanti legend says it was made by an ancient empire as a royal road. It was wide and smooth, laid out in regular switchbacks cut into the very stone. Easily the gentlest path to and from the Plateau, it had one major downside for Awenasa. It was guarded by the Ulfen and their lowland lackeys. It was studded with three wooden forts, one at each end and the middle, guarding the lowlanders who came that way to trade or hunt. It was considered a miserable post by the Ulfen but they passed the time by shooting at any Shoanti they saw. Passing that way was dangerous, but then again she did not have a raiding party at her back. Perhaps the Ulfen would see a female Shaonti (and a lowland servant) as less of a threat?

The Shadow Stream seemed more promising on the surface. It was a deep notch in the cliff face where a small stream trickled down among wild stones to the lowlands below. It got its name from the fact that the crack was so deep and narrow, little sun reached into the depths, leaving the stream looking as black as night. Trees grew there in abundance however, and many animals. It was Awenasa's Quah's favorite path, even if it was steep and narrow. A small group of druids lived there, tending the trees and stream, but cared little for passing warriors if they were respectful. Awenasa's father had always admired the druids and claimed they were good luck. And yet, Awenasa remembered a rumor among her Quah's warriors that something was wrong with the Shadow Stream pass. An unease among the druids and a deeper darkness then mere shadow there.

Awenasa could, of course, go and seek other paths in neighboring tribal lands. This was fraught with danger however. Quahs often permitted strangers in their lands, but these events were always preceded by much discussion, gift-giving and sometimes even hostages. If Awenasa merely entered their land, alone and unannounced she would (quite rightly) be regarded as a trespasser and probably attacked on sight.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa is surprised at the speed in which Dawnlight moves as she pulls her head down and gives her a kiss on her head. "Hopefully this means that one Shoanti will remember me fondly. Thank you...for reminding me of who I am."

And then she blinks and She-Who-Upsets-The-Water was gone.

The young Shoanti turns to her lowlander helper and motions at him to follow her. "We need to hurry. There's really only two ways we can go and the quah will know them both. If they are of the mind to send anyone after a coward and an exile, we need to get a good head start."

Awenasa contemplates their two routes and is strongly leaning towards the Shadow Stream. The Silver Road may be the one that no one expects her to take because it was guarded by Ulfen which may suggest that she should take it. But the fact that her father had told her that druids were good luck makes her feel like he was guiding her initial steps on this journey by pointing her feet towards the Shadow Stream and the druids.

She moves resolutely in the direction of her choice but her voice is less sure as she addresses her new companion, "Come Perey. We will take the Shadow Stream into the land of strangers. When we are able to stop and rest, we can discuss the best place to go to get across the sea to the west. I think it best we travel quietly for the first while."


The night grew colder but Awenasa set a pace that kept the chill at bay. They headed south, through a land that she knew well. It was a place of broken rocks and sandy dirt, a bare and dreary expanse under the moon. Even with Awenasa's knowledge, it wasn't easy going. The path, or the thin track that passed for one, wound around towering boulders and through dry gulches. All the time they headed south and west, toward the cliffs of the Plateau.

It soon became evident that Awenasa's pace was grueling on her companion. Perey was soon lagging behind, struggling to climb over the hard stone or sliding down the short slopes of gravel. The young man did not voice any compliment (or indeed speak at all) but it became apparent he wasn't nearly at Awenasa's level of fitness. That said, few were. Awenasa had been trained from birth to be a Shoanti warrior, capable of running for miles and fighting at the end of it. Even more, Awenasa had always pushed herself, seeing her own abilities as her sister's surest guard against danger.

Awenasa also noted Perey's second-hand shoes were already battered by their short trip so far, quite unlike her own sturdy moccasins, made of the finest auroch's hide.

After only a short rest before dawn, they were moving again. The rising sun chased away the glittering stars, and ripples of violet and pink filled the sky above. The rocks and boulders turned gold under the gentle rays of dawn, but Awenasa knew the heat would soon be oppressive. Moving by day on the Stroval Plateau was an exercise for only the hardiness of travelers. Luckily, they would not have to, if Awenasa was reading the land correctly. The mouth of the Shadow Stream should be....

And then they crested a small dusty hillock, the gritty sand crackling under their feet. Behind them lay the broken and brown lands of their home, the windswept wastes where Awenasa had spent most of her life. Ahead though, the land was different, and she heard Perey gasp beside her, seeing the edge of the Plateau for the first time in his life. Awenasa had seen it before, of course, during raids but even to her it was stunning.

From horizon to horizon, north to south, a brown and jagged line crossed the landscape. The very edge of the Stroval highlands, the top of a huge set of cliffs that towered over the land below. That land was green and well watered and even from this distance Awenasa could see glittering streams and deep green forests. Far out on the rolling plains, Awenasa could see smoke rising from villages, nearly lost in the green haze. The world seemed to stretch forever ahead of them and yet also it seemed Awenasa could hold it all in her hands.

"Varisia." Perey breathed. Realizing he had spoken out loud, he swallowed and went on, "That is what they call their lands, the lowlands. Varisia. I have never seen it."

Awenasa turned her eyes closer to hand, searching the top of the cliffs. In a few moments she found what she was looking for. A sharp cleft in the rocks, a narrow valley leading down out of sight. From this angle she could see little but that is where the Shadow Stream began, a few springs pooling together just at the top of the imposing cliffs.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa keeps herself focused on leading the two of them quickly through the Plateau but truth be told she is trying to keep herself from thinking about whether she was making a mistake. It wasn't too late. She could go back to the quah and continue living a half-life in the shadow of her sister's death, couldn't she? But with each step she takes she realizes that she can't go back. She would soon belong no where...not with the Shoanti and not with the lowlanders. Her only hope of ever going home again is to find Eivind.

In between being vigilant of their surroundings and being lost in her own thoughts, her observations of Perey do not go forgotten. She would choose a more reasonable pace once they got to the Shadow Stream and they would have to get him better shoes when they got somewhere there was trade.

A smile comes to Awenasa's face as she hears Perey gasp. "It is a majestic sight, isn't it? No matter how often I see this view, it always takes my breath away."

Does she know the lowlands are called Varisia? I would have thought so but don't want to make any wrong assumptions

She points at the cleft in the rocks, "We're almost there. We need to get out of the open and out of the sun. Then hopefully we can find a place to take a longer rest."


Yes, Awenasa would certainly know the name. I doubt she really knows what it means or thinks of it that way. Most Shoanti only have a vague idea what the lowlands are really like. They are just the old coveted homeland and the place of raids. Perey also probably pronounces the name more accurately.

Perey merely nodded at her words, adding in a whisper, "It is just like the songs..."

Awenasa leads them off the sand dune, down toward the narrow gap in the rocks. Even as they trudge the last few yards, the sun fully emerges above the distant horizon, transforming the sky to a bright almost painful blue. Almost instantly the air heats up, as the chill of night is driven away by the coming daytime heat.

Awenasa followed a thin path formed by generations of Tamiir-Quah raiders but she didn't need it. Her nose told her of the greenery ahead, the faint scent of growing things still unseen. In short order they come to the very lip of the cliffs, a jumble of dry and scattered rocks. To the left and right it forms a sharp precipice, a crust of dry soil overhanging hundreds of feet of sheer cliff.

But directly ahead the land folds down, leading tot he sharp and steep gully of the Shadow Stream. Bushes are growing here, battered and weathered plants barely clinging to life, living on the slight moisture here. It isn't much by the standards of other lands, but for the Stroval Plateau it is lush. With every step down the slope, the plants become thicker, stronger and taller. Eventually they come to the very edge, the wind blowing their hair.

Below them, the land plunges into the deep gorge itself, almost like a black tunnel leading to the lowlands. The narrow gulch is choked with dark trees, the trunks crossing this way and that like a beaver's dam. A small stream of water is barely visible, leaping down the rocks into the narrow valley. It is small here, little more then a trickle, but Awenasa knows it grows to a sizable stream by the time it reaches the bottom.

To her surprise, Awenasa seems a small wooden shack clinging to a looming rock. It looks to be made of fallen deadwood, a very crude building. A very small curl of smoke emerges from the roof, which lacks even a basic chimney. Awenasa has no idea whose it is. No people live here, certainly no Shoanti. The druids dwell in the Shadow Stream of course, but they live deep in the trees, far down the slope. No one lives on the very inhospitable lip of the cliffs.

Perey points, "Can we stay in that hut? Is that for us? Do the raiders use it?" Awenasa realizes that, to Perey, the Shoanti raiders are the figures of myth and legend, much as Eivind is to her.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

"Songs," she repeats. Awenasa is all business at the moment and dismisses Perey's comment, "We don't have time for songs. At least not now. Let's go and make sure you keep up." This is the help that She-Who-Upsets-The-Water gives? Songs? The young Shoanti gives her head a shake as she moves, wondering what she had gotten herself into.

As she stands on the divide between home and the unknown, this Varisia, she fights back rising doubts. Yes she had taken this trail before and there was some familiarity but she had never been the one leading. She had never been the one making decisions. This realization changes how she sees everything around her. Every shadow is possible cover for an unknown enemy, every rustle of leaves suggested an enemy's approach. What if she misstepped?

Awenasa's surprise turns to suspicion as she surveys the ramshackle hut. Her brow furrows in concern because it hadn't been here the last time she had come this way. She practically scoffs at Perey when he asks his questions. Her voice sounds like part hiss, part whisper when she speaks, "No, the raiders don't use it. And keep your voice down. Stay here and stay low. I'm going to check it out."

Had she been with the raiding party, they probably would have just gone and pounded on the door but it wasn't exactly something she could do on her own. Better to see what she was dealing with first, then decide. She moves quietly forward looking for signs of who was choosing to live here.

stealth: 1d20 + 13 ⇒ (8) + 13 = 21
perception: 1d20 + 13 ⇒ (20) + 13 = 33

Is the hut technically on Shoanti lands or considered part of Varisia?


It is, although with those rolls, I doubt you need any bonuses. I like the reflection on how she might act different if she had a full raiding party at her back.

Perey nods and crouches down among the stones. At the least, the thin man is adept at hiding, his worn clothes vanishing into the ground.

For her part Awenasa approaches with the stealth of a shadow. She knows how to move across the dry land without giving herself away. How to use the shadow of a boulder to approach her target, how to step on solid stone instead of loose gravel. She strains her eyes and ears to detect any danger, any sign this is a trap. The Plateau is a dangerous place, and Awenasa knew that despite being only a hard day travel from home, their were foes that would happily devour her and Perey if she was not wary.

The hut doesn't seem to contain one of them.

The area around the simple dwelling seems empty, with no sign of life. The entrance doesn't have a door but a simple mat of reeds hung over the doorframe. It flaps in the morning breeze, and the eastern light provides Awenasa a glimpse inside. The interior is dark and squalid, with very little furniture and a bare dirt floor. A small pile of stones serves as a stove and a pile of rushes as a bed. No tables, chairs or stools. Even for Anweasa, who is used to the spartan material life of the Shoanti thinks it is bare.

A man sits in a corner, clearly slumping forward in sleep. A wet wineskin rests in his lap, a wet spot pooling on his simple homespun shirt. It is a dirty brown, made of the most simple burlap sacking possible. The man has no shoes on his stained and callused feet. Awenasa knows at least one thing. This is one of the druids. She doesn't recognize the man, but his outfit and lack of shoes leave little doubt but she had never known one to be a slovenly drunk.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa's body is taut with anticipation of a myriad of possible threats. As she peers into the makeshift hut, all that she feels and all that shows on her face is confusion. Her body visibly relaxes and she looks over at where she left Perey and motions for him to join her.

She takes that moment while she waits for Perey to appear to contemplate what to do next. Indulgence to the point of being passed out drunk was not something the Shoanti did, at least not those who were responsible for protecting the quah from threats. And from what she knew about the druids, this was also bizarre behaviour. Why was he here? Why was he drunk? Had he done something that resulted in him being exiled from the rest of the druids?

As she contemplates all these questions, what seemingly becomes obvious to her is that she would have to wake the man in order to get any answers.

I'm assuming Perey comes?

She hears a scuff in the loose stones behind her and she turns to face Perey. Keeping her voice low she points at the man and says, "It's one of the druids which is very weird. He shouldn't be here. And he definitely shouldn't be drunk. Something is wrong. And because that may put my people in danger, I need to find out what."

Awenasa raises her hand to bang on the wood, "I'm going to wake him." She does what she can to rouse the druid from the doorway, fully prepared to go in and shake him awake if necessary.


Perey scuttles over the ground with far less grace then Awenasa. Not that stealth is very important at this stage, since Awenasa has not judged the drunk a threat and plans to wake him anyway, but the younger man's loud movements make her wince anyway. He nods silently when the Shoanti warrior whispers her plan.

Awenasa's fist is loud on the wooden shack 'wall', which is little more then bundled sticks. The entire structure shakes under her blows and threatens to fall apart. The drunk's eyes fly open at the sound and he sits forward so quickly he nearly falls over.

"Who is there?! Get back!" he says wildly, waving his arms. His bleary eyes sweep the room until they focus on Awenasa, where they focus. After a few moments he mutters, "Oh. Shoanti." and relaxes.

This is a novel experience for Awenasa. There are very few people in the world upon seeing a grown and experienced Shoanti raider, relax. Either this man is very brave, very foolish or quite afaird of something else.

"The pass is closed." he slurs, sitting back against the wall. He closes his eyes while his hands grope the muddy floor for his wineskin. The druids lets out a sigh of relief when he finds it. "It's all lost, and no one is left. Now, go away." And he lifts the sodden wineskin to his mouth and takes a long pull from it. Awenasa can smell the exotic scent of wine as the liquid dribbles down his chin. Awenasa had seen wine and other liquor in raid loot but the Shoanti generally disregarded such things and she had never tasted any. Still, it took little experience to see the man was not entirely himself.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa is mildly insulted at the druid's reaction to her presence. It must be because of what he's drinking. It must mess with his judgment. I'm not so easily dismissed.

"Closed?" She shook her head refusing to believe, "No!" Her quest couldn't be over before it began. She needed to get through the Shadow Stream. It was too late to choose another way.

She had been well warned about the affects of such drink by those who led the raids. She knew that she wouldn't get a straight answer out of the druid as long as he had the wineskin in hand. She quickly covers the distance between her and the druid and snatches the wineskin from his clumsy grasp. She upends it on the ground and watches the odd smelling liquid soak into the dirt.

"No more drink. I must go through pass. You tell what happened."


The man watches the wine spill with more concern then he gives Awenasa, at first. "Hey, that was mine-" Then his indignation dies away as he realizes he is being confronted by a very tall and very annoyed Shoanti warrior. He looks up at Awenasa, who looms over him like a small mountain. The drunkard swallows once and his eyes clear a bit.

When he speaks his voice is more clear, "You can't go through. The pass isn't what it was."

He is about to go on when Perey interrupts from the door. The young man is holding an short stick, about the length of Aweansa's forearm. The wood is old and polished from years of handling. It is covered in lines of carved runes and letters, which Awenasa guess is some Druid language.

"Is this Druidic?" Perey asks, turning the carved stick in his hands.

The drunk man rises to his feet, dodging past Awenasa with more then a trace of drunken imbalance. "My grandmother. Give me that, it is not for outsiders. It shouldn't even be out..." The druid grabs the stick from Perey roughly.

"Who are you people anyway? Since when do Shoanti raid in pairs?"


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa has so many questions and tries to formulate them into cohesive sentences but struggles to find all the necessary words in the common tongue.

Why can't we go through the pass? Is there something physically blocking the Shadow Stream? Or did the Ulfen come too far inland? And I thought there were more than just one druid so where are the others?

But all she could string together was, "What wrong? Is something...someone blocking path? Where other druids?"

As soon as Perey enters, her questions are ignored. She glares at the boy but she doesn't compete for the druid's attention, at least not yet.

The Shoanti eyes the stick curiously, but she soon decides that her bigger stick is much nicer.

She hesitates when the druid asks about them. She-Who-Upsets-The-Water told her to walk proudly among lowlanders and part of that is declaring one's name but she also didn't want to make it easy for anyone who may be tracking them. But then again, the two of them were memorable in and of themselves so what was the harm in sharing? Although she wanted her answers before she gave him his.

"Answers for me. Then answers for you." She starts again, "What wrong with Shadow Stream?"


"It is poisoned." the young druid says simply, carefully wiping the carved stick clean with his tunic. His grimy clothes don't seem o help much.

"Something has come and....rotted the forest." He goes on, seeing Awenasa's uncomprehending face. "Something evil is there, I don't know what. It killed some of us and chased us off...." His voice trailed off, painfully. "I don't know who else is left, if anyone."

Shaking his head, "You can't go in there. I might be young, but I know the woods. I've lived in the Shadow Stream my whole life, I know every tree and rock. Well, I knew them. It is evil now. The trees are dying, or dead, with strange smells coming out of the dark. And I hear strange, evil sounds at night...coming for me, pressing against the door."

The druid shudders, gripping the polished stick with white knuckles.

Perey grows pale at the description and Aweanasa must admit, it doesn't sound encouraging. The Shadow Stream was dark and dismal at the best of times, even in a large raiding party with druids around. Her father, Wind-Over-Rock, always said that without the druids the Shadow Stream might be have grown too wild for safe passage. And now something had blocked it despite the druids?


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

The confused look remains on Awenasa's face but not for the reason the others may think. If someone invades your home then you fight. She doesn't understand why he didn't fight or if he did fight, why did he give up?

"You fight to protect home. Why you not fight?"

One thing becomes abundantly clear to the Shoanti. If something evil invaded the Shadow Stream then it would probably spread to her quah's land. Evil was rarely satisfied or content. It always sought to destroy and it would engulf everyone and everything if no one tried to stop it. When it had sucked all the good, all the life out of the Shadow Stream then it would move onto the Plateau. If the druids were unable then she doubts that she can be successful but for the sake of her people she has to try. She knows she has to protect her quah by finding and stopping whatever evil the druid was talking about before the Shoanti were in danger. That and she has to get through the Shadow Stream if she was ever going to find Eivind. She refuses to fail with her quest before she ever begins. What would She-Who-Upsets-The-Water say? Luckily Awenasa had her staff so she couldn't hit her with it.

"I, Awenasa Windkeeper of the Tamiir-Quah must go. Protect her people. Make it through Shadow Stream. You know Shadow Stream. You come with. Restore honour." She motions at her companion as if an afterthought, "And Perey come."


The druid, still unnamed, looks confused, "Fight? Fight what? Even if the infection was destroyed tomorrow, the trees and valley would never be the same. Why bother, everything is already lost."He slumps against the wall, apparently defeated before they even start.

Perey on the other hand looks terrified. His skin is white, eyes wide. "Evil things..." he breathes, looking at the slumped druid, but then he masters himself. Perey looks at Awenasa and nods, color slowly rising back into his thin, pale face. "I will come. Even if I will not be of much use."

"You two are crazy." the druid says, glancing from Perey to Awenasa. "How do you fix a rotting forest with your fists?"


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa points out the door towards the Shadow Stream, "Fight evil to make it go away. Then work hard to make plants come back. Remove bad to make room for good."

She balls her fists in an effort to keep herself from shaking sense into the druid, "You don't give up! You love Shadow Stream? If love your home then help fix it. You come!" The tone of her voice along with her body language made it very clear that she couldn't understand why the druid wasn't wanting to do more to help save his home. Awenasa recognizes the irony of her leaving her home while trying to get a stranger to fight for his but she also knew that she was leaving to ultimately save her home from the Ulfen. And none of that could happen if she couldn't get through the pass.

Awenasa watches Perey's small transformation and her opinion of him improves ever so slightly. Switching back to Shoanti she says, "You may become a Shoanti warrior yet, Perey. It takes a strong spirit to go to places that scare you. Courage isn't the absence of fear but choosing to act while being afraid."

The warrior shakes her head at the druid's last comment. "We will make evil go away. You fix forest. Druids make plants grow. You druid. You fix forest when evil gone."

She looks at the druid with her brow furrowed in concern at the druid's lack of desire to help. "Evil spreads when good do nothing." She points at where she had found him passed out and the wet patch where she had dumped his wine, "That is do nothing. Come, do something."


A long moment passes in the darkened and wine smelling shack as the druid ponders Awenasa's words. The warrior can clearly see the tug-of-war between fear and courage, hope and despair. More then any help the druid might offer in their task, the Shoanti hopes the man follows them for his own sake. Staying here, along with the wine, may very well be an anchor around his ankle for the rest of his life.

Awenasa Perception: 1d20 + 13 ⇒ (20) + 13 = 33

Sadly, it looks like the young man is going to fail the test. His knees shake, he starts to slump against the wall and he even seems to cast around for the empty wine skin. Then something very odd happens.

Behind her, still just inside the door, Perey starts to hum. It is an innocent enough action, if a bit irreverent as Awenasa tries to convince the druid to embrace his destiny. Still, her flash of annoyance passes as she recognizes the tune. It is a simple version of 'He-Who-Walked-Through-Shadow', a Shoanti battle hymn. It was about a mighty Shoanti warrior who, when his Quah had been destoryed by Ulfen, had attacked the enemy camp sign-handedly and slew many before falling. It was a great tale and the full, formal version took three days to sing. While sad, it also spoke of the need to fight to the bitter end, no matter the odds. Even this simple humming tune made Awenasa stand straighter, reminding her of her people's tale and bravery.

The druid seemed to hear it and he too drew strength from it. His knees firmed and his eyes cleared, fixing on Awenasa.

"I...I will come, and help as I can. We should go now. The rot seems weakest during the day." And unsaid but plain, they should go before his heart and new-found courage falters.

Awenasa glances back at Perey but the young man has stopped humming and looks the same as always. Slight, pale and vaguely afraid. He even flinches a bit as the druid pushes past him, out into the bright day.

It is full morning now, the blazing sun of the Stroval Plateau turning the plains into a baking desert. Already heat haze rises above some of the rocks, shimmering waves distorting her vision. But the druid turns away from the rocky plains of Awenasa's people and turns them toward the entrance to the Shadow Stream.

It is a forbidding vision.

The valley starts almost at her feet, a trough cut into the very cliff, a steep slope heading downward. On either side low walls of rock rise, and Awenasa knows they get much taller, creating the shades that give the pass it's name. Brush and trees block the way, creating a thick net of greenery barring the way. The small springs gurgle under it, flowing down the slopes and, distantly, Awenasa can hear the bubble of the Shadow Stream itself, still out of sight.

So far, all seems well. The trees and plants here seem fair and unmarred by any rot.

"What is that smell?" Perey says suddenly, standing behind her. Awenasa is about to tell him it is only the unusual scent of a forest when she smells it too.

A sickly sweet scent, like that of an apple left out in the sun. A soft, rotting smell that fills the nose with noxious fragrant. It wafts out of the narrow gully like the breath of a sleeping beast.

"The path is gone." The druid says, eyeing the wall of green forest like the walls of an enemy stronghold they are about to rush. "It will be more open once we get inside, but...well, that is not a good sign. Follow me."


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa had heard many a Shoanti sing and chant about their ancestors, the spirits, and the great heroes of their people but she never remembered being physically affected in such a manner before. Her glance lengthens into a stare as she tries to make sense of what just happened. Was it Perey who did that and if so, how did he do that? Did she just imagine it because she was reflecting on her people? Seeing him flinch as the druid passes helps her make up her mind...she must have imagined it.

She follows the druid out of the hut, eager herself to get started. "What is name? Name important. Name tells where from and who are." She almost said that one's name gives purpose and identity but she could almost hear She-Who-Upsets-The-Water scolding her for being too concerned with purpose so she didn't add anything more.

Awenasa's stride slows as she approaches the looming trees. When she had been part of the raiding parties, she had never been given the time to contemplate her surroundings. She followed orders, protected the backs of those that were fighting with her, and she trusted those leading to warn them about any potential dangers. But now she had no idea about potential dangers. The unfamiliarity with her surroundings fills her momentarily with uncertainty. Could she really do this? Would she be able to fight as well in a place where the sun was blocked by trees? Where the ground was choked by plants?

She wrinkles her nose in disgust at the smell once it is pointed out to her. Why was it that now it was pointed out to her, that that was all she could smell?

The Shoanti nods at the druid and sticks closely to his side. She would prefer to lead in order to encounter any dangers first but she also trusts in the druid's knowledge of the Shadow Stream. "I follow...close."


"Adsu." The druid says, as he stares at the wall of green. "My name is Adsu."

"That is a Varisian name." Perey says, still a step or two back, his voice almost a whisper.

Adsu nods, not even bothering to turn around, "Yes it is, although I've lived here all my life." He glances at Awenasa, "Staying close is a good idea. Let's go."

And with that, they plunge into the woods of the Shadow Stream.

It is as if Awenasa jumped into a green lake. The plant life instantly surrounds her, brushing up aside her, sealing her in. Leaves fill her vision, robbing her of the vistas she is used to. She can barely make out Adsu in front of her, slipping through the greenery. Any threat would be nearly invisible. Gods only knew what trap she could blunder in to.

She felt claustrophobic, as if the trees were crowding in to crush her. Dead leaves crackled under foot, making her slide as well as noisy. Her usual stealth seemed to have abounded the Shoanti as she struggled to push branches aside or crashed through bushes. She is nearly as loud as Perey.

Finally, after what seems an age, Adsu motions them to stop. Awenasa finds herself in tiny clearing (just big enough for the three of them), alongside a small stream with dark water. To either side the rocky walls of the cleft loom, dim and dark. The sun is too low yet to shine down directly on them, leaving Aweanasa standing in a green-tinged twilight.

Then she looks ahead, and her eyes widen.

Ahead, the forest is black. Trees fill the entire valley from wall to wall in a thick tangle, almost interwoven. There are no leaves here, just bare branches reaching every which way. Many of them are spotted with clusters of mushrooms and other fungus Brown and dried brush fills the gaps lacking even a hint of green. Even the ground looks like black sludge, gleaming wetly in the dim light.

The sickly smell of rot is stronger her, wet and humid. The temperature seems to rise as well, and Awenasa can feel sweat trickling down her back as she stares into the blackness ahead.

"We have reached the rot. It reaches farther every day." Adsu said softly. "Any farther, and we may encounter all sorts of dangers. Are you sure you want to go on?"

Perey looks sick behind her, about ready to retch. Still, he doesn't say anything.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

The moment she is swallowed by the foliage is the moment that Awenasa feels the panic rising within her. All of her senses are choked by the numerous leaves, vines, and branches as they overwhelm her and tangle in her clothes. She chides herself for not being the Shoanti warrior that she was supposed to be. She flashes back to her training, doubts lead to hesitation which leads to your enemy's triumph.

She cringes every time she makes noise as she moves. Being out of her element makes her feel...and then it hits her...makes her feel like Perey probably did living with the Shoanti. No wonder he was so twitchy, he was probably always on edge waiting for the proverbial axe to fall.

The clearing is a moment of respite from the claustrophobia but only until she sees what lies before them. She audibly gasps. The Shadow Stream in its normal state is foreign enough to Awenasa. The blackness, the branches devoid of leaves and covered in fungus are downright alien.

She swallows hard against the smell and tries not to think about what it would feel like to step in the sludge. An involuntary shiver travels up her spine.

"No choice. Must go on."

Awenasa points at the mushrooms and other fungus. She doesn't know much about plants but she is pretty sure they weren't the good kind that people sometimes ate. "Evil do that? Where rot start?"


"Farther down." Adsu said, "There is a cave that leads into the cliff. It was part of our dwellings, a useful shelter during rainstorms or harsh winters. It always seemed a safe, warm place..." The young man trails off, eyes focusing on something only her could see. "It came out of the darkness, from the mountain's heart. All sorts of horrible creatures, moving in the black."

Awenasa is about to reply when Perey says, "What's that?" and points toward the rotting, black forest ahead. The Shoanti warrior peers into the gloom, trying to pierce the darkness. She seems nothing at first and wonders if Perey was merely jumpy. She couldn't blame him, the dead valley was certainly creepy enough.

Then she spots a shadow moving along the ground, a dark shape flowing around the fallen and tangled trees. A soft sucking sound fills the air, and the rotting stench grows. Suddenly, faster then she expected, the shape emerges from the rotten forest, out of the band of black death.

A sickly green mass, nearly waist high, heaves itself into the clearing. It is a pulsating conglomeration of unwholesome slick flesh, rotting vegetation and a thick, noxious slime. An ooze, obviously, but of what kind?

Before Awenasa can even move, the still living plants aroudn them suddenly begin to thrash as if caught in a storm. No, they are growing, as if time was sped up and they wanted to do a season's growth in moments. Vines spring out of the rocky ground, writhing like snakes, while trees thrust out new, grasping limbs and bushes thicken and darken. But Awenasa can see, even if her panic, that the growth is sickly and foul. The vines have black thorns, and the new tree branches sprout ugly, fungal like growths. Event he leaves of the new bushes are black as tar.

Worse though, is the plant life seems to be entangling them!

Awenasa Initiative: 1d20 + 3 ⇒ (20) + 3 = 23
Ooze Initiative: 1d20 - 5 ⇒ (7) - 5 = 2

Ok, the ooze is twenty away through difficult terrain. Please make a Reflex save of DC 15 to escape being Entangled.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa's mouth is open as she's about to respond to Adsu when Perey cuts her off. Her mouth snaps shut in annoyance. She's about to remind him of his place when she sees the movement.

Immediately her body tenses to respond as the threat makes itself known. Her eyes widen and she gags at the smell. She can't help but wonder if it will smell even worse when she hits it. She had always fought against flesh and bone, not sludge and ooze. Would her fists even do anything against this creature?

The oppressive foliage had been disconcerting to the Shoanti before the ooze appeared. Now that it seems to be having an agitating effect on the greenery, it takes all Awenasa's focus to not become disoriented and trapped within the possessed plants.

Ref,DC15: 1d20 + 8 ⇒ (12) + 8 = 20

The monk escapes the blackened vines and leaves, her clothes somehow managing to avoid the thorns. She had already told Adsu that she would fight the evil no matter what so backing down now was not an option. Being limited by the terrain and the suffocating plants, she doesn't try anything fancy. She pushes forward through the gag-worthy foliage and throws one solid punch at the center mass of the ooze.

Punch!: 1d20 + 12 ⇒ (2) + 12 = 14
damage: 1d8 + 5 ⇒ (2) + 5 = 7


Awenasa moves with all the grace of her name, evading the strangling malignant plant growth springing all around them. The monk darts forward, feet barely making an impression in the slimy earth, jumping a fallen log with ease.

Leaving Perey and Adsu behind, as she must, Aweanasa confronted the slimy, wriggling mass of rotting vegetation alone. The reek reminded her of a rotting animal, half-fallen into a noxious pool of dirty water. It made her stomach churn, just standing next to it.

Stopping just long enough to set her feet, Awenasa slammed the slippery ooze with one fist. The blow landed with a wet smack, causing a bit of it to shake and jiggle, but little else. Damage maybe, but she would need to do a lot more to stop this thing.

Behind her she heard noises as Perey and Adsu argued over something, but she didn't pay attention to it. Instead she noticed something odd about the ooze. Lingering near it, like wisps of fog, tiny tendrils of purple smoke. Not smoke...pollen. A faint cloud of tiny seeds and dust swirling in the gloom. A billow of it reaches Awenasa, cascading about her head.

The rotting smell of both the ooze and the forest is instantly banished, replaced by a sweet, fragrant smell. It fills her nose and throat with a cooling and easy feeling, making her eye lids droop. It was such a nice, happy smell....her arms felt so tired. Maybe she should take a nap....

Awenasa Will Save: 1d20 + 5 ⇒ (3) + 5 = 8

Yes, sleep felt nice. The Shonati's warriors eyes slid close and she swayed on her feet until darkness took her.

She was striding through a field of purple flowers, clouds of shimmering purple mist rising about her. The sun twinkled down on the shifting plants, creating a bewitching swirl of colors, that drew in the eye. The air was cool and frgrant, like that of fresh spring.

Or was it thick and foul? And why was the mist suddnely hot and burning....

Awenasa's eyes opened, and she realized she was lying face-down in the black sludge on the Shadow Stream. Her mouth was open and half-filled with the rotting muck. Worse her back was on fire as something heavy and slimy laid on top of her, trickling some kind of...acid on her? The pain grew as the arcane sleep fella way, replaced by all too conscious fear.

You take 20 points of acid damage

Awenasa hears muffled voices, coming from somewhere else. A rising chant. She can't make it out, but then it is joined by another voice, vaguely familiar. Then the ooze on her back shifts and ripples, swaying this way and that. With a sickening sound it is peeled away by strong arms and a waft of fresh air reaches the monk's face.

Looking up she sees a very large, brightly colored...animal holding up part of the ooze. It looked liked a man but covered with bright orange fur, with arms thicker then the strongest warrior it is an orangutan. It looked at her with round eyes, then hooted a strange, haunting call. It gestured for Awenasa to crawl free of the still very much alive and thrashing ooze.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa likes the sea of purple flowers she's wading through. She reaches out a hand on either side and lets her fingers brush against the petals. It was nice to have the sun shining but not with oppressive heat. Maykayda would have loved this place. In fact, she'd probably have made a necklace or something out of the flowers. Her desire to see her sister is so great that for a split second, she believes she sees her out of the corner of her eye. She turns to greet her just as the burning and the stench bring her back to reality.

She is disoriented to say the least, not comprehending at first why she is laying on her face and where did the meadow go? She raises her head and spits out the foul sludge that has invaded her mouth. She just stops short of puking the contents of her stomach as she fights against the affects of the smells of decay and burnt flesh.

Her eyes widen in surprise at the creature before her. She has never seen such an animal before but she senses no hostility from it. In face, it seems to be helping her.

The warrior quickly scrambles out from under the ooze. Rising up on her knees for a bit of leverage, she pummels the ooze with both her fists.

I'm assuming this movement counts as a 5ft movement so that she can have her full attack. If I'm mistaken then discount whatever attacks you need to

flurry of blows,power attack: 1d20 + 12 - 2 - 4 ⇒ (4) + 12 - 2 - 4 = 10
damage: 1d8 + 5 + 4 ⇒ (5) + 5 + 4 = 14
flurry of blows,power attack: 1d20 + 7 - 2 - 4 ⇒ (13) + 7 - 2 - 4 = 14
damage: 1d8 + 5 + 4 ⇒ (4) + 5 + 4 = 13
flurry of blows,power attack: 1d20 + 12 - 2 - 4 ⇒ (1) + 12 - 2 - 4 = 7
damage: 1d8 + 5 + 4 ⇒ (4) + 5 + 4 = 13

Every punch feels like pure agony as the burned skin on her back tears and stretches but Awenasa relies on her training and soldiers through.

Sigh...and there's the 1. What fresh hell will she be subjected to now because of that? Not much of a warrior this fight


Awenasa half slides, half stands in the black muck getting out from under the burning ooze. Nearly 'eye' level with the hulking mass of rotting vegetation (not that it has eyes), the Shoanti warrior lets loose her anger.

Her fists slam onto the gelatinous creature, tearing at the fleshy mass. She sends bits of rotting plants flying as she attacks. Still, it is heavy going and the tick, yielding nature of the ooze cushions the blows. Progress....but slow.

She winces at her scarred and burned hands, when she spots movement behind her. It is Adsu, running up through the meadow. Awenasa notes the once active plants seemed to have quieted down, lying as placid as any other bush or vine might. Was the ooze out of magic or was the druid counter-acting the foul mutations?

Adsu says nothing but merely places a hand on Awenasa's back. There is a surge of power and the Shoanti feels some of her weariness fall away, replaced by vigor.

He used Magic Fang. You get +1 on all natural attack and damage rolls. Good match-up for a monk

The furry creature at Awenasa's side lets go of the ooze, clearly happy to release the burning foe. With two hands the size of dinner plates, the orange beast slams the ooze repeatedly, much as Awenasa was doing (if with less skill). Chunks of ooze fly off and tangle in Awenasa's hair, spattering on her skin, filling the air.

Adsu gags muttering, "Disgusting.."

Get him!


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

If she can stand without losing her full attack, even if it provokes an AoO, then she will. Otherwise, she'll continue fighting as she is

Awenasa had been feeling heavy - heavy in mind, heavy with emotion, heavy
in spirit, and even her body is heavy as pain leadens limbs. She never realized how uplifting it was to be fighting alongside an ally until Adsu and her new furry friend give her aide. With body and mind feeling lighter, she actually gives a small smile as the orangutan slams the ooze and she quickly follows suit adding her own fists. "Many hands make light work," she mutters as she punches.

Flurry of blows,Power Attack,Magic Fang: 1d20 + 12 - 2 - 4 + 1 ⇒ (14) + 12 - 2 - 4 + 1 = 21
damage: 1d8 + 5 + 4 + 1 ⇒ (8) + 5 + 4 + 1 = 18
Flurry of blows,Power Attack,Magic Fang: 1d20 + 7 - 2 - 4 + 1 ⇒ (2) + 7 - 2 - 4 + 1 = 4
damage: 1d8 + 5 + 4 + 1 ⇒ (2) + 5 + 4 + 1 = 12
Flurry of blows,Power Attack,Magic Fang: 1d20 + 12 - 2 - 4 + 1 ⇒ (9) + 12 - 2 - 4 + 1 = 16
damage: 1d8 + 5 + 4 + 1 ⇒ (6) + 5 + 4 + 1 = 16


Between Awenasa's flurry of blows, the roaring furry beast and the clear lack of food the ooze wavers under the onslaught. Puss leaks from ruptured pustules along with black sap from shattered stems and stalks. The entire gelatinous body quivered during the attack, trembling. Weird tendrils ripple out, swaying this way and that like the heads of many snakes, tasting the air.

Then, with sickening gurgle, the ooze retreated back into the gloomy forest. It moved faster then Awenasa would have thought, slithering along the sticky sludge with no problem. The rank undergrowth parted before it, and it soon vanished into the blackness beyond. The air cleared, both of the sickly sweet and the noxious rot, and Awenasa's head cleared.

Before she can even turn, the orange animal at her side vanishes. Adsu and Perey are soon at her side, looking at her scalded back. Awenasa can't see the acid burns, but she can feel the pain growing as the thrill and adrenaline of combat fades away.

"How bad...how bad is it?" Perey whispers. "Do we need to turn back? It looks like it hurts."


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa intends to follow the retreating ooze to finish it off but the speed in which it moves and the pain radiating from her back keeps her from her goal. She makes a noise of frustration as she watches it escape her reach. But her displeasure is quickly replaced by relief as she realizes that the oppressive smell retreats with the ooze. She immediately takes a deep breath of fresh air only to cringe as it causes her damaged skin to stretch causing another wave of pain to move across her back.

Her eyes widen in surprise as the orange furry creature disappears. "Where? What? Did I imagine it? It seemed so real."

She flinches as her companions inspect her back. It did hurt quite a lot but she wasn't about to admit how much. Admitting pain would be admitting weakness and that was unacceptable. She was a Shoanti warrior after all. You stoically endured pain and carried on.

At Perey's last question she shook her head, "No turn back. Go forward. Make bandage and we go."


Adsu shrugs, "The ape was my summoned creature. It was real just...not from this place. You looked like you could use the help. That ooze was just one of the things that came out from under the hills."

At Awenasa's other words he grows pale, "You still want to go on? That thing nearly [b]ate you!"[/b]

To Awenasa's surprise Perey laughed slightly, "You do not understand, Adsu. Awenasa is a Shoanti warrior. They do not turn back from pain or toil. She will do as she wills, be it easy or not." And Aweanasa is surprised again to hear pride in the small man's voice, just as any Shoanti would speaking of their people. Maybe Perey was not a warrior but he clearly revered them, as many Shoanti did.

But then he adds slyly, "But it does still hurt, doesn't it? I can't do much for your skin but.." Perey touches Awenasa's tunic and hums a quick tune. In an instant the fabric is re-woven together, and allt he stains and burns removed. If anything the sewn deerskin looks better then it ever had been.

"Good as new."

Heading onward?


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa continues to look slightly confused at Adsu's explanation of the furry orange creature. Obviously it had something to do with magic that she knew very little about. Her head begins to spin a bit as she wonders about where the creature came from and where it went. She doesn't think she would like living her life somewhere and then being summoned to do someone's bidding. Hopefully it got sent back to the exact place it came from.

She can't keep the look of surprise off her face as she listens to Perey speak of her people with pride and then watches him mend her deerskin tunic so perfectly. She blurts, "Did the quah know you could do this? Your ability to fix clothing is useful."

With a sigh she shows a fleeting moment of vulnerability when she admits, "Yes, it hurts." She gets to her feet and squares her shoulders, "But I am Shoanti and I still have breath. So I go on." She slaps Perey on his back in a comradely fashion, "Perey understands."

Onwards!


Perey seems very startled by the slap and turns his head, looking away. "Uh...sure." And he takes a few step to be out of further reach. Adsu merely shakes his head but leads them into the rotting forest.

Instantly they are in a lightless world, the sun a forgotten memory. Tangled trees loom over them, leaning at drunken angles as if rotten roots are ready to give way at any moment. The ground underneath was a treacherous combination of black sludge and greasy stones coated in slime that they stumbled on in the stygian gloom. Awenasa's nose was choked with the sickly sweet scent of rot.

The ground went steeply downward, into ever deeper darkness. Every step seemed to increase the sense of rot and sickly death. At their side the stream gurgled mournfully, often damned by blockages of dead plants and worse. More then once Awenasa caught sight of the decaying flesh and exposed bone of an animal carcass. These seemed to distress Adsu, so they did not comment on them.

Their path draws close to one of the rocky walls of the pass, a sheer cliff of rich brown stone. It is dark and wet, rivulets of water draining out of the hills as if the ground itself were grieving. Then, ahead, Awenasa sees a splash of green and wholesome living bark. Out of the wall a bent and gnarled tree is growing, roots sunk deep into the living rock. Green leaves reach up for an unseen sun, branches intertwining. Here their was no slime, no fungal growths, no black rot.

At the base of the tree sat a very strange figure. It was squat humanoid with brownish-green skin the same shade as tree bark. It had unkempt green hair in a long mane, pale green eyes, and a bulbous nose. It seemed to be resting, eyes slowly blinking.

"A fairy." Adsu breathed.

A fairy? Awenasa's people had few tales of the fey but weren't they supposed to be beautiful? Wing wings and wands of magic? This looked more like a fat child molded out of moss and clay.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

This was not how Awenasa had pictured her journey through the Shadow Stream. She had expected the light to be less as it was filtered through the trees but she did not expect it to be nearly blacker than night. She had expected the smell of moist foliage but not the choking stench of decay and slippery sludge. The anticipation of walking through a completely different environment of lush greenery had been dashed, replaced by the depressing presence of death.

Seeing the green in the midst of browns and blacks makes the colour seem particularly vibrant to Awenasa and immediately draws her eye. Some may have seen such colour and just assumed the rot hadn't spread completely but the Shoanti sees hope.

Her eyes travel downwards until she makes eye contact with the blinking eyes. For the umpteenth time that day, her eyes see something her mind struggles to comprehend.

Her voice is full of doubt as Adsu tries to tell her that the creature is a fairy. "Fairy? You sure?" She recalls stories from her childhood and the fairies they spoke of were nothing like what was before her eyes.

She takes a few steps forward to get a better look. "Fairies beautiful, have wings." She puts her face in the sightline of the creature, "Are you fairy?"


Adsu shook his head at Awenasa's claim. "Not all of them, some kinds-" The druid breaks off as the Shoanti warriors steps forward.

"Aweansa, don't-" But it is too late, the woman has already shouted over to the sitting figure.

The fey's knobby head snaps up and he jumps to his feet, revealing no sign of weariness. His eyes gleam in the darkness and he picks up a very knobbly stick, which he cradles like a club. All of a sudden he looks less like a misshapen child and more like a stout warrior, defending his lord's last citadel.

"Get back from Ioklonet. I am protecting him!" His words is a harsh croak, edged with stress and fear. At these words the tree above him starts to sway as if caught in a heavy wind, creaking and groaning, branches scraping each other. Yet Awenasa feels not the slightest breeze in the fetid valley.

"Go back!" the fey shouts again, brandishing his stick.


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa's body tenses out of reflex as the so-called fairy yells at her but she makes no further move forward in case it thinks her aggressive. She isn't sure whether she should hold up her hands or not. She had seen other people do it to her but it usually meant they were surrendering and she wasn't surrendering, she was talking. She couldn't believe that she was having a conversation with such a funny looking creature...she still wasn't convinced it was a fairy.

"You keep tree green? Means you fight blackness, you fight evil. I also fight evil but can't go back. Need to go forward to cave and fight source of decay. We no hurt Ioklonet. I no see fairy before. Had to ask."


Perey laughs to himself before Awenasa saying quietly in Shoanti, "Awenasa, maybe we should not reveal all of our plans to everyone we run across? Surely the warriors understand the need for secrecy? Granted, I doubt this fey is in league with the rot...but maybe a good habit to start?"

The fairy eyes Awenasa with little change despite her words.

Bluntly he says, "You are a warrior. Do whatever you like but keep away."

At Awenasa side Adsu frowns, "That's no good. The fey are powerful he might be able to help us..."

Then he speaks in a different language all together, and it sounds like a mixture of birds and summer streams, "කුණුවීමට එරෙහිව සටන් කිරීමට ඔබ අපට උදව් කරනවාද? අපි එක්ව ශක්තිමත්ව සිටිය හැකිය?"

The unwholesome creature, still warily replies, and the druid and fairy exchange a few words.

Adsu finally shrugs and says in Common, "He might help us...if the tree can tests you, Awenasa. He seems to think you are in charge. I have to say, I have no idea what this 'test' might be. He seems to think it will hurt."


Shoanti Unchained Monk/8 | HP 58/72; Non-lethal 18pts | Init +3 | AC19/F15/T16 | F+8 R+9 W+5 | Perc +14 SM +13 | Stunning Fist 8/8 | Ki Pool 8/8 | Active Conditions: None

Awenasa's cheeks colour in embarrassment as Perey gently reminds her to be more thoughtful before speaking. She feels like a child playing at being an adult. She is used to walking the path already made, not forging her own. She gives the boy a small nod of her head to indicate she had heard his words.

"At least it clear I warrior. I still not sure you fairy," she mutters.

Her eyebrows rise slightly as she listens to the druid and fey make sounds that seem like they're having a conversation. So many new experiences she can't even begin to digest.

Test The word is both familiar to the Shoanti and stress-inducing. Yes, she had been tested as every Shoanti is and she had passed. But that had also put her on the path to the greatest failure of her life and the greatest sorrow. Which ending would this test result in?

She realizes that she has been silent for too long and everyone is staring at her. She comes to the conclusion that the only sure failure is to not allow the test. She nods. "I survive being tested by Shoanti. Let tree test me."


Adsu looks rather concerned and mutters to Awenasa's ear, "The fey are strange folk with little regard for safety. This test may very be quite dangerous. Be careful."

Perey merely shrugs, clearly not surprised that a vaunted Shoanti warrior would accept such a challenge. Little does he know the meaning of the word 'test' to his companion. To Awenasa it spoke too closely of her sister, and the loss.....

The ugly fairy grunts, a sound like a hollow log falling onto heavy moss. "Good. Come, human! Ioklonet will test you."

Awenasa jumps the small fetid stream with ease, landing on the other side. In a few strides she enters the tiny green patch the fairy seems to be maintaining against the sickening rot. A tiny breeze seems to freshen the air, and Awenasa revels in it. Enjoying being unburdened by the reek of rotting wood and black slime. Her footing is sound under her, good soil and rock.

The squat fairy watches her through narrow eyed, still holding his thorny club in his knotted fists. Closer up Awenasa can see the moss clinging to him, growing on him. It matches the rich growth around the base of the tree and the rocks. The tree is also much older then she first suspected. It isn't as large as some of the giants Awneasa had seen before, huge boles that five Shoanti couldn't reach around but looks can be deceiving.

Life was hard for the oak, thrusting right out of the rock. There was little soil, and probably more exposure to cold and wind. And yet it was old, very old, judging by the worn folds of bark, deep enough for a child to hide in. Thick roots coiled like ropes, spilling over the rocks and plunging deep into the earth, seeking the distant stream. It had a feeling of solidity, of endurance.

Then she felt it. An aura emanated from the tree, as strong as heat from a roaring fire. It was a feeling of resentment anxiety and fear. A distrust of all that went on two legs, a wariness built over long centuries of careful growth and consideration. This tree...it hated her.

Even as Awenasa was grappling with this, the fairy trotted up, feet silent over the mossy stones.

"Ioklonet says, put hand in there." The fey pointed to a dark hole in the tree's side, nearly at eye level. It was a rough opening, perhaps the remains of an old branch, edged with shards of dead wood and black as midnight. Spiderwebs covered the space, but it moved slightly, as if the tree was breathing through it. The feeling of anger grew until Awenasa could feel her hair standing on end.

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