A Late Arrival
Location: Feltonwood Hold, Harkania, Cymeria
Timeline: Twilight, November 2, 3550
Aramil stood in the small clearing, slowly caressing the horse's mane. His eyes were focused upwards, in the waning afternoon light filtering through the lightly swaying tree limbs. A skilled woodsman could get his bearings and gain insight into the weather conditions for the next few hours this way. Aramil was a few steps beyond the average woodsman. He used his innate magical skills to scry far more information. He knew, for instance, that a herd of hart were about five miles west. He also knew a band of highwaymen was patrolling the road ahead.
Aramil clicked his tongue against his teeth and considered his path to the Hold. A little-used game trail exited the clearing in the general direction he needed to go. He closed his eyes and felt ahead, expending a little more energy to feel where the trees were, and more importantly, where they weren't. He allowed a small smile to grace his features when he discerned the path giving the highwaymen a wide enough berth to allow him passage. He would still have to be careful and quiet, lest the sounds of a laden horse tromping through the forest echo to them.
His decision made, Aramil mounted his horse once again and led it to the game trail. The forest darkened quickly, only a little light filtering through the thick canopy. It was both a blessing and a curse - while it would further hide him from the highwaymen, it would also hinder his, and the horse's, vision. He led the horse on a careful walk along the trail, cringing to himself every time a twig snapped under hoof.
As soon as the clearing was out of sight, he glanced off to his left. He wouldn't be able to see the highwaymen from here, but he knew they were there. He almost expected them to pop out of the underbrush at him, but as the minutes passed and they did not, he knew he had successfully bypassed the danger. Soon he reached the road once more and then he kicked the horse into a faster trot towards the Hold.
Aramil slowed his horse as soon as he left the treeline and could see the charred earth and crumpled shapes. The sting of smoke burned his nostrils, though the flames had long been extinguished. He frowned at the sight and slowly approached the first location. The horse slowed to a stop, and he hopped off. He focused on the blackened pile of misshapen detritus, making a face. He wasn't entirely sure of what he was looking at until he unsheathed his sword and lifted the remains of a cloth from it.
He immediately turned away, losing his lunch on the ground. Nothing had prepared him for the sight of an eyeless skull, blackened and burned flesh pulled grotesquely across it. He cleaned his face with a cloth and sheathed his sword before standing again. He took a moment to collect himself before turning back to the site as a whole to take a long survey. The Gyfrin was supposed to be here... somewhere.
Song stood in the shadows of the great barn and watched the progress of the young man that had ridden in. He'd approached the hold from a direction that made her wary of his intentions although his reaction to the charred remains alleviated her concerns to a degree. She set the bucket of mixed grains, marigolds, worms, and cracked corn that she'd been feeding to the chickens down and stepped out of the barn, crossing the distance swiftly and near silently.
Stopping just short of the stranger, she gestured at the dead that still littered the grounds. "Many have been incinerated on the funeral pyres, but the High Lord held out hope that perhaps we could still divine something of their origins. The soldiers are at their meal, but they are still working to identify some of the dead. I am Song Xiang Chai."
Aramil watched the woman approach, stepping around the remains so as to not leave it between them. Due to what he saw upon arrival, he was briefly surprised to see someone alive. But then, when he looked closer, he saw lights in windows and animals in stalls - signs that life continued.
As she came closer, he began to make out her features. She fit the brief description the Theurgy sent him, but then again, many women would. It was her name that finally confirmed it to him. He bowed briefly upon her introduction. "Gyfrin Chai, I am Aramil Moonshadow. I have been sent by The Theurgy to be your Sentinel." While his features held Sidhe angles, his accent was pure Cymry.
Song studied the young man, keeping her face expressionless although she was surprised to see him. She had not traveled with a Sentinel for several months because she had not been assigned to a quest. Song was also interested in the fact that Moonshadow was of mixed Cymry and Sidhe heritage. That was unusual, to say the least. The Sidhe were not prone to liaising with those outside their race. "My regards to your House, Sentinel," Song responded, giving a respectful nod and a slight bow from the waist. "The Lord and Lady of the Hearth have opened their home to those injured in the attack during the Feast of Samhain, but can offer a modest meal. There is room in the barn for your horse."
He inclined his head, "My thanks. It was not a long journey, but something other than waybread would be welcome." He returned to his horse and collected the reins, leading the animal around the charred earth. He extended a hand indicating she lead him to the stables. "What happened here? The Theurgy's letter was lacking in detail."
One of the hold's riding horses neighed as the new one was led into the stable. Song smiled as one equine greeted the other. Her horse, a desert bred rose-gray mare also whinnied softly, but quickly returned her attention to the grain in her feed box. Song indicated an empty stall and went to find grain, hay and a clean water bucket for the stall's new occupant. Once the horse was mostly settled and being unsaddled, she turned her attention to Aramil's question.
"y'Carthu happened," Song said, her voice still holding a touch of anger. "They secreted themselves amongst the usual feast-goers, men, women, and children. At the height of the festivities, they stood up and burst globes of warfire, set themselves alight, and tried to take as many people with them into their fiery deaths as they could."
She gazed at Aramil although her eyes were distant, focused internally on the nightmare at the Feast. "More came from the forest, swordsmen with no will or thought beyond slaughter. They even plunged into the flames to kill their chosen targets." Song shuddered slightly, remembering her contact with one of the the...creatures...for they had no longer truly been men. "The Morrighan and Guard had patrolled and secured the forest earlier in anticipation of the High Lord attending the festivities. It is Mikhael Stormdanovich's belief that a portal was used to bring them through, but even though he has returned and joined in the searches, no residue of any have been found."
By now, the horse had been unsaddled, and his tack hung on the rail of the stall. Song stepped in with brushes and offered one to Aramil. One always saw to their horse first as its well-being could mean the difference between life and death when a person was far from home. Song paused and fastened her eyes on Aramil, "y'Carthu, The Purge, espouses hatred and loathing for all that use or carry magic in their souls, yet they used powerful magic to perpetrate the attack on Samhain."
At the mention of the old cult, Aramil's expression hardened. His mother, and the Theurgy as well, had told him about the anti-magic apostates. They were a danger to him and all he held dear. He was quiet as he absently brushed his horse's flank, listening to Song. His eyes were on his task, but looking through it. His own house did not have many run-ins with y'Carthu; they weren't well known for mages. But he had heard enough horror stories from others. His jaw tightened at those memories. "Well, at least there's a few less of them now," he quipped darkly.
"Many less," Song affirmed. "The High Lord told me that all those that seemed to have been corrupted by some magic that forced them to immolate themselves have died. They have one captive still, one of the leaders of the attack, but he is proving...resistant...to questioning."
Aramil nodded, "If they were content to suicide, I am not surprised." He silently brushed his horse for a moment, considering the situation. At last, he added, "Perhaps another tactic could be applied? I could pose as a pureblood Sidhe on his side... Cymry are tempting Shadow with powers they do not understand and all."
Song's eyes sparkled with amusement, "Not all Cymry, Sentinel. The High Lord has trained with powerful Derwydd. I think, though, that he would be interested in your suggestion. After you have rested, we'll ride to Stormholm Caer. I have done all that I can here."
The hybrid nodded once as he finished the brushing and placed the tool back in it's home. "I only need a few minutes to sup... Unless you feel we should wait until the morning?" One advantage his mixed blood gave him was a need for less sleep than the average Cymry. That helped him in his studies at the Theurgy; he could stay up later than his peers.
"We will ride after dinner," Song stated, and turned to lead the Sentinel toward the hall. "Stormholm Caer is a short journey from here."
Aramil fell in step behind the Gyfrin. "Indeed. I shall follow your lead."