CWT -- After the Chalice (Ashoken)

OOC-- this was posted after Ashoken obtains the Chalice from the Palice. Ashoken's task changes and she picks up a partner by the name of Edail Archiras. This post was part of the Sins of the Mother story line compiled by and written with Edail's player and Irmaa Vep's player and myself. Ed did most of the work log compilation and original writing.

"Soldiers generally win battles; generals generally get credit for them."
-Napoleon Bonaparte

Sins of the Mother
Part II: Hunting, We Will Go

The sun, rising above the Sturrbith peaks, turned the snow to diamonds. Blinding to look at, the sun threw their campsite into shadows and made the morning air chill. To the east, ominous gray and black clouds gathered in the billowing columns, readying an assault on the daylight and the land. Their breath steamed as the pair, a man and woman clad for cold weather travel, readied for the morning jag of their journey. Fourteen days of travel had seen Ashoken d’Allessair and Edail Archiras into the lowest of the Sturrbith peaks. Their journey to Malcoven in dusky Balthazor began at the Crosswinds Tavern and led them first through the dales and flatlands of Shadokhan where farmers hauled in shocks of golden corn and tufts of hay for the winter kine.The inns, as they came to the Onndar Pass, were merry and warm and full of harvest time bounty.

They had no lack of food for themselves or their horses and each night they spent in warm beds with fires crackling in the individual hearths. There was nothing to fear in the first days of their journey. Edail made light of any delay and enjoyed the scenery they passed, commenting on the differences between farming for grain and farming for fish. Ashoken remained grim as the mountains grew closer and closer with each day’s travel.
The Onndar Pass took them through to the foothills where the harvest had already come for the terraced farmers. In preparation for the coming winter, giant oxen and draft horses pulled iron ploughs through the rocky soil against the backdrop of the snow covered Sturrbith Mountains that touched all the land regions of the Silver Moon. Potatoes and root crops were the mainstay of the farmers in this land.

The pair of adventurers passed through one turnip festival and two honoring the yam. Then, at the base of the first true mountain of Sturrbith, a peak called Snowbane, they stepped onto the Cracked Pass.
Beneath the iron-shod hooves of their horses, the Cracked Pass continued steadily upward, twisting around the tall and mighty peaks where only the Seleventi felt comfortable and dipping into shadowed valleys where fir and pine grew to great heights, yet still seemed children to the old bones of Sturrbith. Ashoken and Edail stood in the shadow of cranny Volstood and the wary Alstrid, The looming Long Teeth of the Cracked Pass. Between the mountains, they would pass at the end of day and there they hoped to find lodging. Dwellings accessible to humans were far spaced and the pair had to rely on way stations set up roughly a day’s journey apart. Travelers before fueled the stations, some simple lean-tos and others carved from bare rock, with wood and sometimes food, left behind for the next traveler or caravan.

The wind picked up, a vanguard to the approaching storm. Snow would attack any traveler that evening. Already the wind threw them at the travelers. They headed into the wind with heads bowed and shoulders huddled. Edail took the lead. Ashoken’s horse, an ugly but strong piebald mare bore the brunt of their equipment. Ashoken gave the beast a pat on the neck and whispered a promise of shelter at the end of the day. She let her horse find the best path and fell into deep thought as the first of the streaking clouds overtook the sun.

Eight months ago…

Ashoken pulled open the door to the Crosswinds Tavern and let her and the chilly air inside. Her breath steamed with it, for spring had not yet opened her coat in Shadokhan. It was warm inside. The fire crackled and mingled with the murmuring of patron voices and the jangling of Ashoken's spurs. She thought it a fine night and a far cry from those spent on the sands of the Quintak in her youth. As she shed her cloak, deep shadows filtered through the cracks of the now closed door. They seeped across the floor behind her.

The hair on the back of her neck prickled and she turned around. She found only an elfin woman entering behind her. She frowned and walked backwards into the commons. She watched with faint horror as the shadows slowly rose upward and formed into the flickering form of a Netherling, a being of pure necromantic energy. It hissed at her.

"You are wanted," it hissed and pointed at her and then one of the booths that lined the tavern's southern wall. Seeming to float within the shadows of the booth where a pair of vermilion eyes. The Netherling melted back into the shadows and vanished, its message delivered.

Ashoken rubbed her hands together and ventured forth. She told herself she did not fear shadows and the chill coursing up and down her spine was from the weather and not from fear. The interior of the booth was barely visible from a distance and grew less clear as she neared. At the table's edge was a carefully placed bottle of serky and a single glass. The vermilion eyes stared, watching her approach.

"Please have a seat," came the sepulchral voice, female and deadly, belonging to the eyes. A face, pale and milky of complexion, peered from within the lingering shadows. Ashoken took her time, pouring herself a glass of the liquor. Her efforts brought forth a serpentine smile from her hostess.

"If I am correct, you are of the Allessair family? No?" The woman asked. Every sense told Ashoken who this woman lounging with the confines of both booth and shadow was. Irmaa Vep, the Witch of Balthazor. The dead country's Archmagess.

"I am," Ashoken said, acknowledging her pryomantic origins as she released her sheathed broadsword from the harness on her back. With deliberate care, she slid into the booth opposite Irmaa and rested her sword upon her knees.

"I have been told you recently procured something of Taysayad? Is this true?" Irmaa kept her voice low. A snifter of Malcovian Blackkiss in her pallid clutches.

"Who told you that?" Ashoken asked, stalling for time to think.

"I have my sources," Irmaa replied with a haughty toss of her hair. She sipped the Blackkiss and savored it.

"I have been to Taysayad," Ashoken admitted. Months earlier, Ashoken infiltrated Taysayad Keep, home of the Emperor, to retrieve a silver chalice adorned with the etching of a fox on the run. She did not do so on mere whim, but at the behest of La Volpe, The Fox and the point of the underworld triangle known as Triad.

"Well, then perhaps the rumors are true that you have stolen a relic of some renown?" Irmaa's smile widened. "A relic that some other parties might be interested in?"

"A relic? Something to drink serky out more like. I do so every night," Ashoken said and sipped her serky. The Archmagess did not take the bait and waited patiently for an answer.

"Is it a relic?" Ashoken sighed. Magic constantly complicated her life.

"It most certainly is, if you know what to do with it.," Irmaa nodded with a shower of snowy locks. She shifted position and leaned closer. "You have it with you, do you not?"

"With me? Do I look stupid?" Ashoken locked eyes with Irmaa and cringed inwardly. Her stupidity could be argued. Irmaa kept a straight face with only the hint of a smile.

"I am not here to debate the depths of intelligence, woman," Irmaa said with a soft chuckle. "I am here to make you an offer you cannot refuse."

"I was not able to refuse the first offer," Ashoken said. It was her turn to smile, but it was faint and over quickly. "Breaking contracts is bad business."

"Not breaking one if I request it is far worse, oh she who once walked the Quintak," said the Archmagess. Irmaa unhooked a pouch from the belt that held many pouches and tossed it into the air. It hit the table with a bang, betraying the weight of what it hid. Irmaa flicked her fingers toward the pouch. "Five pounds of pure sombratite. I would not touch it with bare hands, if I were you."

"Shadowsteel," Ashoken echoed, speaking the common name of the rare metal sought after by necromancers across the Silver Moon. One touch to shadowsteel would bring the living that much closer to Irmaa's undead state.

"If you bring me the chalice, I will give you another fifteen pounds. More than enough to make a blade," the Archmagess said.

"And if I do not give it up," Ashoken had to ask.

"If you do not bring me the chalice, I'll see you never work in the Silver Moon Empire again" Irmaa hissed, leaning closer. "And, La Volpe will learn of our meeting and your willingness to listen.

"I must assume he will find out regardless," Ashoken said, feeling keenly the rockiness of her position in this. "If the fox finds out, may I set him on your heels?"

"That is my plan, my dear," Irmaa said with a hearty laugh. "I can assure you that our little fox will not hold a grudge against you. And if he does? I am sure you're resourceful enough to deal with him."

"Kill him. Kill his friends. Kill their friends," Ashoken said and rolled her eyes. She reached over and drew the pouch over the chunk of sombratite.

"That would be a very interesting accomplishment my dear. If you ever start that, please let me know." Irmaa gave Ashoken a serious look. "Now. My merchandise?"

"I have it. Outside."

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