Rhoelyn: The cold, mountain winds whip around the trees, causing Nysse to shiver through her thick cloak. Kneeling, she examines the tracks before her.
Araatris: Tsume sniffs at the trail before looking out over the hillside and wuffing softly. Nysse pats her fur, nodding. “I know. Hush.” She straightens.
Rhoelyn: Nysse stands and pulls her hood up. She readies her bow and silently stalks forward. Tsume brushes against her side. The leaves rustle softly.
Araatris: Cresting the rise, she presses herself against a tree trunk, listening to the sound of motion nearby, the crunch of snow. Tsume waits, tense.
Rhoelyn: Slowly, the steps pass by and Nysse counts, lips moving in time to her thoughts. Then, she steps from behind the tree and releases her arrow.
Araatris: It flies true, sinking deep into the bruise-colored flesh of the warped fiend that is her target. It whirls on her with a pained screech.
Rhoelyn: Tsume leaps, biting at the creature’s long tentacles. Nysse pauses as a lithe form dives into the fray, raking claws deep into its tender flesh.
Araatris: The creature whips one tentacle at Nysse, screeching again as Rhese drags his claws down its side, spraying more dark blood over his silver fur.
Rhoelyn: The tendril thumps uselessly into her cloak as she steps to the side. Nysse carefully aims and looses an arrow at the fiend’s head. “Clear!”
Araatris: Tsume and Rhese both disengage at the signal, leaping away as Nysse’s arrow buries itself deep in the creature’s brain. It falls, spasming.
Rhoelyn: Nysse hooks the bow over her shoulder. “They’re like vermin.” She stares distastefully at the corpse. A burst of wind blows back Nysse’s hood.
Araatris: With a sigh of magic, Rhese shifts, brushing at his bracers as he steps up beside her. “This one reeks. Twisted up magic and rotten animals.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse draws her hood again and pulls her cloak tightly around her body. “Weeks and we still don’t know what’s causing the corruption.”
Araatris: Sighing, he rubs at the bridge of his nose, unaware of the smear of fiend blood he leaves there. “We have to keep pushing outward. It’s there.”
Rhoelyn: “We will, Rhese. We can’t let this continue.” Nysse kneels and dips a piece of cloth in the snow. She hands it to Rhese, “Across your nose.”
Araatris: “Mm.” He takes the cloth and wipes his nose, looking off into the distance distractedly. “Let’s go. I smell more. North and east, I think.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse nods and takes it back, “We have a few more hours. Let’s see what we can do. Lead on and I’ll check for tracks when we get closer.”
Araatris: Rhese takes a couple of steps away and leaps into the air, his form folding in on itself. His great wings blow Nysse’s hood back as he flies off.
Rhoelyn: She flips it up yet again and looks up as snow begins to fall. Nysse mumbles, “-They- have fur.” Tsume runs ahead, sniffing, and Nysse follows.
Araatris: A few hours and half a dozen dead fiends later, Rhese steps up beside Nysse once more as she slings her bow over her shoulder. He folds his arms.
Rhoelyn: Nysse cups and blows on her hands, “Can you smell any more nearby?” She cranes her head to look at the sky, “We might have time for another.”
Araatris: “No.” He wipes his hands on the cloth hanging from his belt before reaching for hers to warm them. “We should set up camp. You need to warm up.”
Rhoelyn: “Thank you,” She steps in close and smiles, “A fire would be nice. I saw an overhang that we could use on the way here. I think it’d work.”
Araatris: “Lead the way, my lady,” he rumbles, kissing her hands before he releases them. He shivers, grinning teasingly as he takes a step back and shifts.
Rhoelyn: They make their way back with Nysse gathering what kindling she can find. “Rhese, would you mind digging a fire pit?” She sets down the wood.
Araatris: He shifts, nodding as he sets his small pack down. He kneels, touching the ground, and a dense tangle of vines rips forth, tearing the dirt up.
Rhoelyn: Nysse removes her gear. She drops to her knees, and digs into her pack. “It’s getting cold quickly. Do you think there will be a snowstorm?”
Araatris: “Yes,” he says simply, frowning at the rot-sickened vines as he pulls them away and scoops the loose dirt out of the pit. He turns to Nysse.
Rhoelyn: Nysse retrieves a small box and looks up, then pauses upon seeing the vines, “Should we go elsewhere? I didn’t think it’d spread this far.”
Araatris: Rhese rubs at his head, frowning. “There’s no reprieve, any more. This whole area is sickened.” He holds out his hand for the flint. “It’ll do.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse passes him the flint, examining him searchingly. She continues, “Let’s head back to Ambervale tomorrow. We need supplies anyway.”
Araatris: Rhese “hms” distractedly. It’s not until after he’s lit the fire that he seems to register what she said. “Wait. Didn’t we just stock up? Nysse…”
Rhoelyn: She ducks her head and busies herself with her pack, “I know, I know. I forgot to get more salt.” Nysse shoves something deeply into the bag.
Araatris: “Let’s make do without it for a few days,” he mutters, stirring up the flames. “We need to keep going.” Rhese glances up. “Do you have that tea?”
Rhoelyn: Sighing, Nysse sets the pouch of tea next to him. “Yes, I found it.” She unhooks a small kettle and steps out from the shelter into heavy snow.
Araatris: He pats Tsume as she noses in, sniffing at the tea. “Leave that alone, pup.” Getting to his feet, he shoos her ahead of him toward the packs.
Rhoelyn: Snow speckles her hair as she scoops up snow into the kettle. She sets it over the fire, and then calls Tsume to her. “Need help with dinner?”
Araatris: “It’s fine. Warm yourself up, lovely.” Rhese first pulls out his fur-lined coat, then cobbles together a quick meal for them, saying little.
Rhoelyn: Nysse checks Tsume’s paws. After a few minutes, she yawns and puts her arms around the wolf. It’s not long before her head is drooping.
Araatris: After stowing their gear and pulling out their bedrolls, Rhese sits, nursing his second mug of tea. He watches her drift off, pensive.
Rhoelyn: Tsume nuzzles Nysse and she blinks sleepily. Tsume slips from her grip. Noticing Rhese’s gaze, she asks softly, “A copper for your thoughts?”
Araatris: He smiles weakly. “Just considering which way we should go, tomorrow.” With a yawn, he gets up and grabs her warm bedroll, draping it over her.
Rhoelyn: Nysse catches his hand, “What’s wrong, Rhese? I know that look.” She tilts her head up, worrying lining her expression, “Please sit and talk.”
Araatris: At her tug, he settles in beside her, tucking the blanket tighter around her. “I’m sorry, Nysse. The corruption grates on me. I feel… off.”
Rhoelyn: She grins wryly, “I saw. You almost didn’t notice my sad attempt to get us away from it.” Nysse pats his leg, “Please tell me if it’s too much.”
Araatris: Rhese nods. “We have a deal, my lady. And you have to tell me if I’m being a grouchy bear. I promise not to bite. Unless you ask me to.” He winks.
Rhoelyn: Nysse blushes, but her eyes sparkle teasing, “And if I did?” She buries her face in the blanket, “Forget I said that. I think I’m ready for sleep.”
Araatris: Rhese chuckles and tugs down the blanket to give her a quick kiss on the cheek. “Get some rest, lovely. Are you warm enough, now?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse peeks out and smiles, “Yes, finally.” She pulls the blanket tight and lays down. “Rest well, fluffy.” Tsume waits by Rhese’s bedroll.
Araatris: He throws more logs on the fire before he lays down. As soon as he settles, Tsume plops down across him. “Oof!” he grunts. “You, too? I’m fine.”
Rhoelyn: The morning chill wakes her earlier than usual. She takes in the fresh snow and the dwindling fire. Shivering, she sits up and sheds her blanket.
Rhoelyn: Nysse watches as Rhese turns and hugs Tsume, and her lips curve into a tender smile. Soon, the savory smell of cooking fills the camp.
Araatris: His sensitive nose and grumbling stomach help Rhese stir, and as Tsume wanders off, he shivers and pulls his bedroll tighter around himself.
Rhoelyn: Tsume whimpers until Nysse tosses her a strip of meat. She laughs as Tsume catches it, “Greedy pup.” Nysse kneels by Rhese with a plate, “Hey.”
Araatris: He peeks out from his blanket. “Good morning, lovely.” Upon spying the plate of food, he bravely slips out of it. “This smells great. Thank you.”
Rhoelyn: “You’re welcome. Sorry you lost your furry blanket. She smelled food.” Rhese takes the plate. Nysse gathers her own dish, “How’d you rest?”
Araatris: “Mm,” he speaks around mouthfuls of food. “I had… odd dreams.” He chuckles self-consciously, a little blush creeping into his cheeks. “You?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse takes a few bites and answers obliviously, “I don’t think I dreamed, so pretty well I suppose. Odd? You didn’t have bad dreams, did you?”
Araatris: Rhese shakes his head. “No. Not bad. It was rather… sweet. In a strange way.” Clearing his throat, he finishes his food and gets to his feet.
Rhoelyn: Nysse looks confused, but doesn’t ask any more. Tsume follows Rhese around the camp. Upon finishing her meal, she washes the plate in the snow.
Araatris: Rhese has nearly stowed everything by the time she’s done, save the tea kettle and a pair of steaming mugs. He offers her one. “Let’s go, soon.”
Rhoelyn: She takes it and breathes in the steam. “Thank you.” Nysse nods, “We’re burning daylight. I’ll be traveling slower due to last night’s storm.”
Araatris: He nods, sipping as he looks out over the snow-covered hillside. “Maybe I should stay on the ground, then. We may as well stay together.”
Rhoelyn: “Stay in the form keeps you warmest. No sense in both of us being cold.” Nysse finishes her tea and packs her cup, then puts out the fire.
Araatris: Rhese grabs Nysse’s hand before she can turn to head out into the snow. “You keep me the warmest, lovely. But I guess the cat will have to do.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse’s cold reddened cheeks might have darkened. “Rhese,” she gently admonishes, “Let’s go.” She squeezes his hand before heading out.
Araatris: He chuckles softly to himself and glances down at Tsume. “Why is she so fun to tease?” When the wolf doesn’t answer, he heads out after Nysse.
Rhoelyn: The sun is high when Nysse brushes off a rock and sits. “Rhese, take a break. I think it’s worse here. You’re getting grumpy even as a cat.”
Araatris: Rhese hops up on another rock nearby, fixing her with a stern cat stare as he irritably flops his tail. He lays his head on his paws.
Rhoelyn: Nysse walks over, clears a new spot, and sits. “Don’t look like that. You told me to tell you.” She rests her hand on his head and rubs his ear.
Araatris: Relaxing under the attention, he gives a toothy yawn. Within a minute, he’s slipped into a little cat nap, his purr rumbling through his chest.
Rhoelyn: Barely suppressing a giggle, Nysse runs her hand through his fur. She lets him rest until her fingers start to get stiff in the cold. “Rhese?”
Araatris: His golden eyes snap open when she calls his name, and he blinks at her. Nysse frowns, examining him carefully. Something in his gaze is distant.
Rhoelyn: Her hand rests on his head and she leans further in, “Rhese, are you feeling alright?” Rhese tilts his head. Tsume growls softly behind her.
Araatris: At her growl, he swivels his head to the wolf. Nysse can feel the tension ripple through him, and he pulls away from her hand, standing warily.
Rhoelyn: Rhese and Tsume stare until Nysse breaks line of sight, “Tsume, stand down!” She reaches for him with another frown, “Rhese, what are you doing?”
Araatris: Rhese looks at Nysse, the tension fading. After a couple more moments, she can somehow see his gaze clear. He hops down, shifting. “Nysse?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse searches his gaze, “Yes, it’s me. Who else would it be?” She puts her hand on his cheek, “You didn’t seem yourself when you woke up.”
Araatris: His cheek is overly warm, his color high. He frowns to see the worry in her expression. “I… was… Tsume growled at me. I had to answer her.”
Rhoelyn: “Maybe you’re coming down with something. You feel warm and a bit confused.” She brushes his hair, “Let’s rest. You’ve been pushing yourself.”
Araatris: He considers it, then shakes his head, taking her hand. “I think we’re close. Let’s find out what’s going on here, first. I’ll rest then…”
Rhoelyn: Nysse considers his request, “Straight to it.” She narrows her eyes, “And you promise to rest afterwards regardless of what we find. Agreed?”
Araatris: Rhese nods, giving her a reassuring smile. “We have a deal. Let’s go.” He gives her hand a squeeze before turning away. Tsume sniffs at his leg.
Rhoelyn: Tsume woofs at him. “We’re good, Tsume.” Rhese ruffles her fur before shifting back into a cat. They both run ahead and Nysse hurriedly follows.
Araatris: They explore through the snowy wooded slopes of the mountain, tracking and eliminating more of the fiends. Rhese guides based on a vague feeling.
Rhoelyn: Nysse trips on a tree root and tumbles into the snow. She looks back and picks up a piece of wood that looks rotted, but only on the inside.
Araatris: Rhese’s boot crunches in the snow as he steps up beside her, offering her a hand up. “Are you hurt?”
Rhoelyn: Nysse takes his offer and holds onto his arm as she tests her foot, “It’s sore, but I’ll be fine.” She holds out the root. “We must be close.”
Araatris: Rhese frowns, nodding. He rubs his head before he reaches down and brushes a heal over her foot. “Very close, I think.” He shifts and pads off.
Rhoelyn: She jogs after him with Tsume at her side. As they crest the hill, Nysse freezes and stares in shock at the valley, “By Elune, it’s all dead.”
Araatris: Rhese growls, hopping up on a boulder to scan the scene with his feline eyes. Fiends wander densely, feeding off the rot and animal corpses.
Rhoelyn: The smell of death and rot is strong as the wind pushes it up the hill. Nysse uses her cloak to block the stench, then points towards the center.
Araatris: Rhese nods, shifting. He kneels on the rock, coughing against the smell. “A couple of hours until sunset. Let’s hurry. Try not to touch anything.”
Rhoelyn: “I won’t.” She wraps a handkerchief around her face and readies her bow. “Ready. Let’s go.” Rhese shifts and together they head down the hill.
Araatris: Tsume sticks close to Nysse as Rhese ranges ahead until they encounter the first pockets of wandering fiends. They sneak carefully past.
Rhoelyn: They near the center and they see a small grove. It’s the only place that seems to be living. A patch of black and violet flowers sway in the wind.
Araatris: Rhese brushes up against Nysse’s leg before shifting. He places a hand on her shoulder. “Stay here,” he grates out, wincing. “Just in case.”
Rhoelyn: “It’s not any safer for you than me.” She turns to him, “Wouldn’t it be better for me to go? You can heal me if something happens.”
Araatris: Rhese clearly doesn’t like the idea, but he considers it anyway. It gives Nysse enough time to note that he still looks flushed and feverish.
Rhoelyn: Nysse frowns, “How are you holding up?” Rhese opens his mouth and she holds up her hand, “If you’re sick, then it’s even better if I go, Rhese.”
Araatris: He frowns. “It’s not possible to feel -good- in the middle of all this.” He waves a hand at the valley in general. “But even so…I can manage.”
Rhoelyn: “It affects you so much more than me, but I know you can feel what’s happening here.” She sighs, “Go ahead. I’ll wait here. Please be careful.”
Araatris: “Always,” he promises with a little smile before turning serious. “Keep an eye out for fiends, Nysse.” He pats Tsume on the head, turning away.
Rhoelyn: Nysse watches Rhese shift and step into the flowers; a puff of pollen greeting him. She sharply checks the nearby patrols, “Tsume, guard.”
Araatris: Stepping carefully, he pads through the odd grove, making his way warily toward where something thrums gratingly at the back of his senses.
Rhoelyn: The pollen creates a soft haze that’s almost dizzying in its distortion. In the center, he can make out the shimmer of something reflective.
Araatris: Rhese blinks and shakes his head to try to clear it, prowling toward the attractive glimmer. An instinctive growl rumbles through him.
Rhoelyn: A necklace of wooden beads with a large claw hang off a small farmer’s scythe piercing the ground. Nysse paces as she loses sight of Rhese.
Araatris: The druid steps back into her view after a few minutes, the pollen cloud thick around him. In his hand, he holds a thick tangle of black vines.
Rhoelyn: Nysse breathes a relieved sigh. She spins at a slithering sound to find that one if the fiends has wandered her direction. She releases an arrow.
Araatris: The fiend is extra big and charges at her. Nysse’s shot, though well-aimed, only penetrates its tough hide a very short distance. It screeches.
Rhoelyn: Nysse steps back and fires another shot as it charges at her. Tsume rushes to protect her while nearby fiends turn towards the commotion.
Araatris: It whips a powerful tentacle at her, even as her second arrow sinks into its neck. The blow cracks viciously across the back of her bow hand.
Rhoelyn: Nysse hisses as her bow goes flying into the grove of flowers. She takes another step backwards as she judges the risk to getting her weapon.
Araatris: Tsume leaps at the creature, harassing it more than hurting it. Even her teeth do little, but she buys Nysse time even as more start crowding in.
Rhoelyn: Grimacing, Nysse runs into the flowers and grabs the bow. She swings around and fires in quick succession, burying into several of the fiends.
Araatris: Blackened vines burst forth underneath the fiends, wrapping each of them until it can barely move. Nysse looks over to see Rhese kneeling nearby.
Rhoelyn: Nysse smiles gratefully, “Thanks!” She slides her bow on her her back and makes quick work of them with her knife. Finally, she turns to Rhese.
Araatris: He straightens, holding the vine-wrapped object carefully. “I think this… thing is the source,” he coughs, brushing pollen off his shoulders.
Rhoelyn: Nysse pulls out a spare bag and holds it open for him, “Let’s get out of here and then check it out. I don’t like the look of these fiends.”
Araatris: Rhese shoves the thing into the pack, though it sticks out the top, and slings it over his shoulder. He glances up at approaching dusk. “Yes.”
Rhoelyn: Night has settled by the time they reach the crest of the hill. The biting cold is unforgiving and Nysse tucks her hands close to warm them.
Araatris: Rhese rests against the boulder he’d stood on before. “I think this is the only shelter.” He coughs and looks at Nysse. “Unless we keep going.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse frowns, “No, this will have to do. Sit and rest. I’ll get the camp ready.” Nysse clears a spot, digs a pit, and hunts for usable wood.
Araatris: As Nysse works, Rhese picks a spot nearby and rests a hand on the ground. Black vines tangle together to hold the thing in his hands suspended.
Rhoelyn: Numb hands fumble with the flint for the fire and Nysse drops it to the ground. She growls in frustration and tries again. “How are you feeling?”
Araatris: He comes over and gently wraps his warm hands around hers to still them. Rhese takes the flint from her. “A fire will help. And some dinner.”
Rhoelyn: “A fire would be nice as I’m paying the price for keeping my fingers open with these gloves.” Nysse hovers as the fire starts and adds kindling.
Araatris: Rhese’s smile is wan, but he wraps his hands around hers again. “Sometimes there’s a price for practicality, lovely.” He chafes her hands a bit.
Rhoelyn: Nysse smiles, “Thank you, but now you need to rest. Why don’t you lay down while I make a hot pot?” She leans forward and kisses his cheek.
Araatris: “I know. I promised.” He presses his overwarm forehead against hers. “Food. Rest. In the morning, we can figure out what that thing is.”
Rhoelyn: “Agreed.” Nysse pulls away and shoos him towards the bed rolls. Once the fire is blazing, she gathers everything and hums softly as she works.
Araatris: Rhese wraps himself in one of the blankets and settles down against the boulder. He watches her quietly until his eyes drift closed and he dozes.
Rhoelyn: The fire crackles across the quiet night. Nysse lets the tension of the day fade away as she pets Tsume at her side. She stirs the broth as she waits.
Araatris: After a while, Tsume’s ears twitch. She raises her head, peering over at Rhese. As Nysse glances up, she feels a tremor under her hand.
Rhoelyn: “What’s wrong, Tsume?” Nysse twists around and gazes around their small camp. “I don’t see anything.” She places her other hand on her bow.
Araatris: Roots burst up under Nysse’s hand, wrapping over it to trap it against the cold dirt and snaking halfway up her arm. More burst up around them.
Rhoelyn: She cries out in wordless shock as she attempts to yank her arm free. Within moments, she and Tsume are tangled neatly within the roots. “Rhese!”
Araatris: The druid in question groans in his sleep. “Rhese, wake up!” Nysse tugs at the roots, but it’s futile. She stares at him as he stirs, groggy.
Rhoelyn: “Rhese!” Nysse calls urgently. Tsume whines at her side uselessly chewing at the roots. Rhese sits up and blinks with a faraway look in his eyes.
Araatris: He gets up calmly, dropping the blanket carelessly behind him as he walks over to them both. Tilting his head, he crouches beside Nysse, silent.
Rhoelyn: “Rhese?” Nysse frowns in confusion. “We need help. Can you remove these vines?” She shifts uneasily under his silent gaze. Rhese reaches out.
Araatris: He rests a hand against her cheek, tender and blankly oblivious to the situation. “Why do you enchant me, Nysse? You’re so beautiful,” he whispers.
Rhoelyn: It’s hard to tell if it’s the glow of the fire, but Nysse’s cheeks are red. “Rhese, that’s very sweet, but we’re trapped. We could be in danger.”
Araatris: “Danger?” He blinks, his gaze finally shifting to Tsume and the larger situation. Frowning in confusion, he touches the roots, and they withdraw.
Rhoelyn: “Yes, we don’t know why those roots sprouted.” Nysse orders Tsume on patrol, “Rhese, are you alright?” She puts her hand on his forehead.
Araatris: He’s burning up despite the night’s chill. He reaches for Nysse, resting his hands at her waist. “You don’t need to worry, lovely. It’ll be fine.”
Rhoelyn: Nysse starts, “You’re burning up–” She’s cut off as he pulls her into a tight embrace. “W-what are you doing?” Tsume whines and runs to them.
Araatris: “You can run with me…” He leans his forehead on her shoulder, his voice drifting off to a whisper. “… when the moon… calls.” Rhese slumps.
Rhoelyn: Nysse lays him down with a worried frown. She makes a cold compress and lays it on his forehead, she whispers, “He’s getting worse, Tsume.”
Araatris: The wolf sniffs at him for a moment before shaking her head with a little sneeze and circling away around the fire to continue to keep watch.
Rhoelyn: Nysse eats dinner and tries to make an herbal tea to help with his fever. She raises him up a little, “Rhese, I need you to try and drink this.”
Araatris: He coughs and rouses enough to do as asked, though he wrinkles his nose at the taste. Once Nysse stops prodding him, he falls back to sleep.
Rhoelyn: Nysse tucks a blanket around him and watches over him throughout the night. She refreshes the compress every so often as he tosses and turns.
Rhoelyn: The cold, mountain winds whip around the trees, causing Nysse to shiver through her thick cloak. Kneeling, she examines the tracks before her.