Bardass! Quest 16 – Whiteout

Finally, the long-awaited (I assume) continuation of Bardass!

Quest 16 – Whiteout

By temporarily binding his familiar Arco to Coleen, Brier was able to escape Lorath with his two companions in tow.  However, Coleen’s contract expired shortly after leaving the Rhean forests, causing the party to crash into the snowfields of Croadin.

Avery was wakened by the crash and agreed to carry the still unconscious Coleen on his back.

Avery: How long is she going to be like this?
Brier: I don’t know.  But she’s not dead.
Avery: This would be so much easier if we still had the cart.
Brier: I don’t think the cart would have much traction in the show.
Avery: Hmm… maybe not, but if I replaced the wheels… Oh, if only we had the time to chop enough wood to build a cart…
Brier: We need to focus on not dying first.  It’s strange we haven’t encountered any wolves yet.
Avery: I think I know why.  The wind is picking up.
Brier: Damn…

The perpetually cold air was worsened by the growing wind, buffeting the party with kicked up snow.  Every howling blast was a scattering frozen sting across their skin.

Brier: If it’s too much for you, Arco might be able to help.
Avery: I know what you have in mind, and I’ll have to decline.  The sensation of heat from his poison isn’t real heat..
Brier: Suit yourself.

The two continued marching forward into the expanse of white as snow began falling to further hinder them.  The wind intensified, blowing snow in every direction, turning the scenery in front of them into an ever-changing configuration of blankness.  A sudden, violent gust shoved Brier from his path, and he stumbled to the ground.

Brier: Guhhhhh… This is annoying. Avery, you okay?  I haven’t heard you in a while.  Avery?

Brier looked around and saw no sign of his companion.  Even his own footprints were concealed by fresh snow.

Brier: Damn… What am I going to do now?
Arco: Hss!
Brier: My fingers are too numb, Arco.  Well… It may not have an effect… But hopefully he’ll hear it.

Brier reached for his lute and strummed a noise that couldn’t be considered a melody.  It didn’t matter what he played as long as he was heard, so he played as loudly as he could, even if most of it was drowned by the wind.

Brier: This is starting to get pathetic, isn’t it?  After all we’ve been through… done in by weather.
Arco: Hss…
Brier: Nnggh… gotta… keep… playing…

The bard curled up in the ground in an effort to keep himself warm while his hands continued playing his lute even has he started to nod off.  In his last waking moments, he saw a blurred figure approach him.

Brier: S-so… Still alive?  What… took you… so…?

* * *

Cyrus: BAWHAWHAWHAW!!!  Another round!
Ranka: Wahoo!  Now that’s what I’m talking about!
Caden: Unbelievable.  To think, such indulgences still sate you.
Lodi: Oh, lighten up and live a little.
Caden: I detect an attempt at humor in that line.  Forgive me if I don’t laugh.  It wasn’t funny.
Ranka: Lodi’s right for once.  As of tonight we have officially conquered all of Rym.  Have a drink!  I’ve got a cocktail that’ll pick your spirits right up.  So to speak, fufufu…
Lodi: I should have thought of that one!
Caden: What happened to you, Lodi?  I heard you used to be more like me, and almost as smart.
Lodi: You heard wrong.  I was never as far gone as you, and I’m far smarter.
Caden: Is that so?  Hmhmhm… That sounds like a challenge.
Lodi: If you want me to spar in a battle of wits, then you’re going to have to chug a few!
Caden: Not worth it.
Ranka: What are you so afraid of?  Spoilsport.
Balken: Oh, let him be off.  We’re all free to celebrate as much or as little as we want.  We’ve earned it!
Cyrus: BAWHAWHAW!  Well said!  And so… I challenge you to celebrate with me!
Balken: Oh?
Cyrus: Clear this table!  Me and the Dark Lord are having an arm wrestling match!
Ranka: Fufufu… You sure you stand a chance?  We need to give Balken a handicap!
Cyrus: Nay, no handicap!  In fact… How about you take that armor off.  Make it a real challenge.
Ranka: Oooooh… Now that’s interesting.  I’ll glady sacrifice your life to see him without his armor on.
Cyrus: You never have?  Well, that’s one for my Kitten, now, isn’t it?
Ranka: What was that?
Cyrus: What’ll it be, Balken?
Ranka: Hey…
Balken: You beat me with my bad hand WITH my armor on, and I’ll grant you your wish.
Cyrus: It’ll make a fine warm-up!

* * *

The warm, wet touch of a damp cloth rubbing across Brier’s forehead slowly began to wake him from his brief repose.  His eyes focused on the unfamiliar face looking down on him.  After a pause, he quickly understood that he was in a bed.  Someone had rescued him.  He wasn’t at all sure if that same person was the thin brunette he was now staring at.

Brier: Who the hell are you?
Mystery Woman: My uncle found you playing out in the snowfield.  That was rather reckless of you.
Brier: Uncle?
Mystery Man: Oh, he’s up now, is he, Kitten?
Brier: Kitten?
“Kitten”: He’s starting to ask questions, Uncle.
Mystery Man: Then let me take over.  A conversation with a new guest should do me well.

Brier leaned up and scanned his surroundings.  One look at the walls told him he was in a log cabin, but closer scrutinizing revealed that it was no ordinary cabin.  It was twice as tall as the average log cabin, and perfectly level.  The thought of paying a large enough crew to construct the cabin was out of the question; no one with that kind of wealth would want to live in the middle of the snowfields.  He figured the cabin was built by the man that just spoke.  And so, he peered across from the bed and focused on a large, ancient figure slowly pacing across the next room.  Once it crossed over the threshold, Brier finally made out his features.

He was undoubtedly much older, and somewhat shorter, but there was no mistaking this man’s identity.

Brier: C… Cyrus?
Cyrus: Well, this is a surprise.  Someone who recognizes me, even in this state.  You’re a bit young though, aren’t you?  I don’t think we could have met.  Although… your face does seem familiar.
Brier: Well, I don’t think there’s any way you could recognize me, but…
Cyrus: I’ve got it!  You must be the son of one our soldiers!  What a tiny world we walk, eh?
Brier: Y-yes, I suppose it is.  I remember seeing statues of you and the other generals of Balken’s army.  Er, as a child.
Cyrus: Ha ha ha ha!  Yes, though I’m not what I was… But what about you?  All alone in the snow, playing your lute… You don’t seem like a looney to me right now, but…  Well, you’re lucky Svennia found you out there.
Brier: Svennia?
Svennia: That’s me.
Brier: Oh…

Brier beckoned the young girl to lean over and whispered in her ear.

Brier: (You’re not the old man’s niece.  Who are you, really?)
Svennia: (I may not be his niece, but my name really is Svennia.  And how do you..?)
Brier: Oh, no no no that’s too confusing!  I demand you change your name to Helga this instant.
Svennia: Why should I have to change my name for you?!
Brier: I’m not calling you Svennia!  It’s too weird!
Svennia: Then call me something else, but my name is Svennia!
Brier: It’s settled!  Your name is Nya!
Svennia: Nya?
Cyrus: Bwaahahaha!  It fits you, Kitten!
Nya: Ugh…
Cyrus: All silliness aside, what were you doing out there, boy?
Brier: The name’s Brier, and… Well, I got separated from my party.  There should be two others out there… Avery and Coleen.  I take it you didn’t find them.
Cyrus: No, but if you have friends out there, Kitten will bring them in.  Won’t you?
Nya: As you wish.  Excuse me.

“Nya” proceeded out into the blizzard, leaving Cyrus and Brier in the cabin.

Cyrus: She can be a handful when she’s in a mood.  Though it usually takes much more effort on my part to get her that riled up!  Bwaaahahahaha!
Brier: Will she be alright?
Cyrus: She’ll be fine.  And she’ll find your friends.  Considering she’s been taking care of me for the past few years, she has to be strong enough to manage at least that.
Brier: I can still hardly believe…
Cyrus: That I’m alive?  Well, it’s nothing to be proud of.  After all, living here is my sentence.
Brier: Your sentence?
Cyrus: Aye.  On that fateful day when the empire fell, I was defeated for the first time in my life.  But rather than meet a warrior’s fate, I was left to live in shame of my defeat.  Five of that band of seven wanted me dead, but Arbel had other plans for me.  He had Duvall place a hex, binding me here in the middle of nowhere.  Nothing and no one is allowed to kill me, and I can’t travel more than a mile from this very spot until I die… of natural causes.
Brier: A cruel fate… for your kind.
Cyrus: Aye.  But I have no regrets.
Brier: I find that hard to believe.  Surely, you regret losing.
Cyrus: Why should I?  It was a fair fight.  The stronger man won, just as it should be.
Brier: Then… you should regret joining Balken’s army.
Cyrus: Nay.  It was my decision, and I never do anything I don’t take pride in.  The world may think of me as a villain for years and years to come, but they’ll also know that I was a force nary to be reckoned with!  I was a monster!  Is that not reward enough?  Only Balken and Ranka referred to themselves as heroes, and while I don’t doubt Ranka believed it, Balken was too smart not to know what he really was.
Brier: And what was he?
Cyrus: Just as the stories say.  A monster of monsters.  A true villain.  The kind of man that will be reviled for generations to come.  But that’s what I liked about him.  He took what he wanted, lived life to the fullest, and died an honorable death.
Brier: You think there’s honor in villainy?
Cyrus: Villainy or virtue, there is always a path of honor and a path of shame.  I know!  Let me tell you a story to show you what I mean.

It must have been 15 years since it happened.  I was the chief of Harl, home of the strongest, burliest men to ever walk Rym.  The women were no slouches, either.  Everyone either hunted or took up smithing.

Though the people of Harl would often boast of their achievements, few had any ambitions.  The result of generations of pride without substance.  Certainly, we were physically superior.  It was a fact so obvious, no one felt it necessary to prove it.

Perhaps that is why on that fateful day, Harl fell.

The banner of the black dragon marched up to Harl’s borders.  As soon as the first soldier crossed that line, the men of Harl charged to meet the only army arrogant enough to even dare to challenge them.  Until then, Harl had no concept of defense.  Why protect something from danger when you could destroy whatever bore its fangs at you?

What met Balken’s army was three hundred famed hunters.  They had numbers and strength, but they were not an army.  Balken’s army trampled them under foot, and for the first time in eons, Harl had been humbled.

For the first time, fear was visible in the faces of Harl’s best.  Everyone knew, but none were willing to admit it.  In the meeting hall, Harl’s fiercest and bravest came together to discuss the most effective way to ambush Balken’s army.  One man suggested retreating the entire population into the mines and triggering an avalanche to bury Harl and Balken’s army with it.  Disgusted, I stormed out alone and challenged Balken to one on one combat.

Cyrus: I am Cyrus, Chief of Harl.  Fight me, Balken!  If you fall before me, the rest of your army shall disperse into the cold, or risk life and limb in battle against the entirety of Harl.  If I should fall… then Harl has no future.
Balken: I accept your challenge.  Men, hear your master!  Anyone who interferes in this duel will be met with immediate and painful death!

Balken was a massive man.  Not as large as the average Harlian, but close.  And he was covered head to toe in black, imposing armor.  His weapon of choice was a greatsword wrapped in black flames.  He chose not to use that sword in our fight because the only weapons I put faith in were my two hands.

The first blow was his.  I didn’t think a man covered in armor could move that fast, and before I knew it he was in front of me, landing a fierce punch to my jaw.  The fact that I didn’t fall right then perhaps shocked him, giving me the window I needed to rally back with a punch of my own.  He may have been wearing a helmet, but the powerful blow shook him and sent him stumbling back.  I could sense his entire army looking aghast.  But they all stood their ground, remembering their leader’s words.  None dared go against his orders.

The duel continued on for three hours.  Balken’s army had relaxed and forgotten that they were there to conquer.  They were completely enthralled by the duel, and to tell the truth, so was I.  Some of the soldiers even cheered for me whenever I landed a good hit.

Both of us had yet to touch the ground, neither of us willing to give an inch away.  But I was getting tired, and with that helmet on, I had no way of knowing if Balken was as exhausted as I was.  I would rather die than admit defeat, and I fully expected to die right then.  Harl had other plans.  A storm of arrows descended upon Balken’s army, and the cowards I had tried to protect charged with a misplaced sense of pride.

Cyrus: Those cowardly fools!  Why now?
Balken: What a disgusting display… Spirits of Flame, your master commands thee!  Devour these infidels with a razing inferno!  Let nothing escape thy fury!  Let not even ashes remain!  I command the Cataclysm of Fire upon thee!

Many mages had passed by Harl in my life, but none of them cast a spell like that before.  They would make gestures and plead with the spirits, beckon them, pray to them, or just recite ancient phrases to stir them.  But Balken… he commanded the spirits the way one commands an army.  And like obedient soldiers, the spirits did as they were told.

The sky turned red, and flames rained down upon the army of Harl.  Impossibly hot flames tore through flesh and bone and snow and rock.  Yes, even in a land of eternal winter, those flames scorched the earth.  No, scorched doesn’t do it justice.  It was as if the earth and everything above had become molten forge, ready for Balken to mold at his whim.  I wondered then how I could possibly entertain the thought of beating him.

But with all that power, he could have killed me at any time.  This too, I understood.  He had given me a chance to prove myself.  It was the same chance extended to Harl.  Harl chose poorly, and I had failed Harl.  But I had not failed myself.

Know this.  I did not prostrate myself before him when I joined his army.  Before I even fully grasped the change within me, he saw in my eyes that I had cut all ties with Harl.

Brier: You’re saying Harl took the path of shame?  In the history books, Harl fought bravely to the end and was destroyed, while their former chief selfishly joined his army.
Cyrus: That may be true as well.  But know this: whether they sought to sneak attack Balken as they did or they fought honorably in a fair fight, Harl would have fallen.  The end result would have been the same.  So wouldn’t it have been better to die fighting with honor?  And… Well, if they fought with honor, I would have died that day as well, with no regrets.  Then Balken’s army would have been substantially weaker.  Of course, none of us had any idea that would happen.  It’s just the ironic hand dealt by fate.
Brier: So, if they hadn’t attacked, how do you see that duel ending?
Cyrus: Heh… Well, like I said, my power is nothing compared to that Spell of Cataclysm.  But if the duel continued…

The cabin door flew open, and “Nya” entered, two bodies slung atop her shoulders.

Nya: I found these two half-buried in the snow in the eastern field.  They probably got lost since there aren’t any landmarks there.
Cyrus: Are those your companions?
Brier: That’s them.  Are they okay?
Nya: Well, they’re breathing.  But they’re certainly not okay.  You look like you’re in better shape.  Mind giving up the bed?  We’re not exactly equipped for guests.
Brier: Oh… sure.

Brier crawled out of the bed and helped out.  It was then that he realized he wasn’t wearing any clothes.  Nya pointed out his pants, shirt and jacket were laid out in front of the hearth to dry.  He darted off to his jacket and quickly tied it around his waist before returning to his companions.  Brier had a guess about what needed to be done and started right away before being turned around by Nya and told to remove Avery’s wet clothing to dry.

Coleen was placed on Nya’s bed, Avery on the one Brier was recently resting on (presumably Cyrus’).  It seems Arco had separated from Brier while he was still outside, as he was found nestled inside Coleen’s cloak.

Nya wandered between the two beds, though mostly taking special attention to Coleen, as she noticed her skin was still clammy and cold while Avery was slowly warming up and showing signs of revival.

Brier and Cyrus hadn’t much to do but continue their conversation.  But Cyrus was no longer in a storytelling mood.

Cyrus: Well, even if I told you my opinion, that’s all it would be.  We can’t know for sure what might have come from lost opportunities.
Brier: Just tell my why you thought you would win.
Cyrus: Win?  Ha!  No, that was never going to happen.  Balken might feign weakness, but he would never willingly lose.

* * *

Cyrus: Ha!  Looks like I win!
Ranka: Get real.  He let you win.
Balken: No, Cyrus’ strength is real.  I admit defeat.
Ranka: N-no way!  You’re…
Balken: But… That was the handicap, after all.  Here is your reward.

Balken removed the black Obsidian gauntlet from his right hand and dropped it to the floor.  With a cold glance, Ranka drove away the soldiers that had gathered around the contest.  She wanted to make sure only she and Cyrus laid their eyes on the skin Balken refused to show anyone else.  No one expected the hand behind the armor to be so thin and pale.  But it was hardly as frail as it looked.

Balken: Round 2!
Cyrus: Ha!  Bring it on!

The right hands of the two men linked and squeezed the other as tightly as they could.  Cyrus was surprised by his strength, but not overwhelmed.  It was a stronger grip than any he’d felt before, but it was roughly equal to his own strength.

Cyrus: Is this all of your power, Balken?  It’s impressive, but I’m disappointed!
Balken: You’re far stronger than I am, Cyrus.  But… you can never win.
Cyrus: Oh?  I admit you’re a better tactician, but this is arm wrestling!
Balken: Indeed it is.  And I think perhaps you want to keep your hand.
Cyrus: Hm?  Ah… aaaaahhh!!!

The pressure of the grip they had on each other numbed Cyrus to the pain he should have been feeling.  But the smoke seeping through the cracks between his fingers told him everything.  That brief flash of fear was all Balken needed to slam Cyrus’ hand through the table.  The victor then quickly grabbed his gauntlet and placed it back over his hand.

Cyrus glanced past his twisted arm and down to his palm, which had blackened and blistered where it made contact with Balken’s skin.

Cyrus: Wha… what….
Ranka: W-wow… You, uh… You have control over that, right, Balken?  Otherwise, we’ll never be able to…
Balken: Didn’t I tell you that was never going to happen?  Yeah, I’ll get around to controlling this so you can kill me.  Cyrus.  Pick yourself up and seek out a Cleric.

With that parting advice, Balken retired to his room.

Cyrus: What kind of power is that?
Lodi: It’s kind of a curse.
Ranka: Lodi?  Oh, that’s right… You’ve known him before any of us.  So I take it you know his secret?
Lodi: The Spells of Cataclysm are more than just the most destructive spells in existence.  As with all spells, they have to be channeled through the caster’s body first.  Most people wouldn’t survive casting them if they tried.  But for the chosen few that can?  Some residual power remains inside the body, permanently strengthening it.  Back when he used it at Harl he was still relatively normal.  The power was out of control and he needed the armor to limit it.  But after using it again and again at the Sakarlands?  He might not show it, but he’s probably scared to death of what might happen if he ever takes that armor off.  That he actually removed that gauntlet at your request, Cyrus… Well, I’m not exactly sure what that says about what he thinks of.  I’m in disbelief that your hand can even move.

* * *

Brier had no intentions to share a bed with Avery, opting to sit by the hearth and play his lute.  Cyrus had long since fallen asleep on his stool, but “Nya” was still worriedly tending to Coleen.

Brier: Why don’t you get some sleep?
Nya: How can I?  Your companion is…
Brier: She’ll be fine.
Nya: You don’t care much for her, do you?  I’m serious!
Brier: As am I.  Right now, the only thing on my mind is you.
Nya: What?
Brier: The old man seems to think you’re his niece.  How did that come about?
Nya: How do you know I’m not?
Brier: Because the real Svennia looks nothing like you, and she isn’t half as caring for others.  What’s your game?
Nya: Why should I tell you anything?
Brier: No, you don’t have any reason, do you?  Honestly, I don’t care.  But if I told the old man that his niece is still out there somewhere, I wonder what his response would be?  Maybe you’ve been looking after him for a long time, but that doesn’t mean whatever trust you’ve brokered between the two of you can’t be broken.  Give me a reason not to break the old man’s heart.
Nya: . . . I only met him by accident.

I ran south across the snowfields from Croadin.  I never was the sort to make any trouble.  I was just as surprised as anyone else when I found I had stabbed my master in the neck, even if he had tried to force himself on me in the middle of the night.  My second mistake was screaming in response to my own handiwork.  Of course, I had no other choice but to run.  My mistress roused up the young lords (her sons) and had them sent after me.

I lost them in the woods, but they weren’t about to give up the hunt.  They turned back during the first night, but by the next day they had brought bloodhounds.  So I ran again.  Once I had left the cover of the forest, I was easy to spot.  They had just about caught up to me when I met Cyrus.

“What’s wrong, kitten?”

I think even then he had made up his mind about me.  I told her my name was Svennia and that I was being hunted down by slavers.  It wasn’t the whole truth, but it wasn’t exactly a lie.  And it was all he needed to hear.  With a single stomp, he scared away the hounds.  Their masters knew better than to pursue.  I never saw hide nor hair of them again.

Cyrus told me he was my uncle and was delighted to see me after all the years.  I had no uncle, but who was I to take away the happiness of my savior just because he was a bit senile?  I had nowhere else to go, so I stayed here to care for him.  And of course, he would be protecting me.  But what does it matter if we both got what we wanted?

Brier: He must be pretty far gone if he actually mistook you for Svennia.
Nya: I don’t know if he’s in denial or senile or just lonely… But I’m not going anywhere.  This is my home.
Brier: Is that so?
Nya: Now, about your companion…
Brier: Her body hasn’t warmed up since you brought her in?
Nya: That’s right.  But her breathing and heartbeat sound healthy enough.
Brier: There’s nothing wrong with her.  But when she finally wakes up, she’ll be mighty hungry, I can tell you that.

* * *

“When the Black Star casts its shadow over Rym, the Magic Knights will right the world.”

That was the legend passed down in my home village of Helia.

My father, Jegan, my mother, Elena, and my brother, Aidan, were all Magic Knights, the few blessed with the unique ability to construct weapons out of elemental power.  They were also famed mercenaries.

I was unlike them – too young to fight, and though a mage in training, not a Magic Knight.

Helia was somewhat isolated from the rest of the world and not considered one of the major kingdoms of Rym.  So we had nothing to fear from Balken’s army.  We had nothing to gain from interfering in his war, so we stayed out of it.

That is, until we heard Balken had conquered every kingdom on Rym except Rhea.  A Rhean refugee came to Helia and repeated the legend of the Magic Knights to appeal to my father.

Father was not a king.  He was a mercenary.  Even if he opposed Balken, no harm would come to Helia.  This is what he told me.  That, and…

Jegan: Balken wasn’t always like this.
Coleen: Are you saying you knew him before he was the Dark Lord?
Jegan: Yes.  He wasn’t always called the Dark Lord.  The first time I saw him, he was only about your age.  He said he was a Mage, and the black dragon that followed him everywhere was his familiar.  Balken knew every spell there was, but that wasn’t even the most impressive thing about him.  If we were ever in a pinch, he would channel magic into his dragon, augmenting is abilities and causing him to nearly double in size.  In that state, his dragon struck fear even into us, his allies.  A terrifying dragon as pitch black as death.  And as fearsome as that dragon was, Balken was its master.  But like I said, Balken was just a child.  He may have been worthy of the “Dark Lord” title even then, but the thought never crossed our mind.
Coleen: What did you call him?
Jegan: Dragonmaster.  We called him Dragonmaster Balken.
Coleen: Was he your friend?
Jegan: No.  Well… we were friendly at times.  We trained together.  We were… colleagues.  But nothing more than that.
Coleen: And now you’re going to fight him.
Jegan: I hope not.  I don’t know why he changed, but… I just might be able to convince him to stop all of this.
Coleen: And if he doesn’t?  Is Balken really the Black Star?
Jegan: Maybe, maybe not.  But I do know this.  I was his equal back then.  He doesn’t stand a chance against three Magic Knights.

That was the last I saw of my family.  By the time they reached Rhea, it was too late.  Rhea had fallen.  But the remnants of its army joined up with him, and together they followed Balken’s army south.  Aidan led a small squad to attack the Sakarlands, which was thinly defended.  That drew out reinforcements from Port Fugue.  The main force struck the port and captured it with ease.  The reinforcements were then surrounded and wiped out.

They wasted no time in sending out ships to cross into the southern subcontinent.  Balken’s forces sent out ships from Port Yuga, but the power of the Magic Knights proved too much to overcome.  Aidan’s Flame Sniper set ships aflame before they were even in range to attack, and Mother’s Frost Spear froze the waters around them, leaving their ships stuck and harmless.

From Port Yuga, Father led his forces around Rieve Elan, sending spies posing as merchants from Aria into the neutral kingdom for supplies.

They managed to arrive at the borders of Aria, Balken’s Dark Capitol.

It was there that my family and his hopeful army were utterly slaughtered at Balken’s hand.  It was there that the legend of the Magic Knights was buried.

Whatever bond my father had with Balken had been severed long ago.  Whoever that young prodigy he talked about was probably no longer existed.

I was a lot of things at that age, but I was most proud of how smart I was.  This wouldn’t be an ordinary revenge – the kind that got emotional novices killed.  I had to learn more about my enemy.  I had to become stronger than him.  I had to become a Magic Knight… and see to it the legend was fulfilled.

But then the Seven Heroes came and defeated him…

…and that’s when the world stopped making sense.

* * *

Arco: Ssss….
Coleen: Nnn… A…. Arco?
Arco: Mao!
Avery: Finally among the living?
Nya: Oh, thank the heavens!  I was worried you wouldn’t recover!
Coleen: Avery… Wait, who are you?
Nya: My name is Svennia.
Brier: You can call her Nya.  I know I do.
Coleen: Svennia it is.
Brier: Tch.
Nya: It’s not much, but I have some soup prepared.  I imagine you’re quite hungry.
Coleen: I… am, actually.
Nya: Uncle is out hunting for meat so you can have a heartier meal before you continue your travels.  I’ve been told you’re heading to Harl?
Coleen: Oh… Yes, that’s right.  Brier?  Avery?  What happened?  Last thing I remember we were in Lorath and out of options.
Avery: I’m afraid I don’t know quite everything either.  I woke up after our escape, somewhere in the snowfields of… I believe southeast of Croadin.  Do tell, how did we escape, Brier?
Brier: Chelsea.
Avery: Who?
Coleen: You don’t mean… Chelsea the Feral?
Brier: The very same.  I don’t understand it all, actually, but it sounded like Chelsea and Duvall had some kind of grudge going on between the two of them.  That Spell of Cataclysm got her attention, and she flow over to Lorath on her blue dragon.
Coleen: And… what?  She just gave us all a lift?
Brier: More or less.

It was obvious to both of them that Brier was hiding something important, but they knew better than to push the issue when it wasn’t presently important.  They were safe and well outside of Lorath’s borders.  And much closer to Harl.  That would have to be enough.

Brier and Svennia also kept the fact that Cyrus was the former Dark General from the two.  Brier had convinced her that it would be for the best considering Coleen’s grudge against Balken.  As far as either of them knew, he was just an old woodsman that took them in during the blizzard.

The next day, after the storm had passed, the party prepared to continue their trek to Harl.  They were without a cart, though such a vehicle would be only a burden in this terrain.  Svennia provided them each with a large leather satchel and enough provisions to make it as far as Croadin.

Coleen: Thanks for looking after me for all that time.  I wish there were some way for me to repay you.
Nya: I don’t mind at all.
Cyrus: Well, some ale certainly wouldn’t hurt!  Just bring yourselves by and share some stories of your journey!
Coleen: I will!
Avery: I don’t think I will be returning here, but all the same, I thank you for your hospitality.

Avery extended his hand to shake Cyrus’s hand, which Cyrus reciprocated with some hesitance.  There was something about Avery’s face that bothered him, but he soon brushed that thought aside as nonsense.  Cyrus then turned to Coleen and held her hand with both of his, smiling but with eyes saddened by her sudden departure.  Coleen’s companions were visibly perturbed by the obvious shift in demeanor.

Cyrus: I’m sure we’ll have more time to get to know each other next time!
Coleen: Of course!  Just don’t go anywhere!

The three at last turned away from the cabin and shuffled off into the distance.

Cyrus stood in place, watching the three until he could no longer see them clearly.  Then his smile soured and he stared at his palms.

Nya: What’s wrong, uncle?
Cyrus: My hands…they’ve gone numb.
Nya: Then you should warm them up inside!  I’ll prepare something warm…
Cyrus: Yes… you do that, Kitten…

But Cyrus was born in the cold and lived most of his life in the cold.  His hands never went numb.

Cyrus: It’s not possible… She’s too old to be his daughter… They can’t be kin either.  Maybe I’m just getting old.  That has to be it.  After all…

There can’t be another Balken.

Next time, on Bardass!  Finally traveling together, Brier, Coleen and Avery discover a mysterious hot spring en route to Croadin.  But is there more to this spring than it seems?  Find out in Quest 17 – Spring in the Eternal Winter.


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