Elminster the Sage

The Company of the Silver Coin
Amber the Ranger
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Book 4

Chapter 8 - The Falls of Tumbling Stars (1359DR, 18th-23rd Uktar)

With a blood-chilling cry the Vrock hurled itself onto Baynar, knocking aside his defences and tearing at flesh with beak and talons. The Lionar staggered under the attack but didn’t falter and retaliated with a powerful sword blow. At the same time Dwindar, at a command from Amber, hurled himself at the Vrock’s legs in a vain attempt to trip it, he might as well have thrown himself at a mighty oak tree for all the effect it had.
As I squared up against my Drow opponent Josh darted in from the side, moving quickly despite his injuries, and felled the dark elf with a sweep of his Flame-Blade. Temporarily free of trouble I looked across the melee; at the sight of the fiend Faergil had cast a warding spell to protect him from extra-planal beings but he was still under attack from a dark elf. Bazil had just finish off another dark elf with a deadly, double strike from Kithril and The Scout Blade. Colatto had drawn out a bow and was taking careful aim at the levitating priestess. Primrose was locked in combat and, her reactions slowed by the spider venom, looked like she was having a hard time. In lion form I literally sprang to her rescue. Knocking the dark elf from his feet and tearing through his armour to rend flesh and bone. In an instant he was dead. With a nod of acknowledgement Primrose moved, slowly, to help Faergil.
Noticing Colatto, the Drow priestess, her arms covered in a black flame, hurled a ball of fire his way. Colatto unleashed an arrow the same instant. The arrow deflected harmlessly off of her armour but the flame flew true, burning Colatto badly. Despite the pain Colatto unleashed a second arrow but once again he was unable to find a chink in the priestess’s armour. The other Drow were counter-attacking too. Feyondra was hit again but somehow was still on her feet. Faergil’s opponent pressed the attack but only found one of the mage’s decoys. A new opponent ran to intercept Bazil while another dark elf, I think it was the one I had abandoned to help Josh, attacked my flank only to be killed an instant later by two arrows.
Baynar continued to press the attack on the Vrock with a tenacity that I believe the fiend actually found worrying. He was no longer fighting alone, Amber had joined the melee, unleashing three powerful attacks with dazzling speed, but despite her martial skill the Vrock proved too agile for her. The fiend lashed out with the blinding speed we had come to dread, drawing blood from Baynar, Amber and Dwindar all in the blink of an eye. Then it seemed to hop back to give itself room and emitted a piercing cry. I physically recoiled under the assault to my ears but I weathered it. Many of my companions weren’t so lucky and it was several minutes before Faergil, Colatto and Amber got their hearing back.
My thoughts turned to Dragothil, lying among my possessions. Did I have time to get it and deliver it to someone who could use it? Decided that it would take too long I instead moved to aid Bazil. I tore at the Drow with tooth and claw but he was able to twist away before I could finish him. Bazil darted in with his twin blades. The Drow staggered, weak but alive and retaliated against the hobbit, missing with a clumsy thrust with his short sword but drawing blood with his dagger.
Feyondra took two more hits. Whatever magic was sustaining her clearly had its limits and she was having trouble standing. Perhaps she had exhausted her own supply of spells or maybe she had realised how resilient to magic the dark elves were but for whatever reason Feyondra had now resorted to attacking with a dagger. Primrose had reached the fight but her initial blows were deflected off the Drow’s armour. I also saw Josh moving to assist the War Wizard, something that made me inwardly wince as I remembered how bad his own injuries were.
Faergil tired to use The Art on his attacker but, due to his deafness, his speech was slurred and he couldn’t quite manage to complex incantation. The spell failed.
The Drow priestess was now starting to float to the ground. As she did so she hurled more fire at Colatto, this time not only burning flesh but also destroying his bow. Throwing aside the ruined piece of wood Colatto began a sudden sprint across the melee and leaped up at her in an attempt to grab hold of the priestess’s legs. It was an unconventional and daring tactic, something I had come to admire in Colatto, and one that deserved to work but instead he misjudged the angle and sailed past her.
Amber hammered again and again at the Vrock. Her right sword missed but the left finally made contact with the fiend. Unfortunately this blade only had a weak enchantment and it passed through the body of the Vrock without leaving a wound. Then the right stuck again, hacking off one of the Vrock’s wings. It slumped to the ground dead.
Once more Faergil, who was now down to only one decoy, tried to cast a spell at his attacker but once again his deafness defeated him. As the Drow prepared to attack again he was struck from behind by Twin-Death. Brother Baldric, finding himself free of an opponent had used his time wisely by first purging the spider venom from his body and then invoking the miracle of Barkskin on himself. Unfortunately if Baldric had hoped for a quick take-down he was disappointed. Faergil’s opponent had been, until then, unwounded and span to face his new opponent. The Drow’s dagger was unable to penetrate Baldric’s toughened skin but the short sword drew blood.
In the instant the Vrock had been killed Baynar had switched targets, closing on the Drow priestess and cleaving through her armour with his blade. Though she hissed with pain the priestess not only stood her ground but also hurled black flame at the knight. Baynar, already torn and bloody from his fight with the Vrock fell to his knees but drew himself back to his feet with grim determination. As Baynar had done seconds before Amber dashed over to join Colatto and Baynar in battle with the priestess. As only Amber could she delivered three powerful blows in the blink of an eye. The priestess was knocked back and forth but only one attack managed to draw blood. Colatto, Baynar and Amber now surrounded the Priestess. Colatto made a tentative thrust with The Mage’s Blade but couldn’t get through the priestess’s formidable defences. Baynar had no such problems and, ignoring the pain of his injuries made two attacks in quick succession, the second seeming to flow naturally out of the first. It was this second attack that ended the battle, severing the priestess’s head from her shoulders.
With deadly efficiency Captain Stringfellow finished off the Drow we were facing. I could see Feyondra couldn’t last much longer. Like I had with Primrose’s foe I sprang across the campsite throwing my full weight against the Drow. We collapsed into a ball and I tore without restraint at the dark elf, ripping flesh from bone. I was vaguely aware of Feyondra joining the brutal melee, stabbing with her dagger. In seconds the dark elf was limp and broken.
Now there was only one dark elf left, the one that faced Faergil and Bazil. Perhaps he didn’t realise the fate of his companions or perhaps he knew no fear but for whatever reason he pressed his attack. Brother Baldric and the dark elf traded blows but it was Faergil, summoning the power of his magical staff, who ended the fight by splitting the Drow’s skull open.

The fight over I shrugged off the form of a lion and returned to my natural shape. One though was at the forefront of my mind; Amber was back. Captain Tanner had said she had ridden in this direction when she left the Undying Gaze but I could not have guessed we would meet her. Perhaps I had been naïve; most of what The Company did seemed preordained, as if we were following a trail set down by Fate, and Amber still had her role to play. I took a moment to examine my feelings towards Amber; did I still love her? No. What ever had motivated her to say it, insight or spite, Amber had been right that night so many months ago in Essembra when she said I had changed too much both inside and out. I was (for all intents) unique, neither one thing nor another. Not human but not a dragon, a druid but one who would never be fully accepted. An outsider. A misfit. I had a great fondness for Amber, perhaps more so then for any of my companions, but I did not love her. I wondered how Amber had faired since she left us, if her mighty heart had healed it’s mostly self-inflicted wounds.
I called out to Amber in greeting but her attention was else where as she saw to the safety of the band of warriors who had arrived with her. That band was a lot smaller now. Five of them, perhaps half their number, had fallen to the Drow’s blades. Amber called for Baldric to help with the injuries of the rest. My thoughts turned to the wounds of my companions; we had all suffered in the fight. I began with Josh. His injures were extensive but the power of Silvanus did much to ease them. He had fought well and bravely but, though it went against the grain, I would have to reign him in if he was to get back to Cormyr alive. While I healed her I asked Feyondra how she had survived so many attacks when I was sure I had seen her run through at least half a dozen times but she was tight-lipped on the subject. I was also able to purge the venom from Primrose’s veins.

By now the two groups, The Company and the archers, had come together. The archers were a serious, stony-faced group but I doubted that Amber would be in their company if they were not noble of heart. Their leader was called Jared, a dark haired man with stony grey eyes. Amber stuck close to him and the pair exchanged whispered conversations often. Jared wanted to know what we were doing and where we were going. Perhaps reacting to his authoritative tone my companions answers where not overly helpful. Sensing things were going nowhere and we were in danger of alienating a potential friend I laid our cards on the table. We were going to the Darkwatch with the hope of thwarting the Drow, we had a fair idea of how dangerous the road through Tilver’s Gap was but had no choice. Could they help?
From the look in Amber’s eyes it seemed to me she had been expecting the request. She told the others, whom we now realised were all rangers of Mielikki, that she would guide us to The Darkwatch. Clearly this meant us travelling along secret trails that the rangers were not happy about outsiders knowing about. Amber confirmed Baldric’s rather light-hearted suggestion that we would have to go part of the way blindfolded and warned us in the most serious terms that we should not abuse the trust being placed in us. Once or twice the rangers mentioned “The Hawk of the Lady” a term for a priest or priestess of Mielikki. I was rather curious to hear them refer to Amber at least once as “The Finder of the Way”.
Jared was eager to move on. We buried the dead rangers under hastily assembled cairns of stones and rounded up the horses. We were still glowing from the Drow priestess’s Faerie Fire and both Faergil and Feyondra tried and failed to dismiss it. Amber, Jared and the others lead us southwards along a pass through the foothills. They pushed on at a hard pace, Primrose had to ride or she would have been left behind and the pace, and the cold, aggravated our wounds. As we walked through the dark the story of Bazil and his ring was told yet again. I decided that it was time to mention to Bazil something that had been on my mind for a while; perhaps the ring would come off if Bazil apologised to Brandobaris. I was disappointed but not really surprised when Bazil replied that, as far as he could see he had nothing to apologise for.
After about an hour we reached the rangers camp. Their horses, including Fleetfoot, were waiting for them there. I took the opportunity to do what I could for the burns our mounts had sustained when the web caught fire but my Divine Favour was greatly depleted after healing my companions. Amber however, using a miraculous power I believe is unique to rangers, was able to take the horse’s wounds onto herself. We stopped only long enough for the rangers to break camp and collect their horses before we were off again into the dark night. At one point, a little before dawn, Josh suggested that he go scouting off a little way in case there were more Drow or other dangers about. I suggested that he check with Amber or Jared first so not to cause offence. He did so and, taking the form of an owl, disappeared into the gloom.
As the sun broke over the horizon we were in the hills to the south of Tilverton. To the south, some fifteen miles away was a range of mountains while to the east was the Thunderpeaks, the sky above it black with storms, and to our west stretched the barren wilderness of The Stone Lands. We were all tired, cold and sore. Jared gave us four hours to rest before we would have to push on again. Sometime while I was sleeping Josh returned; he had found no sign of danger.
All to soon we were on our way again. Feyondra told us that, by no-doubt arcane means, she had informed Vandaghast of the situation in Tilver’s Gap. Amazingly the Drow priestess’s Faerie Fire was still on us, though it was less noticeable in daylight. We pressed on through the entirety of that day. Jared sent three of the remaining rangers back the way we had come to obscure our trail to throw any pursuit off the track. We ascended steadily through the day. Noon saw us passing along a narrow valley of rock and rubble, as we came out the other side we could see for miles, almost to the Stormhorns some 60 miles away. It was a hard days journey and by the end of it we were happy to make camp despite the chill of the night. Brother Baldric did what he could for our injuries, stinging as they were from the cold. Other then a quick conversation with first Primrose and the Bazil I had noticed that Amber had kept away from most of The Company, her emotional defences always up. The only time she seemed to relax at all was with Jared. We managed to get perhaps seven hours of interrupted sleep, not enough for the mages to relearn spells.
The next day was very much like the last. A long journey through cold and hard lands. Despite everything the land wasn’t barren of life and here and there plants clung stubbornly to existence in small patches of shelter. Amongst the plants I saw were Minenna and Bryony both of which had interesting properties in the hands of a skilled herbalist.
A little before noon we reached a plateau. To our left was a breath-taking view of the Thunder Peaks. Running across the plateau from left to right was a small brook, the source of the Immerflow. It was now that we would have to go blindfolded. One of the rangers cut a blanket into strips and we were each trusted to blindfold ourselves. Some of The Company were still not happy with the idea but there seemed to be no point in trying to change the rangers’ minds. It also seemed a little ungrateful to try as it seemed, from conversations I had heard among the rangers, that they were breaking their own traditions doing as much for us as they had. We would have to lead the horses but Amber, using her Gift, told them that they would be fine.
The journey was a curious one; we continued up at a gradient for a short while and then suddenly it seemed that we were inside; the wind disappeared and the sounds of our footfalls echoed around us. At times the path became quite steep and at other times we stumbled but always there were unseen hands waiting to aid us. After a while we were out into the open again. We could feel the sun on our faces and, breathing deeply I could smell the scents of spring or perhaps summer rather then a stark winter. Despite the warnings I felt the urge to remove my blindfold and feast my eyes on what all my other senses told me was a rare treasure. Our journey seemed to be paralleling a river and at one point we crossed a wooden bridge. Ahead I could hear the sounds of waterfalls and soon we reached a set of steps leading to a path that, rising all the time, snaked back and forth between the falls; “The Falls of Tumbling Stars” Amber called them. When we reached the top we were greeted by a blast of icy wind. Spring had returned once more to winter and there was now snow under foot. We travelled on for a short while and then Jared told us we could remove our blindfolds. I looked back but all that could be seen was a stony, snow sprinkled pass. It was now time for Jared and the other rangers to leave. Though she must have been preparing for it since the fight with the Drow it was clearly a wrench for Amber to leave them but she was determined to guide us to The Darkwatch. I thanked Jared and his men for their assistance and asked what they would do next, Jared said that they would return to what they had been doing; trying to protect Tilverton and Tilver’s Gap from the Drow.
It was now getting late and we decided to make camp pretty much where we were. There were a few tense minutes between Amber and Feyondra after the War Wizard idly speculated if King Azune knew of the hidden valley we had passed through. When we were settled Amber finally told us what had befallen her since we had parted company in Nimpeth. As we already knew she had sailed back to Cormyr on the Undying Gaze and collected Fleetfoot from the royal stables. While she had a notion of returning to Hap she had been, for the most part lost and directionless. Suddenly she had felt a compulsion to travel north and east. She had travelled on and on until she was exhausted and, when she could not take another step, Windstrom had appeared to her. He had guided her to The Falls of the Tumbling Stars where she could rest and heal. He also gave her a Gift; the reason that the rangers had called her The Finder of the Way, no matter where she wanted to go her feet would always find the right path. It was this Gift that would lead her to The Darkwatch despite all the tricks and deceptions that it used to conceal itself. Her tale reminded my of Elladyr’s vision and it’s reference to “The Guide”. Thinking of the Vilhon Reach reminded me of Dragothil, also known as “Hate Bane” and “The Blade of Love”, and the charge that Arriane had placed on me to find someone to wield it. The seemed little doubt that Amber was such a person and that Arriane had known that we would cross her path again. I handed over the sword, with its accompanying cloak, and explained what we knew of its powers. At some point Colatto had decided that, despite being a mage of rare talent, he was going to rely more on his skill-at-arms. He had salvaged a buckler from one of the Drow and done his best to obscure the design on the front of it. As we camped that night he was able to get a set of studded leather armour from Baldric and a short bow from Bazil. Despite the howling wind all the priests and mages in our group got a good night’s sleep thanks to the miraculous powers of Silvanus.
The next day’s travel began well. Faergil was finally able to dispel the Faerie Fire that had marked us since the fight in Tilver’s Gap. We set off at a good pace, travelling along a narrow pass, but by midday we had been hit by a blizzard. It howled down from the mountain peaks like a pack of hungry wolves and within moments we could hear and see next to nothing. We roped ourselves together and did our best to push on through the storm with Amber leading the way. After what seemed life a lifetime of fighting the elements it became clear that it was a fight we could not hope to win. Amber found us what shelter was available but it wasn’t much and it soon became clear that we would need to call upon the power of the gods if we were all going to make it through the night. Following Baldric’s lead Josh and myself invoked a protective miracle called Aura of Comfort on all of our companions and our mounts, shielding them from the deadly cold. Only Feyondra turned down the blessing saying, rather enigmatically, that her cloak would protect her.
The next morning we needed to dig our way out of the shallow cave that Amber had found for us. Once free we gazed upon a vast expanse of virgin white snow that stretched as far as we could see. The blizzard came and went throughout that day as we continued down the pass and we needed to renew our protective auras periodically. In the late afternoon, during a brief let-up in the snow, we came across a worrying sight, a large patch of snow ahead was churned up, in places it was stained red and there were clumps of fur. Signalling for us to keep back Amber moved forward to read the signs in the snow. The fur had belonged to a brown bear that had recently been attacked by a large lizard. We all must have though the same thing; a dragon. I glanced around the narrow pass, if a dragon attacked us there we would be at a serious disadvantage. Even as I thought this we heard, as if carried on the wind, a powerful roar. It was a noise that only a dragon could have made. Quickly we began to move again, dragging the horses along with us. It was already starting to snow again and our visibility was dropping away fast. We had been going for no more then five minutes when we heard the dragon roar again. There could be no doubt that this time the dragon was a lot closer. The horses began to panic. Bazil, Faergil and Baldric began to lose control of their horses, though The Luck Bringer was able to calm his mount, Storm, down with a small miracle. Suddenly, through the haze of snow, we became aware of a ghostly, glow from above us and once again we heard the dragon roaring, apparently from the same direction. I had thought that a white dragon was hunting us but now a new idea crossed my mind; could it be Yiarni the Crystal Dragon that we had saved from giants in The Lost Dale? I called out to the glow in the tongue of dragons and a familiar voice called back. It was indeed Yiarni as we could see when she landed a little way along the pass; a slim, wingless dragon some forty feet in length whose body seemed to be spun from flawless glass. She had picked up our trail while hunting and was concerned for our safety in such harsh weather. She offered to lead us to a cave, the one that the bear had once used, so we could ride out the rest of the storm. She considered herself in our debt for saving her from the giants and was eager to discharge what she saw as her obligations. With remarkable grace considering the narrowness of the pass Yiarni turned around and guided us to the cave, which still smelt strongly of it’s former occupant. Once she saw us safely inside she headed off into the snowstorm, which was rapidly turning into another blizzard. We had just managed to get a fire going from things lying around the cave (mostly bear dung) when there were two thuds outside. Venturing out into the blizzard I was just in time to see the dragon slipping away into the storm, flicking this way and that like a fish riding a current. At my feet were two, freshly killed sheep. From their red-brown fur they were clearly “Red Sheep” a species unique to the Thunder Peaks. We dragged them inside and Amber and Primrose butchered and cooked them.
That night in the bear cave was the most comfortable we spent in the mountains. Amber summoned Dwindar, who had recovered from his injuries sustained in the fight with the Vrock, and introduced him to Baynar, Josh and Feyondra. I told Amber, and anyone else who would listen, tales of a few of the places we had visited and thing we had seen in our recent travels. We set watches but the night passed without incident.
The next day was cold but not unpleasant. The smell of the air told me that the snowstorms were over for the time being and we set off feeling refreshed and rested. We were now noticeably going downwards. After a while the pass that we had been following for close to two days opened up. We were on a plateau nestled in the arms of two mountain ranges. Ahead of us was a beautiful, panoramic view. Stretching for leagues ahead of us were the foothills of the Thunder Peaks and beyond them, stretching from north to south as far as we could see, even elevated as we were, was the mighty Cormanthor forest, a patchwork of brown and green. Within the forest we could see the glimmer of Lake Sember sparkling in the winter sunlight and somewhere close to that, hidden like a vast spider in a web of sorcery, would be The Darkwatch.
Half a year ago our enemies had driven us from these lands but now we had returned to The Dalelands to finish what we had started....

Chapter 9

DM's Notes

I used the following references:
Faiths and Avatars - Info on the faith of Mielikki and the Falls of Tumbling Stars.
Drow of the Underdark - Drow and Drow Spells
Elminsters Ecologies - Info on the Thunder Peaks and the Flora and Fauna (including the Dragon therein)

It was the first week after quite a long break and I had to start in the middle of a fight - not fun, but it went OK.There were lots a few Drow spells cast - Dark Fire, Spell web (previous week) amongst others...

Baynar took something like 48hp in one round off the Vrock! Not nice. Fortunately for him other companions joined the fray before he was killed.

The Falls of Tumbling Stars are Faiths and Avatars, and the whole blinded folded journey was somewhat cliched for me (aka Faramir - The Two Towers). But it worked and the vales importance to the faith of Mielikki cannot be understated. Surprisingly there wasn't any real arguments from the characters.

Ya know, if you want to freeze your characters half to death up a mountain don't take along Priests with the Travellers sphere! All too easy :-/

I think the Dragon encounter worked OK. I do try for continuity; I think it makes the whole whole seem more real. The original encounter can be read here.

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