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The Watcher

posted Apr 30, 2014, 8:52 PM by Christopher Ellison
This is a first draft of a short story that came to me just this week.  It's set in the world of the D&D campaign I'm currently running, though quite a ways back (relatively speaking) in the timeline.  And if any of my players stumble across this post and want to know whether or not it is canonical, you'll get no clear answers from me... just like always....

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She snaps awake suddenly, unexpectedly.  She is stiff and disoriented.  A branch is digging into her back, and she almost forgets her training, almost moves without thinking.  The feel of the rope tightening against her thighs snaps her back to herself.  She freezes, silent, observing.
A long moment of silent stillness passes before she realizes that everything around her has gone silent as well.  She strains her ears and perceives the crunching of feet at the limits of her senses.  Many feet, untrained feet:  these are neither forest dwellers nor fellow Ghosts.  Perhaps the Outsiders have finally arrived.

Her steady hands belie the pounding of her heart as she begins the familiar gestures of her invocation.  As she carefully ties the bindings of her spell to the aura of her perch-tree, she feels her skin sinking softly into the wood, merging with the heart of the great old oak.  She gently fades into the trunk and slowly scans the forest around her, barely containing her anxiety at finally seeing those she's awaited for so long.  The crunching grows steadily louder; these creatures must be even worse woodsmen than she'd first thought....  After a seeming eternity, she finally catches her first glimpse of the approaching Outsiders.  Her stomach falls, her disappointment sharp as her gaze falls upon the four of them.  Four!  Only four, after dozens of her fellow Ghosts fell just so few days ago!  How can these four... lumbering giants hope to score against the demon-dog when so many of her comrades have failed?

She firmly brushes those thoughts aside. She has no time to humor those sad reflections.  She cinches up her resolve and fixes her gaze intently on her prey.  As they approach, she stares at each of them in turn, determined to lock every detail in her mind.

Her impassiveness falters for a second, showing a sly smirk of approval as she notes that the leader of the party is female.  The woman -- no, the girl, for the giantess leading the Outsiders can be no more than .. whatever passes for 100 to a human!  The girl's pale golden hair is caked with dirt and detritus, but that doesn't seem to put her off.  The girl's armor is of a familiar design, though the scales are simple and unadorned.  Any similarities to women she's familiar with end there, though, as she sees that the girl would tower over her by many handspans.  The girl carries an odd assortment of weapons; one she can recognize as some soft of oversized maul, but the other is a platter of some sort the girl has strapped to her forearm.  She considers the girl's platter, confused; it must be some form of supplemental armor, but why sacrifice so much maneuverability and dexterity for such limited protection?

Internally shrugging, she turns her head to the man following the girl.  He shares the girl's height and stocky build, though his scruffiness seems driven more by inattention than by the hardships of forest travel.  She labels him the craftsman-thug for his unkempt hair, heavy leathers, and particularly for the blacksmith's tool he nervously fingers when no one else is watching him.

She shifts her gaze quickly to the third as they pass by her.  He is tall, too, but thin, stringy.  He carries no obvious weapons, and his clothing reeks of money.  Were she to see him in other circumstances, she would instantly dismiss him as a mere trader.  Here, with these people, she infers he must have other talents -- perhaps he is a spellcaster.  Or... could these Outsiders have shifters among them as well?  She marks him as one to keep an eye on.

Finally, she turns her gaze to the last member of the passing party.  Though all tower above her, he is the tallest by far, easily four handspans or more taller than herself.  His hair is light, like the girl's, but curly and short.  He, too, wields weapons unfamiliar to her:  some sort of spiky club and another of those arm-platters, though this one decorated with a visage not unlike that of Birvir -- both odd and noteworthy.  His armor is similar to the girl's in its simplicity, though instead of the familiar small leaves, it is made of tiny linked rings.

Having watched the Outsiders pass, her faith in Tighearnán sinks to a dreadful low.  How can he put his faith in these... lumbering, stumbling children?  He must have misinterpreted his visions, fingered the wrong people.  These louts can't possibly succeed at this quest!  

Sighing, she pulls herself out of the tree and begins weaving another incantation around herself.  As she feels the bindings anchor to her feet, she steps lightly out onto the branch in pursuit of the fading footsteps.  She pauses and draws a deep breath, holding back laughter at how little these Outsiders will test her tracking skills.  As the steps fade back to the edge of her hearing, she sprints delicately out over open air, dancing from tree to tree in pursuit.

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That evening, she stands her first watch over the Outsiders.  Hidden among the treetops, she listens in on their idle chatter.  They speak quickly, some choppy language she cannot understand.  Only the curly-haired giant seems to speak her language, another odd little detail she files away, puzzled.  Their chatter is minimal and barely worth noting; they seem reluctant to discuss what they actually plan to do.  Still, she forces herself to pay close attention until they've finally turned in for the night.  She gives them full points for being smart enough to stand watch, leaving the skinny one awake first.  Further evidence he might be a spellcaster....  Once the watch has started, she finally lies back into the cradling arms of her tree, settling in for a short night.

She wakes with the sun, watching over the Outsiders until they finally break camp mid-morning.  As she watches them pack up, her mouth slowly goes try.  The fear, the revulsion, the rage she feels boil up inside her.  In her mind, she can see their destination, the ruins of her village, the burnt-out corpse of her home.  She fights down her roiling emotions, forcing herself back to impassivity.  She must control herself, must not stumble or snap as she follows the Outsiders into what was once her village. 

She's been following them idly for miles now.  She shakes herself, chides herself for taking the risk.  What if they'd seen her, heard her?  Unlikely, but still, she can't allow herself to fade again.  She pauses to meditate, confident they will leave a trail she could follow for days.  She can spare the few short minutes to recenter.  

She pauses and sits.  She lays out her pack and sword at the base of a a tree breathes deeply of its scent.  She focuses on clearing her mind, forcing her thoughts to drift away from the horrors it so desperately wants to fixate on.  Images of pain and sadness flare behind her eyelids as she counts off her breathing.  Brádach hauling a trio of burned children away from a wall of flame.  Natsuko-Aulay pouring her lifesblood onto the ground as she struggled to line up just one more shot at the scaly demon-dog.  Fáelán and Aindriú-Miri shattering arrow after arrow ineffectually against the hide of the rampaging flamebringer.  Her breath catches in her throat and tears bead at her eyes as she fights to find the wind, drift upon it lightly like a fallen leaf.  Every time she finds a calming current, she slams again into a wall of hurtful memories.

By the time she's found her core again, the sun has long-since crossed the apex of the sky.  Her heart rate spikes once more as she realizes how much time she's lost, but she catches herself quickly.  Scooping up her gear, she quietly sprints off, muttering a small prayer for luck.

As night is falling, the ruins of the village come into view.  The Outsiders are nowhere to be seen; she reasons they must have snuck in amongst the buildings to scout out the situation.  She sprints for the buildings, casting a cloaking around herself as she runs and nearly stumbling on a fallen building-log as she does.  She's barely made the edge of the clearing when an unearthly bellow shakes the earth.

Drawing from her stored strength, she leaps onto the nearest relatively-intact building, fiercely hoping the charred wall can hold her weight.  She vaults atop it and sprints for the source of the commotion, nearly falling through the decaying roofing timbers.  She stumbles and throws herself across to the next rooftop, knocking the breath from her body.  She rolls to the far edge, wheezing, to see the Outsiders hiding in alleyways as bat-winged demons fly toward them.  The girl and the tall blonde march forward to face them, grim determination on their faces.  As the demons fly by an alleyway, the skinny one tosses some incantation she doesn't recognize at them, causing them to hesitate; as they do, twin swings of maul and spiked club send the small creatures plummeting to the ground.  She glances around, trying to find the other one, the one with the unruly, hair, but to no avail; he must be out of sight behind another building.  

She watches the fight in amazement as these Outsiders, these humans that only yesterday she wanted to dismiss as ineffectual children, stalk and face the demon that slew so many of her friends.  Her friends, whose arrows could not find their teeth to bite its hide, whose swords shattered upon meeting it; they fell by the dozens before the purging fires of this demon-dog, but these Outsiders show no fear.  Their weapons have no trouble finding purchase on the demon's scaly hide.  Arrows from an unseen archer pierce its fiery flesh as the girl pursues with her hammer, bashing it senseless while seemingly paying no mind to the burns she suffers for every blow she lands.  Soon, so soon, the demon falls in a final burst of fire and ash.  An unnoticed smile plays across her lips as the damned creature bellows its final roar before falling to bolt and blade, magic and maul.

In the commotion of the end of the battle, she returns to her senses, no longer able to revel in the death of her foe.  Slowly, carefully, she crawls away across the roof, barely heeding the pain in her ankle in her euphoria.  She binds her broken ankle-bones back together with a quick enchantment before shimmying down from the rooftop.  Carefully, silently, she fades into the woods.  She must return to Kaede with all haste.  Natsuko-Aulay, Fáelán, Aindriú-Miri, and all have been avenged this night by these strange Outsiders whose weapons can bite the cursed.  How fooling she was to doubt Tighearnán, how tarnished her faith in him?  She must return to him at once with the news; the old priest will be rightly pleased.  Carefully checking her gear, she shoulders her pack and strides purposefully back the way she'd come, thinking all the while that she must certainly keep a careful eye on these strange and powerful Outsiders.
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