Retreat and regroup
The caravan’s survivors were too afraid to pursue the injured creature in the dark and instead took care of their injured and dead, while everyone else in the caravan kept close watch for the beast’s return. At dawn they gathered and discussed a plan of action. Many wanted to turn back to Westmark, yet as the creature had fled in that general direction, others wanted to continue south, hoping that distance would solve the problem. By mid-day the opinions had reached a heated argument and an hour later the convoy split in two, one group heading off on their original course while the other group turned back to Westmark, after first sending out a group of 20 heavily armed men to scout the road ahead.
It was late evening when the caravan staggered into the Muddy Boot and found Aurei waiting on tables as she talked to the citizens under her jurisdiction. She was very horrified to hear of the account of the attack, and the patrons of the Inn sat in grim silence as the survivors spoke of their ordeal.
"What sort of monster is it?" Aurei asked to all those present, but no-one had any idea what the thing could be.
"We’ve got to try to find that monster and kill it." Everyone in the Inn nodded in agreement with her words, but still looked at each other nervously, knowing that this would not be an easy task and that the Duchess was about to ask the most obvious question next.
Aurei wrung her hands, trying to decide the proper course of action and wishing she had someone much wiser to turn to for answers. With a deep sigh, she began pacing back and forth, trying to figure out some way to accomplish the goal without putting anyone in danger. Those in the Inn seemed to understand her hesitation and waited expectedly for her to decide.
"Well" she finally said, "We have to go after it. But from what I’ve heard, we don’t have much of a chance without putting people into great danger. The safety of those in this duchy are my responsibility and I am not about to order anyone to go into danger that I am afraid to face. I plan to go out searching for this creature tomorrow morning and I’d like those who feel brave enough to join me. It will be extremely dangerous, I know, but this creature must be destroyed. If anyone wants to search with me, meet here tomorrow morning at sunrise."
Immediately the knight who had survived to first attack stood, "I certainly will accompany you, Duchess." Three other men stood – two survivors of the convoy’s attack and the other was Pectros, who, by his very grim look, fully understood that for which he was volunteering.
"Thank you" Aurei said to the four men, "You four are far more experienced in battling such a monster and I certainly won’t be arrogant enough to try to be the expedition’s leader. All I ask is that we try to stop this thing before more innocent people are killed."
The men agreed with her proposal and the surviving knight, who was Sir Davit of Aegoppa volunteered to lead them to the trail of blood left by the monster.
By the time the Inn was closed for the night, Aurei was extremely anxious for the following morning and again did not sleep much, instead pulling once more the Drow armor from her magic trunk and sitting it out on her bed. She really did not want to parade around in dark Elven armor, but the expedition members had agreed that all should be as well armed and armored as possible. At such short notice, the Drow plate armor was the only type of armor available to her, so she would wear it, wielding the Drow weapons as well, if she was able to fight the monster.
Shortly before sunrise, she again donned the Drow plate armor, amazed at how well it fit her and surprised that she found it much easier to walk in the high heels of the matron armor. Hesitantly she came up the stairs from her basement room – she had not had time to move from the cellar yet— and she was surprised to find the tavern filled with armed men, most who looked up in great surprise when they saw her ascending the stairs in the armor.
"Don’t be alarmed, it’s just me." she said to their stares, smiling shyly at them as she surveyed the room, "Are all of you volunteering to go out scouting for this monster?"
All in the room affirmed their willingness to help, and Aurei was deeply touched at the turnout.
"I am honored that so many brave men live in Westmark. I must warn you though, that this creature is extremely vicious."
"Duchess, I’ve explained to everyone the danger of this endeavor." Sir Davit politely told her, "They all have bravely decided to go against it, anyway."
Not knowing what else she could say, instead she had a brief breakfast prepared for them. They were about 21 or 22 in number and she was glad to see that none of them were taking it lightly at all but sat with grim determination on their faces. While they ate, Sir Davit and the other survivors again went over what they knew about the monster and how it attacked, as well as how protected its armor-like scales made it.
"Do you think that enchanted weapons may be more effective against it?" she asked the Knight as they ate.
"Most certainly! Though the beast seems to have been somehow created by some dire magic, it does not seem itself to be enchanted. Its scales are very, very hard, like the very best made shields, but I am sure magic will pierce them, though I imagine not as deeply as they would if it had the hide of a normal animal. Duchess, do you wield magic weapons?"
She showed him the Drow short sword Thorm had given her, as well as the Long Sword from her father’s enchanted chest. He looked closely at the long black blade of the Long Sword and nodded, "This is very good. I don’t know the runes on the blade, but it is covered with them and I suspect this sword is as enchanted as mine."
He pulled forth from the scabbard on his back a long great sword that seemed to shine slightly with a slight red glow as if reflecting the light of a campfire. He held it out to her to examine and as soon as her hand touched the grip she felt a strange electrical tingle surge through her. Unconsciously she grinned and the knight seemed rather surprised at her response.
"Do you feel something?" ,he asked.
"It's a tingling running through my body – strange but yet it makes me feel so… I don’t know…"
"Powerful" Davit interjected and Aurei nodded.
"My sword is a Gambian Vorpal Flametongue, Duchess… have you ever heard of them?"
"No – what is it?" She handed the sword back to the Knight, who seemed somewhat relieved to receive it.
"Only one of the most powerful enchanted swords in the world, made by the Gamius Armor Guild. None that are evil can even hold the sword."
"Well that is good to know – did the tingling I felt mean that I am evil?"
"Quite the contrary, Duchess! If you had been evil in your heart, you would have burst into flames as soon as you touched the blade."
"So what did it mean?"
"Servants of Yesh – warrior servants—will feel power flow through them when holding the weapon."
"But I’m not a warrior."
"No, apparently the sword considers you a Paladin."
"Paladin. A righteous warrior knight of Yesh."
"Whoa! I think it's mistaken – I’m certainly no Paladin."
"The sword knows otherwise."
"The sword is enchanted, it has a sort-of sense that knows what we might not yet know. It cannot be mistaken. "
"That’s insane, I’m a barmaid, Sir Davit, I’ve not been trained --not to mention that I’m female – how many female Paladins have you heard of?"
"There are several of them, actually – you just usually can’t tell when they are in their armor. Duchess Bugley, I am not saying that you are a fully trained Paladin, only that you are, shall we say, ready to head down that path if you were to receive training."
"Well, my slate is rather full right now…"
Sir Davit nodded with a smile, "Think about it, Duchess, I believe it is Yesh’s will for your life."
Unconvinced, Aurei turned the topic of conversation to more pressing matters, "You mentioned that the horses were spooked by the creature – how should we handle this? If we find the monster, our horses may warn it of our approach."
Sir Davit thought for a second and sighed, "I don’t think it is a good idea to head out on foot – walking in armor is rather tiring and we may have a long way to go. We need to be well-rested when we encounter the creature."
"I’m sure you are right" she agreed, wishing the whole experience was over.