The Rune Caster (99-11-07)

The three companions, Rhyannia, Durith and Grumli, made the journey from Qeynos Hills to Halas, under Rhyannia's guidance. After the long and tiring journey, they finally arrived in Rhyannia's home town. Wanting to lose no time, the trio immediately headed for Dok's Cigars. They walked through the snow-covered streets, and everyone they met nodded in a friendly fashion to Rhyannia, though the expression on her face suggested that she was in too much of a hurry to tell her tales of travels.

Once in Dok's Cigars, they soon met the man they were looking for: Waldamir the apprentice Shaman. They told him of their plight, and he listened with care. Obviously shaken by their tale, he brought them at once to the house of his mistress, Branthara the Rune Caster.

As the heroes stood before the entrance to the hut, a deep feminine voice came from within. "Who troubles my rest?" she asked.
"I bring travelers, mistress," answered Waldamir. "They have a strange tale to relate."
"Very well. Enter my abode, strangers."

The heroes entered the dark hut, which was only lit by some dim braziers. Against the far wall stood a woman of imposing stature. She was dressed in leather and furs, and her helm was made from the head of a polar bear. Her full lips smiled to welcome her guests, but her dark eyes reflected no mirth. Those eyes seem to stare straight into each hero's soul, and were quite unsettling.

"A dwarf. And elf... Travelers from afar indeed," she said simply. She nodded to Grumli and Durith. "And a Spirit-Sister. It is good to see you again, sister Rhyannia." She smiled another cold smile toward Rhyannia.

The heroes stood there, a bit intimidated by the mysterious Shaman's presence, and she raised an eyebrow and asked them "So what brings you here?"

They then proceeded to relate briefly the tale of Barrett's appearance in Surefall Glade, earlier that day. Branthara listened quietly, and her eyes narrowed when the supernatural aspect of the encounter became obvious. "We've brought you bones from the haunted ruins," said Durith, "our friend Alruna told us that you could read them."

"Indeed, I can," stated the Shaman. She rose for the first time, and she towered over Durith and Grumli, just as Rhyannia and Waldamir. She walked to a corner of the hut and produced a strange brazier adorned with runes. She returned to her sitting mattress and put the brazier on the ground. She lit it, and slowly, strangely-scented smoke started coming our of it, filling the room in a strange haze.

"Sit before me, form a circle," she said to the heroes, also looking into the eyes of Waldamir, thus asking him to stay.

"We must each hold a bone," Branthara told each other member of the circle. Bones passed from hand to hand until each held one.

Branthara closed her eyes and started to hum... "Ommmm..." Her head started swaying gently from side to side, and then her shoulders joined the slow movement. The haze became thicker within the dark hut, as smoke kept coming out of the brazier.

With her eyes still closed, she turned to Grumli. "Dwarf," she said, "give me your bone". She took the bone from his stubby fingers and moved it over the smoke coming out of the brazier. Slowly, the bone changed shape... She handed it to Grumli; the heroes and Waldamir stared at it open-mouthed. "Describe what it looks like now."

"It's a boot," replied Grumli in his gruff voice. "A big boot... To big to fit my feet."

Branthara nodded. "This hints at travel... You will have to travel much to help this man... Next. Spirit-sister, give me your bone."

Rhyannia handed her bone into Branthara's outstretched hand. The Rune Caster, her eyes still closed, moved it over the brazier. Like the previous time, the bone changed shape slowly, and she handed it back to Rhyannia.

"What do you see?" asked Branthara.

"It is a patch of fur," replied Rhyannia. "Gnoll fur", she added with a scowl.

"Hmm, this is the bone of opposition," explained Branthara. "You will be opposed by gnolls. Most likely the Sabertooth tribe."

Grumli snorted, fingering his axe.

"Waldamir," said Branthara, "my apprentice, give me your bone." She took the bone from the young Barbarian's hand and moved it over the smoke; once again, it changed shape and she handed it back to her apprentice. "Describe it to me."

"It is a sword, mistress."

"This means conflict... There will be bloodshed with these gnolls. What else?"

"The sword is rusty."

"This means... And ancient conflict... What is the position of the sword?"

"It points Northward, mistress."

"Northward? Strange... The gnolls will meet some attack from the South..."

"Maybe the humans of Qeynos," suggested Rhyannia.

"Perhaps. Though I've not heard that the Humans would attempt such a bold move in the near future. It could also be the gnolls of Splitpaw, who bear a strong hatred for their cousins of Black Burrow."

Branthara seemed to ponder that thought. Then, with her eyes still closed, she turned toward Durith and asked him for his bone. Once again the exchange was made, and Branthara asked him about its appearance. Durith smiled as he answered, "It looks like... A fishing grub!"

Branthara frowned as she considered this.

"A trap?" suggested Grumli.

"Hmmm..." continued Branthara. "I see a small.... Man... From the earth..."

"A dwarf?" asked Grumli.

"A gnome?" suggested Rhyannia.

Branthara frowned deeper. "A gnome..." Her voice seemed to become more distant. "He is a... prisoner.... I see...."

The shaman grew quiet for a few moments, as her face contorted in a grimace. The others looked at each other questioningly through the haze. Suddenly, Branthara stood up and opened her eyes. No longer dark and cold, they glowed with an eerie green light. Her expression seemed lost and afraid, and her gaze did not fix on anything, as though she were blind.

Waldamir started to stand up to help her, but Rhyannia hissed: "Do not break the circle!!"

All of them flinched when Branthara spoke next. Her voice had now a strange squeaky quality, which was very different from her own deep but very feminine voice. The squeak sounded strangely masculine even through her throat, and the accent was completely different from hers.

"Who goes there? Friend or foe?" she asked.

Grumli frowned and answered. "That depends on who you are ... What have ya done to her?"

Branthara's expression became even wilder as her head turned left and right, but her eyes remained unseeing. "Grumli? Is that ye, lad? I hear ye but see ye not!"

Grumli's eyes went wide as he recognized the voice. "Grizben! Grizben, is that you??"

Branthara nodded wildly: "Aye, it's me, lad! Where are ye? What is happening? You've got to help me! I'm in a dire situation, I... while searching for... completely by surprise..." Branthara's voice was becoming raspy and difficult to understand... And somehow, more distant, though she still stood next to the heroes.

"Griz, I can't hear ye properly!" pleaded Grumli.

"... to come here... Alruna and... powerful.... trickery, but how could I... Rod... Nife... with me...... of yer father .......... ever................"

Branthara then collapsed to the ground. Panting, she sat up, blinking around her. Her eyes no longer had their eerie green glow... They were dark, as they had looked before. "What happened? Did I say anything?" she asked with a sore throat.

The heroes then told her what she had said, and what they thought it meant. Grumli explained that Grizben the Conjuror had been a friend of his father's and Alruna's. He was very knowledgeable and might know how to help Barrett. But first and foremost, they must help him, for he was in danger.

Branthara nodded, then swallowed and spoke again: "Yes. You must help him. Through my vision, I got the impression of two other people. Their impressions were strong into that Gnome's mind. One was a silver-haired elf woman. And the other was a red-bearded man."

Grumli scratched his beard. "Alruna is the woman... And the man must be... Barrett, that feller we saw immolated in Surefall Glade."

Branthara replied, "Those two people are somehow closely related to your friend Grizben." She paused briefly, and coughed. "Now, for the last part of the ceremony..." She put her own bone over the brazier, but it did not transform. It stayed a bone. "What sorcery is this?" the shaman asked.

"Perhaps it is linked to Undeath, mistress," suggested Waldamir.

She nodded at her apprentice. "You speak wisely for one so young. Indeed. Undeath. Ah, I fear that Undeath is the theme of this reading. It is the cause, the effect and the reason of all we have discussed to day."

The heroes thought about this in silence for a few moments. Then Durith asked, "Is there any way to get a more precise answer?"

Branthara sighed, and told the companions, "I could do a more thorough reading with two divinatory items called the Incense of Visions and the Chimes of Voices. Unfortunately, those two items have been stolen from the Shamans of Halas recently by a Rogue by the name of Svennik. This Rogue, whom I am shamed to admit, is one of my kinsmen, departed Halas with the stolen artifacts. He was spotted heading for Qeynos. I suggest you go there and seek for the Rogue guild.... He will likely have made his way there to sell these sacred items for profit."

Svennik the Rogue

Grumli growled, "My friend is in danger, I'll surely not waste my time in Qeynos. Another divination will be useless. It is time for ACTION."

Branthara shook her head. "Nay, I disagree. Even were you the boldest warrior on Norrath, the sheer number of gnolls would be enough to vanquish you. We must learn more about them to be able to defeat them using our intellect. However, we must retrieve the artifacts with haste, lest your friend suffer a tragic fate."

Branthara stood up then, and summoned the powers of the Spirit of the Wolf unto Durith and Grumli. "Go forth now, unto Qeynos! Seek the Rogue Svennik and get the Incense of Visions and the Chimes of Voices that he stole from the Shamans of Halas! They are Grizben and Barrett's only hopes for now!"

And so it was that the heroes said their good-byes to Branthara and her apprentice, and they began their journey toward Qeynos, their feet light with the Spirit of the Wolf, but their heart heavy for the plight which Grizben and Barrett were in.

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