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Plot Ideas #1 - Studying the Signs

Studying the Signs
[A young ranger, his mentor, and an elven druid examine the scene of a curious battle.]
The wooded land rose and fell on either side of the noisy stream as it poured over moss covered stones toward the farmlands many miles below. The sonorous calls of song birds contrasted with the harsher cawing of a dwindling number of crows. The crows in turn looked for a few more bits of sustenance, the small rise on which they gathered forming a macabre diner table, a battle field not yet reclaimed by the forest. 
The crows burst toward the sky with angry squawks as one scrubby bush resolved itself into a young human. Not accustomed to a human getting so close without notice, the birds did not stop until they were well out of bow shot.
Markham of Sandford moved forward slowly, a silent hour of approach and observation left him certain that who ever had done this deadly work was many days gone. He now began to examine each skeleton looking for details that might provide his mistress with some clue as to the fate of her missing patrol. A few had fallen on the western side of the rise, within the edge of the forest. He'd passed their bodies first as he'd worked his way into the clearing noting the lay of each of the nearly cleaned remains scattered around him. He moved methodically toward the boundary stone at the rough center of the glade. 
This was the place where patrols of the Countess' Borderers met a few times each year with the soldiers from Trokos to the east. Envoys from both lands went back and forth on the trade road. They carried the letters and treaties by which the nobles set terms of trade and ensured their lands were not violated. It was the job of the soldiers to see to the enforcement of those agreements. The local captains met here at the turn of each season to trade information on the routes of smugglers, the areas where bandits were operating, and any sign of humanoid tribes preparing to raid into civilized lands. While the humans did not fully trust each other, this arrangement had kept a watchful peace intact for a generation. Someone it now seemed, had other plans.
A shadow emerged from another shadow, gliding smoothly toward Mark, coming to stop a pace or so to his left. An older man, his cloak might have well been mistaken for another form of vegetation. He moved through the brush with no more effort than a deer and much less noise. "What have you learned?", he asked.
While not formally his teacher, Mark was well aware that every encounter with Warden Garrett was a chance to learn from a master of the wilderness. It was rumored Garret spent his winters in a cave. One he allegedly shared with a brown bear. No one knew quite what the bear thought of this arrangement. When Mark had been sent out to determine why a patrol had gone missing, Garrett's cabin had been his first stop.
"The bodies are not widely scattered", Mark began. They either were not expecting a fight, or they were forced together in a last stand. Most show signs of stab wounds from spears or arrows. A few have been slashed, small axes or curved blades is my guess. Their weapons have not been taken. The leader is near the stone. He has a crossbow bolt in his chest." 
"Go on."
Mark waved his hand toward the eastern side of the site. "There are no Trokos bodies. A few drag marks lead east toward the stream. The ground and trees on that side are scorched. A fire might have been set to get rid of some evidence but that seems odd." Mark's eyes narrowed. 
"We know the patrol was suppose to meet a troop of Trokos warriors here. It would be natural for the Trokos to remove their own dead. Also the bolt in the leader's chest is of a sort you see the Trokos use. What would be the point of the fire if there is not any real question of who killed who?"
"What else?"
Mark saw that the older man shared his suspicions that all was not as it appeared. He pressed on. "Why the drag marks? The Trokos are very fastidious. They would have fashioned liters to carry their dead and wounded away, they would not have dragged them across the ground without honor."
"And they use hammers." 
"Hammers?" Mark frowned and walked slowly past the remains of the patrol leader to the center of the burn. The burn pattern was a near perfect circle.
Garret watched as the missing bits of information brought the scene into focus in Mark's mind.
"A fire ball," Mark stated flatly. "Both groups were caught in the same trap. The Trokos were blasted first with magic to take them out of the fight. Then our people were cut down with some other weapon." 
Mark now realized the crossbow bolt barely punctured the victim's light armor. If shot from a real weapon at such short range it would have come out the man's back. "This was staged," he said. The odd angles of the weapon marks on the corpses now made sense. "They were killed first, probably by magic, then stabbed afterwards."
Garret raise his voice slightly, "what else can you tell us sister?"
A third form emerged not from a shadow or the concealment of the vegetation but from the trees themselves. One tree simply stepped forward, twisting and reforming itself into a slender humanoid. Brown skin, almond eyes, and elongated ears marked the newcomer as a woodland elf. The manner of her appearance marked her as a druid. 
Mark had heard of such magic but never witnessed anything nearly so masterful in person. Garret bowed slightly in her direction, waiting for an answer that would come when she was ready to give it. 
"Sulfur." Her voice was musical yet not a song. A wind instrument blown by an autumn breeze. "The fire was arcane magic, the work of wizards, not divine spellcasting."
Garrett closed his eyes to try and catch any scent he might have missed.
Kassanthra the Watcher waited a moment then added, "It's been too long. I can't even smell it my self. But they can." She gestured toward the ground squirrels and other small creatures nearby.
Garrett turned to Mark. "Questions?"
Mark had already removed a small writing kit from his pack and begun a report for the nearest outpost commander. "Patrol destroyed by unknown magic. Trokos militia likely killed by same. No survivors."
Garrett nodded and pressed a small signet into the paper hard enough to leave a mark without ink or wax. "Get that to the garrison in Sandford as fast as you can run. They will send word to the countess."
Mark adjusted his weapons and looked once more at the others. The elf was unreadable. Garrett however, was worried. 
"I understand Warden. We have an unknown enemy." Mark made a slight nod of respect to each of the others. 
Kassanthra unexpectedly placed a hand on his head, closed her eyes, spoke softly in what he assumed was Elvish. Mark's appearance began to blur and blend into the forest background. "That will help keep you safe and conceal your passage."
Mark bowed more deeply to the elf then moved quietly into the brush for a long night's run.
The Druid nodded to Garrett before moving back into the woods. She began to morph into another shape as she walked but Garrett did not see her final form.
Garrett checked his bow and his blades. He then made a long moaning call towards the forest. After a few minutes a brown bear at least four times his size emerged to sit casually next to him like a great hunting dog. He scratched the beast behind the ears, earning a very satisfied grunt.
"We've not had to hunt down a wizard for many years. This could prove interesting."
He moved off to find a place to cross the stream where he would not be seen doing so. The bear followed without comment.
First Release: 
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What's this?  Creative writing on the Vault ?

Well done !smiley

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Thanks. I've got a lot of notes on my computer and I figured with winter coming on it was time to start putting some elements together. If the story holds up, the next step is to build a module around it.


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