It was a strange day to start an adventure. It was the Feast of Valena, goddess of Love. And while everyone else was huddled away inside, sharing gifts of sweets and tenderness, seven souls braved the terrible weather to begin their fortunes Beyond the Wall. It was cold and it was raining. It was the kind of rain that can't seem to make up its mind if it wants to be snow or not. It was steady and relentless.
As they reached the massive gate, a lone figure stepped from gatehouse and began hammering the hinges and lock with a large wooden mallet to knock loose the ice that had accumulated. It was no surprise the guards were waiting. Everyone in town seemed to know when somebody was going to try to make go of heading north. Normally there would have been a crowd of onlookers, but not today. Not in this weather.
"Lovely day for walk", the cloak covered figure laughed to himself. It was Sergeant Malloy, or simply Sarge. The old Gray Guardian of the Gate, had been at his post for as long as anybody could remember. He began to turn the crank on the massive mechanism the open the iron bound gates that had held so long against the dangers beyond. He still giggled to himself as worked the handle. For someone who seemed so frail, he seemed to have no trouble cranking away, until the gates opened just enough for the adventurers to squeeze their horses past.
The remnants of the Great Northern Road stretched out before them. Some of the paving stones still stuck up from beneath the soil, but centuries of neglect and misuse had mostly left the road a shadow of itself.
"You see old Ned out there," Sarge spoke from the crack that was left where the two great doors met,"You tell him I still owe him for this." He pointed to the ruined mess of an empty socket that used to be his right eye. He cackled to himself once more and the great gates slammed shut.
The already drenched and sad group outside the Wall couldn't decide if it was the miserable weather, or the sound of the bolt sliding down on the gates, that made them feel so uneasy.
The seven trudged forward into the sleet, up the only road. North.
There was Alabazium, a worker of magic. He was a rail thin man with a past, and the nervous, darting eyes of someone being hunted.
Beside him was Dimzad, a rugged dwarf from the mountains of the west. He was fearless. But, he was fearless in a way that could save the party, or doom it.
Gildrid and Mellion were Elves from the Great Wood by the sea. They had left the comfort and safety of their woodland home in search of adventure.
Another dwarf, Gruffydd, was the gregarious unspoken leader of the group. He managed to keep everyone's spirits up, despite the constant downpour.
A halfling had joined the group. She had taken the moniker of Miss Adventure, and had been adopted as a kind of good luck charm for the group. Her good luck, however had yet to be tested.
Bringing up the rear, with his massive wolfhound, was fighter from the southern cities named Gwinfor. He had once come from a wealthy family, but appeared at Wall in rags. Most of his equipment was bought on credit, from the kind of folks who don't like late payments.
For hours they trudged on foot, through the featureless rolling hills, with only the ancient road as their guide. And always the Wall. It had shrunk to a dark ribbon along the southern horizon.
Finally, they paused to eat their meager rations. That's when they spied a few structures ahead. They sat amid a ruin of a forest. Huge chunks had been ripped from a once great wood. The party moved forward and discovered long rusted logging equipment, shattered wagons and broken ruins. Whoever had carved out this land was long gone. A few saplings had grown, and were fighting the elements to survive. But one tree stood out. It was enormous, and it provided the only shelter for miles. The party stopped to rest.
There was slight movement behind the tree. Swords and crossbows were readied.
A small face emerged from behind the tree. It was a girl. She appeared human, very pale, wearing only a wisp of a dress despite the cold. Her green eyes were enormous, and the color of evergreens. Her hair was black, but it had an almost green sheen to it.
"Lower your weapons," Gruffydd said. "What's your name girl?", Alabazium followed.
The girl looked puzzled. She stepped from behind the tree. "My name?" Her voice was that of a child, but also mixed with sound of blowing wind through branches. "No one ever asks my name. Newli. That's what you can call me."
"Well, Newli," Gruffydd said, a big smile appearing, "what are you doing here?"
"I live here. With my tree." She smiled and placed a hand lovingly on the enormous oak.
"Where are the people who lived and worked here?" the dwarf asked.
"Gone", the girl said. "long ago. The monsters took them."
Everyone in the party gave a furtive look around. "What kind of monsters?"
She looked down, then looked up again, and spoke very quietly.
"The worst kind".....
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