((Living Story spoilers.))
“Well, this looks bad.” Tove surveyed her assortment of scouts and strays and shook her head. A brandstorm had driven herself, another couple of scouts, and a few Priory researchers halfway up a mountainside, and now they milled together absently.
Command settled across her shoulders like a coat forgotten in the back of the wardrobe that, somehow, still fit. “But I’ve seen worse. Any day I’m not falling out of the sky into a jungle isn’t so bad,” she said jovially.
One of the researchers snorted.
One of the researchers was a Charr. They’d probably be useful in a pinch, but the Asura was already ignoring her and the human just looked vaguely ill. Better to look at her fellow scouts for the most help, then.
At least she recognized one of them. Short (for a Norn), dark skinned, long braid, bright teal tattoos–yep. She knew that one. “Kolfinna! I didn’t think you were part of the Vigil.”
“I wasn’t? But I wasn’t about to let my sister have all the fun, and I was curious about the Branded.” The young–well younger, anyway–ranger grinned. She had an ice drake at her side, and the snow leopard a little further up the slope must be hers, too.
Ah, weren’t the young and inexperienced adorable? Tove herself was still young by some measures but, by Wolf, she had Seen Some Shit. “Where is Pyri, anyway?”
Kolfinna’s expression dimmed. “I don’t know.”
Tove let herself do the grim tally of family that could be risking themselves out on this crystal-infested corner of the world. Her brother Luuk. Cousin Rikvi had been hauled away from her books. Ormhildr was here because she was never not eager for a good fight. Hvat was doubtlessly here, and…
Too many, as always. And that wasn’t even counting her friends.
Tove pointed at the third ranger in their party, a blonde human woman. “I don’t know you. I’m Tove, and that’s my cousin’s mate Kolfinna. May I have your name?”
“I’m called Gabe,” Gabriele said, dropping one hand to rest on her dog’s head. “And this is Gerstein.”
“Excellent! You have the air of someone who has also seen some things, and so, together we should be able to keep Kol and these scholars alive.”
“Hey!” Kol protested. The Charr researcher also gave Tove a sharp look, which only earned him a grin in return.
“We need to get someone more secure while we wait out this brandstorm, or find another route back into the Forge. My wolves are going to have a harder time on this terrain. Kol, can your snow leopard range ahead? Gabe, who’ve you got aside from Ger there?”
“We’ve got eyes in the sky,” Gabe said, pointing to a hawk circling overhead.
“Excellent! Let’s find a likely route and get going, then.”
Gabe shaded her eyes with her hand, as if she could compete with her hawk. She watched how the hawk dipped nad circled for a moment before turning to Tove. “There’s some branded ahead. Griffons, probably.”
Tove looked down at the narrow pathway along the mountain they were threading across. “Excellent! Nothing could possibly go wrong.”
“I know they have sarcasm where you come form, Kol, even if you did live in the ass end of nowhere.” Tove reached back for an arrow. “Try to keep them at bay.”
“I’ve got a stick,” rumbled the Charr researcher.
“Perfect! We have no choice but onward, so let’s go. Boy do I wish I’d brought my wyverns with me, but who brings jungle creatures into the snow with one perfectly good snow loving wolf? Even if the flying would be nice right about now.”
Randulfr, one of Tove’s two wolves, stopped to stare at her. Valdis, who knew perfectly well she wasn’t the one being slighted, did not.
There was a lot of blood on the snow. And crystal beasts didn’t bleed, so…there was that. “I need a healer,” Tove said, relieving her wobbly legs of their burden by half falling over in the snow.
Kol lowered her bow and said, “Tove, in this situation you are the healer.”
“…right. Fuck.” Tove reached for her staff and used that to heave herself back upright, and survey the damage. Five dead branded griffons, check. Three rangers and three scholars, none of them dead, check. “Probably should have been doing the druid thing all along but you know, a longbow just feels far more effective against winged adversaries, you know?”
“My stick worked fine,” the charr muttered, and Tove cackled.
Then wheezed. Right. Yourself first, others after. Glyphs, glyphs. She hummed a little and sketched the glpyh out in the snow, feeding it magic until it flashed bright blue and she no longer felt as much like she’d been battered against the rocks by crystalline wings. Which, you know, she had. The slices remained in her coat sleeve, but at least the injuries beneath no longer oozed. Randulfr was also able to surge to his feet, shaking off bloodied snow.
Now for the others.
(Gabe was in full no-nonsense mode, and was already bandaging a gash on Kolfinna’s leg. Tove’s estimation of her raised several notches. The woman got stuff done!)
The sun here was…mmm. Thin. Like the air. But Tove lifted her staff, casually pointing it at the huddled cluster of Priory scholars and focusing it on them. After a few moments they straightened, both slightly warmer and somewhat less rough around the edges. The rangers had shielded them as best they could but, well. They weren’t guardians.
“Not bad for a bunch of scouts who aren’t usually ready for a lot of direct confrontation.”
Gabe quirked an eyebrow at Tove, and the Norn just laughed.
“What? We’re not dead, right?”
A little bit more sunshine healing for her fellows and they struck off again.
They could see the Forge. Safety was in reach! They’d be fine!
Except that there were a dozen Branded in their way.
“Ah,” said Tove, leaning heavily on her wolf-headed staff. “Maybe we should…wait?”
Gabe lightly rested a hand on her elbow. “Then we should pull back, before they notice us.”
“Mm, yes.” Tove turned around and began ushering the researchers back the way they’d come, but the Asura slipped on a patch of ice. While the Charr’s quick reflexes–and long stick–saved the day, not a small amount of rocks and snow bounced down the mountainside as a result.
Several heads down below swiveled in their direction.
“….Wolf’s teeth,” Tove said with weary resignation. There would be no running unless they wanted to dash themselves to pieces below, and Tove was still not very keen on falling. “Gabe! Stay in the back on the high ground. Let your hawk distract. Kol, take a slightly lower point, and let your ice drake take point for us.”
She took a deep breath and called up her favorite spirits. Randulfr squeezed past them all and claimed a spot just behind Stori, the ice drake. “I’ll keep us going as long as we can. At least the narrow path helps us, on the defense.”
They made a good go of it. Truly, they did. But eventually Stori had to fall back, and while Randulfr and Valdis did their best, they kept retreating.
Tove grinned fiercely and jabbed her staff into the snow. Like hell she was going to–
Three branded dredge at the back of the pack were swept off the mountainside by a Norn-sized broadsword. “My apologies, cousin Tove,” Rikvi called out. “The ghosts would not shut up long enough for me to see that you needed help earlier.”
“Oh, thank all the Spirits your crazy ass is here,” Tove said, even as she flicked a wisp at the branded harrying her wolves.
It was a much larger party that reconvened at the base of the mountain. They were yammering with relief and jesting about seeing if Luuk brought any of his ale when a great shadow swept across the south.
“Kralk.” Tove whispered.
“Oh,” said Rikvi, her gaze distant. The Seer shuddered, then pulled a vial from her belt and drank it down in one gulp.