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Minuial nodded to her companions and set off into the wood and the rain. Shale settled himself against a tree, waiting in silence, while Eristed glanced about in a futile attempt to regain his bearings. With no way to contribute, their unfortunate travelling companion simply did his best to his bide his time and stay dry.
The wait was long. As if untouched by any sense of urgency, Shale had immediately set about filling the time. His backpack sat beside him, oil and cloth and other weapon care items placed upon his generous lap, he set about the oft-done practice of maintaining his weapon. Any spec of rust was filed or polished away, and a generous polish of protective greases were applied.
It took longer before Eristed settled, finally accepting his failure. Unlike his companions, who did their best to take shelter against a sturdy trunk, Eristed instinctively found a nearby clearing in the canopy overhead. He sat upon the bed of leaves and twigs, the rain coming down unhindered at a shallow angle. He cleared away a small patch of detritus before him, revealing the moisture-laden fertile soil, and ran his fingers through it. The presence of near all five Elements so plentifully was soothing and a rare experience.
The wait was finally broken when a signal whistle cut through the downpour. Eristed and Shale gathered their gear and made a brief attempt to locate the direction. However, they abandoned the effort quickly - tracking and orienteering were not their forte. Minutes passed before the image of a somewhat perturbed Minuial appeared barely visible in the haze. With a clear direction, her companions made their way towards her.
Reunited once more, Minuial led them purposefully forward. She'd located the fresh trail of a Namegiver as well as traces from countless other woodland creatures. Now, her focus on the Namegiver, the path shown before her as an unmistakable trail of shimmering light. The energy floated just above the ground, a slight meandering tenor to it. Brilliant lingering bursts of light appeared where the Namegiver's feet had touched the ground or its body had brushed vegetation.
Minuial was confident that the tracks were from the Beastmaster. Where normal Namegivers forge their way through terrain, bending it to their will and pressing it aside, these tracks were different. This Namegiver moved much like an animal might, snaking through and around the plants, following natural valleys and ridges, and avoiding obstacles rather than simply climbing over them.
Eventually, they came upon the edge of a small clearing. A lone tree stood near the clearing's center, a small but well-made wooden structure built into the boughs. No doubt, this was the Beastmaster's home, and the four strode forward, glad to have reached their destination.
Through the grey veil of rain, they could see a lone figure standing near the tree. A Windling, no doubt, with its incredibly short stature. Eristed smiled warmly and strode forward ahead of his companions to make introductions.
The Windling turned to meet Eristed's gaze almost lazily, its head cocked at a slight angle. Oozing sores of various sizes and purple shades covered his exposed flesh. Large black feathers, each near in length to the Windling's forearm, had been thrust into his skin, sometimes in rough clusters, often through its filthy travelling garb. From his shoulders, the Windling's own wings hung limp and shredded.
Eristed slowly backed away from the twisted Namegiver. He only barely rejoined the ranks of his companions when the Windling let loose a raspy cry and hurled himself upon them.
Shale took the initial assault upon his massive shield while freeing his war hammer from its clasp. Meanwhile, Eristed and Minuial backed further away, allowing their Warrior companion to engage freely. Minuial drew her bow and readied an arrow for an opportune shot. Eristed began weaving a spell to help harry the Beastmaster and aid his friend.
After the initial blows, a raucous cacophony of caws rose up from the tree behind the Beastmaster. A half dozen large black crows took to the sky and circled just overhead in the clearing, filling the air with the sound of beating wings and throaty cries. Below, Shale traded blows with the Beastmaster alongside the occasional punctuation of arrow and ice from the others.
The murder of crows descended upon the battlefield with arcing dives from all angles. They split their numbers, doing their best to aid the Beastmaster by engaging all his foes. The birds tore at their prey with razor-edged talons that seem to burst with crackling blue electricity in their frenzied attack.
Minuial shifted her strategy and traded bow for sword. The blade shone with a faint luminescence as it was pulled free form its scabbard, and Minuial hefted it aloft before her in a fighter's stance. She met the onslaught of talons with crystal shield and glimmering edge, a firework display of blue energy arcs and brilliant white star bursts. On the other side of the clearing, Eristed continued throwing spells upon his attackers, translucent chains of ice entangling crows and dropping them momentarily to the ground.
The melee stretched on, but the adventurers emerged victorious. The crows fell motionless from the sky one after the other, overcome by sword and spell. Shortly after, the Beastmaster succumbed to the pounding blows of the war hammer. Finally, the sounds of battle gave way to only wind and rain.
It was a mixed blessing that the Beastmaster had been fatally wounded in the fight. No doubt, he suffered grievously under some Horror's influence. However, with his death, the adventurers were once again rudderless.
Eristed carefully examined the Windling corpse while Minuial climbed up into the tree-held abode. The Windling itself was a miserable thing to behold - unhealing and infected wounds seeping black-red blood and sickly white cream beside sucking puncture holes where the feather shafts cut deep into the flesh. No possessions of note were held upon him, only the occasional coin and gear one would expect of a well-traveled Namegiver.
The sounds of rough search marked Minuial's time in the home. She emptied drawers and overturned furnishings, hoping for something they might use. Eventually, she leapt down from the wooden structure, landing gracefully upon the ground with a bundle of loose items in her arms. She walked forwards and dumped the goods unceremoniously before the others.
"Nothing" was all she said as Eristed and Shale knelt down over the odd assortment. A crumbled heap of papers and scrolls lay in no discernible order, their off-white fibers steadily darkening brown with soaking rain upon them. Eristed lifted up one parchment and attempted to examine the scrawling text. If there was any wisdom to be had, it had died with the Windling, for no sense could be made of the not-words that seemed scribbled upon the pages.
Eristed sighed and let the parchment fall away form his open hand. "Such a shame."
Minuial made a final glance down at the heap and then marched purposefully towards the woods again. "We'll follow the tracks." Shale nodded silently, and the group followed behind. With luck, the various comings and goings of the twisted Namegiver would lead them to the source of the corruption that plagued the village.
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