[RP Episode] The Northern Reach


#1

The day was nearing its end, the sun’s last rays coloured half the sky in a fading blue, while the other half began to shift ever darker, with the first stars beginning to appear.

Rhae-Ming was at her house, in her night gown and treating herself to a fresh cup of green tea while observing the sunset. She was sat down on her chair in front of a pair of opened double paper panel doors, through which she had a lovely view of the city beneath her, with the warm evening draft in her long black hair. As the last of the day’s light vanishes from the city of Beihai, and the moon’s light takes over the darkened starry sky, she reflected upon past events.

Just the previous day, she had lost a snow elf to a pirate in the court of law. ‘‘What has this nation come to?’’ was not exactly the question she was asking herself, as she was the one to retract her claim. The pirates that visited her the other evening made it clear to her that this one elf is definitely not worth her trouble, otherwise she might have won. No, she had other things on her mind. Sad stories such as that of the snow elf are a dime a dozen when it came to slavery in today’s day and age. She was more intrigued by the fact that such race of people even existed. Keeping that thought in mind, she went to bed.

The next day, she got up early to reconvene with her companions that had accompanied her to the kingdom of Nigardheim on their previous expedition. They were to meet at the Beihai university where the Grand Master, along with her team and a number of cartographers, would document their journey in as much detail as they could. Previously, Niirai traders would not venture past Akhaliqia and the Sea of Sand, and Niirai sailors would never venture westwards past Tescana, which was already swarming with pirates at the time. Their last expedition reached further north than any Niirai ever made it before them, at least officially. Along the way, they had acquired regional maps from the locals as well, using the money they were granted at the beginning of their journey, they were never in financial crisis. Though, many of the maps they had acquired were second grade material, inaccurate, and in some cases, way outdated. As their own journey did not provide much geographical change for the majority of its length, which was mainly sand followed by more sand, they took what they could get without gaining unwanted attention.

The primary goal of the expedition was, of course, to determine the origin of Xia’s black powder smuggling operations. Exploration and mapping was always a secondary priority. In the end however, the expedition was declared a failure, as they did not uncover anything that would relate to the black powder smugglers. They did discover Nigardheim who used black powder weaponry, at least, and have noted the existence of yet other kingdoms who used weapons of the same principle further west, which meant the smugglers could be from any one, several, or all of these nations, and they themselves might not even know about it.

Over the course of a year, and after a couple of shorter follow-up voyages, she and her team would adequately detail Xia’s closest neighbours, while leaving the rest of the world, such as the north and the far west, ultimately unknown. As neither Xia’s influence nor traffic extended past Tescana and Akhiliqia, the powers that be did not feel the need to send their own kind in to the great unknown with the succession issues of the time. What DID intrigue many scholars was the existence of other elves which were encountered in Nigardheim. The Niirai united under their Xia empire thought they were all there was of elven kind in the world, but apparently, they had other elven brethren further afield, and many wished to connect the dots between their and Niirai ancient history. And as such, the first Xia historians came in to being, scholars who not only took note of events as they passed by and recorded them, but who actively sought to uncover unrecorded passed history as well, through dedicated research and archaeology.

What peaked the curiosity of her Grand Master however, was Rhae-Ming’s report on her encounter with snow elves. She detailed their sorry condition when she first encountered them, being sold at the port of Nigardheim, and how many passed away along their journey until only one remained, not due to being malnourished or wounded, but purely because of the warm climate. They concluded that this race of elves were most likely accustomed to a much colder environment and their bodies did not take to well to the distinct change. When news got out, the scientific community was up in arms to gain more funding for a second expedition to the north. For historians and cartographers alike, Rhae-Ming’s last expedition was not a failure, but a massive success, which deserves way more attention, and a second attempt, but this time, merely to explore and document. Their plea was inevitably granted, and Rhae-Ming was put at the head of a second expedition. She was granted her own ship, a team of scholars to accompany her, and a security detail. She was given a copy of Xia’s most modern map of the world to aid in navigation along with two smaller escort ships to ward off pirates. None of her old companions were to come with her however, as they had their own assignments.

It was over a year since her first expedition, and if their theory was correct, that these snow elves were indeed comfortable living in cold regions, then her best bet would be to venture north, past Nigardheim, in to the Northern Reaches, otherwise known also as the Northern Wastes to find them. Assuming the Niirai would experience a similar reaction to the change in temperature as the snow elves did when coming south, they brought along adequate clothing.

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With them, they will be bringing a chest of treasures as gifts for any King or Queen they would come across as leader of these snow elves, to gain their grace as proper diplomatic guests.


#2

The first few weeks of sailing were uneventful, as the small collage of ships traveled farther north. They were undisturbed, few pirates willing to tangle with three ships at once. The winds that blew them were steady and mild, though the temperature began to drop. Eventually, it settled into a icy cold that coated the ships in ice and set gusts of snow whirling about the deck.

After winding their way past Nidgardheim, through the great rivers that connected the southern seas to the northern ocean, the Nirai turned west, sailing past islands and mountains. After about a week of fair winds, they reached a massive expanse of white, that extended west for as far as the eye could see. Traveling along the coastline, mountains began to rise out of the plains and hills, their peaks reaching into the clouds.

No sign of life was yet seen however. The Helcelen did not venture this far east as a rule, and no permanent settlements existed. It might have proved difficult for the Niirai to find the object of their expedition, had not the weather played a hand.

A storm arose, waves breaking over the gunwales of the ships and smashing over the deck in sheets of rain, snow, and ice. The Niirai ships were blown off course, and forced to run before the wind, racing ahead of the howling tempest. After raging westward for three days , the southern elves found themselves sailing through peaceful but frigid waters, along a shoreline that formed something of a massive semicircle, several hundred miles across.

After a few more days of exploring carefully through the icy sea, the Niirai spotted a mountain range that loomed over the sea. Venturing closer, they soon saw ships of all kinds sailing to and from the cliffs.

There were large vessels of war, with triple masts and broad sheets. There were thinner, more speedy ships with triangular sails upon a single mast. There were galleys, with lines of oars beating like the winds of a bird. Tall prows, with dragons, swans, and wolves carved into the heads extended from the bows, while a slight surge betraying the presence of rams lurking below the surface. Some of the ships had eyes painted on them that seemed to give life to the vessels, as they roved over the waves, searching.

As the Niirai hove in sight of the ships, several of them moved quickly towards the strange craft, oars chopping at the water.


#3

When Rhae-Ming was told that a fleet was sighted, she rushed to the front of her ship to take in the view. There were a great many more ships at sea than she had expected, a great many war ships, and they appeared to have been looking for something, or someone, and found… her own little fleet. The Niirai were armed and ready to defend their ships from any foe, but in their current position, they were heavily outnumbered, and wouldn’t stand a chance. The Niirai elves contemplated how to react as the foreign ships drew ever closer, undecided. Fighting them would be foolish, they are here on a voyage of discovery, not to spawn conflict, even if they weren’t outnumbered. Running wouldn’t made sense either, if they left now, they would have came all this way for nothing, IF they could outrun their pursuers. Unlike these northerners, the Niirai ships relied solely on their sails and had no rowers. And if they did manage to run away, what would they run off to? Back towards the storm they were desperately avoiding for days now? But then again, what if these were pirates? Are pirates preferable to a storm?

They continued analysing their options for a bit too long, until the foreign ships reached them. Then it was too late…


#4

Four of the northern ships moved alongside, oars churning. Lines of warriors in grey armor armed with bows, swords, and curved shields stood on the deck, their faces impassive. Black tassels hung from their helmets, fluttering in the breeze. The ships stood still, rocking in the waves.

A tall man, with a grey cloak and a short axe hanging from his belt leaped up to the forward bulwark of one of the galley-like ships. One eye was missing, and his face was deeply scarred. A streak of blue paint ran across his one good eye.

“Inde? Huro?” he called out in a gruff, but loud tone. His voice carried quite easily across the water between the bobbing ships.


#5

Rhae-Ming shifted on her heels and hurried to the side of the ship, her crew froze up, she was out of options. Obviously, they weren’t hostile, or at least haven’t decided if her people were a threat to them yet. She did not understand a word this northerner was saying, but she was sure that he too was an elf, which calmed her nerves but a little bit. Elves are civilised people, right?

‘‘Hello?’’ she replied in the common tongue, ‘‘We come in peace!’’ she declared and extended one of her arms out in greeting.

Charachter - Rhae-Ming 2


#6

The archers lining the decks of the warships drew arrows from the quivers at their sides in one smooth motion. Within seconds, Rhae had half a hundred bows aimed at her and her crews.

With a raise of his clenched fist, the elf who had spoken stopped them. ”I’m coming aboard.” he growled in the common tongue. Grapnels shot across between the two ships, latching onto wood work and rigging. The elves began to heave in the ropes, pulling the two ships together, while the other vessels kept the escort ships under close scrutiny.


#7

As the archers lined Rhae up in their sight, she slowly, and very cautiously lowered her greeting hand. Her heart pumping violently, blood surging through her veins, it was freezing outside, yet she broke a sweat. When the grapnels were shot across the water and attached themselves to the hull of her ship, her guards began drawing their swords, which did not help at all to calm her nerves. With a subdued wave of her lowered hand, she signalled her men ‘‘Don’t you FUCKING dare.’’, and they all slid their weapons back in to their sheaths the little distance they manage to pull them out, and kept their hands firmly on their weapons continuing on. The air was tense, and her guard began slowly huddling up defensively, as if to prepare for a hostile boarding. Their boarders would not know it just be looking at their ships, but the Niirai had black powder hand grenades with which they could inflict significant damage on their ships before they would inevitably subdue them, if things went sideways.


#8

As the hostile elves heaved in the ropes, the two ships ground together with a crunch, jostling in another. The elf who had addressed Rhae stepped on board, followed by half a dozen other warriors.

The captain wore steel armor and furs, a grey cloak was tossed over his shoulders and his back was perfectly straight. He singled out Rhae for the target of his investigation.

”Who are you? What are you doing? Are you Sorni? Speak swiftly!” He spoke Common with relative ease, but with a thick accent and a low growl.


#9

Rhae swallowed heavily, and summoned the courage to perform a formal introduction.
’‘My name is Rhae-Ming.’’ she began as she placed the palm of her right hand on to her chest, and bowed, ‘‘I and my crew are here on behalf of the Xia empire. We are on our second exploratory expedition to the north, in search of the white haired elven homeland.’’ she explained, ‘‘I do not know what Sorni means, i’m afraid, but i believe we have found whom we were looking for.’’


#10

”I am Cundro.” replied the captain. ”These are the lands of the Narmani. Why were you looking for Helcelen?” The warriors who had followed him spread out behind him in a loose semicircle, hands on the hilts of their swords.


#11

‘‘To meet our elven brethren, of course.’’ Rhae declared with opened arms, ‘‘Up until not too long ago, my people, we elves who call ourselves Niirai, have thought to be the only ones. We wish to visit your King and Queen as a show of good faith, to introduce our people to yours, formally. We bring gifts!’’


#12

Cundro considered. ”Very well.” He turned around, and shouted off a string of orders. Roughly half of the swordsmen on the deck of his vessel abruptly came aboard the Niirai ship. The grapnels binding the two ships together were cast off, and the craft began to drift apart. ”We will escort you in. Tell your escort ships to follow. If you are lying to me, all of you will be swimming back to Xia.”

The various other Narmani ships closed in around behind the Niirai, and began chivvying behind them as the whole group moved towards the harbor, under the Cundro’s direction. After a few minutes of sailing, the Niirai were safely anchored against stout docks that were built atop piers driven into the frigid sea. As elves on shore secured the ships, tossing ropes across and lashing them down Cundro turned to Rhae.

”Come with me, and up to five others. The rest will stay here.” As he stepped off the rocking boat into the oaken plans of the docks, he shouted another command to his crew. ”Tiritè!” He waited on the docks for Rhae to choose her companions and catch up.


#13

In no time at all, Rhae emerged from her ship, followed by her selected five. Two of them were carrying a large heavy looking chest, they each held it from their own side and carefully unloaded it from the ship. Another two were each carrying a large bag in both their arms, which poorly obscured porcelain pots with different herbs and spices as well as vases with exotic flowers. The last was an armed guard she had brought along as her bodyguard.

All set up and ready to go, Rhae-Ming turned to Cundro, ‘‘Lead the way.’’ she said with an uneasy smile. Apparently, fate was smiling back at her, as things were turning out just like she had originally hoped for.


#14

Without another word, Cundro turned and began pacing down the oak dock towards the shore, which was lined by extremely worn down stone retaining walls and pavement of white quartz. There were several small buildings nearby, and hundreds of elves were swarming about, busily mending ships, unloading fish, and moving chests of unknown goods. They of similar height and build to Halatir, but they laughed, worked, and ran to their tasks without the air of despair that had surrounded Rhae’s former slave. Blue, black, and white was the color of their clothes, made from rough spun cloth, furs of wild beasts, and grey cloaks were everywhere in appearance.

At the end of the docks, a rough road of old flagstones split in different directions, running in various was towards the mountains that looked overhead. Cundro, his gait rolling from time spent at sea, chose the largest of these and followed it, winding back and forth up the hillside. At intervals along the path, stone walls with stout gates guarded the path, manned by watchful, wary warriors. After almost an hour of hiking, during which the Niirai’s gifts grew heavy in their hands, they reached a flat parcel of ground.

It was about eighty meters wide, and 60 meters long, the end of which dropped several thousand feet down to the foaming breakers far below. At the opposite end, a cluster of houses of stone and wood, with smoke rising from chimneys, was their apparent destination. The buildings were jumbled together without apparent plan, though paths ran in between them, composed of snow and dirt. Several towers were built into the mountain overhead, with stairs and small bridges connecting them into a chain.

Here too, elves walked. In contrast to the ones at the harbor below, these were all warriors, armed and armored. Many of them were sporting bandages, and their demeanor was grim. A few lathered horses were stabbed inside a small fence with a roof in one corner. Cundro headed towards the stable, where a tall elf was gently stroking the mane of one of the animals.


#15

Rhae saw her people struggle with their cargo, which was getting ever heavier for them to haul as they continue to walk. She stepped up to Cundro, ‘‘If i may, how much further are we going? Couldn’t we have possibly acquired a cart for our gifts?’’


#16

”We’re here.” he replied bluntly. ”You, come with me. They can rest here.” He continued walking briskly towards the elf, who turned around with eyebrows raised.

”Suilad, Cundronion.” Her voice was quiet, and her arm was in a makeshift bloody sling.

Cundro saluted, his facd expressionless. ”Elen síla lúmenn’ omentielvo|.” He gestured to the elf woman. ”This is Landro. Landro, Rhae. Is he busy?”

”He in his tent. Speak quickly. Things have not gone well.” replied the woman, returning to her grooming of the horse.

”Thank you.” Cundro motioned for Rhae to follow. Turning, he led her through the buildings and silent, battered warriors, to a small tower by the edge of the cliff. After speaking quickly to the guard at the door, he entered, and looked back at Rhae.


#17

Rhae managed a swift bow to Landro in greeting before Cundro rushed off again, she was right behind him, sticking close. The others, as ordered, were left behind. They huddled up in their own little group as they pulled their clothing to wrap themselves more tightly to brace against the cold as the many norther warriors eyed them with suspicion. Rhae did not like this place one bit, and the last thing she needed was something or someone to come in between and separate her from her host. Someone even colder and un-emotional as Cundro was, who would not take kindly to her intrusion.


#18

Inside was a barren room, with stone walls and a fire burning in one corner. A black suit of armor, the hauberk embedded with white gems was hanging on the wall. There was a table in one corner, and four chairs placed around it. In one of them, looking at the door with an angry expression, was a extremely tall, thin elf.

His hair was not so much white as grey. Instead of a grey cloak, he wore a black, with white fur lining. His eyes were darker than other Helcelen, and were filled with a grim foreboding menace. A scar that was obviously quite new married his chin. A black crown with jagged spikes was placed upon his head.

”What is it?” His tone was incredibly soft, barely audible.


#19

Rhae remained behind Cundro, not wishing to barge in uninvited, she waited for Cundro to introduce her.


#20

Cundro saluted again, and motioned Rhae forward. ”This is Verel Narmanion. Chieftain, this woman is called Rhae. She claims to come from a land far from here called Xia, where there are other elves like her. She came with three ships, running from the storm.”

The clan-chief was worn with age, his face a scowl. He shifted his gaze from the battered captain to Rhae.

”Is this true?”