[(OOC-Joint post with Rosmary and LSP)
(Outskirts of Karavoss and the Dalen Remnant)

"You know, I don't know why I couldn't enter the church, however I will let you know that I had nothing to do with the Iron Queen and her followers, and if you think I would help her, you might be as crazy as a goblin hermit."

“I don't know how many times people have told me that I'm about as crazy as one of those,” Reise joked, trying to ease the tension in the air.

Joseph sighed. "I was cursed by the Iron Queen. She slaughtered my whole village, and put some strange mark on me, a skeletal ouroboros, a mockery of the cycle of life.”

Reise’s smile and joking manner vanished. “Slaughtered your whole village? Your family too?”

Joseph put his face in his hands with despair. “All dead, even the little children.”

“Oh, you poor man...” Orla murmured softly, at a total loss for words. She had felt his stark grief as he had whined and thrashed in his sleep, but had never known the cause.

Sunder turned to Jeke. “I can confirm part of Lithwick’s story. I have heard rumors of this village, it’s population entirely butchered. It happened somewhere up in Aarden.”

“Do you mean Varland?” Reise said, thinking he'd heard wrong.

“No, Aarden,” Sunder repeated clearly. “It is a land in the frigid north beyond Taras and Varland, home to untamed barbarians that trade in fur hides. It is also home to the frost elves, some of whom have recently sworn allegiance to the Iron Queen. A group of them were said to have wiped out this human village to prove themselves to her and that they had what it takes to join her legions in Zatar.” He looked at Joseph sombrely. “So you were the only survivor and the Iron Queen was there personally?”

Joseph nodded. “Now I have nightmares, apparently I black out, and some name keeps popping in my head. Drivin? Drakez, no Draken, Draken Darward."

“Perhaps I can help to alleviate these nightmares of yours, I have some small skill in—” Orla broke off in mid-sentence; her silver-shot blue eyes widened and a chill rippled down her back. “Did you say Draken Darkward?”

“Why does that name sound familiar?” Reise wondered, frowning.

"What exactly happened, I just remember seeing a woman in danger, I think it was you, and a voice, a cruel voice spoke in my head, so...fuzzy." Joseph groaned in pain.

Jeke turned back to the man, half crouching, half walking with a wine skin to quench his parched throat. Jeke tilted it upwards gently as he glanced at the other two. He gave a look of calm and a nod before answering. "You attacked and killed Knights of the High Church that were wrongfully accusing those two," Jeke said of Reise and Orla, giving Joseph a moment to swallow. "You passed out as I came to you. You gave those two quite a scare."

“He didn't scare me. I met Orla inside the fort after all that stuff outside happened,” Reise clarified, turning to his companion. “Did this guy give you a scare?”

“I was very scared, but I think he was trying to help me,” Orla answered, defending Joseph.

Reise turned to Jeke. “If he was protecting Orla from those church knights I’d like to buy him a mug of Aelmerian ale. What is he doing all tied like an animal?”

“He is cursed by the Iron Queen,” Sunder interjected gravely. “The man is under her influence, her witchery.”

“What does that even mean?” Reise threw up his hands. “He's cursed to wander the far north telling everybody the cycle of Man ends now, a New Age is arriving, the old age is Ending and how from the Shadows of Revenge, those suffering from the might of Man shall… Oh no! Now I know it all by heart!”

Orla regarded Joseph with her Faerie Sight. “I can sense elven magic about you. This close I can even see the skeletal ouroboros faintly glowing through your shirt. You’re right that it’s meant to be a mockery… it is obscene.”

Sunder looked at her. “You are a mystic?”

“Something like that,” Orla answered, catching a warning look from Reise telling her not to reveal too much about herself.

“What else do you sense?” Sunder pressed her.

“Strangely, there is Infernal magic mixed with the Iron Queen's ancient Elven magic.”

“Maybe the Iron Queen is half-elf and half-demon?” Reise suggested. “It would explain a lot.”

Orla shook her head. “No, that's not it. I think I recognise the unique magical signature of the infernal magic even though I've only seen it once before. It belongs to Draken Darkward.”

Sunder looked between Orla and Joseph. “This Draken is a wizard?”

“He was a young criminal who lived in Dalen over a century ago that—”

“That your grandma told you all about,” Reise finished.

“Yes, my, uh… grandmother.” Orla looked around at them all. “Draken was half-demon. His father was the mighty demon lord, Soularous, which would make Draken an Infernal prince. I do not know if he is even still alive. He had a loyal friend named Shade, and one day out of the blue, the two unexpectedly arrived in—”

“Your grandma's enchanted rooftop garden?” Reise interrupted.

“After somehow managing to escape the dungeons of Queen Thalia,” Orla continued, remembering the events like they had all happened yesterday...

Joseph looked up at Reise, "That line you spoke, I heard it. It's a voice of a man, a cruel voice. I hear it every time I fall into a slumber. The voice was the same one I heard before blacking out. Draken's name always appears to me everytime I hear that line, and I get images of a destroyed village, in what I think Dalen close to the Langford Forest edge. By the look of the place."

Reise looked confused at what Joseph said. “I don’t have any idea what you are talking about. I was just repeating what I heard said several times. I don’t really know what any of it means, I’ve heard a lot of people say a lot of crazy things about ending the world. Holding up signs with ‘The end is neigh’ things like that. I don’t take much stock in it. Villages are sieged, they fall, they are those peoples' world. Not many see much outside it. So when they do fall it's like the world ended.” He shrugged. “I just know there is nothing good to be gained from stepping foot in Dalen. Nothing but rubble, and a den for thieves that love a green emerald motif. At least last time I was there.”

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