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Against the Shadow  |  Runes of Power  |  The River Ghost
The River Ghost
The River Ghost

    The great river is quiet, almost pensive, as the Tanthelon family barge moves slowly upriver toward the Ardune. The serenity of the river is not matched with the activity along its shores. Drums and the unearthly howling of what once were wolves fill the night air. The crew is nervous and fears that they are what the Shadow seeks. Their only cargo is a gray clad warrior that has ridden the barge the last two days. He stands unmoving at the prow scanning the river ahead and has spoken only to the elder. While his face is always hidden and his hands covered in heavy gloves, the crew believes he is an elf, and carrying him will get them all killed if they’re caught. The elder and his brothers do not miss the danger the barge faces. Heated voices can be heard from inside the main cabin.
    Inside the cabin the elder, Sarin, stands at a long table looking at charts of the river and the small hidden streams where the barge could possibly hide. Around the table are his two younger brothers and his sister’s husband. All have earned the right to speak and try to get him to change his decisions. The strain of the recent days has come close to breaking the close unity of the family.  
    “Sarin, we have to put him ashore. You saw the spar that floated down the river to us. One red and three black knots; barges are being seized and blood has already been spilled. Our people are dying on the river and they’re dying because of him.”  
    The elder doesn’t raise his head, seemingly unwilling to meet his brother’s eyes. “He is the Queen’s agent and he was waiting for our barge. He could have taken any of the half a dozen Prouten barges, but he said he needed to be on our barge and get safe passage to the Ardune. You’ve heard the drums, they’re hunting all along the river. If we put him ashore he’ll be captured or killed. If he’s captured, how long do you think it will take them to pry our names from him?”
    Very quietly, in almost a whisper, Sarin’s youngest brother says, “we could kill him and give the body to the river.”
    The elder raises his eyes and looks at his brother. He had had the same thoughts but dismissed them. It saddened him that his brother could think that the family could murder a passenger; he had not thought the family had sunk so low.
    Before he could respond, the cabin door opens and their passenger enters. “Do I get to speak on my own fate?” As he moves toward the table, he casually removes his hood revealing his elven features and more startling, eyes that are solidly black. As he reaches the table, his eyes stare off into space for a moment and then refocus on the elder. “She wishes to speak to you.”
    The atmosphere in the room changes, the room becomes brighter and the air seems charged with power and life. A soft, very feminine voice speaks, “This agent must make it to Baden's Bluff. His skills, contacts, and the items he carries are essential. You need only get him through the blockade at Swiftwater and then he will leave your barge.”
    All except the elder avert their eyes, awed by the presence of the Witch Queen. The elder tries to lock his gaze in the infinite depths of those black eyes. “Your agent has roused the Shadow to a state I have not seen in fifty years. The Shadow’s hounds are everywhere and the river folk are dying. You are asking me to risk the lives of my family to get this agent through. Are our lives worth nothing to you?”
    The avatar’s features soften, “No, every life is precious and your family has done great service to those who fight against the darkness. You should know why you’ve been asked to take such a risk. Four nights ago, this avatar killed one of Jahzir’s favored generals, a fiend that had killed thousands of human and fey. His death weakens Jahzir’s hold on the southern armies. If my avatar survives and reaches the Ardune, more of Jahzir’s generals and spies will die. Is this worth the risk to your family?”
    The elder looks to his brothers before responding, “it is worth the risk, but why this barge, there were many to chose from?”
    The avatar smiles, “what better barge than the Ghost of the Eren. I know the power this barge has, as my people aided in its construction. Only the Ghost of the Eren can slip passed the blockade. Get my avatar through the blockade and I will ask no more of you family this season.”
    The elder nods and turns to his brothers. “Tell the crew to hold our position. Aemos, go to the hold and strip the flooring around the stairs. I need at least eight of the family to join me in the hold.”
    Once the flooring has been stripped, swirling lines can be seen in the ribbing of the barge’s hull. The delicate patterns look as if they spread along the entire length of the barge. The eight gnomes sit in a circle around the central stair. A prayer is chanted to the great river spirit and the swirling lines pulse with power. As the chant continues, a signal bell is heard, three long peels, indicating heavy fog. The chanting ends and the elder barks orders. “Quickly while the fog lasts, we run the blockade. No lights and no bells. Listen for noise from the banks and take silent soundings every five minutes. If we go aground we all die.”

    The Ghost of the Eren is a gnome barge that was built with two runes inscribed and hidden in its hull. The first rune is a fairly common rune used by the gnomes, the spell Non-Detection. The second rune is a powerful version of Control Weather. In the scenario above, the gnomes were able to create a heavy fog centered on the barge. With their knowledge of the river and the help of the fog, they should be able to slip by the blockade and get to the Ardune.

Author: Kane

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