A Forest's Renewal

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Finally, the first nice day in a while, and the Fernwood Pub, like most other pubs in the city, is on the quiet side tonight as far too many people who were far too cooped up all winter take their evening leisure outside. That is not to say that it is deserted - far from it - but, at least there are empty tables. There are also tables for several people occupied by just one, in Dolan's case, a round table meant to seat three or four that he occupies. One of the chairs holds his twin cloaks, and his pack, the first on top of the second. A half-empty plate of goose, deboned and stuffed with some sort of sage and apples, sits in front of him, along with a half-empty mug of ale. The mug gets much more attention than the plate, and he's sitting with his feet up on the adjacent chair, reading some sort of scroll, his lips moving as he reads.

It is indeed a fine evening. The weather is still chilly in the evening, but the snow is by now mostly a memory now. The rains are now decidedly of the springtime variety, promising the renewal of the green time of the year. The rumbling thunder overhead is no longer ominous, and the patter of drops on the window carries the fresh scent of petrichor on the wind. A perfect evening to stay indoors with a good meal and good friends.

At least, that's Dirk's thought as he pushes open the door to the Fernwood and lumbers inside. He takes a moment to unclasp his cloak and hang it up on a peg by the door, before doffing his tricorne and giving himself a shake. "Och, I thought that rain would -never- let up!" he booms with a cheerful laugh, setting his hat back atop his head. His expression is a cheery one, and it brightens when he spies his friend. "Dolan, me good lad!" He turns his steps over in that direction, reaching up to give the younger man a hearty clasp on the shoulder. "How be, my friend? Eatin' alone tonight? Gave yer minders an' mother hens the slip, did ye?" He wags his finger, but his grin is broad and his mirth infectuous. "Well, mind some company? I'll freshen yer ale fer ye."

Dolan's head snaps up as Dirk approaches, and he takes the slap on the shoulder in good part, the mobile half of his face creasing with good-natured cheer. "Brightest of days, Dirk, good to see you. Andie's asleep, and she's the only one who fusses at me when I'm not in the Temple." He rolls up the sheaf of scrolls in his hands, and tucks it easily into the haversack next to him. "I'll take that refresh of ale in exchange for the company. For a while there I thought I'd never be alone for half a mark again. Damned nice feeling, some days. What brings you all the way to the city?"

Dirk pulls out a chair and plumps his hefty rump down into it, wiggling a bit to get comfortable. "I was hopin' tae look in on Ous, an' see how he's recoverin'," he says. "Figured since I was in town tae sell a load o' pelts, I should poke me head in. But then I realized I wasnae sure -which- temple he'd gotten off to. So I thought I'd stop by fer a pint an' see who all was about." He lifts a hand to signal one of the servers, ordering two fresh mugs of ale. "How about you, laddie? How're you holdin' up? I was a wee bit worried 'bout ye after our last outing."

"Oh, him? He's up and about, thankfully. He's got the nightmares, though." Dolan picks up his mug, examines the contents, and takes a pull from it, letting out a sigh afterwards. "I told him what to do to make it stop. He seemed dubious. Here's hoping he'll take my word for it, I'll check in on him in a day or two and see how he did with it." His lips purse together, pensively. "I do hope he listens. I remember what happened to the last one who didn't."

Up close, he looks tired, dark circles under his eyes, but otherwise unhurt. "I'm getting along," he answers, after a minute to consider the question. "Being in that cave sent me back pretty badly, and no sense in trying to soften that. It has to be jarring when something catches me wrong, but I can't let it eat me, yeah? I've got a job to do, a cause to serve, friends and family to help, and furry bastards to stop. Sorry about that."

Dirk takes up his mug, lifting it towards Dolan. "Yer health," he says, before tipping back a lengthy swallow. He wipes his mouth off on the back of his fist, listening carefully. The apology has the old snowbeard wincing, and he shakes his he shaggy head. "Laddie, ye've got nothin' tae be sorry for. Aye, we've all of us got a duty. We're all needed tae hold back the night. But... even -I- cannae shoulder the load on me own. An' -my- shoulders are almost twice as wide as yers!" He manages a bit of a smile, but his expression remains mostly serious. "'course, so's me arse an' me waistline, but... we're all in this together, laddie. None of us was meant tae walk alone. Ye've got Andie, ye've got me, ye've got Telamon an' Cor'lana, and Zeke, an' the Blessed Lady only knows who else." He leans forward, regarding Dolan earnestly from behind those shaggy white brows of his. "If ye feel yeself startin' tae fall... then fall intae one of us. Let us catch ye, so we can set ye back up on yer feet again. I think even Daeus would agree--ye've given enough already."

"Oh, don't you worry, Dirk. I'm not doing it alone." Dolan's quirk of a smile for the crack about Dirk's circumference is half-hearted, though. "Some days are better than others, and some things - it's hard to explain, yeah?" He stares down into his mug. "Look. Telamon doesn't get it. He means well, yeah? But - he's never walked the dark road, if you follow me?" Siiiiip. "I think he thinks I'm not fit to fight, and I don't want him thinking that, because it isn't true. Yeah, I'm still limited. The healers are telling me my shoulder won't ever be right." The smile by now is completely gone. "I might be able to get it to where I can pick up the greatsword. I'm sure as sunrise going to try. I am trying. And I can use a longsword just fine."

A silence falls, into which Dolan continues to stare into his mug.

Dirk's expression fills with a quiet sorrow, and he shakes his head with a quiet sigh. "Gods... yer still so young yet," he says softly, swirling the beer in his mug. "So young tae have been hurt so deeply." He tips back the dregs, gulping them down and muffing a belch behind his fist. He lifts the empty over his head to signal to the server that he'd like another. He looks back to his friend, digging into his hip satchel for his pipe and tobacco pouch. "I cannae begin tae imagine what yer goin' through, Dolan. I would've taken it all on meself if I could have done. All's I can do is be yer friend, an' let ye lean on me when ye need tae lean." He works on filling his pipe, his gaze peering at Dolan's injured shoulder. "Och, surely someone can do -somethin'- fer ye. Some sort o' spell or rite or Kulthian widget tae get ye back up tae form." His brows furrow as he tamps the bowl and tucks the bit in his mouth. "Well... if there's some sort o' quest tae be done so we can get yer shoulder workin' proper again, then I'll take it. Gilead an' Dana witness me," he says with a firm nod of his head.

Some of the smile returns, a quirk of a thing, to the mobile half of Dolan's features, genuine gratitude mingling with it, and he, too, holds up his mug for a refill. "Thank you, Dirk. I'm not done yet, not by a thousand rows of barley. You're a friend good and true, and I won't forget it. Just remember, this ain't my first time tangling with the Dark." He taps his temple next to his artificial eye meaningfully, then sighs. "I keep telling myself I've still got His blade, no matter what happens, and there ain't nothing wrong with my wits. I worked damn hard to master the greatsword, though. Hate to throw that all away if I can't manage it." The mug out of his hand, he ends up staring at the table. "My own choice, though. I knew what I was getting into, Dirk. I knew what he wanted. I was willing to risk it, if it got us in there. It worked, too, and I learned enough to ask the right questions to know how to take the monster down for good. He's gone, forever." Still, the dark and pensive look on his face suggests hard thoughts. "I used him, but - maybe I paid him back by bringing him a little peace." A shudder ripples through him.

Dirk fishes in his pocket for a match and strikes it off the edge of the table. He lifts the flame to pull it into his pipe, whiskers twitching and flame leaping as he puffs a hearty glow alight. He regards his friend with deep, heartfelt sympathy as he snaps out the match, puffing a billow of sweet cherry pipe smoke into the air. "A sword's just a tool," he says. "What matters is the hand that wields it. It's the hand that does the work, right? So long as the hand is true, then it dinnae matter what tool it holds. It'll still do good work." His smile warms as his fresh mug is brought to him, and he takes ahold of his pipe so he can lift it towards Dolan. "Here's fer good work. May it enrich our hearts an' strengthen our souls," he says, before tipping back a long swallow. He sets his mug aside and leans forward a bit, regarding Dolan earnestly. "I meant it, though. If there's some sort o' way we can help yer shoulder recover, then we'll find it. This should be pease porridge compared tae some o' the shit we've had tae put up with so far, nay?"

"To good work, and good friends." Dolan nods and pays the server, then lifts his own freshly-filled mug in response as she wanders away. He takes a good, long swallow, then remarks, "You're a good man, Dirk Stormgrip." He tilts his head, pondering the words, then. "They tried magic," he says simply. "Zeke says that there's only so much the magic can do. The brace helps, though. I'll know when a storm's a-blowing in for the rest of my life, that's for sure." A quiet laugh, and a look at the leather cuff that encases the sore shoulder. "Nothing wrong with my wits, though, and I daresay I learned a thing or two that I can use. Just don't go thinking I can't fight. Dunno if there's anything to be done about the shoulder. They think if I can strengthen it enough, it'll hold."

He abruptly switches tacks, then, and takes a drink of his ale, then sets the mug aside. "Speaking of quests, I meant to ask you, since you are here. How do you feel about going back to Quelynos?"

Dirk settles back in his seat, a warm smile creasing his sun-baked features that makes his eyes twinkle with kindly mirth. "I can only do my best," he says in answer to Dolan's compliment. "If I can leave the world better than when I found it, then I've done right by me mum an' dad, by Gilead, an' the Blessed Lady." He draws a steady pull from his pipe, puffing a couple lazy smoke rings as he gives himself a lazy stretch. "Well, where magic cannae help, maybe science can," he says. "Though gods know I'm about the last one who'd know anything 'bout that sort o' thing. Still, I've seen some o' the magitek limbs folks have. They're quite clever. But aye, keep workin' on it. Keep yer strength up. You tallfolk are nearly as tough as khazad, in yer way. Suppose that's why our peoples have always gotten along so well."

The switch in topics has the old snowbeard blinking owlishly. "Back tae Quelynos...?" He puffs thoughtfully for a moment, his brows furrowing in contemplation. "Well, I suppose I wouldnae mind it," he says. "Although it was -damned- odd, wasn't it? Spendin' all those days an' nights there, then gettin' back tae Alex only three hours after we left. Ergh." He shivers a little. "At least we dinnae wind up goin' -back- in time. Knowin' my luck, I'd come out the other end a wee little beardling again." He looks back to Dolan, headtilting curiously. "What's the action, then? I cannae imagine it's just tae take high tea wi' the faerie court."

Dolan shakes his head, immediately and forcefully. "No, Dirk. I'm not replacing it with artifice. I've got enough trouble with _this_." He taps the right side of his face at the corner of his cheekbone near the golden-colored eye. His lips quirk in a smile to suggest no hard feelings for the refusal, and widens at the image of Dirk as a khazad kid. "I can't picture you as a beardling, so probably for the best. No, you remember the mountain in the distance where we were? When I asked the Knight to show me magic, before the eye went wild, I noticed that Tanith, and that mountain, looked completely the same magically. Same signature. Came to find out that Tanith is a divine servant of Eluna. That tells me that that mountain is probably tied to Eluna as well. If that's true, we should find out what's there, because those furry little bastards have more on their minds than howling at the moon. They've been after anything related to Her. Remember Phyrelia?"

Dirk nods his head. "Fair enough, laddie," he says. "It was only a thought. You know yer road best. I'm just here tae walk it wi' ye." He tips back another swallow of his beer, letting his memories wander back to that dream-like time he spent in the faerie realm. Hearing that Tanith is actually a servant of the moon goddess has the old ranger's eyes widening a bit. "Wee Tanith? A herald of Eluna? Are ye tuggin' my beard?" he asks incredulously. He boggles a bit, then shakes his head with an amused chortle. "Och, that explains -so- bloody much. I still remember goin' sea-divin' lookin' fer fish for 'er tae chow down on. Hah!" He drains his mug, setting the empty aside. The name, however, is unfamiliar. "Phyrelia... Phyrelia... I -think- I might've heard the name mentioned once, but... I dinnae thing I ever met 'er. Who is she?"

"Not a bit of it, Dirk, it's far too fine for pulling." Dolan's lone brown eye brightens with laughter at Dirk's reaction. "We found her after those furry little shits took a piece out of the moon on the lunar eclipse. She's probably part of Eluna too, and they were after her. If that mountain's tied to Eluna, and I'm just about sure it is, I want to find out more about it. Are you up for it?"

He leans back in his chair, taking a long pull of his ale, then setting it down again. "Whether you decide to or not, just know you're the damned finest friend a man could ask for."

Dirk puffs at his pipe, shaking his head with a rumble of laughter. "D'aww. Makes me feel twenty foot tall tae hear ye say that, laddie," he says. "An' o' course I'll go wi' ye. Eluna's good chums wi' the Green Word, after all. I'm happy tae help, however I can. An' if it's a mountain, well, ye'll be wantin' a dwarf wi' ye, I'll warrant!" He puffs up his burly chest with a broad grin. "Just say when an' where, lad. I'll be there wi' bells on."

Dolan's smile broadens at the acceptance, until it has bloomed into his usual cheeky grin, bringing a level of joy back to his features that hasn't often been seen since he was rescued. "I always want a dwarf at my back, Dirk. I don't know about the bells, though. Armor's loud enough, yeah?"

The server drops by again, peering at drink levels, and bustles away once she has assessed drink needs. The inquisitor doesn't need anything at the moment, and he shakes his head at her, then turns back to Dirk, some of that smile fading. "Mostly I'm okay," he admits, his features falling. "There's a few things that just kind of take me back, yeah?" He opens his mouth to say something else, and - shudders, gripping the edge of the table hard enough to hurt, eyes gone glassy.

Dirk chuckles softly at that. "True talk, laddie, true talk," he says. "Suppose me mythril armor will do well enough." He waves off the server with a smile. "Thanks, lass, I'm good fer now." He turns back to Dolan. As his friend starts to fade out, a look of quiet worry fills the old dwarf's features. He leans over and rests his hand over Dolan's forearm. "Dolan. -Dolan-," he says, giving him a gentle shake. "Look at me, laddie. We're right here. We're havin' a few pints, right? Yer nae -there-. He's gone, right? He cannae hurt ye anymore. You an' Andie locked the door on 'im." He gives another shake. "C'mon, Dolan, come back to me," he urges softly.

Oddly enough, it's the shake that brings Dolan out of it, and he gasps, sucking in a breath and looking around him wildly. Oh. Right. Fernwood. Pints. Ale. Yeah, ale is good. He reaches for the mug, splashes just a little on his face, wipes it away, breathing hard. "_Damn it,_" he gasps, still clutching at the edge of the table. "It's not just him, Dirk. That ain't the first time I've been in chains." Something is still haunted behind the lone brown eye, and he sets the mug aside, still smelling faintly of ale and burying his face in his hands. "I've got to get a grip on myself."

Dirk has a heart the size of the mountains that birthed him and the woods that shelter him. He sets his pipe aside and hops to his feet, stumping over to put an arm around Dolan's shoulders. "Shh, easy now, laddie, easy," he rumbles soothingly. "I know there's nothin' I can say or do that can take away the pain o' what happened to ye. But I'm here. I'll always be here. An' so will Andie." He gives his friend a pat on the shoulder, smiling warmly at him. "It's a rare thing, the two of ye have. I had love like that once. An' although she's gone... part of us will live forever. Because I believe that love is immortal. It can do so much more than move mountains. On the First Day, it birthed suns. It gave shape to our world. It made the good, solid earth an' the green growin' things. An' it brought us all together." He gives Dolan another pat on the shoulder. "Everything is goin' tae be all right, laddie. I cannae tell ye where our road will lead us. But I do know this. Tomorrow, the sun will rise. The rains will pass. We will be blessed wi' another beautiful day."

The burly arm around his shoulders can feel the tension in Dolan's shoulders at his touch, and he doesn't answer right away. Whether Dirk's words help is hard to tell, but he breathes more deeply as time goes on. There's a relief in finding help, real help, from an unlooked-for source. "I just have to take it one day a time, Dirk. I told you, some days are better than others." He doesn't shake the arm away, and eventually drops the arms onto the table, taking his hands away from his face to reveal eyes pricked with tears. He lets out a hard breath. "I can't worry about the road ahead, Dirk. I've got to take it one day at a time."

Dirk's smile never falters. He simply nods his head. "That's all anyone can do, lad," he says. "The past we cannot change. The future we cannot know. But today is ours. An' we can do anything we set our hearts to." He gives Dolan one last solid squeeze (but not -too- solid, he's mindful of his friend's injuries), before turning him loose. "Even if the forest should burn, it'll grow back new an' clean. Fresher an' stronger than it ever was afore. So stand up proud on the days that ye can, lad. Ye've earned yeself a bit o' pride." He goes to sit himself back down, picking his pipe back up. He's still keeping an eye on Dolan, but he's not hovering. He figures his friend has had plenty of that these days past.

There's just something about that stolid, cheery stance, and something about the simple wisdom in those words, that strikes Dolan to the core, leaving him to think in silence as Dirk sits back down and returns to his pipe. "Might take a little time, but yeah. Even if the crops burn, they come back next season. Cut a forest away and it grows back. Guess we're kind of the same, yeah?" Finally, his hands on the table relax, and although the elbows remain, he stares at the table a little longer, he breathes a little more deeply.

"Pride isn't going to help us kick those furry bastards' asses," he chuckles despite himself. "We got one. We got damn close to having a second. We need to take out Zinskas. We ran out of time."

Dirk lifts his pipe, puffing steadily to rekindle the embers in the bowl. "Mmh," he says, nodding his head as he puffs a fresh billow of smoke. "An' here I thought Zalgiman was a bad egg. This Zinskas chuff makes wee Zalgie seem like a schoolyard bully, don't he?" He harrumphs, picking up his mug and draining the dregs from it. "Well. We got one over on -him- though. Snatched the totem right out from under 'is beady wee little eyes. Wonder how he explained -that- one tae Caracoroth?" He can't help but grin. "Oh, tae be a fly on -that- wall, eh?"

A chuckle at the image escapes Dolan despite himself. "He is the only one of the bunch who's actually loyal to the Maw. Take him out and the whole damned thing collapses." He keeps his voice low, letting the chatter of the room cover the words, and drains his own mug. His nose and cheeks are beginning to color, suggesting that he's had a few already before Dirk got there. "I'd pay to be a fly on that wall, for sure. Deal with his buddies, too."

Dirk nods his head, grinning around his pipe. "He's got his comin', laddie. Don't you fret. Now that we're learnin' how tae use the totems, his days are numbered. An' Caracoroth can just sit in Time Out fer a good while longer." He looks over his shoulder and lifts his mug, signalling for a refill. "So when are we headed back out tae Quelynos?" he asks. "We goin' tae get Cor'lana tae come with? She might be handy tae have along. She knows the fae like nobody's business." He grunts a bit, wrinkling his nose. "An' since I -know- that's where we're goin', I can make sure an' leave me cold iron shot home this time. Last thing anyone needs is a pissed off faerie on their arse. I'm lucky I dinnae wind up wi' a purple beard, or flowers sproutin' out me ears!"

"Or a purple beard sprouting out of your ears," Dolan counters with a heartier laugh. "Yeah, Lana said she'd come. Andie can't stand the fae or anything to do with them, so she said she'd stay home and feed the kittens while I'm gone. I suppose Tel will too. Haven't asked Verna, but Magpie might be up for it. Get her away from that book. There's worse things than a purple beard sprouting out of your ears."

Dirk laughs deeply at that. "Och, wouldn't -that- be shocking! I'd look like one o' those wee little treasure-troll dolls they sell it the market!" he says. "Just stick a gemstone in me belly-button an' I'd be all set! Hah!" He tips back another swallow of beer. "Och, what sort o' book is Magpie readin' that's worse than purple beard-ears?" he wonders, boggling a bit at Dolan. This is news to him.

Again, the refill comes around, and this time, Dolan pushes his mug to the server for a refill, laughing heartily himself, but the laughter fades. "Damn thing's got a spell on it," he explains. "It's a conduit to the lower planes. Information, how to summon, all of that. For a lot of shit. Shit I can't touch. I swore oaths not to touch that shit. She shouldn't either, but -" He sighs, heavily. "All I can do is keep tabs on her."

Dirk's eyes get wide at that. "Wait a tick. -Magpie-? Dealin' wi' the Dark Powers? Beards o' me fathers, how did -that- happen? She lose a bet or what?" He frowns a bit, chomping the bit of his pipe as he harrumphs. "Nae good'll come o' -that- sort o' bullshit, mark me." He takes his pipe from his mouth and points at Dolan with the stem. "That's wise. Keep clear o' that. Ye've got plenty tae deal with. Let me handle Magpie. Maybe she'll pay some heed tae a fellow shortstack."

"Next time a gnome's got any gods-be-damned sense'll be the first, Dirk." Dolan hands coin over to the server, and directs her to fill Dirk's mug as well, paying for both. "Don't I just know it. I fucking _know_ better, and I don't need no oaths to tell me just how fucking dangerous fiends are." He shakes his head. "Problem is, it might have what we need to find V."

Dirk nods his thanks to the server as his mug gets refilled, then turns his attention back to Dolan. "Nothin' doin', laddie. That's how they get ye," he says. "They dangle what ye want most desperately in front o' yer nose. All the better if they can make it summat ye feel like ye cannae live without. An' then... they put their filthy claws in ye, an' yer lost." He shakes his head, picking up his mug and tipping back a lengthy gulp. "Hell. Ye need someone found? I'm yer dwarf. I can track anyone, anywhere." He pauses. "Well. Not -anywhere- anywhere. But close enough, I'll warrant."

"Yeah. You're dead on." The ranger is right, and Dolan damn well knows it. "I can find it in other ways. I'd gotten a start when all this shit happens." The drink is loosening Dolan's tongue, and he seems to be swearing a bit more. "V's a bit different, they're both demon and devil? I bet I have other ways. Wonder what their interest here is." Clearly, he doesn't wonder too hard. "Yeah. If you can keep tabs on her. Find out what she's up to. Tell me if I gotta stop her."

Dirk nods his head, reaching out to give Dolan's shoulder a squeeze. "We'll get through this, laddie, don't you fret," he says. "We have to." He leans in close, his tone becoming low and grave. "It's our -destiny-." He holds the expression for a moment before dissolving into rumbling laughter. "Hah! Och! That was -brilliant-!" He hefts his mug once again. "I'm a bloody prophet, I am! Hee hee hee!"

The hours will pass, and many more mugs of brew will be emptied. By the time the night is over, Dirk sports a rosy red flush to his large dwarven nose and plump cheeks. He'll bid Dolan a fond farewell and totter his way out into the night. Fortunately, his pony Thistle is still quite sober, and will have little trouble getting his master home. The night may be dark and full of terrors. But as long as there are heroes willing to do good work, then surely tomorrow must come. And perhaps it really will be a beautiful day. Tomorrow cannot be known. But it can always be hoped for.