Friday, February 27, 2009

Ill Met in House Silverkin

"I think I would prefer talking to you if you cover yourself and show modesty befitting the matron of the house," said Pangold to the striking, lithe blond figure that sat facing him, her back to a dressing table and mirror.

"In some ways I am sure you would," she replied with a small, ripe smile.  She made no move to cover her skin, bare from the waist.

"I do not have time for this.  I've decided to leave tonight and not wait until morning," he shot back.  "I came up here only for a kerchief with Crest you had promised me," he moved across her dressing room to the large oak armoir he knew sat under the far window.  At this late hour it was bathed in dark shadow.  He tried deliberately not to bring his eye to meet hers.  

Her eyes continued to follow him nonetheless.

"I know that Marshal keeps them in cedar bundles," he continued, trying to move beyond the suggestiveness of her answer to his request that they resume their family roles.  Family roles keep things in their rightful place.  Family roles keep things from getting messy.  Apparently she now desired that things get messy, he thought.

He bent to one knee to open the lowest master drawer.  A small crack and painful snap reminded him of the mace that had glanced the outside of his right kneecap delivered by the large Iberian he contested in the ring just two nights earlier.  Pangold had eventually bested the brute, removing a large chunk from the fleshy spot where the back of the head and spine fuse.  Although he lives, the Iberian strong man will never himself raise a weapon to Pangold to exact revenge for his loss. Nor, even, would he stand again.  This had been winner's intention.  The wound to his knee was Pangold's most serious, and it had been healing nicely to point previous, but as he bent to secure a family heirloom, he became aware of some residual inflammation.  

The tall, lean fighter quickly rummaged through the drawer and deposited a small white cheese cloth bundle reeking of cedar into his belt pouch.  He rose quickly, turning towards the wall opposite his mother, moving in a head's rush back to the door.

She decided this was her last remaining chance.  

"Pan," she said, her voice now innocent and sincere.  "Pan, why do you both desire me and yet hate me so?  How can you both love and hate the same thing in the same way?  Please, please try to make me understand.  If you are leaving to never return, then you must tell me: How can you have lain with me and yet have eyes that seem almost to burn right through me, so hot is your contempt?"

"Does your contempt extend to every inch of me?" She rose to her feet, the folded lengths of silk dressing grown tumbling to the marble floor.  She remained naked from the waist up as she moved to meet him at the door.

Pangold paused, allowing his mother to close the door to her inner salon, blocking his only exit.  In this way, at least, the valet Bronoc couldn't catch glimpse, or, worse, alert the absent Marshal to the queer situation in which his wife and his son now found themselves.  Although father and son had not spoken in over a year, their feud had nothing to do with his wife, at least as far as Marshal was concerned.  If he were to find out about the compromised positions of mother and son, his rage would be even more inflamed.  

They stood nearly silent for several heartbeats.  He refused to cast his gaze directly at her eyes.  She reached her soft, small white hand to stroke his bruised cheek.

"If you must leave us forever, if that really is your begotten intention, then let me share with you the gift of my love one more time.  How can you refuse me?"  She tried to slowly press herself against him.  "Who knows the next time a woman who loves you will care for you?  Do you think the Drowned World is full of women who truly love wanders?"  For a moment he allowed himself to enjoy the wave of warm needles that flowed immediately upward from his groin.  Then he swiftly backed away.

"What I am to your father, I can also be for you, if you will let me once again," she continued, thinking she correctly sensed the source of his reluctance.  She again moved in close, allowing the swell of her breasts to expand against his chest and arms, their skin separated only by his chemise.  But the fighter firmly pushed her small frame back a pace, and for the first time in his life decided to share his deepest feelings with his mother.

"What kind of creature are you?"  He snapped.  "How can you go through life without the respect for self shown even by rats?"

Lucy Silverkin was visibly shaken and shrank in stature at these words.  She turned away from her son and back to her dressing table.  The bounce of a few blond natural ringlets caught Pangold's eye as she pivoted away in haste.  In this light she looked even younger than usual to him.

"Do not do this again," she pleaded, her dramatic shift of voice left her sounding increasingly like a small girl.  "I give myself to you, and you respond with daggers."

"You are nothing but a vehicle for men to leave their deposits.  You disgust me."  His intention was to leave a mark that she would not forget.

"Pangold, please!"

"Please.." he mocked her with his most sardonic tone.  "You are but a little girl whose head is so empty of thought and reflection that you are willing to allow men to come and fill it for you.  You do not even know the depths of the game you have signed on to, and what is worse you have signed on to this game for your life.  

"No," he corrected himself.  "That is wrong.  You are not a little girl.  You know full well what you do.  That is why I hate you."

"As before, I beg you, I do not understand your words?"  She couldn't help but almost whimper.  "What have I ever done to deserve such treatment?  I did not even know of you when your father married me.  Do you really blame me for falling in love with him before I fell in love with you?"  She paused.  Sliding her left arm gently under the large fold of fabric that bunch around her waist, she smoothly pulled a cover up over her bare breasts in obvious effort to regain something approximating composure.

"Is it, perhaps, that you think I do not please your father as his wife should?" She probed further.  "Am I in some way deficient as a wife?"

"You are a proven whore to start."

She sat at her bench retaining a dignity in her posture beyond what comes naturally to girls barely twenty years old.  Pangold noted this as well as noted that such dignity was, too, just an act, the result of the inculcated instinct of her breeding.  She had been raised her entire life under the roof of a high-level administrator in the king's court.  Thus the art of sitting pretty while things all around get messy was clearly a trait she had developed quite young.  Pangold even felt hostility towards the posture the girl adopted.  But at the same time he could appreciate the beauty of a pretty thing on its perch.

"If I am a proven whore, then you are convicting me of a crime in which you are co-conspirator.  But beyond this, tell me, in what single way am I not a good wife to your father?'

Pangold hesitated slightly.  He measured his words carefully.  

"You are precisely the kind of woman my father wants you to be.  You fulfill all his wants.  You dote on his eccentricities and you liven his hours with your charms and devotions.  He found in you precisely what he sought.  And that is why I hate you."

"Because I am not your mother, you mean?"

"See, you are emptied-headed indeed, slut."  The last insult stung, as he proceeded to speak to her for the first time with an honest bluntness that smacked like the open face of a hammer.  "Little girl, how do I say this to you in a way you will best understand...You are exactly like my mother."

Lucy Silverkin vaguely remembered the oldest son of her husband saying something like this before.  And like that prior occasion, she again did not understand the statement.  To her naive ear he sounded nearly deranged.

"If you refuse the gift of my love, then just leave me.  There is no reason to continue this torture session."  She again straighted her back, inadvertently exposing her full side of her right breast.  In the soft light of the many-candled wall sconces, her flawless skin looked like alabaster.

"Come to me on your knees and I will stay," Pangold said flatly.  

His mother slowly rose to her feet and crossed the barely ten feet of room that separated them.  As she approached she dropped dutifully to a single knee.  She let her improvised garment drop again to the floor as she looked up into his wide, tanned and stern face.  The many hours he spent in competition in the district's open-air arena left him with a healthy bronze hue.

Pangold spat fully in his mother's face.

Her figure scrambled away in retreat, unable to get fully to her feet.  As she raced her lithe body no longer looked seductive in the light of the room but ridiculous and pitiable.  A helpless animal both shamed and revolted.

"Out before I call the street guard!" she cried, cowering next to her jewelery chest, the darkest corner of the salon.

"Mother.." Pangold spoke in a soothing voice.

"Do not call me that!  You monster, you scoundrel of the lowest order!"  He could make out her shadowed profile huddling in the sudden chill of the room.

"Little one," continued Pangold in a slow, calming, yet stern and commanding fashion.  "I needed to know you truly cared for me.  Please, come back to me.  I had to test you, you must understand.  Come back to me."

Lucy Silverkin, a young women married only three years to a man nearly three times her age, was surprised to find herself rising once again to her feet, and making the walk to her step-son.  Ignoring the remnants of her own tears from just moments earlier, she again supplicated herself to him.  In turn, Pangold reached forward and took hold of her soft mouth in his hand, and, with a force, put his own onto it.  He kissed her deeply and only slowly and with great reluctance did he pull away.

In a flash of motion, Pangold brought the back of his strong left hand down hard across his mother's face, and produced a large, broad-bladed dagger in the other hand which he held fast at the base of her neck.  Before she had time even to whelp, his left hand closed over her mouth.

"You come back after you've been spat on, degraded and defiled?  That is why I hate you."  He breathed heavily down unto her straining face.  "You are a worm, little girl.  I would as soon destroy you as adjust my path even the slightest."  He slowly removed the threatening blade, and removed his hand from her mouth.  He turned to exit.

"If to be a worm is your destiny, little slug, then at least think on this.  That you are nothing more than a worm is precisely why my father claimed you.  It is the quality that he values most in you.  If nothing else, always remember this:  as you are pleasuring him and feeding his perversions, remember that my father's desire for you only burns as long you exist as an empty vessel to fill when and how he wishes.  What do you think he would do if you ever dared attempt to fill the vessel for yourself?  What do you think that says about the depth of his regard?  What do you think it says about value of a worm?"

He opened the door sharply, the light from the corridor spilled in enough to reveal his mother on her knees, attempting to cover herself and hold her head as she wept, refusing to look up again at her abuser.  

"So my crime is that I am not her?  Not Esmeralda?  That I am not also made of something stern like granite?  Well, look what happens to my kind that prove made of such stuff.  They do not last long in this world." Her words came out in great sobs. 

At the mention of his sister's name and murder, Pangold briefly considered escalating his farewell lesson to his mother to include taking her by force, knowing full well that her screams would yield way to goading moans in short order.  Even degraded, the small, doe-eyed creature stoked a blaze of desire in his heart.

He thought better of it, closed the door firmly, and proceeded to the foyer where the rest of his baggage was stowed.    

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Curious Tale of Puff the Magic Icosahedron

My daughter simply loves her 20-sided pillow...She giggles and squeals whenever we play with it.  And she loves to smother her face into it and laugh and laugh.

I've been meaning to thank Heb and the dm again for such a thoughtful gift, but an episode happened over break that made me resolve to post that thanks and include a couple of "Thank You" pics from Sophie as well.

You see, Sophie soooo loves this pillow that it had to be include in the list of essentials that were packed into our rental car to take on the 6 day trek to Grand Rapids and Port Huron, MI.  So, along with bottles and diapers and suitcases and snacks, we brought this tie-died 20-sided pillow along in the back seat.

As we returned home around 1am last week, Regina sat in the back with the baby while I drove with a basket full of toys in the passenger seat next to me.  As we got off the turnpike near Rochester, a tall, pony-tailed late 30s early 40s male attendant took my ticket and money and proceeded to simply stare at me...

"What have you got in there?" He said.  I was surprised since these robots never chat and I instantly felt like I was being interrogated by the police.

"What?" I said, eyes blurry from the long drive.

"What have you got?  A life-sized d&d set to go with it?"     I instantly remembered that the pillow sat atop the basket of toys in the passenger seat.  What a strange sight I must have been driving so late with a large, stuffed icsoahedron next to me.  He recognized the pillow for what it was instantly.

Of course I told him about what a wonderful present it was from my friends who - like he - appreciate things like this...And we both had a really good laugh, and he shot me a knowing-smile.  He was clearly envious.

Thanks again, from all of us over here at Roslyn Street.


Saturday, February 21, 2009

Olwe Lorearthen's Deep Desire

While drinking at the Sailors' Guild during their first night in Kharschum, Olwe and Pangold hoisted several toasts to the potential spoils and new freedoms that a life of free-lancing adventure was likely to bring.  Both had started their adult lives each as their own man, only contracting with the King of Saxony for the Tigalda expedition given the paucity of work available at the time.  So for both Olwe and Pangold, the thrilling sail into the harbor of Kharschum - however inhospitable a locale - was like a return to an earlier way of life that had been placed on hold some months back.
As he fetched his sixth round of house mead, Pangold overheard Olwe kibbitzing with the bartender Taluee [dm: spelling?] about different exotic sites they have visited or would wish to visit before death.  A prick came up Pangold's ear when he heard Olwe's low grumbling voice mention the name of the famous dwarf enclave called Porshaft.  It wasn't the proper name itself that struck Pangold, but, rather, the ever-so-slight hint of desire in Olwe's voice when the name passed over his lips.
After Olwe had wheeled around and joined Pangold across a long, oak table that sat a dozen patrons, Pangold took control, though not obviously, of the conversation.
"I heard you mention the great underground halls of Porshaft.....I have heard a great many stories that extol its wonder.  Tell me about it and explain why your tongue wags so sloppily when the thought of it enters you mind?  This is a side of you that I confess I have not seen before."
"Tell me Olwe," Pangold persisted as the dwarf attempted to waive off his question in favor of a deep pull from his cup.  "Tell me why such a place is so important to you, you are not related to the Porshaft clans are you?  I have heard you sing at length of your people, of the Mineshadow, the Lorearthens, and the Wilward.  But I did not realize a filial connection existed between you and that wondrous place."   
"It's true that when I think and speak of Porshaft, I do so fondly.  It is indeed a marvellous place.  And although I have share no family blood with its founders or current inhabitants, I have had the honor of laying eyes on its rightly praised Great Staircase as well as several of the first level antechamber rooms and halls."
"But if you must know why I always smile a little when I think of Porshaft it is because it reminds me of the fantasy that keeps me going."  He gulped his drink deeply.
Pangold listened intently to the story that followed of a young Olwe journeying with his father to the trading centers surrounding Porshaft, and of a short day-trip into the mouth of the great city set a mile deep into the granite base of an imperious mountain.  He savoured the care in word choice and imagery that the budding bard of a dwarf demonstrated in his telling.  And he could not help but be desirous of seeing it for himself, so finely did Olwe portray its endless and finely crafted passageways, stairways, intersections, pillared underground boulevards, great solid stone doors, and its miles and miles of expanse.
At the conclusion of his impassioned description of seeing the upper rooms of the great city of Porshaft, Pangold thank him and blankly asked just what moral should be taken from his tale.  Just what is the appetitic fantasy that moves him when he thinks of what he has seen at Porshaft?
"Surely you could take up residence if that is what you want so much?" said Pangold.  "It doesn't have to be just a fantasy, does it?  I've heard often that dwarf clans will adopt those of other family's if the desire to join is sincere.  Surely all you'd have to sacrifice is your bachelorhood at most."
"I think you do not fully understand.  You see,," Olwe replied, almost sheepishly chewing his thick, coarse whiskers.  "I want all of it," his grin widening enough to show his broad front teeth.  His look told his listener that he was well aware of just how outlandish, even childish, his dream must sound.  
"I want my own kingdom under a mountain, with my own endless walkways and soaring rock cathedrals and layers and layers of intersecting stair and passage."
Olwe continued his simple grin as he looked down into the soggy remains of his cup.  "It is not a humble wish, I grant you.  But you seem to be asking for honest truth and not just easy conversation, so there you have it."
"It is a dream fit for a king, I'll give that to you.  But surely there are any number of the great ancient dwarf underground cities that that suit you.  It would take some work, but you could eventually seize and take it up for yourself.  And if such deep places are what you think of most, why do you not reside in one now, if such a thing is your deepest love?" asked Pangold sincerely, although not without purpose.
"I think you still misunderstand.  I want more than to live in such a rock city, I want to build and design it as well," said Olwe after freshening his cup and sopping the foamy collection at its brim through his beard.  "I do want to be its lord and master, and I also want to make the impenetrable rock walls cleft at my easy command and whim.  I want to wander for weeks and months and never see the same room twice.  I want to lose myself in an endlessness of my own design.  
"Now, if you ask me how I plan to obtain my heart's true desire, then I can honestly say that I do not.  I came to terms with that fact when I ceased being a child.  In fact, I fully expect to die of old age without making any substantial progress toward its attainment.  But, somehow, this fact does not seem to matter much.  
"It's funny, isn't it, that sometimes our most abstract ideas seem more real and more important than the hard and smelly, red tooth and claw details of what we usually call 'real life'."  He grew sleepy giving breath to what seemed at the time a profound piece of wisdom.
"But you are among friends here, Olwe of the Clan of Legend," Pangold persisted.  "Be at ease and let your thoughts and tongue run freely.  If you were to obtain it - create your own kingdom vast enough to span the entire base of a great mountain -how would you set about doing it?"
"To obtain it, I would need many other things as well.  I would need men, good, smart, hardy men to hire to begin and continue the labors.  And I would need countless tools and supplies.  Of course, I am currently without claim to a mountain.  The Mineshadow clan digs shaft-mines, straight down into the stone, following the natural cracked veins.  They never thinking of using their mountain kingdom to build horizontally as well as vertically.  Inefficient, they would call it.
"But, thankfully, the Drowned World is full of mountains without a hold laid against them, so perhaps this task is not insurmountable.  But, to secure all the above I would need a mighty fortune."  He finished again with his simple, reflective smile.  This thoughtful and powerful dwarf seemed to Pangold very much like a child who has reached that strange age when reality overtakes fantasy for the first time, and who is left behind only with a pleasant, if melancholic memory of just how big they used to be able to dream.
"And here you sit, with a mighty treasure almost fallen in your lap, my stout fellow," brightly contributed Pangold, pouncing on his companion's last remark.  And here Pangold Silverkin, son of Marshal, son of Francis, brought the conversation to its purpose.
"How do you mean?" sloshed Olwe, his eyes now heavy with drink, but piqued with vague curiosity.  
"I mean just this: You, my friend, are a decent fellow.  A likable fellow.  And you now find yourself in a city of dank inequity, filled with whores and thieves and backstabbers and grifters.  To decent fellows such as you and I, these folks are just ripe for the plucking.  After all, Kord teaches us that it is never evil to out-evil evil itself."  Pangold shot the dwarf a straight, knowing look that spoke to Olwe both of his sincerity as well as his inebriation.
"Like good strong foam," Pangold continued, "let us rise to the top of this gritty and mealy draught of a city."
"You mean we should lighten the purses of this grimy city's unscrupulousss?" The final consonant lingered and reverberated in a drunken, sibilant fashion.  He chuckled to himself at the thought.  Clearly he thought it a good idea.
"No, I mean more than this.  I mean we should set ourselves to taking over."
"Phew!  Ha!" guffawed Olwe, slamming his mug with a clumsy silliness into the thick, knotted wood plank that served as their row table, spilling some contents onto surface now smooth from great use.  "All Hail King Pangold the Bold!  Much good luck to you, my ambitious friend.  But of course you are joking."  Several nearby drinkers, startled by the abrupt noise, slowly turned back to their conversations.  Only once all these gawkers had all resumed their prior engagements did Pangold respond, sotto voce.     
"But I am not joking.  What force can stand against this team we have assembled before us?  We must be smart, no doubt.  But smart we are.  And what is more, we are also strong, and brawny, and blistering and possessed of the blessings and energies of both nature and the gods.  What mere mountebank can stand against that druid that calls forth the spirit of nature in the form of wild and angry beasts that despise the unnatural?  What grifter could resist our fire-breathing dragon woman who controls the sky just as deftly as she does the ground?"
Pangold's voice dropped to a near whisper.  He leaned in close.  "Conceive of it, Olwe.  Set your shoulder to it.  This goal is attainable."
No sooner had Pangold finished speaking when he replied to his own comment.  "Yes, I confess to some ambition.  I do dream big, my friend.  But you dream deep.  Perhaps there is a work together on these things."
Olwe sat motionless.  His eyes, unblinking, slowly looked up and down the face of his ever-so bold companion.  When he replied, he did so almost without thought.
"A final drink, then, to toast all dreams big and deep," he eventually snorted.  Olwe's frozen face warmed into that familiar churlish smile.
"Await and watch for my next move," was Pangold's last word on the subject.  

The Great Betrayal [Repost]

Olwe Lorearthen has never been comfortable talking to strangers and shallow acquaintances. But once he garnered the courage to share the story of his people with his adopted family during the long sea journey to Cold Harbor, he was filled with the comfortable warmth of friendship by their response. And just a few evenings later when he was again asked about his family's lore, he recalled for his new friends an encounter he once had with a small band of bardic elves whom he came upon traveling through the Iron Mountains not far from his home with the Mineshadow clan. After liquor had flowed and family histories had been shared, the elves told Olwe a tragic tale from their ancient folk culture - of a hard-hearted elven prince and of a great guilt born by his kin. And in their tale Olwe believed he had found a clue to the lost history of his own people.

The elven bards sang of the once-noble elven family of Magesblood, who happened upon a lost clan of dwarves, near starvation, mindlessly wandering through the low shoulders of a mountain range of now lost to history, somewhere deep below our Central Sea. Feeling great pity and compassion, the Elves brought the few surviving dwarves into their care. The wretched creatures that they had saved, however, immediately pleaded to be allowed to press on their journey for fear of condemning their charitable hosts to a terrible fate. The dwarves claimed to be a cursed clan, in exile from the ancient land of their creation far beyond even the Northgaard.

These lost and wandering dwarves told the elves a tale of a narrow escape from annihilation at the hands of their creator, Belfire the child-god. In the first days, the child-god loved his creation, who he named the Wilward. He adored watching them grow and thrive in the deep hollows and shadowy mountain passes he made for them anew each day. And they played together in the shadows, Belfire and the Wilwards, and his dwarves entertained him with their many fine creations. The child-god and his creations were inseparable during the early days of the world and they kept each others quiet company during the long nights. Their deep fondness for one another's company was obvious in the ways they sang and they drank together. And the Wilward told their elven saviors how they used to build giant towers of stone that reached high into the clouds with the assistance of Belfire, and how they would all rejoice together when the time came to destroy the towers just for the satisfaction of watching them fall. But as the Wilward grew and explored the world about them, they gradually discovered that their true home was under the mountain.

The depths of the mountains were never more than a playground to the child-god, however, and certainly never a place he would care to consider his home. And soon the Wilward were venturing out only during the daylight hours to play and sing and destroy with Belfire, and doing this increasingly out of a sense of duty and obligation to their creator. Eventually, as the wonders of their dark mountain paradise were just beginning to unfold before them, they stopped coming outside to entertain the child-god at all, and the place in their lives that their creator and playmate once occupied was gradually replaced with an obsession for geological nuance and a fetishistic lust for digging deeper for the sake of deeper.

The Wilward grew to love their home and the life they had with one another, and they came to no longer think of Belfire, and to no longer need him nor desire that he be near them.

The empty, hollow feeling of rejection shook the child-god into great fits of resentment and wrath. He quickly grew to hate his creation, and he stove to crush them in their rocky hideaways, tearing down the highest peaks and crushing vast slopes between his palms, sending exploding cascades of stone and pebble high into the sky, blotting out the sun. Day after day and night after night he unleashed his fury on the mountainside, laying it to waste with a violent force. Belfire killed to the last all those he found there and he destroyed their wondrous mountain halls and castle keeps, as well as their great storehouses and palaces and the libraries containing their histories and genealogies. Those few that survived secretly descended from the mountain one evening, and while the child-god slept they made their escape south, marching in shock and sadness, until they found themselves, after years of exodus, in the custodial care of the Magesblood elves.

The bards' song stirred Olwe's chest when they memorialized the great familial trust that grew between the Magesblood Elves and the Wilward over the five hundred years spent in their care. The many elves of Magesblood, led by their beloved king and father Olokul, agreed to take upon themselves the heavy moral burden of supporting and defending these vulnerable and pitiable creatures from the dangers of wider world. And, above all, the Magesblood Elves swore an oath to the Wilward: that they would forever keep their existence a secret, in order that Belfire would never again hear of them and that his hatred be reignited. 

It was only with the help of the Magesblood that the Wilward were able to dig deeply into a great cliff and hew a new home for themselves, hidden from all above. And it was during the early days with the elves that it was decided that the Wilward would never again show their faces on the surface, excepting when summoned by the great all-clear bell called Gentleharp by the Elves, which was used to call all to common council. Still much trafficking continued to take place between the savoir elves and those they had saved, and as a true bond of friendship grew between them, the elves initiated these lost dwarves into their secret rituals, practices and techniques of armored magic.

Five hundred years did the bond of the Magesblood and the Wilward last. It was during the final years of the reign of the King Petdak the Wise, called "The Weak King" by his own people, that an ambitious prince seized power for himself leaving his father with only nominal control of their small but respected kingdom. The prince, Adokas, coveted the great golden fields and valleys just beyond the Magesblood borders, and he especially desired to control the high and broad plateau that loomed over the fields. For from this high vantage point one could build an unassailable garrison and control all the entrances to the wide valley and, consequently, control the main gateway to each of the Five Kingdoms. 

Adokas was certainly not the first empire-building Elf of the region to recognize the strategic significance of the plateau. In his own day one could easily find on its broad and flat expanse remnants and artifacts all pointing to the existence of several older Elven forts, each designed to serve as a defensive stronghold against any invading armies who attempted to march across the valley below. But Adokas was the first ruler willing to sacrifice the long-established practice of peaceful detente to his own wild ambition.

It was during these years of Adokas' ascendance that the Roman legions began to appear in the south for the first time in the long history of the Magesblood elves. These bloody and ruthless fighters, although small in number in the first years, were quickly recognized by each of the Five Kingdoms to be a force unlike any they had seen before, possessing a power through coordination and sheer force of arms that none could hope to match should they desire land and pitch for battle. But in these early years, the legions were content to collect a small tribute and only the threat of violence was necessary to get them what they wanted.

As Roman power and influence grew steadily in the region, the young prince Adokas seized his moment. He struck a quarrel with a once-friendly neighbor over some insignificant matter, quickly marshaled his unwitting father's support, and mounted a force of arms ready to act at his command to control the plateau should the right occasion present itself. Adokas then parlayed with a nearby Roman garrison, sharing advice and secret testimony of the weaknesses of his newly forged enemy, aiding the Romans in their requests on such matters as troop and defensive positioning. As much as they wanted he tried his utmost to provide. And as the Roman legions moved in to destroy the problem Adokas had purposely created, he was in the Mage's Temple to celebrate the death of his father with his own coronation. And he was supremely satisfied that his deepest ambitions had nearly come to pass.

But his secret sharing proved his great undoing, for the illicit testimony he provided proved worse than useless to the storming legions, and the Romans suffered a tremendous defeat with many loses as they moved on his suggestions. The enraged Roman's threatened the young king and extorted him with the pain of a violent and bloody death. To escape their persecution, Adokas quickly betrayed the oath of his people - their sworn commitment to protect the lost Wilward dwarves. But all Adokas could see in them now was their value as the only of their race possessed of the secret of the duskblade. And on a fateful red morning, Adokas emerged from the Mage's Temple with Gentleharp in hand, and, laying prostrate at the feet of the enraged general, presented it to the insatiable Roman horde, as if delivering unto them great riches.

At the ringing of the trusted bell, all Wilward men, women and children emerged from their cavernous sanctuary and assembled in regular fashion, and it was here that they met the cruelty of the Roman whip and spear for the first time, but most certainly not the last. By day's end the children of Belfire were gone. And as news spread, the Magesblood elves were filled with inconsolable lament for the fate of their dearest friends. But, alas, they did nothing more than lament, for none ever sought the emancipation of their former charges, and none spoke publicly against the great betrayal of Adokas. It was as if the depth of the betrayal was simply too much to stand against, and they chose instead the easier path of collective denial.

Their deep fears were well-founded, or so it seems, for Olwe's bardic companions knew no other story, tale, or song that spoke any more of these cursed dwarves or their plight.

"But what of Adokas?" Olwe asked with great pain at the end of the tale. "For surely that devil received his due for his crimes against such a fine people." But the bards knew only one tale that might ease Olwe's great sorrow and quench his thirst for vengeance. In the end the Magesblood line splintered into a thousand shards well before the Great Flooding, they told Olwe, and today this once-great elven family exists no more except in the song and verse known only to a few. 

They told him all the rest that they knew - that King Adokas lived a great many years until he himself was treacherously overthrown by a combined force of the other four Great Kingdoms, whose trust and goodwill he had squandered. His final moments, the bards recounted, are said to have been spent sealed inside a tomb of smooth rock, somewhere very dark and cold and very very deep within the now-lost Wilward's once-thriving mountain keep. His conquerors, it is said, did this as both a small gesture towards redemption and as warning to all against ambition.

Next Game Night

Since our discussion of our next session is now somewhere far below, I thought I would put up a new post. Our next game night is going to be Friday, March 6. I think this works for everyone, but if it doesn't, please let us know. Heather and I can either host or travel.

Shall we try to plan another session for either March 20th or March 21st? That's nearly a month away, but it's always good to be proactive.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Close Calls & Companions

Boom! A dim wakefulness stirred from murky depths within the dreamless void of a stunned unconsciousness. Insignificant awareness wrestled against the blackness of oblivion. The prone figure lay as if errantly discarded upon the leaves and mud of a splintered, unfamiliar woodland on Tigalda.

A sudden flutter of light shone brightly enough through shut eyelids for the prone figure to imagine he could still see. Boom! The sounds of magical battle again reverberated from the distance. The still figure instinctively knew that the battlefield had shifted to what must be a safe distance away, even as a throbbing headache threatened to erode what little hold of his senses remained.

Cold, wet ground soaked through his hair, cloak and soft leathers as he again became familiar with the soft sound of a light drizzle. The humidity of the woods made the air thick and heavy about him as he managed a meager, weary sigh. Throb! He winced with his first movements as billions of nerve endings screamed to recoil from the pulsating headache and aching body.

A decision to either rise and rejoin the fight alongside Ord-laf’s men or remain prone a few precious moments more presented a difficult choice that was rudely interrupted by the sharp sound of a crisply cracked branch. Erth’s mind raced to ponder the possibilities of just what horror may have caused that branch to break as his body dawned with feeling once again. Throb! The fleeting thought of how a goodberry would ease this torment was forgotten as a guttural growl chased away the thought of the broken branch and the momentary dread that accompanied it.

Lingering ambivalence over how to proceed quickly evaporated as relief washed over him. Rising into a seated position, surprise greeted his newly opened eyes both at the size of the crater before him and the gaping gash in his familiar’s hindquarter. There could be no doubt that he and Ulee, his wolf companion, had been of greater fortune than the few soldiers who had been striding ahead of him when the fireball had landed. He realized now he must have been blown back and struck unconscious as he considered the scene before him.

Ulee limped closer and pressed his snout gently against Erth’s neck as if offering comfort, to seek healing or both. Moments later the druid’s healing had the two companions solidly upright and striding onward toward the lingering sounds of battle. Erth resolved to see this conflict through so that this distant isle might be free of unnatural beasts and those with unnatural designs. Then, he and Ulee would somehow go onward still, toward other lands in hopes of the fruitful discovery of plant life. Yes, nature’s path would no doubt be full of signposts.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The City of Slaves

[If you haven’t already done so, please read Carl’s new Hrolff post below before reading this.]

The land of Uyghuria is perhaps the most ravaged and impoverished place in all of the Drowned World. Most historians agree that its troubles began some five centuries ago, when the Time of Plenty, a period of above average rainfall and mild climate that began around AD 1200, suddenly ended. During the Time of Plenty, Uyghuria was as prosperous as any other land in the Drowned World: its harvests were bountiful, its cities prosperous. The nearby lands also benefited from the generous climate, so warfare was mostly limited to sporadic feuds and isolated raids. Even the hobgoblins of Kwarazm seemed content to squabble among themselves and leave the neighboring territories alone. When an outside threat did present itself, it generally came from Kha'atia to the east - the Vidlag have never been content to sit at home, even in the best of times - but the Kipchak dynasty, which ruled Uyghuria throughout the Time of Plenty, maintained a large, highly-disciplined military, so these threats were usually short-lived. The peace and plenty helped trade to flourish, and caused the population to grow exponentially.

Kharschum sits upon the site of the Kipchaks' ancestral home. Before the Time of Plenty, it was little more than a modest village and keep, but as Uyghuria prospered, Kharschum became the country's main trading hub, and quickly exploded into a thriving city. The Kipchaks used their newfound wealth and influence to extend their power across the country, and little more than a century later, in 1311, Kipchak the Unbecoming united all of Uyghuria under his rule. Uyghuria remained united under subsequent Kipchak rulers, and Kharschum continued to thrive as grain, fruit, wine, and a staggering array of value-added products flowed through its harbor. Slaves did pass through Kharschum from time to time, but they comprised a small fraction of its burgeoning economy.

Sometime around the turn of the 16th Century, however, the entire region was struck by an unrelenting drought that lasted for decades. In hindsight, it may not have been a drought at all, but rather the end of an unusually rainy and mild period. Whatever the cause, it was disastrous. As crop yields plummeted, farmers cleared more land in an attempt to compensate, but this only succeeded in destroying what was left of Uyghuria's coastal and riverine forests. As the famine deepened, crime and violence became rampant throughout the countryside, which forced people to return to their old alliances of race, ethnicity, and kinship in order to protect themselves. Once these factions were solidified, internecine warfare began to flare up, and within a few decades, it had grown into a conflagration that consumed the entire region.

It did not help that Uyghuria lacked competent leadership during this crucial period. Kipchak the Corpulent, who reigned during the first three decades of drought, gave far more attention to opulent feasts at his court than to the crisis engulfing his kingdom, and seemed entirely deaf to the cries of his starving people. His son, Kipchak the Feckless, is said to have been simple, and did nothing to avert the crisis. Kipchak the Feckless was succeeded by his nephew, Kipchak the Relentless, who sought to reunify the kingdom through military force, as well as public torture and execution of rebellious subjects. Kipchak did indeed succeed in reunifying his kingdom, but not in the way he had imagined. In the face of ongoing starvation and their ruler's brutal tactics, several factions banded together and rose up against the king. Their combined armies stormed into Kharschum, slaughtered everyone in the royal family, and beheaded Kipchak on the steps of the ancient church that still sits next to his ruined keep.

Though the drought lessened in severity at the end of the 16th Century, Uyghuria's climate has yet to return to what it was in the Time of Plenty. Even if it did, the land would never see the prosperity and unity that it once had. Centuries of warfare and genocide have riven the Uyghurian people so deeply that few dare to hope that Uyghuria will ever know peace, and the land's natural resources are so depleted - its forests burned and cut away, its rivers choked with its eroded farmlands - that few people cling to the illusion that it will ever produce a fraction of what it once did. The only resource that remains is the people themselves.

The slave trade was initially a byproduct of the constant warfare between Uyghuria's clans and factions; the conflicts produced captives, which were sold to support the ongoing military campaigns. It was not long, however, before the slave trade dominated Uyghuria's economy. Many of the clans dropped whatever pretenses they had maintained to keep fighting each other and warred for no other purpose than to capture slaves and enrich themselves. The kingdom of Avaria to the south, which had suffered similarly from the drought but had stabilized under the repressive theocracy of Zon-Kuthon, found that it could turn a profit by culling its cities and countryside of unbelievers, and shipping them down the River Gish to be sold in Kharschum. The hobgoblin tribes of Kwarazm became involved, as well, sending their slaves over the Devil's Backbone, a dangerous overland route that traces a steep ridge connecting the two kingdoms. Because Kharschum is the only substantial saltwater port in the region, all of the slave routes converged there.

As the slave trade boomed, so did Kharschum, though in a markedly different way than centuries before. Those who prospered from the slave trade shunned the filth and squalor of the old city, and built what amounted to an entirely new city on the river's western bank. As the Western City filled with Uyghuria's moneyed and influential, the Eastern City continued to fill with all manner of people, most of them fleeing the chaos of the countryside. The ancient stone buildings were partitioned into makeshift tenements, where a dozen or more individuals would often share a single room. If there was an empty space between two buildings, someone erected a new building, most often from mud-brick and thatch. Outside of the derelict city walls, shantytowns sprung up, until the original Eastern City was enveloped by a vast, sprawling slum. It was as if the corpse of Kharschum had been reanimated with a teeming, carcinogenic life.

Little has changed over the last few centuries. During the day, the narrow streets of the Eastern City are crowded with people of all kinds. Humans in gaudy silks and thick jewelry shove through crowds of ragged commoners and mud-stained, shrouded lepers. Naked children squat at the edges of the streets, imploring passersby for coins and scraps of food, though few seem to notice them, and even fewer bother to throw a few coppers their way. An occasional hobgoblin or half-orc pushes its way along the street, while halflings and an infrequent goblin dart unnoticed among the legs of the larger folk. Above the crowds, swarms of flies thrum and glint in the shimmering heat.

The city itself looks as if it is on the verge of collapsing in on itself. Crooked, mud-brick buildings and wooden shanties lean against the older stone buildings, which are themselves streaked with soot and crumbling with age. A few windows still have glass, but most are crudely shuttered or hung with dirty fabric, and many are entirely empty. A few buildings have been recently plastered or whitewashed, but most of these manage to look tawdry rather than tidy, and those rare buildings that are tastefully maintained do little to attenuate the squalor around them. The cobbled streets are barely discernible beneath their crust of trampled mud and manure, and the shallow gutters are clotted with shit and offal. The stench, which varies from that of ripe feces to rotting flesh to dizzyingly pungent urine, is overpowering at first, but one eventually becomes accustomed to it.

Because of these conditions, disease is epidemic in Kharschum. People die of cholera and dysentery on a daily basis, and outbreaks of bubonic plague and typhus flare up regularly. Though a thousand or more babies are born each year, and thousands of people move to Kharschum in a typical year, its population remains fairly stable because of the mortality that disease wreaks. Most of the dead are buried in mass graves outside of town, though some are dumped into isolated channels in the delta. Those with money enough for a funeral and burial are ferried to the Isle of the Dead for proper internment.

This is where you find yourselves, in a city that represents hope for some and misery and enslavement for most. If you came seeking adventure, you will certainly find it, though it may not be of the sort that you imagined, or desired.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Northman Muses

The air is fouled with the smell of death and corruption, a charnel odor with an undercurrent of something else, something sinister but not quite definable. Hrolff likes it not, but there is little to be done. They have committed to this enterprise and, short of contact with overwhelming opposition, withdrawal begets ill omen.

He lowers himself to one knee to contemplate the body of the Morgh stretched on the floor before him. It is not much different from killing a thing of living flesh and blood to destroy such an abomination. The thing had been a fierce opponent, but not much of a match for them. In the last, he and Inakai had squared off against it, he with Sturmhämmer and she with her axe that sings death and spits crazed lightning. Swinging its huge claw-like, black nailed hands and lashing its terrible tongue, the thing had come at them hard, its eyes burning like ghastly embers. But to no avail. The Northman and the half-elf had unleashed a rain of iron blows upon it, a storm of rent flesh and shattered bone, to drive it back to whatever hell it called home. Hrolff cast a sidelong glance at Inakai. She’s a good fighter, this ruby-eyed sea-spawned lass, and Hrolff likes her. Despite their adventures together, he knows so little about her.

The Morgh presents a ghastly sight. An axe blow has cloven its jaw almost entirely from the rest of its face. Hrolff is familiar with the spells used to invoke such apparitions though he does not traffic in them himself. He mouths a silent prayer to Thor and traces a rune of good fortune in the air. Good fortune indeed. By the hoary beard of Tanngrisnir, they will likely need it. Ever since childhood, he has disliked and feared these living dead, though he now knows that those who work in death-craft savor our fear as normal folk do mead and spiced wine.

His mind wanders and, for a moment, he remembers his now distant homeland, Northgaard, land of deep fjords and mist shrouded peaks that soar in the winter-sparkle of the northern night. Ǽskill’s garth, where Hrolff was raised, lay at the end of a long, sheer sided inlet. It was a good place, large with many halls, barns, and work sheds. Cattle and sheep grazed in the rocky hills overlooking the fjord and Ǽskill’s bee pastures were envied by settlements for many miles along the coast. During the short summers, most of the men would leave to go viking, joining one of the many crews that powerful chiefs gathered unto themselves.

As a boy, he had longed for such adventure and, as a consolation, had lost himself by training in the use of the hammer and its deadly art. He had also enjoyed more than a few dalliances with a variety local maids, free and thrall alike. Ah yes, he had been a handsome lad and he soon became quite adept at wielding a hammer of a much different sort. Pleasant and numerous had such days been. And during the long, iron winters, families gathered in the great halls to tell tales and sing songs of their ancestors, while the hearth blazed and the animals dozed in their stalls.

Beyond the garth, inland from the coast, the land rose majestically to meet lofty Mount Jotunsprak, a towering edifice of stone, cliff, and ice that assailed the nickel-grey sky like a giant’s fist.

Somewhere on those slopes, far above them and miles in the back country, was a temple that was seldom spoken of except in whispers. A black place it was. The priests who dwelt there, who had not come down from the mountain for many years, worshipped Hel, the hand-maiden of death, daughter of Loki the accursed. These men, it was said, knew how to carve the black runes, how to work the most forbidden charms, how to speak the dark words and craft the spae that can twist and un-knot the very laws of life and death themselves. Very few travelled into Jotunsprak’s shadow to make blót at such a place, but more did than one might at first think. The outcasts, the bitter, the ones whose hearts had been gnawed by the worms of ill fortune until naught remained but the dearest wish for vengeance, such were the souls that trekked the twisted paths and threaded the treacherous gorges to lay offerings at the feet of Hel, black bitch of the north.

The priests who tended her shrine also knew how to call forth spirits from beyond the grave, immaterial things that rode the air, shrieking with rage, hateful for being wrested from their eternal slumber and forced into such thralldom. Sometimes, on certain January nights, when the cold came down like a hammer and the sky above Jotunsprak writhed and twisted with the blue-green elf fire of the borealis, these spirits rode the night in force. On such nights, the family of Halvard would gather in its hall and attempt to work the ancient warding charms, passing a stallion’s penis wrapped in linen from hand to hand while Hrolff’s mother, Freda Bandersdaughter, would sing songs of past glory in a voice that ran clear as snow-melt in spring. All the while, the undead spirits swirled high above their roof, laughing and howling their hate in the brittle winter starlight.

Years later, after he had offered his life to Thor, Hrolff learned how to make the runes of power that blasted such things and drove them away, often unraveling their tenuous foothold on the land of the living completely. Priests of the Southern Gods sometimes referred to these prayers as the “Turning,” a good word for such god-craft. “Turning.” Yes, Hrolff likes it. Such things should always be turned back from the lands of sunlight and those that call them should have their heads turned round sharply on their necks with a sudden hammer blow.

Hrolff sighs, thinking of the home that he has forsaken.

Quickly though, he turns his thoughts to the task at hand and glances at the ceiling. What further black witch-work awaits them in the floors above? He finds that he is sweating despite the clammy chill in the air. He rises and checks his war kit, making a small adjustment to his shield straps. To his right stands Alayna, wrapped in silent contemplation of some horror that lies preserved behind the glass that lines the chamber. He lays a hand on her shoulder and whispers a word of encouragement.

Hrolff traces one more rune in the air and prays that if death does come, let it be a good one.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Nailing it Down

I just thought I would throw up a post so we can nail down our next session. How does Saturday, February 28th sound, location TBA?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

A Berserker's Loss

Smoke rings rose to the ceiling of the Sailor's Guild hall. While puffing away Ulfgar Ungart absently fingered the orc bones decorating the braids in his beard... ah the stories those bones told. However those are not the tales that interested those about the table. They pressed him unrelentingly for details about the city, the scoundrels that waylaid him after the card game and mostly about the way that he seemed to lose all sense of self as he fought. Yes once again he has been dragged into telling the tale of his strange behavior. Where to start where to start... Ulfgar reluctantly and slowly spun the tale of his, ahhhh shall we say, condition. Fortunately the mead was flowing smoothly loosening the stout warrior's lips and allowing the usually reserved dwarf to spin his yarn.

I wasn't always this way. I started like any other dwarf of the clan Ungart. Loyal to family, learned the art of smithing early on in my youth, preparing for the Orc Wars as I gained young adulthood. The clan elders noticed an oddity about me, they sensed how I was slowly seeming to loose control of my temper, it was small things at first and they attributed it to perhaps an adolescent adjustment. In any event I was doing well with my battle training, handled an ax pretty well and growing stronger with the years.Then one night just before leaving for the Northern Battle Front (the blasted Orcs were making significant progress up there and all trainees were being brought up ... ready or not) while having a last huraah with fellow warriors a small typical barroom brawl broke out. Nothing much on an ordinary night. But this was no ordinary night. In the heat of the fight something odd happened to me, it started as a low steady drumbeat sound somewhere deep deep in my mind. At first I thought it was the battle drums of an Orc battalion. Then I realized no one else heard them. The sound grew stronger and deeper, building , building becoming more overwhelming with every second until it totally consumed me. As the sound grew stronger I became stronger almost as if the drum beats were my flesh, objects thrown and punches became devastating. Terror arose in those around me. I had become indomitable. Wounds inflicted upon me in the fight seemed to heal almost as fast as they were created. People in the tavern fled. I was left standing alone in the room, suddenly exhausted barely able to move. Spittle coming down the side of my mouth, blood draining from my ears. The drums had ceased, replaced by a preternatural silence. What in the name of Kord happened. The Guard suddenly showed up, seeing my uniform they escorted me back to base. Some hushed words were exchanged with my lieutenant. The next day I was brought to the front and and brought to the General's quarters. Odd, I was a newly minted warrior, I barely knew the smell of blood yet I was brought in to a meeting with the Supreme Battle Commander. There were several other high ranking officers and three or four Battle Mages present as well. We had only briefly discussed this rarest of Dwarven warrior in our war strategy classes.This was becoming stranger by the minute. I was then briefed on the situation at hand.

The Orcs were destroying us on a daily basis. Our loses were mounting and the situation was grim. My Clan Elders told my superiors of my strange behaviors and I was being observed throughout my training. The night before, in the tavern, confirmed everyone's suspicions. I was a Bezerker, prone to uncontrollable fits of rage. Capable of incredible feats of stregnth. Of course my condition was just starting and it would get far worse the Battle Mages explained. I was not at all fit for the lawful and structured society of Dwarven culture. I had only two choices before me. Use my abnormality for the good of the Clan in battle or cast myself away from the Clanhold never to be seen or known again. In order to uphold my father's and his father's and his father's father's farther's name I chose to throw myself in Battle against the Orc hordes.

Knowing how horrible a fate awaited me the Battle Mages honored me by bestowing upon me two Dwarvenwork Magical Weapons. A Dwarven War Axe, JarUrDoch, Orc Ripper in the common and a Bracer Axe, TorGal, Soul Shield in the common. They bestowed upon me the title of Nal Urt, Honorable BattleRager. So here it was. I was to be used as some secret weapon. Sure they gave me a fancy name, and a couple of good weapons but it was pretty clear to me that they hoped that before I got killed in battle (hence saving the elders the difficulties of exhiling me) I might take out a couple thousand orcs. Well if this was to be my fate so be it.

Off to Battle I went, usually as part of a battle spearhead, a phalanx of warriors with me. That usually lasted for a short period. I would begin to sense the drums in my soul and all fury and hell would break loose. JarUrDoch would sing, TorGal humming in accompaniment and the damned drums driving me madder by the moment. Orc and Goblin flesh would fill the air, blood would fly, hot rank Orc blood, boiling the very ground it would hit. Alas for the sacred Earth, never to produce ore again. Time after time the scene of utter chaos would unfold. Weeks turned to months, the tide of battle turning for the dwarves. Orc bones piling high, ravens and vultures grew fat. Rallying around my battlerages our troops became emboldened. We eventually vanquished the Orc hordes driving them into the sea. Our forces were victorious, grand parties held, parades thrown, I was regarded as a hero. Ulfgar Ungart, NalUrt. The Honorable BattleRager.

I was given a seat on the High Military Command. The elders overlooked my disease. Perhaps the rage could be contained? That thought didn't last long. In meetings of the High Command I had all I could do to contain my Rage. These were not warriors. They were politicians. Mosgrim (lit.beardless, a dwarven insult meaning coward or fool). In short order it became clear to me that I had no place in dwarven society and before my rage could destroy my Clanhold and my ancestors honor I left. I took my few belongings, my weapons and my memories and simply walked away from the Hold. Never to be seen again. Always to be remembered as Nal Urt. Many adventures and many years lead me to the City of Karshum where I lend my skills and services as a mercinary.

An Interlude

Alayna draws her cloak tightly about her shoulders. She is grateful for it, worn and weather-stained though it may be. Despite the warm, arid climate of Kharschum, there is a sinister chill in this necromancer’s tower that seems to seep from its very stone work itself.

She winces slightly, trying not to let her companions notice her revulsion at the foul odor arising from the slaughtered bodies of the undead monstrosities that attacked them in this room. The horrors had burst forth from the display cases that line the chamber, revolting things, their torsos split open to reveal their glistening, festering entrails. Their eyes had blazed coldly with inhuman intelligence and hatred of the living. Their tongues had been worst of all, two or three feet in length, slithering outward, grey and purplishly veined, sinewy, and spotted with decay. She did not envy Ulfgar, her newest comrade, who had blanched and frozen in his boots after enjoying the terrible intimacy of one such tongue’s unwholesome and invasive caress. What mind would conceive of such aberrations? What foul craft could wrest dead flesh back to life and endow it with such hideous power? Of course she knows the answer to that question. Too well does she know.

Alayna joins her companions in a brief search their surroundings. She carefully steps over a puddle of yellowish fluid that oozes slowly from the fallen undead horrors and surveys the contents of a nearby display case. It contains corpses and body parts in various states of dissection and dismemberment. Skin has been peeled back to reveal muscle and bone. Bodies have been positioned in poses both natural and clinical. Mortal flesh has been forced to surrender its dearest secrets. Eyeballs float in a glass jar. A hand, carefully positioned in a velvet box, lies palm up. A severed head briefly arrests her gaze, its lips and teeth neatly sliced away to leave only a dark orifice rimmed with smooth bone. Its eyes are sewn shut.

One exhibit in particular catches Alayna’s attention.

It is the dissected body of a child, a girl, supported in the display case by an arrangement of metal pins and wires. Its flesh is yellowed and thinly stretched across its frame, preserved by the arts of the embalmer. The body bears a sinister record of atrocities, too numerous to fully contemplate. Alayna is no surgeon, but the procedures undertaken upon this girl could have served no legitimate purpose beyond the darkest and most unspeakable of arts. What hand had held the scalpel that committed this outrage? What cold and pitiless eye had looked on, greedily penetrating the sanctity of this girl’s body? What mind had analyzed, categorized, and meticulously scrutinized this child, cruelly seeking and exposing its most intimate secrets? One could only hope that this awful experiment had been conducted posthumously.

Inevitably, Alayna thinks of her father and remembers the horrible afternoon in Zuwarah several years ago. What she witnessed that day in an outer courtyard of the Black Mages' Keep changed her forever. She touches the clasp that holds her cloak at the neck, a bronze piece, abstract in its design and intricately crafted by the cunning Al- Jawa Gnomes of her homeland.

She had been but a girl then. How foolish of her to run like a silly child. She now understands so much more about magic and its power to alter reality. Ever since her foot had first stepped onto the pier in Scylding Bay, she has been changing. Her powers and her command of sorcery have been growing, slowly at first, now exponentially. Alayna is becoming someone else. Someone stronger, more cunning, harder, tougher. More selfish. More willing to do the things that must be done. Her love of beautiful, finely crafted items, always there since childhood, has matured and blossomed into an almost insatiable desire. And it feels so good to gratify it. Oh yes. The blood of her ancestors is beginning to thrum hot and insistently in her veins, calling her.

Initially, she resisted this call, perceiving these changes as invaders that threatened to swallow up the person she once was like a sweet meat in a dragon’s gullet. But now, she welcomes them. They are not invaders, but rather vestiges of some primordial and essential self, long buried, now returned. She is ashamed to have run like a child at the sight of her father’s animated corpse. Instead of fleeing and losing control, she should have planned her revenge on the necromancer who perpetrated the foul abomination on him. She should have vowed to one day tear his heart from his chest and hold it up, smoking, before his very eyes. That is what would happen today. Yes, Alayna likes what she is becoming. Just as a necromancer can endow lifeless flesh with unimaginable power, so too have the magical forces in her blood been similarly changing her.

And yet . . . such changes always come with a price don’t they? She fingers the clasp at her neck and stares long and hard at the girl in the glass cabinet, her throat going dry. Yes. There is always a price.

Noting her distraction, Hrolff lays a broad hand on her shoulder and gently pulls her from her reverie. “Stay focused witch-girl” he says softly, “There’s more killing to be done.” Alayna quietly thanks him, happy for his friendship, and assumes her place near the back of the party’s marching order. She steels herself and moves quietly with the others toward the stairs. Her green eyes are narrow and alert. Her muscles are tense and ready. Within her belly, she feels the heat of dragon-fire begin to mount, insistent and unrelenting. Though the air is as still as a tomb, her hair begins to stir and float, ever so slightly, moved by the latent energy within her.

But as she approaches the exit, she cannot help but cast one last glance over her shoulder at the girl in the cabinet. 

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Campaign Update #3. A City, a Tower, and a New Companion

May 8-9, 2008

As you sailed into Kharschum at dusk on May 8th with the orc barge in tow, you were met by a skiff commanded by a young man named Beghter, who identified himself as an officer of the city guard. He challenged you to identify yourselves and inquired about your business in Kharschum, and Alayna, acting as ambassador for the party, not only answered the questions to Beghter's satisfaction, but impressed him so much with her charm that he became quite friendly, and allowed her to ride with him in the skiff to shore. Beghter and his subordinates towed the Scarlet Lady into berths on the Isle of Shackles, and you disembarked to meet Captain Lazlo, a pompous, rotund officer with a waxed mustache and long, curly hair. Lazlo questioned you himself, and eventually agreed to buy the orc barge and pay you a bounty on the dead orcs, the total of which was 6,000 gold pieces. He directed you to the Sailor's Guild for the reward for returning the Scarlet Lady.

At the Sailor's Guild, you met the bartender, Tolui, a plump, bearded man, and Khasar, head of the guild. Khasar paid you 2,000 gold pieces for the Scarlet Lady's return. You made quite a few new friends friends when Hrolff bought a round of drinks for everyone, and were drinking and telling tales of your voyage from Tigalda when you overhead that there was a fight going down out in the dockyard. When you walked outside to investigate, you saw a dwarf surrounded by four humans and two hobgoblins. As the six thugs closed in on the dwarf and attacked him with their greatclubs, you decided to intervene. After making short work of the thugs, your party had a new member: Ulfgar, a Vidlag barbarian who explained that he had provoked the thugs by winning their money in a card game.

You spent the night at the Sailor's Guild, and the following day, May 9th, you began to explore the Eastern City. You visited a temple of Pelor, and did some shopping in a former temple that is now a flea market. There you purchased a Cure Critical Wounds potion, while Alayna and Kyr liberated a pair of Boots of Elvenkind and an Amulet of Natural Armor +1. The combination of Alayna's sorcery and Kyr's thieving abilities shows interesting potential, to say the least.

You met a blacksmith named Ivan, passed a strange tower that you later learned is inhabited by a wizard named Ogodei, and ventured into the Red Light District, where you spoke to Bruuka, a half-orc pawnbroker who tipped you off that Ophidia, the head of a criminal organization known as the Red Nails, was interested in an item that Ogodei owned. You wandered into the Mask and the Mirror, and discovered that it was owned by none other than Ophidia. After some brief negotiations with Amira, one of Ophidia's subordinates, you agreed to enter the tower and steal an exquisitely-crafted mirror from the wizard, for which Amira offered you 8,000 gold pieces.

After a brief rest at the Sailor's Guild, you returned to the tower and discovered a secret entrance in an adjacent shop named Silks and Sundries. You encountered two traps, one of which sent Kyr plummeting a hundred feet into the web of a huge, monstrous spider. With the help of a Baleful Transposition spell, you easily killed the spider and rescued Kyr. As you ascended the tower, you encountered two flesh golems and two mohrgs, all of which you slew with little trouble. We will pick up next time exactly where we left off: somewhere in Ogodei's tower, with the mirror and any number of dangers on the floors above you.

Experience Points
7th Level Characters: 2,625
8th Level Characters: 2,025

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Let the Hammer Fall

On the blood slicked deck of The Scarlet Lady sits Hrolff the Houseless, warrior priest of Thor, and third son of Halvard the Unbearded of the Garth of Ǽskill. He is quiet now, calm, concentrating on his work as he carefully stitches a gash in his forearm dealt by a lucky strike from one of the now dead pirates.

A simple prayer of healing would seal the wound with little effort, but Hrolff prefers to do it this way, eschewing such magic unless absolutely necessary. After all, healing prayers leave no scars and if one goes to Thor’s mead hall without battle scars well then . . . what is there to boast and sing of?

His spirits are high and he begins to whistle a tune remembered from youth.

He looks up briefly and catches the eye of his friend Alayna who stands on the ship's forecastle. Her hair, wind tossed, shines copper-red in the sun. The haughty girl, confident and at ease in her beauty, surveys the main deck, her flesh burning with spectral whiteness, her eyes sparkling green and cold as polished malachite. Hrolff enjoys looking at her and gives his eyes free rein. Her body is taught and muscled, yet deliciously rounded, agonizingly so, without being too broad in the beam. He shakes his head. Yes, that witch-girl is truly an art-work made flesh, but she is no mere plaything to be trifled with. The Northman has seen Alayna unleash her witching fires and incinerate men where they stand, melting their flesh like tallow from their bones. Her sorcery also gives her some control over others’ minds, molding thoughts like soft clay freshly dug from the river's bottom. Hrolff grins at her, admiring her lines as she turns back to the prow. Ah yes . . . sorcery indeed.

The Northman, not used the warmer climate, has removed his shaggy homespun cloak and woolen kyrtill. This is just as well as they were substantially fouled with the insides of Orcs. Clad only in his linen under-tunic and felt trousers, he chuckles at the relative ease with which he and his ship mates repelled the pirates. The fight had been a good one and he had relished it. It had felt good to unlimber his muscles, stiff after the weeks at sea, to swing his hammer again, to feel the helms and skulls of his enemies crumple and shatter beneath the brutal weight of the iron sledge.

Happy, he gazes at the sky. Over the last months, the signs have been portending toward something. But what? First, he had recovered an ancient weapon of his race, Sturmhämmer, engraved, etched with sacred runes and consecrated to Thor, it almost hums with power. What great smith forged this hammer many years ago and how had it arrived on that bleak islet on the edge of the world? Could it be pure accident that he, a war priest of Thor, had found it? Then, there was the sudden appearance of Erth, the strange nature priest who speaks with the beasts and the elements and can call lightning from the sky. This ability bespeaks great power and commands deep respect from the Northman.

And what of the sudden and ferocious storm that arose on the voyage from Tigalda Island that fortuitously drove them south faster and more readily than if they had been under sail? Hrolff had heartily enjoyed that gale. During its fury, he strode the deck naked, mounting the forecastle to shout prayers of joy to the Master of Storms. Lashed by the briny spray like a penitent, he had laughed while the sea towered above him and crazed lightning played upon the face of the world. Yes, he suspects the hand of Thor lies in much of this, but to what end? His signs are typically obscure.

The Northman continues to delicately bind his wound. He had been careless, allowing an Orc cutlass to sneak beneath his guard and graze him. Hrolff had countered quickly, squarely catching the rascal in the groin with his boot and then driving him to his knees with a hammer blow to the shoulder. The Northman priest smiles inwardly as he relives the satisfying crunch of the Orc’s body giving way beneath the blow, the scream of agony as flesh and bone were pulverized like grist in the hot and glorious mill of battle. He could not see the pirate’s eyes at that moment, as his foe had turned his howling face deckward, but Hrolff did not need to see that face to know the look that shone in its narrow, hate-rimmed eyes.

He has seen that look many times before on the faces of many other foes, the sudden gut wrenching realization that death has come at last and Hell's maw gapes open. Hrolff had finished him with the hammer’s return stroke, an uppercut that plowed through the wretch’s skull, bursting it like a melon and tossing a crimson arc of gore against the perfect brilliance of the afternoon sky.

Despite the din and clamor of the fighting surrounding him, Hrolff had been arrested by the serendipitous beauty of that image, that striking moment in time, that glorious red arc, gracefully hanging for one long second against the sky like a strange - yet elegantly simple - glyph. It was a rune scribed upon an empty page of blue.

Ah, what joy to be its author.

It is through such writing that we define ourselves, thinks Hrolff. The fates of men and nations are written in signs like this, an alphabet of power, lust, and glory. Perhaps, amidst the scrawl, the scribble, and the tangle of the world’s writings, they comprise our purest language, the only language really worth learning.

He gazes at the smoky haze hanging over approaching Karschum and wonders who else will need schooling in its grammar.