Chapter 15: Short Stories and Character Backgrounds
#1 Narrative Interlude, ACT III INTO THE WILD, Sunset and Honor
“You’ve just caught the sunset,” said the dark haired woman resting her arms on the railing. She didn’t look back, but Schultar guessed it wasn’t hard to know who was coming and going on the ship with the way she shook the planks. “It’s the final time you’ll see it this yellow before the next overlapping is done.”
“Overlapping?” asked Schultar, she came to stand along the railing next to Annuine, but she wasn’t nearly as graceful and she felt out of place. The raven haired lady was the most beautiful woman Schultar had ever seen and she spoke so clearly, that it was a bit unsettling. Perhaps, this is what it is like to be among nobility, she thought. I guess I better get used to it, when we return to Cillandar.
“Yes, my friend. The next overlapping is upon us. The three sisters will once again reach their zenith, and when they do, they will bring the tides in upon themselves, this will change the color that we perceive the sun to be.” Annuine spoke with grace but such a keen sense of assurance, as if she knew with utmost certainty of what she described. “The ancients believed that this event, which created three concentric rings in the sky, gave them power, and according to ancient mythology, they designed their entire civilization around it.” She looked up at Schultar who seemed to still be taking in this knowledge. Annuine gave a subtle laugh. “It’s all very academic I suppose, but it doesn’t take from it’s beauty does it?” Schultar tried to nod, she felt so clumsy here next to this elegant woman. Annuine continued, “During this time, our feminine charms will be at their height as well my dear,” she smiled, “we’d better warn the men, don’t you think?”
Schultar attempted a laugh, and glanced over at Annuine, but she was still gazing out at the setting sun. Behind the ship, the wake spread in a V, and a small gale had picked up. “Do you come on deck often?” It was all she could think of to say.
“I enjoy getting out of my shell….sometimes,” Annuine murmured. “Every so often.” She turned towards Schultar and smiled again. “But what about you dear? Do you ever feel the need to find your own way?”
“My way is the Light, and the….” Began Schultar.
“Of course it is dear,” interrupted Annuine. “I understand the Flame touched you as a young child. Isn’t that so?”
“Yes,” sighed Schultar, “in a way.”
“And you have given yourself over to it, but you have your doubts, do you not?” Annuine had a way of speaking, and Schultar found it hard to look away. She had never spoken of the event in her youth, the man who introduced her to the Flame, but who also taught her the way in which one could be burned by it. For a moment, she wondered how Annuine might know this, but then the thought was lost. Her eyes were mesmerizing out here in the light. Her voice so calm. She felt the innocence of the conversation take her over, surely she could trust her.
“I do….,” began Schultar,”but I do not talk about it. I cannot.”
“For fear of a reprisal from the Order, of course.” It was a statement, not a question but Schultar found herself nodding nonetheless…
“It was a long time ago…,” she continued, “but I have never forgotten it.” She found herself going on. Annuine had taken her gaze from the sea, and moved to Schultar’s side. “My mentor was a part of the Flame, but the Flame was no longer a part of him.”
“And he taught you to use it’s power?”
“That is indeed, a unique gift. To be a part of the Flame, but not to be a part of it.” Her eyes caught the last rays of the sun, and she spoke intently in a soft tone. “I’d like to learn that trick, Schultar.”
“I can teach you, if you like.” Annuine’s concern was so intoxicating. She felt like a friend, a friend that Schultar had never had. All the months at sea, all the years among pirates and deck hands, troubled souls and all the hiding, hiding who she was. For the first time in a long time, she felt like she had someone to share her secret.
“And in Honor of that, I will teach you Schultar. I will teach you a great many things.”
#2 NARRATIVE INTERLUDE, A New Host
RADAGAR the Red,
“Faithless is he that says farewell when the road darkens.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
“Faith…is intellectual bankruptcy.” Dan Barker
“You often meet your fate on the road you take to avoid it.” Goldie Hawn
The young man gazed up into the eyes of the Speaker of Souls. His face showed no sign of emotion, at least none that Radagar could tell. Whatever thoughts he had of this would-be disciple, or his possible abilities, he kept to himself. His dream, his longing to be a Soulspeaker, was here at his grasp. This moment would decide his entire future.
The Speaker moved his hands around the surface of the bowl’s contents, a liquid that Radagar knew would contain the spiritual material needed to speak with the souls of those recently departed. Too recent was their death to have found their way into the spiritual fabric of the Well. It was these souls, new to the web that all wove themselves into after mortal death. A Soulspeaker tapped into this web to heal, cure, or simply to give comfort to those still mourning, who counted themselves among the living.
He had practiced this moment many times. All manner of meditations and mind clearing exercises, the teachings of the Web and it’s Speakers. He had always known the calling to the Host would someday work within him, and because his father had been a speaker, and his father before him, it was a foregone conclusion to all those in his life, that he would someday reach full connection as well.
And now the moment had arrived. “It is time for you to declare your true faith in the Host. Giving up yourself, to join. You have prepared well, Radagar. What have you to say?”
“I declare my faith in the Host. I declare that I am but a part of the web of life, and I wish to take my place, among all those before me.”
Radagar rose and looking each speaker in the eye, one by one, he circled the basin, finally taking a seat beside it on the ceremonial rise. Kneeling, he bent over the rim, placed his hands within the clear water, and cleared his mind. As he brought the hands up, he felt as though he could feel the force of the web, sifting through his fingers. The life energy was palpable, he was connecting.
“Circle of Speakers, today we give this man, Radagar of Acla, connection to the web, to become a member of that which is the Connected. To use it’s majestic power for the benefit of our people.” A chant rose. Radagar knew the words, as all disciples knew well, and from memory. The circle was repeating ancient Sasserine, a pure form of the invitation, the request of all in the circle to grant a new member of the web permission to use it’s energy until their death.
This was a solemn ceremony, not one to be taken lightly. A member of the Host was granted access to the web for their life. Should an initiate be of mal intent, the circle would, in a manner of speaking, be creating someone who could harm them, and the web as well. For this reason, initiates were chosen carefully, as Radagar had been, and by this point, the connection was simply a formality, but a truly life changing one nonetheless. It was said, that many who had completed the ceremony looked different, hairs would gray, or backs hunched. Most were much more solemn and sometimes demurred. In many ways, the Speakers were privy to the voices of those who had lived and become one with the web. They had, in a sense, received a look beyond the grave.
The basin darkened, and tendrils of vapor began to lazily float above it, snakelike, they wrapped themselves around the members of the circle and around Radagar, himself. Radagar could feel the energy of so many spirits, swirling around him, within him, inviting him. In his mind, he accepted the invitation, using the words of his many trainings, and he felt himself ephemeral, leaving his body, rising among the others. “By the Light! There are so many. So many more than I could have ever dreamed!” He was surrounded by them, among them, their numbers were infinite. How many consciousnesses here, with all their own dreams, souls, ambitions, desires. All connected into a singular web. He knew then just how ignorant the idea of death was, and how insignificant he was.
His purpose was confirmed. Radagar knew then his training, his discipleship to the Host was not in vain. He would serve the web, serve his fellow living spirits, and one day take his place among the web, as part of the Host. It was a noble, simple, and meaningful existence. The only one he ever wanted.
As Radagar drifted among the web, the chanting grew around him, he felt the fogs lifting that impaired his ability to connect the many times he had meditated in practice. The force of the web, it’s energy was opening to him, it was beautiful. If he had been conscious, he was sure that he would most surely have wept.
And then it happened…
From around him, a force began to manifest itself. Slowly at first, Radagar felt it’s energy and presence, unlike the bright joy he felt with the others, this one was different. Lurking, watching, it was closed off from him. Swirling, as a large shark would a school of fish.
A voice, a voice from inside the web, no, inside his head. He wasn’t sure. “Get out….” Confusion stole over him, he thought of what to say, what to ask, but nothing seemed to make sense, so he just waited.
“Get out! You are not meant to be here, Radagar! You are not allowed!!!!!”
Water dripping through his fingers, his knees on the rough basin edge. A hallucination? He must focus, “Focus Rad,” he thought! He could feel his eyes squinting as he attempted to clear his mind. The spirits seemed to separate from him, they were leaving….
“How, but….why? Wait!!!” Too late, he felt the others begin to disconnect from him. As Radagar struggled to regain the forces that he could feel near him, the tendrils began to loosen and sway. They released their grip and moved away from him, backing down into the basin.
“What? Why is this happening?” What have I done”, thought Radagar….he had never heard of such a thing. In all of the stories he had heard his father tell of the many connections he had been a part of, he had never heard of anyone hearing a voice. Why was this happening to him?
Radagar, now fully aware of his material surroundings, looked around. Confused, even disturbed looks were scattered on the faces of the members. Lord Berelonus looked at him. A friend of his father’s, Radagar knew that if any of the member’s faces belied truth, it would be his. It was a mask of uncertainty. For the first time, Radagar grew scared.
“Members,” began the Chamber Speaker, “a connection failed.”
“Failed?” Lord Berelonus replied, “Failure? Do we know this for sure? It was but a mere disconcertion then, we must try again.”
“I should think not,” all eyes turned toward the Chamber Speaker, Lord Thesssian. “I heard a voice. It was material. A material voice in the void. You all felt what happened. This man is not allowed. We have invited a person of malicious intent!!”
“We are talking about Radagan’s son, Thessian! I have known this man since he first began walking, he is and always has been, nothing but kind.” It was Berelonus, thank the Light he was here.
“The Host is all-knowing. All being. It is not for us to question, Berelanus.” A moment of pause, no one seemed to know what to say, or maybe they were considering these words from the Speaker.
“What do you mean a material voice in the void?” another member asked. “It is not possible.”
“I heard it too.” Began another member, “I as well,” claimed another.
Radagrt seemed to feel all eyes lock onto him, mouths agape. “I heard it, yes, I heard it….”, a deep breath, “It told me to leave, that I wasn’t permitted….to..connect.” Around, the members nodded. It hadn’t been imagined.
“By the Light, what can it mean? This has never happened during a connection!” a member worded.
“Is it not easy to tell?” This time it was a member who had come from a Church of the Host in the Grand Sasserine district. “This boy must not be allowed to connect. It has been nearly a generation since a connection has failed, but it is not impossible. Who gave this young man clear passage? Who gave him instructions?
It seemed like years had passed since his dismissal from the order. In fact, it had only been a year since his banishment. The Council of Members had decided that to send him to Sasserine would only cause a scandal in the church. One that they didn’t need right now with news coming almost monthly from the West. New customs and religions of the savages and intelligent beasts being discovered in the Isles were beginning to threaten the claim of the Church of the Web of the basic principle that everyone belonged to the host, and that access to the web began and ended through the church. In order to prevent a scandal, Rad was forced to leave and leave quickly. He left his town, his church, and his family the very next morning, without so much as a goodbye, it was just as well for him, his shame made it the departure of his choice, as much as the members from Sasserine who escorted him from the city himself.
But Rad, could never have guessed what happened next. How Lord Thessian’s guards, in a betrayal, had brought him to a watering hole for the horses, and there on the banks of a small stream, attempted to murder him. How he escaped, is, even to this day a miracle to him, but what followed was definitely the nightmare that became his life. He fought his way through scrub and wilderness, never knowing the wilds himself as a youth, it was a second miracle he survived them. Although he had never connected fully, his knowledge of healing lore and herbalism served him well, and he found refuge among the various settlers outside Sasserine, constantly moving with the seasons. His appearance he changed, but with time, the notices were weathered, and soon he lived without fear of discovery, so long as he stayed on the edge of towns, never in them, never near the capital, Sasserine.
Eventually,Rad found himself among a group of settlers traveling to the Northern Lands. They lived a simple life, content to dream of tilling soil, and growing crops, raising children. Even an adventure or too into the ancient ruins they had heard of. Radagar found himself in familiar and even joyful company. None of these would have interest in placing him as the murderer of Lord Thessian, criminal to the land of Sasserine. Here were simple people, not unlike the harmony he once felt within the web, even if it had just been for a fleeting moment. One night, one of the elderly men sat beside the fire, stoking the flames, he called out “Omora!”. As Rad watched, the embers became brighter, and a wave of fire erupted from the coals.
“Magic…” Rad spoke, “It has been awhile since I knew someone capable of using it.”
“One does not use it, one simply applies it. It is, everywhere, friend,” said the man.
Finding this concept an interesting comparison to his own attempts at becoming a Speaker, and healer, Radagast asked “Are you saying that anyone can wield that which you do? If this were true, we could all use magic for daily chores…whatever we desired.”
“Magic does not work that way,” said the old man, hunching down in his linens, it was a cold night. “It is not for anyone to wield it, and certainly not for anyone to use it how they see fit. It’s secrets are arcane. They must be researched, in detail. Even a lifetime of study may only reveal how to brighten the coals on a chilly, Autumn night. Would you care to try?”
“Me?” Radagar asked. He had never considered.
The old man, stared at Radagar for a long time. “There’s a risk. But I’m getting the feeling you have little to lose.” Was it that obvious? “So repeat after me, and listen carefully to what I am about to explain….”
Several nights later, Radagar felt the surge of energy flow within him. Before a week was out, he was able to brighten the coals, and shield his face from the wind. When magic came to him, he felt something primal, something surreal, as he had in the folds of the web.
This time there was no voice, no shame. Only warmth. Magic. A connection, at last.
Discovery and Departure
Ultimately, it was this connection that saved his life. The story of how he was discovered and his ultimate departure to Farshore, however, is something that Radagar often thankful for, but thought about less and less. What was important was that he made it. In Farshore, Radagar had found something, something that for the first time in decades, he believed might help him find what happened to him
#3 From the journal of Nebu-Chanish, Acolyte of the Silver Radiance
Day 21, E. Summer Solstice
It is a strange thing keeping a journal of my transition to a member of the Order of Silver, nearly as strange as replacing the year of Lord Borindin’s reign with the appropriately corresponding days of the Sun’s annual cycle.
But such is the way of our Order’s commands. Unfortunately it seems, old traditions die hard in me. The Order’s Keepers forewarned of this, of our connection to the earthly desire, that which isn’t guided by the Flame itself.
But one tradition, I can’t seem to shake. My old habit of journal writing. Nebu Frambeurt would surely remove me from the ranks of the chosen, if he found this.
Day 18, E. Summer Solstice
In order, that we might know those souls better who will both serve and be served by the Radiant Might of our beloved Flame, I am being dispatched to the new lands being scouted about and north of Carr Alpha! My Keeper has chosen me personally for the trip, an honor I know only diligent service to the Flame’s righteous doctrine may repay. I have begun to prepare myself within our Mount’s library in order to search our lore of the flora and fauna I may come across on our trip, but the records are hard to come by. I have been tempted to search elsewhere, in the shops and streets of Carr Thos, yet I know that these records will decieve as much as teach. Mighty are the dark ways of the subservient ones. Mighty is the path that leads away from the light. At least here in our library, I know I will find truth.
Day 15, E. Summer Solstice
By the Light of the Radiance we have reached Carr Alpha! It was not an easy journey. As we passed through a swampy marsh, one of our Shielded guards was heard to scream. When the others ran to his side of the wagon train, all that was found were a few of his effects. Something had dragged him down into the muck and away. This made us all the more wary. Tonight, I will remember him in my rites.
Another tragedy befell us of a more sinister nature. Long and muddy were the roads, and in more than a few places, were we stuck so bad that our cargo had to be loaded and unloaded. A terrible offense was committed against this holy caravan, when during the offloading, one of the merchant’s sons who have come with us on this pilgrimage was caught with goods from another’s wagon. Of course, he was inquisitioned immediately on the spot, and his soul now resides in righteousness and flame. (written in the margin of this entry is verse from the Liberation Scroll: “Swift expediency and immortality into the Flame for those fallen brothers.”)
I know that I am not to dwell on rumor and superstition, and yet I can’t seem to shake the part of me that darkness still resides in. Nebu Habitus confessed to me, that he searched the body of the youth and discovered that a tattoo upon his left breast indicated that he might have been a secret member of a group of marauders known as the “Swamp Pirates”. This was a great curiosity to me, and when I inquired of it with Habitus, he told me of how this group was purportedly killed off by none other than the Lords of the North, some 10 years hence. It would seem as though their numbers have returned.
I will report this to one of our guards when I can worship and seek holy guidance from the light. In my heart, I believe that curiosity can also bring about positive change. For is it not written in our holy text that, “Seek and ye shall find, but seek within the holiness of what is of the Flame, so that what ye shall find, may be Just.” I must seek the Flame’s guidance that what I seek is indeed righteous.
By the will of the flame, will I guide myself.
Day 14, E. Summer Solstice
Carr Alpha is an incredible place indeed. The famous Tuatha Theatre Hall is an impressive sight, and to come to Clyde’s Ale House, the place that first served brew to the Lords after they established order in the Castle, was an honor I won’t soon forget. As I sit here sipping the Dying God Ale, brewed in the very first casks built here, I can see the lights on in the Castle above me. Tomorrow, we leave for the Trading.
Day 9, E. Summer Solstice
Today, Habitus was lost to us. A deadly winged beast with the tail of a scorpion simply snatched him off his horse and flew into the mountain peaks. Poor Habitus, I hope the Flame takes him quickly.
Day 5, E. Summer Solstice
These wilds are far more dangerous than I believed. The stories they told us are much more real than the Order led us to believe. I could be in serious trouble for even writing such a thing, but we have lost so many. Tonight, we will no doubt lose more. They have been attacking when we least expect it. Perhaps, they will come for me. How can these lights in the forest be so foul of deed? I will not allow them to take me as they have taken the others, I will commit myself to the flame if they come again. The way they took of the soul of the merchant from Perrin….
I sit now in my gear, as our Shields take a double position, their so called Crit Box, around me. If this be my last entry, let it be known to the Light I remained committed.
Day 4, E. Summer Solstice
I have survived the night. Two of our Shielded were not so lucky, but by their grace and honor the rest of us will live on.
Day 3, E. Summer Solstice
We arrived today at the trading post, upon the shores of the New Inner Sea. Some are calling it the Scarred Sea. The bird like creatures that live there and trade goods from unknown lands that only they can reach, claim it extends in a giant scar through the land for miles and miles into the unknown Outer Wilds.
Round me now are creatures the likes I could only dream of before. The bird like race is known as “Akror” but it is quite hard to pronounce for us they say . There are many Halves as well. Faun and minotaur chief among them. A goodly collection of Trebians, elves claiming to be from the Green Nation, and an odd assortment of Gnomes, as well as halflings. The gnomes are the most interesting. Several of them have been tinkering with a metal device.
Earlier today, they placed a straw figure in it, with a painted smile. It was the oddest thing. Then, they began to talk frantically amongst themselves in their tinny language and pushed and pulled several wooden poles that were bored into the device in some fashion. Four wheels held the device upright. As I watched, one of them, a very energetic fellow named Ravanash, placed a small black rock into a chamber that seemed to drop into the device. Smoke began to issue from this chamber and it was if the device became ALIVE! It began to crawl and creep and turn the wheels and the device moved from one side of the campsite to the other as onlookers from all over the outpost laughed and berated these poor fellows. They took the straw figure and paraded it around as if it were an idol which I can tell you my brothers of the Order did not care for.
As they celebrated this ridiculous achievement, the metallic box erupted in flame and burst forth it’s many metal parts, which injured one of their number! The various other parties at the outpost laughed and ridiculed them further. It seemed cruel, and yet I understood how trying to make power from the earth itself could corrupt the only true source of power. I will go and have a brew with the one who calls himself Ravanash. Perhaps, I can persuade him to see the futility in his attempts by showing him the power of the flame.
First Day, Summer Solstice
The Day of Light has arrived! It is the day of my Enlightenment, the day I enter the Corona, the Circle of Silver Radiance. Last night, as if in preparation, I spent chatting and talking with the gnome I mentioned a few days go, Ravanash. I’ve learned much about their odd culture since arriving to the trade plateau. He claims to be of the North East-West region of our Outer Wilds to the North. As if this weren’t ridiculous enough, this gnome has articles in his position that he claims can move and shake and represent Kasillian habits and rituals, and do so, he claims, as if they have their own will! He tried to share these treasures with me, but as to be suspected, they did nothing of the sort! It’s a good thing I found him before other members of our order did. These articles would place him in immediate trouble with my Order Leaders. He would know this, but yet he seems not to care. I must remind myself to find him again tonight. He is a kind soul, and I am sure that the Flame will welcome him when he enters its warmth.
Sunset, Summer Solstice
Words cannot express what has happened to me. I humbly thank the flame for the guidance I have received today as I place my soul and will into the Flame’s mighty embrace.
During the ritual of Enlightenment, which was performed this very day in the vicinity of the trade square so as to show our frontiersman the quality of it’s power and benign embrace, as my brethren were given their gifts from the central flame, something incredible happened. Brother Orian, my sponsor, asked me to perform my radiant rites as we all sat in our prayer circles. As is our custom, our acolytes, myself among them, knelt in the inner circle, and through our host’s divine power, our gifts began to manifest. To my left, Brother Kion began to move the rocks around him, while to my right, Brother Oratus grew stronger. He would later tell us during training that he felt the flame’s mighty power in every swing of his hammer. For me, though, things would be different. During the chanting, I began to feel a lightening in my chest. It was as if my soul were being ripped apart, and as I looked down, I could see that indeed a silver flame was erupting all around me! The fire consumed me, burned through me, but yet left me unharmed. Others screamed around us, but Orian spoke to them in a kind yet excited tone, telling them that what they were witnessing was benign, yet extra ordinary.
I placed my hands on the ground to settle myself, unsure of what was happening, and as I did, my thumbs touched. Instantly, a fire erupted from my outstretched fingers. I shouted, scared, not knowing what to do, I tried to wheel around toward Orian to ask him for guidance, but as I did so I brought my hands up and the fire, benign to me, burned the face of Kion!
I was in agony, screaming and sweating, as was he yet far worse for his wounded blackened flesh. Without knowing what to do, I took my hands away from each other and thank the Light, the flame instantly disappeared.
Brother Kion was healed by our order immediately, and still in shock at what I had caused, the older members joined me in prayer.
This is when Nebu Orian addressed our inner and outer circles, as well as the Order of Crimson, which had moved in from the outer ring, to hear his words.
“Brothers, be ye not worried. For today, we have a mighty celebration upon us, and we are blessed by the Flame’s power. One of our acolytes, our new Member of Silver, has been granted the gift….of Light!”
There were hushed murmurs from the crowd, and then silence, as all awaited Orian’s explanation.
“This is rare, but has happened before, Brother Chanish, Nebu Chanish, as he is now known from this Sun forward, is a member of the Order of Silver, and he is a recipient of Light. As you know, he must soon leave us for the Temple Mount in Cillandar, as he will continue his training there.”
The ceremony was concluded soon thereafter. In celebration, we all spent the evening talking and sharing our prayers for the Flame’s guidance. I was treated with reverence, and soon it began to feel, well, it was awkward. As I sat amongst my brothers, Nebu Kion, Nebu Oratus and the others, I began to feel uneasy. My friends in our training now seemed distant, as if they were, well, as if they were afraid of me! Across the square I could see the young gnome, Ravanash. Again he was tinkering with something, and I grew worried that he might not have heeded my warning from earlier. It was an easy decision to leave the others and join my gnomish friend.
I wish in both the Light and Darkness that I hadn’t.
Fall Equinox, Day 1
(written in a sloppy, and less formal script from earlier entries)
I am Fallen. Cast from the Light, into the Darkness.
Forever, will I now know the way of the wicked.
It is only a matter of time, before the denizens of this desolate jungle take me. No doubt they will be drawn to my bleeding stump, the remains of my left hand.
The only comfort I have is that I am no longer alone. The gnome is with me. This is, if he doesn’t die tonight.
I fear he will, and then all will be in vain.
Fall Equinox, Day 2
I am not just fallen, I am lost. This morning, upon awakening, despite the dread of what I knew would come, I attempted to heal Rav of his wounds. I did not bother to try and heal my severed hand, for I consider it a partial payment. Oh Darkness, why won’t thou come for me?
I knew at first that it would not come to me, but as I have written, habits die hard sometimes. Having been lost to the Flame yesterday for my foul deeds, the murder of Nebu Kion, Nebu Oratus and even my very sponsor, Nebu Orian. Oh Darkened Spirit! Oh, unrighteous virtue!
But it did come! FOUL and WRETCHED in me is the Light and yet, I healed the gnome. He sleeps now, cured.
How can this be??
I am cast from the light, but I am still a part of it.
Darkness take me!
Yesterday, I was chosen by the Will of the Flame to walk in it’s holy light. Today, I am but a part of the Darkness of the world, and yet the Light will not leave me.
What unholy mockery is this?
#4 Lyra’s Story
Every culture of men loves a story, to tell and to hear one. This is what my father used to say before he was killed by the women of our kingdom.
I asked him once why this was so. He told me that each of us live a life, like a single strand of coral. Once we choose a path, it cannot be undone. Eventually, ones choices lead to the end, a lifetime that is finite, and structured, and irreversible. My father said that all creatures of will enjoy stories because for a brief moment it allows us to choose a different path, a different strand of coral. My story is all I know, but stories do not interest me anymore because my strand is near the end, and my path is irreversible, even in my dreams.
Once, many years ago, I was a servant to the great king of the elves beneath the sea. In the elven kingdom of Tethys, the ancestral home of my people.
For as long as our people can remember, Tethys has shone like a beacon here in the waters of the Great Sea. Although the ruins you now stand on are dark and deep, Tethys is shallow, and was warm, and the light’s mighty rays penetrated our halls, filling our world with beauty. It filled our kelp forests with rich life as well. Abundance and renewal, our kingdom thrived.
Until she came.
I remember the day well, for I was there in the great hall of Enoch, Lord of Tethys, and so was my father, the lover of stories, serving the elders.
She was a land dweller and magic user, an arriver from a foreign land we knew not of. Her servants were like men but were serpents. She warned us of colossal changes, of our seas freezing. She told the King that the Great Current that carried the richness of our seas to us from far across the waters would run cold, and then that it would one day stop, and we would be doomed here in this watery wasteland.
How the King laughed! The elders as well, for this was madness and foolishness. The Great Current had always been and always would be, even though she insisted it would not be so. She told our people that she would take residence in the ancient ruins of Tor Ephis, a great city before the End Days cast it below the waves. She told the King that she would wait for him, and that he would beg for her help.
And she was right.
Within months, the Great Current’s warm waters began to grow cold, the kelp grew diseases our magics could not cure, the fish that lived among them began to find shelter elsewhere. And then, the coral began to die, whole forests of our beautiful corals, turning to white, the color of Ise-Reisen’s flowing hair, the color of the woman who predicted our demise.
The King and his Elder Court had for time innumerable held power, my people traded with the Orst and with the Sassers to the East, but even during the Sahaugin wars and the battles with the merrow, Enoch kept his power through the use of strength in diplomacy and the abundance of our realm. But now our people began to starve, and many questioned his dealings with the powerful stranger.
To be continued in game….
THE FACES OF A CRIMSON SHORE
“For I am a weed, Flung from the rock, on Ocean’s foam, to sail, Where’er the surge may sweep, the tempest’s breath prevail.” Lord Byron
“All, soon or late, are doom’d that path to tread.” Homer
“Upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all.”
Alexander the Great
Sanjaya is a skinny and sinewy old man with long white hair and a wrinkled face, his skin dark brown and weathered. Beneath the wrinkles, his eyes shine bright, with kindness and wisdom. Despite the weight of the years, he is still very much spry and active.
A Life Taken, and Secrets Hidden
Life in the village had always been a place of harmony and simple purpose. Here Sanjaya found his calling in the jungle and sea, his curiosity bringing to him many discoveries of this world. Dry and wet seasons came and went, fruits were picked, the old said goodbye and returned to their place in the Spirit Sky as the young were born. The years unfurled with the rhythm of the three sister moons. As Sanjaya grew and then matured, it seemed to all in the village the will of Ka’ala that he would take over the mantle of healer and spiritual leader. The years went by and Sanjaya had done well for his charge, the village had grown and more children were playing by the huts than when he was little. Now was his time to teach a new generation the secrets of the Jungle and the ways of Ka’ala, the goddess of the Sky and the Seasons.
Though he had no family because of his duty to the village, he never felt alone as he once thought he might for he knew what the power of the worship of Ka’ala brought to his soul. He felt the power move through him whenever the tribe worshipped, and used her power to harmonize the village with the natural order. Although he never heard her voice, the way his predecessor described, he imagined her in the flow of energy he felt when he made prayers or used his powers through the natural order.
As he began to look on into this quieter time of his life, he used more and more of his time to get to know Ka’ala in her many ways of nature even more, taking longer and longer trips into the island’s interior, detailing the many findings of plants and animals that would give cures and remedies to his people. It was on one such trip when he came across it. Ka’ala’s ancient home, high up in the hills of the island’s central mount. It was here he learned of the destruction that Ka’ala had brought before his time, when men had done the very things to the world that he had preached should never be done through the rituals, stories and lessons taught to him and down through the generations from the Sky Spirit Healers that had come before him.
Most of what he saw in his trips to Ka’ala’s mount he kept to himself for the horrors there were too much for many in his tribe to bear, too simple were their happy lives. He used this knowledge to strengthen his prayers and emphasized his stories around the fires, bringing the message to all of the importance of harmonizing with nature. Yet, he was always troubled. Such horrors he had seen there, how could those before him allow themselves to fall into such desire, and savage destruction of their land? It all confirmed the ancient legends.
He did not believe the signs at first. Never had the clouds portended such bad omens. Surely he was mistaken. He had brought the messages to the tribe of what he had learned in his wanderings. But then, Sanjaya became gripped with fear. What if he had displeased Ka’ala by entering her ancient home? What if he was never meant to know of these things?
Then news from the neighboring coastal villages came fast. Blood-thirsty demons on huge boats were capturing young men and women and killing the rest. Sanjaya had little time to prepare the village. The demons suddenly appeared. He fought well, calling down the fury of Ka’ala on the intruders. But it wasn’t enough. They took him along with 10 young males, leaving only blood in their wake. And worst of all, Sanjaya knew, deep down, that he may very well have awoken his Guardian’s wrath, too curious to keep a simple life and do what he was called to do in his elder years.
The rest was just a blur. Chained in the darkness with the others, he spent his days half-asleep in a constant delirium. The demons that took them, he realized, were humans, savage and cruel. Greedy and stupid, but dangerous in their unconcern. The most dangerous one was their leader, a tall bulky man with a booming voice and a soft slithery tone, like a subtle breeze before a hurricane. Sandurkan they called him. A harsh name for an evil man, ruling his ship with an iron fist. Ironically the hold was the most peaceful place aboard, despite the smells and the moans of the prisoners. The men were often down there to play cards and relax, other times taking sick pleasure in the beating of his kinsmen, away from their captain’s stare. Sanjaya would listen and he would learn. Always praying that these men would not know of his island’s secrets, now his secret, of the things he saw in the sky mountain home. He must know that these men would never learn of the evils there men had done. For in their hands, it would surely bring doom to all.
Sanjaya missed the jungle. And his home’s emerald morning skies. He prayed to Ka’ala every day for deliverance. And he worried of his home. Hope was wearing thin. A terrible storm seemed to take the boat by surprise one day and wouldn’t let up. Arguing became ceaseless; it was obvious the crew had become imperiled in it and did not know how to get out. The crew was busy day and night, and it continued without end. Sanjaya had nothing else, so he prayed for death.
And then he heard it! A savage crack that shook the entire structure. The shaking was gone, and the howling of the winds was gone, but the crew was still screaming. A body came tumbling down the stairs, blood pouring out of his throat. It was a crew member. Screams, chaos, then salty smells, and a weird language full of clicks and hisses. He was too tired to fight the scaly creature, and he could only recall later it lunging at him, it’s mouth full of teeth, claws extended. He blacked out.
How many days has it been since he had awoken in the dank and salty sea cave, vision blurred by caked blood and deep wounds across his face and eyes? Sanjaya could hardly remain awake, his life force was slowly ebbing away. His companions of misfortunes were dwindling too. He recognized some crew members. One, a young pale male he recognized from the slaver’s hold.
Others he recognized as his former captors. Creatures with parts of beasts and parts of men, bird-like creatures and the foul and miserable slaver humans which had so ruthlessly and efficiently thrown overboard those too weak to be of use to them. His nightmares were full of their gasping for breath above the waves as the sharks ripped them to pieces. How the men had simply laughed. And now these captors had become the captives themselves. He would not wish this on even the most heartless, the feeding of men to this monstrosity from another realm.
Free of the ship, but destined to have one’s soul destroyed as though it were food for the beast. He could only wonder, if the Captain had been captured as well. He did not see him.
Perhaps, it was his destiny to sacrifice himself for Ka’ala so that the men of this evil ship were punished. He was scared, but willing. He would gladly give himself for such a reason. His tribe scattered, all his people murdered. If this were his calling, he was ready. He remembered his prayers to Ka’ala aboard the darkened hold. How he would give anything to prevent the calamity he had seen with his own eyes on his island home! Besides, with his passage to the Spirit Sky would die his knowledge of the evils of the ancients, and for this alone, he would give his life willingly.
More screams came from the chamber of the beast . He knew he would be next. Finally.
#6 Narrative Interlude: ULUA, Daughter of Destiny
“The whole earth, perpetually steeped in blood, is nothing but an immense altar on which every living thing must be sacrificed without end, without restraint, without respite until the consummation of the world, the extinction of evil, the death of death”.
Joseph De Maistre
“I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” Salman Rushdie
“If you love something, set it free. If it doesn’t come back, hunt it down and kill it.” Anonymous
Ulua e’Vanoa placed on the last of her ceremonial bracelets and other garb. As the daughter of Vanoa, tribal elder, it was her responsibility to remain calm, clear of mind, and composed. This she would do. Soon, she would walk down to the ancient place of worship to O’lorhan, and she felt like once again, she could remain clear and focused, throughout the Scattering, as she had done every year, it was after all, her birth duty to be calm.
As she was about to duck around her domicile’s roof into the rays of the First Moon, she heard footsteps approaching. The slow and familiar sound of her father’s sandals.
“Good evening, daughter”, spoke the elder.
“Good evening, Chief Elder, Protector of the Ata’uh un”, she returned, repeating the greeting everyone gave him, regardless of stature.
“Are you prepared for the Scattering?”
“I am,” said Ulua simply. Looking at her father, the chief, she noticed a wearied look, he seemed lethargic this evening. It never occurred to her perhaps until tonight, how it would feel to be the one whose actions chose the sacrifice, but asking her father about it would not be tribal custom, and so it had never been discussed.
“May I walk you to the beach tonight, daughter?” Ulua nodded, smiling. The Scattering custom was not an ancient one, so it’s custom was still in some ways unknown, but nonetheless, he had never offered before. “You are a Princess, Ulua, calm of face and mind. You make me proud to be your father. “
“Someday, this ritual will end. Our hunters will find the key the Seeker searches for, and our tribe will finally come to know peace here, on this isle of dread. We will increase our numbers, and return to our native isle where we may defend ourselves from the Takers and their large ships. Peace will return, we must only trust in the ways of O’lorhan.”
“I know, father”…
“Yes, father. I do. I believe it will all my heart.”
“And what if you were chosen then daughter. What if your stone stood closest to the Coral? Would I still be your loving father? Would you still understand the actions I’ve taken. The pact I’ve secured, with….with the Seeker?”
“Father, I am but your daughter, and but a member of our tribe. We are but one people, and we all must work together. The hunters seek the key in the interior, many have not returned. If I must, I will lay down my life for the tribe tonight. For you father, for the others.” As they talked, others came out from their sleeping places, and began to walk slowly out into the trails of the camp. A slow procession began to wind it’s way down, around them, behind them. Few spoke.
“Father? You have never spoken of how you and the Elders created the Pact with the Seeker.”
“You know better than to ask that which you are not meant to hear. Daughter, as I have told you, we made the Pact to protect us, many years ago, when I was but a young man, and newly appointed chief. We protect ourselves from the Takers, and from the Wrath of the Seeker. That is all you need hear, child.”
As they came to the center, Vanoa and Ulua moved near the altar where her father would perform the Scattering tonight. “You….will someday make…. a great chieftess. You are…”, Vanoa paused, turning to kiss his daughter’s cheek, he removed the Coral from his satchel and placed it in that of the ceremonial bowl where each tribal virgin had placed her stone earlier that day. Whatever she was would have to wait. He seemed to be caught up in the actions of the ceremony now. He turned to her though, and smiling, touched her cheek tenderly with the back of his rough hands. Ulua knew then how much he struggled as chief. One day, would it be her duty to perform the same? She certainly hoped it would not. This was not a position to envy.
Ulua glanced down. She could see her stone there, mixed in with the others. A small, darkened stone. The one she had first chosen during her first Scattering. Some years the bowl seemed to contain fewer than others. Tonight, her stone lay next to the Coral, giving her an ominous feeling as she took her place next to the other unwed girls.
“We have come here this night, to perform the rite that will choose the offer to The Seeker. Let us not forget that we perform this ceremony in the light of all three moons, for did O’lorhan create them in order to guide our way, as he did for all living things on our earth and in our sea. Through this sacrifice, we, as one people, are kept safe from both the Takers and their slave ships, and the Seeker himself. We have but one duty besides, to find his key. Many of you have searched. Many have died. The thunder beasts and other horrors have taken our husbands, brothers and sons. Tonight, I wish to renew our oath anew. Let us search harder, farther. Let us seek with new effort. So that the Scattering next year, may never need be done.”
A slow chant in response came then, slowly repeating the chief’s wishes. It slowly rose from the assembled mass. Around the chief stood the other elders, In front, the virgins , those whose stones now appeared in the bowl sat, heads bowed.
“Let us begin.”
“Mighty O’lorhan. It was you who discovered the innocent goodness of man, your mighty creation. In our extreme hour of pride, we thought we could steal that which only you can give. We thought we had the power to change that which only you could create!!!! We humbly acknowledge that now, in your guidance we trust, and we affirm our innocence to you. We accept our lot in life, our destiny. It is not for us to decide, but for you. Please choose our Sacrifice with your infinite mercy.”
Lifting the bowl above his head, the chief held it up to the night sky, as the moonlight now from two of the three moons silhouetted his frame. All around, the cascading resonance of the song of the Ata’uh un rose and pulsed. And then, as he had many times before, the chief brought the bowl down and walking to the sand, cast the contents of it far and wide.
Stones flew and landed, the coral coming to rest in a small valley between two beach dunes, as it finally slowed, Ulua watched it carefully sliding adjacent to a small, dark rock. It was hers.
Ulua looked out through a web of hands. Some were familiar, some just were there. Her father’s worn, and cracked hands seemed to be closest, surrounding her face. Other hands, softer, seemed to be gripping around her arms, holding her over the surface of the sand, a voice, The Voice, of Umlat, Tribal Father, telling her what he had told all the others before, “Congratulations daughter of Ata’uh, by your strength and generosity, are we all spared.”
Later, as Ulua was being led to the Waiting Place, she realized how little time the Chosen were given to say their goodbyes. First, there had been the tear filled last talk with her father. She could see the mourning in his eyes, even as he told her to be brave, how he was so proud of her. Of course, the elders and Tribal Fathers completed their prayer ritual to her and wrote the rune signs on her body as they did whenever someone’s soul was sent to O’lorhan. Others came, those of her childhood friends, even the hunters that she had spent much time with, being of course a Warrior Princess, as she had been raised to be. Then, of course, there was the few minutes she had with her Husband to Be, always supervised by the elders. Not much had been said, as she had known there would be little. She had never loved this man. And in a strange way, seeing him here, helped her find peace as the elders tied her arms and legs to the rings the Seeker had once given them.
It was a cool night, a night that would keep the thunder birds in the interior, preferring the smaller animals that still found warmth there in the open, rather than the less numerous fish that would seek deeper water on a night like this. A wind sprang up, coming from the East, blowing her hair through her vision, even though much of it had been tied up, beautifying the gift that she now had become. A gift to the jaws of what would soon come for her.
She knew in the tree-line, even though it would be ordered that they were not to be there, would be many of the tribal youth, and even some of the adults as well. She knew once she had done the same, and the memory of that night, years ago when she was but a little girl, now filled her with terror. She prayed to O’lorhan that she would be taken swiftly, taken and consumed. Gifted to the Seeker, her being united with O’lorhan, she would live on in the tribe, the way the elders preached. The knowledge gave her peace, but as soon as it came it disappeared once more.
The water near the shore began to swirl and rise. A vast shape erupting from it so fiercely that it’s form could not yet be made out until the water had time to pour from it. Salty spray covered her, temporarily shrouded what little vision she had left through the wind in her hair. As she waited for her eyes to regain their sight, her heart began to beat, and she felt an uncontrollable tremor. Looking directly into the jaws of the same beast she had seen those many years before, Ulua collapsed around the post she was tied to. Her body slumping to the ground, she could only just make out the jaws widening, teeth as large as the tips of spears in a zenith coming for her. The large, dark body lifting itself slowly from the water toward her, mouth agap. A hot, retched stench bringing heated tears to her eyes as her skin burned. Searching inside for guidance, a portion of a prayer her father had often used to comfort her about her mother’s death came to her. She began to recite it as both nausea and fear overwhelmed her into oblivion. I am the sum total of everything that went before me, of all I have been seen done, of everything done-to-me. I am everyone everything whose being-in-the-world affected was affected by mine. I am anything that happens after I’m gone which would not have happened if I had not come.” And then she knew no more.
Abraxas, the Ancient
“Do you believe it, daughter of the Ata’uh?” A voice, firm and authoritative, yet somehow tinged with a sense of conviction and neutrality came from the darkness. It was a man’s voice. And it was speaking her language perfectly, not the crude speech of the Takers.
Ulua tried to sit up, found she already was. And spoke into the warm and humid black air “Who…who are you?”
“What makes you believe you are not with he whom you were last with?” This time, the voice had a clear edge of satisfaction to it. Ulua felt a sense when it began that it was a voice accustomed to listening to itself speak. And something else, a subtle, yet powerfully unstoppable quality, like gravel scraping over gravel at the ocean’s edge. An ancient quality, each word in it’s speech seemed to speak more than it’s sum parts.
“You claim to be The Seeker?” The words kept coming, Ulua daring not to think about how she found the courage to speak them.
“Claim? Oh, you do have spirit, Warrior Princess. I CLAIM to be he who seeks. This is the claim I have given to your tribe these many years. Who I am is ABRAXAS. Abraxas, the ancient. As the voice spoke, Ulua could just make out the tell-tale sign of echo, indeed, the darkened veil before her eyes was also beginning to lift, she could tell a form moved in front of her. The silhouette of a shoulder and head began to inscribe itself in her darkened view.
“Are you yet scared Princess? One of the chosen of your tribe, given to ‘The Mighty Wyrm’ so that others might live…” Ulua made out a hint of laughter in it’s voice as the form now, clearly that of some manlike creature moved to the other side of wherever they now were. “And what of your dramatic prayer, to O’lorahn no doubt, are you still but just the sum of all that you ever will affect….?”
Ulua had no answer for the voice. Too many emotions had finally overwhelmed her, first fear, then grief. She recalled the enveloping wave of acceptance as death came for her. Now there was fear of the unknown. Confusion. She simply waited, slowing her breathing to control her mind, the way she was taught to do before battle.
“Your people have always interested me, even before I learned of their proximity to the key. Your language is beautiful. I often practice it still. It was, one of the few languages surviving the Enslavement. Mine was not so lucky. But look at how well we are getting along, you have yet to answer my question.
Do you believe it?”
The figure shrank, or perhaps it was merely sitting. Suddenly, she heard a flaring noise, like an ember in the communal fire erupting. A blinding light filled her view, filling her eyes with pain. How long had she been here? She covered her hands with her face, peering through her fingers she saw a slender hand gripping a small yellow object. A flame from a stick was placed inside it, and the yellow item erupted in warmer, softer light. The hands placed the object before her.
“You are beautiful. A beautiful sacrifice. Do you truly believe that your sacrifice will save your tribe?”
“Save us. From..the Seeker…from you? Is that not why I am here? If so, then why not finish it. I do not wish to be toyed with!”
“YOU are here because your tribe believes it can save itself by sacrificing part of it’s own For the Sake of All. You could say that it’s a tradition that has been around a while…”
“Save ourselves from you? From what? You speak in riddles. If I am not here to save them from you, then what am I supposed to now save them from?”
And the light rose by the hands holding it aloft to a face. A rugged, and remarkably handsome face, of a man with dark, night black hair, and mesmerizing night black eyes. Two lips came in to view giving origin to the voice. “Why Princess…to the Darkness that will surround it…”
And with that, the lips blew out the light, casting all into oblivion once more.
In The Lair of The Seeker
Of the many days Ulua spent in the chamber, she learned of few things beyond it. She slept on an odd device that ultimately hurt her back so much that she would sleep on the cold of the stone at her feet instead. Several of the items which Abraxas called “candles” were lit giving her vision in the small chamber. Bars of metal rose from floor to ceiling around her. She was never shackled and found that food appeared near her cell upon waking. It was always plentiful, and even the water brought her was as refreshing and clear as the streams her tribe found it’s water from.
As time dragged on, she was visited by the man calling himself Abraxas most evenings. He would pull up a chair near her cell, and talk with her. Just talk. He had a quality about him that even though he was her captor, she found herself debating with him, discussing with him. They talked of many things. Of faith in higher powers, of her tribe’s philosophies of the past. She never once brought up her release or her eventual fate and she had an inner perception that it was for this reason primarily she was still alive. She never asked him about how he came to be both in this form and that of the Seeker, but as time passed she began to doubt he was indeed both. She also had a growing sense that he was enjoying these talks, although he would never show it, she was sure. Ending them as pointlessly as whenever he cared to. Still, his visits seemed to come more frequently, and they lasted longer. One night, Abraxas asked her about the end of the world., what her tribe often called “Night Without Moon”.
“And what says the Ata’uh un of the Darkening?”
“…We believe the lands will Darken again if man ever angers O’lorhan like he once did. O’lorhan will cast the moons from the sky, and bring night throughout the day. He will release the creatures that man once made in an attempt to live in his mighty image. All will perish. This time, his wrath will be all consuming.”
“And what of those who have not angered him? Will he not spare them?”
“The Ata’uh un believe that all people are one. We believe that we live, breathe, and pray as one. Our souls, our energy are just an extension of that which was first given to the people from O’lorhan himself. When the Night Without Moon comes, there will be no innocence.”
“And what about you child? Do you believe that all on that day are guilty? Guilty to be ripped apart by the hideous monstrosities that you declare they once created themselves? Is that the extent of your faith in man?” Ulua could see he was clearly becoming angered, his voice taking on a strange quality, seemingly coming from all around the chamber, not just from him. She opened her mouth to answer, but he continued “Do you believe that those who walk in the Light should be thrust in with All the others? If you could choose, would you allow it?!!!” His voice was now a roar, reverberating in the cavern.
Knowing that she must answer, Ulua quickly stammered, “But it is not for me to decide. That is for O’lorhan. I am just a part of him. He is a God! The Mighty One. The creator!”
“But daughter of Ata’uh. Listen to yourself?!!! Don’t you hear what you say? If you are but a part of O’lorhan, then it IS up to you to decide. And so it shall be, as it once was before. So I ask you again, Princess, what would you do?”
Abraxas’s eyes stared through the cell into her. His handsome face a mask of emotion as it always was. A long while passed before unblinking, she spoke more confidently than she had since the night she was tied to the beach.
“I would save them. Save them All.”
With that, Abraxas rose, and as he was want to do during their talks, turned his back on her and left the chamber without another word.
Escape and Capture
Time passed, and Ulua began to lose track of it. For a time, Abraxas’s visits became less frequent. Food continued to appear though, and one morning, very early, she discovered by whom. A creature like a man, with the head and tail of a serpent. Wings attached to it’s backside. It looked similar to that of the Seeker itself. She had never seen it’s like before, and it did not speak.
And then one day, Abraxas returned for a discussion. But this time, his questions were less philosophical.
“The Scattering comes soon, Princess. A new sacrifice will be Chosen.” He paused, Ulua sensed from their many discussions that he was waiting for her to speak.
“For you, Seeker?”
“Yes, for me. Your tribe has failed to find the key I seek once more.”
“And so now you will kill another member of my tribe. Along with me no doubt.”
“I will take. It is our Pact.”
“And yet you question the faith and courage of man these many nights. You are nothing more than a hypocrite, mighty Abraxas. A killer. A monster pretending in our human guise!”
For a moment, a look appeared across his brow. Ulua had never seen her words affect him like this. He seemed…if she wasn’t imagining it, to be pained by them. “You who consent to follow the will of others lecture me about the ways of the bold! You who would follow the will of that which you believe wrong because of faith would tell me of hypocrisy?!!!
“I know you are a monster! Nothing more. Your disquise does not fool me, mighty Abraxas! I saw you once as a child. You are a foul beast!”
“A beast? And what of those who made the pact, Princess? Are they beasts as well?”
“You are hideous, cruel!”
A shudder passed through Abraxas. Ulua had never seen him appear anything but calm in her presence. But not now, he seemed larger, as though he had somehow grown in size. Perhaps, it was her imagination. A trick of the low light she had grown accustomed to this past year. He seemed to be reaching a conclusion, and when he spoke she knew he had made one of some kind. “You will learn what blind faith is. You will become a disciple of it. And perhaps someday I will ask you again what you think of faith.”
And then, speaking in a language she had never heard, he called to something outside the chamber. Four large creatures, like the ones she had seen days before, came into the cell, picked her up and brought her to him. Face to face, he was even more regal, noble even.
“Goodbye Princess,” he whispered. “I will tell your father you served him well. He was most displeased when the elders decided upon your stone to be the chosen one. But then, like you, he decided to give in to his beliefs, even in the face of his daughter’s destruction.” Strong clawed hands gripped her, dragging her away. Abraxas smiled, as a sudden thought occurred to her. She fought through the claws, twisting down and around, she ran back at Abraxas, stopped by her captors just inches from his face.
“WHAT DO YOU MEAN? WHAT DO YOU MEAN MY FATHER ALLOWED THIS!!!?”
“Why, surely Princess, you do not think your Scattering ceremony is meant to choose. Your elders choose! It is only for your tribe to be placated. Just as you have been these many years. Just as you will continue to be in your new life. Fairwell, daughter of destiny, your fate, once again, has been chosen for you as you lack the courage to make it yourself!”
Screaming, Ulua was dragged through dark tunnels and smooth passageways. Ancient chambers of magnificent construction. Her head swimming, she remembered seeing a grand ceiling, and a vast opening to the sky. Light hurting her eyes, she gazed at her first view of the Light in what must be a year, streamed down through the center ceiling above. A grand cavern in which a river roared nearby. Steam and warmth. And then, for the first time in what seemed like a lifetime, she found herself among green and fresh earth below her feet. Dragged, Ulua was then blindfolded, fronds and branches slashing her as she was taken forcefully through some kind of path. She could just make out the light through the cloth over her head, even knowing it was there was both pure joy and pure terror. Would this be the last time she viewed it’s rays?
Several hours passed. Ulua felt herself go in and out of consciousness, she no longer attempted to walk, but rather let her captors drag her.
Finally, she was laid down on the dirt, the beasts then spoke. She could hear other noises from something or someone else around them.
“This is a grand gift from my master,” spoke one of the captor creatures in a raspy form of the Taker language. “You may take these chests as well as this young prize for the yearly tribute. These lands are sacred to him and are to remain off limits to your Sasserine Circle.”
“Grand indeed! Grand she must be to keep us from taking the slaves from the Southern Tribe. Tell your master, the tribute is to be increased this year. We know there are more jewels and magic in the ancient ruins of this isle. The items you have brought are but a portion of what we can take for ourselves, should we choose!”
“My lord wishes to remind you that you do not know this isle as he does. You are….unwise…to challenge him, as the last group was. He wishes you do not fail as they did to keep to the borders of his agreement with your leaders in the East. The Southern part of this isle is his. You have been warned. Now, take this slave girl as my master’s prize to you. She is a mighty gift for your lords to the East. A Princess of the Ata’uh. A Princess given by the chief himself, willingly.
“We will judge her beauty as we have judged the others….but beauty does not pay as well these days as jewels and magic, beast! We will return to this spot in a fortnight. We have business to attend to elsewhere but will remain nearby. When we return, tell your master we will expect a higher tribute, or else these lands will soon be ours to decide with as we wish. The Sasserine Circle will claim this land, and he will be put from it.”
“I will tell my master, and he will be most displeased,” came the hoarse reply.
Ulua was then lifted by several sets of hands, but this time, by those of people. Carried aloft, she felt herself being carried down, the sounds and smells of the sea came to her. She felt herself aboard a canoe, and taken out to the ocean.
Lifted onto the Slaver Ship, Ulua’s veil was pulled back as she came face to face with Cervantez De Leon Sandurkan himself.
“Why hello, my flower….,” he said, brushing aside her hair. “Do you wish to dine with me tonight?”
As Ulua looked around, she saw the men and beasts of the Takers on board their mighty ship. Cervantez smiled. Below her the waves crashed against the ship’s hull. She knew that in this area, the coral would be razor sharp. Sharks would be plentiful here. The words of Abraxas came back, ringing in her ears. “They chose you…”, “Blind faith”. Her father would have known she was to be chosen, perhaps even consented to it. Known her stone would have been selected. By some magic, perhaps? Was this a trick? Her instinct told her he wasn’t lying.
It was but an easy decision for her to turn and taking two steps launch herself from the ship’s deck into the water below. Abraxas was wrong about one thing. She would choose her destiny from now on, even though the only choice she had left was when and how she would die.
Crow, The Wanderer
“A poor man is like a foreigner in his own country.” Ali bin Abu-Talib
“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever.” Martin Luther King, Jr.
Crow is a scrawny little kid with shaggy black hair and disarmingly big bright blue eyes. His clothes have seen much use and bear a few tears and repairs. Growing up in the streets of the big city, Crow is always quick on his feet and ready to seek shelter in the shadows.
Life on the streets of Cillandar’s poor district had been cruel but free. Crow was not cut out for the Lighted Orphanages preaching their lessons on obedience and duty, suffusing the Silver’s Flame doctrine in every morsel of food he received. So, he left that behind when he was 6 years old, a mature kid for his age looking for adventure and thrills. Stealing his meals, running with the wild dogs, playing Spottle down by the docks, watching the sun set from the rooftops, now that was a life. By the age of 8, he had his small posse to hang out with. Small kids have to band together to survive in Cillandar. His shaggy black hair and skills with small blades earned him the name of Crow. His best friends were Possum, a dirty little forager boy, Carrot, a bright red-haired girl, and Trickster, a whip-smart young boy.
Crow was often a messenger for the multiple thieves’ guilds, for a few silvers. His favorite was the Spinning Coin, a start-up guild with a tie-in with the merchant guild. The leader, Big Ben, was always kind to him, and they paid him well for his deliveries and other jobs. Crow was not fond of the Red Claws, a group of thugs for hire bullying the neighborhoods they had dominions over. He had a few scars to remind him of their ruthlessness.
One night, by the docks, he was doing a watch job for Big Ben. One merchant was a bit shady and his job was to report who he was meeting at night. Big score ! When the merchant left the Drunken Clam, he was followed by three men. In the next alley they met. The discussion turned into an argument, making enough noise to attract two passing guards. In a flash, the situation turned bloody. The leader of the three cut the merchant’s throat and the thugs quickly dispatched the two guards. As the moon came out of the low clouds, Crow saw the stern face of the leader. Gash, the second in command of the Red Claws !
Unfortunately, the moon was bright that night, and as Gash’s eyes were scanning the surroundings they met Crow’s. The next five minutes were Crow’s longest and hardest in his short life. He saw murder in those cold eyes, and he was running for his life. Alleys to rooftops, rooftops to docks, he needed a safe place to hide. A mooring rope, an open window, down the shiphold. It felt safe and quiet. He fell asleep, exhausted. When he woke up, the floor was not steady anymore. He was at sea, with no land in sight ! But he was safe. For now. And a ship is just a very small city. Lots of places to hide, food and water to steal. Eventually this ship will land and he will make his way back.
Ian Gabriel, Rage Against the Machine
“Despite all my rage, I am still just a rat in a cage.” Billy Corgan.
“Any fool can make a rule. And any fool will follow it.” Henry David Thoreau
Gabriel Isenhart was in the gardens, one of the most impressive of the Known World, the Cellindrian Orchards. Few had walked it’s groves as Gabriel had, and fewer still knew that his family had been the first contributors of it’s ancient saplings. Gabriel loved the organized rows of these beautiful grounds, he often walked them while on duty here at his posting, a wonderful coincidence to be so near his homeland while in service to Lord Borindin, in his majesty’s SHIELD corps. The gardens reminded Gabriel that man had the power to aid nature, and that not all men did, destroyed. He was proud that his family was apart of that heritage.
He liked to come here to feel at peace, something that he seemed to need more of these days, as the endless battles added up. Whether it was the occasional giant invasion, or some demonic beast from the Outer Wilds needing to be put down, the slaughter sometimes seemed to never end.
During one particular afternoon, he was sitting and taking a moment to sharpen the family sword, Eventide, meticulously caring for it as his father, and his father’s father, had done before him. A magnificent, dark, mythril-blade containing red swirls worked into the metal, and adorned with blood red runes.
Light wind blew through the trees and his hair as he worked. He was cleaning and polishing the blade under the autumn leaves when he heard the sound of running. These groves were well within the guard of his fort, but one must always be ready, even here.
“Sir, urgent news”. A Shielded Warrior, protector of the Light, and Lord Borindin’s lands…One of his own men, but something was wrong.
“We march,” declared Gabriel. As Gabriel talked he strapped on parts of leather armor, and began tipping his arrows.
“You would defy a direct order? A direct order from Borindin? KING Borindin…”, the members of Gabriel’s squad had witnessed deeds beyond the call of courage. Deeds, done, it was believed, for sake of many or few, performed by Gabriel out of his necessity to protect those in need, often decisions that lesser men might avoid, for the sake of “orders”. But never had these men known Gabriel to directly defy an Order, especially not an Official Decree from the King, himself. The penalty in the Known Lands, Gallinor, was swiftly ordered. To walk in the Light, a nation must follow a clear path…and have clear penalties for Darkness.
“Borindin cowers behind his castle, afraid of shadows on the wall. We will do what needs to be done. Even if he withholds support. I will not leave my sister, and the others, out there to die while Borindin twiddles his thumbs! I am tired of his blasted diplomacy with these beasts! And this day, I mean to see them in the Hells, before I let them take my own.”
Gabriel motioned towards the gate keeper, “Open the gates.
The gangly man stood, dumbfounded.
“I…I c-can’t… Captain Kruger has issued direct orders for this outpost to remain within gates. It is to Galline’s advantage that we await a more opportune moment to strike, with reinforced SHIELD from Carr Perrin…”
“Open the god damn gates, Worm. I will not ask again, this is not an order, it is a threat.” Many of Gabriel’s squad knew this moment was the singular event defining their lives, and possibly their deaths as well. All knew that their commander’s leaving was a foregone conclusion. Sister, soldier. It would matter not. He would have ridden out for any one of them, penalty be damned. It was this simply fact they often surmised during long nights at the tankard that had kept him within the folds of the SHIELD corps in the first place. No warrior among them knew his equal if Gabriel fought for cause. It was for this reason, but not this alone, that none of them faltered, they kept pace as he approached the tower.
“Ye-Yes my lord,” stammered William ‘The Worm’ O’Hugh.
The gate creaked open and twenty men marched out into the night. Not a single glance was cast backwards.
Several days later, six battered and bloody men stood before the king and council in the great hall. Shackle burns marked their wrists, each had marched for much time in irons the last 48 hours to the capitol, Cillandar. Others were peering in to behold the spectacle. Rumor had grown of the events surrounding this man. It was well known by citizen and soldier alike, that Borindin believed that the new realm, his realm, was only kept in the Light by constant vigilance and order. Speculation at the punishment had already begun.
“For the death of 14 members of his unit, and for disobeying a direct order which led to the slaughter of them in his Charge, the Order of his Majesty’s Law decrees that Sir Gabriel Isenhart shall hereby be stripped of all lands and titles. He has disgraced his post and put personal matter before duty.”
There were hushed murmurs among the assembled parties.
“However, his Majesty does recognize his years of outstanding service to the kingdom, and, he therefore shall not be exiled or put to death.”
Borindin sat, aside him stood the Keeper of the Flame, and speaker. His two sons sat near him, one a soldier himself seemed stone faced. The other perhaps disinterested. Then, the King stood, hushing the crowd. The speaker sat.
“Commander Isenhart, your courage is not in question. Nor, I am told has it ever been. We all remember the service your family gave in protection of our sister city Cellendrion during the Uprisings. There are times when one must keep those in the Light that we can, the Darkness takes without mercy. For your sister, you have my condolences. Truly.”
“To the Shadows with your condolences. And to the Hells with you Borindin! If not for your fearful indecision she would still be alive!” A roar erupted from the crowd…
Gabriel cast his gauntlets onto the floor and shed his cloak. “You all like to use pretty words like ‘honor’ and ‘courage’… When it suits you. So many of you use these words in your quest to “keep us within the Light”. But when was the last time you stood on the frontier of the Wilds? Oh, It’s easy for them to talk about honor while they dance, eat, drink, and fuck, all behind their comfortable castles and manors!” The established nobles and townsfolk of Cillandar cast angry glances at one another. Several of the Shields tightened grips on swords. Few had ever spoken like this in Borindin’s presence, that any assembled could remember. What would his majesty’s reaction be? As usual , his countenance belied nothing.
Gabriel stood for a moment, scanned the faces in the room, then turned to depart, as if he himself, chose when this hearing was adjourned. Several Shields stepped forward to take him into custody.
“Let him go!” roared Borindin. Thundering words echoed the chamber. “He has said that which his heart has led him to believe. I dare say he knows something of keeping you all here within the Light! Of this I know what I speak. His ways are that of the warrior, and as such his words do not threaten those who live by his service. Nor should they! Take heed citizens of Cillandar. For today’s lesson is both mercy, and contempt. Commander Isenhart, I hereby strip you of rank and lands, and additionally cast you from the folds of our Light. It is now your destiny to learn the value of Order or die in the absence of it amongst the Wilderness beyond. Go forth from here, but do not return, you are cast, into the Darkness of the lands. May the Flame guide your path.
For a moment, his rage so profound, Gabriel stood. All around him angry, bloated faces watched him. Whether by purpose or by indecision, his hand released the mighty sword Eventide, his father’s sword, his grandfather’s sword. By the time it lay still, he was gone from the chamber.
By the following morning, he was gone from Cillandar, never to return, or so he then believed….
Gabriel was drinking in a tavern some leagues off in the Inner Wilds near the Southern Border, when a drunk confused him for a war comrade named Ian. The ragged man spoke about their great battles, of women, of various places across the land. Gabriel took to the name. A new identity to shield him from his dishonor. The new man, Ian, became a Sell Sword. He fought as a mercenary with no cause other than to perpetuate his miserable existence. A rage fueled him. He fought wherever the money was. No great lord to serve. No honor. Only battle. Only survival.
One night, he staggered out of a tavern, bumping into a finely dressed woman. She looked and saw a large, disheveled, man. Dirty and frightening with the look of a mad drunk in his eyes. The look of a terrible beast.
“Such a precious thing should watch where she is going. Don’t you know there are monsters in the world? And the worst monsters come in human guise.”
“Please sir… I….let go of me!”
Drunk, the man rambled on, gripping her arm, he spoke…”Oh, don’t worry. I wouldn’t harm such a comely little flower. But, I can’t speak for the other monsters. Other men wouldn’t hesitate to taste your honey. Some men would revel in plucking a pretty little flower, petal by petal. Just as they once did to…”
“Who the Hells are you?” she managed to ask, trying to gain her wrist back.
“Someone who is lost. I no longer have a purpose. I have disgraced my men and dishonored my family name. My destiny is to find Order. I have found it here”, he holds up the spirits, pointing to it’s remaining ounces, “but by the time I get to the bottom of the bottle, it’s moved to another one!” Roaring with laughter, the man releases her hand, and steps aside, letting the now terrified girl run off.
With that he left the shaken girl.
It was later that night that he heard about the ship traveling west. A ship to the unknown West. A ship needing those without ties, without a past, only the courage to sail. That had never been in question, even the King had said so once.
Fritz, The Paladin In Search, of Himself (written by Joe with help from Thomas)
“To take revenge halfheartedly is to court disaster: Either condemn or crown your hatred.” Pierre Corneille
“Revenge is the naked idol of the worship of a semi-barbarous age.” From the Oath of the Knights of Galline. (Percy Bysshe Shelley)
It seems so long ago now that Fritz, exhausted and worn from the worry of mutiny and the fatigue of malnourishment, lay down to rest on board the Hangman’s top deck. One night, while in a terrible state of unconsciousness, his story seeped through his lips. What you could make of it, was a tail of sorrow and courage. A tale that obviously, Fritz is still searching for the conclusion to.
Fritz grew up in a small town (Orland) on the coast north of Cillandar’s Grand Harbor. His father was a Master Smith in the town and was able to fabricate most any tool or weapon that the locals required in day to day life. The mother that Fritz would have known died during childbirth. This situation allowed Fritz to spend his younger years playing around the forge. As he grew older, he developed a great interest in his father’s work and filled his desire to learn the trade. He would spend most of his time performing the arduous tasks such as keeping the coal stocked, pumping bellows, and smashing Iron.
At an age of 24 Fritz was well into his Journeyman Blacksmith duties, yet was still performing all of the undesirable duties for his father such as going to Cillandar for metal working supplies. Upon one particular trip to Cillandar, Fritz returned to a smoldering ruin of his former town. Finding his father’s blackened body in the ashes of his forge; his rage and emotion over took him. He dropped to his knees and screamed to the Silver Flame that he will avenge his Father and all the kin that had perished in this unconscionable attack. After he composed himself and started investigating his surroundings he patched together what had happened. He saw few bodies of those slain, and this troubled him. He could see the marks and bloody visceral places where the innocents of the village had been cut down, but where were the bodies? Next to his father’s corpse he discovered an unusual amount of skeletal remains along with his family heirloom “Earth Breaker”; further he discovered next to all scenes of carnage more skeletal remains. It was clear that these bones were not burned clean of all flesh by just the burning houses. Although Fritz was not a hunter he was able to perceive that the ground was in shambles with dust, dirt, and ash scuffed in a very peculiar manner, almost as if a giant hay broom was drug across the entire town. As the town was massacred and not a soul was in sight, he wrapped his father’s remains in a canvas tarp and headed to the graveyard for burial. Along the way he continued to notice the odd pattern scuffed into the ground; it wasn’t until he looked up from depressed eyes that he made the connection. The graveyard was in disarray. The dead had crept out of their graves like earthworms in a rainstorm. It was in that moment his hatred for the undead reached its climax, where it remains to this day. Seeing the futility of a burial for his father he made his way to a quiet cove on the coast and sent his Father’s corpse into the ocean on a traditional burial raft that was sent alight in the tradition of the Silver Flame of Orland, since it’s early roots.
With only the clothes on his back, a family heirloom, and a desire to destroy the darkness that had befallen him and others; Fritz headed to the Capital to resell what he could and learn the Paladin arts from The Mount of The Silver Flame’s warrior order, The Knights of Galline . In his journey to the capital, Fritz began to feel a presence of another following him. As he looked back, he saw a robed man floating just off the ground not five feet behind him. Fritz was clearly startled by the robed figure’s proximity when the man spoke up “Friend, I mean you no harm.”
“Why do you sneak up on me and why are you floating off the ground sir?” “I have nothing of value to you!” Fritz explained.
“My name is Regal, I am a Summoner, following the undead horde that destroyed the town of Orland. You are brave to travel the King’s High Way alone or perhaps you are too broken to care. You must know, this is not the first time this has happened nor will it be the last. I have been following the traces of undead forces of great power through the Inner and even the Outer Wilds. I am sure you have heard the children’s tales of the Ketians. Fritz, I mean to tell you they are real, and that they rise once more to take the land from us in the Light! Many have been slain by this evil, in other realms beyond Orland, Cillandar and even the Known Realm of Gallinor, others simply taken away! There are some of us who believe the time is come nigh for the Undead to rise again, just as they did in the End Days. I am actually traveling to the Capital, to research my spells and gain knowledge on this great evil in Borindin’s Library, where surely I may found something that can help you and perhaps even persuade his Majesty himself that this is of the utmost urgency to our realm.
I suggest we travel the way together and avoid any… untimely encounters.”
And with that, Fritz found his calling, and a companion in his pursuit. His story of his entry into the Order of the Knights of Galline is yet to be told, but Fritz carries the weight of his family’s death upon his shoulders and searches for the meaning of why the Undead rise once more. He struggles with the Oath of the Order’s command that he hold no grudges against those who have trespassed against them, knowing that to be a Knight of Galline is to be above such petty ambitions. And yet, deeper still, in his heart, Fritz knows that should he encounter the Force that murdered those he loved so dearly, he may be troubled to keep his oath, and remain in the Flame’s grace. The trip East for Fritz was suggested by his own Knight Advisor, his master in the Order who knew that Fritz’s ultimate rite and acceptance into the Order would be his ability to leave revenge aside and do what is called of him as service to the Flame. One day, when he has found answers in the distant land to what the Flame calls him to Be, he will return to Cillandar, where he hopes in his being he can let the past go, enter Knighthood to his Majesty, Lord Borindin, and bring peace to the land of Galline, in his Father’s memory, but not in vengeance to him…
M.A.R.S. and Lars Thundermug: Brothers from Another Mother (written by Andy)
Regarding Automatons, Clockworks and other Mechanical Creatures…
The crafting of automatons is a arcane wonder now lost to the End Days and the Before Age. Today, some automatons are made, but they are only capable of performing a very small number of simple tasks, and require more maintenance and labor than the actual task making them merely a mechanical novelty. They run on steam, weights or similar mundane sources of stored energy. They resemble nothing of the clockwork creatures made at the height of the prior age. Legends hold that some or many were every bit as functional as any sentient being. The great houses that perfected this art have long since been destroyed, and the tomes that contained this information were lost to the ravages of time, although many in the employ of Lord Borindin search for these technologies in order to give the Known Realm powerful tools in the battles and skirmishes with neighboring hostiles.
Grandpa Watts and the Dreamer
Lars’ grandfather, Watts, told him stories of all manner of wondrous creations when he was just a wee lad. He heard tales of things like iron jawed horseless carriages that could tunnel through the earth as easily as a fish swims through water, and of the clockwork dragons that guarded the high walled city of the Forgelords, even mighty Kasil, as told in Legends and Rhymes to this day. Of course Grandpa Watts never saw these things himself, but keeps the mystery alive through retelling the stories his grandfather told him. Lars’ dreams (even to this day) are filled with all manner of machines, both malevolent and benign. But they were just dreams…right?
Lars’ older sister (a young prospector and archaeologist like so many others in the Realm these days, but decades his elder) was digging through the coal beds and stumbled across what could only be described as a suit of plate armor, but with something inside of it that pulsed and seemed to have metal parts that worked together. She brought it back to their subterranean village. It was in good condition but appeared to be completely lifeless, and devoid of any obvious function. Grandpa Watts eventually restored life to the creature purely accidentally when another one of his experiments ran out of control and electrocuted the automaton!
Lars was raised by his sister Jellywinks, and to a lesser extent, Grandpa Watts. He was just 4 years old when the Automaton, M.A.R.S. sprang to life. When Mars awoke, he had no memory or even language. Lars and Mars were essentially brothers, living in the same home, sharing the same family, culture and values. (Lars parents, who he barely remembers were killed in an earlier attack on their village by creatures hideous and tentacled, the likes of which had never been seen before. Slaves served these malevolent creatures as if they were manipulated mentally). Mars had no obvious function but he was very strong, so to make him useful, they simply had him doing manual labor tasks that were difficult for them due to their shorter stature. They did try to teach him mathematics and other scholarly pursuits, but Mars simply wasn’t that interested. Mars effortlessly completed the tasks assigned, and was happy just being a member of the Thundermug family.
Screams in the Darkness
Their village was again invaded by a group of these creatures, who, for some apparent reason came back to this very village. They did well to fend off the creatures of the deep, but they ultimately had little defense against the Psychic screams of the Mind Flayer that paralyzed entire ranks of defenders. The village was quickly overrun, and the Thundermugs tried to escape with a few modest possessions.
Combat Protocol 715 Initiated
However, in the battle, Mars discovered his purpose. When the thralls bashed through the door to their home and threatened Lars, strange runes (which he couldn’t read) appeared in the lower right hand corner of his vision, and one of the attackers was outlined in red and his unarmored underarm was highlighted with a circular pattern. Mars grabbed a hot iron poker from the fire, killed the first one, grabbed it’s great sword and began beating back the invaders. Mars went into what can only be described as a “blender mode,” spinning, smashing and slicing his way through the first few ranks, blood and gore spraying in all directions. He soon found himself face to face with a Mind Flayer, which promptly unleashed its Psychic Blast. Mars was unaffected, but noticed that his brother was frozen stiff. He made a quick lunge at the creature to keep it at bay, then ran back to pick up his brother and flee.
The fate of the two brothers is uncertain. The village was completely destroyed, and its folk killed, taken prisoner, or scattered like the brothers. Gandpa Watts was taken prisoner, and the whereabouts of sister Jelly is completely unknown. When they left the village, all they had were a few weapons scavenged from the battle, and an old wooden trunk belonging to Grandpa Watts. Among the many seemingly useless bits of junks, was a shred of parchment from an ancient tome. All that could be read was the volume and page “Codex Automata vol. III, 76.” Even though many do not believe their stories of the squid faced demons that came and disappeared with their Grandfather, Mars and Lars continue the search. The two brothers now look for the lost secrets that would allow for the creation of more Automatons like Mars so that they can prepare to fight the Mind Flayers, rescue grandpa Watts, and most certainly get revenge on the foul squid-faced beings!
Lars has begun studying martial applications of magic and gadgetry, especially missile weapons, fire and illusions. Mars seems to learn something new from every fight, and he has finally discovered what he was made to do. There is only one problem though, he isn’t overly fond of killing, in fact, he hates it. But, their exodus from the village has revealed to them a brutal and cruel world where death is common. Both brothers have developed some survival skills and a more realistic view of the world, even though they mask it with clever jest and light-hearted pranks.
Mars and Lars became a Royal Favorite of his Majesty, Lord Borindin, and in Mars’ generosity for allowing himself to be given over to study by Lord Borindin’s mages and sages, he and Lars had been rewarded with much time in Borindin’s personal library, under the direction of course of Cillandar’s Head Librarian, Calyssa. Here, they discovered information that they believed might lead them to other automatons and technologies that would allow them to rescue Grandpa Watts should the invaders return, despite what others believe may have actually happened.
#7 INTO THE WILD Narrative Interlude: Fan Mail
“Dear Melissande, the way your flames scorch the earth when you destroy your enemies from radiant might up above….”
“Hey, Melissande, what’s that you are looking at?” Melissande suddenly looked up from the piece of parchment she was reading. Her eyes however were still squinting as if from extreme exertion. She looked tired and appeared to be sweating. She removed the spectacles that Malorus the Mage had made her and did her best to slowly let the parchment slide into her component bag. “Eh, Bolvist? What do you mean?”
“The parchment Witch? The one in your hands?” Melissande drew her hands back out of her bag and raised them in front of Bolvist. She wiggled her fingers to show Bolvist that she wasn’t holding anything. An awkward yet feigned innocence splayed across her face.
“Ok Melissande. Well, I was only asking in case you wanted me to help you read it…” Bolvist strode off to the Heroes encampment to practice a few rounds with his falchion. He of course had his own fan mail to read.
Later that Day
“Not you too?”
“Huh?” Roscoe said absentmindedly. He didn’t look up from the small piece of parchment he was holding. It was yellowed and decayed. “Bolvist, I’m looking at something private here!”
“I’ll bet, my little friend. You and your secret backpacks and doings. Best kept between you and Portia, and the whole Halfling race right? Well, enjoy yourself. Let me know if you want to be my dummy.”
“Very funny Master Orc…”replied the Halfling, but he was only half listening. Roscoe was very absorbed in what he was reading. As Bolvist walked away, he read the end of his mail, recognizing the names that had come to feel like old friends. Why anyone referred to them as the Lords of Chaos, he’d never know.
“The map and the room. Boom. Boom. Boom.” What that could mean he could only wonder.
What could Dratt and Dooge possibly mean this time???
#8 Dreams, A Narrative Interlude for ACT IV Into the WIld
“We have found the girl, Your Holiness,” said the man in robes to the mirror. “She was among the elves as you said, but has recently returned to live amongst the Celns here.”
“The girl is there with you now in Haven? This is most interesting timing….” came a smooth and silky reply. Inside the mirror, vapor swirled and took the shape of a head and torso, but no face appeared. “Are you certain it is she?”
“Yes, Keeper Belloran,” said the man. “She has shown all the signs you have told us. It is as you have foreseen.”
“Excellent,” replied the voice, “Capture her. And there will be others with her. I want them as well. They will be needed.”
“I shall do as you ask.”
“Good, in time you shall be rewarded for these deeds, you shall remain in the Light of the Flame, even into the Darkening, Bellock. But your service must be true.”
“It is, Keeper. It is.”
An enormous cavern, filled with people. Their silhouettes are dark but around the bodies radiates an intense light, bright as the sun, from the center of the room. It is too blinding to look at.
A man is shouting from somewhere in the front.
“IT IS OPENING! IT IS AS HAS BEEN FORETOLD!”
The room begins to glow, even brighter, it feels impossibly so, and you hide your face in your hands, but between the fingers, it begins to diminish.
While you open your eyes once more, your hands still shielding most of the penetrating rays, you see the others around you doing the same. A corona appears around your vision, and within kneels a lone man, he is holding something.
A voice from the back where you are asks, “What is that, what is Belloran holding?”
As if in answer, a baby’s cry erupts, first subtle like a baby bird crying from a nest and then more adamant. “It is SHE.” Says the man holding the infant.
“She?” replies another voice. “And who is she?”
“Only time will tell,” says Belloran, “but she will be someone of great power one day. GREAT POWER.”
He turns towards you, his face and body still clothed in the dark blackness of shadow, and lifts the baby up for all to see.
“You understand the nature of his birth do you not, Macavoy?” A deep gravelly voice spoke. There is no color, no image, only darkness. A voice in the deep and dark void of emptiness.
“Of course I do. We all do.” A softer voice, but still rough like metal scraped over a rock.
“And what do you make of it?”
“It is perfect.”
“Perfect?” A laugh.
“Yes, perfect. He is far different than the others. Mankind is not derived from perfect qualities. No ship is constructed of perfect timbers, Abraxas.”
“And how will a ship made of imperfect timbers sail, Macavoy? He will be even less capable than the others. Put your faith in him, we will be doomed to watch another Harvest.”
“He is mine to watch, you have your own Brother. You know as well as I do Abraxas, that until the Darkness of Ket is put to an end, we will never again have the power to restore the seven as they once were. We must take the form that we are given.”
“And this form will once again fail, Brother.”
“Perhaps, perhaps not.”
“You realize who his mother is, do you not?”
“Yes, I do. Never before has the Trickster taken this form. This cycle will fail.”
“And why should it? Is it not appropriate that the Trickster be the son of Envy? I think Tiresias…”
“Tiresias will not last another cycle. He knows this…besides, how many times now has Tiresias been wrong?”
“We may not last either. We must trust to Mankind to rise.”
“Trust Mankind? To do what they could not for the last 6 cycles? They are sheep Macavoy! As is this half-darkened infant you covet.”
“Brother, you do not believe that.”
“It has been a long time, Macavoy. A long time since I have had hope in Mankind.”
“Hope remains. As does our own humanity, whether we like it or not.”
“Is that why you prefer your Human name these days?”
“No, Brother. I use this name, because Baluar is known to the Realm.”
“Then we will meet again on the next Riftenaucht, Macavoy. Perhaps then will we know more about this child. Until then, what will you do with him?”
“I will see him raised on the borders of the Realm’s wilds. Where both Tiresias and I can watch him and the others that may fulfill the void.”
“As will I. For the sake of all, old friend.”
“He will not know of his birth, in time, his fate will decide which way his path will lie.”
“But what of the statue of his likeness? And what of the Instrument? What if he goes the way of Darkness? Shall we not tell him?”
“It is as it should be. He came to us known, it is not natural for what is unknown to be known. You worry about darkness and yet every wick must reach it’s end, Brother.”
“Are you certain, it is HE?” said the softer of the two voices. “Is the likeness certain?”
“Every day, he grows more and more into the man that we have discovered upon the likeness of the Chamber.”
A pause and silence.
“Then why does he not know? Then why does he not understand his destiny?”
“Maybe he is not meant to understand it yet. Maybe, he is meant to find it.”
“Brother, what are you doing? Return the instrument at once!”
“I can not do that,” replied the familiar voice of the Monk, Jasper. He stood, surrounded by members of the Order of the Enlightened Spirit. They rifled around him, taking defensive stances. Jasper stood motionless holding the Light. He waited. Standing tall, resolute. Finally, was he sure of what he was meant to do.
In this very room, was he raised, did he meditate in order to find his meaning. Today, he realized, that he had chosen it for himself, before his very being.
“And why is that?” replied the Elder. His voice was soft though, and while he spoke his fists unloosened, his shoulders sagged.
“You know why, Father. You know WHAT I am. I was meant for the Instrument. And it for me. The others depend on me. It was in plain sight this whole time, but it was meant for me. Because only I would understand it.”
“You have made your choice then, Jasper? You have chosen between the Light and the Darkness?”
“Yes, Father, yes I have.”
“How long have you known Jasper. How long have you known that you came to us here?”
“I have known my whole life Father. But only recently.”
Holding the lantern upwards, it began to glow brightly, the other members knelt, chanting.
Jasper strode forward, a smile on his face.
“You will in time, by your leave
Fail to serve, but not to lead
You will in time, by your leave
Give to another what they need.”
“We lost nearly a legion, but we have turned back the dark forces here.” The tall blond man wore bright shining armor with a gilded green tunic, but portions of it were smeared with blood and his skin was caked with dirt and sweat; he was pointing to a map. He was young, but seemed worn for his years. Next to him stood another man, bearded, young as well with intelligent intense eyes. He too was plastered in blood, although his armor looked shined and was free of dirt. His hair was dark and he too was staring at the map. He was wearing a crown. “We believe they rose in the same manner as they did here near Pylos.”
“Why Luger? Why would they show themselves in this manner? They know they cannot hold the surface in the Light of our world!”
“I warrant they did not want to hold the surface Your Grace.”
“Then what did these blighted Ketians want?”
“We still do not know, but they were weak on the field of battle. Our men slaughtered their number, even when they fought us amongst the dark.”
“Perhaps, even the moon’s light keeps them weak, or perhaps they are weak on the surface. How will we explain this latest battle?”
“We need not have to, Your Grace. For the populace there has already begun to rebuild and few of the fallen creatures bodies remain once the light burns their flesh away. Our people celebrate our victory. We have named the place Cellione, in honor of your Father.”
“Thank you Luger. In that case, we will make it a grand city. To rival Cillandar!”
“Indeed Your Grace. Perhaps, this is the last we will see of the Ketians. Our Realm has grown broad and our numbers have never been stronger.”
“We will stay vigilant, Luger. We must. Our new nation cannot believe we are at the mercy of dark forces beneath us. There would be no prosperity.”
“So how will we justify our forces, My Lord?”
“We will wage war against Trebia, against the Oorst, we will declare the Sassers our enemies, and the Madenese ignorants. We will declare war on the known, and wage war on the unknown. For Cellinor is the Light of this World, Luger.”
“Yes, My Grace. Indeed, it is. I have been with you since the beginning, and I will remain faithful to the cause My Lord.”
“As will I, Luger. It is a goodly Realm.”
“Aye, My Lord, it is,” Luger turned and face the King. “My Lord? May I speak freely?”
“Yes, Luger, of course, we always have.”
“Your Grace, I know when you saw the boy there, you felt compelled, but…”
“I could not stand idly by, Luger…”
“My Lord, you cannot risk your life so needlessly, you are too valuable!”
“Luger, what makes you think this was a needless action? I saved the boy, did I not?”
“Yes, your grace. You saved the boy, and we nearly lost our KING! You cannot risk the cause of Cellinor on so trivial a life as this.”
“Trivial? Why every man has a destiny. What makes you think this boy’s destiny was a trivial one? Perhaps, one day, he will do great things.”
“Yes, My Lord.”
“See to it the boy is trained. And give him the name….give him the name of my Sword.”
“Kazuto? Aye Your Grace. I will see to it personally.”
Bold is the man who with his hands
Takes what he needs upon the stands
For when he looks, there he’ll find
What others see not, left behind.
“Taryn, are you mad?” said Roscoe.
“Mad, for the first time I think I have sense in this world.”
“But how can you be certain this will work?” The Halfling sounding incredulous. Taryn was nearly laughing in his response.
“Certain this WILL work? Have you not seen with your own eyes?” Taryn smiled, his confidence had never been greater. This WAS his path, found at last. “IT ALREADY HAS WORKED.”
“But what do you mean HAS? It hasn’t happened yet!”
“Oh yes it has. Don’t you understand yet what the markers are? Don’t you understand how this all, inconceivably, has been possible? The night in Ise Reisen’s lair when we knew the game of Pockens cards. The statues. The clues. How do you think they have gotten there?”
“I don’t know Taryn, I don’t know. This may be the last cycle, the last attempt to stop KET!”
“Then we better make sure we get here. There’s only one way to do that, and the Path is the way. Right Talos?”
“Taryn the Last, must become Taryn the First.”
“Yes! Yes, that is right! It is HOW we have gotten here. Don’t you see, THIS is the path. It isn’t the one Kasille meant for us to take, but it is the one WE MUST take.”
“For the Sake of All, Taryn?”
“Yes, Talos, for the Sake of US All, for Once and for ALL.”
A man is only flesh and bone
Give to them but just a stone.
Save one who will in time save you
Kill one, and you shall save her too.
If indeed you wish to hide,
Then those who aid you won’t abide
Tap, tap, tap.
Give the map!
By Tuatha Ulraiecht. Sung in the grand tradition of Cellione’s famous oral verse, this song dedicates the defeat of the Thor Valley Immortal Orc Tribes by the Lords of the Northern Tower, the “Twilight Force” (or other…). It is dedicated to His Majesty, Lord Genoran, who rode through the night to defend the Green and Gold of Cellinor’s flag.
#8 The Ballad of The Battle of Haven
Once was a maiden of virtue
Her name Melissande, she’d yell “Fork you”.
With a pitchfork in hand
She takes shit from no man
And doesn’t stay home on the Flames’ curfew!
Then there’s a ranger named Taryn.
Who’s blade glows when a wyrm is nar’ him.
He’s often near dying
Or off somewhere flying
Just be careful when you shoot his direction.
Lord Bolvist never shies from the fight.
Enemies die, but he’s still Upright.
He’ll make Chuul stew
Like his orc mother used to
His past is dark but his future is bright!
And lo did the enemy come!
Foul beasts that the Daylight does shun.
With weapons of war
They hungered for more
Good thing we had Macavoy’s rum!
These Heroes did look for an exit
Said Taryn, “I think we should check it.”
So he found a big cube
And got stuck in it’s goo.
It’s not the last time he’ll be near death, we reckon!
Our brave Captain developed a plan
To attack the only way that we can
Said Melissande, “I’m a bird!”
And then she yelled dirty words
Who’s to say war is meant for a man?
Good Taryn had just nearly died
But an idea he wanted to try
So he found a big drum
And he drank some more rum
Climbed on and he went for a ride.
Now Bolvist, he knew what to do
Said he, “Flying is for you!”
I’m going to use this here ring
And stab the darned thing
That is making my life rather blue.
Then suddenly, all felt the might
Of dragons in battle and fight
O’er head they did battle
While below shields did rattle
The Dark felt the power of Light!
But below things were not going well
The idol was starting to swell!
So they looked around
And guess who they found?
A mage with one decent spell!
And that’s when the Mummy did fry.
But Mellisande wasn’t able to cry.
For when you float in the back
During a large scale attack
Be a log fast or you are going to die.
But then all did suddenly notice
A body, above, good Tiresias.
As he lay dying
Our Lord came ‘a flying
As the foul demons of night ran from us.
And lo we did see our Celn colors!
The Green and the Gold like no others!
Secure is now Haven
And Thanks we have gave Them
The saviors of Haven’s
CHILDREN and MOTHERS.
With a graceful bow, good Tuatha the Bard finishes as the citizens of Haven yelp and applaud. Lord Genoran nods in validation of the tremendous deeds set forever in beautiful rhyme. For some who now hear it, it is considered the most famous of the “Twilight Force” (or other) tales. As all good Celns know however, it was only the beginning of their great deeds to come. But those are tales for another time!
Chapter 16: A PEAK at Shadows of Edessa…
Shadows of Edessa
“The light shone in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not.” John 1:5
CAMPAIGN Thread Narratives and Introductions
The Hallowed Stones of Edessa
“Magic?” responded the man kneeling over the body, “No, no…there is no such thing. Theft, my son. What you saw today was theft. This is the punishment of the theft of Patra’s holy might, and it’s best to put it out of your mind as to how it was gathered from Him.”
“Yes, Papra,” whispered the small boy. He put the shovel down and tried to pick up one of the Hallowed Stones, but he found it too heavy. “Papra, why do we always choose such heavy stones for the dead?”
The Undertaker patted his son on the back and picked up the stone himself; He placed it on top of the deceased’s chest. “No important reason son, but it is the will of Patra, and it is tradition. We weigh down the body, so that it cannot rise once more on Souen.”
“Souen? You mean the night the shadow people return to Theta?”
“Papra. Do you mean to say that the dead CAN rise once more?”
“No, no my boy,” chuckled the undertaker, his smile shone through the dirt smeared over his face and he knealt beside the boy, “Your Papra is the Undertaker, son. You are the Undertaker’s son, and will one day take my place. Today, I will teach you a trade secret.”
“Yes, Papra!” the boy said, smiling. He loved his Papra and he loved it when he was entrusted with secrets like this.
The undertaker, kneeling, leaned close dramatically, eyeing his son’s curious eyes. “We are paid to weigh down the dead so that they cannot rise once more. We choose heavy stones and we keep the grave open for the inspection of the family. This gives peace of mind to their loved ones that they will never rise, so they can tell others that they had come to Patra in their lives.”
“Yes, Papra, I know this”
“Yes, yes I know you do,” said his father, “But the truth is my boy that they never do. No one ever leaves their hallowed grounds, no one ever does. There is only Patra son, Theta has long since gone. We profit and feed ourselves from their fears.”
“But Papra, how do you know? How do you know the dead will not come back as the Patrons say?”
“My boy,” the man smiled, and put his hand on the boy’s shoulder, he pointed to the large pile of heavy stones gathered for the burial. “Where do you think these stones are from?”
The man chuckled and continued his work, tossing the stones in atop the body, one at a time. As night settled in, the boy and his father finished up, hiked back to the village to eat their dinner. In the morning, the funeral procession would begin, and another mourning costumer would pay.
Edessa and the Patral Lands
On the great risen plains of Edessa, lie the Patral houses. Scattered and distant are these ever changing city states, yet sometimes too close for civility. They each hold their own idea of how best to be a Patriot. And although once they were as a whole body of Patra’s holy might, they lie now stranded and separated, like a vast spider web of connected commerce, mystery, trade and sometimes deceit and war.
While dark canals curl, cross and meander far below, fed from the Great Devourer, the Patral houses rule above, and have for an age. In the name of Patra, the common folk work the land, mine for black rock, and keep the demons they hear of in the Patral Temples at bay through belief in their Twin God and the Patral Saints of yore. All the while these poor souls rise and return to the Earth in their short, haggard lives. Around their endless toil, the angels from a more holy plane fight a holy war, unseen but to the most devout and pious of our world. They battle against the darkened shadows of Theta, Patra’s ancient twin. These shadow demons are the remnants of a great schism that once nearly drove the races of mankind from Patra fully. They now constantly seed the lands with foul deeds, and subversion.
Then there are the Hospitalers, a sometime liaison between the Patral Houses, and yet seemingly dark and untrustworthy society of idealogues. Free to do as they wish by their secret code, the Hospitalers trace their justified might back in a history as an unbroken chain all the way back to the time of Drom. They search, independent of the Patral Houses, for those who would pervert Patra’s holy gifts.
Yet beyond all the borders of these lands, savages and creatures of untold terror threaten the safety of the common folk. As if the common man wasn’t worried enough about the spiritual war fought amongst them, or the very tangible conflicts between houses, there are still other horrors on Edessa. From the mountain ranges come the hordes of the demon races. From the Eastern lands come winged terrors and raids from more savage societies, some of which eat the flesh of man in order to gain the unholy power that resides within it.
From below lie the inhuman races, the Dark Elves, the dwarves and the more sinister Duergar. Others are said to live even deeper, but those stories are not often told or spoken of.
From within the borders of the Patral States come other old and some new, terrors. The dead who rise again, the Undead. And of course the Magi, whose sick and perverted ways steal the holy powers of the common man and especially the divinity of the Patral Priests. These perverted, warped demon worshipping zealots then slink back to the shadows of the world to make their magics. A dying breed some say, the secrets of the Magi are still spoken of in hushed tones, and their dangerous wickedness is still a threat to hard working vassals. Their sworn enemy, the Hospitalers certainly do not believe the stories of their demise, and they are hunted, and often accused. Different lordly houses accuse the other of harboring havens for these demon worshippers.
It’s not an easy land to be born into, and with no title or wealth, an even tougher place to live. And yet, this is where you find yourself. No connections but what you make, and can claim rightly. No allegiances but what you make and what is accepted from those you wish to belong. No protection unless you can connect and align to something bigger than yourselves. What path will you take through the literal and figurative shadows of the lands of Edessa?
Narrative Interlude, Justice or Judgement?
Atop a windswept hill stood the elders, the women and the children of the community of Amador. A woman tied to the post was in the center of the grassy clearing. She was wearing white, and few other noises were heard except her indiscriminate sobbing. The people around her didn’t speak. Their ash covered faces were streaked with tears, their eyes squeezed, heads turned toward the man, tall and imposing standing next to the sobbing woman, their hats rustling, brims flapping. Shirt sleeves and pant legs snapped and shook in the gale, but their bodies didn’t flinch or move. Neither did the man, whose hat seemed glued to his head, despite the wind’s best efforts to tear it off. Beneath the brim, all was dark. A man without a face. This was not a time to move, it was a moment when decisions would be made for the community, if it could really be called that since they found the black rock. Above them, a clear sky, not a cloud in sight. Under their feet, flattened grass, a few granite tops of rocks, and pressing down on them were the boots, dozens of pairs alike of Grogue’s men.
Despite the various men at arms in their clanky armor, there was only the whistle of the wind and it’s effects, her sobbing. The woman. Far below, the valley seemed to be merely a painting, the river and farming fields a series of brush strokes. Beyond the hilltop, was the mine of Amador, the black rock mine, which seemed a giant scar in an otherwise picturesque view.
“Justice,” said Grogue, his protruding teeth making a mockery of his otherwise human like grin. It came out as nothing more than a word, slick, yet low, but it had an immediate effect on the woman Grogue was looking at, the very same every person was staring at. The woman in the white dressing gown. The woman whose hands were tied to the Post of Justice. Her eyes blinked when he said it, and her chest heaved in and out.
A small child from somewhere in the crowd began to cry too; One of Grogue’s warriors turned his head in it’s direction, and as if by some magic, it was immediately silenced.
“Which shall we choose today, eh?”
No one dared to answer. Even Father Faria, the Patral Lord of Amador, who had once spoke to Grogue many years ago on a day like this, and as all knew lost a hand as his reward.
“WELL????” Grogue’s silky voice rose with the wind, “WHAT SHALL IT BE TODAY, AMADOR?????”
“Please, please…,” pleaded the woman’s husband. “She didn’t mean any harm, she wasn’t thinking straight…please…” It was Dantes, a merchant to whom Grogue used for basic necessities in the village. A self-composed man, you had never seen him like this. It was as if his eyes were willing his wife back to him. He was stretched to the breaking point.
“Dantes, Dantes. Let’s not break tradition, here…,” Grogue walked around the woman tied to the post, he ran his clawed fingers along under her chin, she flinched at his touch. “You know what this place was like before you invited me here. You know the way things were?”
He took out an object from his pocket, about the size of a child’s closed fist, it was dark, but speckled with glints of shiny particles. “You know what you want, what you’ve always wanted. Wealth.”
“Wealth, peasants of Amador. A wealth beyond measure, a wealth that a town like yours could only dream of. And I’ve given that to you.”
“I’ve given you your dreams. Have I not?” Silence.
“HAVE I NOOOOTTTT?????”
“The Patral Houses need their Rock. To protect this realm from the heathens of the isles, from the heathens of the North, from the monsters all around us and from within. And you are paid for this Rock,” he continued, spittle flying from his shadowed mouth, holding the rock in front of the downturned faces of the community,” and stealing from this relationship, hurts US ALL!!!!”
“But she didn’t steal it!!!!!!!!!!” You heard someone cry…
Grogue stopped in mid step. A subtle smile began to appear under the shadow of his hat, his axe lay motionless at his side, as if at the ready for his use. A simultaneous crinkling sound as many armored necks turned towards a small child, “Who said that?” said Grogue.
“I did,” you replied…
The Lazarus Project
The little gnome with the scarred hands stepped away from the shiny machine resting before him. The gnome spoke to a large man standing behind him but never took his eyes off his creation. Looming over the tiny tinkerer, arms crossed, the tall man was clearly boiling with anger. His face was red, he was sweating profusely and he had an agitated motion to his left leg. The day was particularly hot and humid and this was supposed to be a demonstration, not a fruitless trip to the barren lands. But the gnome’s eyes never left the iron contraption in front of him.
“It isn’t activating.” Said the tinkerer. He reached out with his crooked fingers to turn a knob here and then there. In front of him, a helmet atop a thick suit of armor stood motionless and stopped over as if in a poor display.
The man behind the gnome exploded with rage and threw the nearest object he could grab from a bench across the room. The wrencher shattered several glass containers, and came to rest on the cave floor. “I can see that Gruer, you sniveling little twerp. We paid you for activation, I rode out here for activation.” His hand went to a small object resting on a belt at his side. “You said you could activate it.”
“I tried sir, I tried. I don’t think the test subject was ready for what we have put it through. You understand that you chose..”
“It is you who doesn’t understand GRUER! If you cannot make the machine turn on then you are of no …..”
Just then, a noise came from inside the helm. And the machine, which resembled a suit of armor, fidgeted. Legs began to rise and it did too until it was much taller than either the gnome or the man behind him. It resembled a suit of armor with a full metal helm atop the breast plate, inside was dark and covered by metallic parts. It’s arms, covered in pieces of metal lay by it’s side. Metal gears and whirling parts turned and spun along it’s legs, but then became silent. As if alive, it all took one step toward the gnome, wobbly at first, but then sure footed. It stopped, and the helm atop the armor turned ever so slowly toward the taller man behind him. The gnome grinned in the direction of the helm and clapped with excitement. The taller man behind him broke into a laugh, “Well, well….”
With lightning speed, the armored thing extended an arm and moved instantly towards the laughing man. The gnome was knocked to the side like a rag doll as it took several steps towards his employer relentlessly. The man, who now stepped back in shock tripped over several lab items on the floor, and skidded against one of the many work tables in the gnome’s lab, flailing his arms backward in an effort to stop his fall. On the floor, legs kicking, he fumbled at the object by his belt, but couldn’t seem to loosen it. He began to shout. It all happened so quickly, the metallic thing moving with incredible speed in his direction.
This man’s look of anger was now replaced by a look of sheer terror as the animated suit of armor bore down on him. It bent over in creaking and scraping sounds, and grabbed him by the shoulder blade, making the tall man cry out in agony. It’s other arm picked up a metal bar on the floor while the man squirmed and kicked his feet inconsequentially at the thing about to kill him. Rising it’s arm above their heads it’s helm positioned itself directly in front of the man’s face, the arm came down swiftly.
“931!!!!!!” Roared the Gnome, “Command 931!!!!!!”
Immediately, the suit’s arm froze, the metal bar it held stopping just inches from the tall man’s face. The suit of armor stayed motionless, while the gnome’s tiny feet stepped around it to where he could see his employer. He bent around the suit’s still upheld arm, and peered in on the man, who was wincing in pain. He still had one shattered shoulder gripped by the thing’s other hand.
“Master, it works. Lazuras A127 is yours.”
Kraumpus, Night Devil of Edessa
The land was frozen. The night was dark with a new moon and in it’s eerie glow all was glass. Bushes, trees, traces of the leftovers from the harvested crops, picked clean and left upon the soil. All were covered, buried and secret now. All was brittle and still in the barren fields and shadows beyond. The snowdrifts from the last storm had piled over all, like white blankets thrown over the trees and hills and round roofed homes of the farms that in the summer, fed much of the nearby city-state of Edessa. Tonight, the land was silent, and nothing stirred.
In a nearby thatched cottage huddled a family by a fire. Their name was Gibron, a common Patral name. Named for Patra’s holy warrior, Thron, the father, and the mother, his wife, kept the fire lit and the children warm. Tonight, they had feasted on stew, from game they had caught earlier in the winter. This year they hadn’t lost any of their hunting share from dire wolves, or winter bears. Unbelievably, their store had stayed untouched. Usually, one could count on at least a raid, or two, from the sky lizards or some other creature of the wilds.
But this cycle, the angel of luck had guarded over them.
A fine stew it had been too, and a fine evening they had all shared despite the cold and snow flurries keeping their guests away. This night, the Night of the Guardians, the Night of the Saraphims, would be like so many others in homes just like theirs scattered in the Patral lands. It would be a night to cling close to Patra, to keep the angelic candles lit, to sleep close to the warmth of the fire and to each other.
A night to stay indoors.
As usual, the children didn’t want to sleep. Even though the stories they were told by the village elders were dark enough to keep them from misbehaving, there were also the morning gifts. Their Papra would leave his boot outside, and their benevolent host, Patra himself, would fill it with nuts, and dried fruits and if they were lucky even an isle fruit. It was a bonanza for the coldest time of their winter, and with all that prize, hard to settle in and close the eyes. Of course, Papra’s stories often were best on a night like this too, and the children knew if they stayed up, they could get a few out of him.
“Papra, tell us again how Patra fills the boot!” yawned the daughter, whose head was resting on her mother’s knee. Her small body was laying under the blankets in her lap.
“No, Papra,” squeaked the son, again through the blankets covering him. “We’ve heard that one enough times already. Tell us…tell us again of Kraumpus, the Clawed One!”
“No, no,” spoke the mother harshly to her child, “Not Kraumpus tonight Thron! It’s already dark and dreary enough of it is that none of your family could join us.” They had needed to turn back to Amador with the weather so chilled. “Tell them of some other story. I don’t wish to hear about ol’ Kraumpus tonight. He gives me the chills enough to need two fires.”
“Now Mother, you know you need not fear ol’ Kraumpus. Nor any soul in our family. We give our offerings to Patra, and we abide by the Patral texts, same as the rest of our kin. Nothing to fear at all.”
“Well, you don’t need to Patronize me, Thron. I know we’re as safe as all the rest, it’s the children I fear for. We’ve had such a lovely night, and I’d hate to see them cry before bedtime.” She gave a small wry smile to her husband that neither child caught, and with a slight wink she egged him on, just as she had last year, and the one before that.
“Please, Papra!” Whined the children. “We won’t be scared. Promise!”
“Well, well…” the father muttered, rubbing his beard and pushing a small pillow behind his back so that he was propped up before the fire. “I suppose, I could tell you about ol’ Kraumpus, a bit, if of course, you can handle the idea of children,” his hands quickly reached out to grab them both by the ankles, “getting dragged to the Shadowlands!!!!!”
They both screamed, and Papra laughed. Mother did too.
Their Papra, like he always could, knew he had their undivided attention. The children snuggled deeper into the blankets, but each kept the covers from their eyes so that they could see their papra’s facial expressions. He always seemed to act out the story, and they loved that part best.
“Long before the Patral houses ruled Edessa, before the Shadowlands below, and even before the great Devourer tore itself into the heart of our world, there was only Patra. In the void, Patra was peace. There was no death, there was no life. There was only Him. And Patra realized a mighty thing. He realized that it would take life to beget life, and so he knew that of himself, he must give a spark.”
The father made a small sphere by cupping his hands, and while he was talking, grinded and twisted the two arms, so that the sphere made of his fingers tore themselves apart. “Patra, in his infinite wisdom and holiness, wanted to impart himself onto the universe, to give it life. But life cannot exist without death. Light, cannot exist in the void unless there is darkness. And so, to give the universe life, he gave of himself that which life needed to balance all things. And so Theta was born, and to Patra, he was as a brother.
To Patra’s light, he was darkness, to his peace, he was chaos.
Together, the two made the world of Edessa, the Eastern Isles, even the Scorched Lands and when Patra created the sun, Theta carved the Shadowlands so that a world with only darkness might thrive too.
The Twin God of Patra and Theta, ruled the world, and in their creation, the two walked and admired their work. Then came a time when the Twins would take for themselves wives….”
“Papra, we know all this! We hear it read from the Patral texts all the time! Besides, this is the part that’s boring, the marriages and stuff!”
“Oh yes, well, I know,” chuckled the father, so I suppose you want me to get to….” He brought his hands up to his head and stuck out two thumbs from either side to resemble horns, “the good part, right??”
“Yeah,” they both giggled, but the youngest pulled the covers closer around her, and the eldest snuggled closer to his mother.
“Al right my dears, well I will advance the story a bit then.