Saturday, 13th May, 2006, 02:52 PM #1
The Chronicle of Burne, and Some Others of Lesser Importance *Updated May 17th, 2009*
An Introduction to CITY:
--excerpted from "Talking Shi'att : Talmad Shi'atts Simple Man's History", University of Narayan Press, Monopolis Standard Year 285.
Once upon a time, a mighty empire ruled a thousand cities across the world. Modern archeologists agree that's a tad hyperbolic. A more realistic figure would be between at the most 50 and at fewest 15. The ancient peoples of what became known as the Gate Builder Empire were masters of Gate Magic; constructing and using arcane portals as easily as contemporary man uses the wheel, fire, or sarcasm. The Great Gates connected their cities into a single, ultra-metropolitan whole. Miniature gates to the far corners of the earth lit their street lamps, making it literally true that the sun never set on the Gate Builder Empire. Gates in their lavatories allowed the wealthy to relieve themselves onto volcanoes and the capitals of foreign powers. Their powerful nobles dwelt in mansions that spanned continents, often with rooms completely inaccessible by normal means. Mansions that became luxurious tombs the day the empire fell.
Not content with ruling the race of Man -or the 'Min' as the Hannu so quaintly call us in their charming child-language-the Gate Builders, thorough some lost art, opened Gates to other worlds; importing alien races wholesale. Thus came the Hannumin, Shirac, Garahjah, and the brutish Kaza-Ghul, the forefathers of the still rather brutish present-day Ruhk-Kaza race. Along with countless others who fled the Fall or where exiled to the wastelands beyond the Empire.
Throughout the Empire's rule there existed barbarous lands outside the rule of civilization. There, rivals arose to challenge the Gate Builders as the crowning height of human achievement; such as the Lassantes Empire that briefly flowered in the West 1000 years ago, only to vanish into the ashen sands from whence it came. And the Three Islands of Ajakhan in the distant East, which yet match CITY one day. If itís inscrutable yellow-skinned denizens can ever give up their taste for self-destructive, honor-culture carnage.
For 1000 years the Gate Builder Empire reigned supreme. They fought wars by unleashing the sea onto the land, or by dropping mountains on opposing armies, or by depositing barbarian hordes onto clouds. The armies of the Gate Builder Empire could be anywhere in the blink of an eye. But every civilization eventually falls victim to its own success. All mighty things must come to an end.
Even at its height, the Gate builder Empire never had quite enough manpower to control the vast spaces between their cities. It was a simultaneous attack by the unimaginably powerful barbarian chieftains of old, possibly aided by demons and foreigners (I often wonder if there's any point in differentiating between the two) against several key Imperial cities that brought the end of the Empire. After the Breach at Crensh, barbarians poured though the gates of Eris itself, killing (and worse, in later years intermarrying with) the proud pure-blooded people of the Imperial capital.
In a final act of desperation, the last Imperial High Gate Mage sealed the Gates, bringing to an end over 1000 years of shining, if exploitive, civilization. After that, the Dark Ages.
You might ask, "What about the period of civil war within the Empire prior to the Fall?" Don't. Itís best not to talk about that. In the end, savages poured through streets of the Empire. What else do you need to know?
You might ask, "What of the CITY Empire?" To be honest, the details are sketchy. It might refer to period directly before the sack of Eris, or it might have come after the Dark Ages, but before the Pirate Times. We do know that what it lacked in size, it made up for in atrocities. The caldera city called Gallina the Beautiful was drowned, lost Berouli was tri-cimated (1 out of 3 family members, including pets, randomly put to the sword), and eventually the ancient Gates in a dozen cities were torn down by angry mobs during the Night of Broken Arches. But these are all unsightly blemishes on the skein of history. Best forgotten by historians, and left for the bards to immortalize in their bloody doggerel.
Finally, you might ask, "What of Erebus?" Well, what of him? Or them, as is more likely the case. We know three things: firstly, the Gate Builder's knew of a being called Erebus. A celestial entity who crashed to the earth at the foot of Eris, the city which draws its name from him. He provided its citizens with countless years of debate over his nature, not to mention a seemingly endless quantity of materials from the great Pit made by his Fall which were infused with his divine essences.
Secondly, history is littered with accounts of an Erebus who is said to have shaped the course of history, been the patron of half the worlds artists, created armies of undead, sailed around the world seven times, fathering no less than 1,000 children en route, and, on five separate occasions, is said to have 'eaten the sun'. Make of that what you will.
And lastly, there are a rich body of folk tales from Narayan:CITY concerning the exploits of an immortal sorcerer by that name who live there and favors mischief, food with much garlic and the drinking of gin. It is said that he makes gods, as a hobby.
But enough about him. Now we stand at the dawn of a new era. No Gate Builders, no Empire, just the ten strongest of the ancient Gate cities reunited as CITY. All that remains, all that is most pure, the gold risen above the dross.
Last edited by Rolzup; Monday, 18th May, 2009 at 04:14 AM.
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The Tale of Burne, and Some Others of Lesser Importance:
Abraxis, for whatever reason, has been encouraging me to begin a journal. "Stuff and nonsense," was my first thought. "I've no time for such fripperies!" But then I realized that I was denying posterity a chance to know the true thoughts of Burne.
This would be very nearly a crime, and I shall not have it upon my conscience.
And so. I begin.
I am dictating this memoir to my famulus Abraxis, a clockwork feline of cunning design. A little unbalanced, and not quite as intelligent as I had hoped, but it was my journeyman project as an Alchemist. And, despite its many flaws, Abraxis serves as an unquestioned harbinger of my later brilliance. His handwriting -- paw-writing, ha! -- is sadly lacking, but it shall have to do.
BURNE IS AN UNMITIGATED JACKASS. AND MY HANDWRITING IS BETTER THAN HIS. PLUS, HE NEVER BOTHERED TO LEARN ERISIAN SHORTHAND.
We must start, I suppose, with my companions, those brave men who have so wisely accepted my leadership in these troubled times.
I first saw them upon Opium Way, as I was shopping for reagents, and I was instantly suspicious of their motives. A pair of Ajakhani savages, along with an obvious madman, walking boldly along the CITY streets! What possible business could they have here, on the borders of the Narayanís Little Ajakhan district? They pretended not to know each other, but the truth was all too clear to me....they were almost certainly spies, and probably saboteurs to boot. I took it upon myself to follow them, remaining cleverly hidden within the crowds, to ensure that they did no harm to this great CITY.
HE WAS CARRYING AN 8 FOOT TALL HALBERD, AND ALREADY STOOD TALLER THAN ANYONE IN THE CROWD. HE WASN'T FOOLING ANYBODY.
My suspicions were confirmed when they assaulted three young men who were preparing to beat a cat that they had hung from a sign-post. They took offense, for some reason, at these children and their innocent game. Foreigners! Who can fathom their motives?
I stepped forward to remonstrate with them, but matters resolved themselves with remarkable speed. They had seemingly mistaken the creature for a "pinyates", a lesser sort of household god, believed by the superstitious to break open and release minor miracles when beaten with a stick. In my experience, they're more likely to release various internal organs, but hope springs eternal.
Ah! The wholesome pursuits of youth!
In truth, it was merely a mundane cat, dyed green by some unknown agency. Who had dyed it, however? And for what purpose? My brief examination of the beast revealed a dye of unusual qualities had been used, a chemical that I was entirely unfamiliar with. And this, this was virtually unheard of!
I must confess that my memories of what follows are a little blurred. The children were run off, a shop-keeper interrogated, and (very) brief introductions made. The foreigners were revealed to be a sword-wielding transvestite of some apparent import, hight "Kenji", and a scarlet-clad archer of grim demeanor who styled himself "Rackhir".
NO, NO, HE CAN'T SAY "NAMED". HAS TO BE "HIGHT", BECAUSE THAT'S FANCY-TALK.
HE WRITES POETRY SOMETIMES, YOU KNOW. UNFORTUNATELY, I WAS NOT CONSTRUCTED TO BE ABLE TO REMOVE MY OWN EARS.
AS A FURTHER CLARIFICATION, KENJI IS NOT A TRANSVESTITE. HE WAS WEARING A KIMONO, AS HE GENERALLY DOES. IF IGNORANCE COULD BE BOTTLED, BURNE WOULD BE A WINERY.
The madman, I found, was a good deal more than he appeared. He was one of those both blessed and cursed with a primal connection to CITY, and was thus deserving of some grudging respect.
Had his fearful gnosis driven him mad, I wondered? Or was his condition a reflection of the troubled state of CITY itself? I must remember to compose a monograph upon this subject. Make a note of it, Abraxis!
In any case, he had no name, or none that he would give. He carried all of his possessions with him, in a rude hand-pulled cart, and was accompanied only by a mongrel dog and a fearsome odor.
Ah! Lest I forget, there was also a hannu who followed in this Kenji fellow's wake. He called himself, quaintly enough, "Doctor" Wu, and appeared to serve as some kind of butler. Doctor indeed...it is shameful, what they call an education in foreign lands!
We set out together, then, into the very heart of Little Azhikhan to investigate the origins of this green-hued cat. I was motivated partially by curiosity, for this dye was of an interesting and unfamiliar composition, and partially by the need to keep an eye on these suspicious individuals.
Why did they follow my lead? I cannot say. Perhaps green cats are a delicacy in their land. Or perhaps they were a little awed by a man of my bearing and obvious military experience. Certainly, this was the first wisdom they had yet shown on this evening.
HE SPENT THREE WEEKS IN THE NAVAL ACADEMY BEFORE BURNING HIS DORMITORY DOWN. HE CLAIMS THAT THIS WAS AN ACCIDENT. I THINK THAT HE'S LYING ABOUT THAT.
Of course, in such an areas as this, overrun by foreigners, violence was inevitable. And, truth be told, a little welcome.
There were four, perhaps five men, assaulting a hannu and a seemingly unconscious giant dressed in the rags and tatters of a naval uniform. I could not allow a fellow veteran to be attacked in such a manor, and promptly intervened in the matter.
Two of them I set aflame, and the remainder fled in panic. Rakhir, I believe, fired a few arrows and may have caused them some small injury, but it was the fear of Burne that gave wings to their feet!
RAKHIR KILLED TWO OF THEM. THREE, MAYBE. BURNE KILLED ONE, SINGED ANOTHER, AND TALKED A LOT. HE USUALLY DOES. NOBODY BOTHERS TO LISTEN, THOUGH.
The Giant, who called himself Tenor, had drunk himself into a stupor, but his simian friend managed to rouse him. They expressed their gratitude for my heroic actions, and declared themselves in my debt.
Which, in point of fact, they were.
The thugs had, apparently, been after the giant's heart -- a common sort of ingredient in alchemical workings of the darker kind. Foul stuff, I should add, and not the sort that I would have any part in.
In the meantime, Kenji and the madman were, apparently, interfering in a kidnapping a few blocks further on. Why they had strayed ahead, I cannot guess. They're like children, really...so easily distracted.
THE SOUND OF SCREAMING HAD BEEN CLEARLY AUDABLE FOR THE PAST SEVERAL MINUTES. THE SAMURAI AND HOMELESS FELLOW WENT TO HELP HER. RAKHIR THEN FOLLOWED, WHILE BURNE ROBBED THE DEAD. HE WILL DIE ALONE.
Blood was shed, and Kenji demonstrated that he did indeed know how to use that Erisian broadsword that he was so arrogantly carrying. Between them, he and the madman accounted for a handful of incompetent thugs, and rescued the intended victim, but their leader made his escape.
In a sedan chair, if you can credit it. Vague threats were, I believe, made.
The woman, seemingly in a state of shock, managed to offer her thanks and to beg us not to tell her father of what had occurred. And then she fainted; overawed by my very presence, I suspect.
BURNE DOESN'T BRUSH HIS TEETH VERY OFTEN. AND HE ALWAYS SMELLS LIKE SMOKE. AND HIS CLOTHES HAVE HOLES IN THEM. AND HE'S REALLY MEAN TO HIS FAMILIAR, WHO DESERVES MUCH BETTER.
And that, as I recall, is when we met yet another foreign devil, albeit a polite one for a change. Mop Mop Bow, he called himself....
Last edited by Rolzup; Saturday, 13th May, 2006 at 03:30 PM.
And thus, the Grand Re-Posting begins. And once more, explanations are likely called for....
The Chronicle of Burne is the record of D&D game that's been running for...well. Three years now, I think? Something like that.
The PCs number four, although there is some change-over in the course of events.
I, myself, am playing the one that matters. Burne the magnificent, Burne the alchemist, Burne the pompous ass. He has a single level of Marshal (to represent his all-too-brief term of military service), and the rest of his class levels are in the campaign specific class of "Alchemist". Essentially a sorceror, but with the ability to wear light armor and a much more limited repertoire of spells.
For the most part, this stroy hour has been compiled some years after the sessions thus recorded; total accuracy is not guarenteed. Nor desired. There will, however, be occasional "Interludes" -- such as the one folllowing -- taken directly from the e-mails sent at the time. Thus, the change of tone and tense.
Feel free to ask questions! CITY is a unique and idiosyncratic world, and Mallus is deserving of much kudos for the way he has brought it to life. Whether he deserves stoning for some of the horrible puns he has brought to life along with it, well...who am I to judge?
Interlude: A Cluttered, Ramshackle Tea-Shop
There is barely enough room for all of them to stand in the parlor of Mop Mop Bow's Kingdom of Peaceable Teas. The shop is an example in foreignly-ordered chaos, or a study in pleasing small-space feng-shui, depending on oneís point of view. The air seems to be made of equal parts tea, spice, and roast duckling.
Mop Mop Bow says, "Please to make lady comfortable while I brew helpful tea," as he gestures to a low divan partially obscured by several large cloth sacks piled in the corner. "I'm sure you have many questions. Too bad what I sell is tea". He pauses a moment.
"I tell you this thing, though. Plaza much nicer when King Daikon sell his radish across the street. His radish so good, attract good spirits. Good spirits that look after you at no charge." He pauses again, and then continues before anyone can get a word in edgewise...
"Sure miss King Daikon. Too bad he maybe dead. And that nice young priest of Oven he associate with. Not bad for priest of round-eye devil-god...."
As he finishes, Dr. Wu excitedly tugs on Kenji's robe, saying "Kenjiiiiii, while he was talking I was consulting with the mysteries of the Wu, and let me tell you, this place is a place of Wu...not the fierce Wu of Mt. Ju, but... I believe, aha, the Wu of water. And Kenjiiiii, the woman too is wearing much Wu...Wu in necklace, and oh so much Wu in the bracelets on her arms...Kenjiiiii, oh, wait, I suppose I shouldn't have said that last part out loud...."
Dr. Wujuyama turns and addresses Burne, Garbage Man, and the archer. "Would you please do me the honor, honorable man and gwailo, of striking from your minds the last part of what I have just said? Many thanks...."
The woman opens both eyes, stares at Mop Mop Bow and says "Young priest? Of Kruetzel? Did you say dead?!" And then faints dead away.
"Hmmm, now need stronger tea," says Mop Mop Bow, disappearing through a door into the recess of his shop.
The Wit and Wisdom of Burne
This Mop Mop Bow fellow was the owner and proprietor of "The Kingdom of Peaceable Teas", and the kidnapping attempt had occurred upon his very doorstep. He seemed properly appalled by the situation, and offered to tend to the lady's injuries.
Now, I have some small skill with alchemically based healing treatments, but I will readily confess that this is not my area of expertise. I accepted his offer with gratitude, and allowed him to use his teas to treat the unfortunate lady.
(I've found myself wondering, in my idle moments, whether Mop Mop Bow is actually a practitioner of some debased tea-focused form of foreign alchemy. It scarcely seems credible, let alone practical, but would not be the strangest thing that I've encountered in my adventures.)
When she did not, as I had half-expected, expire some moments after consuming said tea, I cheerfully accepted a cup for myself. One can never be too careful, after all.
The taste of the stuff, however, was not to my liking. Weak, bodiless stuff -- not entirely unlike the culture that produced it, eh? A man's drink should be the color and consistency of tar, and potent enough to wake the very dead!
I MAKE HIS COFFEE. I DO BAD THINGS TO IT. IN IT, REALLY.
As the woman began to stir, Mop Mop Bow explained, in an apologetic sort of manner, that the neighborhood had gone to hell since "King Daikon" and his friend, a priest of Kruetzel, had vanished a few weeks earlier. "Gone to hell?" I thought to myself, "This slum? Well, not so very far to fall, then...."
HAVE YOU SEE THE WAY THAT HE LIVES? THE DAMNED ARE ALMOST CERTAINLY BETTER HOUSEKEEPERS THAN BURNE.
The woman, who gave her name as Delphine, had awoken by this point, and was horror-struck when she heard that this young priest had vanished. She promptly fainted, again. All too typical of the weaker sex.
It was then that the archer appeared from out of the shadows, in a needlessly dramatic fashion. Rakhir had the foolish audacity to challenge me over the matter of some trifles I had recovered from the corpus of one of the thugs I had so heroically slain. I considered, for a moment, extracting his very soul from his body and incinerating it before his horror-filled eyes, but concluded that this would have been rude, and unworthy behavior for a gentleman like myself.
RAKHIR THREATENED HIM. WITH ARROWS. IT WAS AT THAT MOMENT THAT I DECIDED THAT I RATHER LIKED RAKHIR.
Disinclined to resort to such drastic measures, I allowed him to keep the trinkets. None of them looked all that interesting in any case. A knife, I believe that one was, and the other was an alchemically treated bag of some sort, probably intended to hold the Tenor's heart.
Nothing of any real interest, in other words.
AND THOSE GRAPES WERE PROBABLY SOUR, ANYWAY.
And then, Erebus help us, the man in the dress opened his mouth....
Interlude: Interior, Tea-Shop, Continued.
The samurai speaks. "In the meantime, I should introduce myself. I am Yamamoto Kenji, you may call me Kenji. My companion is Dr. Wujuyama, a sage and expert in matters of the Wu. Now, please introduce yourselves as we wait for the tea."
The man who smells of smoke nods, impatiently. "I am Burne, known as Burne the Magnificent in some circles. I am a veteran, a scholar, and a master of the alchemical arts. This," he continues, making an expansive gesture in the direction of the mechanical cat, "Is Abraxis, the Ultimate Cat, my famulus. One of my lesser creations, admittedly, but still a vast improvement over the inefficiencies of the so-called 'naturalí cat."
Abraxis, sitting on a nearby chair, begins to shudder and emit a horrid grinding noise.
"See! He purrs with pleasure at his master's praise!"
A foul smelling smoke begins to arise from the cat's ears.
"Enough, beast! You'll strip your gears, and this is neither the time nor the place for me to effect repairs."
"Names!" explodes the madman. "Names are power! Power! POWER! Never let them know. They can't know your names. They learn your name, they take your power. Power. Magical Power!! I've got Powers. No name! No name! No means no! Any seven.
"Mr. Bojangles. Hey there, Bojangles. Walk with a monkey-man. Talk with the Monkey Man. Can you get us some wind for the sailboat? Mr. Bojangles. Tangles. Angles.
"Pretty Hair! Her beauty lives. She is not dead. Not dead but dead. Dead but not dead. Find the dead but not dead. Alchemy! Alchem-Tea! Here kitty, kitty, kitty!"
He produces a container of milk from under his coat.
"Got milk? Nice cold milk for tea? Kit-Tea! Alchem-Tea. Here kitty, kitty, kitty!"
The madman takes a teacup from a table fills it with milk and puts it on floor near of the mechanical cat.
"Thank. You. Sir. However. I. Am. Not. Designed. To. Injest. Fluids. I. Am. Prone. To. Rust," Abraxis pauses. "Me. Ow," it adds, resignedly.
He takes another teacup, fills it with milk and holds it for his dog to slurp up, who happily indulges.
The man in red speaks. "I am Rakhir, the Red Archer, a warrior looking for employment."
He says nothing more.
The blonde woman opens hers eyes, suddenly, a look of alarm on her face. The first sight she sees is Dr. Wu. Immediately, her look softens as she makes the all-too-common, "Oh how cute!" face that humans have been favoring Hannu with since the dawn of history. Wu scowls and turns to Mop Mop Bow. "Most efficacious tea..." he mutters softly.
The woman says slowly, "Thank you for rescuing me... I really don't know what else to...I mean, this is all rather clichť. I've never been a damsel in distress before. Thank you for the wonderful tea." She uses a phrase in the Three Lands language than means 'Master of Tea Ceremonyí while addressing Mop Mop Bow.
"I am --she pauses a moment-- Delphine."
She speaks using a fair approximation of an Imperial Court dialect; the one prescribed for ambassadors and courtiers.
Her wits apparently collected, she continues, "Please honored tea-master, tell me more of the priest of the Oven-Lord. I believe he is my missing fiancť."
Mop Mop Bow says, "Fiancť, how nice. Have much happiness. If you find. Ah well, young priest was round-eye with hair like angry straw. About 6 foot. Too big. Eyes wide like a child's, and not just from his round-eye nature."
A sad look of recognition crosses the woman's face, "Oh, Joquim."
Mop Mop Bow says, "Nice man, for round-eye devil-god priest. He come to Little Ajakhan and help King Daikon feed the beggars. And cure sick. Young priest have tiny oven. This big," Bow spreads his hands. "He bake good things that fix broken legs, cure men of drink, de-plague lousy plague-woman of loose morals. Etc."
"Also, he buy much tea from Mop Mop Bow. Tea and spices. Hint hint."
"So that's why he came down here," the woman says to no-one in particular. "At least it wasn't Yellow Fever...And what happened to this King Daikon? He was a priest too?"
"No, no...he greengrocer. With funny stick. He wave it at people at they got well. Or they got cursed. But only good people got well and bad people get cursed so everything work out. Until last week, when he disappear. Along with your fiancť."
"You must know where he went!" she all but shouts, hysteria winning over lucidity-inducing tea. "That's his stand across the plaza, right?!"
"Yes, his stand," says Mop Mop Bow, "Not only that. He live on roof of building behind stand. Still I not see. King Daikon spend lot of time by the docks. See him there. Buying, fresh off boat. And waving stick at soldiers who try and press people onto terrible boat. Maybe you look there. And maybe now time for Quiet Tea, very good...."
Last edited by Rolzup; Friday, 4th May, 2007 at 05:13 PM.
Burne and the Maiden
Another dose of Mop Mop Bow's tea served to revive the woman once more, and she launched unprompted into a tale of woe. Trite stuff; she'd fallen for a man of the lower classes, her father disapproved, and now he was missing. The sort of thing that Arabia Wainright writes lurid pot-boilers about.
ARABIA WAINRIGHT IS A LITERARY GODDESS, AND WORTH TEN OF BURNE. NO, A HUNDRED.
Without even a moment's hesitation, the archer offered her his services. Some misplaced sense of chivalry, I suppose. Kenji, with an indifferent shrug, opined that he might also be of assistance, lacking anything better to occupy his time.
And what was I to do? Leave this woman unattended in the company of madmen and, even worse, foreigners?
Unthinkable. I had no choice but to offer my own assistance, even though it would take me away from my own increasingly vital experiments.
AT THE TIME, HE WAS WORKING ON A FORMULA THAT WOULD ALLOW HIM TO CREATE EXPLOSIVE RABBITS. I DONíT KNOW WHY, BUT I SUSPECT THAT ALCOHOL HAD PROVIDED HIS CHIEF INSPIRATION.
As we prepared to leave, however, Mop Mop Bow unwittingly provided a further piece of information. He offered Delphine a scarf that he called a "Hue-Wu charm", of a brilliant shade of green...the very same green as that unfortunate cat! It had been purchased, he said, from a local businessman, Han Oi Xian the Dyer, and was considered to be a good-luck charm by his credulous fellows.
Furthermore, he suggested that he might know the origin of that alchemically treated bag that I had discovered. Sanjuro Roeh, an alchemist of some sort and a rival of Bow's, was known to create such things..
Roeh, I resolved, would need to be dealt with.
We left the shop, talking quietly among ourselves, only to find a group of uniformed men entering the square, busily discussing the disposition of the criminals we had so handily dispatched. This, I thought to myself as I glanced at the foreigners, could be a difficult situation.
I was, of course, correct in my fears. I generally am.
This was the famed Asymmetric Recruitment Squad, about their vital business. The ignorant might call them a "Press Gang", but as a veteran myself I understood the importance of their work.
Their leader, alas, was an odious little fellow named Savur Phillipe. A man not without connections, as it transpired, but entirely without morals. Phillipe was to become quite the millstone 'round our necks over the course of the next few days, until we....
But, no. I get ahead of myself. Lieutenant Phillipe was, he claimed, concerned about the obvious violence that had occurred within the square. I assured him that nothing worse than justice had been done, but he seemed rather skeptical. It's hard to imagine that any man could doubt the sworn word of Burne, but I suppose that it's simply another sign of the man's degenerate personality.
Kenji then began remonstrating with the man, and I resigned myself to the onset of violence. Matter were made all the worse when our madman began scaling the wall opposite, apparently intent upon investigating the ramshackle abode of this "King Daikon" who had so lately vanished.
The Lieutenant did not take kindly to this, and began making threats. The madman, perhaps sensing the tension, responded by throwing rubbish down on to Phillipe's men. Kenji began making threats of his own, and I do believe that some swords had been drawn.
And then...something...happened. And I'll be damned if I know what.
Kenji, you see, is not *just* an effeminate foreigner. Oh, to be sure, he wields a sword tolerably well...
IF BY "WELL" HE MEANS, "CAN SPLIT A MAN IN HALF WITH A SINGLE STROKE", THIS IS, IN FACT, CORRECT.
...but swordplay is not, I think, where his true strength lies. How can I best explain this?
It is said that there are those among the Ajakhani who practice a form of martial discipline. Some type of unarmed combat, in which the attacker's strength is turned against him. A shift of momentum, and a fearsome charge becomes a terrible fall.
This is clearly inferior to the Erisian way, in which the charging attacker is impaled upon a set spear, and then roasted alive for his effrontery. In fact, I myself have....
My apologies; I digress.
Kenji, it seems, practices this very art. But he does so verbally, rather than physically. Time and again I have seen him do this, turning an implacable foe into a reluctant ally with no more than a few well-placed words.
I'm never entirely sure how he manages this. It all seems reasonable enough at the time, no matter how mad it may appear in the cold light of dawn.
Whatever it was that he said and did, the end result was that he and Lieutenant Phillipe set off to gamble together, at a local establishment called Stiltjackets.
The madman, for his part, had made some discoveries among Daikon's belongings. A book, and a short length of wood with many faces carved into its surface.
The faces were muttering quietly to themselves; you couldn't hear them if you actually listened, but you'd catch snatches of conversation while paying attention to other matters. The madman seemed to be hearing them quite clearly, and was actually responding to the stick as though it were somehow sentient. Not, I hasten to add, that his responses made any kind of sense whatsoever, beyond betraying a disturbing fascination with pudding.
Mop Mop Bow commented that it was rather unusual that the madman was able to hold this stick, as it usually "bit" anyone other than Daikon who ventured to touch it.
Daikon, I surmised, was another individual with a primal connection to CITY itself, much like our madman. He seemed to have better maintained his sanity, however, and masqueraded as nothing more than a greengrocer for reasons of his own.
At this point, I'll confess, I was growing impatient with matters. The hour was late, and I had matters of grave import to consider before retiring for the evening.
HE SPENT THREE HOURS WAVING HIS CHEAP SECOND-HAND KATANA AROUND AND KILLING IMAGINARY OPPONENTS. HE LOOKED LIKE HE WAS HAVING SOME KIND OF A SEIZURE.
We resolved, then, to meet at Mop Mop Bow's establishment upon the morrow. Rakhir would act as a bodyguard for Delphine, and conduct her though the streets of Little Ajakhan to some place of relative safety. Word would be left for Kenji at the rude little inn where he was staying.
Plans having been made, we then adjourned for the evening. I returned home in fine spirits, glad to once more breathe in the fine air of Eris.
You Canít Trust an Ajikhani to do an Erisianís Job
Of course, things went badly wrong. My fault entirely, I'm afraid: I made a classic blunder, and actually trusted a foreigner to do something both simple and important.
One task. Just one. Keep the Lady Delphine safe from any further kidnapping attempts.
And could Rakhir manage this? Or even die an honorable death while failing in the attempt? No, and no again.
And who was this fearsome kidnapper? I shall describe him for you: He wore a conical straw hat, one large enough to conceal his features. And his fists were shrouded in white vapor; their impact hurt, and were sufficient to beat Rakhir unconscious, but without dealing any lasting damage.
To be entirely honest, I thought that he might really have leapt forth from mouth of a wine bottle. Alas, I soon, discovered that Rakhir's description was disturbingly accurate.
In the meantime, our chief concern was finding the missing Delphine. Kenji, having returned from his evening of wagering somewhat poorer for the experience (by design, or so he claimed), joined us in the search. Rakhir proved unable to track his assailant through the cobbled CITY streets, although I grant that he did make a game attempt at it.
The madman, I think, attempted to commune with the spirits of CITY in hopes of learning something. He may even have succeeded, but since not *once* in the course of our acquintence did he *ever* say anything that even *remotely* resembled sense, we never did find out.
We were, regretfully, at something of a loss.
But not for long. There is an old Erisian saying that was pertinent to our situation, "When in doubt, use your brain! Find a foe, and cause him pain."
Wisdom indeed. And thanks to Mop Mop Bow, we had Sanjuro Roeh's address. Our path, then, was clear.
The Importance of Being Burne
Not everyone, I realize, is familiar with the Great Art. Their lives are poorer for this lack, and I feel pity for their loss, rather than scorn for their shameful ignorance.
Alchemy, you see, is the art or transcendence. The ultimate goal of alchemy, and of every reputable alchemist, is to transcend the limits of mortal clay and ascend to a higher state of being. Personally, I plan to do this through the medium of fire. The physical effects of even a normal fire are plainly transcendent, after all. Base matter is transformed into the divine energy of heat and light.
When -- not if! -- I discover the method to ignite my own soul in such a manner, I will truly have mastered the greatest Art of all.
In the meantime, I must content myself with the more mundane pleasures of the pyrotechnic arts. Is there anything more beautiful than a white-hot flame? I rather think not.
THIS GOES A LONG WAY TOWARDS EXPLAINING WHY BURNE IS STILL SINGLE.
And this brings me to Sanjuro Roeh. There are, sadly, alchemists who choose to debase the Art by practicing their craft for mere coin. Roeh, by all available evidence, was one such individual. What's more, he was a man willing to defy even the most basic laws of morality in pursuit of profit.
To actually dispatch thugs with the intent of killing a helpless giant and extracting his heart? Monstrous.
A true alchemist would face said giant, defeat him in single combat, and then carve out the still-beating heart with his own two hands. If a man is not willing to get his own hands dirty, he's no alchemist at all.
(Found objects are another thing entirely, I should add. If no one is actually making use of a given organ, it's free for the taking.)
And so, armed solely with my own righteous indignation...
AND A CROSSBOW, AND A HALBERD, AND A BADLY MADE SWORD, AND MAGIC, AND THREE BURLY COMPANIONS.
...I set out to confront Sanjuro Roeh. His shop was located on the edge of Little Ajakhan, near the border of the Blue Light District . On our way there, we passed by the dye-works of this Han Oi Xian fellow, and took a moment to observe the place.
It had been a monastery at some point in the past, but now it was simply a rundown building with a rundown tower, surrounded by a rundown wall. A pair of tall statues stood in the courtyard, one depicting the god Kruetzel, and the other the pirate goddess Pentamoor. Little did we know what evil those statues portended....
A crowd was gathering outside the gates, in anticipation of the sale of the newest Hue-Wu charm. Xian's practice, we had learned, was to sell a new color of scarf each week; fashion and superstition both demanded the purchase of is most recent creation.
I made a mental note of the building's structural weaknesses (siege engineering being one of my many areas of expertise), and we continued on to our true goal.
UNLESS STEPPING ON ANT-HILLS COUNTS, BURNE IS NOT IN ANY WAY QUALIFIED AS A SEIGE ENGINEER.
Narayan is, sadly, prone to harboring the worst examples of the criminal element. The Room Rouge Players -- duelists, actors, lawyers -- were a particularly foul example.
(Note that I said "were". I soon put an end to the Players, with some minor aid from my companions. But this was still some weeks in the future.)
What business they had with Sanjuro Roeh, I could not imagine. But nevertheless, as we pounded upon the man's door, there they were. Not all of them, but enough to provide an interesting diversion. They had a wagon, which contained a tarpaulin, which in turn covered something large and wet.
This bore further investigation.
Our polite inquiries were rebuffed, and matters grew only more tense when Roeh himself, accompanied by a Rukh-Kazah bodyguard, finally made his appearance. I firmly denounced him before the gathered crowd, and he blanched in obvious terror.
The Room Rouge Players, amusingly enough, chose to threaten us with violence. I responded with a raised eyebrow, and three simple words: "I am Burne." The eyebrow alone was likely inducement enough for them to flee, but at my words they took to their heels without delay.
ACTUALLY, KENJI NEARLY GUTTED ONE OF THEM, AND THE REMAINING PLAYERS DRAGGED THE UNFORTUNATE VICTIM OFF. NOBODY EVEN LOOKED IN BURNE'S DIRECTION. FEW PEOPLE DO, UNLESS THEY HAVE TO.
Roeh, obviously terrified, surrendered the wagon and its contents to me, and we retired in triumph.
MORE IRRITATED THAN TERRIFIED, ACTUALLY. THAT RUKH-KAZAH WAS REALLY, REALLY BIG.
The contents of the wagon took even myself, well known for my intuitive prowess, by surprise. A reptilian creature, the size and general shape of a man, obviously well-adapted to aquatic life. Credulous sailors know these beasts as "Sea Devils", while I quickly identified the beast by its proper name: that of "Kuo-Toa".
Not surprisingly, considering his barbarous origins, this poor beast was not blessed with knowledge of any civilized tongue. We sought out magical assistance to provide a translation, and purchased a formulation from a nearby temple for this purpose.
Erebus preserve me, the creature gave its name as "Blub-Blub". Possibly the aquatic equivalent of "Smith"; who am I to say? I've no love for the water, as it is far too damp and fire-resistant an environment for my liking.
But never mind its absurd cognomen. The Kuo-Toa had a fascinating tale to tell, and one with obvious bearing upon our own situation.
He and a tribe of his people had been captured, by persons unknown, and brought to CITY from their home territories. As they were not citizens, they were considered to have a status equivalent to that of pets, and could be brought and sold without legal impairment.
They had, in fact, been sold...to one Han Oi Xian. No mere dyer, Xian was actually a practitioner of some debased foreign sorcery. He made use of certain techniques, all of them most unpleasant, to cause the Kuo-Toa to release fluids that he employed in his dyes. The very dyes that he used for his famous Hue-Wu charms, in point of fact.
This "Blub-Blub" had managed to make his escape by literally transforming into a priest, by a mechanism that I do not pretend to understand. It involved the secretion of some form of holy icon, a process that I chose not to investigate. Matters theological are of little interest to me, frankly, and mucous-based religion is even less appealing than the usual sort.
In any case, he had not remained free for long. The waters of Narayan are not hospitable to foreign swimmers, and he was soon taken into custody by the Room Rouge Players. And then, of course, I saved him.
YES. BURNE SAVED HIM. THATíS EXACTLY WHAT HAPPENED.
Waving off his gratitude, I pressed him for further details. He revealed that his people were imprisoned within the tower that adjoined Han Oi Xian's dye works, the lowest level of which was flooded. Furthermore, a human had been imprisoned with them who, by his description, could only be the missing King Daikon.
A full-scale frontal assault upon Xian's lair was clearly the only answer. Alas, even the plans of a master tactician like myself can be foiled by the vagaries of chance....
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