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Thursday, 29th May, 2003, 03:50 PM #1
Sins of Our Fathers - 2/10 - Final Update
Author's Note: This story hour explores some decidedly mature themes. The following posts recount the exploits of a group of characters played by a handful of thirtysomething players. This is a "low fantasy" campaign, rife with moral ambiguities. I want to entertain, not offend. If I inadvertently accomplish the latter, please accept my apologies.
"I am Loroth the Godless, where shall I find my equal? Bow down unto me, weak-willed worms and spineless pretenders. You hide your heads behind the skirts of your priests - today the petty people have become lord and master. They all preach submission and acquiesance and prudence and diligence and consideration and the long list of petty virtues.
"They look up when they desire to be exalted, and I look down because I am exalted! Your priests - they make a virtue of what is modest and tame: with it they make the wolf into a dog and man into a domestic animal. That is not moderation, it is mediocrity! Never will I bow to man, nor to their gods, for if gods exist - how could I endure not becoming one?!"
- Loroth Witchking, Lamia Imperator, 42 B.E.
The dwarf hooked both thumbs in his belt and stared at the skeleton. The bones of the dragon had been scoured smooth by the winds of the central Valusian plains, but were still mottled with shades of darkness and horror. The rib cage resembled the stone buttresses of Axemarch Hall, and certainly were just as large and sweeping. The sight was enough to inspire a sense of dreadful awe, even now.
“Ul’Daegol,” whispered the bent man at the dwarf’s side as he, too, drank in the view. His manner was almost reverent. “The Doom Lizard, it is called, in the common tongue of this land. Slain by the soldiers of the Elfking Gryfane some one thousand years past.” The man pushed the cowl back from his face and wobbled forward to extend a bony finger toward one of the ribs. He stretched onto the bawls of his feet. “You can still see the death scar – right there – if the light is good.”
The dwarf nodded noncommittally after glancing at the setting sun. It would already be dark within the ravines and gullies of Axemarch, he knew. Night came early there. As a dwarf-child Baden could remember summer days wherein he and his fellows would count their heartbeats as sunlight struck the floor of the deepest chasms. Sixty-four. That was the longest. He had been eighteen years old, then.
Yet he was not in the Halls of his fathers; he was upon the Cormick plains next to an old man from the Rorn. Baden stared at the man’s features – leathery skin stretched tightly across a wind-burned face, a prominent nose that made him appear like some vulture of the red wastelands across the water. The man was all furs, leathers, and melancholy.
One of the dwarf’s companions – the troubadour John of Pell – had a way with words. After their group had first met the Rornman who named himself Aramin, John had shared his thoughts with the party later that night in the privacy of a tavern’s booth. “The Rornman is akin to a harlot, methinks. He has a pleasing enough proposition, but I have a feeling after we’ve spent our gold crowns, we’ll feel the losers in the arrangement.”
The Larren clansman had laughed at that. “But it’s not us spending the coins, Pellman. He offers to pay us well.”
Baden pushed those memories aside. They had accepted the Rornman’s offer to travel eastward from Ciddry to these old dragon bones. The nights of doubt, spent huddled on the back of some sway-backed mare, would soon be ending. Aramin would name his task, offer his payment, and the group could decide whether to accept or not. Simple, really. Much simpler than life had been at Axemarch.
Aramin showed broken teeth. “So, Baden of Axemarch, are you ready to hear what I have to offer?”
Baden nodded. He watched the Rornman saunter across the yellowing weeds and disappear into a hide-skin tent. He turned to follow, but stopped. Once again Baden allowed his gaze to linger upon the bones of the Doom Lizard. He knew the tale. His people knew history, even the histories of the other races. Fifty elves had died slaying that dragon; fifty of the greatest spellsingers and swordsons the Elfking had under his standard.
To Baden, it seemed too high a price to pay in order to kill an oversized lizard.
“Ul’Daegol,” the dwarf murmured into the winds. “I suppose you thought you’d be tearin’ about these plains for all the Ages, eh? I bet you never thought you’d be a bag o’ old bones sticking up through the dirt like so many dead trees.
“Look at ye now, lizard.” Baden rapped his knuckles softly against the shadowy ribs. The dwarf’s face was hidden within the cowl of his hood. “You should have stayed in the mountains, Ul’Daegol. Your bones should be in them mountains. Not here.”
Then, without a backward glance, Baden turned and followed the Rornman into the tent, passing through a darkness grown as black as the forgotten chasms of childhood Axemarch.
Sins of Our Fathers II
The Sins of Our Fathers Rogues Galley - Fiends & Friends
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Thursday, 29th May, 2003, 07:07 PM #2
A very interesting beginning, Destan. I'm looking forward to the next installment.
Thursday, 29th May, 2003, 08:40 PM #3
John kicked a plush pillow toward the tent’s opening as Baden ducked under the flap. “Doubtless your ass is a bit sore.” John smiled, "From being on horseback too long, of course.” The dwarf wordlessly took his seat, his face a pool of shadow made darker from the brazier’s feeble embers.
John sighed. By lute and lyre, how have I ended up with such sour company? The Pellman glanced about the room. A dwarf encased head-to-toe in dreadfully unfashionable mail, Baden creaked like a brothel bed every time he so much as stroked the butter from his beard.
A half-troll – ugly even by their standards – wrapped by the red cords of that insufferable, suffering god Ilmater. The great brute wheezed like a dying carp, and his snoring was enough to wake the Dead Gods.
In the corner of the hide tent was Kellus Varn, a Rhelmsman from Tarn Cal. He claimed to be a former Priest of Helm, yet made no attempt to hide his atheism. Remind me not to ask him for healing, John thought wryly. And Kellus' armor was even more archaic, if such was possible, than the moody dwarf’s.
John eyed the black-cloaked warrior opposite him. At least Raylin mac Larren knew how to laugh at a joke, even if he couldn’t tell one to save his horse. The clansman sat next to the group’s ‘token’ elf, as John liked to call Amelyssan. The elf was from Grun Min, an island that sat arrogantly off the coast of Valusia in the cloud-swept Conomora Channel. Judging from the elf’s pompous veneer and lilting accent, he shared the haughtiness of his homeland.
We’re a walking band of stereotypes, John thought, and none of them good.
Aramin stoked the brazier coals with a sooty, ironshod staff. The tent’s illumination increased, but only momentarily. Soon thereafter dancing shadows reclaimed the faces of those assembled. Outside the wind whispered mournfully, save when it increased in intensity. Then John could hear it whistling through the bones of that great, dead serpent outside. Now there's a poorly played tune. The Pellman sighed wistfully.
Aramin eyed them each in turn, sharing John’s look for but a moment. Then he spoke. “I thank you for attending me this evening. I thank you for making the journey from Ciddry to here – the roads are unkind this time of year. I know you have come thus far because of my coins, and I know you will go no farther unless I promise more of the same.”
The man spoke matter-of-factly, his accent odd and guttural to John’s ears. Aramin casually gestured toward his waiting boy, a youth with a somber face and deplorably large ears. The boy walked forward carrying a chest nearly larger than he was. John sat straighter on his pillow.
Aramin pointed to an empty patch of dirt near the brazier and the boy set the chest down. The ancient Rornman produced a key in the shape of lizard’s tail and unlocked the clasp. He pushed the lid back.
John whistled long and low. “Well I, for one, am listening.”
Aramin smiled humorlessly at the bard then turned to his companions. “Six hundred crowns. Valudian mint. Pressed ten years past, before the White Empire began clipping her coins.”
John was uncertain some of his companions could do simple math, so he did it for them. “One hundred crowns each, lads. A princely sum, indeed.”
Raylin mac Larren tore his gaze from the chest. “A man don’t offer to pay that much, Rornman, unless his job be a hard one. You mean for us to do some wet work, eh?”
Aramin appeared puzzled. “Wet work? If you mean that bloodshed may be involved, then – yes – I mean for you all to do some wet work.”
“Who?” Amelyssan’s eyes glowed golden in the firelight. “Or what?”
Aramin withdrew his palsied hand, allowing the gold to remain visible. “I am uncertain. There is an item I would have. It is now held by others.”
Baden’s armor creaked as he drew the axe from his belt and set it on the floor next to his pillow. John recognized the dwarven custom of baring steel during important discussions - it simply meant that no half-truths would be tolerated. From a people that regularly greeted one another with the words, "Shen tu Fundin! Speak or be cloven!" John supposed it should be expected.
Baden spoke softly, “Tell us the whole of it, Rornman. We are not in the mood for more riddles.”
For once John was in agreement with the dour dwarf, if not in the relatively melodramatic manner he presented his desire. The bard leaned forward and pulled a single crown from the chest. He stared at the face of the Popa Popalis, one of the leaders of Valudia, then flipped the coin into the air and studied the reverse. “1355 DR. Over ten years old.”
Aramin’s eyes flashed. “I do not lie, Pellman.”
No, you don't, agreed John silently. Not about the coins, at any rate.
The Rornman waited for John to return the crown to the chest before continuing. “Do all of you know your history?" Aramin paused theatrically, a look of disdain crossing his features. "I thought as much.
“Early in this Age, perhaps one hundred years after Demos had fallen to the Apians, a demon made himself known in the hills south of Tarn Cal.” John saw Kellus’ eyes narrow at the mention of his homeland. “The demon’s name was Ippizicus. Called Child-Eater. He demanded tribute from the worthies of Tarn Cal. Until they paid him in full, he vowed to wreak havoc among the patrols and caravans traveling the Kingsway south of the Prince’s Tower.”
Kellus’ voice was soft. “A tribute, indeed. He demanded children. One per tenday.”
Aramin nodded. “And the Rhelmsmen, much to their eternal shame, paid it. Six months and near twenty children later, they were still paying it. Ippizicus, for the most part, held to his bargain. He turned his savagery against the nearby dwarves of the Balantir Cor, and the few tribes of gammedrel elves still nestled in the foothills during those days. It wasn’t Rhelmsmen being slain, so the leaders of Tarn Cal turned a jaundiced eye to his reavings.
“But fate intervened. For the children of Tarn Cal were chosen by lots, and the second son of Margate, Bishop of Gond, was designated as the next sacrifice. Margate was large, a former blacksmith of no small reknown, and he was not one to let his son become a demon’s feast…though it might be noted he never once raised his voice earlier, when it was other women’s children being sent to Ippizicus’ hill.”
Kellus frowned. John could see that the Rhelmsman knew the tale - and did not like hearing it. Aramin paid none of them any mind. “Margate swaddled himself in the armor of his god, took up his maul, and struck off southward for the hills. He found Ippizicus and defeated him.”
“Your story-telling skills are lacking,” John observed. “You give no recounting of the battle?”
“I'll leave the tale-telling and story-weaving to those more inclined to such pursuits.” Aramin and John shared a silent look. “As I said, the demon was defeated - but not slain. Margate knew his priestly teachings – a demon could only be truly slain on his home plane, ‘lest his true name be known. Margate did not know Ippizicus’ true name-"
"More's the pity," murmured John.
Aramin ignored his interruption. “So the Gondian Bishop imprisoned the creature in a staff made for such a purpose. So that the demon would not escape, and so that men would remember their shame, he sundered the staff into three parts. The first was taken to the city of Rhelm, the second to be held in the Gondian Temple in Tarn Cal, and the third sent to the White City of Val Hor itself.”
Amelyssan steepled delicate fingers in front of his face. “It appears, to me, that you do not seek the return of one item, but of three.” The elf had a way of pausing during his speech that annoyed John and his musician's ear.
Aramin nodded. “True. The gold, however, but pays for the first. Should you return that piece to me, we can further discuss matters.”
“Then, I ask again – who?” Amelyssan fixed his amber eyes on the Rornman. “Who has the piece, of the staff, you now seek?”
“A band of humanoids. I know not how they came upon it. All learned men know the staff’s pieces went missing many hundreds of years ago as memory faded and their importance – and their lessons - were forgotten. Doubtless they have traveled the entire isle in the interim – from one unknowing hand to another.”
Raylin mac Larren rubbed his hands together. “I have hunted and killed many rűcken upon these very plains. This is no large task. Tell us where they are, or where they have been, and it shall be done.”
“Only a day’s ride from here, of course. Else why bring you to the bones of the Doom Lizard?”
“Why indeed?” John asked. But his fears were suppressed by the nearness of gold.
Aramin looked about the fire. “I ask you, each of you – will you do this thing?”
John watched the dwarf nod, once, curtly. The half-troll groaned his agreement even as Amelyssan and Kellus muttered their own assent. Well, then, thought John, we may be an odd bunch, but it seems we like gold as much as the next fool.
The Pellman pantomined a drumroll on his knee. He flashed even, white teeth at the old Rornman. “It appears you have purchased our services, Master Aramin.”
Last edited by Destan; Wednesday, 4th June, 2003 at 11:51 AM.
Friday, 30th May, 2003, 02:03 AM #4
On the Heels of History
Raylin mac Larren squatted in the dying weeds. The weather had turned unseasonably warm over the past night, and he gave thanks to the spirits of his fathers for such good fortune. The frozen ground had thawed somewhat. The tracks would now be easy to follow, easier to find.
He pressed a calloused hand into the soft earth and lifted fingers to his nose. The soil was cold and damp to the touch, but the scent…there was a scent, however faint, that conjured images of hills rolling toward the horizon like green-flecked waves. For a moment the Larren clansman forgot his quarry. He thought only of his home, and a storm-tossed evening long ago.
But only for a moment. “Sniffing the dirt in an effort to rid your nostrils of the half-troll’s stench?” John of Pell squinted down at Raylin from atop his horse, head cocked to one side. “Not a bad idea, actually. Does it work?”
Raylin grinned like a wolf. “As for Brother Vath, I can still smell him. But I also smell the rűcken. Their heads are as good as in our rucksacks.”
Baden scanned the horizon of scrub brush and sickly trees. “The Forgefather be praised.”
Raylin swung atop his own horse. Though he had not admitted it to his companions, he feared he would prove unable to locate the trail. Two days of fruitless searching had passed since the party left Aramin and his chest of gold. But the ground was soft here, thanks to the rise in temperature, and he could make out the slightest impressions of booted feet, recently made.
Raylin glanced at the mountain dwarf, sitting astride his horse like a child on a rickety wagon, and shrugged. “I know not. If we follow them for a bit, I may learn more.”
Vath walked over to where the ranger had been kneeling and studied the ground. The horses whickered softly and pulled away from the half-troll. “Our prey goes toward that line of trees, yes?” His voice was a groaning croak.
Raylin nodded. “Aye. Northward. Though nothing is northward save more of the same. Plains, sparse woods, a few hills. This is ugly country hereabouts.”
Amelyssan circled his horse about the group. The elf’s proud features were smooth, but his eyes flashed with anticipation. “Enough banter. Let us make haste.”
Raylin laughed and kicked heels to flank. He led the party northward into the tree line. To the east, the sun struggled to overcome the broken peaks of the Balantir Cor. The mountain range covered most of eastern Valusia. Raylin had always felt both comforted and intimidated by the rocky walls. At times they seemed like protective arms of stone and granite, at others but a foreboding line of jagged rock.
The rűcken trail pierced the tree line and sauntered downward into a valley carpeted with gorse and sagebrush. The humanoids were avoiding the hilltops and ridge crests; locations where they might be seen by an observer upon the plains was given wide berth.
Only a few hours before nightfall, Raylin called for a halt. He slid off his horse and stared hard at the ground. The spirit-fathers were testing him. The soft loam of the plains gave way here to cracked, paved rock. Flagstones, actually, from some ancient highway or plaza.
Valusia was dotted with the detritus of past Empires, most of which Raylin had never heard of. The clansman appreciated the occasional ruined tower for shelter during inclement nights, but the stones now at his feet only gave him pause.
“What is it?” John produced a withered apple and leaned forward to feed it to his mount. “I thought we gained on them, yet now we stop?”
Raylin frowned. “We are close, aye. But these stones do not hold their tracks like the earth.”
“Epala*,” whispered Amelyssan as his eyes stared at sights unseen. “This was once the central plaza of an old city. Something was lost here. Long ago. It has not returned.”
John grunted. “Who needs the past when you have the present? It appears we may have lost something here as well.”
Baden waved a gauntlet about the clearing. “These paved stones cover most of this valley. It will not be easy finding their trail should we have to circle the boundary.”
Raylin chewed his lip in thought. He enjoyed these recent companions, for the most part, but they overly enjoyed the sound of their voices. “They were heading northward, so let us continue in that direction until the stones end. Impassable mountains are east of here, and the towns of men to the west. Spirits willing, they remain unaware we follow.”
The group pushed northward once more, picking their way among the ruins of old outer walls and forgotten buildings. None of the horses could bear the smell of Vath, nor his weight, so the half-troll loped alongside the party like any hunting hound. He climbed over piles of jumbled stone and ducked through holes in the old walls, but never fell behind their pace.
Perhaps an hour later, the paved stones gave way once more to a blanket of thick, yellow weeds. Raylin climbed from his horse and walked along the edge. The valley was narrow here. To the north, the direction they were going, the ground sloped upward into a slender defile. It was useless; he had lost them.
“We camp here.” The clansman turned to pull the saddle from his mount.
“Here?” Baden eyed the old stones. “There are memories in these rocks. Things best left forgotten. Ask the elf – he can tell you.”
John winced and slid from his horse. “I’d rather not, if I have a choice in the matter.”
Raylin ignored them and began to collect firewood. He had survived more than one rűcken night attack. If he had lost the humanoids, perhaps they would do him the favor and find him instead.
Raylin had taken the last watch, so he sat quietly as the land turned to pink around him. The cold had come stealing upon them during the mid of night, but the rűcken were not so accommodating. His breath created ghosts with each exhale, the wraiths drifting upward in a thin line. There was no wind this morning.
“Pack your things. Quickly. We must be off.”
The party pushed northward, Raylin in the lead. The broad-shouldered ranger occasionally knelt and studied the ground like a priest reading omens in the movements of meandering beetles. Yet, try as he might, Raylin could find no further sign of the rűcken.
The rocky walls closed in to either side of them, making the dim day even darker. Baden suggested the defile looked like Moradin’s axe had sundered the mountain in twain, and the party was but crawling along the base of the wound. John of Pell had a different analogy- he thought the stony crags appeared like old men staring into a well. Raylin, however, paid little mind to their quiet bantering. He was fast losing hope – it had been too long without any signs or spoor.
Then he heard it – the sounds of battle. Not near, but neither was it far. Sounds had a way of echoing oddly in the deeper ravines of the Balantir Cor.
“I think the rűcken have been found, but not by us,” Raylin said. He paused long enough for his companions to hear the sounds. He watched their expressions, judging each man in turn. Raylin had not drawn swords with these travelers - not yet. And no two men were the same until they shared a laugh or shared a fight with one another. Nonetheless, he liked what he saw.
Baden unslung his axe, his eyes shining. “By the sounds of it, there must be a dozen rűcken over that ridge, not one of which knows he’s about to meet his doom.”
John pulled up on his horse and drew a slender rapier. “You are wrong, friend dwarf. Over that ridge are six hundred crowns, just waiting for us.”
Raylin’s laughter boomed from the rocky walls. “Aye, ‘tis high time for a little wet work, eh? May Talos fetch the hindmost!”
* Epala is one of many now-lost Empires that spanned the world of Ostia Prim, including the Valusian Isle. Many of her slender towers dot the landscape of the Cormick plains in central Valusia.
Friday, 30th May, 2003, 03:05 AM #5
The Battle Joined
Brother Vath the Pious opened and closed his fists. Unlike his companions, he fought with tooth and nail, knee and elbow. The tattered gray robes which barely covered his scarred skin were his only armor, save the grace of his god. Ilmater favored those who anguished in His Name, and Vath was the Pious not because he lit more incense than other priests, but because he knew suffering in all its forms.
The product of rape, his childhood spent in a slaving pen, Vath understood the cruelty of the world. Yet the monks of Kesh had exited their monastery to claim him from the slavers, for they saw the mark of their god upon him. His life within the monastery was brutal, regimented, and unforgiving. But it was not the slave pens, and for that reason alone he learned to love Ilmater and his somber-faced worshippers.
His companions were behind him, still above on the ridge, when he disappeared into the thicket. The Larren ranger was shouting a battle cry and the elf was muttering arcane phrases. Vath, however, simply moved forward. One of his fellow monks back at Kesh had once told him he spoke less than a pile of manure and smelled just as badly. Vath never was one for words, even less so when there was suffering to be had.
And suffering to be delivered. Praise be to Ilmater.
The red cords that dug into his wrists were purposefully tight. He would wake many nights, draped in his hairshirt, taloned hands twisting in agony from the loss of circulation. They only tingled now. He continued to flex his fingers as he loped forward, his stride eating away at the distance toward the sounds of combat.
And then, he was there. He burst from the clearing and let his gaze scan the combatants. It was over. That much was plain. Even as he watched, the last rűcken fell. The gray-skinned humanoid clutched feebly at the sword in its belly before collapsing.
Vath heard his companions’ arrive behind him, all thundering hooves and scattering rock. They pulled up short, next to him, and an odd silence suddenly blanketed the glade.
Each group took one another’s measure. Vath counted the newcomers. Six of them. Two more were down in the weeds, one moaning piteously. To a man they wore the green robes of Gond. Emblazoned upon their tabards was a golden tower – the Prince’s Tower of Tarn Cal. The closest rank held swords, points low, as they studied Vath and his comrades. Behind those four were two more, great horned bows at hand, arrows nocked.
One of the swordsmen stepped forward and removed a nasal-bar helm. “I am Edric, sworn liegeman to the Crown Prince, yet my first allegiance rests in the bosom of the Smith-Father Gond. I have men down, and would tend to their hurts.”
John of Pell urged his mount forward but a pace. “Tend to them as you will. We shall await matters.”
The man nodded, sheathed his sword, and walked briskly toward his two fallen companions. He knelt at the side of one only long enough to close his eyes and give a quiet benediction. He pressed his hand onto the wound of another and prayed softly. The man’s moaning ceased, though he did not rise.
Edric stood and turned to face the party once again. “These are rűcken, slain by our hand and in accordance with the laws of gods and man. Their possessions are ours, as is fitting. We have no quarrel with you.”
John was silent for a moment. “Nor us with you, Tarn Calian. But those beasts may have carried what did not belong to them. And, as such, it does not now belong to you.”
Edric’s eyes narrowed. “I can tell by your accent and your manner that you are but a Pellman from the southlands. You apparently do not understand the laws of these lands.”
“And I can tell by your manner that you are an ass.” John’s own eyes flashed. “You have slain rűcken and for such should be thanked by all god-fearing and law-abiding men. But would you be robbers, too?”
Amelyssan nudged his horse forward next to John’s. Vath listened to the elf, though his eyes never left the green-robed warriors. Amelyssan whispered, “The man made it look as if he prayed to heal the wounds of his comrade, but his beseeching was arcane, not divine. He slew the man with a minor spell. They are not what they appear.”
John gave no sign he heard the elf’s words. “We seek one item. It may be upon those rűcken, or it may not. Should it not be here, we will leave you to your booty and to your dead.”
“And if it is here?”
“Then we will take it.” John’s voice was even.
“What is it you seek, Pellman? More gold? Jewels?”
“That and more, but not now. There may be an odd item in their gear. A piece of a staff. An antique. Our benefactor wishes it returned to him.”
Vath could see that the men knew what John spoke of. It was quickly appearing that Ilmater may yet be gifted with more suffering. Edric shot a glance behind him at his men. “That is unacceptable. Should such an item be here, it is ours by rights. I see you have one dressed in the black robes of the Larren clan. He can tell you of the laws hereabouts.”
Raylin shrugged. The ranger sat easily on his horse in casual indifference. “The men of my clan recognize the right of the victor to the spoils. Certainly.”
Edric smiled. “So you see, Pellman, it appears-”
Raylin cleared his throat. “I am not finished. By that same right, should you deny us this request, then we may lawfully take your own goods from your dead bodies. Along with the staff, of course.”
“Brigands,” spat Edric. He replaced the helm upon his head. “We have no horses. You will ride us down.”
“If you do not give us the staff,” John answered, “that is a fair assumption to make.”
“You threaten eloquently, Pellman.”
“More to the point, I do not threaten idly.”
“Then come down from your mounts, and know that I, Edric Uldonson of Rhelm, warrior of renown and slayer of the Gulga Beast, do hereby and thus forth name you cowards and thieves. Your bones shall-”
The green-robed warrior never finished his sentence. A streak of blue-gray power shot forth from Amelyssan’s manicured fingers, catching the man full in the face. He crumpled with nary a sound.
Vath was a blur – he shot down the slope in the blink of an eye before vaulting over the rank of swordsmen to land between the two archers. His fist shot outward and slammed into the closer man’s nose. Blood splattered onto the already gore-strewn weeds. The man’s bow slipped from nerveless fingers. Vath knew the warrior was stunned; he focused on the remaining bowman.
Desperately the archer dropped his bow and drew a long-bladed knife. His cut was low and off the mark. Vath shoved an elbow into his windpipe, heard the satisfying pop that marked a slow death by suffocation, and – almost dismissively – slammed a green fist into the stunned archer’s temple. The man fell like an ox at a slaughterhouse. Praise be to Ilmater.
The half-troll turned, crouched low and ready to go where needed, but it was over. Amelyssan’s second arcane bolt had killed another swordsman. Vath saw one body, nearly cloven, that could only be from the handiwork of Baden’s crescent axe. Raylin and John had finished the remaining two. Only Kellus, it seemed, did not partake in the fight, though he had called upon his inner powers to bless the party during the outset.
Vath surveyed the carnage. It was too cold for flies, thankfully, or they would already have appeared. The weeds were a grisly display of blood and refuse. Rűcken bodies were intermingled with the slain green-robes.
John wasted no time in pilfering through the rűcken sacks. They smelled of rotten meat and bad cheese. It was only a moment before the Pellman stood, a foot-long piece of oak clutched within his hands. “Thank Tymora this is here, else I may have felt remorseful.”
Vath was unsure, but he thought the bard’s words genuine. He let his companions pick over the bodies, spending the few moments in quiet prayer to Ilmater.
Raylin was the first to climb upon his horse. “These plains are home to creatures more deadly than rűcken. They will come to the smell of blood like drunks to a dinner table. We had best gain some distance from this field prior to nightfall.”
Amelyssan nodded. “There are no holy symbols of Gond upon them, no priestly accoutrements. These men were parading as priests, but they had no faith.”
Kellus smiled solemnly. “One could say the same of me, at least for a time. Nonetheless, I think you are correct. These were Rhelmsmen, of a certainty, but they were mercenaries. Like us.”
“Not quite like us,” John corrected. “They lost.”
Last edited by Destan; Monday, 2nd June, 2003 at 03:18 PM.
Friday, 30th May, 2003, 07:55 PM #6
Pursuing the Second Shard
Amelyssan tossed the shard of Margate’s staff onto the carpet of furs. The elf impassively eyed Aramin as his companions funneled into the tent behind him. “There’s your first piece, Rornman. Thus completes our end of the bargain.”
Aramin stretched forward on his haunches and lifted the wood, studying it intently for a handful of heartbeats. “You speak truly. Boy,” the Rornman called to his servant, “give these brave fellows the chest of coins. It is their due.”
John of Pell settled himself near the chest and began to count coins, humming a soft tune under his breath. Amelyssan waited while his companions took their places around the brazier before addressing Aramin once more. “We found the rűcken, those who carried the staff. But they were first found by a group of Gondians, hailing from Tarn Cal.”
Aramin tapped a broken nail against the few whiskers on his chin. “Interesting, interesting.”
“Indeed,” agreed Amelyssan. “I ask you – why would Gondians from Tarn Cal suddenly be interested in this antique, after it had remained outside the thoughts of men for so many years?”
Aramin shrugged. “I have not the answer to your question. Does it matter? You succeeded and you have been paid.”
Vath growled, his blistered skin peeling back from broken teeth. “It does matter. These green-robes died before relinquishing the claim on that staff.”
The Rornman suddenly stood and faced the coals, his back to the party. His voice was soft. “Events happen quickly these months. Some say a new Age will soon be born. Mayhaps others learned of the staff and feared it would be re-assembled; they wish to prevent an old evil from returning to this dark world.”
“Then we slew those who would do good?” Kellus asked. “I think you are not telling us the whole of it, Rornman.”
Raylin mac Larren drew his sword and began to run a whetstone down its length. “I have no qualms killing men, this is known. But I would know the why of it. If you have not told us all, then you had best remedy the situation. Now.”
John looked up from the coins in his hands. He glanced about at his companions, then let his gaze linger on Aramin. “I would start singing if I were you, Master Aramin. My friends seem a bit – shall we say – upset.”
The Rornman turned to face them. “I wish to prevent the staff from being joined. Should that happen, it would be no difficult feat to summon Ippizicus Child-Eater into the world once more.”
Amelyssan sat. “We are not demonbringers of your homeland. We do not want to see the return of this fiend. I wonder. Do you?”
Aramin threw his head back and laughed. The sound was that of a dying jackal. “Demonbringer? Me? Certainly not. If I wanted to rejoin the staff, then I would track it down myself.”
Kellus frowned. “I think it time we looked into your essence, Rornman. My companions and I are mercenaries, but we do not lack some morality. Do you agree to let me look into your soul?”
Aramin’s eyes flashed, but only for a moment. “Please. You will find no stain upon me.”
Kellus willed his inner power to drift outward and caress the Rornman’s breast. A few moments passed. Kellus let the power dissipate. “I find no evil in him.”
Amelyssan nodded. “It seems to me that none of us want the return of this demon. Would it not be best, then, to leave the remaining pieces of the staff alone? You have your shard. Protect it, I say, and let not the other portions come near.”
Aramin shrugged. “Perhaps what you say is correct, elf. Perhaps that would be best. But I am an old man. Growing older by the day. I am not proud of all I have done in this lifetime. I would do one better, should I be given the opportunity.”
“Aye. I would destroy it. I can do what Bishop Margate could not. I have the power to destroy the staff, thereby ending any chance for Ippizicus’ return.”
John pushed a pile of coins toward Raylins’ feet. “Kellus, can you ask your inner light – or whatever you call the fount of your powers – to see if he speaks truly?”
Kellus nodded. “Aye, though not today.”
Aramin frowned. “I have allowed the Rhelmsman to look into my core. He detected no evil. I must say – you treat your benefactor with a suspicion bordering on rudeness.”
“Common courtesy is not so common, eh?” John smiled without amusement. “Enough of this. You have paid us, and for that we thank you. Our task is finished.”
“Indeed it is,” agreed the Rornman. “But I told you earlier I would be willing to discuss other matters should you prove successful.”
“Go on,” ordered Raylin. He carefully dragged his share of coins into a leather purse.
“I will double my payment from the first undertaking. Two hundred crowns to each of you, should you return with the second portion of the staff. If you worry about my intentions, then you need not gather the third piece for me. You will be twice as rich as you are this moment, and your conscience will be clear.” Aramin’s face twisted into a sneer with his final phrase.
Baden spoke for the first time. “You appear to be forthright with us, and I would do the same by you. The men we slew, those who had killed the rűcken, were not Gondian priests, though they wore the green garb of that god. They were mercenaries, from Tarn Cal most like.”
Aramin nodded. “I thank you for being open, Axemarch dwarf. But I have held nothing from you. I wish to destroy the key that would return a demon to this world. It may very well be my undoing, but I am prepared to accept that fate. Do you, in turn, accept my second task?”
Baden nodded. “I do.”
John finished counting the coins, keeping only slightly more than his share for himself, and glanced at Aramin. “As do I. Where is this second piece? Do you know?”
The Rornman climbed to his feat with a number of curses. He waddled toward the rear of the tent and pulled a bearskin from atop a mirror. “I have seen him who carries the second piece. He is a Gondian priest. Truly a priest, that much I know. Though he has betrayed his temple and his fellows.”
Amelyssan looked from the scrying mirror to the Rornman. “Where is he?”
“Again, not far from here. He is heading north – perhaps to Tarn Cal. He and his fellows had taken the staff from another band of rucken earlier this tenday, yet he has spirited the piece away from his friends and now travels alone. On horseback. I know not why, nor do I know his destination.”
“This staff,” murmured Amelyssan, “does it hold power? Rather, does each piece hold power? Could it be forcing him to take actions he would otherwise not?”
“I do not think so, horadrel*. The staff is magical, certainly, but its sole power is imprisoning the demon. As such, it is inert while it remains sundered.”
Raylin stood and brushed dirt from his leather breeches. “Have you seen any landmarks in your mirror to better locate him? Rivers, mountains?”
“He travels along the Dwem River, northward. He is south of the Raven’s Roost crag. Do you know the place?”
“I do. It is three days’ ride from here. If he is on horseback, we had best not tarry.”
Aramin grinned. “No, I think not. In fact, it would be best if you left this very evening, yes?”
Amelyssan shared a silent look with the Rornman. “Very well. We shall find you here, again, within a tenday. See that you have our gold.”
The group exited the tent and stood still while the cold winds of the Cormick plains tousled their hair and blew away the stink of Aramin and his brazier. Kellus adjusted the mace upon his belt. “He plays us false.”
“He does,” agreed John. “But he is not evil. And his coins are real. That is enough for me.”
* Horadrel is the elven term for High Elf, the most common type of elf within Ostia Prim. Additionally, there are gammedrel (wild elves), morhedrel (dark elves), and other - much rarer- strains such as desert elves and acquatic elves.
Last edited by Destan; Monday, 2nd June, 2003 at 12:00 AM.
Sunday, 1st June, 2003, 06:04 AM #7
A 1e title so awesome it's not in the book (Lvl 21)
Damn, man. You can write.
Can I talk you into doing a meta game post? I'd like to know more about the campaign, the PCs/players, the ongoing plot - that sort of thing.
- Piratecat, EN World Admin. Now writing TimeWatch, an investigative time travel game.
Sunday, 1st June, 2003, 04:21 PM #8
Novice (Lvl 1)
Let me add to the praises - this is great.
Sunday, 1st June, 2003, 04:50 PM #9
Thaumaturgist (Lvl 9)
You have a real talent for writing. I have been waiting for a very high quality low magic story hour - and yours most certainly fits the bill!
I'm anxious to see the next update!
Monday, 2nd June, 2003, 02:20 AM #10
Thank you for the kind words, fellas.
Because it is neither courteous nor healthy to refuse one of Senor Piratecat's requests, a brief list of the principals within this tale and a horribly general overview of the campaign follow. I've included a short note on the players themselves because these are their characters, and the characters make the campaign.
Amelyssan (Wiz1) - A horadrel (high elf) from Grun Min, the smaller of two islands lying off Valusia’s western coast. As capable as he is arrogant, Amelyssan provides the brains for the group, if not the tact.
Amelyssan is played by Fitz, a long-time friend who's smart enough to make DMing as difficult as it is enjoyable. No one keeps me as honest around the table as this guy. I have yet to determine whether I like that fact or not.
Baden Dost (Ftr1) – A stonnendurf (mountain dwarf) of Axemarch, one of several dwarven clans scattered throughout the Balantir Cor, Baden is unsure whether he severed past ties or whether they were severed for him. He is young for a dwarf, but the lines on his face and the fatigue in his eyes speak of newly blossoming regret.
Baden is superbly played by Josh, the newest member of our group. Our first session - which includes the entire adventure around Margate's Staff as recounted herein - was done under a completely customized house system. Josh is the one who introduced the lot of us, all 1st Edition AD&D gamers, to 3E. We haven't looked back since.
John of Pell (Brd1) – A whipcord-thin southlander from the urban sprawl of Pell, John is as quick on his feet as he is with the ladies. Part diplomat, part swindler, and all false modesty, John represents the “face” of the group, whether they like it or not.
John is played by Matt, a player who is every DM's dream. He thirsts to learn more about his character and his place in the world, and manages to remember every in-game custom and description thrown out to the party.
Kellus Varn II (Clr1) – Formerly a Priest of Helm and formerly a happy man, Kellus watched his father accidentally die in a meaningless twist of fate. He refuses to discuss his father, though he proudly wears the late priest’s armor. Kellus has since renounced Helm and all the gods – yet somehow remains capable of divine spellcasting, an ability he claims comes from within himself.
Kellus is played by Bit, a friend who first began hosting our original AD&D games on a pool table in his parents' basement back in the late 80's. I've killed his characters so many times that the phrase 'getting Bitnered' is commonplace around the gaming table.
Raylin mac Larren (Rng1) – A hulking, unshaven clansman from the marshy plains north of the River Jaspar. Raylin is as stereotypical in his appearance as he is unique in his philosophies. He’s that common figure – a man who’s good at what he does, but uncertain whether he enjoys doing it.
Raylin is played by Forrest, another friend from back in the days when The Smiths were the biggest group on the charts. When he's not falling asleep at the table during our marathon sessions, he does quite well holding his own among his talented comrades.
Vath the Pious (Mnk1) – Vath makes many of the largest, most bitter men seem like gnomes in their size and their outlooks. His bestial expression and boil-covered hide are as intimidating and they are impressive; yet even his remarkable physical appearance cannot mask the depth in his gaze. A devout follower of Ilmater, God of Suffering, the half-troll yearns for a peace purchased with pain.
Vath is played by Brandon, a guy who hadn't played AD&D since his elementary school days until this campaign began. He's an inspiration in the group because so much of gaming is new to him, and hence feels new to us.
The campaign is set within the home-brewed world of Ostia Prim, and many of the first sessions are based on the Valusian Isle, a small island off the mainland. I've been tinkering and expanding Ostia Prim since the late 1980's, and it's suffered through a handful of different gaming systems. The Valusian Player's Handbook, a Word document containing a disorganzied mountain of information, is as tattered as my old Isle of Dread modules.
Readers may notice that we use the Forgotten Realms pantheon. Mainly this includes the names and portfolios of certain gods, but little else.
We also adopted the Forgotten Realms calendar.
Finally, some might notice - at least as the tale continues - that I've stolen names of places and towns from numerous fictional books. It's as much a stain against my imagination as it is proof of my laziness.
This campaign is played, unfortunately, only two to three times yearly. Life has intruded upon most of us, so we're now spread across the Eastern seaboard from Atlanta to Maine. Jobs, spouses, and a growing horde of children tend to clip our gaming time just a bit.
When we do get together, however, the de facto session is two to three days' in length. I'm a guy who needs his sleep, but I don't get more than a few hours whenever we meet. Our gaming sessions become weekends filled with dice, beer, bad food, and glorious binges of roleplaying geekdom.
I hope some of the enjoyment we get from this campaign is imparted to the surfers who happen upon this story hour. I'll keep writing if you keep reading.
Last edited by Destan; Wednesday, 2nd July, 2003 at 06:12 PM.