Another Bastard Child of Tolkien - Litany for a Dead Campaign (The End)


Chapter I
Red Door

I was born hungry. My mother was over-taken by a pack Ghouls while working the fields in a nameless village just outside of Deeproot.

There were more rocks than crops and more misery than rocks.

It is unclear to me how I was born a Ghoul. We don't know much about our own bodies except for the Hunger.

I knew the Hunger before I ever knew anything else and I chewed my way from the womb. As long as I kept the hunger in check, kept meat down my throat, I could think, reason, even laugh on occasion. When the Hunger had me, though, I was worse than a rabid dog.

So I kept food in me, hid caches of meat from the pack leader so that I had time to take hard looks at the world around me.

The worst thing about the pack leader of my youth was that when he was in the euphoria of a good meal, he'd tell us all about his Ghoulish Empire his polished bone throne to the lowliest fat human slave.

All pack leaders have delusions of grandeur, grotesque fantasies about taking over the world and having all of the meat you can gorge yourself on. Vampire Lords, Liche Court Sorcerors, Spectral Judges and Ghost librarians. Our own pack, the Evil Dogs, was lead by a fool who called himself Cannibal Alpha.

He died at the hands of a Cleric of Ulula but the rest of us overwhelmed her and ate her, feet first.

This gave me an evening with her while she slowly died. She stared up into the stars as I chewed on her ankles. She was bleeding to death and in all kinds of shock. I was amazed at her lucidity, given the situation.

She and I stared at the night sky together. I only know the big one is the Sun and the other one is the Moon. There are hundreds and they all have names, apparently. I have heard rumors that some of these stars form pictures that only humans can see. When I looked up and tried to make pictures I only saw food.

There is this red one that winks as if it were far away pool of blood in the sky. She pointed it out to me.

"The rest of us go to the Moon or the Sun when we die but not you. Your kind go to the Red Door and live out your forevers tortured by the evil you inflicted on others," and she shuddered a quiet, and given the circumstances, dignified death. I'd like to think she went to the Sun. She tasted like a Sun-type.

When my own hunger subsided I wasn't cursed with grandiose visions, like Cannibal Alpha. I got quiet and introspective. The world began to divide itself into hungers, eaters and the devoured. There was nothing in all of the world that I couldn't find a place for in one of those three categories.

The Hungry One chose me. It chose me to lead the Ghouls and it wanted me to make them into a great nation. I wouldn't lead them to stupidity like C.A. It whispered to me and I worshipped it, worshipped the Hungry One because it is all I have ever known.

I have a small altar, a twisted tree stump stained brown with blood.

We found a town on a forgotten highway in the Jade Forest. There were some shape shifting barbarians who saw to the local's protection. After gorging on a farming family and their livestock I thought of a plan. While the pigs squealed it occurred to me that we needed to prove to ourselves that a Ghoul economy could work on a small scale.

We would take this town from their shapeshifting oppressors and take them under our wing. With my own divine inspiration guiding our Hunger, we would humbly begin a nation.

And we did too.

Once a month the villagers gave us one of their own, chosen by lottery to sate our taste for human flesh. The rest of the time we got by on hunting.

To insure the town's peaceful cooperation we took honored guests and kept them in the tombs with us.

We took refuge in the marble tombs a few miles away from the town.

I can remember the howls of victory when we drove an owlbear from a farmer's land. We were protecting our flock and it was working.

We knew that eventually heroes would come.

They did.

It was humiliating really.

Three Halflings and a Half-Orc and a Priestess.

The Hungry One warned me that trouble would come. I had seen to preparations.

I brought runaway Sunturion Legionnaires into Ghouldom and Goblin Wolfriders to your ravenous ways. I threatened the local silversmith into making silver caps for out teeth, making our bites harmful to those damned lycanthropes.

My shining addition was an ogre. We tortured that bastard for weeks before he finally gave in an ate flesh. After he had his first bite he belonged to the Hungry One, heart and soul. He was my bodyguard, always by my side. I clad him in chainmail and put silver spikes through his club. He was a monster in the truest sense of the word.

I was playing chess when I heard the lock on the pens click. Damned Halfling was picking the lock right in front of us and no one saw or smelled him. He waltzed into the camp like he was going to the maypole on fairday.

I placed my Bishop in line to check mate my little honored guest and unleashed my magicks.

The Ogre felled a priestess, of Tiamat I think with a deft shot to the head. One of my packmates finished her off.

The little men, these damned Hobbits fought furiously. Everytime I was confident they were done they would pull some kind of trick, a tumble or just pure determination and outlast my packs.

The Half-Orc fought like a cornered Manticore and in time I fell to her blade. She cut me down while I prayed to the Hungry One to end her.

I saw the battlefield as I went on to my fate.

I could see my own body lying there next to the meat pit, buzzing with flies.

My ogre (you know, I never named the bastard) felled the Half-Orc but fell to one of the Halflings of all things.

The best dressed Halfling, the dandy with their rapier, will have a scar on the front of his throat from a Ghoul bite. I hope when he looks on it he thinks on us and shudders.

Their priestess of Tiamat, partially devoured by a Ghoul, died. I suppose some would say it was a heroic death but it seemed rather pointless to me. But I am rather biased.

Their Half-Orc warrior will have a small hole in her cheek where a silver spike from my nameless Ogre's club hit her face but she'll live.

Their sneak came away with few wounds because he was paralyzed by my dark magicks for most of the battle. My guards were rounding up the run aways before they ate him. I so wish I could have eaten him, Halflings are so lovely in the autumn, they are just beginning to put on their winter fat.

One of the Halflings was some kind of a warrior and was badly scarred along his face by fire already. He was littered with small stabs and bites but I fear that none of my packs gave him anything to really remember us by.

I imagine they destroyed us out of some sense of heroism or justice. It doesn't matter. In the end I was just another pack leader as bad as Cannibal Alpha or even worse. At least he had dared to dream big.

My hopes and dreams of a Ghoul city or even a small Ghoul town are gone and soon the sun will rise. Only one scarlet star is left in the blue remnants of the night sky.

Now excuse me, I have a Red Door to enter.
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Chapter II
Jasmine Smith Meets Once Upon a Time

I was born and raised in Deepmist and always hated it here. It was like something magical and enchanting was happening here once but now it is all over and not much comes down the highway. My ma is the smith in town. Since the Ghouls took pa, she’s the only one able to make anything really fine but mostly it is all horseshoes and nails.
Deepmist is a small town, known nowadays only because it is precisely between two great cities. Deeproot, a broken city known amongst the townsfolk for being populated with liars and cheats, and Ladymist, a glittering magical place known among the townsfolk for being populated with Wizards and fools. Hence the name taking the Deep from Deeproot and the Mist from Ladymist.

Us Deepmisters have a saying that Deepmist is named for those two cities because we always get the worst from both.

The Widow is old. Old enough so that even the oldest farmer doesn’t know the real meaning of her name. Is she called the Widow because when she’s dangerous like the Black Widow spider? Is it an ironic title because she never married at all? Or is it just the simple answer that some man died, her husband, leaving her a widow? The children speak near the town well in hushed tones of a dead husband and they whisper that he was an aspiring Necromancer from Deeproot.

The Widow carries her staff and a tome (said to be her tome of spells) is always in her hood. Children sometimes ask her about these items but when their parents are close their questions are quickly shushed as being rude. Every once in a while some child get’s close to the Widow when parents are out of shushing range, “Widow-lady, why do you carry the book and the staff?”

She replies with a wink, “I carry the staff because I need help walking and I carry the book just in case I need to fly.”

Old Ulney is heading towards a century of winters and the only information he’ll divulge is that she has years on him, maybe just a handful and maybe decades. He won’t say much more before falling into one of his naps.

She can often be seen on the porch of her inn, the Parlor (no doubt named so to play up the Black Widow mystique), rocking on her chair, humming a tune no one can name.

The townsfolk ascribe her age to her studying in a Wizard’s College when she was a girl. Seeing how her Inn’s windows and doors are always well locked with magic wards. Others say that it isn’t just magic that keeps her young but the fact that she studied in Ladymist, a city said to have been made by Dragons and populated with their children and kin, full of Wizards and fools.

When asked questions about Ladymist she will talk for a time about the city’s fine view and how Lair Sisters silently walking the market in the morning in their dark green habits. But she won’t let slip any real details of what she did there or when she did it.

The County Logs only state that the Inn has been in her family for almost nine generations and nothing more. Where her real name would be is only a family sigil, a stallion rampant above an open tome.

She likes this mystery, in small towns; she thinks this kind of mystery is healthy if it doesn’t become alienating. Too many townsfolk spend too many a winter’s night sipping her mulled cider and sitting by her fire for there to be any real anger at her oddities and peculiarities.

When the Ghouls demanded tribute, she spoke against it but when she was voted down, she kept good and quiet.

She piped up again when the Ghouls demanded that the townsfolk give over some children to keep with them as “honored guests.” I was one of those chosen to go ‘cause they were worried about my ma starting a stir.

Then one day the strangers came into town, down from Ladymist way, off of the Wedding Highway.

The Widow let the strangers stay in her inn when they arrived. She even aided them when they ambushed the Ghouls who entered the town square to take the latest offering to the Ghoul’s monthly toll.

Now there are soldiers from Ladymist all over in the town and it is said that the strangers are heralds from a Green Dragon who is claiming dominion over the entire Jade Forest. The Heralds proclaimed a Holy Soldier of Ulula Lord Knight over Deepmist. There are priests of Bahamut, Tiamat and Ulula debating religion in the Parlor in the evenings. It is like things are beginning to happen here again. It is like someone just started to write, “Once upon a time,” and I’m there to see it.

I spent my whole life living so long after Happily Ever After that it wasn’t even happy anymore.

The new Lord gathered the able-bodied men and women from many of the farms to burn the Ghoul’s bodies. The Green Heralds killed all of them, sent them to the Red Door to get their justice. May they rot there for what they did to my Pa and what they did to my friends and me.

When I sleep I can still hear the noises those bastards made when they ate.

The Strangers, the Green Heralds, rescued me. Three of them are little men. The Widow told me that the little people, Halflings, live in cities called Shires and houses with round doors that are built into hillsides. The Green Heralds only had one big person with them, a woman in full armor and carrying a hand and a half sword with a two handed grip.

I’d never seen a woman as big as my ma or me. She wasn’t scared and wasn’t trying to be a prissy girl either. I saw her fight and I wanted to be her. Her name is M’Randa, Lady M’Randa and she has some Orc blood in her. I didn’t mention it but you can tell if not by her shoulders than by the way some of her teeth stick out of her mouth like boar’s tusks.

The Green Heralds are leaving soon, heading south to Deeproot. I’m going with them as Lady M’Randa’s squire.

Ma isn’t real happy that I’m going but I think she knows why I have to go. I have a little brother who is old enough to work the billows and learn the trade. She cries when she sees me but she fixed up some armor with green scales to keep me safe. She hugs me so hard I can’t breathe.

Word has gone out through town and now I get whispered about as much as the Widow and feel a kinship with the old coot. Maybe some day I’ll own some dusty old inn with a sword over my mantle and people will wonder where I’ve been or what I’ve done. I think I’ll do just like the Widow does, all wry smiles half-answered questions.

The morning before we headed out the Widow gave me her staff,” You’ll need it more than me these days. A simple walking stick’ll do fine by me. I’ll have someone find me a nice stick.”

The staff has a Dragon taking flight along its half, carved into the wood so that the tail and wings spiral along the haft.

I stammered a thank you and finally, I my eyes got glassy at leaving my home. Here was the Widow, the living embodiment of all that’s interesting and mysterious in Deepmist and she’s treating me like a long lost niece. It is as if she felt that same kinship I felt.

“It is the staff that was given to Wizard’s apprentices in Ladymist, back in my day. I hope it serves you well. But tell me one thing young lady, why is it you want to go and be squire to this Green Knight, Lady M’Randa?”

I sniffed and cleared the tears from my cheeks, “Reckoned it was time to do some flying of my own.”
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Jade Forest Cities & Religions


Population: 56,781 (83% Human, 4% Gnome, 10% Orc, 3% Half-Elf,

Government: Draconic Monarchy

Religions: Bahamut and Tiamat, Grumsh on the Orcish Step and Owl of Ulula during dark times

Alignment: N, NG, CG, CN

The Lady is a step-pyramid city requisitioned to be built by an adult Green Dragon during the zenith of her Jade Empire. Dwarven foundation-stones, Gnomish tunnels, Elvish domed parks and Hobbit pubs make Ladymist one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

The city was originally created as a seat of rulership for her and her three children and their influence on the city is still seen to this day.

The three ruling families of Ladymist remain thedescendants of the Horned Lady’s children and are said to take after certain parts of Dragon habits and culture. Edval, a fine troubador and a formidable politician, founded the Dracvurt family. Edraine, a formidable warrior in her own right founded the Greatwing. Edric, a dark and brooding magician founded the Finescale College of Arcanna.

Today the three families still rule over Ladymist as Lady Alexia Greatwing took over the city after her uncle was murdered. The newfound rulership of the hatchling Green Lady has made Ladymist an exciting place. Its citizens seem unfazed, as if they were always certain that their Lady would be the center of the world once again. The city isn’t quite the apple in Bahamut’s eye nor does it have the five blessings of Tiamat just yet but like its liege-lady it is a beautiful and dangerous place and always seems to be growing more and more.

Jade Watch, Green Watch, Orcish Step, The Aery, Children’s Keep, The Lair Sisters

Population: 16, 160 (and quickly growing)

Theocratic Vassal of the Green Lady

Religions: Nine Trees

Alignment: All

Deeproot was a cursed city with Ghouls hunting the streets at night and Necromancer’s governing. The now mythical Lord of Deeproot was said to have betrayed the Horned Lady when he killed her with a staff wielding dark magics. Despite continuing efforts and countless adventurers, none have ever found this artifact, nor even evidence of its existence.

Now the Nine Trees of Deeproot have begun to grow and Deeproot is suddenly a vibrant place of learning once again with Druids, Swordsmasters and Historians flocking from all over the world. Teachers on topics from Magicks to Battle Lore to History are taught. The city is not only a place of learning but has become a temple, whose religion is growth through the pursuit of knowledge.

Despite its positive growth since the Green Lady’s tenure over the Jade Forest there is still a dark shadow that can grow over Deeproot. Whether this shadow is the influence of the Lord of Deeproot’s undiscovered dark magicks or the lingering of certain Necromantic agents is unknown.

Government: Theocratic Vassal of the Green Lady

Religions: almost exclusively Owl of Ulula with some Bahamut but very little Tiamat

Alignment: LG, LE, LN, NG

The city of Ulula was originally Drachnae. The Drachnae were a group of young bastard Half-Dragons who founded the city as a refuge for the unwanted of the world. Despite their noble intentions the bastards became power-hungry and turned to infernal, abyssal and undead powers in order to more easily extract vengeance on the world that had abandoned them.

Corwin D’Ulula was a boy who grew up on a farm with many Great Owl roosts. Young Corwin lead the first revolts against the Drachnae and it was Corwin’s holy steed, Ulula, who finished the liberation of the city after Corwin had been struck down by a vicious Half-Dragon Vampire in a famous aerial battle.

The owl quickly became a powerful totem and finally, a God in its own right.

The Paladins and Clerics of Ulula are well known for their vigilance against undead and infernal enemies. The Paladin-General of Ulula, Shay O’Demus ruled the city until she was murdered by a vengeful Doppleganger who sought to frame the Green Heralds for the crime.

In the end, Corass Slaine was elected Paladin-General for his able-bodied work in figuring out the true nature of the murder.


Halfling Patron Saints -

Halflings in this world do not have organized religions as humans know it. There is a collection of Patron Saints to Hobbit-like ideas: Wine, Slings and Stealth, Family, Good Meals, etc. A Halfling might say a prayer to a Saint or even carry a little medallion with them to bring luck in this area but as of now, there isn't an organized church, per se.

A Halfing Priest is someone who knows the name and stories of all of the Saints, carrying medallions for all of them and as such is a Cleric in game terms. However, there isn't a Halfing Pope guy with a little hat and Cardinals and such (but it is a hysterical image) or there isn't an organized church.

Domains: Trickery, Good, Protection

God of the Golden Sun -

The God of the Golden Empire is a glaring and unforgiving God. In the current Golden Church this God's rise to glory is traced along with the slumbering Golden Dragon. It is said that the Gold put him on his fiery throne and the Golden Sun's wrath and fury come out in the Gold's Holy Breath.

The Priests of this religions were once a force to be reckoned with and churches to this God could be found in every corner of the Earth but the Church has seen a decline with the slumber of the Gold. The Clerics and Paladins have been shining up their armor, ready for the Gold's awakening.

Domains: Air, Protection, Sun, Fire

The Owl of Ulula -

A powerful Totem that keeps people safe from the Creatures of the Night. The Owl once had a powerful army for defending the innocent against such threats. Most nobles had a Cleric, Paladin or Monk from the Order of Ulula in their household but now the Clerics and Paladins are not the power they once were and the Monks are all but unknown.

Even today the Paladins and Clerics are brave and good, defending the weak from undead and Demonic threats and keeping the law; they just aren't as well known outside of the Jade Forest anymore.

Domains: Protection, Good, Healing, Law, Knowledge

Bahamut -

In a world where Dragons are the power behind nations, it only makes sense that Draconic Gods make their way into human homes. Bahamut is the fatherly diety of Dragonkind. He married Tiamat and their love and conflict made the universe.

His teachings speak of wisdom, harsh but fair justice and thinking beyond one's own generation in order to leave something for your kin.

His priests and paladins are known for dispensing justice and wisdom.

Domains: Law, Good, Strength, Fire

Tiamat -

Tiamat and her followers are more prone to battle rather than thought and diplomacy. She is prayed to not only in times of battle but in times of harvest and when the hearth needs protection. As befitting a Goddess with five heads, there are many different approaches to worshipping Tiamat from evil Dragon Cults to friendly elemental readings of her ideologies.

Her Priestess and Paladins are known for their martial prowess and fearless attacking in battle.

Domains: Earth, Destruction, Strength, Chaos, Earth, Fire, Air, Water

King of the Fey -

Those who worship the King of the Fey do not worship the Faery on the throne as much as the crown and the throne and what they represent, mystery, intrigue, the changing of the seasons.

The King's Clerics and Paladins are many of the courtiers and knights of his the Seelie and Unseelie courts. They are not arranged into churches as much as political cliques. It is not a religion that humans easily understand and the Fey like it that way.

Domains: Law, Magic, Luck, Plant

Queen of the Fey -

The worship of the Queen is to make political games and mischief one's life. Like the King, the religion is not something that humans have an easy time understanding.

The Queen's Clerics are often seen as troublemakers and ne'er-do-wells in and out of the Elven Courts but their political advice is something that is treasured and feared.

Domains: Chaos, Trickery, Knowledge, Animal

Grummsh, He-Who-Never-Sleeps -

Most humans would say that Grumsh is an evil and angry God. Shamans of Grumsh would argue that those who judge Grummsh too harshly have never ahd to live the difficult life of an Orc. This life is difficult because Grummsh was tricked out of the Orc's rightful homeland during the creation of all things.

Shamans of Grummsh are angry and tough, leading the Orcish tribal leaders with their magicks and visions.

Domains: Evil, Chaos, Strength, War
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Paladins and Clerics of Ulula sometimes deliver important messages just as their totem, the Owl, does. Your missives have crossed the Jade Forest and have finished their journeys in the saddlebags of a giant owl steed of Ulula.
“Green Heralds…missives for you…”

To: Deputy Thane Guardian Trumble Cloudwalker

From: His Brother

{This letter is written on rough vellum, as can be found in the Shire in the rare occasions that something other than a recipe is written down. The handwriting is blocky and rushed, with some letters running down in a trail of ink.}

Dear Deputy,

I know the letter said that it was from your brother on the outside but, well, it is what is on the inside that counts.

It is too bad that you’re a Deputy now. There was this nimble little burgular named Thane Trumble and I liked him. Too bad a lawman named Deputy Thane Guardian Trumble Cloudwalker banished ole Thane Trumble and now walks in his clothes. Ah well.

I just wanted you to know that I busted out of your pathetic Hobbit jail cell. I didn’t have to hurt anybody to get out but I could’ve. I could pay your brother and his pretty bitch of a wife a call but I won’t. This is between us and no use getting the innocent family all into the mess us thieves get into. Fair’s fair, honor between thieves. You understand.

I am going to avenge my old friend, Thane Trumble. Get vengeance for what you’re doing to him and his memory.

I’d watch my back if I was you.

The higher your rise, the harder you’ll fall,


To: Sheriff Dustin Overhill

From: The Mayor of Hightree Shire

{This letter is also written on the rough vellum of the Shire. The Mayor’s handwriting is simple with only the most occasional flourish on the G and the L of the words Green Lady, the S on the word Sheriff and on the M of the word Mayor.}

Dear Sheriff Dustin Overhill,

I hear from the Green Lady’s satyrs that you are doing well and this pleases me. The Shire is more or less how you left it.

As you might or might not know Gorum, the Dwarven thief from Sun City, escaped. We think he might have had help in his escape but we are unsure.

I have assigned Dave Hilltopple as a deputy to watch over the Shire while you go about your duties for the Green Lady. Some in the Shire grumble that your time should be spent seeing to the law in the Shire but these busybodies are quickly hushed.

There are regular patrols Halfling patrols all over the Shire. The mist might keep us hidden but it might not. I’ll take no chances.

I hope the big world is feeding you boys well. Scratch Kettle and Scraps for me.


Mayor Jorren Overhill

To: M’Randa

From: Grat Lair-Guardian

{This letter is written on a delicate parchment with a slight green tint; the paper seems like it might fade away as it is almost transluscent but it is oddly durable, holding up even after weeks at the bottom of a saddlebag or chest. The handwriting is elegant, as if a hundred meanings are locked into every word, waiting to spring to life. It is odd to see such artful calligraphy draw such simple sentences.}

Dear M’Randa,

The Green Lady tells me that I can speak these words and she will take them and you will see them. I don’t understand how you will see them but I trust her so okay.

I live in Lair now, under the castle. I can fly around, really stretch my wings because the ceilings are so high.

The Lair Sisters are very nice. Sister Gyseld told me that Lair Sisters are not allowed to speak outside the Lair because they are afraid of giving away secrets. It is called the Oath of Silence.

The Lair was empty but there are many things in it now. Some of these things are magic. They are put in rooms and looked at by the Sisters, who tell me not to touch nothing. This is fine, I don’t want to touch these things anyway.

It is like having many many many mothers now. I never had mothers so this is fine.

I pray to Bahamut and Tiamat every day. I pray for you too.

If you came to the Lair I could fly you around because my wings are strong. That would be fun.

Grat Lair-Guardian

To: Master Randall Tisgood, Herald and Diplomat of the Green Lady

From: Magus Smalgus Finescale

{Magus Smalgus’ letter is written on fine vellum. His handwriting is bold without being over-bearing and elegant without any unnecessary artifice. The letter is sealed with a the sigil of his signet ring, a Dragon’s claw holding a scroll, pressed into the wax.}

Dear Master Tisgood,

I found your company and your tales delightful and sincerely hope that wherever my Sanctum might be in the tumultuous days ahead, your tales are welcomed.

The Finescale College is still raving about your fine Draconic balladeering. It has been a long while since a Bard from the Silver Lands graced our halls.

As you travel south you will see the Oath Lake. It is a salt lake and its mud is said to have many purifying qualities when applied to the skin. When the Lords and Ladies of our land want to swear a powerful oath, they do so while floating on this lake and afterwards bathe in it with their fellow oathswearers.

To break an Oath sworn in or around this lake is said to be a terrible thing, indeed.

Please accept this letter of introduction to my student who resides in Deeproot. I am not sure how he looks upon me, his former Master, but I hope he at least learned manners from his time under my tutelage, if nothing else.

It is my sincerest hope that your Fellowship has safe travels in its future travels. We shall meet again, no doubt, when the Lords and Ladies of the Jade Forest to swear allegiance to Green Lady. It will be interesting to have the entire family in one place again. How I’ve missed them.

Safe Journeys,

Magus Smalgus Finescale
Head Wizard of the Finescale College of Arcane Arts
Summoner of the Seventh Circle and Banisher of the Ninth Circle


Chapter III
Wyvern Smoke or Dragon Smoke

Mayor Joren Overill is stout, even by Halfling standards. Since his ascension from the youngest member of the Pipe Council (only 64 years) to Mayor of Hightree Shire, his belt has only gotten tighter as his belly has gotten larger.

He is sitting in the study of his Hobbit Hole and it is late at night. His wife went to sleep long ago; she could tell this was one of her husband’s restless nights. One of those nights when he goes into that shelf in his desk with the obvious false bottom and would take out that horrid yellowed bone pipe of his, rather than the fine maple Hobbit pipe given by her father on their wedding day. She hates that bone pipe. It has the face of a Dragon carved into it and when Joren puffs on it, as he will no doubt soon do, smoke will come from its mouth.

Dragons are trouble and she would know.

He won’t quite go into the cellar to get his dusty old travel cloak nor take the short sword from above the fireplace but he’ll have to fight the strong urge.

Joren loves the old pipe. He hides it in a secret compartment in his desk, so his wife won’t find it and accidentally throw it away or give it to a niece or nephew as a gift. He knows that she hates the pipe as it is a vivid symbol, more than the battered short sword above the hearth, of their time away from the Shire. He loves to revel in that time of new smells, dirt, weariness, conflict and adventure.

Mandy Overhill prefers the past to be left in the past.

A new log is on the fire, tea is stoking in the nearby pot and the pipe is stuffed with good Court Shire Leaf. Best of all a letter from his nephew, Sheriff Dustin Overhill of Hightree Shire, is on his lap, letter as of yet unread, wax seal unbroken.

It is these moments of quiet and simple joy that Jorren enjoys most these days, now that his life is seeing to the well being of the Shire.

Jorren thinks on how he will pour the tea, light the pipe and open the letter, each action making the next even more fine.

“Cozy in here, Joren. You’re doing well for yourself,” it is a silky voice from the windowsill.

Joren sits up, jarred by the intrusion, thinks of his sword in two steps and a reach distance but settles back down again, thinking better of it, “Well, the Witch’s Familiar pays the Mayor a visit, hm? Aren’t you supposed to be jet black with green teeth?”

Priscilla, white bellied tiger striped cat that she is stretches out in front of his fire, purring at the comfort, “You know better than that, Master Mayor. My lady thought that too many Shire tongues would wag if she were to pay you a visit personally. Sorceress visits Mayor of Hightree Shire, positively scandalous!”

Equilibrium upset, Joren lights his pipe and lets out an amused harrumph, “They never call her a Sorceress, they merely refer to her as the Witch. And I am sure that the fact that I am…” and the Mayor let’s out a sniffle, “allergic to you had nothing to do with Alicia’s decision.”

“She wishes you no discomfort,” Priscilla says as her tail swishes back and forth as if the Mayor weren’t a stout Hobbit but a mouse to be toyed with, “but she is concerned and doesn’t hear much news. You still have that pipe after all these years, that hideous Dragon pipe-“

“It is a Wyvern. One can tell by the tell-tale ridges on the head.”

The familiar merely closes her eyes and purrs at this.

“What is it you want again? I was about to enjoy my fine nephew’s letter.”

“It is because of your nephew that I’m here. He is still out in the Jade Forest, then? Traipsing with the criminal?”

“He is still abroad and yes, he is with his Deputy. Deputy Thane. Thane Trumble.”

Thane Trumble. No name in the Shire besides that of the Witch herself could cause the Hobbit elders to let out snorts of derision like the name Thane Trumble. Wanderer. City-goer. Convicted Thief. Orc-Slayer. Ne’er do-well. Worst of all: Adventurer, “Thane is a fine traveling companion for a young man of Dustin’s demeanor.”

“Dustin’s demeanor? You mean naïve as an Orc is mean? The Shire is a different place since those two found and hatched that Green Dragon’s egg on the North Road.”

“Different for the better,” Jorren says with a stab in the air with his pipe for emphasis.

“Don’t let the Pipe Council hear you say that. They’ll say that some outland stink has been left on you from your reckless adventuring days,” and the cat looks up and makes eye contact with Jorren, “Different is different. The Witch was wondering what happened to the prisoner your son brought in with Thane after their visit to Sun City.”

“Gorum, the Clanless,” and Jorren rubs his eyes. When the hatchling was but a few days old, Dustin and Thane ventured west to Sun City, capitol of the Golden Empire. They discussed terms with Senator Liam Scorjoy and discovered his plans to use the Jade Forest as clear cut logging so the Golden Legions might make naval war with the Red Dynasty to the west.

Thane and Dustin were wise and got away with their lives. They also managed to get word of Liam’s plans for the Jade Forest to the Elven community in Sun. This managed to stall the Senate for a few months, allowing the Jade Forest to marshal its forces.

They returned with Gorum, a clanless Dwarven Rogue, who had worked with Thane in his less reputable days. Upon hearing of Gorum’s plan to turn them both in to the Gold Legions, the Sheriff and Deputy made their first arrest.

A few weeks after they departed, adventuring in the Jade Forest, Gorum had escaped.

His whereabouts are unknown.

“He tired of our fine hospitality. That is all that is known. If the Witch of Hightree wishes to aid in finding this lawbreaker that would be-”

“She has failed to find him, as have I. We believe he had aid,” and with the conversation switching from fun banter to more serious topics, the cat leaves the sleepy hearth and sits up on a nearby cushioned footstool.

“I agree with your assessments. My nephew believes he will seek him out and will make a mistake in the city. He suggested that we waste no more time looking for him,”

“Hm, there might be hope for that boy yet. Mayhaps he is not as naïve as we think.”

Jorren can’t help a smile at that, “The road is a good teacher. I am glad that he is well. His adventures are far different from ours. He operates on an entirely different scale. His life-“

Not for the first time this night, Priscilla interrupts, just as her mistress would, “-will be a hundred times more complicated and dangerous than yours was.”

Puff, puff, puff the Wyvern or the Dragon’s mouth oozes smoke, “His quest is far more complicated and dangerous than finding a cure for the Night’s Venom going through Kaily Goodbelly’s veins. When the time comes he can still settle down, see to his Sheriff-ly duties and find a wife.”

Cats can smile. Priscilla grins, “As his uncle did, lo those many years ago.”

“As his uncle did, not SO long ago, I think,” and the Familiar and the Mayor share a moment. They each take something very different from the air of that moment but it is shared none the less.

The Mayor begins to sniffle. He wipes his nose with a nearby kerchief and pours his tea, “It is the Golden Empire to the west that worries your mistress, neh?”

“My mistress is worried that the Shire could take the worst part of any war between the Jade Forest and the Golden Empire. Meddling in the affairs of Dragons is serious and dangerous business.”

Smoke comes out of Jorren’s nose as he is lectured by a cat of all things. His nostrils flare, “I know perfectly well about the affairs of Dragons, you little-“

Absent-mindedly, Priscilla begins to lick her paw and rub it against her ear, “Your wife does. She remembers. You would rather romanticize it all as if you were a hero in a storybook. The Witch of Hightree is merely worried that her Mayor is allowing events that will soon, if not already, be beyond his control in an attempt to once again touch that storybook world.

But if Happily Ever After seem beyond your reach, please know that we will help the Shire in any way we can, despite how we are viewed and treated hereabouts.”

Jorren sighs and sits up, “Pris, don’t be silly. Alicia could come back any time she wanted to. They were harsher to her than to me because-“

The cat’s green eyes narrow to jade arrow slits, "-because you came home and washed the outland stink off of you with a marriage and Alicia went abroad to hone her skills. You came home and let everything go on as it had been and when Alicia suggested that some things change, she was nearly run out of town on a rail. You-“

“Enough, cat. Tell your mistress that patrols surround the Shire and the Green Lady has breathed a mist over Hightree that should hide us for a time. Tell her that her offer is accepted and if we find ourselves in need, our pride will not be too great to ask for her wise counsel and aid.

Thank ye kindly.”

Quickly as she arrived, Priscilla made her way out the window, “Give Mandy our best regards.”

Jorren Overhill just slouches in his chair, feeling old. He puts out his pipe and cleans it, placing it back in its special place in his desk. He sees that the fire was safe and puts away the tea.

He is always quiet but still his wife wakes up when he enters the bedroom, “Did you remember to put away that Dragon pipe?”

“It is a Wyvern, dear,” and after removing his slippers, “Yes, I put it back.”

“Were you talking to someone, Jor?”

“Yes, dear, Alicia’s cat showed up.”

Mandy Overhill lets out a sleep-slurred uh-huh, “Everthing okay?”

“Right as pie, my dear,” Joren is awake for a long time, staring at the ceiling, listening to the night’s noises. He can never tell if Mandy is asleep by her breathing as she can tell by his.

The still night is broken by, “Do you regret your decision, Jorren?”

Jorren turns and looks at the lump in the covers made by his wife, “I only regret that we can’t return to the Shire triumphant from our quest every day at dusk, so that I might make that decision every time the sun sets.”

“Hm, that’s nice. Sleep.”

Jorren Overhill falls into a deep slumber and only as he begins to dream of road dust and talking cats does he realize that his nephew’s letter is still sitting on his armchair, wax seal untouched, missive unread.


Chapter IV
A Little About the Lady

Ladymist is what happens when a Dragon builds a city for her children. It is called the Lady or the City of Lairs.

Ladymist is a city hewn from a mountain into the shape of a step pyramid, one borough to each step. Waterfalls conjure mist into the streets. In spring mountain foliage makes a canopy over the cobblestone streets and in the winter the waterfalls freeze into ten story crystal sculptures.

Lair Sisters, in their green habits, silently make their way through the market-place, bargaining in sign language or on small chalk boards. Balladeers sing epic Draconic poetry that can take days to completely recite. Gentlemen and ladies stroll through the Jade Aerie with their exotic birds on their shoulder or arm.

In the Half-Orc ghetto, the children duel with wooden knives. Any adults with goblin blood aren’t allowed to walk the streets out of their borough in groups larger than three. It is called the Horde Law, from a time when Goblins, Orcs, Ogres and Trolls spilled out of the forest and laid siege to the Lady.

During festivals cres paper puppet heroes hunt wooden vampires or trolls through the streets. When the creatures are caught, inevitably in a square next to a dried out fountain, the puppets engage in duels. Red candy spills from any wounds inflicted into the delighted hands and mouths of Ladyfolk children.

The Ladyfolk, as the city-born are called, would never dream of living anywhere else.

A song is sweeping through Ladymist taverns. Students of Finescale Arcanna sing it after their examinations, Half-Orcs sing it around streetcorner braziers, even some expensive Bards strum it on the Elven Step (with only a verse or two touched up here and there):

My friend's quite a pisser,
He's a wizard, yessir.
He can drink for hours
Without using his powers,
He's my friend the Necromancer!

Oh! The long walk t'home
With a skull and a bone
He makes it so much faster
'Cause he's my friend the Necromancer!
My friend the Necromancer!

When I'm barfing my guts,
By the east village huts,

And coming 's the dawn of a day,
My friend finds me a way
By enchanting my turkey butt!

Oh! The long walk t'home
With a skull and a bone
He makes it so much faster
'Cause he's my friend the Necromancer!
My friend the Necromancer!

Yes my friend the nec-ro-man-cer sir...

Rumor has it, Randal Tisgood, Green Herald, originally composed the song and its tune, a strange melange of Hobbit simplicity and Elven arrangement, seems to confirm this. Before singing the bawdy rhyme, Bards often tell the tale of the Green Herald's adventure through Deeproot that left the city with new Gods.

[Thanks to Mario, player of Randal Tisgood, for the wonderful song.]


Chapter V

Kachelka’s grandmother used to tell her about the ocean. She’d talk about swimming down to great undersea kingdoms illuminated by domesticated fish with lanterns on their heads. Grandma would talk about fighting under the sea and how different it was.

“We were the Troll shock troops of the Deep Ones. We fought in wars the sun’ll never see, on battlefields no human will walk over till oceans dry up. Fetch me some more chowder, dear, and I’ll tell you more.”

Kachelka always did fetch more chowder.

Grandma used to say how Sea Trolls were the truer of the Troll breeds, “Trolls have always laired on, in, near bridges. Realize the power of in-between places. We Sea Trolls live in sea, on land, in between two worlds.

In between, always in between with us. Value between places, child. Twilight lands, that line between sea and horizon.”

Her mother hated such talk, “No breed of Troll is higher than any other, foolish talk. Two-heads think they are better than the one heads and the Land Trolls think they are better than the Sea Trolls and the Black Trolls think they are better than all of them.

Nonsense talk only leads to trouble.”

But Kachelka likes that idea, that her people are a special people.

Kachelka Blackmason, Yukeni Underkill, Venoq Bridgeclaw and Betan Deepmason, trained Monks, walk to the city of Ladymist to pledge as lifelong guards for the Green Lady as stated when the Bridge Guild swore fealty.

Among the four, she is the only Sea Troll, the other three are all Land Trolls, or as her grandmother would call them, Mud Trolls.

They stand on a hilltop, looking at Ladymist at dusk. They can see the torches and lanterns being lit, cooking fires giving off smoke all over the city.

Yukeni is the quietest and the eldest of them. Her family’s fury is well known. The Underkills were known for fighting dirty and when someone is known for fighting dirty among Orcs, Trolls and Goblins you know it is more than just the occasional head-butt or a casual elbow to the throat or even a rusty knife in a fistfight.

The Underkills defend their bridge with unusual zeal. Once a wanderer tried to cross the bridge when a throng of merchants was crossing without paying the toll, just strolled by casually without paying the three silver. Three silver coins were taken out of his bag. He watched while the Orcish blacksmith fashioned the coins into three nails.

What was done with those nails after they were fashioned is now a subject of disgusting myth among the Bridge Guilders.

Yukeni Underkill needs to be watched. She isn’t prone to loud rages like Venoq or the mug half empty philosophy of Betan. Kachelka found her dangerous, exciting, but still dangerous. She always kept an eye on her.

Kachelka Deepmason, somewhere on the journey here, was silently elected leader. She has that way about her: when she talks others listen. Kachelka grunts and points one of her green fingers and its long, sharp nails at the city, “Fires.”

The others nod and grunt in ascent and she continues, “Sometimes in nasty weather mother let’s a human stay in the bridge. I hear stories. They say things like, ‘Oh, it is so clean in here. I thought it would be different, like a dungeon.’”

The four chuckle, “They think we eat billy goats or something. They think we barbarians.”


Their leader continues, “Humans have stories about going into underground and fighting Orcs or Goblins. Finding treasure, being heroes,” she points to the city, “Our dungeon. Filled with enemies-“

Venoq, always funning, roars, “-and filled with treasures too.”

More chuckles.

“Our days of pillage this, pillage that well over. Now our families run bridges. Now we serve the Green Lady, bodyguards.”

Betan, always fuming, snorts, “Bodyguards, if she doesn’t put as guarding lair doorway to nothing ‘cause Troll guards belong in dungeons, not seen in public.”

Kachelka shakes her hear, scratched her fin ears, “Maybe. Maybe the Green Lady will waste us and we spend this whole life guarding a door. Maybe.”

But remember who her first knight is. Before nobles from all cities she knighted M’Randa. She knighted a Half-Orc warrior. Lady M’Randa, they call her. Maybe our Lady has no care for human opinion. Maybe Dragons are better than that.”

The ladies want to believe. The only sound is their breathing while they consider a life more noble than that of a monster under a bridge.

Sensing that she almost has them, Kachelka continues, “Who will keep her safer than us? Who better? Stronger than a Troll woman? Tougher than us with family spirits watching? War-wiser after our training?”

Nods all around, even Betan.

“No one is better for guard a young Green Dragon with many enemies. If she put us in some dungeon room, far from her, than we know all about Green Lady foolery.

Forget doubt. We get there first. First we get to her Lair.

Look at those fires. Many humans. Let’s look at your dungeon, plan our attack.”

Venoq smiles, crooked and sharp, “Pretend we are human men and the Green Lady is some kidnapped princess with gold hair and jade eyes, ‘Oh, save me, dragon take me. I no fight.”

Laughs erupt into full on snorts, Betan brays like a donkey at the thought of the helpless human princess.

Kachelka lets the laugh do its work, “Can’t go in together. Horde Law. Four Trolls can’t walk the streets together. Fear.

We will split, two and two. Venoq, you and Betan go to East Gate. Yukeni and me go in West Gate. We meet you at top of the city; then we meet the Green Lady.

We are in between. Old home with family’s Guild and new home with Dragon, Green Lady. Jade Forest is between itself and Golden Empire. Important time, like my Grandma always said. This is a bridge too, like our old home. Gods made Trolls for bridges, this kind of time, twilight time.”

Chapter V.5
A Missive to the Green Knight

Green Knight,
I wanted to send a goblin courier. He could yell the message so that you would know its power. My husband says that we are part of the Jade Empire now and here we write.

When it comes to circumstances outside from my Bridge, I listen to my husband.

My daughter's name is my name, Kachelka, and she will soon be in Ladymist to serve the Green Lady. I hope you two will meet. She needs to know you.

I write for a reason but the ink is doing not what I want it to and now the letter is in wrong direction.

Here. I want you to be Champion of the Longdrop Bridge. You would answer any challenges to that Bridge's Honor, defend it in times of seige and leads its Orcish troops in times of war. Longdrop Bridge would always welcome you, feed your horse and you and your Squire and be a safe place for you.

Bridge mistresses meet and talk about this. We fought. We decided this.

I hope you accept and be Champion.

We are proud of what you have done.

Do more yet.

Kachelka Blackmason
Trollmother of Highbridge


To: Kachelka Blackmason, Highbridge Trollmother
From: Lady M'randda Green, Knight of the Green Lady, servant of the Jade Empire

via goblin courier

My Mistress Blackmason,

Me apologies for not writing sooner. Circumstances like me journey to Ladymist and duties there added to delay of me writing to you. Me not weild pen so well so me squire, she writing this down for me and fixing me sentences, but it all me own words, you can be sure of that.

As i say this me must apo--apo-lo-gize for bad treatment of Younger Kachelka when she come to Ladymist to serve with honor the Green Lady. We not realize her arrival till assault by Green Watch. Me tell you offender was executed and such thing not ever happen again while me here.

Me would be honored to take on the offer so graciously bestowed by you [above syntax supplied by Squire Smith] as Champion of Longdrop Bridge. Me would like nothing better than to defend and prevent attack on your com-community. Now that you recognize and swear to the Green Lady you feal-ty i can accept. Understand that my first re-spon-si-bil-ity is to the safety of my Lady and my heralds. But that after that you have my sword and my fight for you I will. You show me much kindness and I know the tales of our shared story of the past. It is very important that i have you trust and that you show my little friends there are 3 and our priests and allies the same safety when they come near.

Me hope to make visit soon to formal-lize this pact. Me hope you husband and son is good, and that you son is studying hard and doing good work for future of Green Lady.

Yours in alliegance,
M'randda, Knight of the Green Lady

Chapter V
Maidens and the Hanged Man

First, the Maidens...

Tonight is my first night walking with the Lady’s Watch. I read the by-laws this afternoon, written on the Watch Hall walls:

“A squad in the Lady’s Watch is made up of five able-bodied folk, born and bred in Ladymist who have weathered more than thirteen winters. One of these will be designated Sergeant and this Watchman will be of no less than twenty winters. All in the squad shall bear their badge, an oak hafted iron hand axe with the dragon of Ladymist etched into the blade.

Each Watchman shall have cold iron shackles for prisoners and a leather cord so’s to wrap the shackle’s key around his or her neck.

During night hours two members of the squad shall carry lit torches along with three extra as designated by the Sergeant.”

I only read two walls, didn’t want to seem like some Fairy Maiden away from the grove for the first time.

New members of the watch are called Maidens until it is decided that their Maidenhood is gone. Maidens are mostly put on all night patrols, walking the city streets in the cold, stomping to regain feeling in our toes.

We gather near Watch Hall, the frozen falls were reflecting the moonlight as the Sergeant made sure we all were properly outfitted for the cold.

“Maiden, take the other torch. Maiden, I don’t have all day, damn Tiamat’s sixth head, I didn’t get a deaf one, did I?”

The other Watchmen chuckle

Oh, by Maiden he means me. Right.

“Sorry, Sergeant, I…just, I’ll take the torch, Sergeant,” I’m such a tool.

Holding the torch is like some kind of honor. Right? The other torchbearer the biggest person I’ve ever seen outside of the Half-Orc ghetto.

The Sergeant hadn’t shaved and his tabard smelled like beer and cheese but when he spoke the others jumped. He even had an old battered sword at his hip. As we get into formation I picture ole Sarge in the future, sitting with me at the bar where all of the Lady’s Watchmen meet. Just me and Sarge, sitting in the Barracks Pub, sipping ale and swapping tales.


“Yes sir, Sarge, Sergeant, sir?”

“Stay focused, you was wondering on me.”

“Sure thing, Sergeant.”

I stand up straighter, trying to seem more focused, when I hear a woman’s scream, “Troll!" Troll in the streets!”

She runs right into me, her head against my chain mailed chest.

There’s two of them standing in the streets, walking down like they were about to go to market. We approached slowly, Sarge’s breath misting in the cold night air. One of them flinches at the firelight.

Sarge sneers, “We can do this lotsa ways. Put on the shackles willingly. I knows you can break ‘em. We’ll take you down to the Watch Hall and sort this out.”

Words seem to be difficult on the Troll’s tongue, “Horde Law. Three. We two. Here to see Green Lady.”

Sarge shakes his head and laughs, right in their big faces, “I know the damned Law, but you’s Trolls fer Dragon’s sake. Need to just check everything out is all.”

With one hand I take the shackles out and put them on her.

Her. Oh, the Trolls are girls, young women about my age. They are women.

I shackle the Troll girl. The words Troll Maiden fall through my head for some reason. I adjust the grip on the torch so that the fire isn’t so close to her. I can tell it bothers her.

“Fire hurts,” she explains as the shackles click into place.

“Hurts us too,” I smile.

“Nothing hurts us,” nothing sounds like no-ting, “Only burn juice and fire.”

I reply, “You good, fire away,” talking like that is fun.

“Me good,” she smiles and her teeth look sharp volcanic rock broken in her mouth.

Sarge turns on me, “Maiden, if you want to buy her a drink, do it on your own time. Now we escort the prisoners to the pit.”

She shakes her head, “You maiden? So hard tell.”

Sarge shoots me a look like a Red Dragon’s breath. I keep my mouth shut and escort the Troll Maid-, the prisoner.

Now, the Hanged Man...

It was a beauty of a night in the Lady. The waterfall was frozen solid but it was getting warm. Water trickled down into the gutters. The air was crisp and cool. Ya could wear your woolens but no one’d be losing toes or fingers like on some nights. Beauty of a night.

In all of my years I’ve never seen anything like that night. Trolls walking the Mason Step in the evening. They were just walking the streets, happy as you please, sharp claws scratching the ground as they went. Sure they’re females but Troll women-folk are even stronger than the men, you see.

S’true, they’re fiercer fighters too. Grandpa fought them when they laid siege to the Lady. He fought in the war and helped form the Horde Law back in the day, when Orcs and such were coming in out of the cold, begging the Duke for sanctuary.

He told me stories, how you can chop their arms off and they can just re-attach them or fight without them just to go for them later. The arms can even fight alone, choking an enemy to death detached from the shoulder. Tough bastards…or bitches.

Ten years walking the cobblestone streets of the Lady, only got the Sergeant’s rank a year ago. Rank is more trouble than it is worth. Believe me. From where I’m hanging, I’d know.

Before the Watch I was talking to the man who was my Sergeant, back when I was a Maiden, “So, let me get this straight. The Duke dies a mysterious death. Young Duchess Alexia comes to power and a Green Dragon sits on the throne of the Jade Forest.”

“The Duchess still rules the Lady.”

“Riiight. I don’t understand why we need a beast in charge of our kingdom anyway. Humans are good enough for my family.”

“All great kingdoms are ruled by a Dragon or some such mythical beast. You speak treason into yer cups.”

“I speak what is in my heart. If a Dragon can’t cope with the contents of my meager word-hoard, so be it. Dusk is falling, old friend. Time to take up the axe and keep the streets safe.”

Had a Maiden on my watch. Kept an eye on the boy. Sometimes they start out like him, naïve and full of wonder. S’nice, keeps the old foge’s like me in check.

Then the Troll madness. Sure you’ve heard about that. It has gone around the city like a gossip plague. Maiden flirted with a Troll. Meant to tell him that slapping shackles on a Troll got him out of Maidenhood, on his first night too. Ah well, no telling him now.

We were escorting the Trolls to the pits, figure out what was what and the Hobbits showed up. They were riding dogs, if ye can believe it. One was particularly nasty, saying that he would have my demoted if I didn’t hand the seven-foot beasts over to him.

No way was I handing over such killers to Halflings, no way in all the Hells. Ladies they might be but they’d sure enough rip the meat from their little bones before too long.

The Hobbits are Green Heralds, you see, servants of the Green Dragon who sits in her lair at the bottom our fine city. I know a Dragon built the city. I know that well enough. Still, I refused to hand the prisoners over and the little man got all red in the face.

Then the Green Knight showed up. A knight, Half-Orc, a woman…a knight. Maybe I’m old-fashioned…****e. My grandpa’s howling in his urn, he is. She had two other Trolls with her. Two MORE Trolls, I say.

The Halfling and I exchanged more words. I ain’t sure which one it was I was yelling back at. He threatened to have me demoted and such. Bugger him, I say. I told him just what I thought of him and his Green Lady.

One of the Hobbits, who tells stories in Draconic to the Wizards, I hear, showed a magick. He summoned a beast to keep the Trolls in line. ‘Tween the Hobbit-Sorcerer and the Half-Orc I reckoned they had enough muscle to keep two Trolls in line.

Damn me.

Lady M’Randa made her mark on the receipt and that was that. End of a hectic night and all’s well in my sweet Ladymist.

The Duchess’ Palace Guard showed up a few hours later. When I was yelling at the Hobbit I said things. I can remember it. Said it in front of a Half-Orc Knight, you see. She didn’t hear an argument. She heard treason. Apparently, I threw around the word, “monster” in relation to our just Draconic ruler.

I was taken to oak square, used to be lined with Oaks in my Grandpa’s day. Orcs and Goblins used most of the Oaks to make siege engines when they took this step, you see. Only one oak tree left, I’d know.

They tried to hang me from the lower branches and the first time the branch broke. I think I broke my ankle. The pain snapped me out of it. I began ranting about the justice of the Green Lady and such.

Then they found a stronger branch, threw the noose over it and I died with a snap.


Chapter VI
Black Stories

The Orcs in Ladymist live on the Orc Step, or as the humans call it, the Orcish Ghetto. It is hard telling you about our step. It is hard to make you understand. My word-hoard isn’t filled with gold or magic but I will do my best.

The Black Stories are made of 63 of Orc blood. 42 are of fighting age, the rest being uninked or old, all of their words written.

I am honored to be among them. The only words written on me are above the empty socket where my eye was. Above it, in black Orcish runes, is the word Gren, in human tongue that means Gone.

My father had many words upon him. His right hand, letters in a black swirl in the middle of the palm was marked Ellik-Kaz, Elf-Slayer and his left hand, along the fingers was Honice Katcha, Steady Death, a reference to his ability with a bow.

His scars were many and all were inked. The most notable to me was etched just off center of his shoulderblades. It was a ragged scar from an axe of the Lady’s Watch, next to it was written Aman, Justice.

My mother’s head was shaved on the sides and Uyicha was written on her left side and Nok on her right. Wise and Strong, my mother was. She had nothing else written on her. I asked her why she didn’t leave more for her grandchildren to read. She only snorted, “All of my stories come from my Wisdom and Strength. Let those who survive me know that. If you get around to making the tribe any new Orcs.”

She died just after that; the Shaman inflated her bladder and her stomach so that she might follow my father down the river.

Gren is the only word written on me, though my Shaman tells me that I am selfish, keeping my deeds to myself and not leaving any for my children to read when I am gone and they carry my skin into battle.

My wife tells me that I am wise and strong like my mother, “Few words make the words you leave filled with more power. Wait, it shows the tribe that your best words are ahead of you.”

My father and I both had soft spots for women stronger and smarter than we are. I am sorry my mother never met my wife.

I am thinking of my father lately, the story of how the tribe avenged his death was re-told just last night at Muthah’s, where tribes go when they need peace. No Orc would ever attack another there. Muthah’s owner is well respected by all Orcish women. The chief who called war on another at Muthah’s would risk more ire than anyone needs in one lifetime.

It only costs forty gold to let the Tribe have run of the entire Pub.

Our city, the Lady, was created by a Dragon, the Horned Lady. She created it for her tribe. Then she died, betrayed by a Man. Our Shamans knew such a thing was coming but couldn’t gain audience to tell her. By human black magicks, she died.

Now a young Dragon claims the Horned Lady’s throne. Her tribe is a strange broken thing now. Her Little Men try and fix that. They waddle to and fro, this side of the Jade Forest to that side, bringing her people together. The Little People are protected by a Half-Orc, Lady M’Randa.

When the children on the Orc Step play at war all of the little girls want to be Lady M’Randa. It was an honor for her to come here.

One of the Little men is called Small Hunter. The Shaman did not know much about him but we took care to watch our knees when he was about.

Another is called Smalgus’s Little Taleswapper. He tells stories to the Wizards in the Dragontongue. The Shaman was excited to have him with us. Smalgus is a mighty human Wizard and to have his Taleswapper gives our Shaman power.

Another is Orc-Slayer. Orok-Kazi. He killed a great Orc general with one dagger strike to the throat. After we met him, the older warriors of the tribe had many arguments, trying to figure out how he ever reached an Orcish throat. Eventually, it was agreed that he had a mighty long dagger or killed a stunted Orc.

Lady M’Randa, Green Knight guards the little men, keeping them from harm. May Gruumsh look down on her favorably. Her squire was found and proven in the midst of battle. She is human but most of us forgive M’Randa, Lady M’Randa, this indiscretion.

The Little Taleswapper showed magicks that he learned among the Wizards and told the traditional story of How Pug Stole Fire but he didn’t know Orcish. Our Shaman was quite impressed by his telling, go so far as to say that at different points in the tale of Pug, he forgot the tale was not being told in Orcish.

They came to us because they wanted to hear Jinlat’s story. Jinlat was always known as a coward, his name meaning Runner is Orcish. But he had proven himself some months ago.

I led a War Team against the Nightfangs, who killed my father.

Jinlat was not fit to be among them but he had run from two battles. If he ran from this third, we would have to drown him and send him on his way. Drowning, a weak death.

Our ambush turned around on us and we were ambushed. My team killed many Nightfangs but it was not enough. In the end, most of us were hurt or down, black teeth grinning as their poisoned knives were ready to finish us. Jinlat had run away again. Once the battle was over, we’d drown him.

Nightfangs and Black Stories traded violence. My band was going to die. As I bled to death I wondered who would drown Jinlat and if my wife would take another after I was gone, so little ink on me. Soon I would be Gren.

Jinlat came back, eyes aglow with Witch Power.

His return was a strange thing and because of that it was his honor to tell the tale to the Little Men and Lady M’Randa.

Chapter VII
Jinlat's Only Story

You aren’t human, that’s for sure. You wouldn’t be in this part of Ladymist at this time of night if you were.

Maybe you’re a Goblin, looking for a tribe to leech off of…to serve, I mean.

Maybe a Half-Orc, sick of the sneers and mumbled curses that life outside the Orc Step deals out.

Perhaps a Troll, don’t know why you aren’t with the Bridge Guild but here you are, looking for someone who needs hired muscle.

It doesn’t matter because here you are. A wooden mug of cheap ale is thrust at you.

One of the Black Stories warriors limps up to you, hobbling from a battle wound, we can only assume. His green head is mostly shaved and he must be youngd because has only has one word written on a muscled shoulder: Uyan Gab which means Slow in Battle. He nods and then whispers:

- Jinlat is telling his story. It is the same contribution he’s been making at the fires for months now. Some stories grow in the telling but this story just seems to get more and more pathetic -

Jinlat steps to the fire and his eyes have a mad gleam in them but the energy of the story is dead. Even the children look embarrassed for him. Somewhere in the gathering a baby cries:

“I returned to the battle. Grumsh washed my weakness away and looked down on my with his great green eye. My eyes were glowing green, bathed in power.”

- No lies there. I was there with Chief Gren. A Nightfang battleaxe had done its violence on me knee. It is almost a lucky thing to get hit with heavy weapons when fighting Nightfangs. Their small weapons are covered in poison, like the crossbow bolt that killed Gren’s father. -

Realizing that few are listening except for the outsiders, the Little Men, he overcompensates with even more energy. Words are often punctuated with spit that flies when his mouth makes unfortunate contact with hard vowels:

“The first Nightfang I broken in two with my hands, lifting him over my head, the cobblestone road was my weapon. It was a good thing to see fear in my enemy’s eyes.”

- And Jinlat would know all about fear. He didn’t break anyone over the cobblestone; snapped his neck with his bare hands. No growling, no screaming, no battlecry. This next part he usually tries to pay a bill his word hoard can’t cash. -

“The next came at me. I tore his head off out of its socket. The spine dangled like a string…from a yo-yo…if you were holding the wooden part.”

- The kids love this next part. –

“Holding his spine in my hands I beat the third to death, one hit after another. By the time I’m done both of their skulls are good for nothing.”

- He’s about done now. -

The last two sentences come out like an explanation, like an whispered excuse:
“Took the Chief home. Grumsh chose me.”

- He’d better watch that kind of talk or else Gren might think stupid Jinlat is making a bid for the Chief’s seat. Gren’d kill Jinlat without breaking a sweat and wouldn’t even bother to put ink in his skin about it.

Jinlat, though, this is his big event. He’ll spend his reward on an elaborate tattoo, which is a good thing because that story, that three minutes of copper sentences and chain-linked words…that the only story he’ll ever have.

Maybe it was the will of Grumsh that made his eyes glow green. Perhaps our God did possess him but we doubt it. The Green Dragon’s little men didn’t come here to find out if Jinlat is the prophent of Grumsh. No, they came here because his magic eyes are exactly like something else, something they’ve encountered on their travels.

Let Jinlat have his story. It is the only one he’ll ever have.


Chapter VIII
A Hero's Tale

Mother built Ladymist for us.

I hate stories, always want the teller to go right to the end, the real end. Stalwart heroes, lovely princesses, wily tricksters and even great Wizards become tragic as they grow pathetic and old. Stories never end there, though.

My beautiful garden is a mess. The pond is covered in slime and algae. Once poems were composed about the moon’s reflection in its waters. Mother Tiamat’s statue has only three heads left.

Time has had its way with the Lady I remember.

The statues of Father Bahumat and his five sons were made of the purest virgin marble.
Now the erosion makes it look like the statues are crying. The hedge maze is overgrown with thorns.

Time hasn’t had entirely negative effects on my mother’s finest creation.

Mother built this city for my brother and my sister and me. She brought together the finest artists from the corners of the world. Elvish crystal for the dome, Dwarves for the underground lair, Gnomish tunnels and still more ancient cultures for the shape, for the step pyramid.

The Jade Forest is what they call it now. When I was growing up it was the Jade Empire.

Now this Hatchling resides in my dead mother’s lair, bloody Halflings run her errands. She hasn’t even taken root in the world yet and she hopes to stand against the Empires around her. The Golden Empire’s Great Wyrm has been asleep for more than six hundred years. When he wakes up they will find out the difference between a forest and an Empire.

It is a farce.

I hate stories. Nothing worse than watching some ham-tongued storyteller establish the hero, establish a villain and then let they fight it out for some crowd’s amusement.

My younger brother used to tell such stories to my mother and sister. They would laugh and clap their hands. None of my magicks ever brought them such laughter, safety and security but never that kind of storybook joy.

Mother died, betrayed by the Lord of Deeproot. Lucky for him he was killed by my mother’s loyal subjects if I had laid my hands on him my hydras would still be feasting on his innards.

Now my brother is gone, most likely dead, drunk or rutting (mayhaps all three) in some backwater demi-plane. My sister is dead, buried with her disposable husband and I am the only one left to watch over this city.

This is probably a good thing. The rest of the family was tied down to that storybook mentality of villains, heroes and maidens fair. This kind of worldview weakens them.

Me, for example. I used an arcane artifact to possess a simpleton bastard with Dragon’s blood to kill the former Duke of Ladymist. The former Duke was a good, if foolish, man with nothing but the best intentions but as the centuries wear on fools cannot be suffered lightly.

There is a Great Wyrm to the west and when he awakens we will need a strong leader. Duchess Alexia Greatwing is such a leader. Even when she was a little girl others followed her. It is something that can’t be trained into you or taught. Either you have it or you don’t and, Tiamat bless her little soul, she has it in spades.

Along with that she is a pretty thing and so the people love her. The people are fairly easy to please.

Not that she isn’t above mistakes.

There is that bit about the hanging of a City Watch sergeant a few weeks ago but that is remedied easily enough. A few songs in the right inns, a few whispers to the right ears, a few zealots talking too much too fast and that little uprising will be quashed fast enough.

We might have to arrange for some little girl to be killed brutally by some kind of blood-hungry mob but I’ll explain to her that she is dying for the noblest of causes before her pure little soul heads off towards the Sun. Should the girl be a Half-Orc or Half-Elf?

The body of a little girl with great big sad Elvish eyes, gazing up through a mop of bloody hair might just do the trick but the Half-Orcs are so much more relevant.

These are the decisions that plague me.

Are the people who incite the mob villains?

What if their murder leads to a backlash against humanists and bigots? What if this strengthens Jade Forest and helps the Hatchling lounging on my mother’s throne to live a while longer, maybe take root, maybe see her forest become an Empire?

Let a storyteller sing a ballad about a hero like me, a hero who makes the decisions that shiny knights on their horses and gracefully Elves with their bows refuse to make. Let children play in the street and pretend to be Edric, son of the Horned Lady.

There are other tales I’d like to tell, other issues that need addressing. The Green Heralds, Grat Lair-Guardian, the artifact in my possession and its myriad uses are all subjects for later writings. I want my words left after I’m gone or asleep in the centuries to come and all of this needs to be properly chronicled but a true hero’s work is never done.


Chapter IX
Squire Jasmine Writes Home

Dear Ma,

Work as a squire is going well. As Master Thane says, “We just deliver pieces of paper.”

Admittedly this delivering of writs has allowed me to see some almost all of the cities in the Jade Forest. I walked the musty halls of Deeproot, spent the night in the Oath Keep, eaten till I was stuffed in the Hightree Shire and walked the cobblestone streets of Ladymist, or as the locals call it, the Lady.

Of all of them, the Lady is my favorite. It is everything I thought being away from home would be, magical, mysterious and so very old.

Lady M’Randa is a kind mistress and serving her remains an honor that I work hard to live up to.

Tell my brother to work hard and you send word that he is coming along well I will bring him a special treat from the streets of the blessed Lady.

All my love,

Squire Jasmine Smith

Dear Widow,

In armor, with a sword on my hip and a shield strapped to my back it is impossible to forget that I am Squire Jasmine Smith. It is all of those days in between, wearing nothing but cotton breeches and a tabard when I feel like a small-town girl with mannish shoulders who has never been kissed.

Master Thane says, “We just deliver pieces of paper,” but he is just making light of our perilous lives. Adventuring with Hobbits means that a lot of time is spent merry making and eating, keeping thoughts of death at bay.

Your staff remains in my care and is a treasure. It reminds me not only of my humble roots but also that others have left home before me. Suddenly, I feel that I am a part of a great tradition, a secret society of sorts.

As a fellow society member it is my duty to tell you how I have put your staff to use. I killed my first living man less than a fortnight ago. I put a few ghouls to the sword but killing them didn’t feel like anything horrid. They were demons of a sort and deserved to be sent on.

I killed an Orc. They ambushed us in the morning as we left the Lady. It was one of those glorious mornings, birds were just singing and the sky was just becoming blue. The cowards hit us with crossbow bolts from rooftops and one hit Lady M’Randa so hard that I am not sure how she remained on her feet. If being a knight means that one must stand fast through pain like that then I will remain a Squire for some time yet.

The Orcs were part of a city gang called the Nightfangs; foot-soldiers charged m’lady from both sides. I swung your staff like a hand and a half sword. The fool wasn’t wearing a helm and his skull made a noise like wet wood giving in to a dull axe.

Oddly, I expected the bastard to get up and continue fighting but that didn’t happen. While Lady M’Randa explained the situation to the Watch, I piled the bodies, as was my duty. Seems like a brutish use for your fine apprentice's staff.

There are other situations I have been witness to from the dungeons of Deeproot to the Wedding Highway to the Orcish ghettos of the Lady.

If I should die, please try and explain to my mother that these past months have included more magic and life than all of the years before.


Squire Jasmine Smith


Chapter X
The Tisgood Letters

[His handwriting is simple, used to putting marks in a ledger,
keeping track of the Tisgood Sheep.

He wrote love-letters to his wife long ago when she lived in the next county and still writes her love poems from time to time. Sometimes he would show them to you and ask advice on their compisition. Even his love poems seemed mundane to you but you helped him. It was one of the rare occasions wherein Randal bit his tongue and kept his word-hoard shut. His simple handwriting has just a touch of romance, a swirled capital letter here, a tilt there. Thank the poetry to his wife for that.

The words are drawn crudely, by Silver City Bard standards but he reminds you of home and for a second you ache for the more urbane and rarified Elvish company of the Silver Cities and even a Hobbit of the High Court Shire will do.]

Dear Randall,

I have sent a letter every time I have had to take the herd or the
wool to the city for a merchant festival.

I don't like the cities, too many shiftless artists about. You
know how it is here in the Silver Cities. I hope the Jade Forest,
a humble, hard working people, have had a good effect on you.

I could use a good hand when i get home.

I can only hope that my brotherly jibes translate with a smile
over my face on this parchment, as i never had any gift with words as you always did.

I can only hope that the shady looking men who I gave all of my
letters to have reached you. They were particularly smelly humans with ink shoved under their skin but they said they were going to Goldleaf and that was close to the Jade Forest and so my missives have travelled with them along with some gold to ease their passage.

I am giving this letter to a strange old coot. He is called the
Rilion Mandegar Nihilowen [Strange Owl Man] by the Elves he
travelled with. It seems an odd title for Elves to give a Man.

He is waiting for me right now. Doesn't seem to be doing anything much. Just sitting there.

Still, I like him well enough and trusted my instincts on the

He wouldn't accept my coin, though.

I'll slip a wool sweater into his bag.

Ma is the same as ever. She bakes and cooks enough for the Tisgood family and the dozen or so cousins it takes to shepherd the flock and then she bakes some more. I don't know where she get's her strength but we could all learn something about strength from her.

Leslie Cherryling asks for you often and tells anyone in listening
distance how you sang her a love ballad in Draconic one night and how she didn't understand the words but literal understanding is over-rated or some such sheep hooey.

I didn't have the heart to tell her that you sang her an excerpt
from the Wedding Epic of Tiamat and Bahumat because I only heard it in Halfling tongue once and the ending was hazy to me.

I see to remember it not ending well at all.

Silly girl.

Pa's gout is worse and he can't ride at all and can barely walk the
pastures anymore. He still runs the books as his mind is still
sharp as a tack but he has tons of free time now and drove Ma mad for a time.

He has decided to write his memoirs. I have enclosed a copy I made of what he calls, "his most adventurous moment," because he thought it was a good idea whwen i suggested you had a copy of it. It isn't Dawson Hightree facing down the Troll King but it is our Da's finest hour, or so he says.

The title of this memoir changes everyday. We await the new title he has dreamed up at dinner. Tonight it was, "My Time With the Sheep" but Ma thought it was too dull. A few weeks ago she hit him with a wooden spoon when he announced to the table that his new title was simply, "Flocked for Life."

I hope all is well with you in the Jade Forest. We hear all kinds
of rumors of Dragonic madness, war and strife, Troll Nations and
Dead Gods.

I'd hope your stories will keep you well away from all that


Alex Tisgood

156 Silver Reckoning
1224 Gold Reckoning

Dear Alex,

I hope you get this letter. I did get the letter you sent with the "strange owl man" as the Elves called him but I’m sorry to say that I received none of the others. I believe the man was a Paladin of Ulula, a benevolent Owl God worshipped in these lands – the mightiest of their Paladins fly upon the backs of giant owls in battle. Quite amazing, actually. He might have heard about me or somesuch, or maybe Ulula brought that letter of yours to me. I’m not much a fan of the Owl God, or most Gods in general, but if they get my brother’s mail to me maybe they deserve a song or two. Anyhow, we are under a blockade from the Gold Empire so everything basically has to be smuggled in.

So I’ve got a gig playin’ soupchin. I hooked up with our cousin Thane. Best keep that under your hat – Trumbles and all. He really does have a problem with promises. Miranda the Green Night and Skier Jasmyn fill us out. Sometimes the ex-sheriff of Hightree plays with us, Dustin (dirtier than a goblin, but does all right with the dogs). We call ourselves The Green Heralds and we’re wintering in this little hole called Ladiemyst. We even played for the Duchess a few times. I’m making good money and even getting a bit of a name – there are all kinds of rumors that you might hear. Probably easiest just to answer them with a polite nod if it’s a foreigner type, but feel free to set any family straight.

It was really nice to hear about Ma’ and Da.’ Somehow, I didn’t receive the story of our Da’s finest hour with the sheep and all, but wondering about what that could be is makin’ me more bonkers than the smell of Auntie Cinnamon’s cookies. Please send me another copy when you can.

I gotta’ say that mentioning Leslie Cherryling really brought up some old memories. Most folks thought Alison Berrymuffin was the cutest, but Leslie Cherryling had eyes that could charm a Dragon and a nose to match. And that chin! I remember that night you were talkin’ about. She must be married and baking pies for the cutter ceremonies by now. I’ll bet her kids are A-dorable.

The whole thing nearly brought me to tears to tell you true. Not Leslie, really, but the whole thing about home. The choices we make… I often miss the Silver Cities – the folks here just aren’t the same. There is Hightree, but, well, it’s Hightree. We don’t even get up there much. Sometimes I get homesick terrible like. On the other hand, here I am novel. Special. A big fish for a "half-man" (as the longlegs call us); while at home, there are dozens of bards just like me, or so it seems. Here I have a chance to be somebody, while at home, I am just anybody.

Anyhow, on to better things. This small time huckster here, Smallgus is one of my better fans. He’s a snappy chap and but he has the ugliest crow of a familiar you never saw. I think the bird is part wolverine. One thing they do have here are really excellent pies. If I could only send you a bumbleberry by owl… heh then I’d know I really lived in a kingdom.

Take care Alex. Your letter will keep me warm all winter.


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Chapter XI
The Githyanki Diplomacy

For we are come now to the edge of doom. Here those who wish may await the oncoming of the hour till either the ways of the world lie open again, or we summon them to the last need..."

- J.R.R. Tolkien, Fellowship of the Ring

The Lands are ruled by Dragons.

In the Silver...

Dwarves mine and Elves scheme.

In the Gold...

Senators adjust to their political existence when their Emperor is awake from his centuries long slumber.

Legions are ferried from one front to another as Dragons and armies grrow restless and bold.

A young girl buries freshly blooded magical swords in the ground and makes her way towards stormy mountains.

In the Green...

The Jade Forest is hectic with activity. Owls can be seen almost every night, flying between Deeproot, Ladymist and Ulula.

A mighty host sleeps at the feet of the Lady, waiting to meet the Golden Legions.

Trolls and Orcs stand by their bridges, awaiting another attack from the Chutu Ilka, Golden Doom.

And the Green Heralds are scattered.

The Green Lady has asked the Heralds to go south, deep into the Jade Forest's oldest wood. There is a hidden fortress there, where the Horned Lady met with dignitaries from the Eastern Lands. She has asked those that remain to use the maps in her libraries and find the Turpan Keep and make sure that it is safe, should she need to make use of it in the future.

But will the Green Heralds go or will they follow their hearts and track down Squire Jasmine who they lost when they were captured by the Gold?

In the Red...

A Red Dragon sits a Halfling on his knee, "Did you know that there is a place where the bodies of Dead Gods float? Tis true, my Little Skald, true as murder.

Cities are built on the backs of Dead Gods. What a sight that must be. To see a city built on the corpse such a creature.

One who saw that would have even a Dragon's envy.

This graveyard plane breeds the most brutal warriors ever known. These warrios are ruled by a merciless Empress who was crowned by a cabal of Red Dragons and ever since then, she has always paid my Color their proper respect.

Any of the Red can send an emissary to her and be allotted a Legion of her finest soldiers, who will serve for a year and a day.

My hordes are strong but, as you might well imagine, we are lacking in strong political minds. I am asking you to go forth and act as consultant to my delegation.

You will go the the Dead God's Plane and demand the Empress grant me and my clutch their Legions.

When you have delivered this Legion to me we will discuss the terms of your dismissal.

Think on it, little one. Your stories are excellent and you tell the tale of How Pug Stole Fire as well as anyone I have ever heard but how long can it last? How long till you die in some foolish escape attempt are knifed in an alley or in an ogre's cooking pot or worse? How long?

Think on it. I expect your answer in the morning."


Tu’Narath is not a city that you will find in poems or stories. It is in a good spot for trading, easily as central as Sigil, City of Doors but it doesn’t boast the latter’s metropolitan extra-planar prismatic citizenry. It is a city of eternal twilight but it is not the resplendent Arcadian twilight with fireflies dancing in a youthful forever; it is a grey overcast twlilight of not a sun but the weak memory of a sun. It is a memorable place, built on the bones of a Dead God but when travelers boast of memorable places they almost always smirk while talking about the City of Brass, far too humid for my taste.

Tu’Narath has one thing that no other city can boast and I don’t mean a palace blotting out the face of a deceased God nor the fact that it floats easily through the Graveyard Behind the Sky, the Place Where Ideas Die, the Astral Plane. Tu’Narath, capitol city of the Githyanki, Red Throne of Vlakkith, Lich-Queen, resplendent in her purple and gold has ten thousand years of hatred; it coats everything like soot from an oily fire.

Philosophers say that races specialize in order to survive. Elves have their haughtiness and their supposed balance with nature. Dwarves have their stalwart stubborn stone-like endurance. Humans are just pretty good at everything. Gnomes…to be true I don’t know what it is that Gnomes have but they keep around, don’t they? Hobbits have the small town peace of the Shire, mixed with a guilty love of adventure.

Even Drow, Dark Elves-if you will, have a certain amount of pride. At least the Drow walked away from it all, decided to go their own route and say what you want about a culture built on Demonwebs and Slavery, you rather have to respect that kind of moxy.

But the Githyanki have hatred, hatred and their Queen.

A row of gray trees lines Sternum Row, the wide avenue that leads up to the Liche-Queen’s Palace. These trees are from the many planes. The King Planar Theory says that there are infinite planes of existence, like the peeling of an onion, one reflecting or refracting the last; supplying infinite variety. The Liche-Queen’s soldiers have spilled blood in nearly all of them. That is one bloody onion, a busy people.

Heart’s Keep is located right where you’d think it would be, with the branches from a house-sized weeping willow the color of ash on Sternum Row tickling its curved walls.

Wings of three or five Red Dragons fly overhead, honoring returning soldiers, victorious over their hated enemies, the Githzarai or the cursed Illithid.

Why the hatred? Every Githyanki child knows. No child ever has to be asked why they hate as they are raised in their battalions, never knowing nor caring who their mother or father is. It is in the air, put there, perhaps the Liche-Queen breathes it out, or perhaps it is the last angry breath of the Dead God, filtering down past the sad trees through the streets.

Old soldiers, unable to fight from war wounds sweep the streets. Those with the skill see to the children, oversee the Young Battalions, so that they will know their place in the great bloody onion.

Tian is a fine old Githyanki, telling the children a nighttime story:

The children should really go to sleep. Swordsmasters will be coming in the morning. This battalion is celebrating its thirteenth birthday and they are finally allowed to practice with swords, no more staffs. Tomorrow they will handle live steel, blunted but metal none-the less. Making it easier to imagine that one is handling a fabled silver sword.

They are too excited, “Tian, old Tian, tell us a story. A good one,” their babble continues as each says what a good one might be. A little girl with a shaved head and yellow teeth wants something about the Liche-Queen’s ascension at the hand of Ephelemon, Red Dragon Consort of Tiamat. A little boy with a green eye and a black eye below a white head of hair begs for a story about the Mighty Gith, savior of the Githyanki people. A chubby boy, all elbows and knees, impossibly terrible with a sword asks for a story concerning the destruction of the Ethereal Cathedral of the Githzarai.

Tian puts his hand up and the begging ceases. He might be a kind old man but he is also a warrior, veteran of countless campaigns and his patience travels only so far, “Gith was a child, the same age as you when he first picked up a Silver Sword,” it is a wise choice of stories, tomorrow being their Swordsday. The entire battalions falls into rapture, breathing from their mouths, dreaming awake, “He was the finest general of the Illithid armies and he went far and wide to scout a place for his Masters to conquer and destroy. Countless are the suns that went out under the terrible command of Gith.

We all know that he rose up and destroyed those who would hold his people down, the vile Illithid. We know that for every sun extinguished, for every civilization destroyed, he made the Illithid pay in blood and agony despite the betrayal of his brother-in-arms, Zarai.

What made him do so, though? What makes a fine general rise up and overthrow those he was bred to serve?

The last mission the Mind Flayers sent him on he was to take a fine civilization with a sun, ripe like a hanla melon. Gith went to the court of the Wizard-Emperor who ruled this place, a stern ruler named Vecna. Vecna met Gith with his own finest general, a warrior named Kaz. In Vecna’s gardens the three of them had tea.

Vecna was the greatest warlock his people had ever seen and Kaz was the finest swordsman of his generation but Gith stood proud among them.

Gith explained that his armies were unbeatable and that despite Kaz’s prowess, and Vecna’s wizardly might, their sun would be turned to a sickly blue and their swords would be broken.

Vecna turned his back on the great Gith and left the generals alone in the garden. They sipped their tea and knew that before the next moon they would meet in battle. There was a silent comradery, two old soldiers doing their master’s cruel bloody chores.
“I have heard your master is a grand wizard and that no secret is beyond his reach,” Gith remarked, sipping his tea.

“I have heard your masters are wielders of an obscure mind magic that can destroy one’s thoughts,” and they sat in the silence of these obvious statements.

“Who would win, if they met in battle?” asked Gith, looking at how the full-bodied sun of these lands played on the clouds, “This is a sunset, no?”

Vecna nodded, “A beautiful sunset, yes. If they were to meet in battle it would be a terrible thing. They would leave the battle weakened and distraught, would be open to all manner of deaths.”

Gith grunted his agreement, “All manner of deaths. I have never seen a sun so fine as yours. If we were to take over this place that is the first thing my masters would do. They would use their, what did you call them?”

“Obscure mind magics.”

“Yes, their obscure mind magics, called Psionics, if you care to know the names of things, to make your sun sickly and blue, like a bruise. Your plants would lean towards its dead light but it would be no good and soon, they would wither and die. These lands would only be good to Illithid after that.”

“A shame,” Kas said.

“A shame,” Gith agreed.

A week later the armies of Vecna, led by Kas and the armies of the Illithid Empire led by Gith met on the battlefield. Whereas their masters demanded quick victories the battles were one stalemate after another. Finally, after months of fighting, the Illithid Psions and Vecna met in battle.

Vecna left the battle hurt and frustrated and when he met with General Kas to discuss the coming battles, Kas raised his sword and took out Vecna’s eye and lopped off his hand in a fast thrust and chop. So it was that tea with Gith changed Kas.

The Illithid, the finiest Psions in all of the Illithid ranks were weakned from the meeting and afterwards Gith and Zarai dispatched them. When Gith rallied the troops to go out and destroy the remaining Illithid, it was Zarai who took his monks and retreated to the Ethereal plane, “If we exterminate the Mind Flayers we will be no better than they are.”

And this is why the Githyanki and the Githzarai fight and this is why Illithid still live, enslave and sup on the brains of the innocent to this day, Zarai’s cowardice.

Go to sleep, battalion, tomorrow you will handle live steel. May the Liche-Queen’s emerald eyes watch over you in your sleep.”

The light outside was dim as always in Tu’Narath, the eternal grey light sifting through the windows and with blood, battle and hatred dancing in their dreams, the battalion slept.
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Chapter XII
Our Funeral Ritual

We have no temples, no holidays, only a handful of rites and rituals that I know of. Funerals happen to be one of them. Usually we get caught in an improper form and are murdered as was the case with this one.

Word is that the family had to pay a heavy ransom to the orc tribe that ended up with the body. He was caught in the form of an orc chieftan. The chief's wife caught him. Odd, loves rarely catch us.

Loves usually project their expectations so loudly that they are easy to hear, easy to use. Even making love can be easy because lovers project their thoughts like screaming babies. Yet another sign that love makes one's mind weak.

I have never been in love. But once I had to assume the form of a forty year old dwarven boy. It become obvious that this boy, was in love with an engraver across the street. I asked an elder who I could have known of this love even with no long term contact with the boy or no journal to work from.

The elder told me that we, like water, tend to fill the containers we are put in. The love was me filling the container, finding the truth in that form. It is clearly possible that the boy, before me, didn't know that he was in love with this engraver with her long bronze hair and square face.

Rumors have spread throughout the funeral concerning the death, the battle, the killers the final forms the dead assumed: sailor on a Silver City smuggling barge, dolphin, shark, dog, orc chieftan of the Goldoathed tribe, finally, killed as a pixie.

Those who have bothered to show up are wearing the wearing the clothes of their last form. Those of us in between long term forms are wearing bulky cotton robes. They would be itchy if we were prone to such things.

Three children run by playing tag shifting from one form into another. One of the children assumes the form of a large cat in order to pin the other child down and growls, "You're IT."

The cat's parents chastise him, not only for shifting at such a somber occasion but for making a cat talk, "Cats only rarely talk. Mistakes like that get us killed, child."

"If it were a familiar or a hellcat or was awakened by a druid it might talk. It might."

The parent grabs the precocious child, still in cat form, and sneers, "Hellcats don't talk."

The cat sighs.

It is not that we just look alike to other races. Truth is when we are all our true forms (whatever that means) we all look alike. Moving on from one form to another erodes any sense of importance the physical world might have.

The priest would deliver the speech if we had such things. As it is a parent drones, "We shall call our fellow Doppleganger by name for the third time, sending his soul to the next form. Whatever form that is, we know that he is ready to play his role, to find his place and become what needs becoming."


In unison we say his birth name for the third and final time. Once at birth, once at adulthood and now a final time. There are a possible five name-sayings but this one only reached three.

There's no shame in that.

While being johan, a sailor on a Silver City barge, contact was made with the green heralds. Apparently they were heading into Sun's port. Our Gold Father would not have liked this, not at all.

Undesirable contact was made. johan's form was discarded.

Enter the dolphin.

The green heralds made their way to shore on a small rowboat.

Enter the shark.

They made it to shore by use of a weak Elemental. Among them was a wizard of no mean skill.

It was obvious the green heralds were making their way to shore.

Enter the dog.

Along the shore was an orcish tribe. The chief was done away with while he urinated in some bushes.

Enter the orc chieftan.

The Green heralds made their way to the orcish tribe along the shore, unable to avoid being seen.

They travelled with the orc chieftan and his first wife.

Our Gold Father has a deep hatred for these green heralds and this failure has not gone unnoticed. Reports were made as often as can be expected.

It is unclear what finally happened. We only know that was a pixie when he died. Pixies are popular escape skins.

Humans write rest in peace on some of their grave markers. I always thought that was an odd thought, to be wished such a thing. Peaceful times are not happy times for me.

I saw this one, this one who died, once assume the form of a five year old human child, a notoriously difficult age and race. The form was a little girl with hair to the side, pigtails, they say. This pigtailed girl played with other children in the market for hours and was as carefree as was proper. She then politely told them she had to return to her parent's home and made her leave. This is my only memory of johan the sailor, the shark, the dolphin, the dog, the orc chieftan.

I bet if you skimmed the mind of any of those, even the meanest animal form he took you would have found shark thoughts in the shark skull dog thoughts in the dog. I hope this thought is a correct and proper one to have at one of our funerals.

The broken body is divided up, given to heads of the families to be disposed of and once that ritual is done we leave, returning to the lives that we inhabit.


Chapter XIII
The Final Missive

Lady M'Randa Green

Guardian-Mother of the Honorable Green Heralds

First Knight of the Green Order

Champion of Highbridge,

Under the order of the High Cleric of Ulula and the Paladin-General I have been brought back from the grave, please do not be alarmed to receive a missive from a dead man.

I do not understand why the Green Lady has made an alliance with the Drow. Perhaps it is not my place to attempt to understand my betters.

Understanding aside, a trial by combat was had and within the most Holy Cathedral of Ulula you were found to be the just victor. By my reckoning this puts our matter at an end. It is decided; the Owl has seen a use for this Dark Elf killer that I cannot fathom. The night is mysterious.

The Golden Empire is no friend to me. We share an enemy and a dream, to see the Jade Forest liberated from their rule. Let us be allies, then in our battle. Our battles against each other only make the Golden Emperor stronger.

The next time we are in battle let it be charging the enemy, let it be me laying healing hands upon you, let me never again have to face the fury of your blade. My helm could scarcely stand another blow, already one horn poorer for our first meeting.

Be well and may the Owl guide you in the night.

Your humble servant,

Sir Corass the Slain


Chapter ***
A Future that Never Happened

The Green Lady was killed a thousand years ago. The history books disagree about how she died. Some say she was poisoned and others say she was killed by a rifle bullet aimed by the Lord of Deeproot.

Bahamut and Tiamat are asleep and while they slumber the very nature of magic has changed. Akashic Mind Engines tap into the living memory of humanity, Magisters debate philosophy and arcane physics. Priests no longer get spells from the Heavens.

The Five Queens of Tiamat have changed the world while their Gods slept. Their rulership assures that while one of their pentad sleeps, the others stay awake keeping the empire afloat. Railroad criss-cross their empire that stretches from the Copper Mountains to the Jungles of Aronka and beyond. The Praetorian Pentad Guard keeps the peace with their halbred-rifles. Even the Githyanki City-States bend a knee to the imperious Five Queens while still pay homage to their Liche Queen.

The Jade Forest Museum is rife with artifacts from the Ambassadors of the Last Age, whose histories were collected in the University of Deeproot. The 1001 Hand Axes of Thane Trouble, while not all of them have been collected, many are stored therein. The armor of General M'Randa that passed down to her daughters from generation to generation is on display this month. Randal Tisgood's quill is kept under old Elvish crystal, it wrote the contracts, oaths and proclamations that created the modern face of the Queen's Continents.

The Tosscobble fields of the Ladymist College of Arcana is where Magisters learn to cast spells in the field. It is there that young casters learn to take their spells out of the laboratory and into the real world. Many of the best combat casters learn their trade there.

The Old Orc District is a nice place to stroll nowadays, ever since the Goblinoid communities were relocated to the Bridge-towns centuries ago after the Green-Skin Riots. The waterfalls that gave Ladymist her name is used to power the city with hydro-electric power, keeping many of the streets light as daytime all night long.

The train approaches. Your family is sending you off to make your fortune. The best schools, the most metropolitan city in the world is your final destination, over the Troll Bridge into the bustling metropolis of Ladymist.

Lord-Protector Gerat has re-instated the Jade Watch, in order to investigate a baffling string of crimes. The Ever-Vigiliant Order of Ulula, The Highbridge Green Knighthood, and even the Shire Sheriff Department are all sending candidates. A master villain wielding terrible magicks has killed once again. The victim's wounds are vicious claw marks and the Green Watch found stone shards in his shop.

The game is afoot.


This game started because I got back into Ithaca and wanted to run a one-shot. It was a few months before Fellowship came out and so I ran a game with two Halflings finding a dragon egg, hatching it and re-awakening a kingdom in the process. Now that the Rings movies are over, I reckon it is time to put this baby to bed.

The former chapter, the last, was a proposed game that never happened. Like many games you probably know, this game lost its inertia and never got it back. Players moved away, moved on or moved over.

They were at the end of the game, more or less. The Gold Dragon, hemmed in by an invading army of Githyanki was in his lair and the Githyanki general's wedding gift to M'Randa was an open path to go and slay him. But the adventure never happened.

The posts here are a grave marker for a world I created and a group I enjoyed thoroughly, whose actions, reactions and imaginations helped make this dragon-ruled homebrew greater than its component parts. I wanted the readers who supported this Story Hour so faithfully to have some kind of closure and this was the closest I could come to doing so. I also thought it would be interesting to end a Story Hour that, at the table, never really ended.

I'd like to think that M'Randa Green continued to be a noble knight, that she killed the vile Gold Dragon whose soldiers butchered her children. She was a noble character, strong and tender and very much alive. She was also Elaine's very first role playing experience and I was honored to DM her first games.

Thane Trumble was a troublemaker and Jevon ran him as if he was his own, despite the fact that he was a pre-made PC for a one shot. I think, of all the PC's, Thane had the hardest time. He had been in the service to the Green Lady since her hatching. He heard her first words and was there at her murder, when she was poisoned at Lady M'randa's wedding to Grat.

Thane ended up faking his own death, pulling strings and friend's spells to make it appear that he died so that the Shire wouldn't suffer for his actions. He lost his familiar, a fine dog named Kettle.

I'll miss Thane.

Randall Tisgood was an amazing diplomat and Mario played him with panache. He dealt with the Liche Queen's eunuchs like a pro and talked himself out of more situations than I care to remember. I hope Randall bought that little theatre in Ladymist he had his eye on, the one behind the waterfall.

Mario also ran a session or three, mostly in Ulula and he created an entire law system and judicial society for that Paladin city. It was a fun adventure and it was neat to see him take my homebrew world for a spin.

Mateo played Avery, a Sorcerer from the Shire who always seemed wide-eyed and innocent, even when he wasn't. Avery was just coming into his own when the game ended, getting into the double digit levels where casters start to shine.

Alex played a Paladin of Deeproot, a God of Learning and Chronicling. He came into a tight game late and played a neat character who never made it to a Story Hour entry. After a game or two it was like Alex had been there all along. Thanks, Alex, hope ya had fun.

Josh played Sherrif Dustin but had to leave for San Fran in the beginning of the game. Dustin retired to the shire, dealing out the law as best he could, keeping his eye on the home front after having been out in the big ole world and never particularly liking what he had seen.

I should have posted the list of Halfling Saints. There was one, Saint Frederick, I believe, the saint of Pie and Prophecy. He was the most often prayed to in this party. Some games Jevon would even bring a pie so they could really do a prophetic pie cutting (dont ask).

Thanks for playing, lady and gentlemen. I blame myself a bit for the game going to the wayside but as my father would say, "such is life."

And gamers, thanks for reading. I hope you enjoyed the tales. Rather than telling the games and how they happened, I told the stories around the games and left you to figure it out. Thanks for reading something a little different and sorry about the long writing droughts.

This Story Hour is over. Despite the story not all being told and many threads left dangling in the wind it is over. There's nothing left to be but write the words:

The End
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