"Out of the Frying Pan"- Book IV - Into the Fire [STORY HOUR COMPLETED - 12/25/06]


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el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
1 session to go. . .

Session #102 (part iii)

Balem, the 5th of Ese - 565 H.E.

“What was it then?” Roland was still asking as the dark of unconsciousness gave way to a fading blue-white corona that spun around them and then disappeared.

The Keepers of the Gate found themselves back in the Control Room, facing the dark broad figure of Hurgun of the Stone, where he sat in his raised stone chair. Martin the Green was no longer with them. Ratchis looked to find Thomas’ little corpse in the hood of his cloak, but the familiar was gone.

“You have returned,” Hurgun said in his quiet bass. “You were only gone for but for a few moments, it seemed.”

“Where’s Martin?’ Ratchis asked.

“Is he not dead?” Hurgun asked in reply.

“But he was alive in the future!” Kazrack protested.

“And so it could be that he will be alive again one day…” Hurgun said.

They all felt a fatigue weighing on their bodies, but were amazed to realize they bore no wounds, and the spells they had prepared that morning were all returned.

“How do we know you are who you say you are?” Kazrack asked, suddenly suspicious. Roland of Bast rolled his eyes and sighed, but Hurgun was unphased. In fact, the bald geomancer seemed to show little emotion at all.

“You will have to take me on my word,” he replied. “So, let us take care of business so that you may rest. Let me lead you to the guest rooms. I am informed you have seen them before and are familiar with their operations.”

“What happened to Gilbart?” Roland asked, suddenly remembering the geomancer’s assistant. (1)

“He has passed,” Hurgun replied. “It seem the demoness, Ora-Amira-El slew him, but I have you all to thank for destorying her. I should have dealt with her as soon as I learned her true identity, but alas, I did not expect to be trapped by a time elemental for over one hundred years.

Hurgun have the slightest flick of his right wrist as he gripped the jeweled armrests of his throne. He then gestured down the catwalk immediately behind them. They noticed the portal between rooms were white now. The mist below the catwalks was white as well, and smooth, like some kind of liquid snow. It did not roil or bubble. No voices came from below. Through the portal they found themselves in the cloudy confines of the Air Room; also known as the guest quarters.

Sergio appeared from one of the cloud rooms. “Oh my! You are safe! What a relief! I don’t know what you plan to do with us Hurgun, but these fine heroes will not allow your evil schemes to come to fruition!”

Hurgun of the Stone ignored the bard. “A word to the wise,” he said to the Keepers of the Gate, point to Sergio without looking at him. “Do not trust this one. But while he was imprisoned longer than I had intended, I think having a chance at a whole new life, where no one knows who he is or his reputation, is both punishment and reward enough.”

“Do not talk of me as if I am not here!” Sergio Fontane protested. “I insist on being let go.”

“There is an army of orcs outside,” Hurgun replied. “You can leave now if you like, but I think you might prefer to leave in a few days time, after they have left and we have had time to talk.”

“And how will you get the orcs to leave?” Kazrack asked.

“All in due time,” Hurgun said. “First, I fear we have gotten side-tracked from the business I spoke of. I shall need for you all to give me the gifts you received from Chochokpi. They have already been gone from him for too long, and if the anomalies from this event are to be kept to a minimum it needs be done as soon as possible.”

“At least one of the items was destroyed,” Roland said, speaking of Logan’s boots. (2)

Hurgun sighed.

“I shall return mine personally,” Kazrack insisted.

“Yes! He cannot be trusted!” Sergio interjected. “He wants them for himself.”

“The Maze has moved away from those planes. The portal will not work now. I will have to bring them there directly,” Hurgun explained.

“He’s lying. He wants them for himself,” Sergio said again.

“If he really wanted them, I am sure he could take them,” Bastian reasoned, and he took of the Robe of the Wayfarer and handed it off to Hurgun. Ratchis took off Frojack’s Belt and gave it to Hurgun. The half-orc looked to Kazrack and said, “You should trust. . .” He then handed over the Wurfel Kraft as well.

Kazrack harumphed his disapproval. “I will throw the stones.”

Hurgun nodded and then turned to Gunthar Northrop. “I need that sword as well.” The geomancer gestured to the Left Blade of Arofel.

“No friggin’ way!” Gunthar spat and shook his head. “If Stumpy ain’t giving up his halberd, I ain’t givin’ up the sword.”

“Are you proud of yourself, Kazrack? Gunthar is taking you as a model for his behavior,” Roland chided.

“Leave him to his stones,” Ratchis said.

As Kazrack Delver threw his rune-stones, the others went through their gear and took inventory of what they in their packs. In that time, Norena of Bast, Cordell of Thoth, and Razzle Greyish were led into the guest rooms. Each had their own tales of having jumped around through time, but they were all tight-lipped about the details, and the Keepers of the Gate found that their own memories of what had happened were growing fuzzy.

Hurgun of the Stone returned an hour later, and Kazrack acquiesced, having attained a positive reading, but he did so nearly as grudgingly as Gunthar did.

“Now rest while I return these items to Chochokpi,” Hurgun said. “And when I return we will break bread and partake in a feast my servants are preparing, and I shall endeavor to clear up any remaining questions.”

“Questions like, since it was us that supposedly gave Chochokpi the magical items to give back to us in the past, where did they come from to begin with, and won’t your returning them change that past?” Roland asked, truly puzzled.

“The past has already been changed much more than that,” Hurgun replied. “But then again, it has not. Again, I will endeavor to explain the best I can over dinner…That is, the best that these kinds of things can be explained in mortal terms.”

“Are you saying you are an immortal?” Kazrack asked, his brow furrowing again.

“No, I am saying my mortal tongue will have difficulty wrapping around the paradoxes of time,” Hurgun said.

“All the more reason that time is the province of the gods and not of men or dwarves or elves,” Kazrack said.

Hurgun merely nodded and left with the items. The Keepers of the Gate and their fellow guests could no long resist their fatigue and fell into deep naps of indeterminate length. They felt well rested when a monodrone came to wake them all for dinner.

----------------------------------------------------

“This is where we get our reward, right?” Gunthar asked as the Keepers of the Gate were led into the Dining Room by the monodrone.

The chamber had been cleaned up and the sliding screen repaired. The cabinets were all still broken, but most of the sets of cutlery and plates were taken away; except of course of those laid of on the medium-sized table in an incredible spread. There were four stuffed turkeys, two glazed hams, spiced potatoes, a horn of autumnal fruit, and bowls of a myriad of jams about three huge baskets of bread. There were sweetmeats and wheels of cheese and skewers of charred beef. There were pitchers of milk, horns of mead, flagons of wine and small casks of beer. As he approached, Ratchis looked for asparagus, his favorite, but was disappointed. (3)

“I guess thanks are in order,” Hurgun said. He was standing at the head of the table, and for once actually smiled broadly showing pearly teeth. He gestured to the table and chairs. “Please sit. The unseen servants will serve whatever you ask for.”

“I will serve myself,” Ratchis said.

“As will I,” Kazrack said.

“As you wish,” Hurgun replied.

Roland of Bast sighed. “Why must you both always be so bristly and antagonistic? You make for terrible guests.” He turned to Hurgun of the Stone and bowed low. “Forgive my rough-edged friends, Master Hurgun. We are deeply appreciative of your hospitality.”

“Uh never said I wasn’t appreshatuv!” Gunthar said, his mouth already stuffed with food.

“I meant no disrespect,” Ratchis said, glowering at Roland.

“Aye, nor did I,” Kazrack said.

They all sat and began to eat silently. They were ravenous, and the food was beyond description.

“You have questions?” Hurgun began after a time.

“Yes,” Kazrack stood, wiping his beard with a cloth napkin. “What happened to our companion, Martin?”

“He was destroyed as a result of completing his task,” Hurgun replied. “None return alive from where he went.”

“And how do you know this, if you were trapped in a time elemental?” Roland asked. “I do not mean to sound suspicious, but. . .”

“I have my sources in the planes that have interests in watching the affairs of mortals such as we,” the geomancer said. “And there is deduction, and the stones of this maze themselves can each tell me what has transpired in their presence.”

“And is it true that Martin’s actions released an evil god’s power into our world?” Kazrack asked.
Hurgun nodded.

Kazrack’s face grew flush as he grit his teeth in anger, and his whole body began to shake. “And how do we redress this?” He asked as calmly as he could.

“You cannot,” Hurgun replied. “It is part of the mending of creation and the correcting the imbalance of the cosmos.”

“I shall never understand the value of this ‘balance’ people speak of,” Kazrack replied, angrily.

“And what caused this imbalance?” Roland asked.

Hurgun took a long moment before replying. “The monks of Anubis failed to commit the proper sacrifice that is called ‘Night of the Father’ at the turning of the two-thousand and sixty-fourth year of this age, so according to ancient divine law the Furies should have been released to ravage the world of the mortal races, (4) but Anubis forgave his followers and held back the Furies, shifting his former allegiance in ways that resonate through all of creation, creating an opening. It was by this opening that Rahkefet now emerges. Martin the Green was the means by which Osiris got it done, and destroying the artifact of a mortal who would pretend to godhood.”

“And Adder?” Roland asked.

“Dead,” Hurgun replied.

“Well, that is gratifying,” Roland smiled.

“But we defeated him more than once when we were jumping though time,” Ratchis said.

“He is gone beyond recovery,” Hurgun said. “By keeping him occupied he never had a chance to manipulate the time elemental and do something really destructive…”

“Like what?” asked Bastian.

“Like allow Rahkefet to bring an avatar to rule in Aquerra, as he did in the time of Agon the God-King of the Spice and Thread Islands,” Hurgun replied. “Though more than likely he was not up to the task. He has not reached the level of enlightenment needed to understand the planes the way a hierophant can. He still thinks of himself as other.”

“Does anybody else understand what the frig he’s saying?” Gunthar said, after impatiently grabbing a flagon of wine from a slow pouring unseen servant. “It’s like I understand the words, but all together it is like… It is like Martin, but ten times worse. . “

“Gunthar…“ Roland began to warn.

“No, he is right,” Hurgun interrupted. “Words are too small for these matters. Simply put you kept him from interrupting me while I untwined the Maze from the Plane of Time, and allowed us to escape.”

“So Rahkefet turns from a forgotten and lost god, to a god for the lost,” Roland said. “Interesting…”

“And his power in Aquerra will grow as word of him grows,” Hurgun said.

“So we must preach against him!” Kazrack slammed his fist on the table.

“Better not to speak of him at all then,” Bastian said, speaking for the first time. He ate slowly, but with gusto, enjoying the many flavors that reminded him of the divine meals created by Abderus. (5)

“So, we have no worries about the pasts we visited?” Roland asked, changing subjects. “I mean, the world we return to will be as we remember it, despite what we saw happen back then that was different, and despite the loss of one of the items granted by Chochokpi?”

Again, Hurgun of the Stone took some time before responding.

“Yes and no,” he finally said. “It will affect things, though we can never be sure how. We think of time as linear, this moment follows one and is followed by another – but it is more like ripples in a pond, or the circular ridges in the ground when the earth explodes. Everything, from the forgotten bronze coin to the greatest knight of Neergaard is immersed in the liquid of time and no one of us can know how something or someone’s circles intercept that of others. It is impossible to predict. Things change more often that you would imagine, but to the world and in the records of sages it as if those things had always been as they are. Some say the cosmos is in constant need of maintenance, that we only play the roles set to us by the gods to accomplish these changes and repairs, but the gods themselves are only pawns of some greater power; a power without form and whose reasons, if any, are unfathomable to us. Though I have erred on the side of arrogance and sought to know, and many have suffered because of it.”

“So. . .?” Roland began, but stopped.

“It is the nature of Time to repair itself,” Hurgun continued. “Even when flung out to the realms beyond reason, it seeks to cling to the at least the illusion of order. Only those involved near the center of these events can remember these things, and even then the mind tends to try to make it fit and make it work, until the true memory becomes a hazy thing, a dream, if it is remembered at all. And then again, who is to say what the true memory is, for was not the world different before then? So these small items may make small changes, or they make big ones. There may be some that will be immediately obvious, and ones that may not come to light until you are old men, and ones you may never encounter at all. And chances are you will not notice anyway. I would council you to forget.” (6)

“Why?” Kazrack asked, growing blustery with anger once again.

“If you wish to keep your wits, surrender to your new memories,” Hurgun said. “The mortal mind cannot hold such disparate elements for too long without fracturing…”

Once again, Kazrack’s anger was deflated, as his shoulders slumped. “To be angry at the movements of the cosmos is as to being angry at a mountain. What does it solves? What does it change?” The dwarf’s voice was filled with resignation. “However, Master Hurgun, you were right to call yourself arrogant. What have you accomplished by dipping into the well of the gods? You will do well to mark my words next time such an inclination strikes you.”

“Kazrack, you are being rude to our host again,” Roland said.

“No, the dwarf’s words are harsh, but not untrue,” Hurgun said with a sigh. I would be playing myself false if I were to deny my failure and hubris. When we are done here and I have made my preparations, I shall dissolve the Maze and build a home in a new place on this, the plane of my birth. Perhaps it is time for me to deal with mortal affairs once again, as befits a mortal.”

“So what about our reward?” Gunthar asked, again. He pulled his ale and wine sodden shirt from his chest with annoyance with one hand as he took another swig from a flagon with the other.

“We were willing to sacrifice our lives to save our world, anything beyond that is a blessing,” Ratchis said.

“Speak for yourself, Snuffles,” Gunthar choked down some wine.

“I shall give you a boon, and give you each a token that you might call on me for aid at some future time,” Hurgun replied. From beneath the table he produced a blue velvet bag that drew open into a drop cloth. Within were six iron coins each marked with Hurgun’s rune. He handed one out to each of the five Keepers of the Gate, and explained their use. (7)

“Do we each get a boon, too?” Gunthar asked. (8)

“Just one boon you must agree to and share,” Hurgun replied.

“What do you mean by ‘boon’ exactly?” Roland asked.

“What do you wish it to mean?” Hurgun answered a question with a question.

“Whu. . . Wish? Wish! Then we’re getting Jeremy back!” Gunthar exclaimed. He stood up and gestured with his cup, sending wine flying in all directions.

“You can’t make that decision on your own,” Roland protested, standing as well.

“I didn’t make it on my own, Puss-a-Wuss!” Gunthar yelled. “Snuffles and Stumpy agreed to it when they begged me to help them on this quest!”

“We never begged!” It was Kazrack’s turn to protest.

“Oh! Now you try to go back on your word, huh?” Gunthar leaned way over to yell right in Kazrack’s face. The dwarf pushed him away and stood back.

“Martin gave his life and perhaps his soul to keep a great evil from entering the world,” Roland said.

“He also helped bring another form of evil into the world to be more widely worshiped,” Bastian pointed out.

“That doesn’t matter,” Roland replied. “He sacrificed himself willingly. We should bring him back.”

“I will miss Martin dearly as well, but is it responsible of us to use such a boon for the life of one man?” Kazrack asked. “Can we not use it for some greater purpose that will help the world and perhaps redress some of the evil that will be caused by the dark god’s return?”

“It is often said, ‘beware what you wish for’, the larger the thing you request the more possible unforeseen consequences there might be,” Hurgun warned. “You could fill every belly today, but condemn more to starve tomorrow.”

“I will never understand why anyone bothers with arcane magic, when wisdom would have you never use it,” Kazrack said. “At least with divine magic you can substitute the wisdom your gods for your own in its use…”

“None of that bleedin’ matters,” Gunthar continued. “We had a deal, and I plan to see that you stick with it. Why don’t we vote so I can see who I have to beat or kill to make sure I get to see my brother alive again.”

“We do not need to vote,” Roland replied.

”Why? You planning on agreeing with me?”

“No,” Roland replied.

“Then we vote,” Gunthar said. He looked around the table at his companions.

“Are you sure that he would even want to come back?” Ratchis asked. “He already returned from the dead once, and the responsibility for what his friends had to endure to bring him back weighed heavily on him, especially the death of Jana. Perhaps he is in a better place now. . .”

“You are just trying to weasel out of it!” Gunthar spat. “Who is for bringing back Jeremy? Vote!”

Gunthar raised his hand, and Ratchis sighed and followed. Kazrack grunted and did the same. Roland and Bastian did not raise their hands.

”I do not know who this Jeremy person is, except the little I heard, but I did know Martin, and I think he is the one who should be returned,” Bastian said softly.

“Kazrack, you agree with Gunthar?” Roland asked.

“We gave our word,” Kazrack said. “As much as I would like to see Martin back, and as much as I agree with what D’nar said, I cannot go back on it.”

“Excuse me?” Norena spoke up. She and Razzle and Cordell were unusually quiet during the whole meal. “And what of Richard the Red, Master Hurgun? Do you know what happened to him?”

Hurgun nodded. “He was lost in the planes, his essence scattered, perhaps never to coalesce again. It cannot be known. Though if the Keepers of the Gate would like, the boon could be used to return him…”

Roland burst out laughing, and then turned to Hurgun very seriously. “No.”

“If he does return on his own, he is to be brought back to the Academy of Wizardry for trial,” Kazrack said. “It is what Martin would have wanted.”

Hurgun nodded.

“So, Jeremy it is!” Gunthar said, returning to talk of the ‘boon’.

“You group does not seem to have come to a consensus,” Hurgun replied. “Take the night to talk it over and sleep on it. You can give me your decision in the morning. But there is one last thing…”

The geomancer’s gaze fell on Kazrack.

“There is a stone you have in your possession that hold the spirit of the heir of the last true dwarven king,” he said. “I need for you to return it.” He held out his hand.

Kazrack shook his head and stepped away from the table. “No.”

“It was put in my custody by high priests of your order,” Hurgun explained. “A neutral party to look over it and keep it safe until such time that it might be needed again.”

“Then I shall return it to the high priests myself, and if they want to return it to you, let them,” Kazrack said. “I cannot in good conscience see this having entered my hands without good reason. It may have even been pre-ordained.” (9)

“Kazrack, it is the greatest degree of hubris for you to think that your will, as well intentioned as it might be, should override a promise Hurgun gave to your people,” Ratchis said.

“Yes,” Roland agreed. “Do you want to tempt our host to violence if you seek to make him break his own word?”

“I will not fight for it,” Hurgun said in his deep tone. “If Master Delver wants to take it, then he can take it … I am willing to see him as representative of his people in this matter at this moment; though again I must warn what changes might come from bringing this back to your people may not be all you have hoped for…”

”My people have changed,” Kazrack replied. “We need a king. We need direction that unifies us as one people so that we might take our place in the world again, and so that Derome-Delem might be unified as one nation under one dwarven king.” (10)

“Yes, regarding the matter of the future of Derome-Delem, there is someone arriving who would like to speak to you all,” Hurgun of the Stone stood. He gestured for Cordell, Norena and Razzle to join him. “Finish your food and drink, as I bring your other friends back to the guest rooms and see to some other things, in the meantime Scartesh as something he’d like to say to each of you.”

End of Session #102 (11)
 
Last edited:

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
----------------------------------------------------
Notes:

(1) The PCs last saw Gilbart when he asked them to stay in guest quarters/Air Room back in Session #93.

(2) Logan’s pair of Yossel’s Quickling Killing Boots were destroyed by the Ooze Para-elemental.

(3) Ratchis first discovered his love of asparagus at the feast in honor of the dragon-hunters at Castle Gothanius. (Session #11)

(4) DM’s Note: This cosmic mumbo-jumbo are consequences taken from the unfinished Company of the Rod campaign - my friend Sean’s Aquerra campaign from ‘99-‘01 (which I played in briefly as a fighter named “Henry ‘Beetle’ Hough”), which were a result of some shifts in Aquerra cosmology he and I had talked over to help fill out the evil side of Ra’s Pantheon. You can read more about the Company of the Rod, here.

(5) Bastian was staying with Abderus the Shedu in the demi-plane of Topaline when the Keepers of the Gate found him, back in Session #85

(6) DM’s Note: This is how I explain the changes to the setting that come both from changes to the rules, and desire for certain flavor. That is, it was as if it had always been that way. I knew I would be changing a good number of things based on the effective play-test of houses rules and classes in this campaign, so it would serve as a means to changing that as well.

(7) You can read about Hurgun’s Tokens here: http://aquerra.wikispaces.com/Magical+Item+-+Hurgun's+Token

(8) DM’s Note: Keep in mind that Martin’s player was running Gunthar this whole time. So Martin’s player was arguing for his own character not being raised (even though he personally did want it).

(9) When Kazrack got his runes thrown by Daerngar way back in Session #7, it hinted at something like this.

(10) There has not be a unified dwarven kingdom in Aquerra since the end of the 2nd Age, over 2000 years ago.

(11) DM’s Notes: This session was played on December 18, 2005.
 

Ciaran

First Post
el-remmen said:
“And what caused this imbalance?” Roland asked.

Hurgun took a long moment before replying. “The monks of Anubis failed to commit the proper sacrifice that is called ‘Night of the Father’ at the turning of the two-thousand and sixty-fourth year of this age, so according to ancient divine law the Furies should have been released to ravage the world of the mortal races, (4) but Anubis forgave his followers and held back the Furies, shifting his former allegiance in ways that resonate through all of creation, creating an opening. It was by this opening that Rahkefet now emerges. Martin the Green was the means by which Osiris got it done, and destroying the artifact of a mortal who would pretend to godhood.”
I thought Hurgun said that the imbalance was caused by the ascension of Fallon to divinity as the Goddess of Healing.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Ciaran said:
I thought Hurgun said that the imbalance was caused by the ascension of Fallon to divinity as the Goddess of Healing.

Nope. He gave that as an example as a time in the past when there was a similar imbalance and things had to happen to fix it - but I did not feel a second example was needed in the story hour to explain what had happened.
 


Gold Roger

First Post
How'd you get that recording of my voice?

Well, there's a lot going on. So Anubis and his monks seriously messed up? Man, I so wish Beorth had remained with the group.

This explains the deal with Rakefet and the problems the monks of Anubis had. Also why Adder kept messing after succeeding in freeing his god.

Richard passed like that? Somehow I don't quite think he's completely gone.

The one big matter yet to be explained is the dragon.
 

handforged

First Post
Well, I definitely feel like things are wrapping up, what with Hurgun's excellent exposition of everything. I am sure that the conversation with Scartesh will be quite interesting and we will get to see if any changes to history occured due to the time-hopping. I certainly like Martin and feel like it would be nice to see him return, but I don't know that Kazrack and Ratchis would ever go back on their word.

We'll see. And for that I am very excited!

~hf
 


Elder-Basilisk

First Post
el-remmen said:
So, would you rather have the last session in one big installment, or broken up into two smaller ones?

That depends. Does one big installment delay the delivery of that installment? Or does it speed up the delivery of the second installment?
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Elder-Basilisk said:
That depends. Does one big installment delay the delivery of that installment? Or does it speed up the delivery of the second installment?

I guess it would slightly delay.

I just realized the last session would be longer than I originally thought and so was considering breaking it up - since I got to a natural break in the story that would work for that, but I think I will wait until after tonight's writing and see how long it will take me to put up the second part - and if it seems like it will be a bit, I will post the first half.

Actually, the first half is a huge amount of info dump, so a break might not be a bad idea.
 


Manzanita

First Post
2 installments are better. I often can't get enough time to get through a large installment in one swoop.

Nice to see some things wrapping up. I should have written down more of my questions as we went, b/c I can't remember any off the top of my head.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Well I decided to break it up into two installments. . .

Also, I made a slight change to the end of Session #102. Not a big deal. Before I described Hurgun as taking Norena, Cordel and Razzle away - as in out of the Maze - But later notes pointed out that that did not happen then.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Session #103 (part 1 of 2) (1)

“Scartesh?” Kazrack stepped back towards the table, fist clenched.

“The orcs that took the outer level of the fortress were acting as agents of Glamorgana the Green,” Hurgun said. “We had long ago brokered a deal regarding her aid in such an occurrence after I performed a favor for her.”

Kazrack’s mouth opened, but he could not make words. He just jerked his head as if suffering palsy.

“That clears some things up,” Ratchis said. “My people, the Darksh, worshiped the dragon, and we saw her flying over their camps as we returned from Nikar. (2) If Scartesh serves her, then they would have accepted them as their leader when they had rejected him before.” (3)

Hurgun of the Stone led Norena of Bast, Razzle Greyish and Cordell of Thoth through one portal as Scartesh, his ogre bodyguard, Dumashg and a stooped black orc wearing a grass skirt and a necklace of bones stepped in through another.

Ratchis stood and stepped slightly before his friend, moving from watching Scartesh, to the ogre, to the black orc, and then back again. Kazrack murmured a prayer for wisdom and patience. None of them were armed.

“Bastian,” Scartesh said in his amicable growl. “It is good to see you again.”

Bastian stood and walked over the half-orc and shook his hand, but gave a wary eye to Dumashg and to the black orc.

“It has been a little while,” the bearded warrior responded softly and smiled.

Scartesh reached down onto the table and grabbed up a strip of beef and began to chew, taking in each of the Keepers of the Gate one at a time.

“Hurgun said the watch-mage’s dead,” he finally said. “That true?”

“Yes,” Bastian said.

“Well…” Scartesh scratched at his thick black naps, and looked out at everyone from under his dark eyes. “I was trying to figure out the best way to tell you… But I think I have to just come out and say it… Bluntly.”

He poured himself an ale.

“What you saw outside? That is just a small example of my forces,” Scartesh said. He licked his dark lips, and nodded at the mug of ale, seeming to really enjoy it. The ogre reached for some, but its hand was slapped away. “Just a taste of what I have been able to accomplish… I plan to make some changes in this part of Derome-Delem, and I need you all to help me. You all have a role to play in making this work out the best for everyone involved; even the watch-mage. It is a shame he died.”

“And what is it you have done?” Kazrack asked through gritted teeth.

“I have done what no one has done since the days of General Awzturk Boarblood, (4) uniting many disparate orc tribes for our mutual benefit and that of the world,” Scartesh said. He had been fighting a smile, but it blossomed on his face as he spoke the words. “And there are more tribes pledging themselves to us all the time. I have even made contact with our normally reclusive black brethren under the mountains. And we goblin allies, and others…”

“Yeah, yeah,” Gunthar scoffed, and poured himself yet another glass of wine.

“After nearly two decades of work, I have overcome the resistance and tribal hatreds, and we shall carve a nation for ourselves, not for some evil wizard, self-aggrandizing priest or petty warlord who would use orcs as fodder for their own glory and power, but for ourselves, as other races have done and prospered. We will not destroy ourselves by trying to destroy the world of men, but take our place in it.” He stood taller when he spoke, and his gaze fell to Ratchis many times.

“Yeah, that’ll go over well,” Gunthar slurred. Scartesh snarled and shot the Neergaardian a look.

“Well, that is a… um… worthy goal, I guess…” Roland said, and sucked down a glass of wine.

“Yes, it is,” Scartesh said. “And you will have to take the role I had for the watch-mage, Bastite” Scartesh said.

“Oh?” Roland looked up curious. “I will try to be accommodating, but I really must know the details.”

“You seem to know a great deal about us. How is that so?” Ratchis asked.

“I have my sources,” Scartesh replied. “Not the least of which are the druids of the Circle of the Thorn. (5) Regardless, now that the Garvan gnomes and the king of Gothanius have made peace against us…”

“They have? Against you? What do you mean?” Bastian asked.

“The arrival of my forces made them both realize they needed to be allies if they were to deal with the multitude of orcs,” Scartesh explained. “It is amazing how an outside threat can unite even the fiercest of enemies… As I was saying, now that they have made peace against us, I need someone to carry the message of my offer to them. I had hoped it could be the watch-mage of Gothanius, but a Bastite will do when it comes to social graces and diplomacy.”

“And the message is?” Roland asked.

“The king must swear fealty to me,” Scartesh replied bluntly. “He and his militia have no hope of resisting us, even with the aid of the gnomes. But if he bends the knee, he may remain as ruler of this area and may even rule over his old enemies, Rhondria and Menovia when I have conquered them. I prefer the foundation of this empire to be as bloodless as possible. It would be better for all our people.”

“I am sure he will appreciate that,” Roland replied, with a smirk.

“Oh, he will not appreciate it,” Scartesh replied.

“I mean, he will understand the wisdom of it,” Roland said. “Not that he’d like it.”

“Bastian,” Scartesh turned to the bearded warrior. “You are no longer liked by your people, and for whatever role I played in that I apologize. However, your old reputation may still hold among the hunters and rangers of Archet and the western woods. I am hoping you may be of help in making the transition of power in this area a peaceful one by going to them and explaining the situation.”

Bastian was silent for a long moment, mulling his words as usual. “I am not sure of my own opinion on this matter, but I can still bring your message and explain to the best of my ability to those that will listen.”

Scartesh nodded and then looked to Kazrack. “Dwarf… I have news to give you will not like,” he said.

“You have already said much I do not like, but my like and dislikes are inconsequential to this discussion,” Kazrack replied.

“There was a great battle,” Scartesh continued. “The dwarves of the place you called Adoth-Rech, the renovated fortress? (6) It was impossible to parley with them, and they insisted on throwing their lives away in trying to stop our progress here to Greenreed Valley. Some of them escaped, and I imagine they will be bringing the news to their kind any day now, but we also have some prisoners…”

“What would you have of me…?” Kazrack asked, maintaining his temper.

Gunthar looked at Kazrack with amazement. “He just said he killed a whole bunch of stunties! You don’t even care?” (7)

Kazrack did not respond.

Scartesh eyed Gunthar, and Dumashg cracked his knuckles. The black orc continued to look down, shifting from foot to foot and occasionally letting out a little growly sighs.

“I wish for you to bring the prisoners back to Abarrane-Abaruch as a sign of good faith, and bring the leaders there my offer, so they might share it in turn with the Nauglimir Merchant Consortium, so that all the dwarves of Derome-Delem might know I plan to deal fairly with them,” Scartesh explained to Kazrack. “And the offer is thus, if the dwarves do not interfere with the founding of our empire from here all the way east to Ettinos, and up to the northern shore (8), we shall use our resources to destroy the undead forces of Dralmohir which fall in those lands, and allow the dwarves to take back any of their ancient treasures still there and found a temple or other monument to the fallen kingdom that once stood there…”

Kazrack mulled over the words.

“Do you have a scribe, or can you write this offer in your own hand?” Scartesh asked. “I do not want it forgotten or misremembered…”

“I will bring your offer,” was all Kazrack said, and in a quieter voice than normal.

“Ratchis of the Darksh…” Scartesh turned to his more monstrous fellow half-orc. “I need good lieutenants. I need men of vision who can help bring our people out of the superstition, destructive rituals, and savagery that passes for our culture. The Darksh have ever been a strong tribe; a strong-willed tribe, but their leadership is weak. I want you to kill their leader and be their leader, and make a difference for your people. I know you value freedom, but answer me this: Can a people ever truly be free if they are made to scurry along the fringes of the civilized worlds like rats? You can help them not only be truly free, but teach them how to use their freedom productively…”

Ratchis scratched his chin and narrowed his eyes. “What will the laws of this empire of yours be like?” he asked.

“They will be much like the laws of many lands in Aquerra,” Scartesh shrugged. “Those details will be dealt with when the time comes, until then there will be wars to fight and people to bring into our fold…”

“During times of peace, will slavery be allowed?” Ratchis asked, not letting go of the subject.

“There will be no slavery,” Scartesh did not pause. “Too long have our people been enslaved by others and by each other.”

“I am not sure how my own plans will intertwine with yours…” Ratchis began.

“Oh, he’ll do it!” Gunthar answered for him with a laugh.

Ratchis scowled, but nodded. “If it means a greater peace and a chance to change the fate of my people who have lived their awful lives through no fault of their own, then I shall seek them out…”

“But not today! Today we have urgent business to discuss after the requisite celebration, that is,” Roland said, raising a glass.

“Are you saying you’d like to make a toast?” Scartesh asked, pouring himself another mugful of ale. He did not offer any to his own companions.

“A toast to Hurgun a wonderful host,” Roland said, and everyone raised their glasses.

“And to the future,” added Scartesh. “May we work together for a new and better world.”

After another round, Scartesh bid them adieu. “I shall come in the morning to bring Ratchis into our camp and retrieve the prisoners… Until then…”

“Wait!” Gunthar held up a hand and stood. “I have a question.”

“Yes?”

“Well, you are allied with the dragon right?” Gunthar asked.

Scartesh nodded.

“So, wouldn’t it be a dragon empire then, and not an orc one?” Gunthar asked.

“Dragons care little for the day to day running of an empire,” Scartesh replied. “She will act as the divine right of our kind, choosing the heir to the empire and legitimizing him by her choice… As Ratchis knows, many of our kind are in awe of dragons. Without her involvement, I would not have been able to bind together as many tribes as I have.”

“Well, it seems not all orcs are bestial,” Kazrack said, looking Scartesh in the eye. “I should know that lesson better because of my friend, D’nar, but still… You have made a good impression on me, Scartesh, and if it comes to conflict, I will show you honor on the battlefield.”

Scartesh nodded, and then turned as a monodrone made to show him and his companions from the Dining Room.

Ratchis suddenly barked out in the orcish tongue to Scartesh, slamming his chest once with a fist. Scartesh nodded, gave a slight smile and left. (9)

The Keepers of the Gate immediately fell to debating Scartesh’s offers.

“Do you think what he can do what he claims; establish an orcish empire?” Kazrack asked.

“If he is allied with the dragon and he has the kinds of forces we got a glimpse of, then yes,” replied Ratchis. “I just do not know how sustainable it would be.”

“But the dragon isn’t really a dragon, right?” Bastian asked. “I mean, it is fuzzy, but I seem to recall it melted into a puddle of snow…”

“We do not know when in the future we were,” Ratchis said. “ That might have just been a guardian of the real dragon…”

“Kazrack, do you think the dwarves will agree to this offer?” Roland asked.

“It is doubtful,” the dwarf said. “Dwarves will not bend the knee to a dragon or an orc.”

“There are too many forces to oppose,” Ratchis said. “We have to have faith that a peaceful transition can happen…”

“Heh. I think Scartesh is posturing,” Roland said. “I think what he said about needing the dragon reveals how precarious his grasp on all the orc tribes really is… And I can’t help but keep thinking of the message I received from my goddess when we were in Topaline. The smothering of security? The peril of freedom? These are the choices the sphinx was talking about!” (10)

“Perhaps,” Ratchis replied. “And I have not forgotten the alliance of our two goddesses, but this is an opportunity to help my people that I never thought I would get, and I have to take it. Anyway, if Scartesh does plan to rule a savage and enslaving nation, then I want to be keep close to him in case he needs be killed.” Ratchis grew grim. “The human kingdoms have no chance against those orc forces, and while the united might of the dwarves may be able to, the humans would be wiped out no matter who they ally themselves with. At least this way, we can buy the Gothanians some time, as well…”

“But the sphinx’s riddle must be kept mind,” Roland said.

“That’s not a riddle, that’s bullsh*t,” Gunthar said. Kazrack nodded.

“Law and Chaos are spokes in the cosmic wheel as well, do not forget,” Roland said. “There are subtleties at work here.”

“Uh-huh, so when we going to go kill the dragon?” Gunthar asked, changing the subjects and looking from face to face.

“SUBTLETIES!” Roland yelled over the Neergaardian. “We need to consider well what we do here. We need to gather information!”

“Look, my short term goal is to prevent the suffering of all those innocents whose lives will be affected by this,” Ratchis said. “If that means allowing the creation of an orcish nation… I think it could be a good thing.”

“Well,” Roland took another sip of wine and stood to pour more. “My short term goal is to gain wealth, prestige and power. All in the name of good, of course, but I still want it, and I think paying the King of Gothanius a visit might be the first step in that.”

“My short term goal is to have another drink, and then bring my brother back, so we can have another drink,” Gunthar slurred. “And then go kill the dragon, marry some princesses and get to fighting orcs and taking booty and doing whatever lordly warriors do!”

“And I will travel to Abarrane-Abaruch and deliver Scartesh’s message as I have pledged to do,” Kazrack said. “The lives of those prisoners are now in my hands, and I must bring them safely back to their people. Also, I must deliver the stone with spirit of the dwarven king to the high priests there. Perhaps while I am there I might also find some weapon to help us against the dragon.”

“We already got a weapon!” Gunthar yelled. “The Can-On!”

“What about you Bastian? What do you plan to do?” Roland asked the ever-silent Gothanian.

“I will do what I told Scartesh I would do,” Bastian said, in his murmur of a voice. “If there can be peace, I want it. But if there is to war, well… This is my country and while I left when they began an unjust war, I will fight to defend it when they are warred upon unjustly.”

“Well, said,” Roland replied.

The feast wound down, and Hurgun of the Stone never made another appearance. A monodrone led the Keepers of the Gate back to the Air Room. Bellies bursting and moody from wine, they gladly slipped back into a rejuvenating sleep.

--------------------------------------------------
Notes:

(1) This session was played on Sunday, January 15th, 2006.

(2) See Session #74

(3) See the Story of Ratchis

(4) General Bloodboar Awzturk was said to have been the near-immortal off-spring of Ashronk the Boar God, Patron of Orcs. He began the First Humano-Orc War back in 197 H.E., and it lasted for 23 years.

(5) The Keepers of the Gate, before they were even known as ‘The Fearless Manticore Killers’ spent nearly a month with the monstrous druids of the Circle of the Thorn. (See Sessions #30 to #33)

(6) Kazrack spent a night in Adoth-Rech back in Session #75

(7) DM’s Note: Gunthar was still being played by Martin’s character.

(8) You can reference Martin’s map of Derome-Delem, here to get a sense of how much land he is talking about.

(9) Here Ratchis yelled in orcish custom “I am Ratchis, son of Darksh! Can you not see that I am not afraid of you?

(10) See Session #87
 


Manzanita

First Post
This seems more like a beginning than an end. I assume all this stuff plays into the next aquerra campaign. Pretty cool stuff, in any case. Well done El-remmen.
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Manzanita said:
This seems more like a beginning than an end. .

Every beginning is just some other beginning's end. . . ;)


Manzanita said:
I assume all this stuff plays into the next aquerra campaign.

No, not really. The next Aquerra campaign will not take place anywhere near the Little Kingdoms - though that doesn't mean the PCs in the other game might not end up passing through there. . . But it doesn't mean they will either . . .


Manzanita said:
Pretty cool stuff, in any case. Well done El-remmen.

Thanks. :)
 

el-remmen

Moderator Emeritus
Oof!

Writing the end of this thing is like writing the end of Return of the King, or something.

Every time I think I am near done I remember one last thing, and one last scene, and . . . oh, yeah so-and-so said. . .

At this point I am glad I broke it up into two installments, but this rate it might become three! But probably not. . .
 

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