Small Beginnings - Final Update 6/18/04, ITEOTWAWKI, AIFF!


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The original bastion of support, indeed. Nice to see most people still around! Where oh where has Black Bard gone?

I'm handing in my dissertation today, so next few days is catch up time. Expect some tear-jerking replies very soon...

Yours wantonly,

Spider Jerusalem

ps. Incarceri was a doddle to escape from. Bloody planar prisons, I ran free after two days and bang, two years have passed. Arse.
 
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Enk&D'Shai

First Post
Untitled, for her pleasure

Here we are at last. The End of the Beginnings.

Please don't tell me your going to cry.

*Sniff* I'm not crying!

Crybaby.

*Sniff* I can't go on. You do it.

Oh for crying out loud....

I said I'm not crying, leave me alone.

Oh, just tell them the news.

Well with every great ending...

...and this one qualifies...

...comes a new beginning. Aurora and I are happy to announce our new beginning.

From the company that brought you little Enk and Little Fett.

K-Tel brought us those? Anyway our little DM should arrive in time for Christmas and in a few years be taking on new players, so sign up now.

Tip O' the day - Keeping up with the Jones'...thats all I got.

Nah, something in the water...now push the button.

******

Pack opened his eyes for the second-score time in his nearly sleepless night, and sighed as he gazed at the waxing moon setting in the west. The bard was tired, sore, and exhausted. He watched the moon for a few moments, and then tried shutting his eyes and pulling his blanket over his head, but that simply made him tired, sore, exhausted, and in the dark. After a few more moments, in which Pack found that an unseen tree had somehow managed to sprout a root right under his bedroll as he rested, the halfling quietly groaned and surrendered. Three more leagues, he thought to himself, and no more sleeping on the ground! When I get home tomorrow afternoon, I’m going to bed under a feather down comforter and taking a week long nap!

With another sigh, Pack kicked off his covers and sat up, turning his back toward the dark but still warm coals of the campfire. As his eyes adjusted to the pre-dawn light, he scanned the campsite for other light sleepers, looking for someone with whom he might share a prattle to wile away the time before breaking camp. A few paces away, in the center of the hillock the friends had camped upon, the children slept contentedly, huddled together under a dozen makeshift blankets and seemingly no worse for wear from their captivity, but every other bed in the camp was empty, and Pack could see their occupants in a trio of quiet conversations.


***


“…and owe you both a great debt,” the eldest barbarian said to Balsag in rough Torian. “He-who-Hunts, your bounty will be safe with us until the thaw once it has been delivered.”

Uat-tuaw,” said the tribeman. Ander watched as the bugbear and barbarian clasped each other biceps in what the woodsman assumed was a handshake of sorts. It still amazed the woodsman that the big goblin not only knew the tribes’ tongue and customs, but was respected as an equal. In Icemist, only Durnan, Dueca, Father Lion, Lizon, and to some extent Worm and ever achieved that honor.

Uat-tuawan!” said Balsag in response.

“Are you sure you don’t want to go with us to Icemist?” Ander asked as the older man turned toward him. “We’re only about a day out, and I’m sure that with Festival beginning your tribe’ll find you there within the week.”

“We cannot, Cub-of-the-Bear. We who live must first give thanks at the lodges of our grandfathers, and walk the sacred paths to let them know we still live. It is a way we must walk alone, and before we can return to our home.”

“Then may you find your way home before the snow falls. Good luck to you.” The woodsman outstretched his hand the way Balsag and the older man had done so before, “Uat-tuaw.”

The barbarian raised an eyebrow at the gesture. “Uat-tuawan.” The reply was spoken softly as the barbarian’s hand closed on Ander’s arm in a crushing grip before backing away from the small group. “May the White Wyrm watch over you and grant you the strength to withstand whatever storms you may face.”

Ander stood quietly as the older man retrieved the rest of his men and make ready for their long journey westward. With a sidelong glance at the bounty hunter, he spoke, “You’ve dealt with them before, haven’t you?”

“I told you that I have had many dealings with the surface world. I speak your language well enough, why should it surprise you that I should speak their language as well?”

The woodsman shook his head. “It doesn’t. Not any more. But before I met you I didn’t know that your kind even had peaceful dealings with men, much less know their language and customs.”

“Tell me, forestwalker,” Balsag replied as he pulled a piece of jerky from his sack and began to chew. ‘When you learned to hunt the rabbit did you just study the rabbit?” Before Ander could answer, the bugbear continued, “No. You studied the wolf, the deer, the owl, the bear and all the other things that run with or hunt the rabbit. I do the same, but those things that I choose to hunt have a more complex language and habits.” He smiled, showing his long curved teeth that gleamed in the growing light. Bits of jerky jutted out from between the bounty hunter’s teeth.

Ander chuckled and smiled despite himself. “Well if your ‘hunts’ ever take you near Icemist…” Balsag laughed, spitting food, before the woodsman could finish.

“If my hunts ever take me near Icemist than I suspect you would not want to know about it,” the bugbear guffawed, “but should it come to that it would be rude for one hunter to enter another hunter’s territory without some sort of acknowledgement.” Though he still chuckled, the bounty hunter stared at Ander with a predatory gleam in his eye.

Ander stared right back. “Just so long as we’re clear on that,” he said as he narrowed his eyes.

This sent Balsag into further fits of laughter. “I like you human,” he said, clapping Ander on the back. “You remind me of me. I hope I don’t have to kill you come spring.”

Ander stared at the chortling bounty hunter, suddenly aware that, were the tables turned, he might have said exactly the same thing.


***


The thick leather cord creaked in protest as Theo pulled it tightly through the steel links on either side of the long tear in his chain mail. The armor needed at least a hundred links replaced, but Onkus’ forge was still a few leagues away and the makeshift seam would need to hold until then. Still struggling with the cord, the barrel-chested priest made his way toward the camp’s edge to relieve Ashrem of his nightly watch.

“Sun’s coming up,” Theo said as he worked at the leather, “I can see far enough in the new light to spell you for some sleep.”

The priest looked up from his repairs to see Ashrem sitting on a large flat rock overlooking the southern plains and calmly starring out into horizon. Sensing that they may be in some danger, Theo instinctively reached for his flail, but a long fluid stretch by the feloine told the priest that the scout had merely been lost in thought. “A few hours sleep will not benefit me as much as it may the others. I will maintain my vigilance. We are too close to our destination to let anything untoward occur now.”

Theo smiled in the near-light as he came even with Ashrem’s perch and struggled atop the stone. “You know,” he said, “this reminds me of my years on the wall.” He paused for a moment, waiting for the scout to say something in return, and continued when he received only silence. “Two men, watching for danger on the horizon, with nothing to do but talk.” And storms, cub, but do you need to talk. Never a word that isn’t just so, or about the business at hand. “Watch and talk, night after night.” I’d wager that you haven’t even told Ander what’s on your mind, and you two are as thick as thieves. “I spent years on that wall, and the only thing I knew better than the wall was the men I walked it with.” What scar runs so deep that you would shut out those who walk with you?

Out of the corner of his eye, Theo saw Ashrem’s hand reach up and stroke the long scars that ran across his features, the scars that had been fresh wounds the day the priest had first laid eyes on the wounded feloine fresh from what should have been his icy grave.

“It will be strange once were back,” the priest said carefully, “not putting our armor on every morning or worrying about ambushes.”

The feloine gave him a quizzical look, but finally leaned back and sighed. “I think we should be wary of ambushes until the snows come in and the ground becomes too frozen to dig through. I would not like an encore performance of this… operation.”

Theo frowned at the feloine’s logic, but nodded his head in agreement. “I wasn’t ready to put this old armor back in storage anyhow.” The priest patted his chain mail absentmindedly, and for long moments the two sentries watched the light growing in the east in silence.

“You know my race also pays tribute to the Storm Lord, Brother Theo.” Ashrem’s voice seemed uncomfortable, as if he was attempting to broach a subject he would have rather let alone, and Theo, recognizing the voice, sat in silence and waited for the scout to continue. “Coming from an island nation we fear him and offer him tributes to calm the seas and guide our ships. I remember all the paintings and statues around the temples; they depict death and destruction from the storms that batter our shores. Until I met you I always thought that Zuras was, for lack of a better term, Evil.”

Theo found himself smiling despite the seriousness of the discussion, for this was a topic that he was often called to preach upon during his traveling days. “One man’s tool is another man’s weapon,” he began. “The same storms that the farmer prays for to feed his crops, is the same storm that the fisherman dreads for fear of his fleet. Here in Icemist, Zuras is both awed and feared. For half the year we pray for the rains to water our meager crops and our livestock. But as the Great Dragon drags summer away to hide in his horde, our prayers to Zuras turn to pleas of no blizzards or ice storms. We mortals are a fickle lot and our environment drives our ambitions and our fears.”

Theo let the sermon die on his lips, as he saw the vague disinterest in his companion’s face. The two sat for a while, watching the sky grow lighter and lighter, until Ashrem broke the comfortable silence.“I can see the festival tents from here.”

Theo glanced over at the scout, who had pulled up his beggarly rags to cover his face and head. Ever since their narrow escape from the demon’s minions and the following return to the surface, Ashrem had taken to wearing his old disguise again. The scout had claimed that the wrappings were for the children’s sake, so as not to give them any more frights than they had already had, but the priest had almost immediately deduced that the only person the disguise protected was a certain feloine scout. He wore the dingy rags like armor, a loner uncomfortable with being alone.

I wonder… “This will be your second Festival will it not?”

“Ander dragged me to the final day of the last festivity; otherwise it will be my first.”

“It will be a grand Festival this year, what with the return of the children to their families along with my nephew’s coming of age ceremony and then his wedding. Yes, a grand festival of new beginnings.” The priest could feel himself losing the feloine’s attention again. “New beginnings and some unfortunate endings.”

When Ashrem turned toward the priest and pushed back his hood, Theo knew he had the scout’s full attention. For a moment, he thought he saw the feloine’s ears twitch.

“With Thom coming of age, he won’t need me as his guardian anymore. Come spring he’ll be wed. And then I will travel to Tor, attend the landholder’s althing, and sign the deed to the Hillshire over to him as my brother intended. Once that is done, I’ll have as much business in Icemist as a snowfall in summer. Oh, Thom will want me to stay on, but I think it’s time he was on his own and out from under the watchful eyes of his stiff old uncle. Besides, I’m too old to work someone else’s fields. I think it is time for this old dog to find a new fire, maybe farther south…”

“I had not thought…”

“That these old bones would head for someplace warm?”

“That you would find yourself so dispensable,” the scout finished, “or that you would desire to leave your home.”

“Ashrem, I haven’t had a home since my Eleanor died,” Theo said, looking into the sky and breathing deep, “only places I happen to live.”

The two watchers sat in silence as the sky lightened a bit more, until Ashrem spoke again. “I too will be leaving come spring thaw. I have run from my duties and responsibilities for far too long. It is time I faced my past and returned to my people. However, this time I understand that while my storm may have done damage to my fishing fleet, that same storm has washed some valuable things upon my shores.”

“Like what?” Theo asked, perplexed for the first time during their conversation.

“Friends.”

***

Aurora packed a few more bits of meat jerky in the small sack, pausing occasionally to blink away the tears that welled in her eyes. Everything had happened so quickly since their escape, and the sorceress felt less in control now than she did their entire adventure through the demon’s city. Wiping her eyes with one hand she reached absently for more food with her other, only to have it come to rest on top of Meepo’s scaly claw. The red-haired woman smiled as the kobold’s eyes met hers and she could tell that the tiny dragon keeper was just as upset as she.

“[Meepo must go,” he croaked in broken Torian. “Meepo must face Yusdrayl. Prove to Rora Angel that Meepo better now.”

Meepo could wait,” she countered, speaking in the kobold’s own tongue, “and we could go with you. To help you.

The kobold only shook his head. “Meepo not belong in Roracity. Meepo not angel like Rora. Meepo belong under earth, not under sky. Meepo needs earn his place. Then Meepo can stay with Rora Angel and learn to live under sky.”

“Meepo. I’m not an Angel. I wasn’t sent here by the great Wyrm to help you or lead you anywhere. I’m your friend Meepo, and I don’t want to see you get hurt.”

Meepo’s sharp barking laughter hurt the young sorceress’ ears. “Rora Angel try to trick Meepo. Meepo prove to Rora that Meepo is ready. Meepo will free Meepo’s clan. Meepo’s clan will become clanmates of Rora’s clan. Learn to live under dragon sky. Learn to be ‘civil eyes’. Meepo make happen.”

Aurora leapt forward and scooped up the tiny dragon keeper in her arms, hugging him with all her might. Her tears flowed freely as she released the kobold and the sorceress would have turned away so she wouldn’t have to watch her little apprentice leave, but Ander had somehow snuck up next to her. The woodsman didn’t say a word, but slowly bent and retrieved Meepo’s spear from its resting spot near the pair. With a simple bow, he presented the weapon to its owner like a king presenting a sword to his champion. Eyes wide with excitement the scaly knight accepted his weapon and without further ceremony grabbed his provisions and turned to leave. “Rora Angel not worry, Meepo have Angel magic now. Meepo going to be great like dragon. You see!”

The sorceress felt Ander’s strong arm encircle her waist as Meepo tromped away from the camp. As he disappeared over a rise, the sorceress heard the faint but familiar strain of Pack’s Heroes of Icemist played on kobold pipes echo over the hills.


***

Pack watched as the grown-up barbarians collected their meager supplies from the camp as dawn broke. Slabs of meat from a fat deer that Ander and Balsag had found early in the trip went carefully into makeshift bags made from spare cloaks and clothing, and as the sun began its daily journey across the sky, sleepy barbarian children disentangled themselves from the heap of village children to assist in the packing. Soon, Pack stood alone on the hilltop, accompanied only by the restless snores and coos of Icemist’s young and waving to the shrinking line of tribesmen headed for home.

Quietly, Pack tiptoed around the children to the woodpile collected the night before and started began feeding the still hot embers of the campfire. As the sun pulled itself out from underneath the horizon, Pack stoked the fire, heated some water in a battered pot, and started breakfast. Soon, he had a dozen slabs of venison well seared, six pair of sleepy eyes blinking as their owners rolled out from bed.

“Good morning!” he said. “Anyone know what today is?

“Tyr’s day?” said Dun.

“Close,” said Pack. “It’s the third day of Festival.” The halfling smiled as gathered his impromptu audience’s full attention. “It’s also the day we finally get home!”

“Really?” asked a wide-eyed Rel.

“Yes, really,” came Ander’s voice from over Pack’s shoulder. Pack turned to look at the woodsman. He grinned at the children, as did Aurora, who had snaked an arm around the ranger’s waist. “Probably before noonday meals.”

“I concur,” said Ashrem, cresting the hilltop with Theo in tow. The feloine had wrapped himself in his old beggar’s wrap. “I have seen the pennant’s waving from the Festival Grounds.”

“So let’s eat,” boomed Theo, “and get home.”

Then Wire, his eyes bright, straightened his back and said, “I concur!” Then he grinned and giggled, and everyone, even Ashrem, joined in the breakfast time laughter.

***

Pack beamed as he crested the hill to see Icemist in full Festival. A veritable city of tents of all shapes, colors, and sizes sprawled out over the countryside, and in its center, he could see the flags and banners waving in the light wind from the top of the Shimmering Sword.

“This is where I must depart,” said Ashrem. “You all know where to find me.”

“You sure you don’t want to come?” said Aurora.

“It would be best if I did not,” he said simply. “I do, however, expect visitors.”

“You’ll get them, cub,” rumbled Theo as he patted the scout on the shoulder, and without another word the feloine turned and headed toward the wood and Ander’s cabin.

“Last one to the Tangle Pole is stinky goblin!” one of the children shouted, and suddenly Pack found himself huffing and puffing to keep up with six pairs of legs.

The bard slowed for a moment and looked back over his shoulder. Aurora and Ander walked together hand in hand, while Theo roared with laughter. The halfling smiled, and turned back toward the chase.

He quickly caught the children, and soon led them on a merry chase through the makeshift streets of Festival, heading for Lizon, and Worm, and home.
 



Enkhidu

Explorer
Bad news GreyShadow - that's all there is. Small Beginnings is over. Kaput. Fini. Gone to pasture. Pushing up...

You get the idea. We're fresh out of Small Beginnings.
 

L

leel

Guest
really?

its seriously over? no other thread with a carry on? no more worm?
 
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