The Rise of Felskein [Completed]

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Now in eBook format, available through Smashwords here.

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Session 1, Part 1

Ming stumbled heavily into the side a small log building as she bent to pick up her dropped wineskin. She cursed her rusting, ill-fitting breastplate and her long, dirty silver hair that was always getting into her face and tangling up with the amulet that rested on her chest. A spill of Northmand Dark drenched her dusty legs and the red dirt and she swore again. She threw the now-empty wineskin aside in disgust, glaring through this dung-hill of a town at the sun setting over the lake.

A local walked quickly by as Ming stumbled away from the side of the building, shifting the greatsword on her back and glaring at him. "S'matter? Never seen a woman before?" she called after him, pushing her chest out and cursing again as the breastplate cut into her.

"Gotta be a drink here somewhere," she mumbled, swaggering out into what passed for the main street.

At the end of the "street", not far from the lake shore, sat the largest building in town, long and low with a narrow window that ran the length of the longest side to give view of the lake and mountains beyond. No glass in a place like this, just a hole with a couple planks hinged above it so they could be propped open in the evening. It seemed to be where most of the menfolk of the village were headed.

A drink and a man, sounds good to me, she thought with a snarling grin that sent a passing local scurrying out of her way. In no particular order.

***

Suniel Au wiggled his slender elvish fingers and the walnuts shot back down into the cup, eliciting a burst delighted laughter from the crowd of children packed about his table. One of the more adventurous boys leaned closer to the cup and Suniel murmured again, setting the cup a-trembling.

"Don't, you're scaring his nuts," a little girl with a ragged dolly said, tugging on the boy's sleeve. A couple fisherman nearby guffawed and one spat a mist of ale into the air before breaking into raucous laughter.

"It's just a couple walnuts, don't be sissy," the boy said, trying to shake her off without looking away from the cup.

Suniel hid his smile behind another gesture and the walnuts "peeked" out over the rim of the cup again. "Rawr!" the boy shouted, lunging forwards.

Suniel hooked his middle finger, sending the walnuts "leaping" out of the cup, a syllable and a shift of his arm sending them flitting amongst the children, who immediately dissolved into a mob - half of them shrieking and trying to get away, the rest diving in to grab for the walnuts that now weaved between their legs, the adults nearby lifting their mugs high and grinning or grumbling as tables and stools were jostled and bumped.

With a final gesture, Suniel released the cantrip, the walnuts skittering off under a table and the kids diving for them, giving Suniel the opportunity to slip away through the throng of the inn. He managed to meet Oakstout's eye before he reached the door, the gray-bearded dwarven tavernkeeper nodding to him and pointing his thumb at the loft. Suniel nodded and gave a small bow before passing through the threshold.

***

Harold Trisden dismounted to the clink of spurs and medals, walking the mare he'd been provided with towards the inn. It was good to get away, to feel stirrups on his feet after months shipboard and a week standing guard at one diplomatic function after another. He hated just blending in, being background. Judging by the size of this town, they probably barely had a militia and might never have seen a professional soldier, much less one of the Crystal Tower's elite Honor Guards.

He pulled his bow from his saddle and strung it, grabbing the his quiver as well before handing the reins over to a stable boy. His eyes scanned the area, seeking a suitable archery butt as he wandered from the stable towards the inn entrance. Maybe they even have a local hotshot who thinks he's good with a bow, he thought, a half-smile forming. Won't even know what's coming.

His reverie was broken rudely as he rounded the corner and slammed into the largest woman he'd ever seen, a rough figure of rusty armor and dusty silver hair. A politeness formed on his lips but became a started grunt as he felt her hand at his crotch.

"Step back woman!" he said, leaping away and straightening his uniform.

"Mmm, I like a man in uniform," she said, cocking her head at him, her breath telling of strong wine and her lurid look telling of something else.

"Excuse me," a soft voice said from the entrance they were blocking, a nondescript elf in a brown robe stepping out from the dusk-shadow of the doorway.

Harold nodded and stepped out of the way - and further from the rough warrior woman who still stood looking him over. A stern reprisal formed on his lips as he glared back at her, but whatever he was about to say was drowned out by an alarm bell from the village watchtower.

***

Sergeant Snareg motioned for the rest of the gang to stay low as they poled the raft closer towards the human village. "Steady boys," he said in raspy goblin. "Remember, smoking rubble's more important than bloody corpses. Take what you can get and run, we do damage and get out before a patrol shows up."

He clutched the iron ring on the thong about his neck for luck and glanced at the sliver of setting sun dipping below the lake. They'd set out too late and the raft was too big and slow, the mast and sail too small. He'd hoped to get here just as the sun was setting while the humans were at meal and drink, but by now they were probably done. If they were like hobgoblins, now they'd be restless and rowdy, maybe looking for a fight.

Thoslar had only given him seven grunters to burn a whole village and he'd be damned if he was going to screw it up, especially this soon after getting his iron. Maybe he should have waited until the middle of the night like Suvok did on his raid...

He snorted out a breath and hunched lower, shaking his worries away with a jerk of his head. They barely have a militia, won't be expecting a thing, he thought. Just get in, kill a few men with pitchforks and fishing nets, throw a couple torches around, maybe swipe some swag and a prisoner or two and be back at the raft camp in a couple days. He imagined the look on Suvok's face when he came back with a pretty human girl from this raid, not a handful of half-starved goblins like Suvok had gotten on his.

The clang of an alarm bell snapped him out of his reverie and he swore, seeing they were still thirty feet of hard wading from shore. "Pole hard boys!" he shouted, standing and pointing his sword. "No more surprise for us, pole!"

They all sprang to their feet, most straining at their poles, but Vundat dropped his and jumped off the raft as he saw humans fleeing in terror from their buildings.

"Order damnit, Vundat, get back on the raft and pole!" Suvok shouted, but by then the rest were all dropping their poles and grabbing swords, not even picking up their shields in their haste to get in on it.

Then Brunt slammed into him in a spray of blood, stumbling backwards with a feathered shaft sprouting from his chest. Snareg shoved him off and glared at the shore, seeing a figure in blue with a glint of something on his chest standing on the low roof of a long, low building, drawing another arrow. Snareg dropped his sword and grabbed his own bow, looking about in surprise as the rest on the raft suddenly went limp and crashed to the crude planking.

Magic! he thought, firing off an arrow towards the town, barely aiming before moving over to Scovos. He kicked the fallen hobgoblin hard enough to roll him off into the lake and his relief was visceral when Scovos came up snorting and splashing. "Just a minor spell, wake the others!" he shouted, drawing another arrow.

Vundat and a couple others were almost to the shore, pushing hard towards the low building and the lone figure in blue atop it who sent another arrow whistling past Snareg's ear. He fired back and cursed as his arrow flew wide. He glanced back to see Scovos rolling on the deck, clutching at the arrow piercing his neck.

Dropping low, Vundat shook the other two awake, drawing another arrow and glancing towards shore to see Vundat disappear into the building only to come flying back out to land in a bloody heap a second later. The other two on shore rushed towards the doorway and the figure with silver hair and a huge sword that suddenly filled it as the two with Snareg reached for their bows.

One took an arrow in his spine as he bent over, arching back hard as he stumbled into the water. Snareg and the other sent a reply flying towards the figure on the roof, but in the growing dark he couldn't tell if they hit.

Then there was a flash from out of the corner of Snareg's eye and he jerked his bow in that direction, firing off an arrow blindly as his companion slid down the mast, a clean hole bored into the center of his forehead. He felt panic rising as he reached for another arrow, looking down the shaft as he drew it back to see the silver-haired human slam its shoulder into Stub-toe and kick him in the chest before turning and running Torol through.

Snareg loosed an arrow and reached for another, cursing his shaking arm, glancing across the water in time to see the pronged hilt of the greatsword driven into Stub-toe's eye.

Then a razor-sharp sledge-hammer hit Snareg in the chest and he stumbled backwards, running his stubby fingers along the hard wooden shaft that protruded from his sternum in utter disbelief, dying to the sounds of Stub-toe screaming on the shore.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 1, Part 2

Harold lowered his bow as the silver-haired monster of a woman's sword cut off the hobgoblin's screams. After a moment of that strange after-battle stillness, he placed the arrow he had drawn to his quiver and slung his bow across his back.

He bent down, wincing, and grabbed the arrow that pierced his thigh. Gritting his teeth, he jerked it out with a gasp and downed one of the last of his potions, wondering idly if he could find more in this backwater as checked the wound's progress. Once he was sure it was completely healed, he carefully made his way down one of the support beams under the thatch and lowered himself to the ground.

He walked about slowly, working the stiffness out of his leg. When he was satisfied, he walked around to the front of the inn. The woman was gone when he got there, the trio of hobgoblins she had slain sprawled in the dirt where they had died. The elf knelt over one of them, murmuring something. As Harold glanced out towards the raft, he thought he caught a glint of arcane markings covering the elf's skin, but when he glanced back, there was nothing.

Mages made him uneasy, no matter which side they seemed to be on.

***

Suniel stood with a sigh. Everywhere I go, such pointless waste of life, he thought. No matter how far I go, I cannot outrun it.

His eyes met those of the Crystal Towers archer and he started to nod, but the soldier looked quickly away and strode off towards the raft. Suniel watched him go impassively and turned towards the clank of armor and swing of lanterns that came from the direction of the town barracks. With one hand raised, he walked in their direction.

"Peace, Northmand soldiers," he said, "there are no more foes here."

A blond-haired young man in chain and the gray-and-white of Northmand jogged up, backed by a dozen or so men with spears. The young man raised his hand to Suniel and nodded.

"You three, police these bodies," he said, turning to the men with him. "The rest of you, go help that man pull in the raft."

As they set about his orders, he turned back to Suniel. "My name is Lieutenant Laris," he said, extending his hand. "Don't see many elves in these parts."

Suniel took his hand and shook it. "Suniel Au." He turned to watch the Lieutenant's men strip and pile the bodies. "You have problems with the hobgoblins often?"

Laris shook his head. "There's a history of it, but it's been pretty calm the last couple years. The mining operations out in the Ragged Hills have reported sightings lately, but this is the first attack I've heard of in some time."

Suniel pulled his robe tighter about him as a cool breeze blew in off the lake.

"Might we step inside?" he said, gesturing to the inn.

"Of course," Laris said, hesitating only for a moment as he watched his men finish pulling the raft a shore. "Things seem in hand here."

***

Ming let out a contented sigh, dropped the tankard, and was reaching for a second before the first had even hit the floor. She hooked a chair with her feet and slid it in front of her, leaning back into the stout oak table and propping her feet up before the fire.

Low voices drew her attention to the doorway and she glanced over to see a handsome young soldier and the plain-looking elf come in. Neither seemed to be any sort of threat. They stared over at her for a moment, then, after a brief discussion and another moment's hesitation made their way through the upturned mess of the common room to her.

"Have a seat handsome," she said. "Plenty of free drinks and food about. Their previous owners seem to have lost their appetites."

The young man flushed. How cute, she thought, I could show him things...

The elf sat near the fire and extended his hands towards it as the young man stood, blinking and staring at Ming. She un-propped her legs and patted her lap invitingly. He flushed again and quickly moved to sit near the elf, at the opposite end of the long bench from her. She laughed and took a deep drought of ale.

"So, I... uh... understand you are one of the ones responsible for defending Laketide?" the young man said, speaking to the elf with only the quickest of glances at Ming.

She shifted closer to him on the bench and shrugged. "That what this place is called?"

"I was only directly responsible for one," the elf said. "The Crystal Towers soldier dispatched four and this woman three, that I saw anyway."

"Ah. That's, um, impressive," he said, glancing over at her again.

"Ming," she said, glancing down and noticing the blood spattered on the dust and rust of her armor for the first time.

"Ah, Lieutenant Laris," he said, extending his hand.

She took in and squeezed just enough to make him wince. "Mmm, my pleasure."

His hand jerked away like a fox from a trap when she released it.

"So you and Suniel know each other then?" he said, turning back to the elf and shifting to the farthest end of the bench.

"Companions of the moment," Suniel said, turning and nodding to her. "Nice to meet you Ming."

She grunted back and glanced back towards the door and the squish of water-filled boots. The archer strode over, trailing water and casting only a brief, flat glance in her direction. Her original estimate of him when she'd run into him earlier wasn't off the mark. That man was no stranger to killing.

***

Harold's mood brightened considerably when he glanced away from the unpleasant woman and he saw another man in uniform. He looked the man over, scanning for signs of rank. "Lieutenant," he said, bringing his fist to his chest in a Northmand-style military salute.

The young officer saluted back and smiled. "Thank you... sir?"

"Guardsman. Honor Guard Trisden to be specific, you can call me Harold," he said.

"Ah, well Honor Guard, er, Harold, join Ming and Suniel and me by the fire." The young man motioned to where he had been sitting near the woman and hastily found himself a chair, eliciting a guffaw from the woman for some reason. Harold took the seat and leaned towards the fire.

"Well, uh, Northmand thanks you for your services. I must admit my men and I would have been hard pressed to deal with a hobgoblin raiding party of that size," Laris said.

"They were undisciplined," Harold said, waving his hand, "I saw eight shields on that raft and not one used."

"Well, regardless, we thank you and offer whatever spoils you wish to take from them. I also believe the bounty from the last conflict was never revoked - one gold sovereign per pair of ears I believe it was."

"I took what I wanted already," Harold said, touching the iron ring on its leather thong that now hung from his belt. "I found it on their leader. Do you know what it means?"

Laris shook his head.

"I've never seen anything like it," he said, standing. "Anyway, I should see to my men. Come by the barracks tomorrow and I can get you your reward."

***

Ming watched him leave and was suddenly drowsy from the ale, heat, travel, and battle. With a yawn she stood and walked out, stretching as she stared at the moon over the lake.

For a moment she saw a glint on the water, rubbed her eyes, and looked again. A second later it was gone and she shook her head.

I must be tired
, she thought. Or drunk. A silver turtle the size of a ship?

***

Suniel stood and nodded to Harold. "I'm sure Oakstout wouldn't mind if you took a room. You can reach them by the ladder in the stables. They're small, but warm and comfortable."

Harold nodded, staring into the fire and rubbing one of his medals, probably unconsciously. Suniel walked out, checked on his carriage, stopped in the stables to say good night to his horses, and climbed up to his room.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 1 Crunch.

I'm thinking after each narrative of the action, I'll write in what I can remember of the mechanics of what happened. Mostly DMing-related stuff, just because I found those bits - and the reader comments - in Shamus Young's campaign so interesting. If you don't care about this part, feel free to skip it. Some of these earlier ones might be a bit fuzzier since they were almost a year ago, but I'll see what I can remember.

Since this was the first session, I'll talk a bit about my DMing style, the world, and character creation.

From the inadvertant tastes of RPG theory/philosophy I've gotten reading the 4E section, I'd be mostly what you'd call a simulationist DM. I create the world, figure out what's happening where, and then the PCs are set loose into it to do what they will.

The world as the PCs know it is a continent named Felskein settled above the Endless Sands. On all sides, the continent ends in thousands-of-feet tall cliffs that drop down into the Sands. As far as anyone knows, nothing can survive out in the sands and no one has ever heard of there being anything else out there - just sand stretching into infinity.

They also knew they were starting in Northmand, a city-state settled on the edge of Mirror Lake. Nearby are the Ragged Hills where the Hobgoblin Iron Tribes live and have had a long history of conflict with Northmand. About a century ago, the Iron Tribes laid a years-long siege to the fortress-city of Northmand, causing the military council to seize the government and declare martial law. When the war ended, the military council retained power and it became the governing system for Northmand.

The world - like most of my fantasy worlds - was a Points of Light setting before the term had entered the DnD vocabulary.

For character creation, I let the characters select the level they wished to start, between 1 and 5. The lower the level, the better dice-rolling method they got to use: from 5d6, drop two, roll two columns and pick the best at first level to 3d6, one column, at level 5. If they rolled poorly enough, they could use point buy, with points varying depending on level. Also, if their characters died, they used this same method for the rest of the game for making new characters.

I also suggested they create up to 5 "quirks" and 5 secrets. I defined quirks as anything distinguishing about a character that could probably be learned within a few minutes to a day or two of knowing them. Secrets didn't have to be massive, dire secrets, just anything that someone wouldn't learn until they knew the character fairly well, dug deep into their life, and that might not even be discovered even then. I awarded the PCs 1% of a level per quirk or secret they created as additional incentive.

I credit this creation method, the PHBIIs affiliations, and the tick system(see down below) with making this the most successful and long-running game I've had in almost a decade.

Harold Trisden's player decided to risk going with level 5 and rolled exceptionally well, better even than some of the others who all chose level 1-3. He whipped up a duty-obsessed, sometimes arrogant Duskblade/Ranger/Fighter archer from a distant democracy named the Crystal Towers. He was a member of the honor guard escorting the Crystal Towers diplomat to Northmand, seeking allies in their war with the Ashen Tower.

Suniel Au's player went with level 3, creating a soft-spoken, nondescript elven wizard with a mysterious past(I'll save his secrets for the narrative) who now works as a travelling magic-item creator/seller/supplier. He created his own affiliation known as the Black Carriage, with the intent of eventually making it a continent-wide affiliation of travelling wizards.

Ming's player went with a level 1 fighter, a rough-and-tumble, hulking woman with a family heirloom amulet, strange silver hair, and a troubled past.

A couple other players made characters, but weren't able to make the first session.

One of those created Ilsa Goldhammer, a 2nd level female dwarven dragonshaman/fighter, a servant of Wyrmsrule, a tiny city-state to the north of the Ragged Hills that serve an Ancient Gold Wyrm. They were also sent on a diplomatic mission to Northmand, seeking aid against Iron Tribe incursions and against the orcs of the Mist Tops on the other side of Mirror Lake from Northmand.

Ilsa's player's brother - who only played one session - created Kendrin Moonfire, a 3rd-level half-elf cleric and also a servant of Wyrmsrule.

The last mechanic I use is called ticks. I used for a bit years ago when I first heard about it from somewhere on the Internet, but then forgot about it until starting up this campaign. Ticks are rewards for showing up, good roleplaying, keeping the game running, etc.

General tick rules:
I give out 5 for someone showing up, a bonus 1 for being on time, and 5 for staying for the full session.
I give out one or two for staying in character(staying with alignment, affiliation goals/traits, exhibiting quirks, general good roleplaying) whenever it seems appropriate.
Occassionally, I also give them a few if there are long stretches without combat(selling/buying gear, calculating and splitting treasure, etc) that are requirements of 3.X but don't really progress the plot.

Ticks are spent any time between sessions or 5 ticks can be spent to "collect" and spend them during a session. Those 5 ticks also let them get any xp they have earned that session. (I've never had a player choose to do this). Once 100 ticks are accrued, they must all be spent immediately to prevent hoarding.

Ticks can be spent on:
1 tick - 1% of a level.
1 tick - 1 reroll of any d20, kept even if worse, or 1 per reroll of a stabalization dice.
10 ticks - 1 skillpoint (never had a player do this, even after I dropped it to 5 ticks per skillpoint)
50 ticks - 1 feat
50 ticks - 1 attribute point

The majority have been spent on xp(especially the craft-heavy wizard), with occasional drops here and there on feats and attributes. Ticks weren't spent very often on re-rolls early on(I don't think I added that option until a few sessions in anyway), but now in the 10-15 level range and tons of enemies with save-or-horrible effects, 5-10 on average have been spent amidst the group per session on re-rolls, with the number spend per session growing).

For the actual 1st session, we spent alot of it finishing up characters, me telling them a bit about what they knew about Northmand and the area, and so we got started kinda late. They roleplayed a bit and then were attacked by the hobgoblins. I rolled a d8 to figure out how many rounds it would be until the guards showed up to help... and got an 8.

It didn't end up mattering since they wiped them out in about 4-5 rounds. From the player crunch perspective, all I remember is Suniel spent most of the fight invisible, just watching, Harold used a bunch of Duskblade deflections to make most of the incomming arrows miss, and Ming's player was rolling awesome that night.

Edit: Suniel's player recently reminded me that his staple spell combo was invisiblilty/summon swarm. I wondered what he cast besides Kelgor's Firebolt and magic missile. Anyway, he reminded me of that too late for it to be in the narrative much, but that's what he did.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 2, Part 1

Ming awoke with a killer hangover and the incomparable discomfort of falling asleep in someone else's armor. She stood up stiffly, cracking her neck and back before searching the straw for her sword. There was a moment of panic before she remembered leaning it against a wall somewhere.

Sure enough, it was sitting right next to the door, still coated with blood and grime from the day before. I should clean it, she thought, then caught a whiff of herself. Whew, and me.

Sword slung over her back, she made her way down to the shore.

***

Suniel climbed out of his carriage and squinted at the bright July sunlight. One hand shielding his eyes, he made his way to the inn.

He found Harold already inside, chatting with Lieutenant Laris.

"...apparently attacked the mine about the same time they hit us here," Laris said, nodding to Suniel as he entered.

Suniel nodded back and sat down at the table with the two soldiers, motioning to Oakstout and the stew pot bubbling in the fireplace as he did. Oakstout nodded back and disappeared into the back room.

"How many losses?" Harold said. "That sounds like a pretty major raid."

Laris nodded, his expression grim. "The count is unsure. The whole mining establishment out in the Hills is in an uproar. I just wish we had more men out here, especially scouts. The Iron Tribes have been so quiet for so long, we'd almost dismissed them as a threat."

Harold's eyes met Suniel's and Suniel saw some plan churning behind his eyes. When Harold suddenly smiled widely at him, he had a pretty good idea of what was coming next.

"Wizard, you seem to be a traveling man... or elf, rather. What would you say to doing some good for the Northmand cause?"

Suniel replied instead to Laris, his voice soft. "The attack was unprovoked?"

Laris nodded. "Our guards were there as a token force against thieves and brigands. Some of the miners even moved their families out there into the shanty-towns."

Laris stared down at the barely-touched oatmeal in his bowl. "The shanty-town at the mine they attacked caught fire, I've heard it was... well... the smell... all the people were asleep when the flames swept through. And everything was so close together, there wouldn't have been anywhere to go. Like a trap."

Suniel got the impression the young officer was trying not to cry so he politely stood, intercepted Oakstout on the way to the fireplace, and served himself some oatmeal from the pot the dwarven innkeeper was carrying to rewarm by the fire.

When he returned, Laris was eating, not crying, but Harold still had a calculating look.

"What's in it for you, archer?" a rough female voice said from the doorway.

Suniel glanced up from sprinkling cinnamon into his oatmeal as Ming walked in. Out of armor, still damp from bathing, she looked almost womanly, her silver hair especially striking when back-lit by the bright morning sunlight.

Harold assumed an offended look. "Why, our noble Northmand allies deserve our support."

Harold watched Ming closely as she casually tossed her armor and sword onto a table.

"Besides, they pay a gold per pair of ears. Laris already gave me the bounties. Here's your share from last night," Harold said, tossing a small pouch to Ming. She caught it with a deftness that belied her size and emptied it into her hand.

With an exaggerated shrug, she dropped the money into her own coin-pouch as she walked towards the fireplace. "Never liked hobgoblins much anyway."

Harold clapped his hands together and glanced back at Suniel. "Elf?"

Suniel thought for a long moment, then nodded.

Harold stood and walked briskly towards the door. "Excellent, let's leave immediately, no time to waste."

"Agreed, as long as right away starts in about an hour," Ming said, ladling out a heaping bowl of oatmeal. "Time spent at breakfast is never wasted."

***

The guide stopped and Harold reined in his mare, squinting in the heat of the noon-day sun. He wiped the sweat from his brow, his sleeve coming away the brown-red of the Ragged Hills. Behind him, the black carriage rattled to a halt and Ming jumped down.

"This is as far as the road goes west," the guide said, pulling off his leather cap and wiping his own brow. "From here you can go north or south along the road, or on west into the hills."

I can see that, Harold thought, staring at the T in the road that they had come to. And Laris said this was his best scout?

He glanced about at the dry, dusty hills, their crowns jagged outcroppings of rusty rock. Like the majority of the ones they had passed during the morning, most of the hills here were littered with the remains of year-, decade-, maybe century-old mining encampments that sat bleaching and baking away in the sun.

"We'll keep going west," Harold said, dismounting. "Take the carriage and my horse back to Laketide."

The guide stared down at him. "But, the road goes north and south!"

"I can see that," Harold said. "The hobgoblins aren't likely to be staying at the mining camps and towns, are they? I don't see any reason for us to go there either."

"Whatever," Ming said, rubbing the back of her neck as she strode past. "As long as I don't have to bounce my bones apart on that carriage anymore."

Suniel walked up and handed the reins of his carriage horses to the guide. "Take them back to the inn, leave the carriage where it was by the stables, and take care of the horses."

The guide nodded and set about securing the reins to Harold's horse to the back of the carriage.

"Oh, and one more thing," Suniel said as the man returned. "Make sure no one goes inside, or I'll hold you accountable. You don't want to be accountable."

Something in Suniel's demeanor changed and Harold took an involuntary step back. It was as if it there was a brief shadow over the sun and something even darker reflecting in Suniel's eyes. Then it passed and Suniel turned and walked past, humming softly.

Harold met the suddenly pale guide's eyes and shrugged. He watched the wizard from a few paces back as they trudged into the hills.

Just confirms it, he thought. Never trust a wizard.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 2, Part 2

Ilsa motioned for Kendrin to drop and Kendrin crawled up beside her.

"What'd you see?" he whispered.

"Not sure, just movement, up there on that hill to the south" Their eyes met and an unspoken word passed between them. Hobgoblins.

Ilsa let out a long breath and strapped her tower shield on. "Ok, well, I sneak like fish walk, so we might as well just rush them. You ready?"

Kendrin nodded, pulled his shield from his back and his mace from his belt-loop.

"All set? Ok, let's go!"

***

"Movement, north," Harold hissed, nocking an arrow and dropping to one knee. Ming stood from examining the trapdoor they'd discovered, her sword scraping from her back. Suniel slid his hand into his sleeve, and the small component pouch he had sewn there.

Of all the things he expected to come over the hill, a dwarf and a half-elf were the least. By the way they slid to a stop, he had the idea that they were as surprised at the meeting as he was.

Ming lowered her sword, but Harold kept an arrow trained on the dwarf.

"Who are you, what are you doing here?" he said.

The dwarf's eyes dropped to the trapdoor and back to Harold. Her sword lowered.

"If you're here to kill hobgoblins, then we're on the same side. If you're just visiting friends, then we've got a problem," the dwarf said.

Ming shrugged and went back to uncovering the trapdoor. Harold hesitated a moment longer before lowering his bow as well. Suniel walked over to the newcomers and extended his hand. "Suniel. The big woman is Ming and the one with the bow is Harold."

The dwarven woman took his hand and gave it a firm shake. "Ilsa Goldhammer, and this is my companion Kendrin Moonfire."

Suniel nodded to them both and turned as Ming heaved the heavy trapdoor open. Immediately a voice called up from below in goblin. "Who goes there?"

They all stepped back from the trapdoor and readied their weapons again.

"Patrol returning," Harold said, in heavily accented goblin.

Suniel suppressed a wince and glanced in his direction. Harold grinned back and winked. The others looked at them with questioning expressions.

There was a long pause below before the voice called back up. "Jump down then."

There was a quick exchange of glances and Harold mimed a jumping motion and gestured to the hole. There was a long pause, then Ming mumbled something Suniel didn't quite catch and jumped down. Suniel immediately moved to the edge of the hole and glanced in to see a narrow shaft dropping twenty feet to a thick pile of furs. As he watched, Ming hit the furs, cursed loudly and vanished, the hidden trapdoor the furs were nailed to spinning to reveal hard wood.

Harold swore and jumped down, landing on the trapdoor but leaping off and out of sight before it had a chance to spin and dump him in the pit beneath it. Suniel heard the thrum of a bowstring and a roar of pain from below.

Suniel saw the trapdoor start to lift and made a motion to stop the dwarf, but was too late: Ilsa leapt in with a dwarven war cry.

Ming glanced up in surprise as she strained to pull herself out of the trap, then the dwarf slammed into her and they both disappeared - dwarven tower shield and all. The trapdoor spun again and when it stopped, Suniel heard the distinct sound of a latch clicking, leaving the fur side showing.

Kendrin jumped in without a moment's hesitation, bounced off the thick furs, and charged out of sight with a shout of, "Gilderalin!"

The sounds of combat below intensified. Suniel sighed, took a deep breath, and jumped.

Though he half-expected to fall through to whatever lay beneath the trap, the heavy furs absorbed his fall and he sprang immediately to his feet.

Ahead was a narrow tunnel only a few feet across with Harold in heated combat with a hobgoblin in the middle of it. Kendrin stood behind him, tense, mace hefted and ready to swing if the opportunity presented itself in the cramped space and Suniel saw a hobgoblin behind the one Harold was fighting standing in a similar stance.

Harold seemed to be holding his own, so Suniel bent and examined the trapdoor, finding the latch quickly and releasing it.

Have to give the hobgoblins some credit, he thought. Pretty clever.

A moment later, the trapdoor swung open, a meaty hand clutching at the edge. Suniel reached down and helped haul Ming and Ilsa out then turned to see Harold drive his sword up into the hobgoblin's gut. The last hobgoblin turned and fled down the dark tunnel.

"We have to catch it," Harold said, conjuring up glowing orbs of light with a gesture and running after it. Kendrin quickly followed. Suniel stepped aside to let Ilsa and a limping, bloodied Ming past.

Catching his look of surprise, Ming growled, "spikes in the pit" as she passed.

Suniel nodded sympathetically and followed.

***

Vuroosk grabbed his bow, slammed the door open, and rushed out of his quarters. One of the new ones Neergrog had sent him was running from the south sentry tunnel, splattered with blood and shouting something about an attack.

"To arms, we're under attack," Vuroosk bellowed, grabbing the sentry as he tried to run past and throwing him back the direction he was running from. About him, his troops rousted from their bunks and he heard shouts from the north tunnel. He readied his bow and aimed for the south tunnel.

He didn't have to wait long.

A huge shield slid out of the tunnel and he embedded an arrow deep into the wood as chaos broke out around him. From behind the shield arrows flew and downed two of his hobgoblins and a moment later a giant human female with a sword leapt out and cleaved Hunner almost in half. With a roar, a dozen hobgoblins converged on them from all directions and battle was joined.

Vuroosk shifted to catch a bead on the enemy archer through the fray, but the human was faster. An arrow slammed into Vuroosk's leg and another embedded in his shoulder, sending his own arrow flying wide. He gritted his teeth in pain and fired again, his arrows disappearing into the clash.

He ducked as another two arrows slammed into the door behind him and he fired back, his arm and leg pounding with pain from the arrows.

As he reached for another arrow, a third took him in the side. Another flew past as he staggered back into his room, fumbling for a potion from his belt-pouch.

He jerked the arrow from his side and drank a potion as the sounds of battle raged outside. He was reaching for another when the enemy archer suddenly appeared in the doorway. Vuroosk lurched for his bow as another arrow slammed into him. He staggered back and fired a final arrow in return before collapsing.

***

Hoortchuc motioned for the beast handler to set them loose and peeked into the barracks. The battle was pitched and seemed to be going badly. He gathered his courage and charged into the room, shouting a dark blessing on the faltering hobgoblins and almost slamming into a human with a longbow who had somehow slipped past the main line of battle.

The human turned on him with a grim look on his monstrous face and Hoortchuc sprinted quickly past into Vuroosk's chambers, arrows whizzing about him. Vuroosk sat slumped against the wall, blood seeping out of three or four arrow wounds. Hoortchuc hazarded a glance to the barracks and saw Trokken and Tusk pressing the archer hard. From the den, the beasts roared and Hoortchuc grinned.

With a heave, he pulled Vuroosk onto his back. He'd never realized how much the hulking sergeant weighed, but then he never thought he'd have to carry him on his back through a battlefield, especially one inside the outpost.

He made his way back out into the chaos in time to see the dwarf kill another and rush to the aid of the archer. His eyes locked with the bestial eyes of a brown-robed elf that stepped from the south passage and Hoortchuc murmured a prayer and pushed on.

He was almost to the den when pain flared in his legs and they went out from beneath him. Whimpering, he pulled himself around the corner and glanced at the smoking black holes in the backs of each of his legs.

Vuroosk forgotten, he chanted and pressed the dark symbol of his ring into each of the wounds, nearly screaming as it seared them shut. Then he noticed the beast master sprawled on the ground, an arrow shaft jutting from his back.

Hoortchuc ran to the body and ripped the keys from its belt.

I may die, he thought as he ran across the rank filth of the den to the cage, but the beasts will feast on elf-flesh first.

The beasts strained against the bars so hard that, for a moment, he thought he wasn't going to be able to turn the lock. Then there was a solid click and the cage flew open, the door swinging with such force that it knocked him backwards across the room. He landed heavily on his back, stunned.

When he was able to roll to his hands and knees he saw the beasts pinning the dwarf flat beneath its shield, its companions shouting in dismay and trying futilely to take the creatures down. He grinned again through his gasps.

Then there was movement out of the corner of his eye and the huge woman appeared like something from a nightmare, silver-haired, bleeding from half-a-dozen wounds and splattered with gore. Her eyes were the worst, bright and burning with rage. He raised his hand to protect himself just as the terrible blade of her sword came down.

There was an explosion of pain and then nothing.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 2, Part 3

Ming wrenched her sword out of the back of the massive, shaggy ape-creature and winced. The thing had hit her hard enough to put dent in the breastplate probably crack a few ribs. It would have to wait.

"Half-elf, Harold, get over here," she shouted, sheathing her sword and gripping one of the huge, blood-matted ape's arms.

The others positioned themselves around the two giant bodies. "On three, heave. One, two, three!"

It took several tries, but eventually the two massive corpses were dragged away and the dwarf's huge, battered shield became visible. Kendrin pushed it aside to reveal the beaten form of the dwarf and knelt, murmuring something in what was probably elvish. At his touch, Ilsa took a shuddering breath and her eyes opened.

Satisfied, Ming turned away, surveying the carnage. About a dozen hobgoblins lay strewn about the room - some sort of barracks - and arrows stuck from the walls and the heavy door in a score of places. She wandered over to the door and peered in.

Harold stood ransacking a large wooden desk, skimming through bound journals and loose pages covered with goblin-scrawl. He glanced up for a moment, nodded to her, and went back to his search.

She had no interest in whatever a hobgoblin felt like writing about - not that she could read it anyway - and so she set to what really interested her.

The castoff sack she scavenged was nearly full of ears when the wizard, the hem of his robe aglow, showed up from down a narrow passage to the east with three small figures in tow. The first goblin looked big and oafish - for a goblin anyway. The second had a look of shifty cunning and the third clung to the wizard's robe, eyes huge. Ming sat on the chest of the hobgoblin she had just finished "trimming" and put one hand on her sword hilt.

Suniel raised his hand. "These goblins were slaves here. They say there are others, humans, that may be alive."

He turned to them, had a brief exchange in goblin, and turned back.

"This is Lunt," he said, gesturing to the oafish one. "Stabber" - the shifty one - "and No-tongue."

"Captives? Harold said, emerging from the room with a couple leather-bound books and a sheaf of papers under one arm. He pulled out a long knife from his belt and walked menacingly towards the goblins, rasping something out in their tongue. Lunt stared at him dully, cow-like, Stabber took a step back, and No-tongue hid behind Suniel's robes.

"They are under my protection, archer," Suniel said, raising his hand to halt Harold. "No need to threaten them."

"They'll stab you in your sleep if you trust 'em," Ilsa said, staggering over with one hand on her sword hilt and a grim look in her eye.

Suniel turned and looked at her. "That's my problem."

"If I see 'em anywhere near where I sleep, I'll split them in half," the dwarf said. "You'd better-"

"Enough of this! Tell them to take us to the captives," Harold said.

The dwarf grumbled and glared at Harold, but they all followed as the goblins led them down the east passage.

***

"Water," Harold demanded as they pulled the last captive from his prison-pit. The half-elf turned and jogged back into the main room where they'd dumped their supplies and Harold turned back to the five ragged-looking men.

They all squinted at the light and Harold cast a glance at Suniel. The wizard gestured and the light on his robe winked out, leaving them in total darkness. A second later, the light flared up anew, but on some object mostly shielded by the wizard's hand.

"Much obliged," one of the men said, a soldier by the look of his barely-recognizable Northmand tabard.

"How long have you been here?" Harold said.

"Don't know," the man said. "Every once in a while I'd hear them pull someone up out of one of the other pits, but I don't know what happened to them. I don't think they even meant to use us as slaves, didn't even feed us."

"There was an altar covered with blood at the far end of the barracks," Ilsa said. "I think I have a guess for where they took them."

Kendrin and Suniel said prayers and the captive's eyes fell.

"Don't worry about that," Harold said. "The hobgoblins that did it are all dead now."

The soldier nodded and his eyes brightened noticeably as Kendrin came back with two bulging waterskins and a few loaves of bread. Four of the captives ate and drank greedily and Suniel helped the fifth who was too injured to do so himself.

"Did you see how many there were?" Harold said as the soldier tore into a loaf.

The man shook his head, swallowed, and took another huge gulp of water.

"We were escorting a wagon-load of ore back from the mines when they hit us, probably a score of them. We weren't expecting a thing." He gestured at the other four men. "Those three are miners, the other I don't know. He wasn't with us."

Suniel looked up from where he was helping the other man sip from a waterskin. "He says he's a fisherman, was taken a few days ago."

Something clicked in Harold's mind, piecing together something the soldier had just said with one of the reports he had skimmed with the battle they had just fought. "Wait, a score? We killed maybe fifteen - at the most."

There was a long moment of silence as they exchanged glances. Then, somewhere back in the compound, they heard a shout.

Quickly and quietly, they gathered their weapons and made their way back through the compound.

***

"What took so long?" a voice called down from above in hobgoblin.

Suniel opened his mouth to say something, but Harold spoke first again. "Who goes there?"

There was a long pause from above and Suniel glanced at Harold. Harold reached down and clicked the latch on the fur-covered trap door and grinned back at Suniel.

"Who is that?" a different voice called down.

"I'm one of the new ones," Harold called back. "Come on down."

There was another pause, then, "I hate jumping down, raise the ladder."

As Harold and Suniel looked around, the others stared at them with questioning expressions. Suniel spotted it first and motioned for Ming to grab it. She stared at the ladder blankly for a moment, then reached into the nook where it was tucked away and pulled it out.

It took a moment for her to figure out how it extended - a feature that Suniel came closer to examine. Finally, she figured it out, clicked the latch again on the trapdoor, and set the ladder up on it.

"Thanks," a voice called down from above. There was another long pause.

"What's going on?" Ilsa hissed. "What are we waiting for?"

"They think we're hobgoblins," Harold said. "Wait until the first one comes down, then we'll get him."

"I'm not so sure that-" Suniel said, but before he could finish, the dwarf slung her tower shield onto her back and launched up the ladder.

"Wait!" Harold said, as he lunged to grab her and missed. "Damn!"

Ming grabbed onto the ladder and looked up, just as there was a thudding sound and a grunt from above and she leapt out of the way.

Ilsa's body hit the furs with a thud, three arrows sticking out of her armor and more from her shield.

As Kendrin knelt to minister to her, Ming vaulted up the ladder. Harold cursed again, then began climbing after her, bow in hand.

With a long sigh and a quick chant, Suniel obscured himself from sight and followed.

Above him Ming and Harold sprung clear of the shaft, arrows whizzing past them from all directions. Suniel followed a moment later.

By the time he was out, Ming was half-surrounded by four hobgoblins, though one already lay bloody in the dirt. Nearby, Harold snarled and broke off the arrow-shaft sticking from his side and loosed another arrow, sending a hobgoblin archer rolling down the hill. Half-a-dozen more loosed arrows at him from the surrounding rocks. Arrows thudded into the dirt all around.

Suniel ducked low to avoid stray arrows and ran to some nearby rocks. He turned back in time to see Kendrin leap out of the hole and run to the again-bloodied Ming's side. A moment later Ilsa followed, arrows still sticking from her shield and armor. Harold rolled aside as more arrows flew past, came up shooting, and dropped two more archers.

Ming roared and headbutted a big one with stubs for ears as his sword came down on her shoulder. The hobgoblin staggered back and took a mace in the knee from Kendrin.

Suniel picked a target, uttered a quick spell, and a fiery explosion slammed one of the archers back against the rusty rocks.

A few moments later it was over. A dozen hobgoblins lay sprawled in the red dirt, their blood mingling with the blood that ran from his companion's many wounds.

Harold removed an arrow with a wince and quickly downed a potion while Kendrin chanted a minor prayer of mending on Ming. Ming probed the wound on her shoulder, winced, whipped out a long dagger and set to hacking off ears with ferocity.

Suniel let out a long-held breath and whispered a prayer of forgiveness for the lives he had taken. As if this one matters compared to all the other corpses that litter my past, he thought. Gods, forgive me.

***

The human village was strange but comforting in its own way. Nothing like the massive cave-sprawl of Wyrmsrule with its shining golden light, but pleasant none-the-less. Ilsa winced and touched her collarbone gingerly. Kendrin swore he would do what he could tomorrow, for he had already used more magic today than he had since his trial and vows, but Ilsa had pestered him the whole journey anyway.

They stopped at what probably passed for a barracks here. Not even stone, she thought. Looks fairly sturdy, but still...

Suniel led the three goblins and the five survivors into the village, one leaning heavily on the others for support. An older, bald human with a spear met them all at the door to the barracks.

"Laris in?" Ming said, dropping a blood-soaked bag into the man's hands.

The man took it gingerly and handed it to the young blond-haired human who came out.

"Here ya go Laris," the older man said. "They brought a present for ya."

To his credit, Laris didn't flinch as he opened the bag and even had a half-smile on his face when he looked up. "I sure hope these came from hobgoblins. If not, we might have to talk."

"Should be obvious where they came from," Ming said. "They're not nearly as nice and clean as yours."

She reached out a hand towards his head and Laris stepped back quickly.

Harold stepped between them and extended the books and sheafs of papers from the outpost. "A gift from your friends in the Crystal Towers."

"And your friends who don't give a rat's ass about the Crystal Towers," Ming added, drawing a glare from Harold.

Laris set down the bag of ears and took the documents with a questioning look. He skimmed them for a moment, then looked up, his eyes hard. "This needs to go to the High Council."

"Why?" Ilsa said. "Harold hid them away and wouldn't say anything about them the whole way back."

Laris turned to her and raised the documents. "These say these raids are just the beginning. Where did you get these?"

"From the outpost we wiped out," Ming said offhandedly as she loosened the straps on her breastplate.

Laris stared at her for a moment, his gaze wandered over their wounds, then to the bag of ears. "I'll be sure to mention your heroics when I report to Captain Donnolan. You have the thanks of Northmand."

"It was nothing, the Crystal Towers-" Harold began, but Ming stepped forward and pinched Laris's cheek.

"Anything for you cutie," she said, slapping him on the butt as he stepped quickly away again. "Oh, could we get the bounty now?"

"Uh, I'll have the Sergeant get that to you as, uh, soon as possible," Laris said, quickly putting a desk between him and Ming.

The old soldier bent to collect the ears and sighed. Ilsa heard him mutter, "of course he will, the Sergeant has nothing better to do than count bloody hobgoblin ears."

"One of them was already missing his ears," Ilsa said as the Sergeant stood stood. He stopped and stared at her. "Ming took his tongue and a finger instead. Does that count?"

The Sergeant sighed and walked into the barracks.

"I really need a drink," Ming said, turning towards what appeared to be the largest building in town.

Ilsa grinned and jogged to Ming's side. "Could use a good dwarven dinner myself."

Ming glanced down at her. "Don't know if they have dwarvish food here. What do dwarves even do for food?"

Ilsa winked back. "Drink."
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 2 Crunch.

Ok, so this is the first time I've ever used a module in one of my DnD games. I had some broad ideas for my game, but when it actually came time to play, I didn't know what I was going to do.

Fortunately, I found this and thought, Aha! The Ragged Hills have a Hobgoblin kingdom anyway, perfect.

I also made a few decisions about this game and how I was going to run it differently from my usual brutal survivalist fare. I was going to actually let the PCs have some downtime. I was also going to let things start out small and expand in scope naturally rather than forcing things into epic-ness too quickly. The result has been extremely rewarding and in all the sessions I've only had 7 player deaths(I'll let you find out who in the narrative :]) - probably a near-record for me in the last 10 years of DMing both in the # of sessions in a campaign and in the small number of casualties.

As for actual crunch I don't remember much, except that Harold continued to rock(though he started a few levels higher than everyone else, won the reduced-stat gamble, and is my "top" powergamer, so I expected it). Ilsa went down twice, once to the dire-apes mauling her and once to a pile of readied arrows the moment she stuck her head out of the outpost enterance shaft. Harold's bluff checks were [sarcasm]amazing[/sarcasm], if I remember correctly.

This was Kendrin's first and last session, it being the player's first ever game with us. Not sure why he stopped playing. The rest of the game after this had 4 players present consistantly.

I also remember Vuroosk being dissapointing. 4th level with rapid shot and he got maybe 3-4 arrows off before Harold had done so much damage to him that he had to run. I never though that Harold would be willing to risk 3 AoOs - they all missed - to run past the melee and finish him off.

Hoortchuc didn't fare very well either, but I had less expectations for him.

Ilsa's dragon-shaman auras came in super handy too - every 3.5 group with the PHB II should have some player with 1 level of it just for the auto-stabalize any fallen buddies in 30' and the heal-up-to-half-between-battles-automatically features alone.

Anyway, I'll put up session 3 some time next week. We play session 25 on Sunday.
It'll be interesting to see where they go from here - here being where they'll be in 22 sessions from what I have written...
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 3, Part 1

-Note: Took a while to get this up, busy week. We played session 25 last weekend and I'm still not sure where the campaign is going to go. Had another character die, but to be honest, with what they decided to take on, I'm surprised any of them survived. Not only survived, but defeated it! But that's something for much later.

Hope someone's enjoying this. It's fun revisiting where it all started, back when things were so simple. Almost nostalgic.

Anyway, back to the story.-

Harold rolled his shoulder and massaged it briefly before placing ten arrows point-down in the dirt. The barrel wasn't a perfect archery butt, but it would do. One by one, slowly and carefully, he fired the ten arrows into the barrel, occasionally glancing about to see if anyone was watching. Unfortunately, the streets were largely bare, most of the people out fishing or farming or whatever they all did here. He retrieved his arrows with a sigh and headed back around the inn.

He heard Suniel's voice - speaking in goblin - before he saw him.

"...but if I let you go, I can't guarantee your safety. I won't pay you for your service, but you will have food and shelter and can make spending money however you are able - as long as it doesn't hurt others and is legal that is."

Harold turned the corner to see Suniel kneeling, talking to the three goblins in the shade of his carriage. The large one sat in the dirt chewing on his nails, the shifty one listened to Suniel with half-lidded eyes, while the simple one tried to stare at his tongue as he bit at it, jerking his head around as if to get a better view of it.

Suniel looked up and nodded and Harold knelt next to him for a moment.

"You mean to actually keep these creatures around?" he said softly in common, casting a sideways glance at the goblins. "Can't trust goblins, especially that shifty one."

"Stabber?" Suniel said, casting a brief look at him. "No, I think he's the smartest one. If I can keep him in line then Lunt and No-Tongue will stay in line too."

Suniel turned to the goblins again.

"Well?" he said in their tongue.

"We'd just get slaved again if we went back to through the Raggeds," Stabber said. "So I say, sounds good Boss."

Suniel nodded and glanced at Lunt. The goblin picked his nose and shrugged.

"He seems to be trying to prove to himself that he has a tongue," Harold murmured, watching No-Tongue's antics.

No-Tongue, now pulling his tongue out as far is it would go and staring cross-eyed at it, seemed to finally notice the conversation and Suniel and Harold staring at him.

"Master?" he said.

Stabber cast a sharp glance in his direction. "He talks? Huh. He's never talked before."

No-Tongue seemed excited by his new word.

"Master," he said happily. "Master, master, master, master, master, master, master..."

He repeated it over and over, skipping around Suniel and Harold. Harold rolled his eyes and extricated himself from the ridiculous situation, heading for the barracks.

***

Ming leaned against the wall and tore off another piece of jerky as Harold approached. The archer cast a glance at the barracks door, then at her.

"Laris headed off to Northmand first thing this morning," she said. "Sergeant said he was in quite a hurry. Whatever you found was pretty important I guess."

Harold straightened his back. "Important? Of course it was important. It mentioned patrol times, supply routes, the rough locations of half-a-dozen other nearby outposts-"

"Yeah, whatever," Ming said, waving her hand to cut him off. "So what now?"

Harold stared at her for a moment before answering. "What do you mean?"

She rolled her eyes. "What do we do now I mean. That bounty money was half-decent. I could handle a bit more of it."

"Well, I don't know what you're going to do, but I'm a member of the Honor Guard for Crystal Towers Diplomat to Northmand. I only had a few days furlough and I need to get back to report for duty," Harold said, turning away.

"Great," Ming said, following. "I'll come with."

Harold glanced over his shoulder at her and glowered. "Why?"

Ming glanced at the Ragged Hills, bathed in the light of the mid-morning sun. "I've run out of west and think we might have ruined my chances of the Hobgoblins welcoming me with open arms. Arms drawn maybe..."

Harold shook his head and raised his arms in the air as he walked away. "Whatever, come if you like."

Ming wondered if she was making the right decision, going back there. They won't be looking for me with this group anyway, she thought. Sometimes the best way to hide is in plain sight.

***

Ilsa mounted her pony and leaned down to adjust the stirrup. Kendrin made a few adjustments to his saddle and mounted as well.

In a few minutes, everyone was ready and they set out; Harold at the head on his black warhorse, the black carriage behind him with Suniel and Ming on the bench and the three goblins atop, Ilsa and Kendrin taking up the rear on rugged mountain ponies.

The peaceful Northmand countryside passed quickly - the late summer heat made almost pleasant by the frequent shade of over-arching trees. After an hour or so of quiet riding, Ilsa heard fragments of conversation from ahead, unintelligible over the rattle of the carriage. She nodded to Kendrin to keep the rear and kicked her pony forward.

"...well, I come from the South originally," Suniel said as she rode up. The elf and the warrior woman glanced down at Ilsa and nodded to her.

Ming leaned back on the bench. "Just 'South' is pretty vague, wizard."

Suniel gave a slight smile. "So is just 'East,' Ming."

"Fair enough," Ming said, digging into a pouch at her side and producing a strip of jerky.

"It's a big world out there," Suniel said, pulling on the reins to steer the carriage around a sizable pothole.

"So dwarf, where do you hail from again?" she said between chews, glancing down at Ilsa.

"Wyrmsrule," Ilsa said, eying Ming's pouch. Ming followed her gaze down, gave a short laugh, and tossed her a strip. Ilsa tore off a bite of jerky gratefully, regretting not eating a larger breakfast.

"So, what brings you down here?" Ming said. "Isn't Wyrmsrule up to the north, past the Ragged Hills?"

Ilsa nodded. "I'm here on a diplomatic mission as well."

Ming snorted and glanced at the fields of wheat that swayed in a gentle breeze as they passed. "Everyone wants a piece of Northmand. Doesn't seem so special to me. Boring."

"What you call 'boring' others call peace, prosperity, safety. Rare commodities in most of the rest of the world," Suniel said, smiling as he watched a small flock of brown birds chase each other through the fields.

Ilsa nodded solemnly in agreement.

Ming shrugged and stuffed the rest of the strip of jerky in her mouth and stretched out. "Well, whatever. Boring is boring. I'm going to take a nap."

"Thanks for the jerky," Ilsa said, reining in her horse.

"Master, Master!" the little goblin called down to her cheerfully as the carriage passed. He had put together a "fishing pole" - a length of rope attached to a long stick - and was casting it into the fields as they passed, legs dangling and swinging like dwarven child might off one of Wyrmsrule's many overlooks. The other one, Stabber she thought his name was, palmed something as she rode past, but she didn't get a good look at what it was.

After the carriage had passed, Ilsa smiled sadly and rode alongside Kendrin.

"What do you think?" the half-elf said. Ilsa leaned over and handed him the last of the strip of jerky.

"I hope fervently that they agree to hear us and just as fervently that our troubles don't spread here," Ilsa said.

Kendrin nodded and let out a long sigh. They rode in companionable silence for the rest of the trip.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 3, Part 2

-Note: Sorry it's taking so long to update and that it's pretty short. These last few weeks have been crazy busy. After next weekend I should be able to post more regularly.-

Ilsa's first perception of Northmand was comforting, for Northmand was a city of walls. She recognized the dwarven stone masonry in Northmand's three rings - walls more than a hundred feet thick, with much of the city's houses, crafts-houses, inns, and shops build inside their wide breadths.

It appealed to dwarven sensibilities and human both. Dwarves preferred to surround themselves in stone and humans preferred to live beneath the sky. In Northmand they had both, with the added features of a fortress and with enough space between the fortress-city's three rings for small gardens, markets, corrals, and parks.

The gate guards were well-informed enough that Harold's blue-and-white Crystal Towers uniform alone was enough to get them through the three Walls and into the inner Keep. And apparently Laris's report was enough to get them an immediate audience.

They were led by a pair of Keep Guard to a spacious, well-furnished room just off the inner courtyard of the Keep. An officer sat, wearing his gray-and-white dress uniform casually, leaning back at his writing desk and tugging at his blond goatee as he read through the hobgoblin reports. Laris looked young and unpolished where he stood behind in his plain, dusty uniform.

The officer looked up, smiled broadly, and stood as they entered. "These must be the heroes of the outpost raid that I heard Laris talking to me about."

Harold stepped forward, his uniform immaculate due to his demand that they stop at a tailor and laundry on their way through town. "The Crystal Towers holds its allies' interests in high regard Captain..."

"Donnolan," the officer said. "You know our ranks?"

Harold nodded. "We hold their customs and regulations in high regard as well."

"Yes of course." Donnolan's gaze skimmed across Ming, Ilsa, Suniel, and Ilsa with barely a pause. "Well, Northmand thanks all of you for your efforts. The Iron Tribe attacks on our mining operations were unprovoked though unfortunately not unprecedented. I imagine we'll have more problems with this Chieftain Neergrog the reports were addressed to before too long."

"Wyrmsrule has had similar problems," Ilsa said.

Donnalan's gaze returned and appraised Ilsa again.

"We seem to have no shortage of ambassadors lately. Seems like everyone's having troubles lately. If it's not the Iron Tribes of the Ragged Hills, it's the White Clans of the Mist Tops," he paused for emphasis, staring at Ilsa for a moment longer before traveling to Harold, "it's the Ashen Tower."

Harold nodded. "The Ashen Tower won't rest at the Freeholds if the Crystal Towers fall, they'll be-"

Captain Donnolan raised his hands with another grin. "Save it for the Diplomats, Honor Guard Trisden, we're just simple soldiers here. Especially since most of the High Council and your Ambassador have decided to take a week long tour of the Northmand lands."

"A week?" Harold and Ilsa said simultaneously.

Donnolan handed Harold a scroll. Ilsa caught a glimpse of five slender towers imprinted in the wax of its seal before Harold sliced it open. "The Ambassador overheard my summary of Laris's report to the Council before he left. He left those with me."

Ming leaned over Harold's shoulder and Harold quickly jerked the scroll away. Ming snorted and dropped into an armchair.

"Further Crystal Towers relations with Northmand?" Harold said. "What type of order is that?"

"Well, you've done a pretty good job so far, in a few Northmand officers' opinions," Donnolan said, lounging back into his seat and turning to Ilsa. "I'm afraid you'll have to wait a week or so until they get back."

Ilsa sighed and Kendrin put his hand on her shoulder.

"I'll stay and wait here," Kendrin whispered, "I know how you feel about waiting..."

"Thanks," Ilsa said, already itching to be out amidst the heavy cut stone of Northmand's Walls.

***

Suniel smiled and handed a small charm to the young couple. At his feet No-Tongue sat, singing "master, maaaaster" to himself softly while he whittled at some wood.

"We're done for the night. Stabber, Lunt, lower the awning and pack up the stall," Suniel called.

Stabber grumbled but complied. Lunt was no where to be seen.

Suniel sighed and walked around to the back of the Carriage where he'd spent most of the day building "bed boxes" for them. At first he had thought the idea strange, but it seemed the best use of space. All worries about the goblins refusing to sleep in what were essentially wooden crates faded earlier in the day when he'd finished the first, come back with more materials to finish the second and found Lunt asleep in the first.

Harold rode up just as he and Stabber finished stowing the stall's components. "If you're interested, wizard, we're heading back to Laketide tomorrow. The reports indicated that the hobgoblins are going to be launching more raft raids and Laris also requested that we show them where the outpost is so they can keep an eye on it. Interested?"

Suniel thought it over for a moment, watching the city-folk stroll about the park near where he'd set up shop. So few places left with peace, he thought. And how much of that is because...

He met Harold's eyes and stared for a moment, realizing what he saw there. Here was a man who possessed a single-minded determination, a man with a cause that settled the world into reassuring shades of black and white. He'd die for what he believed in a heartbeat.

"I'll go," Suniel said.

Without another word, Harold nodded and rode away.

***

Ming's hangover wasn't helped by the over-bright noon sun or the jostling of the carriage as they rode back to Laketide. At least her guess had been right - no one had come looking for her. Just in case, a couple more days roaming in the Ragged Hills collecting hobgoblin-ear bounties wouldn't go amiss.

She started to think about the future and felt a stirring of fear. A second later her wineskin was in hand. Suniel glanced at her but didn't comment as she took a dozen gulps, spilling all over her armor as the carriage bounced along.

If they find me...
 
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d'Anconia

Explorer
Awesome!

I'm really enjoying the story. Can't wait to see what happens next. So - does Kendrin continue on as an NPC from here on, or does she exit with the player?
 

Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 3, Part 3

-Notes: Kendrin became a pseudo-NPC until we determined that the player wasn't coming back. After that (plus the events of Session#5) the character pretty much passed out of the scope of the game-

Suniel wished he'd prepared some enchantment to ward off the heat - or that he knew one that would do the same for dust. After wandering out in the Ragged Hills for half a day in the July heat, his companions seemed to share his opinion.

Harold kept muttering and trying to brush the red dust from his uniform, Ming was irritable - though that could be the lack of alcohol - and Ilsa was removing her helm every few minutes and making jokes about "if only sweat were ale." The old Sergeant and the six men he had brought with seemed weary, sore, and downtrodden.

Harold stopped again, glancing sharply about at the hills. Suniel had been getting the feeling that the archer wasn't nearly as good a scout as he thought he was, but figured they were pretty much lost by now anyway, so it didn't really matter if he said anything about it. Besides, with the blazing heat and the ill mood the group was in, it could start trouble.

After another hour of walking along a baked-dry creek bed with no noticeable progress - and the realization that his waterskin was dry - Suniel was about ready to finally say something when the air was suddenly full of projectiles and shouts.

He instinctively dropped to a crouch, a spell of warding flying from his lips as he searched the hills for their attackers. About half a dozen of them up one hill, the same up another on the other side, both groups hiding behind rough, rusted outcroppings. Suniel didn't need to know much about tactics to conclude that this hobgoblin ambush was executed perfectly - and that they'd walked right into the middle of it.

Ilsa already had two broken-off javelins sticking out of her armor and was struggling up one hill with Ming at her side while Harold ducked, weaved, nearly took a couple javelins in the chest, and fired off arrow after arrow up the other hill. Two of the Sergeant's men already lay bleeding in the baked red gravel of the creek-bed and another was screaming and clutching the javelin sticking out of his leg.

Suniel uttered an incantation and blasted a hobgoblin's head off with twin bolts of energy.

A hail of javelins rained down in response, two deflecting off his wardings, another two passing through and gashing his arm and side. Another of the Sergeant's men went down trying to drag one of his fallen comrades behind a bleached log. Suniel glanced about for a log of his own as the hobgoblins threw a final volley of javelins and came charging down the hill, war-chanting in unison, but a blur of red in the sky caught his eye.

He stared up in a daze, the immanent threat of being run-through by an angry hobgoblin replaced by the more immediate threat of a giant ball of fire trailing black smoke and a rain of fiery debris falling directly towards where he stood.

A warning shout in goblin stopped the hobgoblins in their tracks as they stared up, backpedaling, while Suniel called out a warning of his own in common. He managed to get a bit of distance and threw himself over a small boulder just as the ball of flame struck the ground and detonated.

***

Ming staggered through the smoke, head ringing, with a vague impression that she was going steeply uphill and the ground was shifting. After a few more steps she saw the body of one of the Laketide soldiers and realized she was the one that was unstable, not the ground. She sat down hard by the corpse and stared out, the smoke parting long enough for her to see a handful of blackened and burnt hobgoblin ambushers running into the hills.

Hope they didn't get their ears burned off, she thought, then snorted a laugh that came out as more of a painful grunt. A compact unit of metal, wood, and dwarf walked up to her, prying javelins free from her huge shield. A golden shimmer radiated from Ilsa that Ming had half-glimpsed before but now shone in the smoky air.

As the dwarf clanked down next to her Ming took an experimental deep breath, expecting the same pain that she had felt when she'd laughed. Instead, she felt a soothing, tingling warmth beneath her armor and across her arms. She stared at the light burns she had across her hands, watching them heal before her eyes.

"Blessings from the High One," Ilsa said, gesturing at Ming's hand.

"The High One?" Ming echoed dully, shaking her head to clear the ringing.

"They don't call it Wyrmsrule for nothing," Ilsa said.

They both stared as a figure strolled out of the roiling mass of flame and wreckage that marked the impact site. At first Ming thought it was the elf, but then she realized this one's robes were strange, outlandish, and somehow unburnt. As the figure wandered closer, Ming fumbled for her sword, but it was on her in a blur, a slender yellow finger shooting out and stopping half-an-inch from her face.

"Marp!" the figure said and poked her nose.

She swore and swung at him, but he ducked calmly and stepped back in, landing another "Marp," smiling, and wandering past her as if she didn't have six feet of sharpened steel over her head ready to cut him in half.

"Halt, Ming!" Harold called out from somewhere behind her as she swung at the fire-walker. She pulled the blow, but barely, stopping the swing a few inches from his back. The humanoid turned, glanced at the blade, rapped a knuckle on it, and leaned an elongated ear close to the blade to listen to it vibrate.

She jerked the sword away and stormed off, in search of some sanity after the sky fell, exploded, and turned into a yellow-skinned simpleton.

***

"Where do you come from?" Harold asked for the fifth time, starting to get frustrated.

The creature, tall and slender with yellowed and slightly scaled skin, clothed in a garment foreign in style and material, blinked at him a few times then picked up a pair of pebbles. It made swooshing noises as it moved them around, then clicked one into the other and dropped one into the dirt. As it hit the ground, it yelled, "vashoom!" and grinned at Harold.

"What do you think it means?" Suniel said, wandering up the hill to where Harold and the frustrating sky-thing sat, out of the smoke and heat of the wreck.

"I think it means he has no idea what I'm saying and finds the whole situation very amusing."

They watched as the figure ran a hand across the rusty rock of the outcropping, then licked his hand. "Narm narm narm," the creature said, flicking his tongue in and out, then tasting again with similar results.

Harold rolled his eyes and motioned Suniel to the rock he had been sitting on. "See if you can make sense of it, I give up."

He dismissed the thing's usefulness and went in search of the Sergeant and his men, estimating how many he would find alive.

***

Ilsa helped bury the last fallen soldier and retrieved her tower shield. The Sergeant, his two remaining men, and Suniel murmured prayers over the four graves while Ming stuffed a whole biscuit into her mouth and Harold stared off into the hills with that calculating look in his eye. The sky-fallen one sat with his head cocked to one side, watching Ming eat with rapt fascination.

Ilsa murmured a quick prayer of her own for the fallen and walked over to Harold. He glanced in her direction with a distant look.

"Unfortunate about those young men," she said, standing beside him and crossing her arms across her tower shield and leaning on it.

"Yes, I suppose it is," he said, glancing towards the late-afternoon sun. "I imagine it's best if we press on soon though if we want to reach the outpost before dark."

"Whatever you say," she glanced about for the sky-fallen one and startled to see him standing next to her, mimicking her pose exactly.

Without even apparently noticing that she was watching him, he wandered off a few steps, picked up a javelin, stared intently at the bent point, and whistled. "Does stuff like this happen often out in the lands of the sky?"

Harold glanced at the sky-fallen one then at her. "Lands of the sky? Oh, you mean anywhere not Wyrmsrule. No, I've never seen anything like him or whatever that was that fell and, you know..."

He waved his hand in the direction of the still-burning wreckage.

Ilsa nodded but was unconvinced. Already she missed the security and enclosing comfort of Wyrmsrule's caves and tunnels. Out of the corner of her eye she saw the others gathering their gear again, sighed, grabbed her pack and hefted her shield again.

She turned and watched as the sky-fallen one bit the javelin experimentally a few times, sniffed it, and tried again.

Well, seems harmless enough, she thought, glancing into the sky to see a large dark figure plummeting towards them, arms outstretched, swathes of black cloth rippling and snapping in the wind. Even from the rapidly-diminishing distance she could see it's eyes glowing like lightning.

Now that on the other hand...
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 3, Part 4

-Notes: played session 26 this last weekend. It went... unfortunately, in large part due to my misreading of what certain monsters summon. Skimming OR as AND actually makes a huge(character killing) difference. Feel bad about it, but there is some in-game justification for the extra "summoned" creatures. If I'd read it correctly, the two characters that died in the last two sessions might still be alive and, well... live and learn I guess.-

The group made a loose line and watched warily as the huge black-robed figure's descent gradually slowed until it finally came to a stop floating upright twenty feet off the ground. Harold figured it was about twelve feet tall and it seemed strangely bulky about the legs. Or where the legs should be, he thought, trying to discern any bit of anatomy beneath the voluminous black robe, long sleeves, and deep cowl. Only the lightning-spark of its eyes was visible.

For a long moment they stared at the thing until, with a beast-like roar, the sky-fallen one charged towards it.

Harold nocked an arrow as the thing's lightning eyes flared and a crackling blast of energy shot towards the sky-fallen one. The sky-fallen ducked and rolled as the beam struck the ground behind him and detonated.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harold saw the others glancing uncertainly amongst themselves, weapons drawn.

Harold too was undecided. He had no attachment to the sky-fallen one and, if the floating... thing turned hostile, it would be useful to see what its capabilities were before they had to fight it.

The decision was made for them a moment later.

Eight black-swathed, humanoid figures - about the height of a dwarf, but lean like an elves - dropped from the floating figure, landing kneeling in the dust, heads bowed, one hand on the ground, the other held out to the side and ending in a blade. As one, the eight figures looked up, lightning crackling in their eyes.

The sky-fallen one stopped in front of them, pressed his hands together, then dropped into a low stance, his hands moving in smooth yet precise patterns before him. He froze with one leg bent, foot pressed against the other knee, palms pressed together, eyes closed.

His eyes snapped open as the eight black figures' eyes all flared at the same time and beams of energy blasted out.

***

Ilsa reeled with the force of the explosion against her shield. With a flick of thought she called upon the Scale of the Dragon and felt her totem energy shift as she charged forwards towards the black-swathed figures.

One turned and charged to meet her, its movements remarkably fast. She swung her sword and it vaulted over, unleashing a blast of energy from its eyes that she barely dodged. It landed and immediately lunged at her with its sword arm. She parried, slammed her shield into the thing, then brought her sword down onto its shoulder, bracing for the jarring impact of metal biting into flesh.

Instead her blade sheared through black cloth and rebounded with a clang, the numbing shock of metal-on-metal impact almost making her drop the sword. She stumbled backwards as it threw itself at her, slamming into her shield and using it to launch backwards in an aerial somersault, blasting her with another beam of energy while in mid-air.

She staggered backwards, armor glowing faintly, and braced herself, staring at the thing as the battle raged around her. As it launched into the air again, the black cloth that robed it came partially away, revealing the rough black-and-red of rusty cast-iron, with a small dent in its shoulder where her sword had struck.

Her eyes met the twin slits of energy that the thing had for eyes for a brief, still moment. Then the lightning flared anew and she threw her shield between her and it, bracing for another blast.

***

Suniel reeled with the pain, his left arm dangling useless at his side as he hurled another gleaming coal at the black figure that pressed him backwards, striking it squarely in the chest. The coal burned through the cloth, clanged against something underneath, then flared brightly, shining red through the black cloth that garbed the figure before detonating in flame.

The thing landed, black cloth drifting down in smoldering scraps, the iron of its body glowing red around the gaping hole in its chest. It's a construct? Suniel thought, frozen for a moment in surprise. It took one jerky step towards him, then the light in its eyes faded and it stood there, inert.

Suniel took a deep breath of relief and gathered his wits.

He had only a moment. Before he could raise his hand or open his mouth to cast another spell, the thing flared with energy and exploded, hurling him backwards in a hail of charged iron shrapnel.

***

Ming cursed and hit one of the two things harrying her, the force of the impact putting a huge dent in the side of its head and wrenching it to an extreme angle. It staggered back but didn't go down.

She kicked out and knocked the other away as it jumped towards her back, glancing up to see two more arrows clang into the big one as it traded blasts of energy and arrows with Harold.

With the brief respite she'd purchased, she sprinted a few steps up the hill and turned so, for a moment, the two she was fighting were down the hill in front of her, granting her a split second to take in the rest of the battle. Her companion were scattered about in small, deadly combats, Ilsa nearby holding off another of the things while Suniel and the Sergeant struggled with three more thirty feet away. As she watched, the Sergeant was cut down and they turned on Suniel.

Then the fire-walker stepped into view, holding an gold-chained amulet over its head. Instantly, all the iron constructs broke off and rushed it, eyes flaring in unison.

Ming wondered at the fire-walker's courage - or stupidity - as they converged on it. The fire-walker calmly lowered the amulet and held its long hand palm-up before its face, a lotus of flame blossoming in the fire-walker's palm. With a smile, the fire-walker blew.

All six of the remaining smaller iron constructs vanished in a blast of fire and, even at her distance, Ming recoiled from the intensity of the heat. When she turned back, the things were exploding amidst the swirls of fire. Then the fire dissipated, leaving a swath of ground studded with smoldering iron shards.

There was another boom and she turned in time to see the an arrow embed in the center the big, flying construct's of its head. Harold lowered his bow as the thing trembled, lightning playing through the black cloth that still swathed it. Then the shaking stopped and it stared at Harold, eyes flaring so brightly Ming could barely look.

Harold dove backwards but, as the beam of energy had just begun to form, the thing detonated from the head down, showering the area with sparking shards of metal.

Ming lowered her sword and turned towards the fire-walker. It sat on the scorched earth, legs crossed and hands on its knees, eyes closed, a smile on its lips.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 3, Part 5

Suniel wandered over to the still-smoking blast area where the six constructs had exploded and gingerly picked up a long shard of metal from where it stuck in the ground. It felt and looked like iron, but as he held it it began to dissolve. Within seconds he held a handful of tiny metal flakes that lifted away in the hot wind.

The rest of the fragments that carpeted the area were dissolving as well, until there was nothing there but a fine dusting of iron slowly drifting off into the dust.

The sky monk - or at least Suniel thought of him as a monk - still sat in meditation, legs crossed, humming faintly to himself. Suniel thought for a moment of trying to ask the monk what had just transpired but, thinking of the last few attempts at communication with it, decided against it.

He turned to see Ming and Ilsa kneeling over the body of the Sergeant.

"Gone," Ming said, pausing for a moment of silence, head bowed, before shrugging and rifling through the man's uniform.

"Have you no respect for the dead?" Suniel said, walking quickly over to where the man lay.

Ming glanced up as he walked over, the man's coin-pouch in her hand. "No, not particularly. Why?"

Suniel snatched the pouch from Ming. "Bury them."

She stared back at him coolly. "If we're just going to bury them, might as well take whatever they have. If not, the hobgoblins will probably come, dig them up, and take it anyway."

Ilsa walked up, dusty, dirty, blackened, and spattered with rapidly-drying blood. She pointed at the monk and the charred, smoking area around him. "We were just attacked by... metal things that fell from the sky shooting lightning from their eyes and you're arguing over burial practices?"

Harold walked up as well, glancing at the monk. "I have the feeling there's not much more to be gleaned from talking about it. We all saw what we saw and that's all we know now, unless someone here knows something they aren't letting on?"

The four of them exchanged looks and Ming shrugged. "Whatever, let's head back to the village then."

"What about the outpost?" Harold said.

"What about it? The whole point of going there was to show him where it was," Ming said, toeing the Sergeant's corpse with her boot.

"Well, we're pretty close now, might as well check it out," Harold said, peering out into the dusty, jagged hills.

"Oh, come on, you have no idea where we are," Ming said. "You've were lost for hours only to led us straight into the middle of an ambush. I say we go back."

Suniel stepped forward with hands raised towards the two of them as Harold's face darkened. "Harold is right. I think I remember this area now. We could be to the outpost in less than an hour."

Harold nodded to Suniel. "Then we move on."

"After we bury the bodies," Suniel said.

"Of course," Harold said.

"Dig away," Ming said. "I'm going to go find some shade and pretend my water is wine."

"What about him," Ilsa said, pointing to where the monk still sat.

They all glanced at the monk and Harold shrugged. "He's no concern of ours, let him do whatever he's going to do."

As if sensing them looking at him, the monk opened his eyes, looked briefly in their direction, yawned, and lay back, stretching out in the charred dirt and iron dust and promptly dozing off.

***

They reached the outpost in the late afternoon and Harold was immediately wary; the bodies of the hobgoblins they'd killed outside were gone.

He motioned everyone to the trap door that sat open and peered in, seeing the ladder in place exactly as they'd left it.

"I'll go in first," Harold said. "If it's clear, Suniel comes down with light and the rest follow."

Without waiting for a response, he climbed down the ladder, drawing his bow from his quiver and nocking an arrow as soon as he reached the bottom. He looked down the shaft of his arrow, sweeping the narrow passageway.

The bodies were gone here as well and there was a strange smell, like rotting meat but odd and unpleasantly familiar. The small hairs on the back of his neck stirred. He motioned for the others to come down and they quickly complied, including the one they had started calling "the monk." Even the monk seemed on edge, tense and advancing in a fighting crouch.

"Undead," Suniel said, as he waved his hand and summoned light on a pebble.

Harold cast him a sharp look, but Ming and Ilsa were already heading down the tunnel. Suniel and the monk followed quickly behind.

A moment later Harold followed, staring at the wizard's back, dark suspicions and grim recollections of battles against the horrors of the Ashen Towers rising from buried memories.

***

The smell of wrongness was almost overpowering and Ming had to clench her sword grip tightly to keep from shaking. It smelled like the lake by their village when she was a child and the things had come out of the water after that unnatural storm, rotting, relentless, hungering...

Ming came around the corner to the central barracks area where the worst of the fighting had occurred last time they were here and saw a dozen hobgoblins standing clustered together in the center of the room, heads bowed as if in the midst of some dark prayer. A battle cry died in her throat as Suniel came around the corner behind her, his light fully illuminating the room.

They weren't hobgoblins, not anymore.

As one, the things turned, low sobbing moans emerging from their lips, the same moans she had heard that night when they came...

Around her her companions surged into motion, but for Ming there was nothing but blind panic.

...one grabbed mother's leg as she tried to climb onto the roof. Father slid down to grab her but lost his footing and they had him too... huddled in the thatch of the roof as they ate them alive, pulling them apart... couldn't take the awful sounds anymore and jumped as far as she could... landing running just out of the things' grasp as they came after her, close behind as she ran blindly into the dark...

***

"Ming, damnit!" Ilsa shouted as the huge woman collided with another of the walking dead and fell, sword clattering to the ground as she scrambled on all fours past them. Ilsa cut another down and slammed her shield into the press of them as Suniel blasted one next to her apart with his magic.

Ming somehow made it through them and ran down the passage towards the prison area. The last Ilsa saw of her, her eyes were blank, her expression a mask of blind terror. And then she was gone, disappearing into the dark.

The four companions remaining settled into the grim work; Ilsa hacking down anything that came around the wall of her shield as they pressed hard against her, Harold's arrows tearing into them like metal rain, Suniel ripping them apart with his magic, the monk a blur of movement, breaking the dead down one bone at a time until whatever foul sorcery that held them together dissipated.

Aside from their constant moan, the things died without cry or wail, taking wounds that would have left anything living writhing on the stone, pulling themselves up her weapon with their already-rotting hands, battering against wood and metal and flesh.

Just when they seemed to almost have the last of them put down, there was a roaring moan and, from the corner of her eye, she saw two huge shaggy forms staggering out of the darkness, skin sagging and fur coming out in clumps.

A moment later they were on her, slamming into her shield as they had when they were alive, but this time with the uncanny strength of the dead.

***

Suniel twisted his hand and uttered the last syllable of the incantation. The last of the dead exploded in a stinking blast of smoldering fur and dead flesh.

There was a moment of silence broken only by their heavy breathing and the strange spitting pleh sound the monk was making, as if he'd eaten something foul.

Harold turned to Suniel, but Suniel had already pushed past the others, desperate for air and light.

He stumbled up the ladder and sat heavily in the dust, suddenly glad for the baking, dry heat and glaring sun after the unnatural cold and dark of the outpost.

Unseeing, he stared out across the Ragged Hills.

It has come. No matter how far I travel, he thought, lost and numb. How much farther can I go to escape it?

***

"Ming? Come on out Ming," Ilsa called through the thick wooden door. The monk glanced at her quizzically, then put his ear to the door, eyes squinted in concentration.

Ilsa thought she heard sobbing on the other side but wasn't sure. "Ming, lets get out of here. It'll be better if you get outside. Ming?"

Harold came up behind her, quickly taking in the situation. He disappeared back down the passageway and came back a moment later with a crude hobgoblin axe.

"Chop it down and get her out of there," he said as he tossed it to her. "I don't think we want to linger here. I'm going to do one last sweep of the place, make sure there isn't anything we missed the first time, then let's get out."

She caught the axe and watched as Harold walked away.

"First we get ambushed, then you fall from the sky in a ball of fire," she said, turning to the monk. "Then your metal friends attack, explode, and turn to dust and an hour later we're knee-deep in the dead. I think I miss Wyrmsrule."

He stared back at her for a long moment, as if contemplating what she'd said. Finally, he raised a long, slender finger into the air, like a scholar about to pronounce something profound.

Instead, he bopped her on the nose with a single knuckle.

"Marp!"

***

Ming struggled out of her waking nightmare to the flicker of torchlight and the weight of something pressing down on her. She was pinned down and began flailing about again in panic before realizing that it was Ilsa that sat on one arm, the monk on the other.

"What happened?" she said, terror rising in her chest again as she remembered. "The dead, are they coming? Let me free!"

She strained against them, almost lifting both of them off the ground, but Ilsa slapped her, hard.

"They're dead. Well, dead again. Control yourself woman," the dwarf said, dropping her knee painfully onto Ming's upper-arm. "If you hit me again, I might have to use this axe on you."

They let her go and she stood warily, staring at the splintered door and the axe in Ilsa's hand. "What happened here?"

Ilsa grunted and tossed the blunted axe into one of the prison pits. "Your courage failed when you saw the dead and you clawed your way through them of all things. When we finally killed them - no thanks to you - I came to find you barricaded in here, sobbing incoherently. It took me chopping the door down to get you out."

Ming stared at the darkness of the doorway for a moment and grabbed up the torch that lay sputtering on the floor for reassurance. "Where's my sword?"

"It's out wherever you dropped it." Ilsa popped her jaw and rubbed it as she walked through the doorway, the monk close behind. The dwarf grabbed her shield and nodded her head towards the tunnel. "Let's get going, if we hurry and Harold doesn't get us lost, we might be able to make it back to Laketide in time to sleep in real beds. Harold's almost done with his sweep of the place so let's move."

Ming followed close behind, jumping at every shadow. When they reached the main barracks room, the dwarf and monk disappeared down the passageway to the surface as Ming searched for her sword amongst the hacked and gutted corpses. She found it amidst the corpses and hefted its weight several times for reassurance. As she started to walk out, she caught a hint of movement out of the corner of her eye.

A tingle ran up her spine and she had to bite back the bile that rose in the back of her throat. She walked towards the movement warily, approaching the small alcove at the edge of the barracks area, following a trail of half-dried blood and viscera.

The torso of one of the dead hobgoblins lay in the alcove, its arm stretched out towards the hobgoblin's execution block.

There, written in blood was a single word.

Suniel.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 3 Crunch

I never would have thought my favorite campaign would be in-part a product of a joke about "robot ninja assassins with laser-beam eyes."

Someone had joked around about it and I thought, what the hell, I'll do it, though without explicitly calling them that in game.

It turned out to be one of the sparks that made this campaign so unique. Once I decided to "drop" them on the players, I then had to figure out where the heck they came from - I mean, robot ninja assassins with laser-beam eyes? Come on, how can that work in a campaign without being rediculous? When I figured it out, it really made the campaign gel for me.

To rewind a bit to when I was first figuring out this campaign, I started with a continent map that I whipped up in the couple weekends before the game started. I just stuck interesting landmarks and things all over, not having any idea what they were about, not even naming them. I also made sure to leave large parts of the map blank to fill in later.

Then I picked a spot - Northmand - and created some more details about the surrounds. I told the players they were starting in Northmand, gave them a few details, then collaborated with them about who they were and why they were there. I had a little bit of "meta-plot," but knew very little of the broader world. In otherwords, campaign creation was bottom-up rather than top-down.

Anyway, back to the session. There were actually two players who used to play with us in High School and were visiting from California for this session. One made a half-dragon githzerei monk from <location removed to avoid spoilers> and "reflavored" what he ended up with a bit. The other player made another elf wizard. I chose to remove him from the narrative since a) I don't really remember much about him being there since he didn't interact with the players much, b) he made it at the last minute(like, right before the session started) and I had no good narrative way of inserting him into the game, and c) the character would have disrupted the narrative version more than added to it.

I also had to do some redactivism with Suniel since his player was there for the beginning, but was sick, left early, and missed the rest of the session. In the actual game I did some "DM magic" and quickly hand-waved him back into the game in the next session, but I found it unsatisfactory at the time and so "rewrote" events abit in the write-up to make it fit a bit better.

I remember this session being only somewhat productive and extrememly long. I think a couple players were asleep at the end and we just woke them up on their turns to roll the dice against the zobmies.

For the combats in the session, the group was already getting pretty mauled by the hobgoblins when the explosion hit. The fight against the constructs was hard: they had hardness 5(I took animated objects as a base when creating them and threw some other abilities on) and so the "lotus blast" (breath weapon) really saved their bacon.

The zombie fight was a slog, in part due to how late it was(something like midnight when the fight started) and part due to the tight quarters and 3.5e DnD's stand-and-slug-it-out routine, and in part due to the fact that our last DnD campaign (different DM) was in a world where anything killed rose as zombies so the whole deal was old hat.

That's about it that I can think of. If anyone reading has any questions, feel free to ask. These actually take quite a bit of time to write up and questions or comments are a welcome diversion.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 4, Part 1

-Note: Played session 27 this weekend. 5 rounds of combat = 5 hours, but at least they got what they were going for-

Suniel saw movement between two nearby hills and stared in its direction intently. He waited, saw it again, and began jogging down the hill.

He scrambled up to the rocky crown of the next hill and peered down to the other side, hiding amidst the outcroppings.

Below, a small wooden ship sat, floating a few feet off the ground, a crew of what looked like orcs in loose clothing pulling up the sail and scurrying across the deck. A larger orc in a long red coat walked down the extended gangplank, flanked by two more with cutlasses at the ready. All the crew wore red here and there - bandannas, caps, strips of cloth bound to their arms or legs.

At the base of the gangplank stood a tall figure in a black robe. In the figure's hand was a black staff that ended in three prongs. Floating at the end of the prongs was a black gem the size of a halfling's head that seemed to radiate shadow.

A chill went down Suniel's back and he quickly warded himself from sight.

What was presumably the captain of the strange land-ship stopped at the base of the gangplank with his two bodyguards and began speaking to the figure in the dark robe. Suniel strained to hear, but was too far away to hear anything but the wind.

They talked for several minutes and Suniel had just about resolved to move closer and find out what was being said when the orc in the crow's nest of the ship let out a cry and tumbled down, striking the deck hard. Suniel saw a flight of black-shafted arrows rain down, the figure in black spun around raising his staff, and suddenly he and the ship vanished in a massive globe of darkness.

Guttural shouts and cries came from the sphere of dense black mist and moments later the land-ship was out of the darkness and flying across the ground under full sail. On an impulse he didn't entirely understand, Suniel cast a quickening spell and bounded down the hill after it. He skirted the edge of the globe of darkness just as five figures materialized out of it, firing arrows after the fleeing ship.

Suniel glanced at them as they rode past him: slender figures in finely made black clothing that had to be elven make, dark cloaks billowing behind them as they rode, faces hidden behind strips of cloth. They fired arrows rapidly from long black bows as they rode. Their mounts were reptilian and predatory looking, bipedal with long tails held rigidly behind them, slender forearms tipped in ripping claws.

The ship and the strange elves outpaced Suniel even with his magically enhanced speed and so he slowed to a jog, watching the ship and its pursuers exchange bow and crossbow fire as they wove between the hills. He was about to give up pursuit entirely when he saw one of the orcs tumble off the ship to land unmoving in the dust.

Breathing heavily, Suniel walked towards the fallen figure to investigate.

***

Harold stood atop the hill and slowly turned, scanning the surrounding hills for some sign of the wizard. He heard someone climbing up the ladder behind him and glanced back.

The strange monk climbed out and stood beside Harold, yawning. Harold began to turn back to his search, but the monk placed a hand on his shoulder. Harold shrugged it off,took a step away, and began to turn towards the monk to rebuke him.

When he turned, an amulet with what seemed to be a diamond the size of an egg dangled on a white metal chain before his face. Harold took a step back to examine the amulet, but the monk tossed it to him. He instinctively caught it and stood staring at it. It felt warm and seemed to shine with light of its own, pulsing and flaring with an inner rhythm.

When he glanced up, the monk was wandering off down the hill, humming.

Ilsa's shield rose from the trapdoor and fell into the dirt and the dwarf pulled herself out a moment later. Harold quickly put the amulet on and tucked it under his clothing and armor. Ilsa picked up her shield and glanced from the receding figure of the monk to Harold, a questioning expression on her face.

Harold shrugged. "Guess he had enough of us. Won't necessarily miss him."

"An odd creature," Ilsa said. "Did he say why he left?"

"Did he say why he was here?" Harold said.

Ilsa shrugged and they stood and watched him walk away.

A moment later Ming scrambled out of the ladder shaft, drew her sword, and looked around sharply.

"Looking for something?" Ilsa said, glancing around as well.

"Where's the wizard?" Ming rasped, her expression grim.

"Could someone help me with carry him?" Suniel called from somewhere down the hill, as if on queue. "I don't want to drag him farther and open his wounds any further."

They walked quickly towards the sound of his voice, Ming running ahead of them.

***

Ming grabbed Suniel by the front of his robe with one hand and put the blade of her sword across his throat with the other. "Tell me why I shouldn't kill you right now elf," she rasped.

"Whoa, wait, what's going on?" Ilsa said, placing a hand on Ming's arm. Harold stood and watched impassively.

Ming shrugged Ilsa's hand off and stared at the suddenly quiet wizard. "This wizard is a necromancer. He's just following us for his own dark purposes. What are you really doing here elf?"

"Where does this accusation come from?" Suniel said quietly. "That's quite the claim without any proof."

"Proof? You want proof?" Ming thrust Suniel towards the ladder shaft. "Let's head back inside and I'll show you the proof."

"What about the orc? He was a crew-member of a land-ship and is gravely wounded," Suniel said, gesturing behind Ming.

She didn't take her eyes off of the wizard. "I don't care who or what he is. Move."

Suniel seemed to be about to protest, but looked Ming in the eye and seemed to change his mind. The wizard turned and headed back towards the entrance to the outpost and Ming followed closely, the point of her sword close to his back.

***

Ilsa had no idea what was going on and followed along helplessly as Ming guided Suniel back towards the outpost. She glanced to Harold for aid. He was following, but didn't even seem to be paying attention to what was going on, rubbing at his chest with a distant look in his eyes.

They climbed back down into the outpost, the corrupt, carnal smell even worse than before. Suniel began to gesture and opened his mouth, but Ming snarled and pressed the tip of her sword against his back.

"He was try to produce some light," Ilsa said, putting a restraining hand on Ming's.

"Light a torch. I don't trust this one's magic," Ming replied, not taking her eyes off of Suniel's back.

Ilsa sighed and bent towards her pack, but Harold climbed down the ladder a second later and a drew an arrow. He concentrated on it for a moment and the tip began to glow.

"To the main area, the execution block," Ming said.

"Hold on a second," Ilsa said. "If you're going to execute him you at least need-"

"The proof is on the execution block," Ming said coldly. "Forward elf."

They walked slowly through the outpost and into the carnage of the main barracks. They gathered around the alcove that contained the execution block and the torso of a dead hobgoblin. Ilsa glanced around for whatever Ming's proof was, but found nothing.

"It was right here," Ming said, staring at a smear of dried blood on the execution block.

"What was?" Ilsa said, peering at the smear intently.

"Yes Ming, where is this proof of my evil ways?" Suniel said, his voice still soft.

Ming snarled and kicked the block before turning on Suniel. "It said in blood, right here! You must have... you used some hidden magic to obscure it as we came down."

"Said what?" Ilsa said, looking at the block.

Ming stared hard at Suniel. "It said his name, clear as day."

"So, one of the dead - after we killed it again, of course - conveniently wrote my name?" Suniel said. "That seems somewhat... unlikely."

"I saw it with my own two eyes, right here!" Ming shouted.

"Let's not waste any more time with this," Harold said. "It's going to be dark as it is by the time we reach Laketide again. I have no desire to still be in the hills at dark."

The archer turned walked away, leaving Ming and Suniel staring at each other in the receding light - Ming clenching her jaw in anger, Suniel impassive, Ilsa standing by helplessly. Finally, Ming spat, sheathed her sword and strode after the light. Ilsa followed.

She glanced back at Suniel and saw him stare at the smear of blood on the block for a long moment before he too turned and followed.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 4, Part 2

"Wait, a flying ship?" Ilsa said, trying to picture such a thing. Her spirits were much higher as they walked the road out of the Ragged Hills.

Suniel paused, murmured and a light glowed from his hand. He shook his head. "I didn't say a flying ship, I said a land-ship."

Ilsa shifted her grip on the improvised stretcher they had crafted to carry the unconscious orc. Suniel adjusted his hold on the other end in response.

"What's the difference?" Ilsa said, glancing back at him.

"The ship was floating, but I would think that, with the elves attacking them, if they could have risen into the sky they would have," Suniel said, slowing his pace and leaning forward to check on the orc as they walked.

"So who were they?" Ilsa said, looking back at the orc again. He wore a loose white shirt, a red scarf tied around one arm and a red stain on his side where the broken-off arrow still stuck out.

Suniel shrugged. "Maybe they'll know in Laketide. If not, we can get some answers from him when he wakes."

Harold came trotting back from his self-assigned scout position ahead of the group.

"We're pretty much there. I'll tell the Lieutenant about his men." He glanced at the orc. "When he wakes me up, let me know. Any information he has might be useful."

Without waiting for a reply, Harold turned and jogged off and a moment later Ming strode past, shouldering into Suniel as she passed.

"Ming..." Ilsa said but Suniel shook his head.

"I think the walking dead unmanned her... well, so to speak," Suniel said. "Maybe she just needs someone to blame her fear on. It's not uncommon."

"I guess," Ilsa said, watching the huge woman storm off.

A few minutes later they came around a bend between two low hills and they saw the lights of Laketide ahead of them.

"It'll be nice to put this stretcher down," Suniel said. "These arms are made for carrying books and scrolls, not orcs."

Ilsa smiled and nodded, thinking of how nice it would feel to sit down in front of the fire without her armor on, a cup of ale in hand.

***

The Lieutenant didn't take it like a soldier. Harold restrained a sigh and watched as the young officer stumbled back into his chair in the barracks, biting his lip to keep back tears.

"They died honorably in battle, if that makes it any better," Harold said. Close enough to the truth, he thought.

Lieutenant Laris nodded and looked up at Harold. "Thank you, it is good to hear that at least. The Sergeant taught many of us here everything we know about soldiering. It's hard to believe that he's gone."

People die in war, get over it. How many soldiers of the Crystal Towers do you think have fallen against the Ashen Tower? Harold thought. "Everyone dies some day," he said instead.

"You say it was a hobgoblin ambush?" Laris said. "There must have been a lot of them if my soldiers died. All of you returned when you cleaned out the whole outpost the first time..."

"Ah yes, I have news about the outpost too. But that can wait. There was an ambush by hobgoblins, but it wasn't how all of them died. There was also-" Harold said, cut off by the door slamming open and five burly, armed men with greasy black hair stepping in.

"Can I help you-" Laris began, standing up. His men, lounging in their bunks, grumbled as they awoke, took in the situation, and reached for weapons.

One of the men, a towering, ugly, black-bearded man with a brutal looking great axe strapped to his back slammed a sealed sheet of parchment onto Laris' desk. "Official writ from the Northmand Justicar. You'll be helping us enact the judgment, Lieutenant," the man said, smirking.

Harold moved behind Laris so he could read the writ as Laris did. They finished reading at the same time and Laris met Harold's eyes for a moment before turning to the man.

"It seems official." He stood up straight and saluted. "Sir Durgon Kellin, my men and I are at the Justice's service."

As the big man nodded and walked out with his fellows, Laris turned and whispered in Harold's ear. "I'm assuming I have your cooperation in this?"

Harold nodded. "The Crystal Towers respects the laws of her friends and allies. You'll have no interference from me."

***

Suniel pressed the damp cloth against the orc's forehead and murmured in orcish as the orc stirred. "Be still, the wound won't kill you, but you'll need to conserve your strength."

The orc's eyes opened and met Suniel's.

"Who are you and where is my ship? Where am I?" he said.

"I am Suniel Au, elven wizard of the Black Carriage, at your service. Your ship fled, pursued by black-cloaked figures riding what my books tell me were some form of 'raptors.' As for where you are, you are in the town of Laketide, in the nation of Northmand. You are in a loft room above the common hall of the inn."

"Laketide? Never heard of..." the orc growled, then shifted and winced. "Those craven dogs, Pyresail would burn the captain alive if he heard of such cowardice. Fleeing from a handful of riders when we had a full combat crew."

"Pyresail?" Suniel said, pulling up a stool.

The orc looked back at Suniel. "Am I to be executed? Tortured?"

Suniel was taken aback. "No no, I just have some questions. If you wish to leave you may. You can do as you will."

"Hmm." The orc stared at the ceiling for a long moment before looking back at Suniel. "My name is Guntl Keen-eye, at your service. The fact that you don't know who Lord Pyresail is tells me how far away I am from Gantry."

"I apologize, I am a stranger to these lands."

"Well, I don't imagine they'll be coming back for me, bloody curs," Guntl said. "And I'm not about to walk across the Ragged Hills and navigate the Cracks without a ship to get back. What is this Black Carriage?"

"It's just me... well, and a few recent additions I suppose," Suniel said, thinking of the three goblins and wondering if they'd gotten into any trouble while he was away. "I travel and sell small magics to the peoples of various civilized lands. Nothing too grand."

"Sounds perfect. Are you looking for any additional additions?"

Suniel paused to consider. He had a good feeling about this Guntl. He seemed direct, honest. His wit seemed keen for an orc, the way he took in his situation and came up with a solution without hesitation. "I suppose I might be. There's little pay in it, but if you provided whatever services you could, I could supply food, lodging when I have it, travel to all sorts of places."

"I'm good with animals," Guntl said. "Can do a bit of woodwork, fight a bit if need be, and they don't call me Keen-eye for nothing. I'm in if you'll have me."

Suniel extended his hand and Guntl took it in a strong grip. "Welcome to the Black Carriage then. If I might ask, who is this Lord Pyresail?"

Guntl grunted. "Pirate Lord Derkaran Pyresail to be exact. He's the one sits at the top of the main crane-tower, ruling over the rust of Gantry. As fierce and fiery as that big flaming ruby he carries, and he doesn't hesitate a moment to use it if he feels like it. He wouldn't be ruling the Pirate Lords without it, but rule 'em he does. He's a cunning bastard and damn good at what he does, most of the Nomads pay Gantry tribute and a handful of the sorry Cave clans of the Cracks do too..."

There was some commotion downstairs and Guntl paused to listen. Suniel couldn't catch anything precise, but had a bad feeling about it.

Suniel stood, placing one hand on Guntl's shoulder. "Rest until you feel well. I'll have them send up a meal tonight."

Guntl nodded, laid back comfortably in the bed, and Suniel hurried out.

***

Ming slammed the big farmer's hand into the table to a chorus of boos and cheers, stood up and took a huge drought of ale.

"Who's next?" she said, casting a casual glance at the crowd gathered around the table. "I'll even use my left arm next time."

A dwarf with a gray beard, leathery skin, and a thick leather apron pushed his way through and sat in recently vacated seat opposite her. She heard someone in the crowd murmur, "she'll never beat Ol' Gorrim Ironwrought," then the crowd erupted into cheers, shouts, and a round of heavy betting.

Hm, a dwarven smith? Looks like they pulled him out of his smithy just for me. They're really getting desperate, she thought, finishing off her drink, rubbing her hands together, and sitting down with a lopsided grin. Her hand clasped the dwarf's - it felt like leather-wrapped iron - and she wiggled her fingers a few times to check her grib and was just starting to clench her muscles when the inn door flew open.

She staggered to her feet and stumbled back, trying to remember where she'd left her sword, but several guards grabbed her arms just as she spotted it leaning against the hearth. For a moment she struggled with them, but there were four of them to her one. The fight went out of her when she saw who stood in the doorway.

The inn emptied after them as she was dragged outside and pushed to her knees. She stared up at Durgon Kellin and the four brothers or cousins or both that flanked him. Durgon's hand's rested on the butt of the greataxe that had belonged to his brother.

Ming stood, shoved two guards back, and tried to push her way through the crowd to get away, but a dozen hands grabbed her and dragged her back. Durgon sneered at her then turned to the crowd.

"I, Sir Durgon Kellin, am here to claim justice," he shouted and held up a scroll. "Here I have a writ from the Justicar of Northmand, giving me legal right to claim trial by combat."

He turned to Ming and spat.

"And you, dog, you will fight me to your death." He took a few steps forward and grabbed her hair, jerking her close enough that she could smell his foul breath. "Tomorrow I'm going to cut you apart under the eyes of the law. Thought you could kill a Kellin and get away with it?"

He pushed her away roughly and, as she fell hard to one knee in a daze, Ming saw Suniel talking with Laris and gesturing in her direction, Ilsa standing at the edge of the crowd with a grim look and her hand tight on her sword, Harold watching expressionlessly from his place next to Laris.

Durgon turned to the crowd and bellowed, "this whore is a murdering swine. The law stands behind me and proclaims me judge. She killed my brother and tomorrow at dawn I'll prove her guilt by the axe!"
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 4, Part 3

Suniel entered the barracks quietly and walked over to where Ming sat staring into the fire. He pulled up a stool and sat beside her.

"Not getting any sleep?" Suniel said softly.

Ming grunted. "If you were going to die at dawn, would you? You'd probably just raise from the dead again anyway."

Suniel ignored the barb and put a hand on her shoulder. "Come now, with your skill at arms you don't have anything to worry about, do you?"

"Whatever. Even if I kill him, what makes you think another brother or cousin or uncle won't just come for me or just send some flunky to slit my throat in my sleep?" She shrugged his arm off her shoulder. "I have plenty to worry about."

Suniel paused for a moment. "Did you murder his brother like he said?"

"Murder? That bastard deserved what he got. Kellins are filth masquerading as nobles."

"And that doesn't answer my question," Suniel said softly.

Ming pointed to her sword. "That isn't my family crest on the pommel - I don't even have a family."

Suniel carefully picked up the sword from where it leaned against the wall and inspected the well-worn pommel in the firelight. It had what looked like a two-headed dog embossed on it. He put it back and stood. "Well, get some sleep. You'll need all your strength tomorrow. We all carry secrets that sometimes find their way into the light, I wish you luck with yours."

Suniel stood, but as he started to walk away, she said his name softly and he stopped.

She reached to her neck, pulled a silver chain he hadn't noticed before from beneath the collar of the padding she wore under her armor, and handed it to Suniel. The chain itself was nothing spectacular, but attached to the end of it was what looked like an oblong piece of hematite, smooth and silvery. At its touch, the air seemed to take on that charged feeling in the air right before a thunderstorm.

"Where did you get it?" he said, turning it over in his hands.

"I went back and took it off my parent's bodies after they died," she said. "You know what it is?"

He shook his head as he handed it back to her. "There's definitely magic in it though."

She held it for a moment before putting it back on, hiding it again beneath her armor. A grim half-smile settled on her lips and she glanced at him. "Tell you what, if I die, you can take it and figure out what it is."

The smile quickly faded and turned to stare back into the fire.

Quietly, Suniel turned and left.

***

By the time dawn came, a dozen plans to spring Ming from the barracks where she was being held until her "trial" formed and dissolved. Ilsa wanted to free her comrade, but the guards were innocent and she wasn't sure some of them wouldn't be killed in the process. So, instead, she stood in the crowd that ringed where Ming, Laris, and Durgon Kellin stood. Laris squinted at the first light and nodded.

"It is dawn," he said loudly. "If Ming is guilty of the charges may she find justice. If Sir Kellin's charges are false, let him pay the price for bearing false witness."

He turned and walked to the edge of the ring. Ming popped her neck and gripped her sword a few times while Durgon tapped the flat of his axe against his boots and then spat.

"None shall leave the ring until one of you is dead. None shall interfere on pain of death," Laris said. "Let the combat begin."

Ilsa disregarded Laris's last warning. With a moment of concentration, she invoked the power of the dragon scale, shifting to a new position in the crowd so she could be sure that Ming was in the minor protective warding of her totem. If she couldn't help directly...

***

Ming circled the big man warily, wishing she hadn't had so much to drink the night before. Her head was pounding and her gut churned.

She was big, but he was even bigger and that axe was wicked. I need to catch him off guard, she thought, if I just-

He lunged in suddenly and she jerked sideways just in time, the axe missing her head and scraping across her armor. She spun away, swinging wildly. He ducked it easily and charged again.

She stepped forward to catch the haft of his axe on her shoulder and brought the pommel of her sword into his face, sending him reeling back. The tip of his axe caught on her shoulder as he stumbled away and pulled her off-balance towards him as well before slipping free and slicing the back of her neck and her cheek.

They circled again, his chin bleeding freely and her neck burning, warm blood running down her back. She stepped in and brought her sword down, but he dropped low and chopped towards her legs. She lurched heavily to the side in a clumsy leap over the axe, the flat of her blade clanging off of his breastplate as she landed heavily on her back in the dirt.

He swung immediately and she rolled out of the way, the axe sinking into the sandy dirt a foot from her head. She staggered back to her feet, but he was already on her, slamming his knee into her chin. Something popped in her jaw and her vision blurred, but she managed to recover as he charged her again, axe held high. She launched forwards, body-slamming into him and driving him backwards, swinging awkwardly with one hand as she did so.

Her blade scraped metal and bit through chain on his side. He cursed and grabbed her hair with a gantleted fist, jerking her off to the side and clubbing her in the side of the head with the haft of his axe repeatedly.

She snarled and jerked her head away, ignoring the pain as a clump of silver hair ripped from her head, and drove her elbow into his throat. He stumbled away gasping for air but somehow had the presence of mind to swing his axe down as he did so.

There was an explosion of agony as it buried into her foot. She screamed in pain and rage, grabbed her sword like a spear and drove it into his gut. It scraped off his breastplate, deflecting down and piercing into his leg, his axe ripping out of her foot as he fell to one knee, the whitewashed delirium of pain it unleashed toppling Ming.

She saw his fist close on a handful of sand and she lunged forwards, slamming the heavy boot of her good foot onto his hand with all her might. There was a crunch as her foot slammed onto his hand and he screamed. Blood flew from her other foot as it connected with his face hard enough that his head jerked back and the axe flew from his hand. He knelt there, staring up at her, dazed and bloody, hand still pinned beneath Ming's boot.

"Meet your brother in hell, you bastard," she said, as she swung with all her might. Her blade came down on the center of his forehead and the crowd recoiled from the explosion of blood, brain, and bone.

As she stepped away, she distantly saw Suniel nod to her from the crowd with a faint smile, heard Laris pronouncing her innocence, tasted blood and dust, and felt Ilsa grab her as the world spun and she landed heavily in the sand.

***

Harold pushed his way out of the press of the crowd before Durgon's body had even hit the sand and gazed out into the Ragged Hills as he walked along the shore of the lake. The gains of wiping out that outpost were negated by the hobgoblin ambush, he thought. I need to do more to prove the Crystal Tower's worthiness as allies.

As the furor began to die down back in the village, he thought of the first night there, the raft attack, suddenly halting as something came to him. A raft of that size and construction would need a pretty sizable group to build it. If we could wipe out something like that...

He turned and began walking quickly back to the village. Once Ming recovers, the rest will come along as well, he thought. We made short work of the outpost, so we shouldn't have a problem with some raft camp. By the time he reached the village again, he had a rough plan in his head.

He glanced back towards the Ragged Hills one last time, slowed, then stopped, squinting in the golden early-morning light.

Riding towards the village were five dark figures, riding strange reptilian beasts the like of which Harold had never seen. Harold watched them for a moment longer, then jogged off to tell the others.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 4, Part 4

-Note: I wrote up most of the last part of the session almost a week ago, then accidentally closed the browser window. Few things more frustrating than working on something for an hour-and-a-half and then having to sit down and redo it. Hence the no write-up for the week.-

The five elves were subdued as they ate, their exhaustion obvious. That didn't stop Harold from boldly walking up and taking a seat at their table in the deserted mid-morning tavern.

"Greetings, from where do you hail from?" Harold said in elven.

There was a long silence as the elves looked at each other and the intruder on their privacy. Suniel walked towards the table and was about to say something when one of them finally spoke.

"We hail from far to the south, likely beyond your ken," the elf said. "If you'll excuse us, we have traveled a long way in pursuit of our quarry and lost many on the way. We are simply here to eat and rest before the long journey home."

"Quarry?" Harold said.

Suniel walked to the end of the table and bowed. "I'm sorry my companion is bothering you, we are sorry for your losses and wish you a safe journey."

He nudged Harold with his foot and got an annoyed look in response, which he ignored. "If there is anything me or my companions can do for you, we are yours under the Tree."

He began to back away, but Harold wasn't getting up. Instead, the archer opened his mouth again. "I am from the south as well, from the Crystal Towers. I'm sure you've heard of us. If there is anything the Crystal Towers can do for our elven friends, we are at your service."

The elves exchanged another inscrutable glance and the same one that had spoken before spoke again. "Perhaps there is something you could do. One of our companions' mount was injured in our pursuit. Wild with its pain, it carried him off into the hills and we have not been able to find him. Our mounts are even more worn than we are and we fear it will be-"

"Done," Harold said and shook the startled elf's hand. "We'll find him and bring him back safely."

Suniel realized his mouth was agape, mirroring the elves at the table. Suniel shook his head and smiled slightly. These are not used to the abrupt hastiness of humans, he thought. Then again, I'm not sure I am, even after all these years.

He bowed to the table as Harold walked out, then followed.

***

"Wait, where are we going again?" Ming said after a couple hours of near-silence, squinting in the July sunlight as they walked through the Ragged Hills. "Why don't I have time to get my boot fixed?"

"It speaks! Last time I tried to talk to you, I thought you were going to bite my head off," Ilsa said. She stared at huge woman's boot and chuckled again. A couple loops of twine were all that held it around Ming's still-bandaged foot.

"You were the one who wouldn't stay behind to finish healing when we went out," she said. "Hey, maybe axe-split boots will go into style while we're gone."

"Ha ha," Ming said, glancing back at the dusty hills - roughly the direction of Laketide - and rubbing at the raw bald spot on her head. "You were the one that told me what Laris said after I killed that Kellin pig."

"More like a wild boar than a pig," Ilsa said. "Pigs are more civilized."

"What did Laris say?" Suniel said, adjusting his robe for the long walk ahead.

"He said that the Kellins were a large family and, if the using the law didn't work for them, they were just as likely to work without it," Ilsa said. She looked ahead towards where Harold walked a hundred yards ahead of them. "Is he going to get us lost again?"

Ming grunted. "I don't think he can since we don't have a destination. We're just looking for... what are we looking for again?"

"An elf on a 'raptor.'" Suniel said.

"Lizard, not bird," Ilsa said.

"I'm not that stupid, I heard Suniel describe them before," Ming said. She looked ahead at Harold as well. "He can keep us lost in the hills for a couple days for all I care, maybe the Kellins will lose my scent."

Ilsa leaned close, sniffed her, and wrinkled her nose. "Not likely," the dwarf said and stepped quickly out of Ming's reach.

"Harold's stopped and is motioning to us," Suniel said, quickening his pace. "He might have found something."

"Probably another ambush," Ilsa said, half under her breath.

Ming grunted.

***

Harold searched the area again, looking for any sign of the distinctive three-clawed tracks. A moment later the others arrived, quickly took in the situation, and plopped in the shade of a large dead tree nearby, pulling out waterskins.

"I think we're close," Harold said. "Just give me a minute to find the tracks again."

"You said we were close two hours ago when you first spotted the tracks," Ming said and emptied half her waterskin in a few huge gulps.

"I said I thought we were close, now I really think we're close," Harold said, looking back to the dried creek-bed. He searched around for several more minutes, frustration mounting. "It's tracks couldn't have just disappeared here."

"Maybe the elf was riding a giant bird after all and just flew off," Ilsa said.

"Maybe you just breached some form of elven etiquette and they sent us out on a wild raptor chase as revenge," Ming said. Harold glared over at her and saw her glance in turn to Suniel. The elf shrugged.

"Well, I'm all for taking a little early-afternoon siesta in the shade of this here tree," Ilsa said. "Maybe some time after-"

She cut off in mid-sentence as a high-pitched shriek echoed through the hills. A moment later everyone was on their feet and running along the creek-bed towards the source of the sound.

***

Ming winced as she ran, her still-injured foot shooting spears of pain up her leg. She was the last one into the wide, dead-end gully.

At its center an elf with a drawn sword and empty quiver stood next to the body of a mottled black lizard that lay in a pool of blood. Around them were three giant six-legged creatures, their bodies covered with reddish chitin, their mandibles huge, jagged, and drizzling green slime.

Harold wasted no time putting two arrows into the nearest of the creatures and Suniel summoned and hurled a ball of fire at it. Ilsa ran ahead with a dwarven warcry and Ming followed into the fray close behind the dwarf.

They paired up against another of the creatures, Ilsa circling around one side and Ming around to the other. It reared up and bit into Ilsa's shield several times, leaving smoking pits in the heavy wood. Ming leapt into the air and brought her sword down on its back, slicing through the hard chitin and into the yellowish goop inside. It sprayed out in a gout, nearly blinding her and gagging her with its acrid stink.

The thing wheeled about, swept Ming's feet out from underneath her and bit, its mandibles crunching into her breastplate. It clomped on her several times as she battered at it with the pommel of her sword until it reared up and jerked the other way again to face another of its attackers. Ming wiped her eyes with the back of her hand and stood, seeing the thing - one leg severed at about dwarf-height - pressing Ilsa back against a rock and struggling to pull the dwarf's shield away with three of its good legs, mandibles wide and ready as the shield was slowly forced down.

Ming slammed hard into the thing, causing the wound gape open, and drove her sword into the creature with all her might. It sank in into the hilt and she felt it punch out the other side. The creature thrashed and arched back on Ming as she tried to pull her sword free. With a jerk, it came lose and she staggered back, just as the creature's mandibles clicked rapidly, snapped open, and a green sticky glob shot straight at Ming's head.

She turned her head away and raised her arm reflexively. The sticky mass splattered all over her, from head to toe, and saturated her long glove. For a second she was merely disgusted, then her body registered the pain as the glob eating through her glove and seeping through her chain reached skin and her arm exploded with pain.

***

Harold put an arrow into the last one and walked right up next to it as it thrashed, burying an arrow into its head at point-blank range. It stopped thrashing and lay there twitching. Harold grunted, glanced at the bite marks in his tunic, and downed a potion. A moment later the pain was gone, though he'd still need to get his uniform washed and mended again when he went back to town.

He glanced over to the first one that Suniel had pretty much blown apart. The wizard squatted next to it, spreading out his hand to measure its mandibles and jotting down notes on a scrap of something, apparently oblivious to the bite-wounds in his arm.

Ilsa was helping a smoldering Ming to her feet and throwing dirt on the spots that still smoked.

The foreign elf was leaning heavily against his dead mount, arm clutched against his body. Harold walked over and saluted.

"The Crystal Towers sends its regards, friend. We thought-"

The elf raised one hand to Harold's mouth as he sheathed his sword with the other.

"This is some sort of colony that I've stumbled on to," he whispered in elven, motioning a dozen large burrow holes in the hills surrounding the gully. "I'd suggest you save the pleasantries until we are safely away."

Although annoyed at being cut off, Harold nodded. He motioned for Ilsa and Ming to head back down the stream bed and pulled Suniel to his feet. Suniel had the tips of two of the thing's feelers on his pointer fingers and wiggled them at Harold with an impish smile. Harold just glared at him until the wizard shrugged and walked off, still playing with his strange acquisitions.

When he turned, the other elf had a hand on the dead raptor's neck, eyes closed.

"Good bye old friend, may I find another your like when we return to the Black," he murmured in elven, his voice so low Harold had to strain to hear him.

Then he opened his eyes, nodded to Harold, and they walked quickly out of the gully.
 
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Iron Sky

Procedurally Generated
Session 4, Part 5

-Note: played session 29 last night. Probably in the top few sessions of the game. Someday I'll actually get there with this narrative too...-

"His name in our tongue is Thessalock, though he is also known by other names. The Keeper of the Shadow Council and Ganderon the Ashen to name a few. The Crystal Towers has other, less polite names for him," Captain Dellaun, the leader of the Elves said in accented common, with a faint smile for Harold.

Harold snarled and spat on the floor.

Ilsa blinked a few times at Harold's uncharacteristic behavior and noticed that Suniel was sitting alone, staring into fire as the rest of them sat at the long center table of the inn and talked with the band of Black Rangers.

"Our order was set in place to keep the... things of the Black in, not to keep other things out. The Black is usually its own deterrent. But when one of us found that the Unstone had been taken from the Ironhenge in the depths of the Black, I rode to the Council of the One Tree with full haste. I met at their gathering place at the Emeraldhenge, near the colossal trunk of the One Tree, and told them of what had occurred. A day later, three score of us rode out from the Forest of the One Tree, pursuing him," Dellaun paused and took a deep drink. The gathered elves looked down at their meals, sorrow etched into their faces.

Ilsa took a deep drink herself and noticed that Harold had pulled a sheet of parchment and a quill out of somewhere and was taking notes. It seemed vaguely disrespectful to Ilsa, but the elves seemed too caught up in Dellaun's story to notice, Ming seemed to be equally engaged in getting drunk as quickly as possible and trying to adjust the wrappings over the acid burns on her arm, still wearing the ill-fitting breastplate she insisted on wearing at all times in case the Kellins came back. Suniel looked to be off in his own world.

Dellaun sighed deeply and continued. "We hoped that whoever or whatever had taken it wouldn't know how the Unstone worked, hoped that we could catch him before he learned. We knew that whatever had been able to pass our wards and watchful eyes and survive the dark things that roam twisted tangle of The Black was powerful, but we had no idea it that we faced Thessalock."

He spat the name like a curse and some of the other elves murmured angrily in chorus, eyes dark.

"We almost had him early on, sitting alone at his camp studying the Unstone. We ambushed him, hitting him with everything we had. Six of us died the instant we attacked and three more fell before he escaped." He paused as look of deep weariness overcame him. His voice was tired when he spoke again.

"I won't go into the ambushes and battles we had across half the continent pursuing him, the entire villages that he wiped out and rose as the dead in the hopes of delaying us, the foul magics he used, the black power of the Unstone he wielded, the horrible twisted things that he called upon from forbidden places to hinder our progress. Every death left us weaker but more determined to kill him, vowing on the broken bodies of our friends and companions that he would taste vengeance."

He blinked rapidly and took another drink, as if hiding tears. "And now we have lost him and turn home in defeat, dozens of elven and hundreds of other lives paid for naught."

Harold finished scribbling and looked up as if he were going to ask a question, but Ilsa quickly stood and walked forward. "We are sorry for your loss, it would be rude of us to trouble you with these memories any more than we already have."

Harold shot a dark look at her but stood and faced the six Black rangers. He adjusted his uniform and cleared his throat.

"I, as Honor Guard of the Crystal Towers, pledge that we will avenge your fallen countrymen," he said, voice proud, body erect. "They say the foe of my foe is my ally and so I call you allies of the Crystal Towers. Perhaps together our people might bring down Thessalock and his Ashen Tower, end his dark tyranny and destruction."

Dellaun looked long and hard at Harold, as if trying to decide something, and then nodded.


The Ranger Captain stood up and looked as though he were going to say something formal and profound, but before he could, Ming stood, her bench scraping loudly on the stone floor, then belched and popped her back with a groan. "Excuse me from all the long winded sob stories and ass-kissing. I need to race like a piss horse. Or, piss like a, well, whatever, you know what I mean."


She staggered out, swaying heavily and colliding with the door frame with a loud string of curses. Ilsa thought maybe it was a good thing Ming was insisted on wearing her armor; Harold's glare at her back looked like it could cut flesh.

***

Harold turned his glare on the dwarf. Ilsa smiled innocently at him, raised her ale mug to him, and picked at the chicken on her trencher.

Ming had ruined another opportunity; the elves were all rising now, speaking amongst themselves of rest. He quickly decided to ask his favor for rescuing their companion in the morning, when they were fresh and not lost in the grim memories of their journey - and when there would be no interference from the others.

After the elves said their polite 'good nights,' Harold joined Suniel where the elf still sat by the fire.

"You hear all of that from over here?" he said, glancing back for a moment to see the last black elven cloak disappear into the night.

The wizard nodded, not taking his eyes off the fire, fingers steepled in front of his mouth.

"Well, what do you think?" Harold said.

Suniel sat quietly, unresponsive. Harold was about to ask again when he spoke. "I think the ignorant may be the blessed."

"Right, so what does that mean?" Harold said.

"It means most of the world is darker than the night outside the door this tavern and civilization is like a hut on the edge of a black sea filled with prowling things that snatch the unwary off the shore."

Harold wondered at Suniel's dark mood, thinking for a long moment before he replied. "Then the Crystal Towers is a lighthouse standing proud and shining her light to drive the dark things away. Have you seen the Crystal Towers, wizard?"

Suniel shook his head as he tossed another log onto the fire.

"The four smaller Towers rise high over the land, the crystals floating at the apex of each glittering in the sunlight. Everywhere in the land at least one of them is visible - alight even at night with their own inner glow that all can see, ever-present beacons of hope. And the main city, the clean, cobbled streets of the Capitol stretching in all directions from the base of the Crystal Tower..." he paused, thinking of home, a feeling of pride stirring in his chest.

"The Tower stretches into the skies, made of an ancient silvery metal we call silversteel that's harder than steel, stronger than magic. I've been to the top of the tower once, so high that the air is thin and chill, but from its mighty height you can see the entire nation on a clear day as it was when I was there: from the four other Towers to where the cliffs drop to the Endless Sands, to the two gleaming Spires that guard the sides of the Span - an almost unimaginably huge bridge of silversteel, so wide that we have entire cities, forests, farms, and rivers on it, three hundred miles long, connecting the land of the Crystal Towers to the mainland..."

"The Crystal Towers is Felskein's lighthouse and I will do anything, anything to keep its light shining," he said.

They sat in silence then, Suniel's gaze lost in the fire, Harold lost in longing thoughts and proud memories of the land that had raised him, that had trained him, that he fought for - that he would die for.

***

Ming came back to find the tavern almost deserted. Only Ilsa, snoring on the bench near the long window that looked out onto Mirror Lake, and Suniel, still sitting by the fire, remained.

She stole the last of Ilsa's uneaten chicken from her trencher and sat down next to Suniel.

"What's eating you?" she said around a mouthful of cold, greasy meat.

Suniel sighed and put on half a smile as turned to her. "Oh, just some goblin trouble. I had to rescue No Tongue from a pair of farm dogs that had him stuck up a tree all night and pay the farmer an exorbitant amount for two stolen chickens and a pie. I'm sure Stabber did it, but he blames No Tongue and Lunt is too stupid to even understand what we're talking about. Nothing overly important, just vexing after a long day."

Suniel's story had a poorly-feigned lightness to it and Suniel's eyes were far away, looking past Ming rather than at her. Ming raised an eyebrow. "Well, I think you just opened your mouth and dropped a load of cow paddies, but I don't have a problem with that. If you don't want to tell me what's bothering you, that's your deal."

She took another big bite of chicken and winced as the wrappings on her arm shifted under her armor.

The elf looked surprised and his eyes focused on hers for the first time. He looked at Ming for a while like he was about to say something. Gods, I hope he isn't going to tell me his sob story now too, she thought. I'm not drunk enough for another one tonight.

A solemn look came across his face and he opened his mouth, but Ming stuck a small chicken wing in it before he could speak and stood.

"I said I don't have a problem with you not telling me and I meant it," she said, scratching the spot on her head where the hair was just starting to grow back in as the startled wizard pulled the chicken wing from his mouth and blinked at it. "Besides I'm tired and my arm burns like hell. I'm going to go take a bath in the lake and pass out. Night."

She walked away, swiping the sleeping dwarf's half-full tankard as she passed, leaving Suniel staring at her back.

***

Suniel tossed the chicken wing into the fire and smiled. Ming had actually helped a bit, in her own way. Hard to take yourself seriously when you open your mouth to bare your heart and end up getting a mouthful of cold, greasy, half-eaten chicken in it instead. He stood and stretched, checking on Ilsa before he headed out.

The goblins were all asleep in the boxes he had built for them and attached to the back of his carriage. No Tongue was muttering "master" over and over in his sleep, fingers twitching. Suniel suppressed a shudder at what might be going on in the simple goblin's mind, but felt his smile get a little bigger.

His carriage horses nickered when he went into the stable and he dug around in the many hidden pockets of his robe until he found some dried carrot for them. After a moment of scrounging in the dark he found a curry comb and went over the big animals, enjoying their smell and their warmth and their comforting bulk. By the time he left the stables, he was almost content.

As he went to the door to his carriage, to record, catalog, and journal the creatures they'd fought earlier, he glanced out at the moon reflecting off the water.

Ming bathed in the lake, washing her hair with a delicacy that belied her rough nature. Without her armor and brusque facade on, she was almost beautiful.

As he looked, a memory from long ago swelled until he no longer saw Ming, instead the one who had saved him, who had given him hope and made everything seem possible, the one whose loss had left him a broken wanderer for... years? Decades? How long had it been?

A loud snore from Lunt's box pulled him away from his memory. He took a deep breath, a final glance out at the lake, and stepped into the carriage and its smell of paper, ink, and magic.
 
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