The Talismans of Aerdrim

havenstone

Visitor
Once upon a time, my good friends and sometime gaming partners orichalcum and cerebralpaladin suggested that I post the synopses from our 1996-2006 D&D campaign as a StoryHour. I hesitated for a few years, mainly because I had ideas of one day publishing novels set in the world of Aerdrim. Plus, our games had been littered with maps and bits of paper I didn’t want to leave out, and at the time I didn’t have any free online document storage.

Since then, I’ve decided I’ll never actually write an Aerdrim series--though I’d appreciate it if any aspiring writers out there showed appropriate restraint in borrowing whatever bits they find interesting. (Not least because, for the D&D campaign version of Aerdrim, I’ve ripped off plenty of other fantasy authors who might object to seeing such clearly plagiarized stuff showing up in print). GMs should feel free to adapt the maps, scraps, and plots in the following StoryHour to their own campaigns as appropriate.

I apologize in advance to readers who are fascinated by game mechanics; this SH will offer slim pickings. Many of these sessions were played a decade or more ago, most under 2nd Ed rules which I now barely recall (how did THAC0 work again?), and were very focused on role-playing and character-building. I’ll remember when a character had a very high or low stat because it affected the story, but I don’t have a record of all the stats of all the characters.

In 2002, our gaming group came up with a canonical synopsis of the campaign to date before our third post-college “reunion game.” Like our memories, the story has fewer gaps after the early episodes. I’ve fleshed them out a bit, and I’d welcome any suggestions or contributions from the players.
 
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havenstone

Visitor
The initial background

The people of the Dominion of Senallin call their world Aerdrim — a name shared by the Senallines' neighbors in the other civilized realms of Aradur, Kedris, Velnar, and Caragon. The realms also share a name for the deity of their world: Ain, the One, the Holy and Compassionate.

The barbarian and semi-barbarian peoples who dwell further from the calm waters of the Enladrin Sea have different names for their world and its god, but few Senallines speak enough to the barbarians to learn these names. Travel is difficult outside the civilized domains. The nine moons of Aerdrim pull the open oceans into wild and unpredictable tides; massive waves batter the major coastlines into ragged cliffs. Sea travel is an art which while once reasonably widespread is now preserved only by a handful of peoples. By land, no one in living memory has traveled far into the vast, arid grasslands of Arawai and Chraman; the people and the terrain are equally unfriendly to northern intruders.



(Forgive the seam down the middle of the two conjoined maps; my original map of the Senallines’ known world was drawn on a university blackboard and didn’t last long).

The only non-human species around capable of having a conversation with your average Senalline are the dwarrow, who get along reasonably well with most humans. Individual dwarrow live only twenty-two human years on average, but their shortened lifespans are balanced by slowed experience of time, heightened senses, and profound appreciation for beauty. The dwarrow are known for their good cheer, extraordinary craftsmanship, and their love of stone -- especially in the vast underground network of caves, built over countless dwarrow generations, which most of them call home.

For Senallines, mages and sorcerers are figures of myth; the only supernatural powers in the civilized realms are those of the priests of Ain. Most priests who live consistently with the rules of their Orders can call on the One God and receive priestly powers of one variety or another. Though all of the dozens of Orders would describe themselves as Good, they vary tremendously in the details of their ethics and theologies. For example, the Lunarists explain human behavior as determined by the movements of the nine moons, while the Torezzan Order insists that humans are essentially anarchic unless sternly controlled by rightly-guided human laws. Where all of this puts Ain on the traditional D&D alignment scale is anyone’s guess. On the practical evidence, Ain is apparently willing to tolerate a great deal of non-good behavior before withdrawing His blessing from any individual priest.

Some Orders explicitly seek to emulate this divine toleration. Many others are convinced that Ain blesses the truly holy more than the corrupt or heretical; these Orders condemn their rivals while striving for purity. The most extreme are the priests of the Sistechern Order, whose battle against heresy and quest for truth at all costs has led to them becoming the most talented inquisitors on Aerdrim--and the Order which stretches the limits of “good” the furthest.

While many of the civilized realms are monarchies, the Dominion of Senallin is an aristocracy, ruled by the Patriarchs of the Five Families from the ancient castle of Lynar. Throughout Senalline history, the Five Families have alternated between periods of peaceful coexistence and periods of all-out civil war, usually only interrupted when the land-hungry nobility of Aradur or Velnar began taking bites of Senallin.

Our story begins at a time when the ambitious, divided lords of Senallin are once again on the verge of civil strife. All of the Families, as well as Senallin’s neighbors in the other civilized realms, are known to be mustering grand armies, and it seems only a matter of time before this leads to war.
 
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havenstone

Visitor
Dramatis Personae

The hamlet of Rim Square lies in the mountainous southern reaches of the Dominion of Senallin, and is the most remote of the Five Villages of the Harak Rim.



Its villagers trade with the dwarrow of nearby Rim Hall and (in times of peace) with the barbarian Arawai and Haraks. In less peaceful times, Rim Square is a center for headhunters who pick off hostile barbarians for bounty. It is managed in theory by a dissolute reeve, and in practice by the innkeeper, smith, and miller. Somehow, this unprepossessing little valley nurtured a veritable forest of future heroes, all of whom are in their late teens (and at 1st level) when the story begins.

ASH: a quiet, good-hearted lad who displayed an early sensitivity to the wild. He was taken under the wing of Kemeras the hunter and trained in tracking, animal lore, and swordsmanship. Like his reclusive mentor, Ash is reserved and sometimes awkward in social situations, but he’s also utterly reliable. He’s also very observant, which makes him -- with a few crucial exceptions -- the party member most likely to notice when something is about to go badly wrong.

CARWYN: a startlingly beautiful orphan girl, fostered by kindly Hamber Meadwater, innkeeper at the Brass Hog’s Head. A quick-witted charmer with a nose for money-making opportunities and a keen ear for rumors. The traveling merchant Porphyry taught her to read, and (as a useful corollary) also trained her in the fine art of forgery. Carwyn is fiercely loyal to her friends, but not overburdened with scruples when it comes to flirtation or private property.

DARREN: a fine-fingered genius, endlessly curious and inventive from his earliest boyhood, who loves to investigate how things work. His parents apprenticed him to Doggerel the Tinker, who plies his trade around the Five Villages. Darren has long since figured out his mentor’s tools and tricks, and spends as much time as he can with visitors from outside the Harak Rim, whose stories hint at a much wider world of things to investigate.

KYLA: an orphan of the horse-loving Arawai tribes. She was raised in Rim Square by Vientha the herbwoman and Kalitha the half-Arawai bard, two of the most respected women in the Harak Rim. Kyla learned to shoot a bow shortly after she learned to walk, and is the most promising young archer in town. Some of the local headhunters have harassed her over her barbarian ancestry, but in general her foster mothers’ reputation (and her own archery skills) have provided her with protection.

NINA: not born in Rim Square, but brought there at a young age and raised by her Chramic uncle, Malagan. Nina is a boy who has masqueraded as a girl all his life. At first he saw this as a game, an enduring test of the disguise skills that Malagan told him were their family’s most important legacy. Recently, he has begun to wonder whether the disguise was a protection against some unknown threat. Malagan is usually away from home for months at a time; during his long absences, Nina has been learning swordsmanship from Kemeras the hunter.

Rim Square’s primary connection to the civilized North comes through people who are running away from some problem or another. Over the past year, three young refugees have arrived at the Hogshead:

ATRIX: from the d’Loriad family (one of the Five), a cheery young scoundrel, deft swordsman, and inveterate duelist. His despairing relatives sent him temporarily away from Lynar with his merchant uncle Porphyry to keep him out of trouble during this time of heightening rivalry between Families. They would be disappointed to know that Atrix has passed much of his time in Rim Square honing his dueling skills with Kemeras, hungrily absorbing the ascetic huntsman’s surprisingly extensive knowledge of swordplay.

MEESHAK: a tall, gaunt priest educated by the Sistechern Order in Velnar. After years of training as an inquisitorial acolyte, he rejected the gratuitous cruelty of many Sistechern practices and fled for his life, winding up in the backwater of Rim Square. Meeshak remains grimly pragmatic, not above using intimidation or inflicting pain in the name of the greater good. He’s quite effective at fighting with a whip and threatening people with a needle.

ONTAYA: adopted as a young girl into the d’Orbis, the most devout of the Five Families, and trained as a Sword-Priest of Ain. The Sword-Priests are a paladin Order, and Ontaya is the epitome of their earnest discipline--though she is a berserker by nature, and struggles to control her chaotic impulses when her temper runs high. Taller and stronger than most men, Ontaya’s impartial defense of the weak has made her some powerful enemies in Lynar, and her Order sent her to Rim Square (an area under notional d’Orbis rule) for her protection.
 
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Orichalcum

Visitor
Yay!!!

I'm so pleased you're posting this! It's going to provide a lot of entertainment and pleasure to a lot of people - starting with me!

(For the record, I didn't play any of these characters, not having joined the campaign till a later date. I'll start commenting in character once the SH gets there. For any folks who get here through CerebralPaladin's Story Hour or the Alea Iacta Story Hour, havenstone played Meloch the Pygmy in Alea Iacta, and CerebralPaladin played Ontaya in this campaign.
 

havenstone

Visitor
The Steel Torc

IT'S A MORNING like many other mornings. Before heading out for some training with Kemeras, Ash, Atrix, and Nina are stopping off at the Brass Hog’s Head -- mainly so Atrix can continue his mutual flirtation with Carwyn, who’s just finished serving breakfast to the inn’s guests. Ontaya, who’s rather attracted to Carwyn herself, is vainly trying to ignore Atrix and engage a taciturn Meeshak in theological discussion. Kyla and Darren, both in town on errands, have dropped in to the Hogshead to see if their friends and acquaintances are there.

Their chatter is interrupted by a boy running in with an incoherent story about a dying man. Following the boy, they find a mortally wounded headhunter at the mill bridge. The barbarian-hunter wheezes almost inaudibly, “Haraks. Biggest horde ever seen -- thousands. Coming...” and expires before Meeshak arrives to heal him.

The eight young friends hurry to the manor and report this to Avarin, the reeve of Rim Square -- but as usual Lynar’s representative in the village is drunk and suspicious to the point of insanity, and refuses to hear their warning. Increasingly alarmed, they hurry back to the inn and tell Hamber, Carwyn’s always reliable foster father. He tells them he’ll spread the word around the village, and sends them out as a group to bring the outlying inhabitants of the valley to the inn, just in case there really is a Harak horde on the way.

The small group heads south first, to alert the people who are closest to the potential barbarian incursion. They inform a couple of farmers about the coming threat, then head up the small road through the woods toward the home of Kemeras the hunter.

AS THEY APPROACH the old ranger's cottage, Ash notices movement in the foliage and calls a warning to his friends, seconds before a rain of arrows descends on the road. The eight of them dive for cover: Kyla returns fire, while the other fighters begin stalking closer to the archers. Glimpsing their foes through the trees, Ash notes with surprise that these would-be killers aren’t Harak barbarians, but cloaked Northerners from the distant countries of Velnar and Caragon.

As Nina closes in stealthily on the first archer and Ontaya charges, shrugging off the arrows of another, they all hear a cold voice echo through the forest. “Kemeras Lepray!”

The party hears a door open and close. “I'm here.” Kemeras sounds somehow sad.

“You know who I am.”

“I do, Enforcer.”

Dodging from tree to tree toward Kemeras’ cottage, Atrix manages to get to a point where he can see both his old teacher and the man facing him -- a pale, scar-faced swordsman wearing a notched steel torc around his neck. Both men hold sabers, and begin to circle each other with similar fluid grace.

“My name is Shect,” says the pale man bleakly. “To whom have you sold the secrets of Scarth since you fled, traitor?” Moving with startling speed, he attacks Kemeras, who fends off the blows. Atrix immediately notes that both men are using the distinctive dueling style that Kemeras has been teaching him, Ash, and Nina.

“No one,” Kemeras growls, returning the attack, barely flinching as Shect’s blade grazes his arm. Nina, Ontaya, and Ash have each killed an archer, but there are at least five more between them and their mentor.

“It does not matter. Laying aside the torc is crime enough.” Shect glances into the trees, where Atrix is fighting one of his cloaked men. “A Swordsmark can not be allowed to choose his own path. In life and death, you belong...” His saber slips past Kemeras’ defenses and into his heart. “...to us.”

Atrix cuts down the archer and charges toward Shect, who beheads Kemeras and meets Atrix’s attack with an almost contemptuous riposte. Initially elated at holding his own in the duel, Atrix slowly gets the sense that the master swordsman is holding back, testing him.

Then Kyla’s arrows start to whistle past them; Shect notes that all of his men are dead and that he is about to be surrounded. He bats Atrix’s sword aside and vanishes into the woods.
 
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havenstone

Visitor
The Coming Horde

ONTAYA, PUSHING DOWN her rising berserker rage, barks out, “No one go after him! Once he has cover, he could easily take us out one or two at a time.” The party members gather, stunned, in Kemeras’ cottage to be healed by Meeshak and Ontaya. They search the bodies of the cloaked archers, but find no further clues as to their origin. Meeshak is sure that he heard of Scarth and the Swordsmarks during his time as an acolyte in Velnar... but his pathologically poor memory fails to bring up the details.

Ontaya wraps Kemeras’ body in his threadbare bedclothes and the party members hurriedly dig a grave for him, while Kyla and Ash keep nervous watch in case Shect returns. Then the small group hurries south again, shaken but determined to finish their job of warning outliers about the coming Harak incursion.

The trade hall at the foot of the mountain slope is empty. Relations with the barbarians have been strained for several months, and none have been bringing furs or animals to trade. The party turns east along the track that leads to Rim Hall, a small underground colony of dwarrow. Darren has come here many times before with Doggerel, and is fond of the dwarrow for their ingenious devices. Today, however, all the party’s banging at the carved wooden gates does not elicit an answer. Darren picks the lock, an easy trick with his tinker’s tools. Nina stoops to enter the five-foot high cavern, and freezes. There is the faint smell of rot in the air, and old blood.

Venturing a short distance into the cave, he finds the bodies of two dwarrow, who have been dead for days if not weeks. Even in the half-light, it is clear that they were killed with gratuitous cruelty -- and by attackers from below. Nina beckons two of his friends after him, and cautiously calls, “Is anyone there?” When the call is met with silence, they quickly depart Rim Hall. Whatever the source of the attack, the dwarrow colony would appear to have no survivors.

THE DEATH OF Kemeras and the gruesome mystery in the dwarrow caves leave the party’s mood grim. They return north, passing through the farms by the river to reach the house of Kalitha the bard. As they come close, Kyla hears her foster mother singing -- a song she knows well from her childhood, with the power to pacify. “Mother -- are you safe?” she calls out in sudden alarm.

“Kyla!” comes the reply. “Leave your weapons outside the house. We’re all fine in here.”

Inside Kalitha and Kyla’s home, the party is amazed to find three haggard-looking Haraks sitting calmly, their bodies painted for war but their axes laid aside. Kyla tries to explain the threat, and the half-Arawai bard nods. “They’ve told me. These are scouts. There are a thousand more warriors coming -- and yes, they intend to wipe out the Five Villages, beginning here. By this evening, we’ll be surrounded.”

“Why?” Carwyn demands shakily.

Kalitha questions the hill men in the earthy, glottal Harak dialect. “They say they are fleeing another enemy -- the ‘Uluk’ -- who are giants, half-man, half-beast. The Uluk are sweeping through the highlands of Harakra, and the Haraks fear that if they do not unite to break the strength of the Senalline headhunters, they will be caught between two mortal enemies. So they will destroy the town and the guild and take over these valleys, far from the Uluk.”

No one has heard of the Uluk before, and the Haraks are unable to usefully clarify their description. “Can’t we do anything to change their mind?” Ash implores. “Surely there has to be some way for us to live together in peace -- even to fight these Uluk together.”

“The Haraks and you Senallines have been killing each other in these hills for a long time,” Kalitha says starkly. “I don’t think they’ll be much inclined to share now. I’ll go back with these scouts and try to convince the Haraks to change their plan. But you'd best go prepare the town to defend itself.”
 
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havenstone

Visitor
The First Battle

AS THEY REACH the outskirts of Rim Square, the eight friends see a group of five headhunters stalking toward them, headed by Avarin the reeve. The wild-eyed reeve accuses them of disregarding his orders, undermining his authority, and spreading panic around the farms. He declares them under arrest for their lies. Ontaya retorts in her most authoritative voice that there will soon be a thousand Haraks descending on the town, and if they don’t immediately begin working together to fend off the barbarian assault, everyone in Rim Square will die.

In the tense and uncertain atmosphere, Atrix makes an acerbic comment, and one of the headhunters hurls his short sword at the young nobleman. Meeshak’s whip cracks loudly, deflecting the weapon in midair. “Enough of this nonsense,” the gaunt young priest barks, glowering at the reluctantly impressed headhunters. When the final disintegration of his authority becomes clear, the reeve collapses, frothing at the mouth, while the party returns to town to begin planning the defense of Rim Square.

The leader of the headhunters’ guild, a one-eyed fighter named Betram, accepts their story, as do the frightened villagers led by the innkeeper, smith, and miller. Together they agree on the houses that need to be pulled down to barricade the main roads of Rim Square, leaving one side apparently vulnerable to lure the barbarians into a trap. At nightfall, hundreds of torches flare alight in the forests and mountains around the little village. The Harak horde has arrived, outnumbering the defenders of Rim Square by roughly five to one.

THE BONDS OF loyalty between the eight young comrades are forged during that first battle together, through the long night of fighting the Haraks on the rooftops and rubble of their village. Afterward, much of it is a blur in their memories: the axes glinting in the torchlight, the ululating cries and matted hair of the enemy, the desperate scramble to retain the high ground and push back the waves of young, thin barbarian fighters. After hours of fierce combat, they manage to collapse another house on top of a Harak offensive surge, breaking the attackers’ morale and spurring a retreat.

Things still look grim in the smoldering wreckage of Rim Square. Meeshak and Ontaya have exhausted their healing blessings for the day, and most of the party are injured and on the verge of collapse. The headhunters bore the worst of the assault, and have been decimated; their rough but reliable chief Betram is dead, as is Avarin the reeve, and the remaining headhunters are muttering darkly about making a run for it before sunrise. Half an hour after the Harak withdrawal, the villagers on watch cry out in terror that they see movement in the dark. Groaning, the survivors muster up again for a fight to the death. Instead, they hear a voice echo through the smoke and darkness.

“I am Shect, a Swordsmark of Scarth Tower. I have fourteen men with me -- seasoned fighters who have not yet drawn a weapon this night.”

“What is your business here?” one of the headhunters calls back unsteadily.

“We are here to save you. One Swordsmark is worth a hundred men in battle, and my archers can bring down Haraks by the dozen.” Carwyn is already frantically beckoning her seven friends back into the Brass Hog’s Head before the next words come. “All I ask is that you give me the students of Kemeras the traitor, who stole from our Brotherhood, and whose students are accomplices to his theft.”
 
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havenstone

Visitor
Treacher’s Ridge

WHILE A WILD murmur goes up from the surviving headhunters, Hamber Meadwater shuts and bolts the door of his inn and begins briskly stuffing food into packs. “Right. Carwyn, love, you and your friends will need to leave tonight. The Haraks will be sealing the Rim Road to the north if they can, but they might not have enough men left to guard Treacher’s Ridge. It’s a few days’ journey east to Wildengard. You need to let the commander know what’s happened here, and bring him in to clear out the Haraks and save whoever’s left here.”

“But... what about you?” Carwyn stammers, while Hamber hands the supplies to Ash and Kyla.

Her foster father pulls her into a tight, quick hug. “You know I’m too old and fat to go sneaking around in the woods, lass. Don’t you worry about me, I’ve talked my way out of plenty a bad spot in my time. Now out you go -- the special way, behind the hearth.”

Carwyn swallows her protests as someone bangs loudly on the front door of the Hog’s Head. She swings open a wooden panel at the side of the fireplace, and the eight friends hurry into a narrow passage. Barely have they closed and locked the secret door when they hear a splintering crash from the main entrance. Shect’s thin voice follows them into the corridor. “Apologies for your door, innkeeper. But I’m told you’ve been hosting a d’Loriad boy who studied swordplay with Kemeras, and that his two other students come here often.”

“That’s true.” Hamber sounds weary. “But I’m worried they might not have lived through the fighting out there. Haven’t seen them for hours.”

“That is not what I hear from the fighters in the street outside,” Shect says flatly. “They say the d’Loriad boy ran through your door hardly a breath and a blink ago.”

“Well, I didn’t see them. You’re welcome to look through the inn.”

“Kind of you to offer.” Shect’s footsteps echo through the taproom, followed by a moment of silence. “A shame that you’re standing on the cellar door.”

Carwyn stuffs her hands into her mouth and shudders silently at the terrible sound that follows -- the slash, the sigh, the thump of a weight settling to the floor. And then the party members are running out the inn’s secret exit and into the night, while Shect shouts, “Into the cellar, up the stairs. Find them. Find them!”

WITH THE MOON hidden behind smoke clouds the eight friends move unseen into the forests, where Ash guides them swiftly up to the eastern slopes. By dawn, they are standing, physically and emotionally exhausted, at the height of Treacher’s Ridge. Below them, several hundred Haraks are scattered around the smudge of Rim Square. The fortress of Wildengard with its Senalline military garrison is six days away by foot. The natives of the Rim -- Ash, Carwyn, Darren, Kyla, and Nina -- numbly realize that whatever they do, it will come too late to save their village.

Ash finds the party food and water during their week in the wilderness. They move quickly and in silence, mourning a lost home and friends. On the third day, Ash’s keen eyes spot something odd on a distant mountain slope -- a figure surely too tall and massive to be human, but scrambling with an assured, manlike gait from boulder to boulder. He points it out to his friends, and the strange climber pauses and turns to look in their direction. They catch a glimpse of a wrinkled, shaggy face with a broad, flat nose and what look unnervingly like tusks, before the creature vanishes into a gap in the rocks.

“Uluk?” says Darren, voicing the thoughts of the party. Despite watching carefully, they see no more of the strange creatures during their travel.

On the sixth day, they cross the final mountain gap and see the slopes around them plunge down into a dusty green plain stretching out to the furthest horizon. At the edge of the plains stands the fortress of Wildengard: the last marker of Northern power, tiny against the vast domain of the Arawai horse clans.
 
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havenstone

Visitor
You’re in the Army Now

AS THE PARTY enters the castle, Ontaya notes to her surprise that three hundred men out of the four hundred-strong garrison of Wildengard are already prepared for march. When she asks if they’re getting ready to fight Haraks, a quizzical-looking sergeant says no -- they’re about to march north to Lynar for a grand muster of all the Senalline armies. “Rumor is, there’s to be a grand campaign against the barbarians -- but the Arawai, not the Haraks,” he says with some relish.

Both Kyla and Nina fall silent at this. As an Arawai orphan, Kyla has put up with a degree of prejudice her whole life; she can only imagine how much worse things will get if the Senallines invade the plains. As for Nina, while he can pass as a sun-tanned Northerner with some relatively elementary disguises, his Chramic people are considered barbaric by most of the North, and in a war against “barbarians” the distinction between Arawai and Chraman could easily be blurred.

Ontaya and Atrix use their family names to gain access to the commander of Wildengard, the silver-haired General Marcor d’Syrnon. They tell him about the Harak attack on Rim Square and implore him to return with them to aid any survivors. The stern General Marcor agrees that he can’t afford to leave Wildengard lightly guarded without disposing of the Harak horde. He will send an expeditionary cavalry force at once to break the barbarians, and bring the rest of his army through the Five Villages on his march to Lynar.

"General... when we left, there was a man named Shect in Rim Square," Ontaya adds abruptly. "A very skilled swordsman. He called himself a Swordsmark, and was trying to kill some villagers for an alleged theft."

Marcor d'Syrnon's brow furrows. "Damnation. We'll have to tread carefully around that one. I won't stand by while he kills a Senalline, however lowly... but it's hard to keep that sort from their prey."

"Are the Swordsmarks so formidable?" Atrix queries lightly. "I'd never heard of them."

“They're a brotherhood of master duelists based in Velnar. Possibly the best swordsmen in the world," Marcor states. "Many of the great generals of the North have had some Swordsmark training. But there are secrets of swordsmanship known only to the sworn masters of Scarth Tower, who wear the steel torc. And the Swordsmarks protect those secrets to the death.”

At the end of their meeting, General Marcor informs the eight young refugees that if they expect to travel with him for any length of time, they will need to find some function in his army. Ontaya, Ash, and Atrix agree to serve as squires. Carwyn volunteers to cook, and Nina and Kyla decide that they’d be better off joining her in low-profile kitchen work. Darren offers his services as a tinker, and Meeshak as a healer.

Ontaya quickly establishes herself as the protector of weaker squires against bullies. On the practice field, she is clearly the strongest and most disciplined young fighter, just as Atrix is by far the most dextrous.

THE ARMY REACHES Rim Square after two weeks of travel. To their immense relief, the party sees the village has not been utterly destroyed. They learn that on the morning of their escape, Shect and his men fought their way out of Rim Square along with several of the headhunters, leaving the Haraks even more bloodied and dismayed; then Kalitha arrived, singing a strange and powerful song, and led the last few hundred barbarians away into the hills. Marcor’s cavalry have been helping the surviving townsfolk rebuild. So far, there has been no sign of further trouble.

Hamber Meadwater has been buried in a small plot behind his ravaged inn. The eight friends hold a somber memorial service for the kindly innkeeper, and then discuss what to do next.

Many of them are worried about staying in Rim Square lest Shect return and kill more of the villagers in trying to get to them. Staying with the army of Wildengard seems like the best way to avoid the Swordsmark. Kyla is extremely reluctant to tie herself to a force that is rumored to be invading the Arawai plains (even though she herself has no connections other than birth with the strange Arawai tribes). She finally and somewhat hesitantly decides that her bedrock loyalty is to the friends she has fought beside. The little party leaves Rim Square together.
 
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arcanaman

Visitor
I really like the story Nina freaks me out little but otherwise I liked it.there

has been one thing i've been dying to know did

you do your map by hand or what I can't figure out how to get my on the

internet at all.
 

havenstone

Visitor
Thanks, arcanaman! The maps and other images are all hand-drawn, scanned, and hosted for free at photobucket.com.

Nina, Master/Mistress of Disguise, was an interesting and often hilarious character. Sadly, his player left the game after the first season of play -- but as you'll see, not before having a major impact on the Five Families of Senallin.
 

havenstone

Visitor
Humblest of the Sufza

THE ARMY OF Wildengard spends several weeks marching down out of the Harak Rim and through the rich farm country along the Florin River. With each week, it attracts new profit-hungry followers: traders, gamblers, whores, tinkers, and thieves. One morning, Ontaya, Atrix, and Ash are hailed by a tall, skinny rider with weather-beaten brown skin, a mop of strawy hair, and an irrepressible beam. This curious figure carries a long, thin staff, a lasso, and (from the looks of it) at least twelve knives tucked into his garb.

“Squires of the Senallines! Most regal of riders, highest of horsemen! The humblest of the Sufza greets you, and offers his felicitations on the fineness of your fraternal fellowship.”

“Thank you,” Ash calls, a bit taken aback by the florid greeting. “What did you say your name was?”

“You are the kindest of cavaliers to take so intimate an interest in this most inconsequential of individuals,” comes back the delighted response. “Nurak is my name, but you may refer to me by whatever lowly label you like.”

One of the other squires scowls and shakes a fist at the alliterative rogue, whose grin never falters as he spurs his mount into a gallop and moves up the column. “Watch out. He was just having a look at the horses. He’ll be back later with five other Sufza weasels to take what he likes.”

“That’s a Sufza?” Atrix asks with interest. He has heard of the barbarian nomads, famed as the most talented horse thieves in the world. Over the next few days, Atrix ignores the advice of the squire and has several cheery conversations with Nurak. While a few other squires’ horses do disappear, the party’s do not.

The army also attracts Atrix’s roguish merchant uncle Porphyry (a wealthy commoner whose sister married into the d’Loriad family). He has cut short his usual regional rounds after hearing about the grand muster in Lynar. Porphyry is shocked to hear of the devastation of Rim Square and the murder of his old friend Hamber. He grimly promises to keep an ear to the ground regarding Shect’s whereabouts. “I promise, Carwyn lass, that a great deal of gold will go to the man who puts him in the ground.”

UNFORTUNATELY, KYLA'S FEARS about anti-Arawai prejudice are more than confirmed on the road to Lynar. Her friends stick close to her, but she has a rough time in the kitchen tents, where many of the drudges are venomously unkind to her despite Nina and Carwyn’s supportive presence. One evening, the army stops in the town of Swallowfeld, where a local innkeeper opens his establishment to the army’s kitchen crew. After dinner, the kitchen workers and their friends (including the whole party) get to enjoy drinks in the taproom. Caro, a pretty but cruel drudge, goads several tipsy squires into attempting to rough up “the Arawai wench.”

Naturally, this results in a grand tavern brawl. Atrix and Nina buckle swash all over the place, fighting acrobatically across the tables, bar, and balcony of the taproom. Ontaya lets her temper go just far enough to give the most aggressive squire a battering into unconsciousness, but manages to regain control before lapsing into a truly chaotic act. At the high point of the brawl, Caro pulls a knife and goes for Kyla. In the ensuing grapple, Caro falls on the knife and is stabbed to death.

At this point, two of Marcor's knights charge into the inn with a small detachment of soldiers and restore order. The squires who started the brawl accuse Kyla of murder -- but Ontaya swears, as a d’Orbis and a Sword-Priest of Ain, that Kyla acted in self-defense against an unprovoked attack. The knights accept the young paladin's testimony, and warns the squires that there will be grave consequences if they trouble Kyla again.

THE KITCHEN GIRLS retire upstairs, to the first beds and private rooms they’ve enjoyed in weeks. Atrix is one of the last squires to venture outside. Still feeling cheerfully invincible from the fight, he ambles around to the side of the inn and shoots a speculative glance at Carwyn’s high window. Climbing deftly onto the back of his horse, he manages to leap to the windowsill of a neighboring house. From this perch, he lassoes one of the ornamental eaves of the inn and ties the line off tautly. Then he strolls across the tightrope – his extraordinary dexterity serving him well – and knocks lightly on Carwyn’s window.

He startles out of Carwyn the most genuine laugh she’s had in many days. For a minute, she weighs him with her eyes, then shrugs, smiles, opens the window, and kisses him. Atrix swings into the bedroom. Moments later, he sticks his head back out. “Nurak? I’d be grateful if that horse was there when I got back.”

"Most amiable of Atrixes," comes back the delighted call, "there is no safer horse than a horse under the protection of the humblest of the Sufza."
 
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Ladybird

Visitor
Yay! Nurak! He was always my favorite NPC :)

And I, like Orichalcum, didn't join this campaign until much later. I'm having a great time seeing what happened before I arrived!
 

Feir Fireb

Visitor
Darren's player here:

Ah, how innocent we Northerners were, way back when!

arcanaman: Nina was quite the odd character. If I recall correctly, there were even some players who weren't certain at the time whether Nina was actually male or female, or even his true identity. Nina kept everyone on their toes.

Nurak was indeed probably the most beloved NPC of the game, not the least because of his alliterative amiability and nigh-unbreakable good cheer that caused you to overlook his utterly shameless and reflexive horse-thievery. But something that may not come across in print is the joy of hearing havenstone begin alliterating in that distinctive Sufzan accent where previously Nurak had been nowhere to be seen (and indeed might not have been for months of game time). Music to our ears.
 
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havenstone

Visitor
Gray Dwarrow

MEANWHILE, THE EVER-inquisitive Darren has been traveling and working with Cannedun, the tinker and ironsmith of Wildengard – a gentle, quiet dwarrow given to long moments of reverie while working at his forge. Darren has always admired the enthusiasm with which the dwarrow live their lives, and their love of ancient tales (the ones he’s heard are downright exotic, even compared to those of Kalitha the bard). Now, working with Cannedun, he comes to appreciate how despite the dwarrow’s short lifespans, their enhanced gifts of intuition and perception enable them to reach heights of mastery that no human could achieve over a similar period.

Two weeks outside of Lynar, Cannedun brings Darren to a large tent of woven skins at the outskirts of the army camp. “Some friends of mine have just joined us,” he explains with a slow smile. “You’ll get on well with them.” He whistles a complex trill.

“Cannedun!” comes the answering roar. A grizzled, middle-aged dwarrow with a many-braided beard bursts out of the tent, stalks up to Darren and inspects him boisterously. “What’s this you’ve brought us?”

“My new apprentice, Darren. Darren, meet Mullod of the gray dwarrow.”

“You took on a human?” Mullod gives a genial bellow. “Always the optimist. You’ll be dust before you teach him how to piss straight.” The scrappy dwarrow wears plain gray plate mail; despite its lack of ornamentation Darren senses that it is of extraordinary quality. A mace, an axe, and a length of spiked chain add to Mullod’s instantly formidable air.

“He knows a few things already,” Cannedun replies with amusement.

“I’ll be the judge of that!” barks Mullod. By now five or six other dwarrow have emerged from the tent; none are armored, but most of them are heavily armed, and all of them have a similar gleam of ferocity in their eyes. One of them tosses a roll of loose-knit cloth to Mullod, who reaches up and hauls Darren’s head down to his level. “So Cannedun thinks you’ve got dwarrow ken, eh?”

Darren inclines his head, a little stunned but undaunted. “If Cannedun says so,” he says, not resisting or pulling away as Mullod ties the blindfold around his eyes. As Cannedun had guessed, Darren’s outward mildness hides an unflappable readiness to venture anything -- part of his driving love of exploration and invention.

When the world around Darren is a barely discernable blur through the blindfold, Mullod slaps a club into his hands. “Right, long-legs! Have at me.”

Darren swallows hard and does his best to clear his head and apply his strong sense of direction to the task. He’s not a trained fighter, and is quite slight of build, especially compared to the boulder-like Mullod... but he gets remarkably lucky [natural 20!] and despite the blindfold, lands a blow that sends the dwarrow captain rolling backward with a delighted, “Ha!” The gray dwarrow band burst into cheers. “Well, lad,” Mullod growls, pulling off the blindfold, “you can fight like a dwarrow. That’s a fair start. But... can ye drink like a dwarrow?”

The gray dwarrow hoist Darren onto their shoulders, carry him into the tent, sit down around a small mountain of barrels and pour six massive flagons of ale. Then they pour a few dozen more. “These are for you,” Mullod declares, gesturing at the first six, and claims two others of his own. Darren sways through the test by sheer force of will and manages not to pass out. Halfway through, Cannedun produces a small bag full of ingenious tinkers’ puzzles made of tangled wire and tosses them one at a time toward Darren. Here the young human is in his element, and despite his ale-induced bleariness, he unweaves each fiendish puzzle with joking ease. Mullod shakes uproariously, crying tears of laughter into his beard. “Lads, lads, Cannedun was right. This is a human to grow old with!”

THE FOLLOWING MORNING, Cannedun shakes Darren awake beneath the barrels. From outside, they can hear Mullod and his band engaged in a deafening mock combat, with bellows nearly as loud as the clash of steel on steel. “You did well, lad. It’s not every human who can stand up to the gray tribe.”

Darren grins crookedly. “They’re... a little different from you.” Or, he thinks, the mild-mannered dwarrow craftsmen of Rim Hall.

“The grays have the same passion and gift for war that most dwarrow have for more peaceful arts.” Still thinking of Rim Hall, Darren suddenly has a terrible fear, which Cannedun senses. “What’s the matter, lad?”

Darren hesitantly describes the bloody scene he and his friends found in the caverns of the Rim. Cannedun’s face grows dark, and he quickly beckons in the gray dwarrow leader. “Mullod! There’s a colony to the south that’s been wiped out by the Delve.”

Mullod listens grimly to Darren’s account. “We’ll get a message to Houlan’s band. They’ve been pushing the bastards back under the western plains. They’ll be the best ones to know if this means a new front is opening up.”

“The Delve?” Darren asks cautiously.

“A mad race of dwarrow,” Mullod explains, and grasps Darren’s unspoken fear. “Not like us grays, lad. The Delve see beauty in blood and cruelty and death. They love to kill the same way I love to fight. And they’re... almost as good at it. They don’t usually show up this far west, though. Most of their territory is under the Arawai plains.”

“The horse clans have stories about them,” Cannedun adds. “Murderous spirits of the earth who will wipe out a camp by night. For the most part, the gray dwarrow keep the Delve too busy to trouble humans, though.”

DARREN BEGINS SPENDING most of his time with Mullod’s band, and one night, the hearty captain gives him a finely crafted amulet. “You’ve got a dwarrow heart, lad. You should have the eyes to go with it.” Darren puts the amulet on, feeling a strange tingle in his blood as he does so -- and the world around him changes. Where previously there was featureless darkness, now he sees sweeps of movement and color (but colors for which he has no name). The moons are gone, but the dwarrow and humans in the night are radiant blurs and the night wind ripples visibly around the tents.

“Heat, lad. Heat, and the dance of the air. We can see it as well as normal light. That little amulet lets you see it too. It won’t work for anyone else while you’re still breathing. And our priests have crafted it so we’ll be able to find it anywhere. So you be sure to hold on to it if we get separated.”

“Mullod – I don’t know how to thank you,” Darren says in disoriented awe.

“Hah,” Mullod snorts. “It would only embarrass me if you stumbled around the dwarrow caves like any other blind-stork human. Because mark my words, lad: we’ll get you underground one day.”
 
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havenstone

Visitor
Patriarch’s Gold

AFTER PUTTING UP with Atrix’s smug good cheer for a few days, Ontaya confesses her own affections to Carwyn, a bit stiffly and uncertainly. (Aerdrim isn’t a world where same-sex trysts are widely condemned; most priests, including Ontaya’s own Order, consider them lawful, and Ontaya’s own natural attractions have always tended that way). Carwyn, who is definitely attracted to charmers and rogues but also yearns for a more stable and solid romantic presence in her life, arranges a few assignations with Ontaya. Deep down, though, Carwyn can’t envision a long-term affair with either the relentlessly lawful paladin nor the dashing but reckless d’Loriad -- she’s too practical to end up with Atrix, and much too unruly for Ontaya.

As the army of Wildengard draws close to Lynar, they are joined by a small force led by a d’Nerein family commander. This creates some tension with Marcor d’Syrnon’s knights, who have clashed with the d’Nereins in the not too distant past. Ontaya takes some time to explain these lineage conflicts to her friends who aren’t steeped in Senalline politics.

THE FIVE FAMILIES of Senallin are the d’Loriad, d’Syrnon, d’Orbis, d’Nerein, and d’Aramant. Each Family is led by a patriarch from the city of Lynar.

The d’Aramants are the most powerful and populous Family, large enough to have a southern branch living along the Arawai plains and a northern branch along the Aradur border. Their arch-enemies are the house of d’Loriad -- Atrix’s family. The d’Loriads consider the d’Aramants to be monstrous empire-builders who would sacrifice any value and break any promise for the sake of power. The d’Aramants consider the d’Loriads to be unbearable hypocrites who hide their own envy and constant angling for power behind a veil of self-righteous cant. The d’Orbis try to remain neutral in this power struggle; the learned d’Syrnons tilt toward the d’Loriads, and the wealthy d’Nereins toward the d’Aramants.

This tangle of names and motives takes on new seriousness for the party a few days outside of Lynar. On a rainy afternoon, General Marcor d’Syrnon falls back to confer with some of the knights in the column, and is nearly murdered by a knife-wielding assassin. Fortunately, the ever-observant Ash spots the killer’s weapon and shouts to his friends, who are the only ones not caught flat-footed by the attack. They tackle the assassin and manage to capture him alive. A flint-faced General Marcor has the prisoner taken to his tent, and sends for Meeshak. "Rumor has it that you have skills in interrogation, young priest."

Meeshak enters the tent and shrugs off his rain-cloak. The candlelight in the tent throws the angles of his gaunt, implacable face into sharp relief. He walks over to the prisoner, now tightly bound and defiant-looking. “You are familiar with the priests of the Sistechern Order?” he asks bleakly. The assassin responds with an obscenity. Meeshak ignores it, draws a long, heavy iron pin out of his robes, and holds it over the candle flame. “Some priestly Orders have a saying: ‘It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to find favor with Ain.’ The Sistechern version of this saying is simpler: ‘It is easy for a needle to go through the eye of a rich man.’”

Meeshak doesn’t quite suit action to word. The assassin cracks in the face of his intimidation, and confesses to being hired by a stammering man whose face remained hidden behind a heavy cowl and hood. The stammering man found him in the Dastard’s Dregs, a tavern of ill-repute in Lynar, and paid him on the spot in newly-minted Patriarch’s Gold -- the exclusive coinage of the Five Families, whose value lies as much in its implicit authority as in its weight. When Meeshak is convinced that the man has told them everything he knows, General Marcor orders a swift execution for the prisoner, “before word of this reaches the d’Nereins and they ask for a word with him.” He tells Meeshak to say nothing of this to anyone, and that he'll contact him again soon.

WHEN MEESHAK GETS back to the camp, he quietly reports the results of the interrogation to his friends. “Patriarch’s Gold?” Ontaya repeats incredulously. Almost no one who receives Patriarch’s Gold spends it on the normal market, but rather keeps it in reserve to mark a favor owed by one of the Families, and returns it to the Family concerned when they need help. “Someone in Lynar is sending a message. They must have known the chances of us capturing the man and finding out this information was high -- whether or not he succeeded in his mission.”

“But what message?” Meeshak wonders. “That not all the Families support the war effort? Or is it an attempt by someone outside the Families to make Marcor think that another Family is trying to kill him?”

“It could be simpler,” Atrix offers. “General Marcor is sure to be one of the paramount commanders of this campaign. Another Family with a less notable general might simply have hoped to remove the competition.”

They are no closer to an answer by the time they finally reach Lynar.
 
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havenstone

Visitor
This Glorious Campaign

THE PARTY SEES the smoke of Lynar rising from behind a low range of coastal hills many hours before turning the last bend in the river and seeing the great city itself. Sprawled along the north bank of the Florin, the capital of Senallin is an expansive tangle of towering wood and brick houses connected to each other by rickety bridges above narrow, muddy streets and cobblestone squares. Ash, Carwyn, Darren, Kyla, and Nina are struck by the size of the place: fifty Rim Squares could easily by swallowed up by Lynar. On a hill to the northeast stands the Palace of the Patriarchs, five ancient castles that have melded together over the centuries into a single sprawling, ever-growing edifice.

As the army of Wildengard reaches the outskirts of the city, they are met by cheering, festive throngs. Women are dancing, men are tossing ale at the soldiers and each other, minstrels are singing the chorus of the hour:

To tame the horse and till the plain,
And teach them all the fear of Ain!
The armies march to Arawai, huzzah!

Kyla has to dodge hurled fruit and the occasional rock. During another popular ditty – “One last drink, my lads, before you ride away/ One last hoisting of the skirts before you join the fray” – a group of whooping young men in the crowd try to hike up girls’ skirts, including Carwyn’s. She rounds on the offender, a scruffy-looking young Lynarman with black hair and a shameless grin, and punches him full in the face. He tumbles back into the crowd, while other revelers roar with laughter and cheer Carwyn on.

At the end of the long procession, the army arrives at the hilltop Patriarchs’ Palace. From the gate, the party sees the fields to the north blanketed with the multi-colored banners and tents of soldiers from all corners of the Dominion. Chardion, the knight who took Atrix as squire, nods down at the great camp with pleasure. “It’s been years in the planning, lad, but finally the Families are marching as one.”

WHILE THE ARMY descends to join the camp on the plain, the knights of Wildengard and their squires ride in to present themselves to the Patriarchs, accompanied by the priests. Outside the grand audience hall, they meet Chamberlain Gall, a thin man who wrings his hands and sweats copiously while fretting over finding room in the palace for yet another group of knights. Then Chancellor Eliduc d’Orbis arrives, the high priest to the Five Families. Eliduc’s long brown hair is streaked with gray and he exudes a sense of serene power. He welcomes the newcomers graciously, and beams when his eyes fall on Ontaya. “Welcome back, daughter. Your strength and courage have been much missed in these last few months.”

General Marcor leads his delegation into the grand hall and receive the formal greetings of the five Patriarchs. The white-haired, eloquent Patriarch Athagon d’Aramant descends from his dais and welcomes the d’Syrnon commander. “Brother Marcor, you and our own cousin, Mercon d’Aramant, will be the field commanders of Senallin’s great force. You will answer to the two High Generals: Sarquin d’Loriad and Athriam d’Aramant.”

“Wait – the d’Aramants get two generals?” whispers Atrix, outraged.

“If I remember rightly, Mercon leads the northern branch of the d’Aramant family,” Ontaya breathes back. “And Athriam is from the southern one. Both have a good reputation in the field, though Athriam is known to be boastful and brash.”

“Neither could hold a candle to Uncle Sarquin,” Atrix grumbles. He catches the eye of his raven-haired uncle, whose military exploits against Aradur and the barbarians are legend. Sarquin recognizes him and breaks into a knowing grin; Atrix warily decides he doesn’t like the look of it.

“This war is not just Senallin’s war,” Patriarch Athagon continues. “All the civilized realms are joining in this glorious campaign: Velnar and Caragon, Aradur and Kedris. The armies of five great nations will join us at the fortress of Guardwatch and move in to the plains, to defeat the horse clans and colonize their lands. This war will transform the face of the world. Villages will grow out of the dust of Arawai, spreading south into the unknown reaches of the plains. Senallin will no longer trail along the southern edge of the civilized world. We will be at its heart!”

The squires try to absorb the idea that the sprawling army encamped below Lynar is only a small part, perhaps a quarter, of the army that will be mustered against the Arawai. No one knows exactly how many Arawai tribesmen there are, but it is all but impossible to imagine the divided horse clans withstanding a force of such terrific scale – especially when the Arawai religion bans steel as a Northern abomination. A nation armed with flint arrows and spears can scarcely hope to stand against the colonizing might of the civilized North.

THE AUDIENCE ADJOURNS, and the knights dismiss their squires to their quarters. As Atrix leaves the grand hall, he spots two of his many d’Loriad cousins (Adgar and… “that quiet one, good lad, damned if I can remember his name…”). Adgar clasps his hand with a broad but oddly rueful grin. “Welcome back, ‘Trix. We’ve got orders from your father. He wants to see you immediately.”
 
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