January-10-17

Posted by Torgash under Maps

islands

February-23-16

Pool of Tears

Posted by Torgash under Stories

The Pool of Tears

Tereseus (Tear-ree-see-us)


It was fairly common for the gods to spend time on Laramis.  The lesser gods especially found plenty of time to enjoy the pleasures of the elves and humans of the opposite sex, the more powerful gods had little time for such frivolity.  The anatomy of the gods prevented procreation as long as they did not violate the laws of the heavens.  The main rule never to be violated was that no gods were ever to remain in the prime material plan for more than ten days in any lunar cycle.  If they did it was deemed that they would lose their status as a god and would remain in the prime material.

Tereseus, the god of the harvest, had spent many days off and on in the cities of Laramis.  Tereseus greatly enjoyed the pleasures of the females of Laramis.  Though he experienced as many females as possible there was one human that seemed to pull at him and he found it difficult to resist.  Her name was Shana.  She was a great beauty by any standard.  She had long auburn hair and she had been truly blessed in form.  Shana loved Tereseus though she was very aware that he was not for the taking, at least not until certain secrets were uncovered.

It was a warm spring and the flowers in the valley trumpeted their beauty more than ever.  Soft breezes seemed all the more pleasant for Shana.  Tereseus had spent a full nine days in her arms and in her bed.  Shana had convinced herself that putting the potion in Tereseus’ drink was the right thing to do.  After all, Tereseus’ wanted to be with her, even if it meant become mortal.  He simply feared how the other gods would react and he feared the unknown.  That night they drank long into the night, each drink the god consumed contained a dose of the sleep potion.  Several times Tereseus’ muttered that it was time for him to go and each time Shana’s heart raced but the next moment the lesser gods mind would drift and his eyes would flutter with the desire for sleep.

Three days later Tereseus awoke.  Immediately he knew something was wrong, terribly wrong.  He could feel small aches and pains he had never felt before and his head swam as the room seemed to spin around him.  He made out Shana as she burst into the room. 

“What have you done?” He managed before drifting back to sleep.

Tereseus woke again and though he felt much better he was shaken by the feeling that he was not right.  Then it all came rushing in like a horrible nightmare.  How long had it been?  Wait! He had stayed nine days already and then the drinking.  NO! At first the scream was only in his mind and then it escaped his lips rising in volume until his cries nearly shook the room.

Shana ran into the room and wrapped her arms around her beloved as he now sat on the bed, tears streaming down his face.  She repeated over and over that she loved him.  Tereseus’ face softened, the sweet smell of her auburn hair filled his nostrils.  He breathed deeply taking in her fragrance.  At that moment he experienced another feeling he had never known; a desire for this woman that grew like a flame in his heart.   She raised her eyes to meet his and he raised his hands to cup her beautiful face.  This was love as mortals knew it and it was wonderful.  A broad grin worked its way across Tereseus’ face and he pulled Shana to him.  They drank deeply of each other for hours into the day.

Tereseus knew joy like he had never before.  Though his body was not that of a god any longer, he was very strong and much more so than the mortal men and elves of Laramis.  He was exceedingly handsome as he kept his physical features of his divine origin.  Tereseus was very popular with the local people and quickly found that he a talent for politics.  His love for Shana seemed to grow by the day and her love for him.  They had their first child, Celisa, shortly after his first year as a mortal. 

With their family started and a successful farm producing a great wealth in crops, Tereseus set his sights on working his way through the intricate and dangerous politics of the nobles in middle Laramis.  Strong leaders were in great demand as the various barons of Laramis were constantly at war.  Tereseus rose quickly in the eyes of the people and soon was second only to the baron of middle Laramis in local power. 

Over the next three years Tereseus and Shana had two more children; both boys, Harmis and Tramos.  Shana grew more beautiful with each passing day in the eyes of her loving husband.  But the days did pass, more so for Shana than for the former god.  Age had considerably less effect on Tereseus and in quite moments alone, Shana worried that her loving husband would likely grow old alone. 

Tereseus grew tired of debates and noble gatherings but found a new love in battle.  He often slipped out of his noble garb and joined troops on the front lines.  His skill and bravery were far beyond that of any other solider and most leaders.  Soon, he gave up politics altogether and with the reluctant blessing of the baron he assumed the role of general for the army of middle Laramis.

Celisa, Harmis and Tramos grew into strong, healthy and beautiful teens.  There was little doubt they would find much success despite living in the shadow of their father.  As Shana grew older however her smile began to fade.  Tereseus still looked upon her as she was the most beautiful being in the world but she knew that she would never be able to grow old with her husband.  Paranoia that he would leave her crept into her mind ever so slowly and depression was close behind.

It was a colder than normal winter with snow piled high in the valley when Tereseus came home from his latest successful campaign to find his beautiful bride lying on their bed.  Her arms folded across her chest and a long ago spilled goblet lying on the floor.  Consumed by depression Shana had poisoned herself.  Tereseus could not speak, could not scream, he could not breathe.  Yet another feeling gripped him that had never experienced.  A grief so profound that his mind could not handle the emotion.  Something broke within him, grief turned to hate and in an instant everything changed.

Tereseus drew his blade.  Cursing he stomped through their estate looking for those who did nothing while his beloved died.  He found one of the house maids and her two young children near the garden and cut them down as they screamed for mercy.  They knew not this man who struck at them for although he looked like the kind master of the estate his eyes smoldered with hate.  Their cries meant nothing to him as he simply wiped his blade and searched on.  Cooks, maids, guards all fell to his furry and there was nothing they could do to stop it.  Within the hour nothing moved in the estate, blood ran freely along the stone floors and still Tereseus’ anger would not fade.

Then his mind turned to the children.  They had all gone to Heron Lake within nearly fifty of Tereseus troops as guards for time away as was their custom every winter.  Why had they left their mother alone to suffer in her sadness?  Why had they not been here for her?  They were worthless and weak, not fitting for his blood nor that of his beloved.

Tereseus mounted and rode for his waiting troops just a mile from his home.  Upon his arrival his second immediately noticed the grimness of his face and the blood splattered across his armor.  Something in his general’s demeanor however kept his tongue silent.  Wisdom brought on by many years of war and dealing with deadly warriors. 

“We ride for Heron Lake”, Tereseus spat the words more than spoke them.  Without hesitation five hundred men immediately broke down tents and packed for travel.

The ride to Heron Lake took a little more than two days.  During that time, Tereseus spoke little though he muttered under his breath constantly.  His mood grew darker and he retreated within himself more as time passed. 

As the small army approached the lake, his children took note of the great bear on the banner and recognized their father.  The fifty mean appointed to guard the children snapped to attention as the force neared.  Just short of the encampment Tereseus held up.

“Destroy them all”, He said grimly.  “Today they join their mother.”

“Sir?” His second stared has if he had not understood a single word.

Celisa looked questioningly at her brothers and them at her.  Confusion written on her face she turned towards her father sitting sternly on his horse some twenty feet from her, “Father.  Father…what…what is wrong?”

“DO IT NOW YOU SWINE OR SHALL PEAL YOUR SKIN AND SALT YOUR BONES”, Tereseus boomed at his men.  His men had done many things in his service that they did not like or agree with but nothing like this.  Still, they were trained for only one thing to follow his command.  Swords were drawn. No solider spoke as they pushed their horses to gallop forward.

The Children screamed for their father, screamed for the men to stop.  The fifty guards were stunned and as they looked at each other for direction some uncertainly drew their swords while others lowered to their knees hoping for mercy. 

Seconds later all was still.  Men stood over their brothers-in-arms and some stood over the children of their beloved general.  Slain by their hands most of Tereseus’ men stared blankly ahead many others wiped away sweat and tears. 

As Tereseus stared at the dead two bodies caught his eye.  His daughter Celisa lay face down in the water near the edge of the lake her arm outstretched holding the hand of her brother Harmis who also lay face down at the water’s edge.  Blood and foam splashed up softly on the sandy shore of the lake.

It was then, as if a spell had been broken, that Tereseus eyes widened in horror as he seemed for the first time to have realized what he had done.  Darkness swirled and the great general fell from his saddle onto the soft grass near the lake.

Tereseus lived for nearly two hundred years after the massacre.  He punished himself with guilt every day for the murder of his family.  The lake was re-named The Pool of Tears.  He stayed on as general of middle Laramis and battle seemed to be the only place he could find peace from his demons.  He was no longer loved by the people but his ability to move armies and conquer secured his place as general.  King Madrosus used Tereseus for his own designs and Tereseus cared not as long as he could wage war.

King Madrosus could have easily used his general to unify all of Laramis but he chose instead to pillage his neighbors and destroy his enemies.  War in Laramis raged on.  Tereseus died suddenly without known cause while he was alone in his tower in the great city of White Cross.


April-28-14

Death of a Legend

Posted by Firelord under Stories

In the Amber sanctuary of the high temple of Pelor, The Voice of Pelor on the Physical Plane, High Priest Jabaker receives an unwelcome report from Bishop Howel.

Most Holy, Earl Belaruse still refuses, he replies that he respectfully disagrees with your edict. Earl Belaruse states the Light of Pelor is on his lands and as long as he is Earl he will continue to decide how best to defend it. He also states that it is his decision to continue to allow “All” to feel the Light of Pelor, not just the faithful.

The Most Holy’s scowl betrays his usual unshakable composure, “The Earl’s arrogance boarders on heresy! The land that Pelor graced with his touch belongs to his church, not an out of control Paladin with a fantastic story of slaying a demi god. These Servants of the Light are becoming intolerable, Pelor may deem them in need of discipline soon.”

“Most Holy if I may, it seems the Servants of the Light problem may require Pelor’s divine intervention or even more so, a lack of divine intervention may be in order. With the most Holy’s blessing I will summon Fryer Rickious. I am sure he can institute a final solution,”

With a slight grin the Most Holy, Voice of Pelor on the Physical Plane says “Yes Bishop you have Pelor’s blessing to do what must be done to end this insurrection.”

 

Six months later in Lord Belaruse’s meeting chamber, a representative of the Church makes a plea to Earl Belaruse. “My Lord the Shrine of Green Hill will be lost to the foul hoard within two days. The Emperor will not send troops, his decreed “it’s a church matter”. The soldiers of Pelor’s Hand are on the march but will not arrive for five days, by then the shrine will be sacked and unknown horror at the hands of the orcs will befall the pilgrims trapped there. Lord Belaruse, you are our only hope. We can send twelve along with horses via a gate to the shrine. The might of Pelor is within you, your presence at the shrine will bolster the garrison to hold until our troops arrive”.

Earl Correll Belaruse speaks. “I see into your heart Father Breem, I do not see any deception. I and eleven of my best will be ready at sunrise to enter the gate. We will hold the shrine until the Hand arrives”.

 

 

Eight days later the walls of the Shrine still hold, although many of the out buildings lay in smoldering ruin. Still the church troops have not arrived. “Lord Belaruse a Priest has arrived at the gate and wishes an audience with you. He will not say how he has bypassed the hoard. He said to deliver you a message, he said “Pelor is for sissies and stuff shirts, a good strong brew is better in a scrap and definitely for breakfast”. Lord, he does reek of a brewery”. Lord Belaruse lets out a rare smile. “Lead me to him”.

“Greeting Kelgeon welcome to the Green Hill Shrine.” Exclaims Lord Belaruse when he sees his old friend Kelgeon.

“Hello yourself Lord Earl High Muckity Muck. We need to find some shade for my poor old mule so that we my pay homage to the good lord Cayden”.

“I have just the place” as Lord Belaruse waves a hand toward a table and benches under a nearby over hang.

After they sit and Kelgeon pours a healthy pint for both. Lord Belaruse asks “So what are you doing here on such an auspicious occasion”.

“Well” replies Kelgeon “I heard that some fool with 150 men has picked a fight with 5000 orcs over an old pile of rocks”.

Lord Belaruse grins,  ”It’s not that bad, this pile of rocks is where Pelor gave his first paladin the strength to stand against the darkness. It’s an important place, besides Pelor’s Hand will be here soon”.

With a sour look Kelgeon says” The troops you speak of are still a week away and even worse the great dragon Tranaziel has been summoned and will be here on the morrow to incinerate this  “Important place”. Correll you should abandon this place and return to your wife and son”.

With a look of great sadness Lord Belaruse replies, “Were it that easy, I must put aside my personal treasures to defend the faithful.  If we escape many of the innocents in refuge here would perish, that can not be”.

“Correll, what do you have left twenty spears and six knights, maybe?” asks Kelgeon.

“More like 15 spears and seven knights but I will find a way, I have Pelor on my side. Kelgeon you should leave the way you came before morning and if possible take as many of the children with you as you can.” Says Lord Belaruse.

Kelgeon Laughs “Still a zealot to the end I see my friend.  Correll this was a one way trip for me I can’t get out, besides I wouldn’t miss a chance to get roasted by the mighty great red dragon Tranaziel. Too bad Neb isn’t still alive to write some glorious ballad about a brave Priest and his melted mug”.

The next morning seven mounted Servants of the Light and one drunken Priest stands at the ready in a field 100 yards forward of the Shrine of the Green Hill. Kelgeon says to Lord Belaruse “You didn’t tell me when you were counting your seven knights you were including yourself”.      “Well my friend” replies Lord Belaruse “I didn’t want you to leave early. Try not to get killed before you knock the beast out of the sky. By the way, outstanding brew at this morning’s feast my complements to Cayden”. Kelgeon says “Ba! Cayden! That was my own special brew, careful I don’t convert your boys at tomorrow’s feast, now hush up I hear a dragon coming”

The battle was quick and fierce. The ancient great red dragon Tranaziel dueled with Lord Correll Belaruse as the Servants of Light kept the orcs hoards at bay with charge after charge.  When Correll Belaruse knew that Kelgeon could not do any more to keep them all alive he gave the order. Kelgeon called on the power of Cayden and enveloped the ancient red worm causing it to fall from the sky. Correll Belarus last act was to call on the power of Pelor to flow through the mighty sword Ostawane. As the ancient worm plummeted to the ground Lord Correll Belaruse positioned himself to drive Ostawane through the heart of the beast.  As the Dragon crushed the great Paladin of Pelor the holy sword pierced the beasts’ scales and skewered the vile heart that beat beneath them. In the end both the great Knight Correll Belaruse and the ancient red worm lie dead on the battle field as the orcs break and flee.

Two weeks later in a very somber event Kelgeon meets JaRell son of Correll Belaruse. “I was with your father at the end. He was a hero every day that I knew him and no less his last day. He had no words at the end, just resolve. Take his sword and my service there is work to do”.

December-30-12

The Bull & Butcher

Posted by Merchant of Lokistan under Stories

“Leave it all alone, I say. Be and let be, pay no mind to what any of ‘em say.”

“I’ll tell ya what the’ say, now. The end is what it is. Turn yer nose as ya will.”

“Seers about. An’ far too many fer my likin’. Ever’ time one mutters a word, kings listen and dwarf and men die.”

“Harlin, you give the wild abouts far too much to stand on when they’re about blatherin’ the futcha. No man worth his wits listens to the snipin’ and alley speak they preach to any of small mind who’ll listen.”

“Trinkets and artifacts. Got no uses for any of it. I stand on the old ways. Wily magic brings about strife we’re not accustomed t’deal with.”

“If it’s an artifact that brings about the rains, then a’ wulcome it. Rains mean crops. Fine harvests.”

“Muershaden knows rains, Master Duk, and thrives well. But shud the southlands flood then whar do w’stand? Famine and more. Make us ripe for the plunderin’ from the narth.”

“Aye. You speak as if our harvests remain strong. The yield falls short each year. And don’t think fat kings are anxious to share their stores.”

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March-14-12

A Night by the Fire

Posted by Immolate under Stories

The boy stood alone on a clear winter morning, close behind a tree at the base of a ridge. The cold was brutal, but he paid it little mind. In the distance, a boy and a girl his own age were having a hard go of it. Yesterday’s snow had crusted during the night and each step held for just an instance before the boot punched through the crust and then a good foot or two into the snow underneath. It made travel difficult and was a good way to get snow in your boot.

Master,” the boy said inside his head, though there was no outward physical sign, “People will notice. They will become suspicious. I will be found out.

As always, the master’s voice came as the rushing of a wind from afar before coalescing into syllables. “There are many ways to avoid detection, human, and I will teach them to you.”

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March-7-12

A Boy in the Wood

Posted by Immolate under Stories

The boy pulled the glove from his right hand clumsily. It wasn’t that he was ungraceful, but the cold seeped through his coat and his gloves and he could barely feel his hands. Being chilled to the bone wasn’t new. He suffered it nearly every day. But it didn’t get easier.

Sharp pain stabbed into his bare fingers. Carefully, he pulled an oiled string from his coat pocket and slid the loop over the end of the bow. This part was easy, but the other side would be hard. Using all of this strength and weight, pitiful as it was, he managed to bend the wood of the bow just enough for the string to reach. Twice, then three times he tried and failed to slip the loop over. Finally, it went. He quickly put the glove back on and jammed his hand under his armpit to warm.

The boy never complained. There wasn’t anyone around to complain to most of the time. Most of the others paired up for hunting, but they didn’t much like the boy and he was okay with that. He’d tried to fit in once and that didn’t work out. He’d come away with the kind of scars that don’t heal.

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February-28-12

Galamithra Moonshadow

Posted by Immolate under Stories

"Bellsulion Taurvantian," a vision of loveliness materialized before the elf, seemingly drawn forth from the ether into his vision, "it gladdens my heart to see that you've survived the attack unscathed."

Mithra was, by far in Zeph's opinion, the most beautiful elf and therefore creature to have ever graced Ember. To think of it, Zeph could not recall anyone in Dunmar who ever claimed differently.

"Ah, fair maiden Mithra, as ever you grace my sight as the sun graces a morning meadow," the wizard bowed deeply like a courtier. He knew he played the fool, and looked it as well in his somewhat tattered cloak, stained with mud from the banks of the Ubathor and the recent battle. The nukks had drawn back after their assault, but it was clear they simply gathered their courage for another bloody attempt at the walls. The smell of burned meat was omnipresent. He did not care how he appeared.

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August-16-11

A Gnome’s Change of Plans

Posted by Immolate under Stories

 

She came to me in a dream…

Lewarrin

He became aware of the voice in that odd way that you might realize that a sound has been repeating for some time and you have only just made sense of it. For the small, dark-beared man, it was sleep that muffled his senses. But, for the first time in his 54 years that he could recall, he remained in a state of sleep but was perfectly aware of it. It was a surreal sensation, but not upsetting. It felt like a mild form of surprise, but it did not flash in and out as genuine surprise does. Milder yet still vaguely exciting. It was a feeling of foreknowledge that something important—something vital—was about to happen.

What a rare dream this is,” Lew thought within the expectant silence of his unconscious. Somehow the thought felt wrong just like calling a bear a rabbit would feel wrong. The gnome searched his mind, trying to get a bearing.

The road… a foot train of pilgrims, making their way east to Bador. They were trail-weary and with only a few competent men to guard them. It did not take much talking to convince them that their path lay to south to Esanti. They would be safe there, for the time being at least. The sickness didn’t appear to be plaguing the City of the Wood, at least not yet.

But then the memory turned to nightmare. Orcs chasing children, cutting them down from behind. The screams of pain and terror. Lewarrin had thrown himself and Kitteh into the fray with a ferocity he hadn’t known that he had. He’d screamed his throat raw in those few moments of bloody slaughter that he and the others had wrought upon the orcs and their filthy champions. Again and again he suffered the wounds laid upon his eidolon to keep him in the battle, and Kitteh had taken a terrible toll on the monsters—claws and teeth a red wall of destruction, but the orcs and bug-a-bears just kept coming.

Anguish wracked his mind. Kitteh was dead! His beloved eidolon had suffered the dread pain of death. Because he was only partly in the world when he was slain, Kitteh was not truly killed. But Lewarrin had fully shared the eidolon’s senses as he died, and he knew it was a terrible experience whose horror would fade slowly, if it ever did. When he was able to summon his dearest friend on the morrow, they would have to have a long talk and sort things out.

The one you call ‘Kitteh’, Lewarrin Grimmer, is called Avanada by her people. She is in My care this night, and I have given her peace and rest.”

“Great, my dream is talking to me.”

“You are in a state somewhere between dream and consciousness Lewarrin Grimmer. Your mind is as rational as it would be if it were awake. I am not a creation of your mind. I am simply speaking into it.”

“That’s exactly what a dream spirit would say.”

“Faith is not your best attribute Lewarrin Grimmer. I expected as much. This conversation will not fade as dreams do when you awake. But that will not be enough for you either, for you doubt the very substance that holds you world together. I will mark you and you will begin to believe.”

The gnome felt a point of searing brightness touch him. There was pain, but it was brief. Lew tried to force himself to wake, but nothing changed. That feeling of raw expectation lingered.

“It looks like I’m stuck here with you dream spirit, at least until this dream plays out. Please, go ahead and speak your piece so I can go back to the oblivious kind of sleep.”

“I am called The Dawnflower, and I would ‘speak my piece’ with you, Lewarrin grimmer, for I have need of you.”

“I’ve heard that term used before for one of the fanciful gods they bow to in this land, but I’m afraid I have prior commitments that I simply cannot break dear lady. I’ll be sure to look you up when I pass by this dream again, after I’m through.”

“I am the one that you have heard others speak of, Lewarrin Grimmer. I am the Bearer of the Flame; the Glory of the Rising Sun; the Bringer of Succor; the Radiance of the Light; the Redeemer of Lost Souls.”

“It must have taken a master scribe a full week to paint your title on the shingle outside your shop. Does it pay well, this radiating thing?”

“This day I will suffer your insolence Lewarrin Grimmer, for you do not yet understand the quality of your error. But please do not test my benevolence. You would not treat the lowest peasant thus.”

A moment went by as Lew tried to sort out the irony of being scolded by a dream spirit.

“Okay, my apologies. You’re right. I don’t treat people like that unless they deserve it. But you must understand that I do not acknowledge the existence of divinity. It is pabulum fed to the masses to keep them happy and compliant, but I will not comply. I am perfectly capable of building a philosophical foundation for sorting right from wrong. I do not need some slippery snake-oil salesman with a fancy robe to instruct me.”

“None need more than faith, Lewarrin Grimmer. It is enough. Even so little can be precious hard to find for some. But even you whose soul is ever-so-stingy with trust, have learned to give it. Trust is the handmaiden of faith. Faith is given without proof, but not without thought. Those who have faith in Me have reason for their belief. But reason alone is not sufficient. One must have love in one’s soul to open it to Me. One must seek redemption to be redeemed.”

 “Okay, let’s say for the sake of argument that you and all of the other gods really exist. So you are very powerful beings from other planes of existence. Even your priests say as much. You can create miracles, and you can teach your followers to do the same. But it’s just magic. You’re just harnessing the same elemental forces that I weave, only your weaving is much grander in scale. What makes you more than just another creature of phenomenal power?”

“Dear man, you are not ready for that lesson yet.”

“Ah, so I am not worthy of your beneficence then? I am not wise enough to appreciate the logic of your divinity?”

“Neither, Lewarrin Grimmer. You are not ready because you chose not to be ready. But I do not wish to debate you upon this question, as fundamental as it may be. You may believe that I am merely a being of great power if it pleases you. What I am to ask of you does not require your acceptance of My divinity.”

“What would you have from me then, Dawnflower?”

“The path that you are upon is grave and dangerous. It is laced with peril more dire than you can appreciate. And yet what you must do is of such importance, to fail will see our world cast into shadow for untold generations. I wish to aid your quest, though its nature is still a mystery to you. To aid I must have a vessel. To be effective, that vessel must be of good heart, and most of all willing to bear the responsibility.”

“How would this work, me being a vessel for your aid to our quest?”

“I will simply invest a bit of my power in you, Lewarrin Grimmer. It is a simple thing for Me, but without your faith in Me, it will take time.”

“Why don’ t you just give us some powerful magic to ensure that we can win any battle, or send a few of your better acolytes along on our journey to keep us safe?”

“Things of power come to those who are worthy of them. And despite what you may have read in storybooks, We may not direct mortals to act, in keeping with the Tenants of the Covenant. There are greater powers at work than even I can understand, Lewarrin Grimmer. Just as My followers must have faith in Me, I must have faith in these greater powers, for they are beyond wise.”

“Fine, but I’ll need some time to think about it.”

“You believe that you will awake in the morning and that all memory of this will have fled. But you will not, Lewarrin Grimmer. You will remember, and you will see my mark, and that will make you think aplenty.”

A white like exploded in the gnome’s head, sending him reeling into unconsciousness.

 

A new perspective…

Lew made his way carefully down the stairs at the Oakenwood Inn. The blasted dream wouldn’t go away. It bothered him that the tortured musings of his own mind were causing him distress and he wondered if perhaps… just perhaps… he was losing his mind. Was this what it was like—hearing coherent voices in your head that told you to do things that any rational person would reject, or more likely never hear in the first place?

He hopped up on a stool by the board and motioned to the innkeeper, then asked for some breakfast. The man gave him a strange look, but in a moment he had a plate full of peppery chopped potatoes and onions mixed with old ham that looked and smelled quite delicious after days of travel and battle. He made his way across the inn to a large table where a few of his fellows were already enjoying their breakfast.

“Wa..what’s that on your beard Lew?” the lad who went by the name ‘Wart’ asked. His stutter had diminished significantly since Lew had met the boy. The army should never have let him enlist, and that was the simple truth. He was good in a fight, but his innocence and naiveté were more of a curse than a blessing at time.

The gnome looked down at his curly, black beard. There was something in it he could not quite make out. He grabbed the beard and held it out where he could see it clearly. The blood in his veins froze. Some of the hairs were woven in a complex design that looked something like a figure with wings upswept, and the hairs were white as snow.  After a moment  staring at his beard , he noticed that the others were staring at him.

He grinned, weakly. “I must have had more to drink last night than I thought,” he mumbled, appearing to dismiss the matter and focus on his meal. But the food could as well have been shoe leather for all he tasted it. His thoughts were focused on the remember conversation with The Dawnflower.

When he was finished, he dismissed himself and went back into the stable yard. A moment later, the large, black-and-white striped form of Kitteh shimmered into being after he performed a simple ritual. Lew threw his arms around the beasts neck and hugged it fiercely.

“I am so sorry Kitteh! I will never ask you to suffer through that again! Please forgive me!”

There is nothing to forgive. I chose where and when I will fight. That I always choose what you would choose for me to do simply proves that we are of like mind.

“If I could have given you more of my blood, I would have. You were magnificent!”

You gave too much. You put yourself in great danger. If you die, you will not come back.

“I did what I had to do old friend. Here, let me heal what wounds remain.”

I have no need. The Mother held me in Her arms and made me whole.

“What… how… who is this ‘mother’?”

“She is the Bearer of the Light, the Glo…”

“She’s real?”

She is.

“She is one of your people then?”

No, we are her people.

“Wait, so you’re… female?”

Quite. I am surprised you have not figure this out already.

“Avanada,” the gnome said, as if trying a new coat on for size, “why did you not tell me?”

You did not ask, and it did not matter. My devotion to you is not predicated upon gender.

“But I love you, yet I love Lidya, and I must keep faith in that.”

When you give love someone, does your capacity to love then diminish? Do you love your son less for loving your wife?

“No, but my love for them is different from one to the other.”

Of course, and yet if you had a dozen children, you would love them all as you love the one. There is no limit to the heart’s capacity.  I do not threaten your relationship with Lidya. I love her as well.”

“Okay fine, but do me a favor and don’t tell Lidya that you’re female.”

“You wish that I not let the cat out of the bag?”

“Ahhhh… funny. Yes, I wish it. Gnome women can be remarkably stubborn when it comes to whom they consider to be competition.”

The Mother marked you, here on your beard.

“Yes I know. I don’t suppose she told you what she wants from me?”

Of course. I will be a part of this, a necessary part.

“I don’t understand. Why does she require anything from you to grant me a bit of her power?”

Do you know of those of your craft called ‘melders’?

“Synthesists? Summoners who fuse themselves with their eidolon’s?”

Yes. These are the ones of whom I speak. This is something like what you and I must do.”

“No. I will not subsume you. It would be like killing you permanently.”

It does not work that way. Even melders lose their eidolon when they sleep. But what I am describing to you is much more profound. The binding will take place in stages, and I will be assumed, not subsumed. But the process will be permanent.”

“I don’t understand this! Why is any of this necessary?”

Your mind is too flawed to act as a vessel for The Mother’s essence. By melding, bit by bit, I prepare your flesh for her presence. You will eventually learn faith in The Mother, or we will all of us face our doom. But I have faith in you, Lewarrin. You are a good man, and too honest to deny that which is obvious in front of your face.

“I cannot bear to lose you! I cannot imagine living my life without you.”

I will always be there in your thoughts, even after binding. We will speak with each other just as we always have. If you wish, I can exclude a shard of my essence from the binding to maintain a physical presence. The Mother thought you might need such an artifice.

“I’m torn… Avanada. Since the day I first summoned you, I have never imagined that my life would ever be anything other than you and me, together, dealing with whatever life throws at us. I know you say this will be just as good, but how can you know? What if it’s nothing like it was?”

I know because The Mother tells me.

“What if she’s wrong?”

I have faith that what she says is so.”

“What if I die?”

Then we both die.”

“You don’t understand. I cannot ask you to make such a terrible sacrifice. It is unfair.”

It is you who do not understand. When I accepted your summons, I bound myself to you for good or ill. If you were to die this day, I would not survive past the next. Nor would I wish to.

“Well you’re wrong about that.”

I am wrong about what?”

“I understand perfectly. I could no more go on without you than could go on without me. If this is your wish—not hers; yours—then I will accept it.”

It is Her wish and mine. Thank you for agreeing. She was not certain and you would. It was no surprise to me. I have the faith in you that She lacks, just as I have the faith in Her that you lack.

 

A bump in the road…

Lew was so lost in thought that he completely forgot to be a mediocre rider and sat the great, white cat like he was born to the saddle. Those who looked to see what was wrong with the usually chatty gnome quickly recognized his over-the-mountain stare at nothing in particular and left him alone to his contemplation. Even Barb, known for never missing an opportunity to say or do the wrong thing, honored the bearded gnome’s unspoken desire for solitude and drifted off on a remembrance of his own—one involving a large yet not-completely-unattractive woman back at the Oakenwood Inn.

Is it not a glorious morning for a ride, Lewarrin Grimmer?

Lew twisted in his saddle toward the voice. A gnome woman of unsurpassed beauty with large, white-feathered wing and riding upon a cat much like Kitteh other than the fact it was wreathed in merrily burning flame rode beside him and slightly behind. She smiled.

The gnome fell from the white cat, making no attempt to roll or break his fall. He lay there stunned for a minute while Kitteh looked down at him quizzically. Suddenly, a large hand grabbed him by the coat and hauled him to his feat.

“Less drink and more sleep will keep you from falling out of the saddle Lew,” the warrior Nash said with a chuckle. Lew shook his head and beat the dust off himself. The burning cat and beautiful gnome woman sat on the side of the road, waiting for him. Nobody else in the group so much as looked at her.

Lew remounted Kitteh with as much dignity as he could scrounge and resumed his riding. The burning cat fell into an easy lope next to him.

Am I so repulsive, Lewarrin Grimmer?” the voice asked playfully. Her lips moved to the words, but the sound wasn’t coming from her mouth. It was forming in his head.

“I wasn’t expected you, Dawnflower,” he thought at her, “Your form is absolutely perfect, as you must know, but it’s only a trick.”

I find it amusing how such ‘tricks’ can often accomplish things that an army could not.

“A very Gnomish philosophy, m’lady. Have you studied among the small-folk?”

You Gnomes are not predisposed to worship. Neither are you predisposed to infamy. As a people, you are better and safely left alone.

“Not worth the trouble?”

Rather, a poor investment of my time, for the most part. There are exceptions of course.

“Me? Even among Gnomes, I am considered remarkably irreligious.”

It is not you opinions, but your spirit and kindness that make you suitable, Lewarrin Grimmer.

“Has Avanada kept no confidence from you?”

There is little she could tell me that I cannot surmise simply by looking at you, or looking at her. You are the sum of your experiences, young one, and I miss nothing.

“Doesn’t that cat get hot?”

You need not hide your discomfort behind humor with me Lewarrin Grimmer. You have no secrets from me. I know you from your most depraved moment to your most enlightened, and yet I believe that you can serve me well in spite of your many failings.

“Well I’m baffled why you would spend time on such a fixer-upper like me who doesn’t believe you are more than just very skilled in magic.”

I cannot teach you to understand that in a short time, Lewarrin Grimmer. Such a lesson is learned from within, and with the passing of time.

“Do you get a lot of converts by alluding to the mysteries of life?”

Her face turned to the front. Each new angle was more achingly beautiful than the last. Lew felt a wave of profound sadness sweep over him. It made him feel harsh and cruel.

“Look, I’m sorry for being an ass. I may not believe you’re a goddess, but it is plain that you are the closest thing to one. Avanada loves you without reservation, and I would lay down my life for her a thousand times.”

This thing that she has chosen to do cannot be undone. She will be bound to you unto death. When you pass through the veil, she passes with you.

“She said as much.”

Did she tell you that unbound she would almost certainly live as long as five Gnomes could hope to?

Lew stiffened in the saddle and set his jaw fiercely. “I will not permit it. I will not be a party to it.”

Who are you to command what she may or may not do? She is counted as wise among a wise people. She understands the stakes. She knows something of what will happen if you fail. She knows the cost, even if you succeed. But she is not afraid. She has made a courageous and selfless decision, but you, who say you love her, would take her choice from her and bend her to your will.

“It isn’t like that at all. She is doing what she thinks you want her to do.”

Of course she is. Have you never sacrificed for someone you loved?

“Yes, but I do not put my loved ones in a position to sacrifice for me if I can help it.”

No life is diminished by self-sacrifice. Are you the only one competent to make decisions, Lewarrin Grimmer, or do you trust those you love to decide for themselves?

“You have a talent for arguing me into a corner with nowhere left to go.”

The truth is a narrow path, Lewarrin Grimmer. Close your eyes but a moment and you will stray. Yet if you keep your eyes open, it is a simple matter to stay upon it.

“You know that people are more willing to listen to your words when you don’t wallop them about the head and shoulders with them right?”

I find it best if you resist with all your strength. Then when you break, you will be truly broken.

“So I’m just a beast to be tamed to the bridle?”

More a spoiled child, best handled by turning your own tiresome insolence back against you.

“Ah-ha, I see what you did there.”

As you were intended to.

“And again!”

You are too clever for me Lewarrin Grimmer. I will have to resort to more subtle methods to get you to recognize the truth.

“Such as?”

Such as letting you figure things out on your own.

“Now where’s the fun in that?”

She slowed and then stopped, the reach out and grasped Lew by the shoulder. This close, she was infinitely more lovely than before, but her face was grim.

I do not begrudge you your humor Lewarrin Grimmer, but understand that this business you are about is no game. There is no turning back from this path. It will be hard to make yourself worthy of Avanada’s sacrifice, but you must be no less than that.

Lew’s gaze turned inward for a time. After a moment, he put his hand upon hers and looked into her eyes. “It is always easier to die for someone that to live for them, isn’t it Dawnflower?”

She studied him for a moment, then pulled his curly haired head toward her and kissed him on the forehead. “You are a good man, Lewarrin Grimmer, and not nearly as dense as you seem.

He smiled as they began riding again. “I get that a lot.”

They rode for a bit, catching up to the others. Wart looked back at Lew with concern clearly on his face. The boy worried every time anyone behaved at all oddly, and Lew expected his behavior today seemed exceedingly odd. He smiled at the lad reassuringly. Wart did not seem reassured.

I will take my leave now, Lewarrin Grimmer. The road ahead is treacherous. I need not tell you this but I will, for you must never forget. Too much depends upon you and your companions.

“I hear you, Dawnflower, but don’t you need to zap me or something?”

You’ve already been zapped young man. Do you think Goddesses bandy about kisses like a common tavern skirt?

She smiled warmly one last time, then faded away like a morning mist, along with her burning cat.

He suddenly became aware of Kitteh’s thoughts, though he hadn’t realized they’d been silent.

She was here, wasn’t She?

“Yes my Avanada, she was very much here.”

She has that effect on me as well. Tell me, is it done?”

“It is. Any regrets?”

Never. I don’t feel any different though.

“I would say you don’t look any different, but you change appearance the way most people change their clothes.”

She says I will diminish steadily until I’m just a puffball.

“You will be a well-cared-for puffball.”

I’m not bothered by the idea of being small. But I’m going to miss ripping the limbs off of orcs.

Lew reached down and scratched the large cat behind the ear. “That’s my girl.”

May-29-11

Praamador

Posted by Immolate under Maps

 

We left Tradefree today bound for Avilton and Emmery Dock with full packs and ten gold sovereigns in each of our pockets, and a promise of ten more upon successful delivery of the writs within three weeks. That should be easy enough. Praamador is not that large a place and if we walk three miles each hour for seven hours a day, we can make an easy twenty miles per day and make it  in fourteen or fifteen days if this map is accurate. No matter, after seven years indentured to Mog the not-quite-so-Magnificent, I would happily do the job for free and forgoe the bonus just to get as far away from his bad breath and pompous pontificating as possible. If I never see the windy gasbag again, it will be too soon. I have taken the moniker “Ebuldev” as my arcanist’speligram. Much better than Mog by any standard. We only made fourteen miles but we’re just getting our “road legs” about us and should get better in time.

Okay, help me understand. People actually do this–“walking” routinely, even when not under the threat of death? Insane. Today was worse than yesterday and we barely made it to Baroontok in spite of pushing past dark. Nathanial, that’s our sword swinger and self-appointed moral guidepost, says this is the easy part. Ha! Easy my aching feet! He thinks because his father is a farmer that he has some kind of corner on home-grown wisdom or something. This is going to be a long trip. My other companions are Rachel, a rather attractive sneak thief, Glom, a “dwarf from da norf” and every bit the sour-puss his kind are reputed to be, and one Friar Magden of Bogwood, a fat old man who drinks.

It started raining today, only a drizzle, but the road turned to mud in less than an hour. A lot of traders come and go here, no surprise, but they tear up the road something fierce. They should take a holiday when it rains and let decent folk go about their business without having to tiptoe around the blasted ruts!! If I never have another boot sucked off my foot, it will have been a dozen too many. We made maybe nine miles today, and that was brutal. I can’t see how adventuring ever got a good reputation.

Saints protect me! This was the most horrible day of my life! We made it to the Lake Road cross just as the rain picked up and got cold. Four road bandits came out from behind trees as if from nowhere and held crossbows pointed at us. They weren’t like just some guys from around town. They were dirty and mangy and mean, and you could look in their eyes and see that they just wanted to rob us and slit our throats. You hear stories about Baynard of Habscow and how he steals gold from wealthy travelers and gives it to the needy, but these men weren’t like that. They kill for a living and you could tell they were good at it. The meanest looking one told us to put our purses and weapons on the ground and they would let us go. I prayed the others would do it, but they didn’t. Glomsaid some foul things and threw  his shield in thief faces. Bolts went flying and Rachel took one in the side and went down screaming like I have never heard anyone scream. I wet myself but I stood my ground and fought. I shot the leader with a dart and he was on me faster than anything I have ever seen. I thought I was going to die, but Glom was there of a sudden and his axe cut the man’s belly open. His guts were blue and they spilled on my feet. I threw up. I couldn’t even smell anything but they were blue. Blue? 

A silver mark to stay at the inn in Blue Lake. Outrageious, but I would have paid a gold after walking through the cold rain all day. We did pass a merchant headed to Tradefree but I’m feeling a lot better about our great victory against the bandits yesterday. I have to learn to take care of myself and avoid getting killed. I’m going to find a shield in this town and start carrying it around in case someone comes at me again. That and I am going to stand further back. 

The merchants at the inn told us that Broke Axel Road was impossible. We didn’t really believe them, but after an hour in that direction, we turned around. We saw a horse up to his whithers. Went south to River’s Edge instead. Nice place if a bit rowdy. They have some rooms here but they were taken so we slept in the loft and paid a silver to sleep away from the rain. Rachel was able to find two canoes for sale and we decided to paddle up the river through Wyrlyr’n Forest. Should be able to portage from the Lothendelle to the Erinwadle in a day and then down-stream to the Chessing.

We are perhaps three miles into the wood. The map makes it look fairly open but the truth is the trees crowd the river and are thick as fleas on a porch dog. The no-see-ums and bite-mes are driving me mad, but it is better than walking and we are covering distance at least. If I just knew a spell to ward myself from pests I would be having a fine time. Friar Magden has been praising Pelor non-stop for over twelve hours now, and in that time he probably put paid to a skin of whatever foul liquor he drinks. Still, he paddled the whole time without relief and even Nathaniel and Glom rested every so often. At this pace we may make it to Emmery Dock without mishap.

Another long day of rowing. My arms are tired and I didn’t even do any of it! They let Rachel the girl row but not me. Stupid. They told me to keep my eyes open for anything unusual but after the tenth unusual tree I pointed out, they all told me to shut up or else. Everyone picks on the wizard until he gets powerful.


Fell into a trap today. Well Glom did. We saw smoke near the north shore. We thought we’d say hello but it was a band of orcs and they had a pit-and-stake trap set to catch passers-by. Orcs eat people. They’re also very big. Not as good with a sword as Nathaniel though. I think he killed three and Rachel one. Two came for me and I blinded them with my blazing lights. Fryer cracked their eggs with his mace and that was that. Glom had three stakes in his leg. No crying.

We picked up the deep forest path today after two more days of rowing. My research of the slippery spell finally paid off and I added the successful formula to my book. It is almost a relief to set out on solid ground for a while, carrying the boats.

Five, maybe six days in the wood. We have been set upon three times. First was a tribe of Akonni Orcs with a shaman. Rachel nearly died again. She took a spear through the liver. Friar saved her with rituals and ungents. He may be fat and old but we’ll not let him go any time soon. Slippery put two of them down and Glom did for them with his axe. The third night we were attacked by two ogres. They are bigger than a draft horse and so fast! Glom kept one busy running about making the monster mad with rage. Nathanial and Rachel both cut the other one down but Glom’s was dead. Last day we were stopped by the elves. They were hostile until they learned we had killed the ogres. They gave us bread. 

Went downstream to Two Rivers Inn. It is a lovely place but there were some unsavory fellows there, who followed us when we left in the morning, going upstream on the Chessing. We were some days in when they came near and put a bolt in my canoe. I was able to mend it easily enough, but not before I put a cloud of shining dust in their hair, blinding them, at least the first boat full. The others fell out as well. They were very angry and there was much shaking of fists. I hope we got away from them but Friar says he heard something or someone going up-river during the night.

Our triumphant arrival in Avilton, much anticipated by us if by no other, is accompanied not by a shout, but by a whisper. Nathanial is dead, and though at times I hated him, I loved him at the end when I understood findally what he meant when he said that it doesn’t matter who the Gods chose to accompany you in life… if you will but love them, you will learn that they are worthy of your love. He took that arrow for me. I wish despearately that I could start over with him.

Emmery Dock is a busy place though as muddy as Broke Axle Road back in the Woodmarch. It is a good place to lose yourself and to start forgetting the things you need to forget. I found a ship’s captain in a place called Gabri’s Looms by the water and he’s looking for “tough fellers what kin fight off boarders”. Not sure about tough, but tough enough I expect.

May-9-11

A Fine Morning in Merrybrook

Posted by Immolate under Stories

Five days after the capture of Duke Christophe at Jasra's Chasm, in the village of Merrybrook in southern Belcar. Most of the people of the village have gathered to hear the beautiful boy, who is rumored to be an avenger of Pelor as well as a Knight of Veseareus, speak. A dozen or more of the gallant knights of Diston keep are tending their mounts on the north side of the village square. They are all business, but frequently glance to where the Mayor's podium has been set upon the platform, which was just hauled out from the storehouse not moments ago. 

At the front of the crowd, a few folding wooden chairs have been arrayed front and center. The portly mayor and his equally cherubic wife sit in two of the chairs, and a local Lord from River Run and his Lady are in attendance as well, their fine clothing providing a stark contrast to the villagers behind them.

On the south side of the square, a knot of grim-looking men appear to be having a quiet-but-heated debate next to their horses. One of the men standing in that group seems vaguely familiar, but his face is bruised and sullen, difficult to make out. His hands are bound together in front of him. The argument abruptly ends and a tall man bedecked in armor that gleams with a warm, inner light approaches the platform. The faces of those left behind are calm and without apparent emotion. They are as impressively appareled as the tall man, and one among them is eerily beautiful to look upon, though his face is somewhat gaunt and his eyes burn with the light of a fanatic. Could this be the "boy" that everyone is talking about?

But no. When the tall man reaches the podium, he takes the helmet from his head with both hands and gently places is upon the platform next to him. He stands and the gathered crowd takes a collective breath. There is no doubt that this is the boy. His face has the ethereal beauty of an angel. His long, red hair is rumpled from the helm, yet serves to accentuate the fineness of his features and the never-shaved smoothness of his skin.

A furious plague of whispers breaks out in the crowd. The boy's armor is enameled with the ancient sun emblem of the Knights of Veseareus, completely contained within the more-ancient sun emblem of Pelor, bronze on bright gold upon a white field. He seems to embody the essence of the old order and the eternal order in one person. The boy reaches his gauntleted hands toward the sky. "Great Father Pelor, Lord of sunshine and good harvests, I beseech you to aid me in speaking to your flock that they might hear me and believe." A visible glow springs up around the boy and then recedes.

"Come," he motions to those toward the back of the crowd, "Gather in toward me that I might share with you the blessings of Pelor and banish your afflictions." The crowd immediately begins jostling as some push their way toward the front. Nobody retreats though. Not all seem convinced but few are without their aches and pains and they don't wish to be left out if there is any benefit to be received. "Father, bless these people, your flock, and take from them their illness and hurts. They have ahead of them a trying time and will need their wits and their strong arms to aid them," with that, the boy sweeps his arms to either side and a visible wave of energy rolls out away from him, reaching to the back of the crowd. Two women fall to their knees and are helped up by those standing nearest. More than one careworn face in the crowd shows a tear as they react to what they have felt. Pains so old that they have been forgotten become starkly evident again when they are abruptly gone. One old codger toward the rear who'd long ago accepted that his days were numbered began blurting out "Praise Pelor!" at odd and inappropriate moments. Nobody seemed bothered.

The boy has everyone's attention now.

"Greetings and well-met, people of Merrybrook… Mayor Kitstock and his lovely missus, Lord Jon Haggart and Lady Melia Haggart. I thank you for lending me a moment of your valuable time, for I have news of great moment that I wish to share." Though the horsemen had been traveling with the boy for the better part of a week, they leaned forward visibly as he begins warming into his speech.

"My name is Theodore Ruuk. I am an avowed knight-errant of Veseareus. This emblem declares that allegiance. This greater emblem declares my allegiance to Pelor, to whom I pledge my life and my soul. The emblem of the order of Veseareus is completely contained by the emblem of Pelor, for all that the Knights stand for is contained within the beliefs of Pelor. If a Knight of Veseareus goes against Pelor, he has, by definition, gone against the Order, just as a farmer who sleeps to mid-day has gone against the precepts of his vocation."

"I belabor this point because it is fundamental to what I must tell you. Every man has two codes. He has the formal code of behavior that his occupation demands. He also has the code of his character–the code of behavior that he observes. Much that is wrong with Laramis today is inherent in this juxtaposition. When a man's character permits him to stray beyond the borders of his duty, he becomes corrupt and ineffective–even contrary–in those duties."

"This applies whether a man is born low, and you and I were, or high, as the Lord Haggart was. All men have a duty and an obligation to fulfill it, whether it be to till the earth, to sit a throne, or to pound an anvil."

"My companions and I have a duty as well. Our duty is to see the rightful King of Laramis crowned. We do not know who this man might be, or whether he will be a man of Belcar, or Edas, Kramus or even the Wastelands, but we do know what he will be. He will be a man to whom the station of King will be the greatest opportunity to serve the many good people of Laramis to their greatest benefit, and not one who sees the throne as an instrument to bend the people of Laramis to his will and for his benefit. If you are one who believes that the duty of the people to their King is servitude, I ask that you leave now, for my words will not fall kindly upon your ears."

The crowd murmured and stirred for brief moment, but none made to walk away. No man volunteers for slavery after all.

"I am heartened to see that the men and women of Merrybrook remain free in their hearts, and do not easily bend to the yoke. But not all in Laramis agree. I must tell you a story that show an example of one who disagrees most vehemently with what you and I believe."

"First I will introduce the characters. I and my friend Link who stands there yonder are Edassians by birth. Fleet and his following man are tribesmen from the Maze Mountains. Bliz is a white elf from the Wastelands. Roevar is from Kramus. We have another companion from Belcar and one from Edas, who are not traveling with us today. We are a diverse group, as any can see, but one that has suffered many losses since the start of the orc uprising."

"Blessed Broth Milos was slain by a Dragon in the Maze Mountains. Salvador Damingo fell in the Great Forest. A'rok Jonatan Bernardo died in the Battle of Brewford. We lost the white elf Dreyefel to the cave giants of Jagsra's Chasm. The dwarf Tanu'uk was killed by the demon-men who haunt the depths of the earth. But the lost companion that I wish to tell you about is Tucco, the Druid of the Great Forest."

"Tucco joined us in that great expanse of ancient wood to the east, where many have gone and few returned. He was a good and steadfast companion and we would not have lived through the travails of the Swamp of Evernight without him. It was he who bore a relic of great power for us for the benefit of Laramis after it was taken from the dead hand of the Orc Warlord, Grush, the perpetrator of the uprising. No man may claim to own a storied item of such power, only bear it as nobly as possible in the service of all men."

"And yet there was one man who sought to own it for his own power, though it was not entrusted in him, and he shed not his blood to obtain it. He sought to do murder and then thieve it for himself. To our great despair, he succeeded in the first, if not the last. We know not who gave the order, but we will give you the information that we have so that you may judge for yourself."

"Tucco was lured off by a mysterious message in River Run and was killed before the rest of us could locate and rescue him. He fought to the end and slew one of his captors, but the others overcame and murdered him with knives. We arrived hot upon their crime and managed to slay another as they fled, with their hands still bloody."

"We found upon the body of one of the assassins the mark of a long forgotten guild of muderers for hire, the Dagger Eye guild. I have here a bit of the hide of that monster, preserved for your evidence. Please pass it around and my pardon to the ladies here. The last one killed was recognized by a local man as a member of Baron Hamilton Jovus' personal bodyguard. We have since confirmed that identification with numerous others."

"We knew that Baron Jovus had issued a warrant for our arrest before Tucco was murdered. That warrant charged us with the crime of spying for Edas, which we knew was a charge of convenience, as we'd done no such thing. This charge was the excuse that Baron Jovus used to justify his declaration of war against Edas. That declaration was false. It was part of a plan to force Edas to its knees so that Baron Jovus might strip it of its wealth and declare himself King of all Laramis."

"Baron Jovus charged his son, Duke Christophe, with the duty of carrying out our capture and arrest, among other things. We believe that it is Duke Christophe that revived the ancient band of assassins and dispatched them to murder Tucco and retrieve the artifact. We had evidence, but not proof, that this was so."

"We do know that it was Duke Christophe that dispatched Judge Tantalor to kill my companions, but the Judge underestimated their abilities and was himself slain."

"When my companions returned to the East after stumbling upon and slaying a Paladin of Neruul and his cult near the Chasm, they found a battle raging between Belcarian and Edassian forces. You have all heard of this battle no doubt, but I would have you know that the mighty army of Belcar was not defeated by superior forces or more skilled warriors–Edas was all but beaten when my companion arrived. General Bernardo had been slain and the Edassians fought what they knew was a battle they must lose. I know their mind because I was one of them. General Bernardo's blood spilled upon me when he fell. We were a wretched lot."

"But the companions arrived and slew Judge Wellington and Belcar's General, though General Bernardo's son A'rok was himself slain. The Belcarian army's heart was broken. Knowing their cause was not just, they lost the will to continue butchering their fellow Laramisians and retreated to the west, leaving the field to Edas. Let me reiterate. Belcar chose to quit the field; they were not routed."

"Two fine generals and countless brave soldiers died upon that bloody ground–the price of Hamilton Jovus' greed and ambition. You must judge for yourself the righteousness of his actions, but I have judged for myself and found him wanting."

A scuffle breaks out on the north side of the square between the bound man and those holding him. It is brief.

"I joined my companions after the battle, admittedly a poor replacement for the fallen A'rok Bernardo. Alas, duty does not always call upon us to replace lesser men. We journeyed again to the west to retrieve another relic from the depths of Jagsra's Chasm."

"We fought through great dogs that breath fire; wall-climbing giants that rend men in two with their powerful arms, and demon men called 'Cambions' that dwell deep in the dark heart of the world. We befriended a small scavenger who led us to the lair of Jagsra where we slew his dragon and then brought down Jagsra himself."

"But Jagsra is immortal and cannot be slain my man or beast. When we bested him, he was forced to give us the relic that we sought. This relic rightfully belongs to the True King of Laramis, and will be surrendered to him after he is coronated."

"When we emerged from the Chasm, we were confronted by none other than Christophe and a platoon of heavy horse, along with the two living Judges left to Laramis and their men. We showed to them the Great Shard of Krandasius, and the Judges both confessed that the time of the Judges had come and gone, and they rode off with their men to rule Laramis no more."

"Duke Christophe, your patron and master, Lord Haggart, demanded the Shard from us and tried to take it by force. But his men knew thievery when they saw it, these fine Knights of Diston Keep, and they ceased their assault when the Duke was defeated. Again, they were not beaten by military prowess, but convinced by their own sense of decency and goodness to stop. We saved the Duke from death and he stands there, our prisoner being conveyed to a place where he will be given a fair trial, witnessed by these soldiers and such dignitaries from Belcar as choose to attend. He is charged with murder by proxy and attempted theft by proxy. He is further charged with attempted murder and attempted theft. You may not be accustomed to the high being subject to the law the same as the low, but that is natural law, and one that the True King of Laramis will see to."

"You may look upon me with a sly eye and wonder who this 'True King' might be, and wouldn't it be cozy if he happened to be a man of Edas? I tell you in the name of Pelor that I do not know who this man might be. I do know that those who toil to reunite Laramis under the True King are from all lands, and that all lands will have fair say in who is chosen. Our King will not be a despot. He will not be a thief or a murderer. He will live by the law and be subordinate to the law as all men must be. Our King will love the good men of each land equally, Kramus as well as the Wastelands, Belcar as well as Edas."

"We, my companions as well as the Knight of Veseareus, beseech you to hold to what is true and right in your hearts and to accept no sovereign who seeks to reign for his own sake. I do not ask that you march in open rebellion of your Baron, only that you abide until the time comes to make a choice, and then to choose wisely. I ask you to do nothing that is not righteous in Pelor's eyes, only that you see clearly and without presumption."

"Thank you good people of Merrybrook, Mayor, Missus Kitsock, Lord and Lady Haggart, for hearing me out. I wish you the best of fortune in your dealings and depart from you in peace. I will remain in Merrybrook only long enough to answer any questions that any of you may have and then we must ride. Pelor's blessings to you my friends and countrymen."

As the boy picks up his helmet and returns to his companions, a group of people from the crowd follow him, including the Lord and Lady Haggart. For the next hour, many questions are asked of him and the others, although Duke Christophe has to be gagged early on after far too many threats. When the companions mount and ride away, many in Merrybrook are left pondering the days to come and what their role should be in the future.