This page contains excerpts from various tabletop campaigns taking place in the world of Aeldos. Much of it is old, not particularly well written, and may not make much sense as it was written as session introductions for participants in ongoing games and lacks context. It’s provided here for reference and to give some idea of the tone and types of characters and plots you might find in Aeldos.
Content Warning: Stories below contain the following: Violence, Slavery, Gore
- Haevian Nevarrus
- Lilya Vir aka Fleet
- Zila Voss aka Fedha
- Maair Vansen aka Marcus
Titles: The Unbinders, The Heroes of Kerv Oss, Chain-breakers, Jackslayers, Wartouched, The Resolute
Strafer listened carefully to the sounds of his cell and the arena above it. He had been captive now for several months, and confined to this particular cell for weeks. In the absence of daylight he’d grown skilled at discerning the time of day by sound. The way the sounds of the world dulled to a whisper, even in the raucous city of Kerv Oss, told of night.
Strafer checked his chains. One chain remained solid, but the chain on his right hand had been worn ragged by the dozens, perhaps hundreds of prisoners that it had been used to contain. The time had arrived. He spared a brief moment to pray to Oto, god of warriors, that Haevian would honour the deal. Strafer was a good judge of character but the years between Strafer’s last encounter with the legionary and his current state indicated a man who had undergone much, and it was Strafer’s experience that people do indeed change. Sometimes too much.
The gentleman bandit put those thoughts aside and focused, waiting for the lone guard who patrolled the cells to pass by his area.
“Osser” Strafer called, using the, generally pejorative term for an Ossandrian.
The guard turned to look at him, his eyes narrow but his demeanour bored and clearly well weathered by insults.
“I need to piss,” Strafer chirped.
The guard laughed.
“That’s what the hays for.”
“I thought it was for your wife.”
The guard grinned.
“I see what you’re doing here.” the guard said.
“And yet you’re still going to fall for it.”
The guard laughed.
“You must think me an idiot.”
“Well I don’t think you’re a genius.”
The guards grin dimmed slightly.
“You’re clever but I’m not coming in there.”
Strafer smiled his winning smile for a moment and then began to hum, a strange hum.
The guards face flushed red at the sound. An unconscious growl rose from him and his fists clenched and unclenched as he reached for the key on his belt and opened the cell door.
Strafer crouched over the unconscious guard, a profusion of cursing emanating from his crouched form. None of the keys fit his manacles. His right hand was free, though tethered by several feet of chain, but the other chain was well mortared and unlikely to come loose in the next few minutes. The lock was a complex thing that would take much longer than he had to pick with the tools available. He could not afford to delay. Once the guard awoke his escape would be ended. Strafer searched the chain for any weak point, any flaw. His eyes drifted to the only weak point he could see. He cursed and searched the guard again. When the second search turned up no keys Strafer steeled himself, pulling off the guards scabbard. The bandit looped the scabbard around his already entrapped arm and unsheathed the guards sword,lifting it high above his head. He picked the exact point of weakness, bringing the blade down with all his strength.
The Praefects Luck
Young Praefect Vaius Kolok mopped the sweat from his brow, stepping back from the work. The ruins were immense and deep, but the ages had seen the collapse of everything not built from Orick. It had taken months of labour to uncover the corpse of a first age city named Kerv. For all their labour there had been little reward for their sweat and blood. The city had either been ransacked previously and its most precious assets had been locked beyond their access.
“How much longer are we going to keep at this Vaius?” First Spear Quintus Iunius leaned against his shovel, shielding his eyes from the beating sun. Vaius grinned at Iunius, shaking his head.
“Not what you imagined when joining the legion, eh Quintus?”
Quintus chuckled. “Not exactly sir. We’ve been at this for three months with nothing to show. Surely this is a job for slaves, not soldiers.”
“Oh I’m not sure the Emperor makes that distinction Quintus.” Vaius smiled. The Praefect motioned to another legionary to take his shovel and headed away from the dig site. It was the 48th such site. Kolok selected a direction at random and began walking into the ruins. Quintus snapped his fingers and two legionaries accompanied them as Vaius wandered. The Praefect ran one hand along the wall of the ruin, fingers finding the grooves of seams untouched for centuries.
Quintus chimed from a step behind “Sir, I don’t see the point of all this. It’s clearly empty.”
“Is it?” Vaius was tired of the place but still astonished by it. Millenia of silence dominated the sound of the legionaries working to uncover this place. For all the absence, the emptyness of the ruin, there was also a ghost that lingered here. Some presence that demanded Kolok’s attention.
“Don’t you feel that Quintus. There’s something here. We’ve only scratched a small portion of the surface. We must continue.”
“Sir…” Quintus hesitated.
“What about your father Sir? We can’t continue to ignore his orders.”
Vaius stopped, turning to his first spear. His eyes narrowed and he loomed above the man. Quintus shrunk into the shadow of the Praefects muscular form.
“What orders Quintus?”
Quintus remained silent, locking his eyes on Kolok’s sandals. He was no coward but the Praefect sometimes made him feel like one.
“Precisely. Now tell the men to;” Kolok heard the sound far to late to react, the groan of stone and orick, a snap and suddenly he and Quintus were falling. He felt his head bounce off rock and he tumbled, rolling into darkness, his senses briefly dashed from his head. When he awoke he peered up. He was several dozen feet below the surface, a single beam of daylight illuminating the stagnant ruin. To his left were the corpses of Quintus and the one of the guards, crushed beneath the fallen ruins. His own leg was broken and his hair and face wet with blood. For a moment he could see only darkness and death, but his eyes adjusted, and when they did, when the shadows took readable shape, he peered at the ground below, tracing the form of a great circular door. He pushed dust and dirt away, revealing first age symbols that washed all thought of his dead friend from his mind.
The Praetor and the Prince
Praetor Vaius Kolok awoke in a cold sweat and the thundering of his blood in his ears. He stared into the darkness at the foot of his bed, aware of but unable to see the creature he knew was there.
But he heard the voice. Not in the hot air of the summer night, but in his skull. His own voice distorted.
“How long?” the voice asked.
“Soon. A month at most.” Kolok said.
The Praetor felt his heart stop, his lungs seize, his breath chill as the face of the creature emerged from the shadows.
“Too long.” the creatures voice echoed inside Koloks head.
“There have been complications. Materials were lost, but I’ll have it sorted shortly.” Kolok said.
“He knows.” The voice said, and Kolok watched its body emerging from the shadows, walking to the balcony to stare out at the moon.
“He won’t be able to get a Legion here in time.” Kolok said, rising from the bed. The creature turned to look at him and Kolok felt far more naked than he ever had.
“They’re already coming.” the creature said.
Kolok’s mind raced but he pulled on his demeanour with the same ease as the robe that he kept by the bed.
“How close?” Kolok asked.
The creatures eyes seemed to stare into the distance, its features momentarily distorting like melting glass.
“The third and sixth legions departed from Aretia two days ago. The fifth legion will depart from Meshana in the week.” it said.
Kolok struggled to maintain his calm. The mere presence of the thing, which he had once dubbed the Prince, made his spine itch and his skin crawl. He’d seen others reduced to grovelling and begging at its whim. Fortune had blessed him with a sterner constitution.
“That gives us several weeks. There is more than just marching for them to do. They’ll need to gather the Auxiliaere and Legate Vitarius is soft; he’ll want his troops in ideal condition for any conflict. It may be close but it should not interfere.” Kolok said with slightly more confidence than he felt.
“Should?” The Prince cocked its head, its eyes narrowing.
“Even if they arrive beforehand they won’t act immediately. To pit legion against legion is no small thing…” Kolok said.
“How civilized… And the Ossator?”
Kolok fought his instinct to look away from the creature, instead locking his eyes on its mouth, the bizarre curvature and glistening teeth, the alien musculature and the seam that ran down its face. The effort to sustain visual contact made the vein in his forehead throb.
“She… she is not an issue. She still doesn’t know… about the…about the…” Kolok stuttered and could feel a wetness on his cheek. He reached up and drew his hand across, pulling it away to reveal a livid red smear in the moonlight. He appeared to be crying blood. The Prince leaned in close and Kolok could taste blood in his mouth.
“Cavete Kolok. There are no sins so dangerous to those in power as pride and overconfidence.” The demonic face lingered for a moment before dissipating like smoke into the air. Kolok felt his body relax slightly, as if released from a giants grip. His hands shook and he rushed to the lavatory to vomit.
The Tyrant’s Rewards
The phantasmal Tyrant loomed before Kolok, his voice resonating in the Praetors bones.
“Bring me your victors. I wish to reward them”.
Kolok watched as the ephemeral form that framed the Tyrant’s empty eyes faded to nothing.
Kolok dutifully called one of his bodyguards and directed him to gather the Arena’s grand champions who now stood in the courtyard. The guardsman rushed from the room returning a few minutes later with the arena champions in tow. First to enter was Tai Yua, the Mujin mistwalker and bladeswoman. She bowed before the Praetor and folded her hands, moving to the side as the next victor entered. The surviving Tollam, Illmand, ducked the door frame to enter the room, his enormous shape clad in the same armour he wore in the arena, flecks of blood and all and his face obscured by the great steel mask. Next entered the emperor’s gladiators, the twins clad in their modified imperial guardsmen armour. Finally Kulah entered, bare chested and feral eyed. The Luxi shifter sniffed at the air, his muscles tightening and a frown falling across his face.
Praetor Kolok sat back, almost falling into his chairs, watching the warriors before him. His eyes settled on Kulah who was scanning the room, as if aware of the Tyrants presence.
“Each of you has proven your mettle in the arena. Your rewards have been great. Wealth and fame of course, but it seems a greater reward awaits.”
Mixed looks of confusion, avarice, and suspicion formed on the faces of the unmasked warriors. A few settled their hands on the pommels of their weapons.
A chilling dim fell on the room as the Tyrant took form. Illmand grunted, first to draw his cleavers at the thing that rose from shadow and mist, and the others quickly followed. The Tyrant stood, taller than the Tollam, it’s impossible alien form distorting the air itself. Skin like corded steel rippled as motes of shadow floated from its empty black face. Two horns curled from its head, and its long drifted lazily behind it. Clasped between its two clawed hands was the crowned staff. Illmand shouted and rushed the creature, heedless of its calm demeanour and the Praetor’s grim grin. The blow passed through the Tyrant as if through cloth. As quickly as the blade passed the body reformed. The Tyrant reached out with one hand, grasping the might Tollam by the shoulder and Illmand howled in agony as he dropped to one knee. The twins sprang forward at the sound, their folding spears snapping out as they rushed the Tyrant. With an effortless motion the creature knocked them aside with its great staff, the force of the blow leaving them stunned against a wall. Illmand’s howl turned to a scream, a bitter, agonized bleating as the Tyrant leaned down on him, fingers seeming to pass through his great plate mail unimpeded.
The Praetor looked on, a cold grimace spreading to his face. He had seen this before and though he had hoped not to see it again, he knew the price for his cooperation was to stay silent in this or risk becoming like the poor fools before him. He was however, surprised by what happened next.
Kulah growled. Not a human growl, but something from a beast. A chilling sound that accompanied a chilling sight as the luxi warriors skin crawled and bent around his shifting skeleton. In seconds Kulah was no longer a human. His neck and limbs lengthened, and grew with powerful muscles as his face distorted to that of some horrific canine. His glowing white eyes fixed on the Tyrant, Kulah unsheathed vicious avian talons and leapt at the creature, shredding its form into smoke and dust. Illmand’s cries dulled as the Praetor watched on in amazement. Kulah snapped and growled at the air, his eyes darting at the rooms long shadows. A long moment passed and the Praetor looked on, frozen in his seat as the shifter advanced on him, his thick neck hair bristling and his enormous canines bared.
And then it reappeared. The Tyrant grasped Kulah by the back of the neck with one hand, like a disobedient whelp, and with the other it resumed its grasp on Illmand. The room swelled with the sound of terrible pain and swirling shadows, Illmands voice accompanied by Kulahs now inhuman howl.
Kolok closed his eyes until the screaming stopped.
The Price of Power
Kolok shook with anticipation. He was so close. He stood at the vault door, his daughter Celia beside him, shuddering silently with the chemical pleasure offered by the spider-silk dress she wore. He had purposefully kept her away from the Tyrant’s Ceremony. She would not have understood, not today, but in time she would. Once she saw the wonders of the vault, the first age treasures he dreamed of, the power to dethrone the emperor, then she would understand. He strode ahead of his Lictors and down the stairs towards the door, the skin of mixed blood in his hands. The blood of thousands, loyal legionaries, great warriors, terrible beasts. All to open the vault.
When he arrived the Tyrant was waiting for him. He paused, momentarily startled by its physical presence, but only for a moment. Kolok moved to the locking mechanism, touching the strange sigil etched in the floor and causing a small tapered pillar to rise in the centre of the door. The sides of the pillar were wrought with a spiral pattern, intended to feed the blood down to the door. Kolok began to uncork the skin and yelped when the Tyrant grasped his wrist. He looked to the things face; its hollow eyes, its curled horns, its mouth and nose a single recessed slit shaped like an inverted T. When it spoke the folds of flesh moved around this orifice revealing it to be its mouth.
“What do you mean not yet? I’ve done my part. We have the blood.”
“Not. All. Of. It.” each word was like a drum and Kolok could feel his heart seize.
“Wait. We made a deal.” The Praetor struggled against the creatures grasp and fell backwards as it let go. The Tyrant stepped forward, looming over him. The Praetor cried out for his guards but they stood stock still, watching like statues. The Tyrant leaned down, its lips uncurling as it began to make a sound that could only distantly be called a laugh. It stepped back from the Praetor and straightened up.
Kolok stared at the creature in confusion
Kolok only consciously understood what it had said after the creature had picked Celia up by the throat and impaled her on the pillar. It was a motion so quick and efficient that she did not have time to scream. Celia kicked and gasped, blood bubbling from her as the Tyrant snatched the blood-skin from Kolok’s hand and uncorked it on top of the dying girl. The sound of ancient machinery coming to life filled the pit as the great door beneath them began to open. Kolok rushed to his daughter, his voice both a scream and a whimper as he vainly tried to extract her from the pillar. The light in her green eyes faded to grey as he heard the Tyrant emit a chuckling hum and head down the stairs now revealed by the open vault door. Kolok closed his daughters eyes and kissed her, tears streaming down his face, his fists clenching and unclenching. He howled as he stood and drew his gladius, chasing the Tyrant down the stairs.
At the bottom he found himself in a corridor lit by blue lights. Every dozen meters a great door was situated but the Tyrant strode down the corridor and each barrier fell at the wave of his hand. Kolok rushed the creature his steel biting deep into its back. The Tyrant continued, seemingly unaware of the attack. Each wound the Praetor inflicted simply stitched itself together before the next one would be opened. Kolok slashed again and again, the Tyrant paying him no heed as it opened the last door. Kolok gained a distant and sudden awareness of a persistent and growing drone which became a sudden rush of sound and light, filling the vault as the final door opened. Kolok was thrown to his knees, deaf and blind. When sight and sound returned he looked on as the Tyrant approached a pedestal atop which sat a fist sized shard of crystal, bright as the sun and humming in a tone that made his heart ache and his bones freeze. The Praetor struggled to get up but his whole body was numbed by whatever force was emanating from the podium. Even the Tyrant seemed to struggle to approach it. Seconds elongated, time froze, and suddenly the Tyrant’s finger touched the shard and all was dark in the vault.
The Night of Fire
Anekitos looked up, towards the pillar of fire piercing the black dome above Kerv Oss. The shadow of the Tyrant fell long over the Ossandrian city. Anekitos was tired. The time he had saved had not been enough. He could feel the shaped years fading into the night, his briefly restored youth ebbing and his old pains returning. Every minute brought a stiffening of his hand and the dimming of his vision.
As he walked towards the rising Tyrant he consoled himself with the grim thought that at least he was not likely to die old and in bed.
The old man with the young face reached out with hidden senses to feel the Shifter, the Spy, the Soldier, and the Smith. They were outside the walls, heading south. Anekitos maintained his grip on the Cambion, the corrupted Tollam and Luxi that had tried to stop the group, just in case they had been sent on purpose. He doubted the Tyrant knew, but it was unwise to underestimate gods, even the broken ones. He traced the shapes in his mind, the threads that governed mass and force, pulling the strugging monstrosities towards the heart of Aeldos. He could not kill them; indeed he was not certain they could die, but he poured as much force as was necessary into delaying them, all the while continuing his own journey, towards arena, and the wall between Old Kerv and new. The Cythralls of the corrupted legion, the Tyrant’s toys, lunged towards them, but it was simple to cast them aside. Simple but tiring. Every mote the Tyrant cast in his direction diminished the old Shaper, and keeping the Cambions chained even more so. He cursed his frailty but tried to focus.
A small part of his mind took some comfort in knowing that he’d done what he could. The die was cast. Anekitos had taken the auspices, and the great tome had spoken. Now he had entrusted everything to the five.
The old Shaper reached the wall between old Kerv and New and stopped. He looked up towards the vast tower of light and heat that lunged up from the bones of Kerv and knew then that his end was near. He cleared his mind, releasing his shapings, and felt his will refreshed. He took a moment, closing his eyes and steadying his breathing. The heat near the wall was unbearable but he offered himself some comfort by stilling the area around him. He placed his his palms together and started a new shaping, calling up all the knowledge of his thousand years of life. He’d had more than any could ask for, and now he would do what should be done with it.
Praetor Kolok dashed down the burning side streets of Kerv Oss, his right arm dangling limply and blood coursing from a gash on his brow. His skin burned, as if he’d sat in the sun for a week, but he swallowed the pain and continued on. His mind retraced the last few minutes as he continued towards his only hope of escape…
The blast and the light caused by the Tyrant touching the crystal had thrown him a dozen meters, back to the base of the stairwell that led to the vault. He had struggled up, past the body of his daughter, only to be set upon by the Decia brothers in their new and twisted forms. He should have died there. Indeed he had been trapped. In that moment, with their spears at his throat, he had even embraced his fate, his guilt. He had taken Celia’s cooling hand and readied himself for the end.
But the world seemed to have had other plans.
In the space of a heartbeat the area around the vault had quaked, and then erupted into chaos. The old orick walls surrounding the vault entrance, impervious to most everything, glowed white and then vanished in an incinerating blast, and then the lesser walls of the old city seemed to do the same. The twisted gladiators had been cast from their feet by some invisible force, as if they were childrens dolls, their bodies rising into the sky like kites, thrown into crosswinds that sent them careening into the distance. Kolok found himself pulled into the air, and he would have shared the DEcia’s fate, had it not been for his daughter. He gripped her dead hand, her impaled body an anchor, for the few moments needed before the world seemed to right itself. When he fell back to earth, dazed and unsteady, he saw the source of the power. The wall between Old Kerv and New was gone, and a path, directly from the Arena to the Vault had been carved, and struggling along it was an old man, crooked and grey looking, with milky eyes and one blackened hand. A silver nimbus seemed to frame the old man and Kolok stood and crossed the charred ground towards the hunched figure.
“Vaius Kolok” the old man’s voice was hoarse and startling and Kolok could think of no response. His mind jostled for an identity for the man; he had saved him… was he a god? The Voice perhaps? Was it the…
“Emperor?” Kolok mumbled
The old man scoffed as he stopped before Kolok “No. I am not your emperor. And if I were I would think you should be more fearful.” The old man said
“Then… who are you?”
“Just another casualty to your foolish ambition. One who won’t be a pawn for a broken god.”
“I did not know.” Kolok said
“Of course you did. You just didn’t believe.” The old man said, “And because you did not believe, many will suffer in ways they have not since the first age.”
“It wasn’t part of the deal. She wasn’t…” Kolok mumbled, feeling stupid as soon as he said it. He could only think of Celia.
The Old Man looked past him, towards Celia’s corpse and a sadness seemed to rise in the milky white eyes. Kolok futilely stepped in front of the man, as if to block sight of his shame.
“Violence to empower him, Loyalty to revive him, and Hearts-blood to break the seal.” Said the old man, as if reciting some recipe. Kolok felt his heart chill. He had nothing he could say. The Old Man started towards the now exposed entrance to the vault and Kolok clenched his fists in rage and guilt and indignity at the Old Man’s impertinence and disregard.
“I did this! I brought all this! And you’re just going to ignore me. Just walk by. If I’m so loathsome, why did you save me? Just end it! “ Kolok screamed after the old man.
The old man stopped and turned, his milky white eyes seeming to burn straight through Vaius Kolok.
“I didn’t save you Kolok. That was the work of Celia and the Ayr. I’ll not cross their wills and put you out of your misery either. I hope the Ayr grant you a long life that you might linger and remember all of this, and see the name Kolok turn to ash and bile in the mouths of men.”
And with that the Old man turned back, and walked towards the pillar and the rising form of the Tyrant.
Kelda of Kynhold
It was poor luck that left Kelda and Dendra near the city walls when the ichor faced soldiers had swarmed from the ruins near Kerv Oss, corralling the pilgrims and driving them into the city. They were just returning to camp with supplies when Kelda had nearly been trampled by a throng of people pushing through the western gate in hopes of finding safety in Kerv Oss. Kelda’s mother, Dendra, had shielded the girl from the crushing press of bodies and Kelda had heard her mother gasp for air even as the Kynhold baker tried to fight her way out of the crowd. When the group had passed Kelda could see a half dozen bodies littering the area, people broken and gasping from the stampede. Her mother was amongst them. Dendra had collapsed and for all her might Kelda couldn’t wake her. Her mother’s once strong hands seemed so small in Kelda’s and so the young girl sat with her mothers still body, leaned up against the guard house, crying and watching as the grim faced monsters dragged men and women into the city. When one of the soldiers grabbed her collar she howled and gripped her mother tighter, but the inky black hands of the thing just pulled harder and her fingers slipped. The last time Kelda saw her mother she seemed to be sleeping…
Kelda had been thrown into a slave cage with other children, most of them crying. She didn’t recognize any of them. They looked at her with terror and she could feel the same black knot rising in her own chest. Looking around she could see the cage was one of many; large wood and steel cages, most filled with adults. The adults seemed so much like large children then; some wore rich clothing while others rags, but they howled and cried like children. Their faces were red and wet with sweat and tears, their voices cracking in terror. A dozen of these large cages filled the area, all packed with people. Kelda picked a spot in the wooden cage, an empty piece of wall, and sat against it, drawing her knees to her chest. When the ground quaked and the sky was broken by shadow then lit with fire the children keened and cried, sputtered and howled but Kelda kept silent. When the soldiers began dragging men and women from the other cages she closed her eyes and sat silent. And when all the adults had been taken and the soldiers came for the children she sat silent.
Dark figures, human in shape only, moved around the cage door their armour so much like the Ossandrian soldiers she had seen guarding the city, but also so different. It was as if they had been dipped in ink and twisted dry. Where their skin was exposed she could see web-like veins of black and their faces were all wrong, all not quite human. The dark soldiers opened the door and several children began to cry. Kelda pressed herself against the wall as the thing reached out for her. When it touched her she fought, with all her might, punching and kicking. The soldier gripped her tight by the hair and dragged her into the street in front of the cage. Kelda screamed with pain but kept fighting. She could see the terror in the eyes of the other children, but she knew the paralysing terror of being taken, and this time she wouldn’t go without a fight. The dark soldier grunted and struggled to maintain his grip on the Kelda but the chunk of hair ripped and she scrambled to her feet and fled down a nearby alleyway. The soldier dashed after her, leaving the other guard to watch the children.
Kelda fled blindly down the alley, aware of the sound of armoured footfalls behind her. She spared a glance over her shoulder and could see the ink soldiers eyes glowing a dull white in the darkness of the alley. Kelda ran harder, ran until all she could hear was her own breath and the pounding of her heart in her ears. She picked corners randomly and soon she was truly lost, but she also seemed to have lost her pursuer. She slowed her pace and crept towards what looked to be an exit to a main street. At the mouth of the ally she peered out and saw that she was right near the main square, the fountain of Kerv Oss rising ahead and flowing a lurid red. The fountain was surrounded by hundreds of people, who were themselves surrounded by dozens of the dark soldiers. Kelda watched as the soldiers forced people to the water where they each drank the bloody water. As they drank they seemed to change like the soldiers, their skin pulsing with black veins. Kelda watched as one man, a well dressed Ossandrian, fought back punching one of the soldiers, but those who had drank simply swarmed him, grabbing his arms and dragging him to the fountain. The swarm pushed his head under the water and he kicked and sputtered. Kelda felt a scream rise in her, an involuntary terror for the man and herself and her instincts kicked in. She turned to dash back down the alleyway, but found herself caught in the grasp of the same dark soldier who had attacked her in the cell. He still clutched her blonde hair in his fist as he slammed the back of his hand against her temple, knocking her to the floor. Kelda curled up as the soldier leaned down to grab her but before his hand could touch her again he was gone, ripped from his feet and into the air with such speed that Kelda almost thought it had been a dream. Kelda pushed herself into the wall and stared into the eaves above the alleyway where a grey shadow emerged. The Bellatori’s black eyes betrayed no emotion as it climbed down the wall. It’s hands were covered in blood and something black and Kelda felt a combination of horror and relief.
Kelda’s Bellator scooped her up without effort and leapt back up the side of the alley. They emerged on a roof overlooking the square and Kelda could see the body of the dark soldier lying in two pieces. The Bellator spared a glance towards the square but Kelda just buried her face in its chest and within moments they were racing across the roofs of Kerv Oss, towards the nearest wall enclosing burning city of Kerv Oss.
Flight from Flame
Vaius Kolok scrambled through the undergrowth along the edge of the Root River, using one hand to clutch the thick root hairs and drag himself against the strong current. The nights denizens were silent and he could only hear the sound of the rushing water and his own physical exertions. He had escaped the city via the bolt hole built into the repossessed farmers property on the edge of town. The tunnel had been cramped and filled with the sound of boots echoing on the ground above and when he had emerged it had been to a dozen of his best guards, dead or dying. From their he had ridden northward in a panic, driving the horse relentlessly through the night and the following morning. He had risked the time to rest the horse and search for gear but that had been a mistake. The beast, the corrupted Luxi Kulah, must have followed him. Kolok’s habit of narrowly escaping the clutches of his enemies had not diminished though and he had fled into the river before the aberration had caught him. Stumbling through the day, ever aware of the loping, stalking beast at his back, he had used every bit of knowledge gained as a Legionary, setting back trails, masking his scent with the leavings of predators, and picking his way carefully though narrow growth to hinder his pursuer. He had emerged onto the river and dropped down the embankment using the water to mask his scent and picking his way carefully to avoid leaving an easily followed trail. It had been almost a full day since he had heard his pursuer. Surely it must have given up pursuit…
Kolok continued along, exhausted and famished. He remembered eating eating only a few days ago, but his stomach differed on the assessment. It seemed like an age… his stomach growled and he paused, lodging himself between two thick roots. He scooped a handful of cool water to his mouth, hoping to silence his pangs and as he did he looked at his reflection in the water. He barely recognized himself. His face was pale and dirty, his eyes red. Thick welts had formed on his arms and hands; marks from scrambling in the dirt and destruction of Kerv Oss. He shook off useless, vain thoughts and drew the water up. As he brought the water to his mouth his view shifted; he saw its reflection in the moonlight for only a second before it had scooped him up with a cruel bark.
Kolok did not scream as the beast dragged him up the embankment, its claws buried deep in his shoulder. The power in its arms was immense and Kolok was too tired to offer any meaningful resistance. He lay on the ground as the creature stopped dragging him and settled crouched above him. It was a horror, but perhaps the least of the ones he had experienced of late. Its fur was black and greasy and its eyes hollow black spheres. The only emotions Kolok could see in it were animal emotions. It was a beast doing the bidding of its master. As much as he had fancied himself something more this creature was just his replacement. A new tool for the Tyrant to use.
The beast leaned in low, its thick breath rancid with blood and rage. He turned away as the creature leaned, turned away from the line of spittle that dripped from its jaws and spattered on his cheek. He could feel the end nearing and his empty stomach and broken heart welcomed it once more.
The creatures pained howl pulled him from his stupor and he scrambled back from the gout of blood pouring from the creatures chest as a bloody spear tip emerged from its chest. A long grey hand dug deep into the creatures shoulder from behind. Kolok moved away, sparing a glance to the strange creature that had skewered his pursuer; a grey thing, part bird and part reptile, its face with eyes as black as the Luxis. With natural armour plates, a lipless mouth, and an array of short horns on its crown. Kolok began to run towards the woods but was shocked to notice a small girl, no more than 10, hiding behind a tree. Her eyes were wide in terror, but locked on the struggle between the two monsters. Instinct drove Kolok to rush to her and he tried to scoop her up but she kicked at him and dug her fingers into the bark of the tree she was using as cover. He stood confused and looked back towards the struggle. The grey thing and the Luxi were slashing each other with ripping claws and Kolok’s opportunity to escape was rapidly diminishing. He leaned down and grabbed the girls shoulder and she pushed him off. Suddenly he realized the girl wasn’t watching out of terror, it was concern. In some capacity the grey skinned creature was… hers.
Kolok considered his options; he refused to compound his fate by abandoning the girl and that seemed to leave only two options; wait and watch and be the victim of one of these creatures or act. He certainly wasn’t going to fight alongside the corrupted, but maybe this girl and her guardian could help.
He cursed under his breath and crouched low, grasping a heavy rock that fit his hand. With a roar he lunged into the fray.
In the Mist
Tai Yua walked through the misty darkness of the void, reaching out with her spirit in search of escape. It seemed like years had passed since she slipped across the boundary into the limina, the space between worlds, the outsiders rift. It had been an attempt to escape the Tyrant, but it had become a sort of exile. She had recognized the creatures twisted form from her mothers bamboo scrolls; the crown, the face, the strange length and thinness of the creature. As the child of a shaman Tai Yua had been forced to burn images of the gods into her memory, particularly the laughing gods. Like many Mujin she had always believed that the gods were merely hiding; not dead or gone as others said. Now she knew it to be true.
Perhaps it had been years; In the space between worlds she could survive without food, water, and sleep; she did not exist here as a body but as something else. It was no comfort though. She had always been warned of the things that lurk in the rift. Normally she spent mere moments in the void but the Lordly Ayr had touched her before she could escape and the simple touch had been enough to cast her far off her stride. She had been deposited deep in the rift, lost in way she had not been since childhood.
She clutched the pommel of her sword tightly and focused. She peered into the mist for landmarks, something to guide her. Normally the real world cast shadows here, beacons to follow, but wherever she had been cast it had been far away from any such luxury.
Tai drove forward, one step at a time. She started to count out the steps but abandoned the endeavour when the amounts grew so large as to dull hope. After that she began focusing on her breathing and her heartbeat. Thoughts to tie her to her body and her self. After a time even those sounds grew too depressing; a reminder of hunger and tiredness and the warmth of the real world. She struggled to maintain her focus, as her mother had long taught her, but she had never spent so long in the mist. It had a dulling effect… a maddening effect.
Her thoughts began to slip into the mist; the things that lurked there. She had been in the void so long but had seen none of the threats she knew inhabited this place. It was distressing to think that she had been cast so far out that even the monsters did not tread here.
It was while contemplating this thought that she saw it; a great shadowy spire reaching up in the mist. That she didn’t recognize it might have concerned her had she not been overjoyed by its mere existence and the implications thereof.
Tai Yua emerged from the void into a new sort of darkness. A heavy rain and a pressing night. She took her first breath of Aeldan air and croaked with joy as the rainwater touched her lips and tongue. She looked around and saw that she was standing on a road, a wide and well trodden path that cut through a thick and shadowy forest. She peered down the road and out through the rain, struggling to make out the tower she had seen in the void. She felt weak and weary and turned in either direction to scan the straight road and it was only after a few minutes, when the rain had softened slightly, that she could see it; the source of the shadow in the void. A great mountain looming in the east, with a small silver jewel set n its facing slope. It would be days, perhaps weeks away, but it was there and Tai Yua began walking on real dirt, through real rain, and towards the city of Selene.
Elu and the Ebon Legion
Elu stood watch at the tower, bored and cold. As usual the chill had come early to the Illspires, with no interim between the burning heat of summer and the biting cold of winter. Elu picked his way carefully along the old wooden structure, his eyes searching the valley below for movement. He pushed his hands into his cloak and shrugged his shoulders to his ears for warmth.
Elu was in his twenty-fifth year, and it seemed to him he’d spent more than half those years staring out over the the western reaches of Ossandria. He did not identify strongly with the Empire; he was a settler, born of Ossandor but son to the rugged few that sought freedom from the Imperator. His parents and two dozen others had found some semblance of that freedom in the crumbled ruins in the mid-hills of the mountains. Here, amidst peaks, plateaus, and valleys they’d carved out their own domain. A dozen towers guarded their small village, each manned by another cold, bored, young man.
Not that it was always boring. Every now and again some savage beasty or bandit would press their luck; he’d seen his fair share of Grot and Grommen creep along the edge of the cliff, intent on an easy meal. Unfortunately for them Elu had spent his life training with his bow and dagger and, save a few scars, he’d ended each contest the victor. He sifted through his memories for entertainment but found them well worn, all excitement drained from them.
Elu reached the top of the tower and sat on his stool, leaning his bow against the rough wood wall. He pulled his hands up and stared out into the darkness, yawning and shaking his head.
He heard it first. Rocks and metal; the sound of climbing gear. He jerked to attention and peered down at the ledge of the cliff. For a moment he could only hear them, not see them, but then black hands silhouetted against the grey rock and those hands hauling up a human body. Elu stood, his seasoned hands silently lifting the bow and drawing an arrow. The figure stood in the darkness, no doubt surveying the area. Elu thought it peculiar that the man did not light a lantern, but perhaps he was a scout like him, better in the dark than the light. Not that it would help Elu thought; the tower was well hidden, built to blend in with the ridge and the few trees perched atop it. Elu almost felt bad as he knocked the arrow.
Then his heart froze. He could still hear the sound; the shuffling, stilted sound of climbers.
Dozens of hands, hundreds, began to appear on the ridge, each one pulling up another body. It was a legion of figures, all moving in darkness.
Elu felt his breath catch and eased the tension off of his bow. There were more on the ledge than in his entire village. He had to signal them, to blow the warning, the call to flight, and hope that his family was faster than these interlopers. Elu pulled the horn from his belt and crouched, taking a deep breath. But the breath was stolen by an impossible sight… new figures appearing over the ridge; grommen and grots, gultor and atrox… all manner of beast hauling themselves up the cliff alongside the humans. Elu felt his knees weaken and fell back and suddenly he could see a figure drifting in the sky, an impossible, horned silhouette, a silent doom hovering in the chill night sky.
The Voice of Alabaster
Rishi the taker sat with her brethren, taking a meal of fruit and bread at the edge of the ruin. The mourning mist had faded and thinned and Rishi knew they were nearly done with the echo settlement. Only a few of the lingerers remained to quiet.
Rishi thought about the travellers she had met earlier. She thought of their interest, their concern; indeed their curiosity. Rishi wondered if she had broken the second oath… at best she’d pushed the boundaries of ‘silence’ by writing with them, but Cowla, leader of her claque had said nothing and she was content not to bring the issue up. The exclusion of her kind from society was not entirely chosen, but she could see it was not entirely self-imposed either.
The sudden dull thud of rocks collapsing nearby caused her and her brethren to start. They stood and peered into the mist. The silence of the the ruin was broken by bestial grunting and chirping.
Rishi’s nose curled at a sudden foul odor, a smell like curdled milk and rotted meat.
Cowla stood, setting his bread down, and pulled back his cloak to arm himself. Rishi stared as Cowla drew the thin black serpents fangs and felt a shiver run up her spine. Cowla motioned for the other Takers to step back as he turned one blade to a downward grip and walked towards the origin of the sound.
Silence and the fog held Rishi’s breath.
Abruptly the mist swirled and coiled as dozens of shadows burst into form.
Those takers who had steel drew it, but combat was not an art widely practised by their kind. Rishi spotted a pile of stones, once the foundation of the settlement and scooped several up. She watched the advancing creatures; they looked to her like some sort of Grot but.. Not quite. Grots were dumb, foul, beasts, no threat to most. These creatures were something else; hunched and foul but decorated in bones and ochre, and bearing sharpened sticks for spears and thick knobbed branches as clubs. A few wore the bloody skins of woodland creatures as crude covering. More frightening, they seemed to coordinate as they surrounded Cowla and the others rushing them simultaneously, screeching and leaping upon the Takers.
Rishi had seen death; had seen the very moment of transition. Echos shared all and she’d even shared the experience of dying at the hands of beasts… but this was something else. The Grots weren’t trying to kill, not quickly anyhow. They cast their crude spears into the ankles and thighs of the defenders and then descended on them, biting at their backs and arms, bleeding them and rendering them prone but not quite taking the killing blow. As one Taker fell a pair of Grots leapt to his shoulders and began clubbing him around the face and neck. Cowla lopped the head off one, and another, and skewered two more, but they were a seemingly endless horde.
Rishi found her hands numb, like they had been thrust in ice cold water; she clumsily hurled stones, struggling to keep her wits at the sight. One of her stones struck a Grot in the head and it turned, blood flowing from the wound. She cast another stone which it dodged as it advanced towards her. The cast stone clattered off some rocks, drawing the attention of other Grots.
Rishi turned and fled into the darkness of the forest. She ran hard, driven by a sudden terror, an image of what the Grots might do to the disabled. Rishi’s eyes watered, her heart pounded. She could feel them hounding her as she careened madly into the Rothult. Rishi knew death, but she had never known such fear of it.
A burning pain shot up her leg and she tumbled forward. Looking down she could see the crude spear that had pierced her ankle and ended her flight. She cried out in pain, breaking her oath. The grot that speared her leapt onto her legs and she felt its needle teeth pierce her calf. She kicked it off and saw a second one, and then a third and then a dozen all loping towards her; cold black eyes and sharp teeth were all she saw before she closed her eyes and…
The new pain, the expected torment did not come.
Instead Rishi’s eyes were pried open by an awful squeal, and then another. A dozen awful inhuman shrieks. She could see the Grots standing, howling at the forest floor; they stabbed and scratched at their feet and Rishi could see why; the ground had erupted with worms, thousands of them knotting themselves around the Grots. The impossibly long black worms crawled up the Grots, coiling into their mouths and eyes, exerting some immense force as they dragged her attackers into the loam and dirt. Rishi scrambled back from the scene on her good ankle, dragging her bleeding and broken one until she collided with something.
Rishi turned her body and her hands unconsciously gripped the robe that hung before her. She looked up, and yelped as she saw the faceless alabaster mask, and the long porcelain fingers that reached for her.
Elu dashed through the dark forest, only able to pick out the nearest obstacles to avoid. His breath was ragged, his lungs burned. His tongue was thick in his mouth from lack of water. He could not keep up the pace. He had been running for the entire night. It was chasing him, the thing from the fortress. Elu vaulted a fallen tree and slid down a gully, his bare feet scraped by the rough rocks and shocked by the chill water gathered at the base.
He did not know what had happened. He had been sleeping in his bunk, dreaming of his wife, when a scream had awoken him. At first he had thought the scream was part of the dream, but when the others began to move he knew something was wrong. He had been the first to venture to the locked door, and the first to start kicking when he heard the roar. He and the other slaves had broken the lock with a few kicks but they had emerged into a nightmare. The cavern had been dark, lit only by the dull coals of fires and a few pillars of dull moonlight channeled through the crevices above, and the gloom had hid much, but he could see the monster; gigantic, twice the height of a man, and as broad across; a twisting mass of muscles which seemed to slither like eels; thick veins of black pulsing as it was fed on the slavehouse opposite his own. He had been frozen in shock as the creature dragged its victims from the house, its writhing, fleshy, tendrils encircling them. Elu had watched as the creature finished the last of the slaves, turning towards him just in time to reveal its razor maw and amplify the anguished cry of its victim. Elu had fled, but not alone. He had seen a score of others ahead and behind, driven equally by fear and the opportunity for freedom. They had all fled into the night. A cluster of them had gathered at the entrance to the fortress-cave, apparently known to each other, setting off in one direction. Elu had other plans. He had been vindicated hours later when he heard their cries, the bleating of a falling herd. Foolishly he had thought himself safe, slowing his pace but it had taken the creature only minutes to find his next target.
Elu leapt from stone to stone across the thin river. Though his mind was nearly overwhelmed with terror and exhaustion, a single question turned in his head; what had he done to deserve this? He found himself entering thick forest. Spruce and maple crowded close and he angled towards even denser parts. If the creature would take him, it would have to take the trees with it. A sudden bellow, somewhere between a horn and a roar broke the silent night, its origin only minutes behind. The roar spurred him on and he found himself crashing through the branches. Stealth seemed pointless; the creature had his scent. What safety could he find?
The wayhouse perhaps, but it was still a day away, and he had no map, no compass, no sense of his position. If he could just find the…
Elu stumbled through the dense foliage and out onto the clear road. The light of the moons Nyx and Viator, and their position in the sky answered his questions, but they could not give him time.
The sound of timber cracking preceded the creature as it burst blindly from the forest knocking Elu to the ground. He scrambled backwards, seeking his footing, hoping to flee, but the thing was too big, too fast and it snatched him up, dangling him from above. In that last moment, Elu did not scream. He prayed. Not to the Imperator, as his parents had, or the Warrior as his village had. He prayed to the merciful tenth, the Voice. In his last moments as Elu he prayed as his grandmother had taught him to. It did not stop the pain. The agony of his flesh being parted by iron teeth, his bones snapped by grinding muscle. He felt himself break and die, but the Voice had heard.
The Encircled Path
- Venya the Steward
- Sarv the Dancer
- Intan the Tinker
- Otrey the Bellatori
- Sylla the Wolf Child
- Myst the Wolf
- Fang the Exile
- Khai the Pilgrim
- Diisa the Clatterjack
Premise and Recaps
In the north of Aeldos there is the country Svertheim; an alliance of city-states in the shadow of the Sword Peaks. Here in the frigid and dangerous lands of the north the hardy and clannish people of Svertheim have carved a life from the dense forests, vast plains, and treacherous mountains using cunning, hard work and sheer will. Fortified settlements, some hundreds or thousands of years old, have grown into bastions in a dangerous wilderness. These loci, at the heart of farming, foresting, and mining communities, linger under constant threat of attack by savages, monsters, and bandits.
The characters start in one such bastion known as Allfrehem, nestled in the eastern forests, on the edge of Svertheim lands. Drawn together by unseen forces these locals and foreigners alike share one specific feature; a strange sigil encircling their left wrist. At some point in their life, recent or remote, this arcane black symbol appeared after a strange dream has been with them since. For one reason or another the sigils have drawn them together, but to what end? In the absence of immediate answers there’s always work to be found in Allfrehem, particularly for the courageous and skilled…
Key names, places and concepts are in bold.
=== First Impressions ===
After a long journey **Intan the Tinker**, **Sarv the [[Tamaa]] Dancer**, and **Dr. Alala Bravestar** encountered **Venya Askeson**, steward of [[Allfrerhem]], at the northern gate to the city. Recognizing each other due to a shared dream, but reluctant to acknowledge this, Venya the Steward proceeded to subtly seek information on the visitors using his official authority. After a short encounter with the forthright Sarv and an even shorter encounter with the slightly cranky Intan, Venya directed the Tamaa and the Tinker to [[Aia’s Flask]], a local Brothel and Inn. While the two southerners proceeded Venya, acting on some suspicion or distaste for the Luxi, led Alala to [[King Rotta’s Tavern]]. There Venya introduced Alala to **Balek Rotta**, the tavern owner, a gruff and short tempered man missing an eye and several fingers.
Alala, certain they had been set up, called out Venya, accusing him of being Balek’s lackey and the tavern-keep of intending to rob Alala. Balek, with little tolerance for the bullshit of either Bureaucrat or Visitor snapped at them, causing both to reconsider their tactics. Venya offered to pay for Alala’s room but Balek suggested that, while no premeditated harm was afoot, he couldn’t guarantee his drunken patrons would take kindly to a [[Lux]]i visitor. He suggested they go to a local flop-house owned by Balek’s friend Danee. Venya and Alala agreed and left the tavern.
Meanwhile, as soon as Sarv and Intan realized the true nature of the Flask they headed on to Rotta’s, meeting with Venya and Alala just as they were leaving. The character’s, growing increasingly frustrated with Venya’s behaviour, nevertheless followed him to [[the Red Circle Tavern]], a high class establishment, largely due to the promise of drink.
Arriving at the Circle, Venya ordered the group round of drinks and they sat down. This offered the first real opportunity for the characters, and the circle’s barkeep **Edricck Allusson**, to notice the shared marks. A brief comment prompted a conversation where Venya, having concealed his mark, pressed for some additional information. As they spoke, young Sarv spotted a frightening figure in the corner, a tall, sinewy entity cloaked and lurking in the shadows. Her panic drew the attention of Intan and Venya who also saw the creature. Venya quickly ran outside, flagged down a guard and asked that they summon the guard captain, **Aylan Jaghund**. Back inside, Venya found Sarv and Intan in a stupor, roused only by the arrival of Aylan. Attention shattered, the creature, apparently invisible to the other patrons, vanished from their own sight and Venya, hoping to regain control over the situation, tried to explain, requesting that Aylan take the group into custody. Aylan, suspicious of the circumstances probed the characters only to find out that each had a mark they attributed to the dream. Asking Venya if he had one prompted the old man to evade and Venya pointed to his lack of mark as evidence of his exclusion from the foreigners, raising his arms in protest. Unfortunately for Venya displaying his bare wrists offered the observant Sarv an opportunity to point out the makeup covering Venya’s arm. Despite Venya’s best efforts to prevaricate his way out of Aylan’s attention the guard captain, now suspicious, approached, ready to clean the Stewards wrist with a wet ale cloth. Venya relented, admitting to the mark, and the group was escorted to the Barracks and Jail in the lower city; all except Alala Bravestarr who used the chaos in the bar to slip away unnoticed, heading for the road out of Allfrerhem.
Venya, Sarv and Intan found themselves in an interrogation room where Aylan proceeded to probe the characters for more detail. In return Venya, once again trying to gain control over events, questioned the guards capacity to handle the situation, and directed Aylan to summon Vahnin Ilmarinen, the lorekeeper. The old stewards behaviour and suggestion, clearly irritating to the captain both for its tone and rightness, earned him a rebuke but nonetheless prompted Aylan to summon the lorekeeper while he continued his interview.
Each of the characters recounted the creature at the tavern and some small portion of their dreams, conveying the general mystery and menace and the the sudden appearance of the mark afterwards. Venya, producing quill and parchment, once again tried to steer the conversation, prompting a rebuke from Intan and a stern glare from the Captain. Fortunately, before the captain could decide what to do with the officious steward, **Vanhin Ilmarinen** the lorekeeper of Allfrerhem arrived, slightly annoyed at the interruption to his research. Asking for a reason for his summons, Aylan motioned to Venya, suggesting sarcastically that he was the true authority in the room. Venya, either ignoring or unaware of the jibe, proceeded to introduce the characters and their situation. When Venya mentioned the term “**Signarem**” which none of the others had yet said, Aylan spoke, pointing out that no one had yet used that term. Venya explained derisively that Aylan was not informed of all the details, once again tweaking the guard captain’s ire.
Vanhin, intrigued, activated his Luminar and proceeded to inquire for greater detail. Upon mention of the mark Vanhin scanned Sarv’s wrist with his Luminar and began parsing thousands of lines of dense **Urul** script-code, a form of first-age language. With Vanhin lost in thought Aylan, impatient with the whole scenario, asked if there was really any danger in shadows and dreams, one’s not seen by any but a drunk and a child. Vanhin warned him to keep an open mind and vouched for Venya’s caution.
Venya piped in to remind Aylan of the Ruthless, a local gang, who might not be plaguing the city if the right cautions had been taken. Aylan, clearly taking this as an insult rose and moved towards the old man, his eyes full of barely contained rage. He stopped at the last moment and excused himself, attempting to mitigate the risk of doing anything rash to Venya.
Vanhin’s efforts bore some small fruit in the discovery of records linking the mark to the fall of the Urul empire and he again questioned Venya for more detail. Venya suggested that he had no dream he could recall and simply woke up with the sigils on his arm and was perhaps overcautious when he spotted others with similar markings. Asking Sarv about the dream, prompted zer to describe it as terrible but also to mention the appearance of the others in the dream and struggle to recall further details. Venya haltingly and reluctantly offered additional detail on the horde of shambling monstrosities which Intan confirmed. Each recounted the vision of their family, skewered and warning them with the word Signarem.
Vanhin, keying in on this explained that the word Signarem was Old Urul for “the entity that marks” and offered that perhaps the dream was a warning, simply given too late. Without additional detail, but concerned with the mention of the Urul cataclysm and some dark entity, Vanhin recommended the group be brought before the Thane so that he might decide how to proceed further, particularly in light of the **Thane Olinn**’s interest in the local Urul ruins. Venya, concerned with the perception of his involvement, reluctantly agrees.
Aylan returned to speak with Vahnin, leaving the marked three alone, whereupon Venya promptly blamed all the trouble on Sarv. Intan called on Venya to confess to seeing the same things they did, prompting a clearly frustrated Venya to sputter and blame the outsiders for all the trouble and declare the southerners bad news.
This prompted Sarv to lock eyes with Venya saying clearly and directly “But you saw it, and it scared you didn’t it?”
Venya at first seemed unable to respond to this, gesturing madly as he tried to find the words to refute the [[Tamaa]]. Finally getting his footing he warned Sarv “not to tell him what he did and did not see, and especially stop telling anyone else!” cradling his marked arm and triggering a huffing pout from Sarv.
Aylan returned at this point, obviously weary and unsettled, expressed his displeasure at the outcome of the interview, and announced a stern warning for all to behave themselves. Venya declared his offense at the idea he might act improperly, once again testing the patience of the captain who spat his disdain for the Steward’s officious and insulting tone before demanding silence from the group and proceeding to escort them to the Thane.
=== A Brief Isolation ===
After a brief wait during which a curious Sarv gently pet Aylan Jaghund’s [[Urpan]] cloak, Intan, Sarv, and Venya, in the custody of Aylan Jaghund and the company of Vanhin Ilmarinen were transported up the Maurlog Crag towards the keep of Thane Olinn Einarr, master of Allfrerhem, for further discussion. Transported by carriage the group gained a glimpse of the [[Trade District]] and the [[Kahstrand]] or Noble district. This latter, not often traveled even by Venya, was an opportunity to view the history of Allfrerhem via the great reliefs carved into the Maurlog crag.
Upon arriving at the [[Thane’s Keep]] the group noticed two carriages as well as a party of armored riders preparing to depart. Venya also noticed the increased guard presence, and several exotic looking horses tethered in the courtyard. Intan on the other hand was intrigued to see the novel construction material of the keep; a sturdy amalgam of first age and later materials. Recognizing the signs of an occupied Thane Venya suggested to Aylan that they not disturb the lord of Allfrerhem, but Aylan insisted on proceeding.
The group entered the first hall of the Keep, with Aylan at the lead intending to bring the issue directly to the Thane but intercepted by **Lisken Bekkr**, the High Steward of Allfrerhem. Bekker advised the group that the Thane was indisposed with other urgent business and that he would make a judgement on how to proceed. He prompted the characters for information on the situation with the marks.
Venya vigorously denied any imminent threat, downplaying the testimony of Sarv and Intan and advising Bekkr that the situation was largely a misunderstanding but that he was deferring to Vanhin’s judgement by proceeding to the keep.
Sarv observed Bekkr carefully, trying to measure the man, but the stewards demeanour was largely inscrutable revealing only a solemn professionalism. Queried by the high steward, Sarv apologized for any commotion they had caused, acknowledging that ze did not know what had been seen or if any others had seen it, but professing zer good intent and willingness to depart if required. The steward doubted the need and spoke briefly with Vanhin to get additional detail before asking Intan for his view.
Intan dismissed the vision as a figment of his imagination, unworthy of the attention of the Thane.
Bekkr directed the party to wait nearby while discussing the situation with Aylan and Vanhin. While they waited the group caught sight of **Hakon Einarr**, son of the Thane, clearly irritated, departing the main hall in a hurry. Venya prompted a nearby servant for information, learning that the Thane and his son had a great argument, possibly regarding a young female visitor.
After deliberation Bekkr announced his final decision; for the safety of the city and the party, he placed the group in temporary isolation under guard outside the city at [[The Old Western Tower]] until the Lorekeeper could complete his research.
Venya expressed his reluctance to leave the city, arguing that he should be guarded at his home but was overruled by Bekkr on the grounds of the shared mark likely meaning a shared danger. Agitated, Venya blamed the situation on Sarv and Intan once more, before being casually dismissed by Bekkr. An annoyed Intan and frustrated Sarv, equally leary at the prospect of captivity, questioned the imprisonment which Bekkr preferred to characterize as a temporary isolation for the sake of safety, advising the group they were all welcome to leave the city, but not to re-enter it until Vanhin had completed his study of the mark.
After some further negotiation by Venya to get access to his home and work while isolated, and sniping between Venya and Aylan, an irritated and impatient Intan prompted the group along towards their next destination.
The group was escorted back to the Barracks to await the arrival of their guard. While waiting, Intan brusquely interrupted a smith to show him how to better handle the forge, making friends with the man by showing him several techniques to save time and improve the quality of their work. Meanwhile Sarv overheard a conversation between the guards regarding an incident at Aia’s Flask, something involving a noble named Stakkyr
Eventually their escort arrived, an affable and thick chested guardsman named **Voga Otagon**. The ever hungry Sarv requested a stop in the trade district for pastries, earning her a stern rebuke from Venya for failing to recognize their situation. Voga stepped in to the squabble offering the young Tamma some candied almonds and making a friend.
After gathering goods from Venya’s chambers the cadre, now under the watchful gaze of of Voga departed, walking for a hour to [[The Old Western Tower]] a dilapidated structure used for storing supplies and housing overnight patrols outside the city.
The group whiled away the days in the company of Voga, a genial and somewhat insouciant fellow fond of dumb jokes and dice.
Venya filled his time attending to his duties as steward.
Sarv recovered a sewing kit and spent zer time embroidering a pillow with a copy of one of the reliefs in the Kastrand to limited success at first.
Intan spent his time tinkering with his collapsible staff, drinking ale and scrutinizing Svertheim architecture.
After three days of isolation, Venya approached a slightly drunk Intan to discuss their situation, their marks, and dreams, in an attempt to determine the common cause and purpose of their marks. Discussing their dream and the depiction of Intan’s mother within it, Intan revealed his unfortunate family history; the death of his family at the hands of thugs hired by a rival Tinker. When Intan revealed that his family had crafted an invention of note that was stolen by a rival tinker, Venya inquired on the nature of the invention. Unable to recall, Venya prodded the Selenian by suggesting he lay off the alcohol, prompting a cold response.
Meanwhile Sarv wandered upstairs to try on guard armour but was interrupted by the sound of an approaching horse from the west. The Tamaa rushed downstairs, clattering in zer oversized armour, pointing the sound out to the others.
Outside the tower the characters caught sight of two travelers approaching. Venya woke Voga, cautioning him about lone travelers but receiving little concern.
Upon closer inspection the travelers revealed themselves to be an Ossandrian woman on horseback being led by a man draped in Nehepi robes. The woman wore an embroidered cloth across her eyes, suggesting her blindness while the man was almost entirely concealed, save for his tawny arms covered in scars and a familiar mark on the left wrist. Venya concealed his mark while Sarv puffed out in an attempt to project some level authority from behind zer ill-fitting second-hand armour.
Questioned by Voga and Venya the travelers indicated that they had spent weeks on the road, apparently seeking Allfrerhem out to greet the Thane and take advantage of some unspoken ‘opportunity’.
After a brief moment of tension when Venya attempted to shake the Ossandrian’s hand only to be intercepted by her guard, the woman introduced herself as **Isirin **and her guard as **Nashak**. The moment revealed that only Nashak bore a mark, a trait apparently unnoticed by Voga.
Isirin spoke a friendly Subinese greeting to Sarv, identifying the Tamaa’s true nature and revealing her own nature as one of the [[Kaeki]]. The action startled Sarv, but she replied in Subinese, acknowledging Isirin’s blindness and ability to see more than most. With little else said, the travelers departed towards Allfrerhem.
The next night, when the guard arrived with Venya’s paperwork, the old steward prompted him for information and gossip from the city. The guard passed on wealth of information including:
– a murder in the warrens, chalked up to a drunken fight
– a rising feud between the Alar Stakkyr and the Veor family
– increased tension between the Stakkyr mine and its workers over pay and security
– Hakon Einarr riding north-west in search of a bandit clan
– petitioners seeking an audience with the Thane
– and rumors of the Thane departing the city for his villa near **Eirundfell**.
Sarv made a second attempt at embroidering the pillow, generating a request from Voga to assist with his uniform in trade for him taking the pillow back to the Keep.
**//Character Excerpt for Venya//**
**//Written by Joel//**
On the last night of his exile, Venya sat in a corner, by the crate he’d adopted as a makeshift desk. Various papers lay sprawled before him, lit by flickering candle light. The night air whistled through a nearby arrow slit, and the air was permeated by the smell of wood and dust. His pen could be heard scrawling from across the room, rapid and sharp, stopping only as he paused to think.
“It would be problematic if he was not allowed back in the city,” he reflected. “Very problematic. He needed to think of a way to get back in.”
He logged the imports and exports of the Eastern gate, tallying tax rates and calculating projective product sales. He copied them twice, once for the books, the other for his personal ledgers, as was his habit. In the latter, he added his own, personal notes in the margins.
“Dried meats; Inspection of wares recommended, disposal may be necessary but not ideal. Contraband?”
“Vanhin had damned well better find something good, or even better, nothing at all,” he thought.
He had known this mark would cause trouble the moment it appeared, but he had expected more time to get informed. If it had not been for that damned sugar-fiend… The drunk, he wasn’t worried about. He spent too much time drinking alone, deep in thought. Haunted and broken men are only dangerous to themselves. The Tamaa was another matter. How did it know he had seen the shade? Perhaps it didn’t, and simply guessed? No. No, it had seen the mark, though it was covered. This thing was clever, and perceptive, and innocuous, and worst of all, unpredictable.
Shipment of wheat, 10% rate, ~40 bushels.
Oak barrels, 40% rate, unknown.
Luxian fabrics, 20% rate, ~30 unaccounted for, smuggled? Contraband?
Red circle: possible buyer.”
And then there was that Ossandrian woman, if she was a woman at all. He had seen no crystals on her skin, but she had seen despite being blind. A kaeki, in all likelihood. But it bore itself like nobility, and was clearly of Ossandrian descent. A noble’s guilty pleasure perhaps? But why would a concubine be so far away, traveling alone? No, she, it was something else. And that guard. He bore the mark. Which means as a kaeki it didn’t matter that he had hidden his, it probably knew.
“Isirin,” he muttered. It would know something, and it would probably be waiting for him, if he was ever allowed back into the city. He would need to take time to go see it, sooner rather than later.
His pen hovered over the page for a moment as he contemplated this. An Ossandrian Kaeki, traveling with one who bears the mark. This could either be a devastating foe or an essential ally. He thought back to the Tamaa and the Selenian, who were both also locked up, and seemingly ignorant of the mark’s origin. The Signarem. Perhaps he would need to keep them around for a while yet.
The thought was discouraging, so he put it aside to think of other matters.
He underlined the word to distinguish it from the others on the page. For a moment, he simply watched the ink dry, reflecting in the candlelight. The prospect was terrifying, but exhilarating. For a moment, he thought of the young man he had once been, and what had been taken from him.
The anger reflected in his eye as he blew out the candle.
Another four days passed, before a messenger arrived to advise the group the enter the city and speak with Vanhin the Lorekeeper. The group said farewell to Voga and happily departed the tower back to Allfrerhem and [[Vanhin’s Library]].
The group was welcomed by Vanhin who relayed the details of his research, limited though they were.
According to Vanhin the fragments of text within his library referring to the marks indicated that they were last seen during the Cataclysm, the fall of the Urul Imperium, and were a symbol of membership in some form of righteous order whose name he could not recover. The related texts were badly corrupted but there were suggestions that the wearers were specially chosen by a great lord of the first age, figures of great destiny and fate, though their purpose unclear. Vanhin’s theory on the sudden appearance was that the mark was applied via some form of ‘blood sorcery’, a form of Urul Technology that, according to Vanhin “marked the veins of the bearer and could be borne through generations”. He suspected the group to be descendants of these ancient figures.
Vanhin conveyed his findings to the Steward Bekkr and Guard Captain Aylan. Satisfied there was no further evidence of danger or threat, they had agreed to release the group from custody.
Vanhin offered the group the use of his library, suggesting that, while his efforts had been thorough, there might be more to find. He also suggested that additional Luminar based records might be found in one of the local the ruins, though the Thane’s ban on entry certainly posed a difficulty.
Venya asked Vanhin if the Thane was still planning to leave the city which Vanhin confirmed. Venya also indicated his intent to return should any additional information be revealed.
Intan, intending to conduct his own research, asked Vanhin for some guidance on the organization of the library only to discover that whatever organization existed, did so primarily in Vanhin’s head.
The group, freed for the first time in a week, began to plan their next moves. Before dispersing the group discussed meting at the Red Circle Tavern and Venya pointed out the high cost of the Circle. This prompted Vanhin to suggest that Intan might find work with the Allfrerhem Master Tinker, **Olo Niva** and earn coin enough to fund his stay. With the rough outline of plans made the group split, with Sarv heading to the Warrens to obtain a dress, Venya heading to the Thane’s Keep to speak with Steward Bekkr, and Intan remaining at the library to start his research on the mark.
Venya found Steward Lisken Bekkr in his chambers and the two chatted. Venya expressed his relief to be back in the city and Bekkr his appreciation for Venya’s studious attention to his work while isolated. Venya advised Bekkr he would be conducting his own investigation of the mark to supplement the research conducted by Vanhin, which Bekkr agreed was a reasonable course of action. Venya’s inquiries turned towards Isirin, the Ossandrian lady he encountered outside the city, and asked Bekkr if she had obtained an audience with Thane Einarr. Bekker advised him that they had not and the pair was staying at the Red Circle in the meantime. Bekkr also confirmed that the Thane would be departing the city for some time, probably for at least two weeks.
Venya, seeking more information on the mark, requested an audience with the Thane, hoping to gain access to the ruins. Bekkr replied by explaining that the Thane restricted the right to access the ruins due to the danger of doing so and politely pointed out that Venya did not seem well equipped for such exploits. Venya offered that Hakon, the Thane’s adventurous son, already eager to delve the ruin, might lead the expedition, but Bekkr cast a shadow over the suggestion by explaining that the recent schism between Hakon and Olinn was due to the same suggestion by Hakon himself. Bekkr, clearly growing uncomfortable with the conversation, began to disengage, though he offered one final response to Venya’s inquiries on Hakon, advising him that the Thane’s heir had headed northwest to work off his frustration with his father by hunting bandits. Venya thanked Bekkr for his assistance and then headed back to Vanhin’s Library.
Back at the library, Intan noticed that Vanhin was utilizing a Node, a piece of first age technology, to house the ephemeral documents displayed on his Luminar. Intan, familiar with the technology and its proper state, repaired the Node, restoring it to full operation. An impressed Vanhin observed that the repairs had caused the Node to rebuild lost indices, likely opening up access to additional information. He offered Intan the use of a spare Luminar, a semi-functional back up, as a reward for his assistance with the node.
Meanwhile, Sarv headed to the warrens, locating a particularly hungry looking young woman feeding a baby. The Tamaa set down next to her, offering up a somewhat stale sweet-roll for the woman’s children. The woman thanked Sarv for xer generosity.
Sarv asked the woman about Thane Einarr and the nature of the city’s Thane. The woman spoke of the Thane with admiration for his generosity and defense of the city in his youth. She referred to stories of the Thane’s exploits with awe.
Sarv chuckled and pushed further, trying to find more about what made the Thane happy. The woman replied by talking of the Thane’s love for his family and distress at Hakon’s disobedience. She also mentioned the kindness of his wife, **Lady Idira Einarr**.
Pressed further, the woman nervously revealed that while the Thane was kind and tried to ensure the needs of his people were met, the noble landowners of Allfrerhem often took advantage of the people and the Thane’s generosity, using their power and influence to bolster their own wealth while often showing disregard for the rest of Allfrerhem’s people. The woman pointed out that she had herself seen the Thane in the warrens once, sharing a drink with Rotta, clearly considering it as evidence of the Thane’s connection to the people.
Sarv laughed at the familiar story of nobility and offered the woman one of xer bangles. The woman, reluctant to take another gift, agreed to trade for an old dress, to help Sarv better fit in. With a thankful blessing upon the young woman’s children Sarv departed with the dress, heading towards [[King Rotta’s Tavern]].
Sarv, in her new attire, entered King Rotta’s to speak with Balek Rotta, the owner and barkeep.
“Business doesn’t seem to slow here” said Sarv
“There’s always some dirt hand or forester eager to waste their pay” replied Rotta.
“Even special vistors?”
“You’ll need to define special.” replied Rotta
“I hear that the Thane comes here. Is that true?”
“Someone’s been gossipping. Einarr doesn’t have time to come down to the Warrens.” said Rotta, eyes trailing to the door.
“Too bad. I was hoping to meet a celebrity.” said Sarv
Balek chuckled, “I’d hardly call the Thane a celebrity… an old man at best.”
“But there’s so many stories!”
“Clear the stars from your eyes girl. He’s a man like the rest of us.”
Sarv frowned, “Then he must not be nice either.”
Balek objected, “I didn’t say that. He’s a fine fella, but a grumpy old sod.”
“I know all about grumpy old men…” Sarv grinned.
At this point Sarv noticed a bounty on the board behind Rotta.
Under the Authority of the Victran People and By Order of the Lord Rit of Victra
Wanted for Murder of Ser Caden Obrais, brother of Lord Gavan Obrais
*The picture of Sarv is a rough match, but just off enough to cast doubt*
Description: 5 feet, 6 inches tall, blonde, white of skin.
An amount of 500 gelt is offered for the apprehension of the subject, 100 gelt for information leading to capture or 10 gelt for information deemed valuable.
The subject is to be remanded to the custody of an agent of the Obrais Trading Company as empowered by the Victran People, to be returned to Victra for trial and punishment.
“Why would a little girl be wanted for 500 gelt?” Asked Sarv, coyly
“The lad who brought it in was some Victran pomp, talking about murder of some noble.”
“But little girls can’t kill some one.”
“Anyone can kill. Doesn’t take that much.” said Rotta.
Sarv asked for the handbill which Rotta passed to the Tamaa, advising xer that the bounty was being handled by **Swain Morten** who was staying at the Red Circle Tavern.
With the bounty in hand Sarv headed back to the library.
**//Character Excerpt for Sarv//**
**//Written by Natascha//**
Sarv slipped through the warrens largely unnoticed, a poor woman scurrying through the streets wasn’t an uncommon sight here. On xes chest and clutched tightly by folded arms was a sheet of parchment, fluttering in the breeze to read “wanted” across the top to the eye. Dipping into an alley, the Tamaa leaned xes back against the wall, closing golden eyes and giving a deep sigh before loosening xes arms and looking down to what xe knew was xes own face, the face of a naive and fresh faced young thing, drawn with a very serious and piercing look, shorter curly blonde locks, skin shaded a bit darker than an artist would portray now. The Tamaa slid down the wall, and started to fold the parchment carefully, first in half, half again, with crisp and well defined folds as many times as the creature’s slim fingertips ran down along the newly created paper spines. Only a moment or two passed as xe stared at the fold until xe stood up, took a deep breath and sharp exhale, and wiped a slightly off-colored tear from its face. Sarv wriggled in the dress a little, wondering if perhaps xe should just take it off and fold it, but decided instead to fill it out a little better perhaps, the way the poor mother had in her own. Sarv then shoved the parchment into the bodice, taking care to shove it deep enough that no corners or such popped out. Murder. Murder. Sarv never thought this would catch up here. Not this fast. Not now. As the tamaa made xes way back to the library, the thoughtful look seemed to melt back into a seemingly oblivious smile, just a young woman with a rare moment of happy freedom, stepping light and unburdened through the crowd.
=== Travelers, Dancers, and Machines ===
Intan, having received a broken Luminar from the Lorekeeper Vanhin, quickly returned it to working order using his considerable technical skill. Watching as the indices began rebuilding Intan started his own research on the marks.
After a few hours of research Intan discovered that much of the data held in the Library Node consisted of scans made by Vanhin and his apprentices over the past century, though a core set of data from the Node remained, the base info recovered when the Node was dragged from its original home in the Aarnivak ruin. Despite considerable corruption to the data, Intan was able to derive the following:
* The author of the contents in regards to the marks is unknown. The information that Vanhin has to identify the author is very likely a mis-attribution due to corruption.
* The original text is actually missing, and the current version was edited as recently as the past few decades.
* The data is derived from some form of religious document rather than a historical record as Vanhin suggested.
* The data on the marks likely came from the original data recovered from the Aarnivak ruin rather than Vanhin’s tomes and scans.
These facts cast some doubt on Vanhin’s findings but also suggests an ancient origin for the gathered information.
Venya, and Sarv returned once more to Vanhin’s dusty library. Afternoon was beginning to fade into evening and a light spring snow fell outside. The library was drafty and somewhat chill but smelled of fresh bread and cheese which Vanhin was dining on as he parsed line after minute line in his luminar. Intan’s work on the node had left the old man deeply engrossed as the system recovered portions of index and text he had long thought lost.
Venya returned first, and Sarv shortly thereafter, entering the Library with a slightly different appearance than when xe left, xer body shape altered to better fill in xer newly acquired dress, making xer look more mature. Xer cheeks were marked with trails of a pale green stain, the marks of tears made by xer unique biology. Xe found Intan and Venya studying and a perceptive Venya noticed Sarv’s stained face and asked where xe had been. Sarv showed off xer new dress, asking Venya if it made xer fit in better.
“Only if you intend on sleeping in the Warrens.”
“But I stand out far less now”
“You’re Tamaa. You’ll stand out no matter where you go.” said the old Steward.
Sarv stuck xer tongue out at Venya and walked through the stacks searching for resources xe might be able to access regarding the marks. Unable to find anything relevant xe settled for a cookbook of interesting recipes.
“You’re pretty handy with that Luminar” said Venya.
“Well someone has to do the research, you’re both off doing your own thing” replied an impatient Intan, “and I have stumbled across a clue on the marks. The data is somewhat corrupt regarding the author, but I do have a lead on where we might be able to find more info…”
“And that is?” asked Venya
“The ruins of Aarnivak, to the north” replied Intan.
“What makes you think that?” Venya pried.
Intan, rolled his eyes,
“My research” said the Tinker
“And it mentions Aarnivak?”
“Yes” Intan said, pointing to an array of characters unfamiliar to the steward.
Venya hummed and pulled out pen and paper and began to carefully copy the characters.
“… Aarnivak.. that is unfortunate.”
“What is wrong with Aarnivak? Why is that unfortunate?” asked Intan
“It’s no matter…” Venya said, shaking his head and quickly changed the subject.
“You recall lady Isirin who we encountered a few days ago? The man she was traveling with bore a mark much like our own. I suggest we speak to them and see if perhaps the man has experienced the same thing as we. I believe the woman, Lady Isirin, is a Kaeki and those beings tend to know and see things in a different way. I believe we may glean some information about the mark and the shadow being Sarv keeps running on about.”
Intan nodded, “Very well. I agree. Let’s go speak to them. But first I need a drink.”
“So we’re going somewhere again?” said Sarv, hearing xer name, and unceremoniously tossing xer book aside.
“Well, Intan and I are. I suppose you’re free to join,” said Venya.
“There may be sweets” offered Intan.
“Well I’m in.” Said the Tamaa.
“To the tavern then. Intan can get a drink and we can speak with Isirin and her companion,” said Venya.
“Wait, which tavern?” asked Sarv.
“The Red Circle” said Venya
“We’re not going there… I’m not going there, I’m going to stay here. You guys can go, that’s fine, but I’m going to stay here, I’m not going.” said Sarv in a sudden torrent of words.
“Are you okay Sarv?” asked Intan
“I’m fine.” said Sarv
Intan pulled his flask, noted the level
“Well perhaps we can skip the Tavern” he said
“There is no skipping the tavern” said Venya, frustration evident in his voice, and picked up his cane, heading to the door.
“I’m going to Aya’s Flask” said Sarv.
The group parted ways, with Intan and Venya heading to the Red Circle and Sarv heading to Aya’s Tavern.
At the Red Circle Venya spoke with Edrickk Aulisson, the barkeep and proprietor.
“I’ve heard that an Ossandrian, Lady Isirin, is staying here.” asked Venya
“Past few days yes,” replied Edricck.
“She stays with a Nehepi”
“Maybe? Fellow keeps his face covered so it’s hard to tell. Darker skin though, probably Nehepi”
“You can always tell a Nehepi by the smell.” said Venya,
“Didn’t smell that weird to me.” offered a slightly confused Edricck.
Venya snarled at the tolerance.
“I would speak to them,” said Venya
“Why are you so interested in these folks?” asked Edricck
“That’s my business” replied Venya
“Well.. it’s sort of their business and I’m being paid by them, not you Venya” said Edricck
“I met them whilst they were on their way into the city.”
Edricck eyed the old Steward carefully before replying.
“I can let them know you want to talk to them.”
“I would appreciate it.”
With a questioning look at the old Steward Edricck headed upstairs.
Meanwhile, Intan wandered the tavern, catching sight of a slender, pale skinned fellow dressed in the Victran style; expensive black long coat, short brimmed top hat, riding boots, but all slightly dusty and worn. His face was clean shaven save for a slightly ornate and waxed mustache. He smelled of something vague and pleasing and Intan could see he carried a canna holstered on his hip. The man was speaking to one of the other barkeeps.
“I have a few copper for you if you’d kindly post this somewhere visible. 10 gelt for information and the reward to anyone who can deliver the subject of interest.” the Victran said
“I can put it on the board but the bounty says for murder in Victra… bit far from the scene to be posting bounty innit?” replied the bartender.
“Indeed. I thought similar. Received the notice from Obrais to post these across Svertheim. Suppose someone caught sight of the crow boarding a ship north. In any case I’ll not turn down a few coin to move paper. They’re paying me extra to make a trip east along the coast, posting these.” He shrugged.
The bartender looked at the handbill.
“Caden Obrais? Whosat? Related to the company?” he asked
“Indeed. Brother of the company head… rumor is the girl was a gift from his brother if you catch my meaning.” replied the Victran
The bartender shrugged taking the handbill to post on one of the boards.
Intan approached the man, his eyes watching the canna on his hip.
“Some pretty impressive hardware to be in a tavern,” offered the Tinker.
The Victran turned, smiling. “You noticed. Not many understand what she can do. She’s powerful indeed.”
“Seems like a rare type. Mind if I take a look? asked Intan.
The Victran smiled slightly, appraising Intan with a glance before nodding, drawing the weapon, cracking the breach, and removing the ammunition, handing it over.
Intan inspected the hand-canna and, noticing some burring on the barrel, quickly buffed it out before handing it back.
“Looks like the rifling was a bit burred. That should help.”
The Victran’s eyes opened wide and he smiled holstering the canna once more. “Mighty fine! Buy you a drink?” he asked, signaling the bartender
“Sure, why not. What brings you here?” replied Intan
“Working for the Obrais company. They have me posting paper. I suppose technically I’m bounty hunting, though I doubt I’ll find much here… **Swain Morten** by the way” he said, holding out his hand.
“Intan” said the Tinker, shaking it. “What are you doing here? Given the skill and your look I’d guess Selenian? You’re far from home.”
“I’m looking for interesting tech. Want to make a name for myself,” said Intan, tugging his sleeve to hide his mark.
“I’d suggest you’re a distance from your goal friend. These folks take interior plumbing for high technology,” said Swain dismissively.
“You’d be surprised. I have run in to some interesting tech. Nothing too impressive, but it could spark my inspiration.”
“Fair enough. I hear there are ruins nearby. Might find something there I suppose,” offered Swain
“We had heard about those. We were thinking about taking a gander,” said Intan sipping his ale.
“I petitioned Lord Einarr several years ago for license to delve but never could get it,” said Swain, shaking his head.
“Why is it so off limits?” asked Intan
Swain shrugged, “From what I understand the Thane had some bad encounters there in his youth and on top of that I believe he has some sort of relationship with the Selenians that has caused him to reconsider delving old places.”
“And you said it’s hard to get a license?”
“Yes. He seems to reserve them for a very few. Those he trusts or those who prove their value. It’s all very northern and incestuous if you ask me.”
“You said you don’t think you’ll find your bounty here?”
“Well, it’s a bit silly. We’re half-way across the continent. I can hardly see some little girl surviving this far inland,” said Swain.
“Little girl? How do you get a bounty for a little girl?” asked Intan.
Swain leaned in, his voice slightly lowered, “The whole thing’s a bit torrid. Apparently Ser Caden Obrais, brother to the owner of the Obrais Trading company, was murdered in a brothel. The girl was to be a gift…I’m sure I don’t have to spell it out. In any case, it’s a hefty bounty, 500 gelt. Apparently Lord Obrais had a greater fondness for his brother than anyone thought,” Swain took a deep draft from his mug and continued, “They tell me to post paper, I’ll post paper. It’s good gelt anyways. My suspicion; she never made it past Ossandria but I’ll post wherever they ask me too.”
“Mind if I get one? In case I happen to stumble across this ‘little girl’?”
“Certainly,” said Swain, handing Intan a handbill from his bundle.
Venya watched this conversation from afar, seeing Intan chat with the well-armed and overdressed Victran.
Around this time Edricck returned downstairs with Lady Isirin, her guard Nashak in tow, and the two travelers approached Venya. Summoning Intan the four headed towards a private booth at the rear of the inn with Lady Isirin kept a few feet apart at all times by a wary Nashak.
Venya placed his cane against the bench and slid into the booth.
“I’m sorry that we met under such unfortunate circumstances” said Venya
“It seemed an odd living arrangement, your accommodations at the tower,” replied Isirin.
“A misunderstanding. The same misunderstanding which brings us to you now,” Venya grasped Intan by the shoulders “This man entered my city some days ago and began spouting some drunken nonsense no doubt about a dream and an army and shadow beings and Signarem, which, as I’m sure you would understand, made me, a gate official, somewhat nervous. In investigating this matter we were deemed an unnecessary risk and placed in the tower for the time being. During that time I noticed that your companion bore a similar mark,” Venya’s gaze turned to Nashak, “I was wondering if you had any information about that mark? How you came to get it, how long.”
Isirin looked at Venya, reaching across the table and placing a painted finger nail on the back of Venya’s hand, “Are you sure you did not experience something similar yourself?” she asked tilting her head.
“Comparable, perhaps,” said Venya, a hint of irritation in his voice.
Isirin nodded, “In any case, my friend here is unable to communicate it with you. He lacks a tongue. An unfortunate reality of Ossandrian slave-holding. He suffered grievously when taken. I can communicate for him, with his permission,” She said, turning to place a hand gently on Nashak’s face.
Nashak nodded and Isirin turned her face back to the pair.
“If you’d like the whole grisly story I can convey it, or I can shorten it to what I’m sure you’re interested in, the mark the three of you share.”
“Perhaps we should begin with this, yes, although my interest in his story, grisly though it may be, remains,” said Venya.
“Well, to be blunt, you and your friend have been marked by something of celestial origin. An arcana that is difficult to explain in terms most would understand. I see threads that you cannot, threads that connect each of your marks and this place, that run throughout Allfrerhem and further afield. I believe the threads are connected to the nearby ruins, we’ve been trying to get license to delve. In short, you three seem to be connected to this place, and I believe there may be more, all drawn here for some purpose.”
“And what role do you play in all this? I see you do not bear the mark.” said Venya
“Whether that’s fortunate or not I’m not sure. I’ve yet to determine whether it is a curse or a boon, but I travel with Nashak because he is owed a great debt by my people.”
“You’re an apologist then?” said Venya
“As if there were any other way to be towards the Nehepi. Do you know much of southern politics?”
“I try to keep my mind on immediate, relevant, problems. I know only that the Nehepi and Ossandrians had a… scuffle.”
“I’d hardly consider thirty years of occupation a scuffle. Nashak has fought his entire life against Ossandrian occupation. Second generation. He’s waged war against my people for as long as I’ve been alive and when they captured him they were not kind.”
“Nashak had a dream, I’m sure you’re familiar with, a dream bearing images of his ancestors and some dark army in the north. It was this dream that led to his capture. A dream so real he was left distraught and disoriented, easily ambushed in the night and put in bindings. He was brought north to fight in the arena in my city. But I saw there was more too him.” said Lady Isirin, turning to Nashak with a grim smile.
“When exactly did this happen. You speak of this as if it were some time ago,” asked Venya
“Nashak has borne his mark for three years.”
“Drunkard, how long have you borne the mark.” barked Venya
“Recently. Obviously the same way as the rest. A strange dream with a shadowy figure.”
“Yes… and I hear you seek an audience with the Thane,”
“I have asked with the Steward Bekkr for an audience but he has delayed. I’m advised the Thane is indisposed.”
“What reason do you seek to speak with the Thane again?” asked Intan
“To gain access to the ruins. I have no desire to make new enemies by delving ruins that have been banned.”
“What’s your interest in the ruins?”
“The threads that connect your marks, I’m certain they connect to the ruins. I believe if there’s someway to discern the purpose or remove these marks it would be found there.”
“We’ve also found some ties to the ruins and would seek entrance…”
“I’m sorry, Lady Isirin, you are clearly born of nobility are you not?” said Venya, suddenly seeming impatient.
“Yes, I am.. why?”
“I’m having difficulty understanding why an Ossandrian noble such as yourself would leave her home for some slave…”
Isirin’s eyes lit at the dismissal and she leaned across the table, her face contorted in anger.
“He’s not merely a slave. He’s a person, just like you or I,” with a quick motion she pulled down Nashak’s mask to reveal a face covered in scars of every type; layers of painful history written in fire and acid and steel. Nashak’s eyes looked away, filled with rage and hate, but Isirin placed a hand on his rough face. The two shared a moment before she turned back to look at Venya.
“He’s no different from you just because he was unfortunate enough to be taken by the Ossandrians.”
“I didn’t mean any offense, I simply meant that… those born of privilege rarely abandon it for the benefit of another,” said Venya
“What privilege?! I was an Ossandrian Lady, destined to be married, to bear a brood, and to live in a nation that doesn’t care for me” spat Isirin.
A moment of tense quiet passed before Venya responded.
“Perhaps I am too disassociated from the strange culture in the south. I understood that things were different there. I meant no offense… now as far as your venturing into the ruins is concerned, I may be of assistance.”
“Indeed. How so?” asked Isirin.
“The Thane is unlikely to return for at least several weeks. He has left the city. His son, however, may be convinced to allow you entry in his stead.”
“His son has that authority?”
“It is his son, the heir and given the Lords absence and the urgency of the matter, it may be best to seek out the young Lord?”
“Where would we find him?”
“These days he ventures north of the city, looking for bandits. I see your friend there, Nashak? He seems capable. You could send him to seek him out.”
Nashak’s eyes widened and he looked towards Isirin.
“It would be best if we stick together, but perhaps we will pursue your suggestion and seek out Hakon. Thank you for this information.”
“If you do come to find him and he does grant you access to the ruins, I request that you send news to me. I would be interested to see how your ventures proceed.”
“What about yourself and your friend? Do you not wish to learn more of the marks you bear?”
“I would, but as you can see, I am an old man… ruin delving… I don’t think my physician would approve.”
“And your friend?”
Intan perks up, “The possibilities within a ruin… of course!”
“My sight suggests both ruins, and even Allfrerhem are connected. The threads are unclear but…”
Intan chimed in “My research suggests Aarnivak ruin.”
Lady Isirin nodded, “When we find Hakon, and if we can secure passage, I will ask that you be permitted to join us. Have either of you encountered any others who have borne the mark?”
“Our friend, the Tamaa you met.”
“Ah yes, where is xe?”
“Xe decided to stay at Vanhin’s library. Xe’s waiting for our return from this conversation.”
“Well, give her my greetings, I will include her in my request to Lord Hakon.”
“Thank you,” said Intan sipping his beer.
“In any case, I have no more I can share with you.” said Isirin, placing her head on Nashak’s shoulder and motioning for him to signal a server.
With the conversation apparently at an end Intan and Venya excused themselves.
Meanwhile, Sarv found xer way to [[Aia’s Flask]], presenting herself to **Virva Kallio** as a dancer. With a learned shyness, Sarv approached the Matron, introducing herself. After setting out xer terms and providing very impressive demonstration of xer skill Sarv was granted regular employment at the Flask. Xe discovered that Virva had recently lost a dancer due to the behavior of a local noble son. Sarv expressed the sentiment “Nobles have given us plenty of money but they have never been our friends”, gaining full agreement from Virva. After introductions with the various employees of the Flask, Sarv was led to the dressing room where she overheard the primary gossip in the dressing room, a conversation regarding **Alar Stakkyr**, the son of **Albin Stakkyr**, a powerful local noble. He was banned from the flask after beating up a former dancer and has since been harassing patrons and dancers away from the flask. Sarv also learned that six months ago Hakon laid Alar low after the young Stakkyr sucker punched the Thane’s son. The argument was precipitated when Hakon caught Alar tormenting caged hunting [[Clanbar]]s. Hakon called the young Stakkyr a “cowardly shite-monger, destined for a shallow grave’ and Alar punched him in the back of the head. Hakon proceeded to beat Alar’s face swollen and threaten to end him. The young noble also won’t go to [[King Rotta’s Tavern]] after he was forcibly removed by Rotta, tossed on his ass in the mud by an old man. Apparently Stakkyr’s father brought the issue up with the Thane but was laughed out of the court.
After a short conversation with **Viktoria**, the lead dancer, wherein Sarv offered her services to dance as male or female and revealed her nature as a Tamaa to the shocked group of dancers, she learned that most Svertan’s consider the Tamaa to be a southern myth. Realizing that not all the dancers were open to Sarv’s true nature, she asked Viktoria to keep her nature a secret from Virva.
Back at the Circle, Venya left Isirin’s booth, thanking her for the information, and suggesting they keep in touch, before and after leaving for Hakon and the ruins.
Venya turned to Intan “Well then, we’re in the same boat it seems, care to share a drink or two while we mull this over?”
“I’m not one to turn down a drink, so sure” Intan said as the two moved to find another table near the wall in good view of the door.
“Aye, I figured as much,” said Venya, flagging down a server “A round of your strongest mead, my dear.”
“Are you trying to take advantage of me?” asked Intan
“I think you overestimate your handsomeness,” said Venya, eliciting a chuckle from the tinker.
Venya grunted as he set himself down, accommodating his bum leg, “So, tell me, what do you think of all this?” he asked.
“I am growing more curious of these ruins of this mark. What does it mean?” Intan said, smiling at the arrival of his mead. The two men nodded, raising their glasses before downing a drink.
“Do you think we can gain access to the ruins?” asked Intan
“Yes, yes. Very mysterious, all that. Tell me, you intend to venture into the ruins then? Simply answering the call of this mark then?” asked Venya, ignoring the question.
“Yes, all of this has me curious, but it doesn’t hurt that these ruins might have some interesting technologies is a significant bonus. Seems win win to me,” said Intan
“I don’t mean to dissuade you in this effort, but have you considered the threat the ruins pose? I hear they’re quite dangerous and… given your rotund figure I’m going to guess that ruin delving may have been easier in earlier years.”
“Maybe we can hire someone? A guard perhaps?” asked Intan
“How much money would you have to spare for such an endeavor. I have little savings I’m afraid…”
“This is why I need to find a job”
“I doubt that Niva will have enough work in a short period of time to hire someone willing and capable to delve into ruins in your name. No, this is why I suggested we pursue Hakon. He can’t be far from the city at this point and he’s a capable warrior in his own right.”
“So you suggest that we take Hakon with us? The Thane’s son?”
“I suggest we bring the matter to him and he can decide for himself whether or not this Signarem problem is sufficiently disturbing to force him into the ruins.”
Conversation devolved into discussion of hiring mercenaries and additional rounds of drinks but was interrupted by a commotion as crowds gathered outside the Circle. The source of commotion quickly became clear; the crowds were waching a great clatterjack, nearly three meters tall, marching down the main road, from the Haggen towards the trade district. Venya recognized the machine as **Kalevan**, a clatterjack leased by the Stakkyr family for logging.
The humanoid machine looked akin to a giant in heavy plate armour. It had only the outline of a face; a pair of lense eyes, a broad flat mouth, and the rough curvature of cheek and nose. One of its eyes was dim and one of its hands hung limp at its side. The other ‘hand’ appeared to have been replaced by a great rotary saw. The machines joints were filled with saw-dust the snow turned rain hadn’t yet washed away and dozens of cords of artificial muscle, each as thick as your arm, propelled the automotan forward, following a short man, with thick brown hair, a ruddy complexion a shaggy moustache and a pock-marked face whom Venya recognized to be **Olo Niva**. Behind the great machine a horse pulled a cart covered in a crude tarp. A single hairy inhuman foot stuck out from the back of the cart.
=== Blood and Rain ===
Intan followed Kalevan to Olo’s workshop. The workshop was a long three story building composed of a combination of brickwork and iron, with a tower on the northern side. At the front of the building was large walled in courtyard and as Intan entered it is obvious that the walls were for the protection of those outside the workshop, evidenced by the dozen bolts embedded deeply in the thick stone, too deeply for any normal bow or crossbow, along with a scorch mark trailing across one wall. The two great iron and wood doors, 3 and 1/2 meters tall, were open and Intan watched as Kalevan marched into the workshop accompanied by the sound of metal on metal resonating from within.
The hall was filled with machinery and equipment; forges, small smelters, tread-hammers and anvils are arranged in neat areas and Intan could see more exotic equipment further down the hall. A half dozen apprentices and servants darted forward to tend to Kalevan and guide the machine to a stool and metal frame where it settled. A pair of the Thane’s guard, armed with powerful looking crossbows, watched Intan’s entrance with keen attention and the tinker watched Olo shake his head as he inspected the machines. One of the apprentices turned to Intan with an appraising look.
“Can I help you sir?” asked the Apprentice
“I was just admiring your clatterjack. I’m from Selene and I was a tinker back home. I was curious to see your contraption,” said Intan
Mention of Intan’s Selenian origin caught the attention of Olo, who turned to invite the tinker further into the shop, dismissing the apprentices.
Intan approached Kalevan, inspecting the massive humanoid automaton that had clearly been rebuilt and reforged numerous over a long life. The clatterjack was entirely still.
“You come from the silver city so you’ve worked with these before?” Olo half asked and half stated.
“Ours are in slightly better condition, but yes,” replied Intan
“No conceit in your family, you have it all,” said Olo
Olo considered Intan for a moment, apparently coming to a quick conclusion.
“I’ve need of someone to work with first age tech, assist with fixing tools and clatterjacks. Would you be interested?” he asked.
“If there’s coin in it,” replied Intan
“Well you’ll have to prove yourself first,” said the master tinker, motioning to a work bench atop which sat a long series of segmented metal pieces, springs, loose myofibre and a set of tiny optics.
“Fix that and we’ll talk pay.”
Intan recognized the first age toy for what it was immediately; a children’s example of the same type of technology as Kalevan. With a few minutes work Intan had the parts arranged and reassembled and handed the device over to Olo who inspected it with an impressed nod. Olo opened a chamber in the devices head, producing a tiny sliver of Helion and setting it into place. Nothing happened.
“Well… looks like no luck…” suddenly the tiny mechanical serpent springs to life, coiling in on itself and slithering across the bench. It rears slightly, tiny emerald eyes scanning the room, and makes a slightly musical sound before coiling up and watching the group silently.
“Never mind,” Olo said, his lips curling into a smile, “You’re hired. Come back tomorrow and I’ll have a work list for you. By the way, that’s Torald, the Thane’s son,” he says pointing to one of the apprentices, “he’ll be working with you.”
“Sounds good to me. What sort of work will I be doing?” asked Intan
“Fixing what’s been recovered. I expect with the skill you’ve just demonstrated I’m going to need your assistance with Kalevan her,” replied Olo.
“Sounds very intriguing. Can’t wait to start,” said Intan.
“I appreciate the enthusiasm. Be here at 7 sharp tomorrow,”
“I’ll be here,” answered Intan.
Intan departed the workshop, stepping into the cool night air he realized suddenly that he had no clue where Sarv or Venya had gotten too. In lieu of any group plan Intan headed towards [[The Red Circle Tavern]], planning to spend the night.
Intan woke to the final day of the work week in the [[Allfrerhem]] calendar before the two day rest period provided by the Thane. The snow had turned to chilly rain and the sky was grey and overcast. The temperature hovered around 10 degrees. The roads were muddy and the city smelled of hearthfires as Intan awakened to the rain-muted sounds of the city. Exiting the tavern he encountered Venya and the two men greeted each other brusquely, speaking under the eves of the inn.
“You find what you were looking for with Olo?” asked Venya
“Yes, worked out perfectly. Followed the clatterjack, got a good look at it and… employment ” replied Intan
“Good, good, you’ll need it. You really plan on staying at the red circle?” asked Venya
“Gelt’s right and it’s close,” replied the Tinker
“I mean, yeah but if you plan on working for Niva it doesn’t really leave that much behind after a hard days work,” said Venya, appraising the tinker before continuing, “Bit on the expensive side… it’s your business. It’s just if I were you I’d seek alternative lodging… something cheaper if you intend to spend any significant length of time in the city,” the steward finished.
“I’ll search for more later. I just needed a place to stay for the night,” said Intan
“So be it. If you need any recommendations you know where to find me. And what about the Tamaa? You know where she is…he..xe… it?” asked Venya.
“Last I heard she was in search of employment herself. I’ve yet to see her this morning.”
Venya closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead in frustration bordering on solid contempt, “Lord knows what she’ll find,” said Venya.
As their conversation trailed off Intan took notice of several watchful locals; miners and foresters whose eyes seemed to follow him in particular. Intan mostly dismissed the attention as due to his foreign origin.
“So you working at Niva’s today, or will you be joining me in preparations for our future endeavours in regards to,” Venya motioned to his wrist.
“I would love to join you this morning however I’m due to start my shift at Olo’s, ” replied Intan
“So be it,” said Venya, letting out an exasperated sigh, “Your going to need that money and, to be honest, you really can’t afford to be spending that money and too much time at the Red Circle, given that you’ll undoubtedly need to hire someone for protection if you’re heading out of the city”
“Duly noted,” replied Intan.
“Alright. I guess I’ll try to find the Tamaa. Enjoy your day,” Venya said, limping away towards the library, hoping to find the wayward [[Tamaa]], Sarv.
Sarv had spent xer evening and into the morning dancing at [[Aia’s Flask]] earning a small handful of coin before finding xer way to [[Vanhin’s Library]] and passing out in a chair. Venya found Sarv a limp mess of arms and tentillium, clearly exhausted, possibly dead.
Sarv woke to a tug on xer belt bag and the sound of Venya’s voice.
“Morning sleepy head.”
Sarv rubbed xer eyes and wiped a line of greenish drool from xer lips and the chair, staring around before fixing on the old man waking xer.
“What… time is it?” asked Sarv
“It’s late, you should be up by now,” declared Venya, voice stern.
“How late?” Sarv groaned, unable to determine the actual time in the eternal twilight of the library.
Venya smacked xer bed-chair with his cane.
“Up and at em. You can’t be sleeping here. You’re going to get in trouble with the guard.”
Sarv let out another groan and sluggishly reached out with one of xer tentillium, intending to grasp a nearby book but only slapping it feebly. A second tentillium reached out to assist but only managed to flip the book over.
Venya grimaced, “Enough of that. You’re going to get in trouble,”
“You don’t even have to tell anybody I’m here,” Sarv cried, plaintive and exhausted.
“No but Vanhin is an old man, and old men, early to bed, early to rise. If he notices you here he’ll be upset and, despite our limited association, if you get in trouble, it affects me,” Venya scolded.
Sarv rolled xer head, rising with a lilting “Fine,” and stumbled towards Venya, clumsily attempting to climb atop the old man’s back. Venya brushed xer aside with his cane.
“Enough of that! You’re not a child, stop acting like one,” Venya said, barely able to contain his disgust.
Defeated Sarv slumped and reached into xer pouch pulling out a handful of coins before tossing them at the old man, “Fine, do something with this then,” said the Tamaa.
“What?” replied Venya, clearly confused.
“We have to buy bodyguards right? Do //something with it!//” Sarv said, xer voice cracking from exhaustion and stress.
Venya looked stunned for a moment before replying, “With all due respect, that’s hardly going to cover even your lodging and, given that you’re sleeping in libraries-“
“It’s free right?” interrupted Sarv
“It might be best to keep of that first,” Venya said and motioned to the coins.
“Pick up your coins and follow me. Best be on.”
Sarv dropped to her knees, a pout on xer face.
Venya closed his eyes, rubbing his forehead. He could feel the vein bulging at his temple.
“Come now. Wouldn’t you rather sleep in a nice warm bed, instead of a chair? Particularly after a… wait where were you all night?” asked Venya.
“Work,” answered Sarv, tersely.
“Where did you…” started Venya, but before he could finish the question Sarv’s eyes were elsewhere, her stiffened posture telling Venya he wasn’t going to get an answer to that line of questions.
Suddenly, like boiling kettle Venya boiled over, words coming in a stream, “No matter. Enough of this pouting. I’ve had enough. We have a long day ahead of us and much to do, and what comes after the day is the night and if you intend to work again that’s your business, we don’t need to go into that, but you will need appropriate lodging, you can’t stay in the library. I won’t have it.”
“Can I stay at your house?” asked Sarv,
“No!”, cried the steward, reflexively horrified by the idea.
Sarv blew a rasp at the old man as he continued.
“No, that’s out of the question… Unbelievable,” he said stammering.
A long pause.
“So will you get up and cooperate or am I going to have to get someone else involved?” asked Venya.
Sarv gave a long sigh before rising, xer motions an exaggeration of xer exhaustion.
The Tamaa flipped a rude gesture at Venya before retracting xer tentillium.
In return Venya shook his head and muttered something about respect for one’s elders as he left the Library.
Sarv gathered up the coins xe had cast aside before slogging outside after Venya.
The pair stepped out into the thick rain and cool air of the trade district, with Venya’s leading the pair. Both pulled their cloaks tighter to fend off the cold rain.
“So you made that last night?” asked Venya
“Yeah. I could make more, but it’s not as much as I’d hoped. There’s not much to make here is there?” asked Sarv in return.
“Yes, well, without knowing what your… assets are, I can’t really suggest anything better than what you’ve already found. That said, how frequently do you expect to work? I need to get an understanding of your relative income in order to find suitable lodging, you understand?”
Sarv bumped Venya with xer hip, eliciting a scowl from the old man, “I could make money all the time, but I’ve got to sleep some time,” xe said, suggestively.
Venya furrowed his brow, unimpressed, “Well.. Rotta’s it is. Follow me,” he said, limping towards the Warrens.
Intan finished his morning’s work at Olo’s, having spent most of the time becoming familiar with the facilities, rules, and apprentices. With the morning’s work at an end, and Sarv having rested a few hours in the relative comfort of a bed in Rotta’s tavern, the group met once more under the eves of Vanhin’s Library. Venya, concerned about their overuse of the library and a potential lack of privacy suggested shifting their meeting to the Red Circle, an idea which met with ready agreement from Intan , and the old man led the group through a shortcut that shielded them from the downpour, speaking as they went.
“Why do you always want to go to the Red Circle?” asked Sarv.
“To have a drink,” replied Venya, generating a sound of approval from Intan, “Besides we need to discuss funds. I take it you’re both interested in heading into the ruins for answers about that which binds us. If that’s the case then we must head to the north to find Hakkon, and for that we need protection which means we need money.”
Walking through the alley-way shortcut to the Red Circle, Intan and Sarv were suddenly aware of a group of followers. Four men shadowing them from behind and another two crouched atop a nearby roof. The trio began quickening their pace towards the end of the alley, when suddenly another pair of figures stepped from the main street blocking the path forward, the contrast of the noon-lit street and the darkness of the alley cloaking them.
One of the shadowed figures stepped forward, club in hand, “You’re in the wrong place. Everything you got, on the ground now!” barked the man.
“A-o-okay…a-a, t-there’s no need to resort to violence,” stammered Venya, panic in his voice as he fumbled with his pouch. Sarv retreated, hiding behind Venya while Intan watched the thieves carefully. At their approach Venya fell backwards into Sarv’s arms, dropping his cane. Sarv deftly slipped from under Venya’s collapsed form, crouching over the old man defensively and producing a feral and inhuman hiss as xe pulled back her cloak, uncoiling xer tentillium, flesh suddenly an undulating wave of rippling, hairs bristling, teeth bared, and eyes a visceral red. The two attackers paused and backed away but the leader pressed forward despite the display.
A crash of distant thunder accented the sudden arrival of a new figure, appearing from the end of the alley. He was broad shouldered with fists up like a boxer and without warning he rushed the thieves. Falling upon the leader he landed a heavy blow across the back of his head and with practiced skill he placed a hard right on the face of the next nearest, laying him flat. He rushed the third, with a body blow, causing him to stumble back, scramble to his feet and flee from the alley.
With the new figure dealing with the muggers, Sarv stood over Venya, shielding him with xer body as she watched the boxer make short work of the robbers. With the battle at an end the boxer knelt beside one of the figures, taking a pouch of coins from the body before standing and approaching the group, the drizzle from the eves above cascading off his shoulders.
Close up the man was clean shaven save for the dark stubble on his chin, with hazel eyes and yellow teeth. The group caught a glimpse of a serpentine tattoo curled up from beneath his scrap-work armour, onto his rain-wet neck and face. He removed a pair of knuckle dusters, smiling at Sarv as he stepped forward, slipping them into a belt-bag.
“You’re lucky,” said the boxer, a strange smile on his face as he leaned down, assisting Venya to his feet.
“Oh dear lord,” Venya said, turning to look at the Tamma, “Many thanks Sarv,” he said as the young Tamaa, returned to xer normal state, wrapped xerself around Venya’s leg.
The man placed a hand on Venya’s shoulder, “Nothing broken? You alright?” he said, brushing a mixture of sweat and rain from his brow.
Venya shook his head, obviously bewildered, “Yes, yes I think so. Many thanks. Who are you young man?” the steward asked, pulling his cloak closed once more.
“Hensio Salem,” said the man, reaching out a hand to shake.
The greeting was interrupted by the abrupt snap of a crossbow. A spray of blood blossomed from the boxer, Hensio’s, throat as a bolt ripped through his neck, dropping the man to his knees, a dull splash in the heavy mud of the alley. His eyes were wide and mouth gurgling.
Looking up the trio caught sight of the two figures that had been shadowing them from the roof above. A mechanical sound warned of a second bolt being loaded, prompting the group to take cover behind an nearby rain-barrel just as another bolt was cast. Intan barked in pain as the bolt pierced his upper arm, burying itself in the wall. A long breath and a howl of pain, as Intan fought the impulse to try and flee the stationary point of injury. With adrenal strength Intan snapped the bolt-head off, pain causing a shower of stars in his vision, but the effort releasing his arm from the wall. With one arm disabled Intan fumbled to load his own crossbow as he heard the enemy reload once more. Sarv, seeing the tinker struggle, scrabbled over, cocking the mechanism and lifting the barrel, steadying it on the edge of the barrel to assist Intan. The crack of the crossbow followed by the pained cry from above told Intan that he’d hit his mark and the sound of footsteps retreating across the rooftop confirmed it.
Venya was first out of cover, moving to Hensio just in time to hear the man gurgle a final epithet through a blood filled mouth. Crouching over the man, Venya searched his body, scooping the pouch of gelt coins from his hand before retreating to the rest of the party.
“Is everyone okay?” Venya asked.
Sarv, suddenly aware of the blood spatter across her face, was trembling.
“We should get out of here… w-we we should get out of here…now” Venya said.
With a groggy moan one of the muggers Hensio battered regained consciousness, struggling to his feet.
It took the would be thief a moment to focus, and Venya took the opportunity to swipe his cane at the man, shooing him like an alley cat as he regained his senses.
Finally conscious of the scene before him the man stared at Hensio, a look of horror and something else which Sarv recognized, crossing his face.
“What the fuck, what the fuck, what the fuck…” the man repeated the words like a prayer as he stumbled down into the darkness of the alleyway. Sarv called after him to wait, but the mugger was gone.
Venya stammered out direction to the group “We need to, we need to get out of here. Now. You-you’re covered in blood. This is…” he trailed off for a moment, gripped by fear before shaking it off.
“Follow me,” said the old steward, pushing back against his nerves with as much authority as he could muster. Venya led the trio through side streets to his own home in the noble district, the heavy rain washing Hensio’s blood from their cloaks as they went.
Within a few minutes the group had reached the safety of Venya’s home, barely more than a main room with a bed and a table, a pantry and a water-closet.
Venya struggled to find words as Sarv tapped the old man on the shoulder
“They knew each other. They all knew each other,” xe said.
“What do you mean they all knew each other? asked Venya, eyes narrow.
“I’m pretty sure. The punched-man.. he knew… he knew the arrowed guy…” replied the Tamaa.
Venya’s confusion was obvious, “What?”
“The one with the arrow in his neck, they knew each other,” repeated Sarv, struggling to identify the victims but avoid recalling the actual event.
“So you’re saying that this was a pre-meditated murder? Someone killed someone they knew?” the steward asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t know if it was pre-meditated. I just know that they knew each other. I don’t know if we were supposed to be there at all,” Sarv cried, her voice raised in frustration at trying to make some sense of it all.
“What?” Venya was lost
“I don’t know if we were supposed to be there!” xe tried again to get Venya’s understanding.
“Well, supposed to be there?! We were just going to the tavern!” Venya cried,
“And we almost died!” shouted Sarv, xer cheeks suddenly red.
“I know, I know… I know,” Venya replied, his voice loud and his tone frustrated.
Intan burst into the conversation with a shout “First you send us to a strip club, and now we almost die in an ally,” the tinker laughed, like a man in the gallows before grimacing “I’m bleeding here. Can we do something about this?”
“Welcome to Svertheim,” said Venya, before acknowledging the wound. Sarv tore a strip off the bottom of xer peasant dress, a makeshift bandage of wet cloth which xe handed to Venya who searched through the bottles under his counter. Venya cleaned the cloth with water and alcohol and began to wrap the Tinker’s arm.
Intan cried out in pain as the alcohol set the wound on fire once more, “Easy man!”
“Sorry! I’m a clerk for ayr’s sake!” Venya cried and held a hand up in frustrated apology, “Bleeding people and muggers and murder.” Venya shook his head as Sarv stepped forward.
A single thin tentillia slipped from the Tamaa’s sleeve, and Sarv gently pressed it against Intan’s wound. The Tinker’s breath slowed slightly, the muscles in his neck un-clenching as he felt the pain ebb slightly.
“Okay, that was better than the alcohol.” said Intan, his face somewhere between a grin and a grimace. With the pain subdued, Sarv cleaned the blood away. The bolt had pierced the meat of Intan’s shoulder cleanly, and more through flesh and fat than muscle. It was painful, but it could have been worse.
With Intan bandaged and resting, Sarv turned to Venya.
“Do you have anywhere to take a bath?” xe asked
“I’m afraid not,” lied Venya, casually stepping between Sarv and the water-closet containing a brass tub.
“Okay,” Sarv said, head down.
“I’m sure they can arrange something for you at Rotta’s,” continued Venya, “now if you’ll excuse me, this has been a rather trying day. I would very much like to be left alone now.” said Venya, opening the door, his hospitality suddenly at an end.
Sarv and Intan looked at each other,
As Sarv stepped out into the rain xe looked at Venya, eyes wide, “I’m sorry we’ve brought all this trouble,” xe said, her voice small and hurt.
“Yes, well, all the good that does me,” Venya replied, ice hanging from the words.
Intan stepped forward, “If you’re going to be smug, it was your ‘shortcut’ that got us in this.”
Venya scowled and watched as the pair trudged off into the rain, Intan clutching his arm and Sarv pulling her cloak tight. He waited until they were out of sight before closing the door.
It was early afternoon and the rain was still driving as Intan and Sarv stepped out of the noble district.
“Where are you staying?” asked Intan.
“King Rotta’s,” replied Sarv, eyes drawn to the alley’s and roofs.
“I’ll escort you there and we can get some rest,” said Intan.
Afternoon turned to evening and Intan and Sarv found a semi-private room at King Rotta’s. After a simple dinner they both passed into sleep.
Venya scrambled, fitting himself to his disguise. Within minutes he was no longer Venya, he was Gurka and he pulled his cloak up, heading out into the rain. Gurka nee Venya strode towards King Rotta’s and Jarvi, his jaw clenched. The tavern was busy, but Jarvi was easy to find, sitting in his booth, his thick belly pressed against the edge of the table, and a pair of blocky men on either side. Gurka could see he hadn’t left the tavern since their morning conversation; his bright red hair was dry as bone.
“Evening,” said Gurka.
“Good evenin’ ta ya,'” replied Jarvi, “What brings ya back so soon?”
“You get news about that thing I asked?” asked Gurka.
“They were following your targets last I heard,” said Jarvi.
“Last you heard wasn’t exactly what happened,” snapped Gurka “Everything was fine, Hensio did his part, as did your boys, and then someone else showed up,” Gurka paused.
“What the fuck are ya talking ’bout?” barked Jarvi, his face twisted in confusion.
“What the fuck indeed. What happened? IS this the Ruthless?” Gurka pressed.
“What do you mean Hensio’s dead?!” Jarvi shook his head in disbelief.
“I mean he was shot in the throat with a crossbow,” said Gurka.
“Twas supposed to be fake! A couple of lads, just rough em up!” Jarvi cried.
“I know! There were two more on the rooftop and they killed him!” Gurka said, eyes locked on Jarvi.
“No, no,” Jarvi’s seemed to be pleading, though it wasn’t clear with who. The man’s breath hitched before he continued, “I-I’ll find out what happened, leave it to me. Where’d… where’d it happen?”
Gurka provided the location.
“It had the be the Ruthless… or the Ambactus. One of them. They did this. I’ll find out,”
“In the trade district?” Gurka
Jarvi nodded, his frown wide. Gurka was right, the location didn’t make sense. The Vidar owned the district.
“Gurka, this is not good. If this gets tied back to me… Sirtan will have my skull for a cup,” Jarvi’s voice was reedy, his ruddy skin a shade paler than usual and Gurka was quiet.
“Go. I’ll look into it and let you know,” Jarvi waved a hand at Gurka and another to summon some unseen servant.
“You’ll leave the mark in the usual place?” asked Gurka
“Aye,” the thick man said, pulling himself from the table as Gurka turned to leave.
Intan woke to a memory that is was not his own.
He stood in a forest on a path paved with interlocking bricks. The wood was filled with ancient oaks and elms. The air was rich with the smell of spring; fresh earth, grass and moss, a clean breeze. In the memory he heard bird song, the rustle of leaves. He was walking beside someone. An older man with a shaven head. His grey robes were lined in sapphire trim and he wore a short beard. He remembered a long history written in the lines of the man’s face. When he spoke it was in a language Intan didn’t know. Nonetheless he understood.
“And you are still struggling?” Vicara asked. Vicara… that was his name…
“Yes Proctor,” Intan spoke quietly, face growing warm under his gaze.
“Speak plain Elaios,” he said, watching.
Intan sighed, the words rushing out, “I can’t seem to get this Ayr-damned shaping,” he said in a voice not his own, “I’ve read the script a thousand times. I can see the equations in my sleep. I’ve meditated, written it out…”
“And you cannot stop the stone,” his tone was patient, practiced.
“Did the bruises give it away…”
“It is not the words, it is the focus,” said Vicara, ignoring the sarcasm.
Intan nodded, not understanding.
“You come from the Sige,” he said, as though it explained everything. The look on Intan’s face told him it didn’t and he continued.
“For those not born into the Arcana it is often simple to speak the words but difficult to use them. You see the world as it is, perceive only what your senses tell you. You accept this with your heart and when you are trying to Shape you are trying to remake the world itself,” he stopped, crouched, and placed a hand on a brick that composed the road. He whispered word and it began to rise, as if bouyed by some invisible wind.
“I am focused though… and isn’t the whole point of Shaping to control the world with words?” Intan asked, gritting his teeth and voice cracking in frustration.
Vicara shook his head, “You cannot force the world to obey… not yet. Your focus is on the end, on the result. Attend to the cause,” the old man waved a hand and the brick split in two, “I do not tell the stone to float, I do not command it to split,” another gesture and the brick split again, and then reformed, and then split into a hundred pieces and then whole again. Vicara stopped and the brick floated back to the path, inserting itself in the road once more. The old man turned, placing a hand on a shoulder that was not Intan’s, “When I Shape I am not Shaping the subject, I shaping the action. My will is not commanding the world, it is, by the words, bending the forces beneath the world. I speak to the hidden, give direction to the unseen. This is the truth of Shaping; our equations do not change the world, they simply apply a different balance.”
Then the Proctor turned, and with a gesture the world seemed to bend, a doorway open, and Intan returned to the Turning Tower.
Intan remembered now. Remembered understanding, remembered turning the stones away with a word. The Tinker remembered the word and the equation, the gestures and the feeling.. and other things too… blades turned aside, bullets halted, and a great vessel hovering in the sky, a hundred canna aimed at him, at his cadre. A barrage, seemingly endless, battering a vast barrier, held in place only by Intan’s will…
Intan remembered all of these things, and they were not his memories.
The following morning was much like the previous. Rain, chill, and the sounds of Allfrerhem at rest.
Intan and Sarv awoke. The morning after violence akin to a hangover and the stress of the previous day taking on a new character; less visceral but also less filtered by adrenaline and fear.
Intan sat in the dusty leather chair, hands darting across the luminar he had repaired. The quiet of the library worn like a heavy coat as he spent his morning in the distraction of research. He had parted ways with Sarv this morning and he wasn’t sure if that had been a good idea, but he also wasn’t in a place to argue; the Tamaa did as it pleased. He had chosen the library instead, hoping to find something more about the mark. It was late in the morning when he found the listing in the index. Just fragments of text, a historical document of some sort, and itself not directly connected but tagged by proxy with the word Signarem. Intan scanned the results, allowing the Luminar to translate.
“…even during the golden age of the Imperium the North was sparsely populated, home to a relatively small number of cities and settlements and culturally dominated by the clay folk [term unclear; rough translation] who ruled from the city of Hellioth [location unclear; does not match known cartographic resources]. Those of iron blood [term unclear; rough translation] survived in the settlements of the Sige [translation = Silent]. There is little evidence of witch [term unclear; rough translation] presence in the north.
During this great age the people of the North were rugged individualists, seeking to escape the opulence and grandeur of their southern neighbours. Here the old arts thrived and the ancestors of our people were sustained on the bounty of the risen world, gifted by…
…the cataclysm of the first age started in the south but reached the North soon enough. The people of the Imperium were laid low by a ruinuous array of disasters. Disease, technological failure, natural and unnatural disasters, and intercenine conflict, all reducing the already small population to a fraction. The loss of links between the hubs of the south and Aynar brought even greater suffering and…
…as the great iron minds [translation = Artilects] retreated from the south, seeking shelter from the Beast in isolation, they too fractured giving rise to echo-thief [term unclear; rough translation] who brought great ruin through unity to …
…the revelation of the role of the black tongue [term unclear; rough translation] in the fall drove many to follow the Arcane [term unclear; possibly proper name, title, organization, or deity?] in the attempt to stave off extinction. Even the Echo Thief sought alliance and by Naritsu [term unclear; possibly proper name, title, organization, or deity] the people were guided to march against the rising armies of the broken people [term unclear]…
..the deaths of Ayek and Ivit-ka turned iron and clay-blood alike against…
Author – Perdis Nestori, Rigvori of … [CORRUPT SECTION]
Gurka entered King Rotta’s once more. The night had brought sparse rest and dreams of home. The damned chill seemed to catch in his bones. He had seen the agreed upon sign and Jarvi was waiting for him.
“What news?” asked Gurka.
“It wasn’t the Ruthless and it wasn’t the Ambactus, we’ve turned the screws and nothing. We can’t figure out who did it. Bodies dealt with, and the guard is none the wiser,” Jarvi’s voice was low, filled and his hand was clenched around his mug, knuckles white.
“I don’t understand who did this,” he finished.
“Nor do I,” said Gurka
“We’ve got lads following the Tamaa. Last seen she was headed out into the warrens. Not sure where, but we’re on it.”
“Good,” said Gurka, “Figure out what she wants, what she’s doing here,” he didn’t Give Jarvi time to respond before continuing, “It’s vague but what about the other thing? The ‘Signarem’?” Gurka asked.
“Blank stares all around,” replied Jarvi.
“There was word of an organization tied to it. A cult. Ancient history, not active for ages, not anything I know about. If I remember, this Isirin, lodged up in the Red Circle, she made mention of it,”
“Who’s this?” Jarvi asked
“More names tied to this phenomenon,” said Gurka.
“Look, I don’t get involved in mythology,” Jarvi said, hands up. Something in his face recalled the look of a man holding on to the edge of a fast river.
“I know, but I’m telling you, //something// is at work here and I don’t //want// anything to do with it, but I’m in the thick of it and now you are too. We’ve got to work together. You’ve got more ears on the ground,” Gurka said.
“Alright, alright, I’ll see what I can find out” Jarvi said, defeat in his voice, “There’s something else going on here, beyond us,” he waved his hands at the table, “and I don’t like things that are beyond the Vidar.”
“We’re agreed there, but this is bad for business,” said Gurka.
“No joke,” replied Jarvi,
“It might be best, to expand, and make this problem known to some others in the Vidar. Maybe not Sirtan, maybe not yet. But if he doesn’t already he’ll know soon, I’m sure,” said Gurka.
“Blast man, what have you gotten me into?” Jarvi shook his head.
“I don’t know yet. I’m hoping this Tamaa can reveal something about that.”
Sarv didn’t entirely know how but xe found xerself at the [[Ayrhof]]. Xe couldn’t remember if xe’d even talked to Intan about it. Xe knew the Tinker had headed to [[Vanhin’s Library]] to continue his research but the fog of stress seemed to have worn the morning down to actions without context. Xer intention had been to find the woman who gave xer the dress, but the Warrens were well named. Finding her way back had proven impossible and so xe had found the temple instead.
The Ayrhof was one of Allfrerhem’s oldest structures, sitting between the Haggen and the Warrens. It was built into the Maurlog crag, beneath a great relief of the Ten Ayr. A long vaulted stone hall stretched above xer, wood and stone walls as solid as any in the city. A great golden chain hung over the gable, glimmering even in the dim drizzle of the day. Statues of all ten Ayr stand in the hall.
Sarv found xer way to Aia’s statue, curling xer feet under xer. There was a calm there, in the shadow of the Libertine. It was xer parent’s Ayr, and that brought a sort of comfort all its own. Hours passed, not quite asleep, not quite awake. The taste of devotion creeped at the edge of xer consciousness, the presence of others in the temple equally distant. The sound of the noon-bells echoed, dragging Sarv out of xer reverie and xe stood, stretching and heading for the door.
Exiting the long hall xe caught sight of a pair of figures, men in rain cloaks. Their eyes seemed to set on xer as they stood. Xe continued, wanting to believe it was coincidence but when she paused so did they. A few more steps forward… and there they were.
A mix of fear, frustration, and anger boiled over in Sarv’s belly and xe turned, stomping a foot. Xe clenched xer hands. “What! What do you want?!” xe shouted.
The two men looked at each other, confusion and surprise in equal parts. Without a word they turned away, fading into the crowd around the temple.
Sarv shook xer head and stomped towards the library, keeping to the main streets. It was impossible now to ignore the glances. Were they watching xer because of the bounty? Was it the muggers? Was it the cloaks? Sarv’s stomach knotted with each prying glance until finally xe was at the door to the Library.
The library was quiet, as always, as Sarv entered. The only sound was a gentle snore that drew xer towards Vanhin’s couch. The old man was dozing and woke himself with a start as Sarv approached.
“Hello again! Everything alright? You look pale?” asked Vanhin.
“I don’t think I want to be here anymore,” said Sarv.
“Why not?” Vanhin’s thin fingers pulled at the dust in the corner of his eyes.
“Last night we were robbed, and today people are following me. I hate this town! I don’t want to be followed! I hate this place,” Sarv’s eyes were wet.
“Do you know who’s following you?” asked Vanhin,
“No. They’re wearing cloaks and hoods. I can’t see their faces,” replied Sarv.
“That is concerning. Sounds like you need some protection my dear,” the old man nodded, “Here,” Vanhin moved to his desk, pulling a thin sliver of parchment and a pen from the cluttered workspace and scrawling across it in spidery lines. He passed the paper to Sarv. It was a short note with a set of directions and a name; Helgi Theregar.
“That is the keeper of the warrior’s hall. Perhaps you can speak to her for assistance. She’s trustworthy, I’ve known her for an age. When I was younger we used to…” the old man’s bushy eyebrows crept up his forehead and he seemed to drift into a pleasant memory, his words trailing off.
Sarv giggled conspiratorially and moved behind the desk, wrapping xer arms around the sitting lorekeeper before tucking the paper into xer bodice.
“Tell her I said hello. She’s free to stop by whenever she’d like,” Vanhin’s face was a wide grin.
Sarv wiggled her eyebrows, “Should I say you have a bottle of wine?”
“Oh that would be excellent!” the old man’s face flushed.
Sarv found Venya and Intan sitting on the second floor, in the middle of some conversation.
“Do you know anything about that name?” asked Intan.
“Absolutely, I know a great many things about Perdis Nestori,” Venya lied, “Particularly in that we should probably pursue it,” he continued. Intan’s look told him that the sarcasm had fallen flat.
“No, I’ve never heard the name before unfortunately,” he finally answered
“There’s more of a lead than the ruins. Perdis Nestori is the author of the research I’ve been doing. They may know more about the marks.”
“Do we know how old that text is? Couldn’t they be dead?”
“Very true, but at least it’s another lead.”
=== Shadows Above ===
Sarv practiced her healing on Intan’s still sore wound. Venya found other things to do.
Intan accidentally dropped Sarv’s bounty handbill which triggered him to ask Sarv about it. Sarv denied this but was obviously lying. Sarv and Intan went to Olo’s workshop to discuss the bounty on Sarv’s head.
Meanwhile Venya investigated the scene of the attack and discovered a trail of blood leading into the Kahstrand. He also learned that the attackers were skilled enough to pick a spot with excellent sight lines.
Intan and Sarv visited the Drengr Skali.
Sarv sang a bawdy song making herself welcome in the hall.
They arranged a meeting with Eclipse for later in the evening at Venya’s house before heading to the trade district do so some shopping.
Venya visited the Red Circle and chatted with Edricck about Isirin. He discovered that there had been an incident between Isirin and Nashak and a drunken gambler named Viljo Reyor. He then went to the Guard Barracks seeking out Voga and was directed to the Bazaar. Venya found the guardsmen and asked him about Viljo, learning that he spent most days going from bar to bar looking for suckers to gamble with. They noticed Sarv and Intan and Sarv greeted Voga with a hug and got some candy.
The group noticed several figures wearing cloaks very similar to the ones worn by the attackers. These individuals were watching from across the Bazaar.
The group headed to King Rottas, seemingly losing their followers. They spotted them again on the rooftops around the courtyard in front of Rottas. The group entered and Venya went to talk with Viljo while the others drank. Venya obtained some intel on Isirin and Nashak before returning upstairs. Meanwhile Voga was poisoned by someone pretending to be a barmen who escaped out the front door. Venya and Intan pursued. Venya scaled the side of the buildings nearby in an attempt to track the attacker from high but jumped off the roof to avoid getting shot. His fall was broken by Intan who used his Barrier and the two of them hid inside a nearby hovel, preparing for an attack.
=== Connections ===
Intan and Venya escaped the hovel through the trap door, crawling to a nearby alley.
Sarv accompanied Balek and a crew of brawlers outside to confront the cloaked figures.
Venya and Intan headed towards the crypt, inadvertently following one of the shadowy figures.
Sarv crawled out of a melee that ended with two of the cloaked figures dead, two injured brawlers, and two of the cloaked figures fleeing into the alleys.
Balek had the bodies dragged to his office, an outbuilding near the tavern and inspected them. His crew searched the bodies and uncovered a micro-slate. He also recognized one of the bodies as Unn Haugabrjótr, a local forester. No one recognized the other figure, a pale-skinned man with sunken eyes. One of the other brawlers advised him that he recognized one of the figures as a guardsmen, Toril Neva. Sarv took a coin from one of the dead men with Balek’s permission, and deftly pilfered the micro-slate (natural 20) before leaving.
Intan and Venya heard running feet approaching them from behind and hid as the two passed by, likely heading to the Crypt.
Venya, recognizing the extent of his injuries decided to turn back and warned Intan not to talk about what happened.
The group reassembled on the stairs of King Rotta’s tavern. Sarv offered to help Venya who resisted, looking for Jarvi to find a street-doc. Jarvi was nowhere to be found forcing Venya to accept Sarv’s help. Sarv examined Venya’s injuries and, recognizing the extent, suggested finding someone else. She also handed the slate to Intan who recognized what it was.
On the way out of the tavern they noticed that Voga was recovering and the guard offered to assist Sarv however he could. With a friend they escorted the group to Arjan Iyen’s, the Thane’s physician.
Iyen examined Voga and Venya and patched them up. She believed their stories. She detected something off about Sarv who was revealed to be a Tamaa by Venya.
Iyen was thrilled at the chance to meet a rare quasi-human and asked Sarv if she could examine her. Sarv suggested a trade; Iyen train her as a physician and Sarv would answer her questions. Iyen agreed.
The group departed, Sarv, Voga, and friend heading to Voga’s house, and Intan and Venya heading to Venya’s house.
At Venya’s house Intan and Venya met Eclipse who had dispatched a pair of cloaked miscreants and was waiting to be interviewed. Eclipse, chipper, foreign, and apparently disinterested in asking questions offered to dispose of the bodies. He easily carried two grown men over his shoulder out the door. Venya and Intan got a nights rest.
Sarv met Voga’s sister, Eela, and settled in, catching the odd sight of a figure leaping over the city wall before going to bed.
In the morning the characters attended their respective commitments, Venya and Intan at work, and Sarv with Iyen.
Sarv learned that the Urpan killed by Kalevan had been badly injured before the incident, their skulls pierced and their brains threaded with some sort of wire.
Venya learned that a Luxi woman had been killed on the road and her hand removed.
The group met up once more at Vanhin’s Library.
Intan scanned and decoded the slate, recovering the journal of a cultist. Venya left to seek some other information.
Sarv went upstairs and encountered Eclipse, apparently waiting for her, and distressingly skilled at not being seen. Eclipse presented the contract and Sarv feigned literacy in order to sign it.
Sarv approached Vanhin with the coin and he recognized it as an Urul coin. He didn’t notice the leather thong until Sarv pointed it out which triggered him to become frightened. He tried to convince Sarv to drop the subject and sell the coin, not to wear it but she started to put it on and he stopped her. He showed her a book and told her about the Naraja, an old cult that plagued Allfrerhem and preached a different history of Svertheim, worshipped dark things. Vanhin scuttled off to try and make a connection between the Naraja, Signarem, and the marks.
== From the Wild ==
Otrey, Sylla and Myst (Sylla’s large wolf companion) are travelling through the wilderness when they come across a well-groomed but bloodied warhorse. Sylla calms it, and together they lead it back along the bloody trail it left behind. They find a bloody battle site, with 3 distinct parties: Urpan with gory heads, cloaked figures, and armoured guards. Otrey’s inspection reveals that the Urpan and cloaked figures seem to have fought side by side against the armoured guards. Otrey places makeshift grave-markers at the heads of each corpse, not knowing which side was honourable. He notes a blade of good quality with a bear hilt, but it is damaged. It becomes evident that some of the fighters got away, so Sylla hitches the horse to a tree and the traveling companions follow the new trail.
At the end of it they find a wounded man holding the weight of an even more wounded man, fighting off a number of Urpan. Otrey, Myst and Sylla make quick work of the creatures, who all have damaged heads. After a quick exchange, the gravely wounded man is identified as Hakkon Einarr. He is placed on the horse, and the lot of them rush to Alfreheim, several days away.
Back at the city, Venya is followed to the Red Circle by Sarv and her bodyguard, on their way to inform Isirin and Nahsak of the potential danger to their lives. They find that they were escorted away by guards the night before. Concerned, they go to the barracks, and find that they were never brought there. Knowing this likely means the cult of Naraja took them away, they go pick up Intan and catch him up on the situation. The return to Rotta’s tavern to find him unavailable. The waitress and patrons Venya speaks to are uneasy at how freely he brings up the night of the attack, but he manages to get an appointment with him for the night after. Venya then accosts another young patron, looking for his friend. He learns that he was in a meeting with others, and would have to get back to him.
With the day’s business done, it is clear that Venya is nervous to return home alone, and Voga (who they bumped into) invites him to spend the night.
The next day, by happenstance (or design) Voga, Intan and Sarv are all stationed at Venya’s gate. Off in the distance, the other party arrives with a dying Hakkon, and the marked ones all identify each other from the dream. Voga and Sarv rush out to confront them and take care of Hakkon, but she can’t take care of his wound with the folding armour on. Intan shows up next, showing her how to remove it. Once it’s undone however, he begins to bleed more rapidly and she needs to work quickly to save him.
From the crowd that gathers, Otrey detects hostile intent from some, and moves between Sarv and the crowd, making them change their minds, it seems. Venya tries to get Sylla and Otrey’s attention from the other side of the wall, and motions for them to hide the marks on their wrists, but the message is lost or ignored.
Eventually Hakkon is taken away to be taken care of by the thane’s physician, and Sarv goes with him. The rest of the party moves to the guard tower, where Venya quickly takes control of the situation. He interrogates the new arrivals about how they came to be there, who they are, and what they know about the mark. Voga, angry at their ill treatment, attempts to intervene, but Venya silences him, making it clear that their lives were all in danger and this was more important than anything else.
Venya then gives a short explanation about the nature of the threat in the city, and suggests they hide their marks, before leaving to get the tools he’d need to mask them. Sarv meets him at the door, and she takes care of masking the marks with inks and bangles before Venya returns. He assesses the job is “passable”, and no more is said on the issue. That’s when guard captain Ayan Jaghund appears, thanks them for their service, and makes venya responsible for their safe and proper introduction to the city before leaving.
That’s when the group finally has time to take a breather and actually introduce themselves.
Finally, the session closes with Venya asking that they pretend their goals in the city were initially to visit the crypts in the name of an old friend, should anyone ask.
Also Sarv suggested food for the weary travelers at the very end
=== In the Smoke ===
The fire burned through the night, only held at bay by the desperate toil of the people of Allfrerhem and the clatterjack Tursus. When the sun rises it is through smoke and ash. The great fire has eaten its fill and left misery in its wake. Much of the warrens has been destroyed, including the Ayrhof and thousands are homeless. The streets are filled with the dead and wounded, those who fell before the Naraja, the fire, or the chaos of the night. Many carry the remainder of their lives in their arms, seeking shelter in the Arena, or common yards, hiding beneath simple tents in the chill of morning. Torald and Olo, with Tursus at their side, lead a small handful of guards and warriors from the Drengr Skali trying to re-establish some order and bring some semblance of stability seeing small success in rallying groups of the displaced towards the hard work of clearing away the wreckage of the Warrens. Unfortunately the effect of their presence is limited and many parts of the city remain in chaos.
What cultists were captured, including Unn Haugabrjótr, are taken into custody by Torald and chained in the courtyard of the keep to prevent the people of Allfrerhem from lynching them. Torald brooks no argument on the subject and if you push he orders you to assist Olo and says nothing more.
You do hear word from witnesses suggesting that the remaining cultists fled north after their failed attack on the Arena, followed not long after by the monstrosity called the Nargul that cast itself off of Korkea Tower.
The counting of the dead begins and many familiar names are among them: Vanhin Ilmarinen, Balek Rotta, Lisken Bekkr, Aylan Jaghund, Elis Harðfari, Luukas Vámúli, Tarja Hafr, Albin Stakkyr, Gora Sjona, Hakon Einarr. The list seems to grow, each hour revealing new dead. Voga Otagon and Iyen also remain missing, though no bodies are presented.
The story of the night evolves quickly, and though there are a dozen variants, the common narrative is that the city was attacked by cultists who were in control of a great monster that had breath of fire and slaughtered the people and burned the Ayrhof in the name of dark gods. Other, more accurate but perhaps complicated truths can be heard in some circles.
== Questions of Loyalty ==
**A record of the meeting at Einarr Keep…**
The group, all except Fang, arrived at the keep to find that the keep guard had been reassembled in the wake of the night of ashes, more heavily armed and armoured than before. The group was led into the keep by the guard, past the wreckage of the lower bailey and the keep door, into the main hall where Torald was waiting.
The Thane’s son was clad in folding armour and armed with a blade and hand canna, and attended by two dozen grim faced soldiers who watched the group carefully. With a simple gesture he motioned the group to take a seat.
Otrey did so reluctantly, leaving his weapons nearby. Sarv, seeing Torald’s hand canna hesitated and grabbed Sylla’s hand. Venya and Intan both sat and Sylla motioned for Myst to sit next to Venya. Torald motioned to Sarv and Sylla, two hold outs and they both sat.(edited)
“Thank you for coming. I have been preoccupied since the night of ashes, trying to assemble as much informaiton as I could, trying to determine the movements and motions of our enemies. And I say ours, pointedly because they are ours,” he said, fixing his gaze on Venya who smiled coldly at him.
“Feel free to eat; I assure you I haven’t poisoned it if that’s what you’re thinking,” and everyone began to pick at the food.
“As you know, the Naraja have attempted to destroy this city, and they have done a distressingly admirable job of it. They’ve burned down the heart of the cities lower class, infiltrated the nobility, and from what I can tell, spread a virulent plague amongst the people. This leaves me in a difficult position, as I’m sure Venya has already told you. As the only Einarr left to command the city I need to find some way to maintain order and ensure that no Naraja are left while seeking out some manner of cure for the illness they have inflicted. From the notes I’ve been able to gather I have no more than three weeks before this city is a charnel house, piled high with the corpses of the sickly dead and shortly after that, either swarmed by beasts or conquered by the Naraja themselves,” explained the young Einarr
Venya, clearly distant, asked Torald to relay compliments to the cook.
“I have called you here to ask for your assistance,” Torald continued
“You have mine,” said Otrey immediately
“What assistance were you needing?” asked Intan
“I need your assistance in going to Aarnivak ruin.” replied Torald
“I’ll go!” said Sarv, half choking on a pastry.
“Are you alright?” asked Torald
“Good, it’s delicious. I would be glad to go, that’s.. north right? The north one?”
“Yes,” said Torald, “And I can supply you with horses and maps to get there,”
“Will you be going?” asked Sarv
“I will not, I need to be here to lead the people,” said Torald
“Okay good,” said Sarv
Torald continued “And I suspect that the Naraja will not wait until the sickness has fully claimed the city before they make their next attack.”
There was a pause
“I’ve heard two assents. Are these two speaking for the rest of you?” asked Torald
“Can we have more information on these ruins?” asked Intan
“Aarnivak is the remains of a first age city, and sprawls over a vast territory north of here. The ruin itself contains all manner of relics and danger. I can provide some notes and information but it will be up to you to navigate and traverse the no doubt deadly terrain. As well, I am led to believe the Naraja have their own base of operations there.”
Venya, chewing on food, asks “Edifice Imperium?”
“I do not believe it is there. The Imperium is further north,” replied Torald
“If the Naraja base of operations is there maybe we can find a cure for this plague,” said Intan
“That is what I’m hoping,” said Torald
“I’m in,” said Intan
“What suggests to you that the cure is in the Aarnivak ruins? And why are you employing this motley crew to this purpose?” asked Venya
“Iyen’s notes regarding the disease and notes from my father’s journal regarding the last outbreak all point to the best hope being in the technology that is housed in Aarnivak. Potentially there is a Surgeon artilect there that may be able to concoct a cure. This is, at best, a longshot. As for the reason I’m using you, it’s because you’ve proven yourself capable, and because, quite frankly, you’re disposable to me,” answered Torald.
Sarv gave Torald and his weaponry a look.
“Disposable?” asks Sarv.(edited)
“If you do not come back I am no further behind than when you left. I cannot say the same for loyal guards that I have tested.”
“Hmmm. Funny how disposable people come to those with power,” replied Sarv
“Indeed. Beyond the irony though, I suspect this will be of benefit to you, because if any answers are to be found for the questions you have regarding those marks on your wrists, it is likely they are to be in the Aarnivak ruin. We have a mutual benefit here. If you can find a cure, perhaps you can save those of you already infected and learn something more about the marks. And if you don’t, I have lost nothing but you in the effort,” continued Torald.
“I take it that Olo’s machines will not be coming then?” asked Otrey
“No, I will need those in case the Naraja attack,” he said
Sarv sighed “So, nothing but a child, a Tamaa, a drunk, an old sick man,” and was interrupted by Venya.
“No,” said the old man.
“No?” asked Sarv
“No,” the old man repeated, dipping his bread in the stew, chewing on it.
“Having a fit of pique are we Venya?” asked Torald
“No. I’m merely considering. I see no advantage in going to Aarnivak,” replied Venya.
“No advantage?” Torald scoffed.
“None whatsoever.” replied Venya.
“I can think of at least one for you Venya,” Torald’s voice is laden with caution.
“As far as I can tell, Torald, there’s very little I have left to do here, very little that I can do. But…”
“You mean for your masters?” asked Torald.
“I mean, for the Emperor. But if I can do anything to stop your city from falling into plague, I don’t see how that would be part of my engagement at all,” replied Venya
“Well, you have a choice Venya. You can continue to serve the Emperor for a very very short time, or you can make a change in who you serve,” Toralds caution took a new and harder tone.
All eyes set upon Venya as he pushed his chair back and stood up, placing his hand on his heart.
“I am Tilius Silius Cominius and I will die in the name of my Empire before I serve the likes of you,” Venya said in Ossandrian.
The dining hall is filled with a resounding boom as Torald fires his hand canna, shooting the man you knew as Venya in the chest.
Otrey stands up and grabs his sword and as he does so the soldiers arm themselves, but they do not attack.
=== Summary of Earlier Events ===
The earliest games brought the group together in the city of Allfrerhem where they recognized each other from their marks and shared dreams. Accosted by unknown attackers, most of the characters banded together, reluctantly at first. They came to learn that their black cloaked assailants were members of a cult known as the Naraja, intent on the deaths of the ruling Einarr family and the ruin of the city. These Naraja, led by a strange occult figure known as the Night Father and his priestly servants, dragged the party into the midst of this enduring conflict. They made multiple attempts to kill or abduct the group or anyone bearing the mark, succeeding in the case of the errant marked named Alala, and abducting another errant marked named Nashak.
With the stakes rising and the characters in increasing danger, the city of Allfrerhem fell to chaos during a massive and coordinated attack against the city. The Naraja murdered key targets, set fire to a portion of the city, and unleashed a horrific creature known as a Nargul, spawned from the sacrifice of Nashak in a night that would come to be known as the Night of Ashes.
Fortunately the Naraja plan was foiled, both by the cadre who was able to beat back the cults attacks, saving key figures, and the cult’s own failures which saw the Nargul escape their control and flee.
During this time the group distinguished themselves in various ways:
* They saved the elder Einarr son, Hakon, from death in the wilderness (Sylla, Otrey, Sarv)
* They saved the younger son Torald during the night of ashes (Feng, Otrey).
* They saved Hakon again during the night of ashes (Feng, Otrey)
* They saved Iyen from the Naraja after she was separated from Nashak (Feng)
* They saved numerous others by defending the arena (Venya, Sylla, Sarv, Intan)
* They escorted the clatterjack Tursus to help defend the city (Feng and Otrey)
* They recovered the Lorekeeper’s Nexus (Venya, Intan, Sarv)
Unfortunately, they also faced tragedy when their allies Voga and Iyen seemingly vanished, several key contacts were assassinated by the Naraja and Venya, the elder steward, was revealed as an Ossandrian spy and summarily executed by Torald.
In the same meeting with Torald that saw Venya killed, the group learned that the Naraja had spread an infection through Allfrerhem; an engineered disease that would leave bring the city too its knees and make it ripe for conquest. Torald, in hopes of preventing this, requested their help in obtaining a cure by traveling to the ruins of Aarnivak and seeking out a medical artilect that is believed to reside there. The group reluctantly agreed to help Torald, despite his actions against Venya and Torald provided horses, supplies, and excerpts from his father’s expedition journal; the last recorded venture into the ruined city.
=== Journey to Aarnivak ===
Gifts from Torald and departure from Allfrerhem
The group met with Torald and received their gifts and the information he had
The group traveled to Stakkyrby but were cautious due to the warnings from Torald
Fang and Sarv scouted east and found out that there was a low volume of logs coming from upriver
They were spotted by a Leashed Urpan which tracked them back to the temporary camp where they were keeping out of sight of the guard
Otrey spotted the Urpan and gave chase, shooting it and then stabbing it
Sarv and Fang arrived and Sarv discovered the neural leash on the Urpan
Fang snuck to the edge of the city and saw that there were a small number of people still in the bunkhouses
Fang, Sarv, and Eclipse snuck back and Sarv was spotted.
Sarv asked one of the loggers for help, pretending to be a lost traveler
The logger was very scared and gave Sarv a note and asked her to take it to Allfrerhem and get help
They left just as the guards were heading out to investigate
Still unsure how to proceed Intan suggested getting the gate open and rushing the bridge
He also suggested Khai the monkey boy might be a good scout to find out more
Khai snuck in through a small drainage grate, scouting various areas of the camp before spotting a group of guards watching as an Urpan savaged a logger
Khai agitated the horses in the stables, but though he was unable to gain their cooperation he did make enough ruckus to get the guards to investigate and summon Taon to calm the horses
Khai saw Taon
He saw an iron barred animal transport cart at the storehouse docks
He investigated the storehouse and found two captives (Voga and Iyen) and helped them escape
Through Diisa Khai communicated a crude plan to the rest of the cadre, advising the group to try and enter the logging settlement through the eastern river gate.
While the group made their way there Khai headed across the bridge to the Guardhouse to free a group of surviving guardsmen.
Iyen split off to try and find Linnea Stakkyr and is captured
Arriving at the river a short distance from the settlement and realizing the gate was not big enough the group left their horses behind and approached on foot
The lone guard in the tower on the eastern edge was sleeping, allowing the group to get close
Feng picked the lock on the gate, granting the group access and they entered the settlement
The group scouted one of the nearby bunkhouses and spotted a trio of men hunched over the fire talking
After a tense moment they had words with the men who warned them about a ‘machine witch’ and expressed their fear at trying to retake the settlement.
The group tried to convince the loggers to fight, but only one accepted
Khai gained entrance to the guard house through the upper story window and managed to free the prisoners, including a guard sergeant named Magna Surtr a short encounter with a cultist. Freed the group arms themselves with what they can find in the storerooms and prepare to leave the guardhouse
Meanwhile the group is drawn towards the tavern by the pained cries of a woman being badly beaten
Approaching the entrance they note the three Naraja out front who don’t notice them as they are busy watching the violence inside the Tavern.
The group wavers, unsure what to do, but when Eclipse and Lita move forward to scout the rest take this as a signal to attack.
Sarv fires her crossbow, initiating the fight and causing one of the cultists to turn as Myst leaps forward and drags him off the deck and onto the street. Fang, Lita, and Eclipse quickly and quietly dispatch the other two.
Feng pushes forward, entering the bar with Otrey close behind and in the ensuing melee the group decimates the enemy, the leader of who seemed to be in the process of kicking Arjan Iyen to death.
The group seems to have the cultists defeated, their grievously injured leader scrabbling from the attack… but then the leader, Ashlak, triggered some change, becoming a monstrosity
The group defeated the creature and then headed to the main road where they witnessed Diisa charge Taon
Taon disabled the titan Diisa with a gesture in mid charge, to disastrous effect. Otrey paid her back, grazing her with an arrow despite her impressive defenses, but before any proper revenge could be served she somehow ensorcelled the Stakkyr guardsmen to shield her using her machine companion, and threatened and cajoled her escape from the camp.
The group investigated the camp
Sarv reunited with Voga and Iyen and learned about Voga’s condition
Khai and Feng investigated the Stakkyr manor, discover dead bodies in the cellar, and rescue Linnea
Feng finds the Tichyt Shudan and gave it to Otrey
Feng found Iyen’s mendikit and returned it to Iyen
Eclipse and Lita retrieved the cadre’s horses
Otrey talked to Magna and has asked him to talk to Linnea
Diisa awoke and Khai inspected him for damage
Khai had a brief moment of religious doubt with Otrey
Iyen and Intan joined Khai and Otrey and they discussed future plans
Intan revealed he would be staying in the camp to help defend it
Iyen is going to heal the group before heading back to Allfrerhem in hopes of slowing the disease
The group took a day to rest and recuperate at the Stakkyr logging camp. During this time…
Iyen did the rounds, healing everyone
Magna seemed to confirm suspicions that Shudan was placed in Stakkyrby many years ago, and the Stakkyr’s were warned to keep it there under threat.
Sarv gave Khai the stress fruit she grew
Voga asked Otrey to look after Sarv and warned him that his grandfather died in the ruin
Sarv convinced Magna to help the Naraja prisoners and assisted Iyen in the procedures to do so, amputating a crushed limb, dealing with broken bones and lacerations, and tending to other injuries
Sarv was asked by one of the prisoners why she wanted to help them and she said because they were still people
Magna, Intan, and company finished reinforcing the north gate
Sylla had a brief encounter with Eclipse who revealed both his face for the first time, showing that he was something between human and machine, and that he knew Sylla’s true nature.
Iyen and Voga headed back to Allfrerhem
The cadre left the camp and Intan behind and embarked on the journey towards the ruined city of Aarnivak
The first day’s travel was uneventful and almost relaxing
During the evening Khai shared his story of the Uzhas or Tuweri, a deadly creature of darkness and shadow that Khai encountered in the ruins of Ab’Sheol in the Badlands; a creature which tore Diisa apart and matches the description of a creature encountered by Olinn Einarr in the ruins of Aarnivak
During the second day’s travel, Sarv’s horse Princess was startled by Myst and xy was nearly thrown from the saddle. The horse bolted ahead, getting fairly far before Sarv was able to get it back under control. From the top of the hill where they ended up Sarv spotted a column of Naraja marching down the road, giving the group time to plan their next move
The group hid Diisa and his tracks and Otrey and Eclipse retreated down the road where Eclipse acted as a lure, drawing the cultists in a chase that served to keep the group hidden. Eclipse advised Otrey that he would attempt to return to the party but if he could not he would head towards the logging camp to warn the defenders and aide in the defense.
During their passing the group observed that the cultists were in a poor state, only 70 strong, lacking any sign leadership, and sporting injuries that suggest they were harassed by something in the wood, possibly Rasacar
The group proceeded, putting a few more hours of distance between themselves and the Naraja troop before settling down an excellent campsite
Khai’s Story; the Tuweri
Sarv spotted the Naraja Troops
The group hid, Eclipse lured them off and the journey continued
Camped at an excellent spot
The group continued their journey into the Poinvek, reaching the Old Road to Aarnivak.
There was a conversation with Lita about what everyone did before coming north as well as an apology for Torald’s actions. The group asked few questions of the young woman. She advised that she had had poor sleep and troubled dreams since arriving.
The following night everyone found they had also had poor sleep and distant and troubled dreams.
Feng awoke to a coughing fit and found that he was ill.
Otrey scouted ahead during the night and located a rushed campsite with the dead of the Naraja unburied. He also scouted to the Old Road and located numerous Vargr tracks before returning to camp.
The following day the group traveled during an overcast early spring day, arriving at the Old Road
Around mid-day Diisa stopped moving and responding to Khai’s commands and Khai discovered that the damage that Taon did to the great machine was more subtle and pervasive than originally thought and might cause further degradation over time.
The overcast day turned to storm clouds and then to a dangerous storm as the group reached an old single story wayhouse mentioned on the Stakkyr maps.
Khai built a shelter for Diisa while the others settled in for the storm.
The storm battered the area with torrential downpour and cascades of lightning. In the lightning Sylla thought she saw something in the darkness; a shadowy serpent.
Each of the characters was plagued by a horrific dream of loss and torment brought about by crimson and ebon forces and each awoke in stress and anguish.
Lita nearly revealed Sylla’s secret but was made to doubt what she knew when Sylla declared she was not involved.
The storm persisted through the next day and the group remained in the house.
The following night Sylla entered the dreams of her pack and, despite her lack of dreamcraft, was able to drive off the entity tormenting them, casting her will against it and slipping through the dreams of her entire cadre. She was able to free them for now but in the process revealed a glimpse of her own true form to the others (though they do not know it yet).
In confronting the entity of crimson and ebon Sylla discovered that it was a powerful dream crafter like her, and matching the description of the Night Father. Asked why she protected the cadre, she said they were her friends, to which the entity replied that it was her family before retreating.
Khai and Sarv had a conversation before they departed
With the storm dwindling, and a day lost, the group set out again under a lighter rain
In mid-morning, on the edge of Rasacar’s territory the group encountered the remains of several dead Naraja on the road, including leaders and siege weaponry, confirming their earlier suspicions that the Naraja had been attacked
Khai located a leader and a leather scroll case with orders within but opened it in the rain, causing much of the detail to be lost. He only learned that the troops orders were to secure Stakkyrby and that there was further mention of the Koned and the Hunstagr.
In the late afternoon the troop heard the howl of Vargr and the screams of humans a couple hundred meters off the road. Otrey ordered the cadre to stay on the path for fear of an ambush but a second round of screams led Feng to seek out the source. Otrey ran in pursuit and Sylla scaled a tree to watch/find safety.
From the top of a hill Otrey and Feng spotted a pair of black-cloaked humans under attack by a pack of Vargr. One of the men was brought down and dragged off by the Vargr while the other kept up a defense.
Feng tried to intercede but Otrey shot the man, hoping to protect the cadre by removing the source of Feng’s conflict. Otrey’s arrow struck true but drew the attention of the Vargr who charged Feng and Otrey.
In the ensuing battle the Vargr were slain and it was revealed that they were diseased in some way.
While this was happening, Sarv, Khai, and Lita first heard, and then watched as the enormous Grommen matriarch, Rasacar, approached, walking first parallel to them on the road then crossing it at a distance, giving them only cursory attention.
Feng and Otrey made short work of the Vargr, killing the handful who rushed them before the rest were driven off by the attack and the imminent whooping cry of Rascar.
In the aftermath, Feng rushed to the side of the dying black-cloak and heard him chanting a prayer under his breath; “Guard my spirit, Naraja, the Occulted Lord and Let not the Black Tongue stain my mind. Watch over me blessed nine; Elaios Sun, Kala Duran, Otichtyt, Xunlo Jin, Nathfar, Isarvan, Perdis Nestori, Orixmenos, Tagah; and guide my fate in shadow and light.”
Feng stared into the man’s eyes as he ended his pain by plunging a dagger into his heart and heard his final words “Xunlo Jin”.
With Rasacar near, and the threat uncertain, the group continued at pace, putting distance between themselves and the whooping cry of the creature, making camp far enough for safety but close enough to hear its strange call throughout the night.
Feng and Otrey argued about their actions
With Rasacar growing closer with each passing hour the group struck camp in the morning
The Old Road began its turn north and the group could see the rise of the road as it curves up into a well forested and tall hill
In the mid-morning the group noticed an unusual thunder, Rasacar’s whooping, and a rising dust cloud from the eastern forest that heralded a stampede of Daedon with little warning
Feng, alert but sick, ran ahead for cover while the rest of the group sought shelter behind Diisa who began pounding a warning on the Orick of the old road, driving the stampede to split in avoidance of the great machine.
Feng found himself caught up and dodged the first few Daedon before being clipped by a third and falling into the dust beneath their hooves.
Just as the stampede was clearing a few final Daedon burst from the from the woods and onto the road, nearly crushing Feng before being snapped up in Rasacar’s jaws and nearly bit in two.
Rascar loomed over Feng’s fallen and silent body as the group watched, intentions inscrutable…
Characters of the North
- Thane Olinn Einarr (M) 60, Former adventurer turned Thane of Allfrerhem, seen as stable and just by his people.
- Lady Yasa Einarr (F) Deceased, Adventurer and first wife of the Thane who died in a plague shortly after Hakon and Asa’s birth’s 27 years ago
- Hakon Einarr (M) 28, The Eldest son and presumed heir. Gallant, warrior, adventurer, and philanderer
- Asa Einarr (F) 27, Middle child, daughter, and prodigy married to lesser Granden noble
- Lady Idira Einarr (F) 45, The Thane’s second wife and intermediary between the Thane and the nobility
- Torald Einarr (M) 23, The young and observant contrarian second son
- Cobus Reccar (M) ?, Lesser Granden noble and husband of Asa Einarr
- Olav Veor (M) 44, Quiet Svertan noble and owner of the Veor Silver mine
- Tarja Hafr (F) 37, Svertan noble and owner of the Hafr logging rights:
- Albin Stakkyr (M) 47, Nobleman owner of northern resource rights (timber and iron sites)
- Alar Stakkyr (M) 18, Troublemaking son of Albin Stakkyr and heir to the Stakkyr title
- Linnea Stakkyr (F) 15, Bookish forgotten daughter of Albin Stakkyr
- Goran Sjona (M) 45, Svertan tradesman and noble owner of several Haggen facilities
- Balek Rotta (M) 59, Owner/Proprietor of King Rotta’s Tavern
- Erla Ilmarison (F) 53, Stately and politically savvy noblewoman in the Allfrerhem court
- Edricck Aulisson (M) 35, Propieter the Red Circle Tavern
- Vanhin Ilmarinen (M) 83, the Allfrerhem Lorekeeper and oldest man in the city
- Olo Niva (M) 41, Renowned Tinker and Mechanist: One of the foremost minds in Svertan engineering
- Aylan Jaghund (M) 32, Steward/Guard Captain and leader of the Alfrerhem guard
- Virva Kallio (F) 29, Proprietor of Aia’s Flask, (the brothel is owned by Olav Veor)
- Kalu and Noe Redrider (M) 23, Luxi brothers and guards at the Flask
- Lisken Bekkr (M) 57, High steward of the House of Einarr
- Takkan Vigr (M) 76 (looks 40), Half-Tollam master of the Arena
- Arjan Iyen (F) 34, Honoured Selenian guest and surgeon of the Thane
- Braka Nordson (M) 25, Iron miner, champion boxer, drunkard, and brother of Kuna Nordottir.
- Kuna Nordottir (F) 26, Clanbar handler, trainer and keeper for the guard and brother to Braka Nordson
- Voga Otogan (M) 28, Amiable and insouciant barrel chested sergeant of the Allfrerhem guard
- Isirin (F) 25, Blind Ossandrian traveler with a gift for seeing the unseen. Constantly accompanied by Nashak Gaira
- Nahsak Gaira (M) ?, Nehepi bodyguard of Isirin who covers most of his body in robes. Bears a mark and a panoply of scars on his arms.
- Osota Mesikammen (F) 40, Wildwoman warden and renowned huntress in the employ of Hakon Einarr. Lives in the wild.
- Sigmund Kjalki (M) 48, Skilled warrior and loyal bodyguard of the Thane’s daughter Sona Einarr
- Helgi Theragar (F) 51, Stern but fair minded head of the Drengr Skali, aided by her sons Jori and Bori
- One-Eyed Atlen (M) 31 – Skills: Trapping, Tracking, Pathfinding, Short blade
- Miko Eelisdottir (F) 25 – Skills: Archery, Short blade, Hunting, Ambush
- Arild Inn Stórhǫggvi (M) 33 – Skills: Spear, Short Sword, Archery, Tactics, Tracking
- Taga Rocksplitter (M) 47 – Skills: Warhammer, Greatsword, Animal Handling, Survival
- Makoare “Geist” Crypttongue (F) 30 – Skills: Stealth, Short blades, Ambush tactics
- Solin Haafnarly (M) 26 – Skills: Axe, Wrestling, Survival, Hunting
- Kuna Nordottir (F) 26 -Skills: Animal Handling, Spear, Tracking, Hunting, Medicine
- Eclipsis “Eclipse” (M) ? – Skills: Longsword, Protection, Languages, Lore, Tracking
- Ygdr (F) 10 [Clanbar] Companion of Kuna Nordottir
- Rasacar (F) 19 [Grommen] Enormous and highly aggressive beast known to menace the northern forest.
The Damned Crewe
- Xyao “Weasel” Anjing
- Xyao “Jarvy” Ivi
- Crawl (“The Colourblind Seer”)
- Nerva (“The One Who Protects”)
The Red Hand Reminder
The echo of the foundry was muffled as Rofid Goud closed the door behind him. The choking fumes of industry fell away and instead the vents above forced in cool, clean air that made the abrasions on his hands itch. He walked slowly, careful not to cause too much friction between his trousers and the road burn on his arse but also keenly aware of the pace of the heavyset guards on either side of him. The office was dimly lit by ornate lanterns but even in the low light the wealth of it was obvious; rich wood and granite walls, a blackwood desk and bookshelves, and an enormous hearth that crackled behind the desk.
Goud spared a glance out the vitrum window into the filthy and furiously busy factorum below. Hundreds of drudges went through routes and patterns that seemed entirely arbitrary to Goud. They followed lines painted on the ground, moving between little boxed areas filled with punches, presses, and lathes. Bullard had tried to explain the flow of things to him once but Goud’s attention wavered too quickly as it did now.
Goud turned his attention from the Factorum to the office and the poster advertisements on the wall. Each one depicted some good produced below; cans, pipes, swords and shields… anything metal really. He felt his hand instinctively fall to his own hip, searching for his blade and remembered that the guards had taken it.
“Why are you here Goud?”
The man stood behind the black desk, in front of the fireplace and poked at the fire. Goud hadn’t noticed before but there were a pair of old longswords criss-crossed behind a metal targe on the mantle. The shield looked to have been split at some point and reconstructed.
Rhod Bullard was a large man, with sloped shoulders and a barrel chest. His thick blonde hair was slicked with oil and and handlebar moustache twisted with wax. His white dress shirt and black suspenders both seemed to strain against his chest as he stared at Goud with coal black eyes.
“It’s about the Xyao kid,” Goud said, his hands itching again.
“Yes,” replied Bullard.
“Uh, we tried to make an example of him, like you said, but… uh… the Grots wouldn’t eat ’em.”
Bullard scowled and Goud continued.
“They acted like his blood was poison. He said it was… um said it was his power.”
Bullard arched an eyebrow.
“He said something about being a ka-too-loo…” Goud scratched at his neck and stared at the floor.
In the corner of his eye Goud could see the guards look at each other.
“Ka-too-loo?”, Bullard said, staring at Goud. “You mean… like… those pulp serials?”
“Err, uhh..” Goud was suddenly lost, “I don’t think he said anything about breakfast Boss,” He looked at the guards who were smiling in a way that made him feel like he wasn’t in on a joke.
Bullard sighed, “The books by Loathsmith? You do know what books are Goud?”
“Uh, no, he didn’t have no books on em Boss and I don’t think he’s a writer…more of a gambler.”
Bullard brushed his brow and shook his head. He made a motion with his hand and suddenly Goud was on the ground, staring up at the guard who had punched him. His ear was ringing and he tasted blood.
“Aia’s thorny sack Goud, you are fucking thick. Ka-too-loo is a folk story by a writer named Loathsmith.”
Goud scrabbled upright and could feel a loose molar rattle against his tongue.
“Uhhh, sorry Boss. I uh, I didn’t uh.. Boss but the,” Goud cast in his mind for something approximating sense before continuing, “Sorry Boss, but the Grots wouldn’t eat him and then he made an explosion with his hand. Like… like magic Boss. The boys can confirm. I ain’t telling no lies.”
Bullard’s brow furrowed and he set the poker aside.
“Magic then? Is that how he escaped?”
Goud could see a thread to hold on to.
“I think so Boss. Willard said he started oozing and came out the bag on the way over, but then we ran into the Dusters and things got confusing. There was this guy with these weird eyes and a little floating jack thing…”
Bullard held up a hand and Goud stopped,
“That’s enough Goud. Quite enough. An excuse is an excuse and I don’t care for them. You’ve failed to collect. You know what that means. How are you going to deal with it?”
Goud swallowed once, and then again. He felt like he was drowning in a desert.
“It’s just, I don’t know how to deal with magic Boss!” Bullard stared at him with his pitiless coal black eyes and Goud could feel his gut flipflop.
“I’m sorry Boss. I’ll get the money. I’ll deal with it.”
“One last chance Goud.,” Bullard said, going back to the fire.
“Yes Boss. No excuses. I’ll get it done,” Goud stepped back but the guards stopped him and Bullard turned. In his hands he had the white hot poker from the fire.
“Boss, I’m sorry, I didn’t,”
“You need a reminder. Open your hand Goud,”
Goud felt panic at first, felt the desire to run, but he also that would be the end; it would be him in the pit, or worse. Instead he forced down the fear and thought of Weasel. As he stepped forward and opened his hand he thought of Weasel. As Bullard pressed the iron into his palm he thought of Weasel.
Feeding the Deep
Xyao ‘Jarvy’ Ivi walked down the dock, eyes darting from the unbalanced crate perched on his handcart, to the flickering lantern in his hand, to the vast darkness of the sea and back. The planks beneath him groaned against the surging waves and the wind numbed his fingers, but he was happy for the sound all the same; it had muffled the squeaky cart wheel that had plagued him all the way from the Baille. Imagination or not, every figure between here and there had taken the bearing of a guard, every movement in an alley a dark scuttle, and damned if the drunks hand’t all seemed a little too sober. Three times he’d stopped to readjust the crate, right his unwieldy cargo, and kick the wheel in hopes of muting it. He’d nearly run out of prayers checking for leaks and managing the blasted thing. The sawdust was still doing its job though and Jarvy reminded himself to drop a few coins at the temple for that. He pulled to a stop at the docks end and took a lungful of sea air. Judging by the moons it was nearly three bells and he was happy for Viator’s light as he surveyed the old dock at ports edge. It was a good spot for tonight’s work; rarely used except in the summer when the fishing and trade ships overflowed the other docks. Last he’d been here was with Ma, a few summers back. They’d had a little lunch on the shore, fed some of the birds. Mostly he remembered watching a Tidevogel snatch up a gull in its claws, carry it off to a rowboat at the end of the dock, and chew its head off.
Ivi peered through the ragged boards and into the brine below. The abyssal blackness mirrored his mood. He wondered if Anjing had woken up yet, how Ma was… and what the Scourge was he going to do with that bastard Goud? Maybe this place would work twice? Seemed like a bad idea… He grimaced and forced the thoughts away. Forced himself to focus on the now.
Ivi sighed and grabbed the edges of the crate. He set it on its side and felt his heart freeze. Something was leaking. He balanced the crate in one hand and leaned down, expecting a smell but found none. He dipped the lantern down to see the leakage dripping into the ocean below but the meager light offered little enough detail. It seemed too dark to be blood. A surge of spidery panic crawled up his spine and Ivi cursed and grasped the crate by the sides, ready to dump it in the ocean; just push it over the side and sprint home… but he knew he needed more distance, and more weight. Do this wrong and he might as well have dumped the fat fool in the street.
It took a half hour to find a small and raggedy fishing boat on the beach and another to get a dozen rocks and some manky sodden rope. Ten more minutes and he was back on the dock with his cargo. Ivi fought down the lump in his chest as he heaved the crate into the skiff which rocked on the waves. It drifted perilously far from the dock until he yanked it back and jumped in himself. He pulled the oars from their locks and began to row.
He counted five minutes out, rowing hard. No further. It was a rule he’d heard over and over since he was a kid.
Five is fine, seven is stupid, ten is terminal.
Five alive, ten the end.
Five fish, ten dragons.
Ivi stopped rowing, stowed the paddles, and stared at the crate. He shuddered at the memory of the voice in the crypt. What exactly had demanded this man’s death?
The boat rocked in the waves and Ivi gritted his teeth. Didn’t matter. There was work to do. He tossed the small anchor overboard and set to it.
He took the prybar from his pack and opened the crate, slipping the lid aside and revealing the back of Gota’s sawdust covered corpse. Clumps of wet pulp encased him. Ivi unraveled the rope and cut four lengths before quickly tying rocks to the ends.
The boat jolted suddenly and Ivi yelped as he pinched his hand between rock and hull. Something scraped along the bottom and he spared a glance into the deep, just in time to see a sinuous and scaley shadow in the moonlight.
“Impatient little fuckers” Ivi cursed and wiped the sweat from his brow as he started tying the rope to the dead mans limbs.
He tested the knots one last time then, one by one, heaved the heavy rocks over the side of the boat. The satisfying ‘thwoop’ of the water was immediately drowned out by the shuddering groan of the corpse as it contorted, pulled from its sawdust grave and falling into the water. The body flipped as it fell from the boat and for a moment Gota’s terrified death mask stared at Ivi as it began to descend. Jarvy recoiled in the as he saw that the eyes were still open… and entirely black.
Dreaming of Aji
Jarvy awakened from a dream. It had been about his brother. Jarvy fought off the rising clarity of consciousness to remember the details. Anjing was walking through a series of doors, each larger than the last. And from each door emerged a new Anjing; older, sturdier, cleaner, richer. The last Anjing was barely recognizable, he was something else… and he wasn’t passing through doors anymore; he was on the dock where Jarvy had disposed of Gota. Anjing was holding a red flag in his hand and there was a ship on the horizon. Anjing turned to leave the dock but the red flag changed then… or maybe it had never been a flag? A cluster of red tentacles or eels dragged Anjing into the water. Jarvy had tried to run, to help his drowning brother, but his legs were weak, his voice trapped in his throat. Instead he found himself in the Gilded Grot, and there was Weasel, as if he’d never been on the dock. His older brother was telling a story, or maybe many stories? They all seemed to flow together. It took a while before Jarvy noticed the knife in Anjing’s hand, a silver blade that seemed impossibly sharp, and the floorboards soaked in crimson at his feet. Anjing’s words were all muffled and he was looking down at the knife. When Anjing finished the story and looked up something had been off…Weasel’s eyes were wrong… the pupils were shaped like saddles.
A Different Choice
Most people walk backwards into the future, only able to see what’s behind them.
Only Ayr and the Kaeki look forward. For them time is a texture, a colour, a focus. With concentration the probabilities of the future are as evident as the actualities of the past… This is the burden on the Kaeki brow; that every gaze forward reveals dozens of probabilities just like this one, and that even the act of looking can make and unmake them.
Standing in Wimarc Veleris’ locksmithy, Crawl perceived such probabilities unbidden; a branching tree of paths that extended from one red-hued root. A moment not far, an apparently random meeting between a machine named Nerva and a man named Broun, an act that triggered an entropic future with an arterial spray.
Through his diascience he perceived bloody walls of a carriage, the ozone of a Canna, futures where Nerva is rendered scrap and those where she escapes. The scream of pedestrians, the whistles of the guard, cryers crowing murder, broadsheets, bounty posters, heavy boots and hard knocks on the door. More and more these futures fractured, each choice the crewe making becoming a thread in a tapestry only he could glimpse, and each thread harder to perceive. A tapestry that frayed into the void at the edges, each fibre dyed red with a single choice.
This much is obvious; sending Nerva on this one simple errand for coin would change everything.
So he didn’t.
The HMS Kestrel darted across the waves, its sails pulled taught as it skimmed the black sea. The winter wind and the skill of its crew carried it forward, its engines silent but its crew raucous with calls and song. Twenty men moved in concert to keep the ship on its path, one it had been on for nearly two weeks now. A work-song cried out into the grey sky while below decks, Captain Crius Hunt stared at his charts.
He shook his head at Walwork, his executive officer and paused to take his tea from Bill, the ships cook, who stomped his way out of the room, his rubber tipped peg squeaking against the dampness near the door.
“Tack west and start a pattern. We’re at the edge of her plausible range… assuming Lord Hywell hasn’t decided to take it for a tour,” said Hunt, blowing the steam from his tea to cool it.
“Doesn’t seem the type honestly,” replied Walwork, pinching the end of his moustache between two fingers.
“Fond as he is of the shore-life, Raleigh wouldn’t miss a single opportunity to show off his father’s Great Work,” said the Captain.
“Great waste of steel if you ask me,” Walwork said, rolling his eyes.
Hunt offered a grin “I’m sure Lord Hywell would love to hear your educated opinions on ship building… perhaps I can arrange an audience?” he offered as lifting his tea to his lips.
Walwork frowned, “Wouldn’t be the worst idea,”
“For you it would,” replied Hunt,
“Look, I’m just saying, for the time and labour put into a single ship we coulda had a whole other fleet if not more. Instead we’ve got a floating palace with gilded canna that Old Bill could outswim,”
Hunt sipped his tea
“A fair point. To our advantage though, it can’t have gotten far and it shouldn’t be hard to miss,” said Hunt.
“Aye, but then… why haven’t we seen hide nor hair of it yet sir?”
Hunt paused and pressed down a knot of anxiety that had accompanied him since they left port, “It’s a very big sea,” he offered, taking another sip.
Walkwork nodded, moving past Hunt’s wit with practised ease, “No doubt sir, but nary a signal? Gibbs says the transmitters should be able to reach the Lighthouse from anywhere in the gulf. Even our raggedy array can still reach land… and yet we haven’t heard a peep…”
Hunt squared his shoulders and looked towards the XO, “So… what do you suppose that means?”
Walwork’s jaw clenched, “Not supposing anything sir, just… some of the men…” Walwork seemed to be fighting with his own tongue so Hunt waited. It only took a moment for Walwork to get there, “Some of the men are saying it’s the Selkies,”
Hunt almost relaxed,
“Oh, for Ivi’s sake, and what reason do you think the Selenians have to attack? They’re in the capital right now trying to negotiate a peace,” replied Hunt,
“Well, some of the men think that’s a ploy, that they’re using the negotiations as a screen for their real goals,” replied Walwork
“Real goal of starting a war? Does that sound very Selenian to you?”
“Well.. I don’t suppose…”
“Yes, well, you should tell the men to leave the politics to the Lords,” said Hunt.
“Honestly, I’m a bit relieved the crew is being so grounded, I thought you were going to start talking about Gargamund again,”
Walworks sharp laugh was interrupted by the a rising chorus and call from the deck. The clatter of footsteps preceded the deck door opening. A wide eyed sailor stared into the relative darkness, panting.
“Sir.. you’re going to want to see this…”
The First Breaching (Crawl)
Memories are a strange thing and stranger still for the Kaeki who see things that never happened. The ‘might-haves-beens’ and ‘almost-was’s’ often get mixed up with the actual, with all the paths that weren’t taken remembered alongside the ones that were.
A Kaeki’s personal history is like a frayed rope; each feathery fibre split from the core is a history that might have been, but the further back you travel along that rope, the more frayed the fibre, because for each of the vox-born there was a time before they could understand or manage their diascient power.
The memories of childhood are the trickiest. It’s where what did happen, and what could have happened are most jumbled.
Was Crawl always a slave? Are the memories of a loving family real? Did they die or were they cruel and ready to abandon their strange child? Were any of the half-seen siblings real? The places and the possibilities are numerous and deeply unclear.
But some memories stick out, coloured in more vividly, outlined in sense memory; in smell and taste and touch. In feelings you know to be real, for whatever value you place upon the word.
Calm is one of those memories. Perhaps the strongest thread in Crawl’s early life.
You called him brother but you were never certain that you shared actual blood. Calm with his seeking eyes and his wheezy laugh. And though you prefer to remember him as a happy boy, imaginative, always following you, always ready for mischief, his scrap-rag doll stuffed in his rope belt, that memory is thin. The uncomfortably substantial memories are worse. His frequent illness, his night terrors, and the abuse they generated from Coran.
Coran is another memory. An unpleasantly clear one. You called him master. That was the term he preferred, never father. A man with a presence like ichor, whose intentions were a tangled knot of greed, cruelty, and ego. Coran who demanded his share from ‘the rats’ each day, and would take it in blood if he couldn’t get it in coin or goods.
The Rats… another memory. The dozen raggety children pressed into service, begging, stealing, and luring the unsuspecting into dark alleys where The Three would be waiting.
The Three. Coran’s crewe; Shenn, Gota and Alcis.
Shenn the Razor with her heavy hands and eagerness for violence. Her fingers always ready with a blade, hands tainted red with death.
Gota the Greedy with his stench of food and drink, always stealing food from the rats, his stomach full of things he hadn’t earned.
And Alcis the Eye, the inscrutable. A broken mirror in Crawl’s diascience, always just outside his sight and always ready whenever Crawl thought he saw an escape from the Cellar.
The Cellar. Where the Rats were kept. An unwelcoming home of splinters and broken stone, of beds made of scrap cloth and hay, too cold in winter and a charnel oven in summer. The low ceiling creaking under the Gota’s plodding feet above, the stink of a shared chamberpot, the streams of water that would flow through when it rained and the everpresent bugs and real rats, readily snatched by hungry hands. A children’s grave buried beneath Coran’s own rickety warehouse.
Other memories; how Coran would force Crawl to use his abilities and threaten Calm when he resisted; how Crawl would look for marks in a crowd, or predict the outcome of dice, or see the outcome of traps set for enemies; how Alcis was always there when he looked beyond; and how they all liked to call Crawl “Little Crow”.
Those memories, and years more, are too clear to have been probabilities.
But the clearest memory is of the day things changed.
A busy crowd in the lower parts of the Aur Baille, drunks and whores and rich folk alike eager to spend or earn coin; a pot-bellied mark with a fat purse of gelt; the feeling, a sense of danger too late for use; Calm’s small cry, muffled by thick rags; and the rough hands that dragged you into the alley.
The distillery where they kept you for three days stank. The men never said their names but you recognized them by their shadows. A rival gang, the ones Coran called the Bicwin Boys. They fed you but the food was tainted and left you groggy and sick and floating in and out of consciousness. First you heard them talk about “settling their debt with Coran”, their voices filled with confidence. That confidence seemed to falter quickly. Whatever reaction they expected from Coran clearly wasn’t matching reality. By the third day it was obvious they were souring on their plan. You knew what that might mean for you and your brother. Reaching out with your diascience you found a hundred paths fraught with danger and only one that led to escape. You ran and you nearly made it. But Calm stumbled.
You fought hard then, trying to get free. You took one of the Boy’s eyes, and cost another one three fingers. You tried to give Calm time to flee, to get away, but it didn’t work and you stopped when they grabbed him. The lead dangled him over the edge of the bridge you were on and you surrendered, felt the thud of the pipe that knocked you senseless and the kick that broke your ribs.
“What now?” one of them had asked, over Calm’s gasping sobs.
“Fuck it, need to send a message. To Coran and the kid,” the other one had replied.
The sound of Calm as he fell was the last thing you heard as your consciousness faded.
You woke up next to the sound of flesh being parted with blades and bones being broken with clubs. Yelling and crying and the sound of men in flight or in death or both. A vision of violence as Coran and his Three carved a path through the Bicwin’s. The most vivid memory is the shadow of Coran striding towards you, dagger dripping with stolen possibilities, his ebon eyes set on you. The feel of the rough ropes as they fell away under his blade. He stared at you then, scowling, rough hands on your head, checking for marks on his property.
You asked him where Crawl was, knowing the answer but you still weren’t prepared for the response.
“Dead” he said and the disregard, the disinterest, the utter indifference was like a spark that set you alight.
That’s where the memories get… unclear. You’ve dreamt of that moment a hundred times since and it only seems to get less clear.
You remember being angrier than you’ve ever been before or since. You remember the world unfolding beneath your diascience and seeing what was and could be and alongside that supernal perception you extended hands that obeyed but weren’t your own, wrapping them around Coran’s fate. You felt a power you cannot now characterize or rationalize in your control and then you remember a profound darkness… but not an empty one. A darkness with a voice, a churning abyss that spoke in a tongue you could not understand.
The memories after that are one’s you fight hard not to recall…
The Last Breaching
Crawl has obtained his revenge.
With Coran stunned and placed in manacles, Crawl turned the binding against its owner, wrapping it around his hated foe’s armoured neck.
Then, under the watchful gaze of his corrupted brother, Crawl activated it
As the cruel mechanism squeezed, the revenant Calm’s connection to the Atavari pulsed and surged
And with each pulse the abyss, the distant folding alien space of the Atavari, filled the alley, a living, freezing doom
Fingers numb, icing flesh. Frozen lip and tongue
In the final moments, as the blood poured from Coran’s armoured neck, the revenant approached
The spectral child, eyes seething with shadow, grasped the Rat King by the head, held it firm
And opened its ichorous maw
With cracking bone and splitting flesh it disgorged itself
An endless torrent of oily black water and eels poured into the dying man
An eruption of thick fluid and wire thin eels, all of it flowing between the plates of Coran’s stolen armour
A whole ocean of shadow poured from Calm… with a river left over to fill the alley
You each drowned in the numbing cold water of that abyssal river
But you didn’t die
Instead you remember floating
For a moment you were -in a strangely placid silence
But only for a moment
All at once you sensed it
The great eye
Under its scrutiny your body turned against you. Skin peeling, bones and teeth softening, organs collapsing
You tasted screaming. You heard your own blood boiling. You felt your heart turn to ash
All this and, impossibly, you were aware of an eternity falling towards the gravity of it
Under the eye you felt yourself decompose, bend, uncoil, and take on new, wrong shapes
But always with the sense of falling
Falling along the length of a vast and moving darkness
Your only sense of scale were in those brief moments when your eyes would reform and you could see the others
Each one a mote of fractally unfolding meat and bone
Each one descending eternally against a starless sky
You fade into numb awareness, paralyzed by the perception of being itself.
Everything hurts; the razor sharp particles of air passing over your lips
The scraping of your bones against one another as you breath
The shattering beat of your own pulse
You are aware of a figure walking past you but from your vantage on the ground you can only make out the metal boots
Boots that seep something with each step. Shadows that pool and then float upwards.
This whorling shadow coalesces into squirming eyeless eels
Each one unfolds into bone and then back into flesh in a disconcertingly familiar fashion
You watch as the boots continue down the alley, towards the fence that blocks the path to the Distiller
You see the prone figures of a young man and woman in armour nearby, eyes open and faces contorted with terror
But only for a moment
The eels formed in the figure’s wake dart into their mouths and nose and they begin coughing, choking
The figure seems to pass through the fence without effort and stops only at the end of the alley
It turns and at this distance you can make it out
What was Coran in Crawl’s armour is now something much worse. An armoured figure seeping corruption and ruin from every opening. A bridge joining Aeldos and the Folding Doom. And a powerful beacon for the coming storm.
It looks back to you and your minds are filled with a chorus of sibilant alien whispers and the vision of the vast eye
“T̶H̸E̶.̵ ̵S̵E̸E̸R̶.̶ ̶H̸A̵S̷.̷ ̸O̷P̵E̷N̶E̵D̸.̶ ̴T̸H̴E̷.̴ ̵W̴A̵Y̴.̶”
For Ivi and Anjing it’s the last thing you perceive before you are taken by unconsciousness
For Crawl though the last thing he sees is Calm, lying in front of you, his broken body curled in exactly the way you remember it in your nightmares
And while his lips are still wet with ichor, his eyes are no longer filled with shadow
Just a dim light that in the darkened alley
The Red Hand Reunion
The sounds of the Weithfall foundry died away as Bernard Bowen closed the door behind him. He brushed the soot from his hands and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust to the dark office. The hearth crackled quietly behind the large man with sloped shoulders and a barrel chest seated at an enormous desk. The man looked up at him for only a moment before nodding and returning his attention to the piece of paper he was writing on. Bernard felt the nod was more acceptance at his presence than greeting and for a moment, unsure if he should speak. The next time Bullard looked up it was with a perched brow.
“Don’t leave me in suspense Mr. Bowen. Your report?”
“It’s bad sir.”
“Including Rawlin’s crew 28.”
“And a dozen more missing,” Bullard said, knuckles cracking as he set down his pen and clenched a fist.
“We’re not sure that’s related sir,”
Bullard nodded but Bernard could feel the skepticism roll off him.
“So we’re just assuming a sharp uptick in the general incompetence of our people then? How would you explain it?”
“I don’t know how to answer that sir,” said Bernard
Stony silence filled the room, accompanied by a definite sense of danger
Bernard felt the words flow out of him in a torrent; “Sir, everyone who’s gone after him, Goud, Rawlin, Breckin… they just… die. We can’t even find a survivor to tell us how but the bodies are torn up and… wrong? Like infected or something… Our best guess, what’s happened to the Grots under the Cut and that thing Olly’s crew trapped in Inginside, somehow he’s connected to them. Baker says’ he saw him in the Salak too, so whatever is going on with Coran and the rats might be too.
“How apt,” Bullard said
Bernard chewed his cheek for a moment before continuing.
“The boys… well many of them think he controls it. A few won’t even say his name.”
“This is absurd,” Bullock’s fist landed heavily on the desk and Bernard could hear his teeth grinding.
“Sir, I don’t think we can afford to doubt it anymore,”
Bullard exhaled in a way that made Rory’s spine stiffen and Bernard could see the muscles in Bullard’s jaw go rigid.
“To be clear… You are asking me to believe that some degenerate gambler named after a rodent has killed nearly thirty Red Hand enforcers without anyone seeing it. And that he’s done this, and more by somehow controlling a bunch of diseased animals?”
“I know sir, maybe it’s some first age tech or,?” Bernard was cut off by the sound of a gurgled scream, coming from outside, barely muffled by the soundproofing. He turned to look out the office window, into the foundry. Dozens of workers stepped away from their stations, staring towards the main doors. A crowd was gathered near the doors, and one of them was the source of the cries.
Bernard looked back at Bullard who gave him a nod.
Baker and Moke were waiting for him outside and the three jogged down the stairs. Exiting the administrative area and onto the floor of the Foundry, the sound was somehow even more deafening than usual. A crowd of dirty faced and acrid smelling labourers rushed by heading for the secondary exits. Most of them were temps, hired due to the strikers, but enough folks were fearful enough of the boss that he recognized at least one. Bernard held his hand out to grab one whose name he recalled as Mack.
“What is it?” Bernard yelled,
Mack yanked his arm away and Bernard saw that all colour had drained from the man; there was pure terror in his eyes, a kind even Bernard rarely saw. The man just shook his head and dashed away.
Bernard motioned to the others and they drew their weapons and moved up the foundry.
Within moments the fleeing crowd had thinned enough to offer Bernard a view of the source of the screaming.
It was bloody chaos. There were nearly a dozen people on the floor, lying in rapidly expanding pools of blood. Crouched over several of them were creatures with eel-like blue-black flesh that gleamed reflected the glowing foundry vats in their sheen. Two of the monsters were tearing into a foundry guard who slashed uselessly at the air with a broken sword, his face covered in blood. Bernard darted in, swinging at one of the beasts grasping limbs, trying to drive it back and in moments he was deep in a chaotic melee, back to back with Moke and Baker as they tried to drive the creatures off. The monsters charred-skull like faces hissed and they slashed with long sharp claws. Moke went down and Baker shouted something Bernard couldn’t hear. Too late turned to see a monster launch itself towards him. Reflexively he threw up his blade and arm and braced for the impact, recoiling. When it didn’t come he was suddenly aware of the heavy pneumatic sound of one of the Foundry arms, a metal mechanism 5m long with gripping claws as big around as his arm. The machine pivoted on its shoulder axis and grasped the creature, catching it only a meter before it could collide with Bernard. Another mechanical arm reached out and grasped the creature by head and the machines began to pull in opposite directions. Bernard recoiled a second time as a splash of oily greenish blood sprayed across the area.
Bernard Bowen grabbed Baker by the shoulder and tried to pull him back, behind the machines, but slipped on the gore as he stepped back. The world twisted and there was a sickening crack as his head bounced off the concrete and he felt his senses begin to swim. Distantly he was aware of the passage of time, of the clatter of steel, the slicing of flesh, but it was all hidden in a fog. One of the Foundry arms wooshed as it passed only a meter above him but the sound seemed to come a moment too late and out of order with the two creatures it connected with arcing into a vat of molton iron. He was dully aware of an eternity of reflexive grasping movement and then suddenly his sense returned.
Bernard dragged himself from the chaos and suddenly found himself staring at a pair of distinctly human feet, both bare and covered in gore. He looked up to see a thin, bedraggled looking man with nearly translucent skin. The man, apparently unconcerned with the chaos around them, crouched next to Bernard and a little spark at the back of Bernard’s brain queued something familiar about his face, something behind the scraggly beard and the bloodshot eyes, beyond the coal-black veins that traced from his eyes like spiderwebs.
He remembered now.
Bernard struggled to fit his mouth around his own tongue as the pale man gripped his face in his hands.
“G…Goud?” Bernard said.
The response wasn’t a word. Instead Goud opened his mouth impossibly wide. Bernard tried to pull away but the sickly mans grip was as strong as any factorum machine.