The Dungeon Master takes the threads the players have provided and weaves it into the tapestry of story. I see myself as more of a narrator of an epic epoch than anything else. Here begins our adventure. Let’s meet the souls who will shape this world to their will.
It was the Day of Anniversary, and the entire city was alive with light, song and the smells of the delicacies that were always baked, roasted and fried in celebration. Even deep below the city, the feeling of excitement and anticipation hummed like a plucked lute string in the air. Arn alone did not share any of the other’s thrill at the upcoming event.
“Herdsman Castille.” Arn looked up to see the slight form of Morrigan, her hair in its perpetual bun. “It is a special day. You should be above with the others.”
“I am waiting for the evening.” He replied, “I wish to avoid the crowds.”
“You mean you wish to go and see the cage fight that ridiculous halfling is staging?” She said mildly, raising an eyebrow in amusement.
“Shepherd, I – “ Arn began, feeling flustered and uncertain. He had never asked for time out of the monastery. Quite the opposite, he had usually resisted leaving until recently.
“It is normal for youngsters to want to be entertained.” Morrigan said, “I noticed your attendance at my own sparring match. What would you offer as critique?”
“You danced as though reciting a Sutra, Shepherd.” He said, responding to her request without thought. “The Commander Shepherd … you might as well have been trying to strike the wind. It seemed he always knew where you would be.”
“It is not the first time we have sparred.” Shepherd Morrigan said, “He knows me better than almost anyone else. Your eyes do at least see to the surface Herdsman, even if what lies below the water remains largely hidden from you. The difference in our fighting styles is distinct, however there is a very valid reason why he is the Commander.”
Arn realized he had offered a very stern criticism of her and felt even more flustered, but Morrigan gave him a slight inclination of the head. Over the years he had learned that this was a gesture of approval.
“Go to your fights if you wish.” She said with a hint of a smile. “But please do not pick up any bad habits. You are on the cusp of the Stillness.”
“Yes Shepherd, of course Shepherd, thank you Shepherd.” He said, grinning at the memories of the enthusiastic halfling and her strange, wild leaping fighting style so different from anything he had ever seen here. “I think, in all honesty that many of the fights may be staged.”
Her only reply was a soft laugh that could have been amusement or agreement.
Boris rubbed his hands together, chuckling to himself. This latest batch of ale had failed, but instead of throwing it away, the Dwarf had left it out uncovered overnight and some form of wild yeast or another had infested it. Now instead of sitting quiescent and sullen, it was nearly bubbling over with activity. Quite possibly toxic and deadly activity, but he could work with that.
After giving it a good stir and scooping off the unhealthy looking violet froth from the top of the fermenting cask, he carefully covered it and went back to bottling. His experiments had all but bankrupted him last month and he didn’t want to resort to eating summoned food again. Over the last few years he’d begun to think there was something wrong with it, and besides, after eating real food, he couldn’t imagine anyone enjoying that magic stuff. Tasted like the grains left over from brewing; all the flavor and character drained out of it.
Tonight was the Anniversary Celebration. Seven hundred years. He had turned out a lot of ales for this event; he relied on the patronage of the folk who tasted his strange concoctions to keep his neighbors from encroaching upon his tiny tavern. They were always willing to pay handsomely for a new diversion.
Speaking of diversions, Shaena was bringing her hooligans into his basement again tonight. Fighting. In this day and age. He would never have thought it would be something folk would be interested in, but he supposed boredom would lead to all sorts of deviant behavior. Besides, if he was honest with himself, it really was amusing to watch them beat the everloving shit out of one another. As long as it wasn’t his bones being broken, what harm could it be?
It brought in more customers and other interesting individuals as well. Humming happily to himself for the first time in ages, he set about starting another brew.
“Lirin, you aren’t going out tonight of all nights are you?” Anna stood in the doorway with her hands on her hips. “You promised to watch Zoey and Zyrus tonight so that Tobias and I could mind the store. This is our busiest night of the year!”
“Anna, I’m only going after the youngsters will long be in their beds.” Lirin soothed, “I have some things that need looking after.”
“Well, don’t expect me to spend an hour getting blood out of another tunic.” She said frostily, “I don’t like this new obsession some folk have with violence. Not one bit.”
“The Long Guard has a history of sparring Anna, I fail to see how this is all that much different really.” He said, “Father would say the more of us who know how to defend ourselves the better.”
“As if this were about self-defense.” She huffed, “They’re taking bets I hear. BETS Lirin! You might as well be going to a gambling den.”
“But there are folk who get hurt.” He said, “Some of them are my friends too. I can’t just let them go to some street hack who will dose them with intoxicants for the pain and nothing else.”
“I don’t like you keeping company with those low sorts Lirin.” She said, “Honestly the Guard has a long tradition of training, but they don’t do it for entertainment. That’s just wrong.”
“No, you’re right.” He said, “I shouldn’t have compared these fights to the Guard.” Lirin smiled at her, “You always were the grounded and sensible one.”
Her expression softened, “You always did think more with your heart. I can’t keep you from helping others Lirin, just … I worry about you. When are you going to find your own life? You should find a woman and start a family.”
Lirin stiffened, a feeling he couldn’t define gripping him. “I have to take care of mom and da. There are enough children as it is.” He couldn’t quite keep the resentment from his voice, “Besides, if I had a wife and children of my own who would watch Zoey and Zyrus while you worked the shop on Anniversary Night?”
“I didn’t mean-“ She began.
“No, I’m the one who should apologize.” He said, taking a deep breath and giving her a rueful smile. “I guess it’s just that I see your family and can’t help but feel a little jealous Anna. It doesn’t mean I don’t still love you all; sometimes it’s just hard to see what you’ve made of your life and not feel like a failure.”
“Oh Lirin don’t say that.” She came to him and caught him in a fierce hug. “You’re a wonderful uncle and a great brother. I’m sure your calling will come.”
At her words, Lirin felt an echo of something he couldn’t quite grasp. A touch on his spirit that called to him and made him yearn to be able to hear it, but somehow it was just out of reach.
It was Anniversary day and Shaena was even more of a ball of energy than ever. After her third breakfast and fourth ale she felt finally calm enough to face the day. Tonight she had enough fighters for a full card, and that meant… well… something. The Halfling tried to keep track of the business end of things, but it was all just so god’s cursed boring. Good thing Garrett had offered to handle all that for her; he really was a dear, even if his weird color changing mane of hair and odd clothing seemed a bit off.
The fighters though, that was exciting! She’d finally gotten a dragonborn and had pitted him against the Catfolk because all those weird critters fighting one another would be really something. She had wanted to be the first one to fight him, but she’d also gotten her first Goliath to fight and there just wasn’t any way she couldn’t be the one to face him. I mean come on! A halfling against a Goliath? She got the giggles just thinking about it.
Thankfully that nice Lirin gentleman had agreed to come again. He really had quite the hand for setting broken bones and all that which was lovely and the strange Elf had helped too when that one boy had accidentally almost died. Probably would have died. But really, they’d all signed the waiver and fighting was fun! That Elf seemed to act as though he didn’t even want to use the spell to save the boy’s life too which was quite weird but that’s those Elves for you really. I mean Elves right?
She was going to try something new tonight too, something for Anniversary night. This human made the most fantastic patterns with magic, lights and she heard he could even sometimes make a fog seem to roll across the stage. It would be fun. Good old Garrett had come through on that one too. He really was a treasure.
SP put on a tunic and of finest white silk and belted it with a white on white embroidered sash. Contrary to what most believed, black was not the color of death or mourning after all; at least not among the Elves. To walk at night down the dim streets in all white was to proclaim that you were such a part of the night you did not need to hide in it. Not that the streets were likely to be darkened on Anniversary night. Which was an annoyance.
Straightening the collar of the tunic, SP made final adjustments to ensure the clothes fell properly and turned to leave. Gathering an ivory topped cane of carved ash, the Elf strode out the front door of the mortuary and into the throngs of folk gathering for the celebrations.
It was nearly time for those pit fights to begin. They were really quite delicious actually. Who would have known fighting would be so intriguing and satisfying? Death was inevitable of course, but watching healthy folk with everything to lose and nothing to gain being so willing to throw it all away for no immediately apparent reason was addictive.
It so defied logic that it made SP want to understand the contrary thinking. The Elf simply had to understand it. There must be a reason for that illogical and self-destructive behavior. It was a knot that made SP’s fingers itch.
Using magic to bring that unfortunate boy back to life had been more instinct than intentional. SP had discovered something very interesting while studying the necromantic arts that needed further testing. The Elf had begun to theorize that healing magic, especially the magics that prevented death, were actually a type of necromancy. The gap between preventing death and returning life was so razor thin that it was often difficult to determine the difference.
That balance was something SP found to be the subject of obsessive interest. There was a lifetime of study there. Perhaps more than a lifetime. Perhaps even more than an Elven lifetime.
Tabitha (The Wind in the Storm) crouched on the edge of a rooftop, peering out over the city. Her tail twitched and thrashed as she watched the preparations for Anniversary day below. She was up early; it was barely midday after all, and she was irritated at losing the hours of sleep. The irritation was mitigated by the presence of those deliciously muscular jugglers in the plaza below.
They were performing for a small crowd of children and harried looking adults or older siblings and this angle was perfect to ogle muscular arms and shoulders. The men and women in the square were now tossing pony kegs of ale between them; a seemingly impossible feat. She decided the kegs must be empty.
Then the thought that the kegs weren’t empty occurred to her. If they weren’t empty and the did contain the Brannagann’s Dark Ale that was branded on one side then she wanted some. With that thought came a sudden impulse and as she always did, Tabitha acted on it almost before the idea had fully formed in her mind.
Leaping from the third story was, she thought as she fell through the air, a far more interesting and astonishing feat than throwing around some empty ale kegs. Probably only truly impressive if she didn’t die or break her legs though. That was why she had aimed for the flagpole. Her claws caught and she slid down the wooden shaft, peeling spirals of it off as she plunged toward the ground. Just before she struck the cobblestones, Tabitha leaped off toward the troupe from behind and then bounded high enough to land on the shoulders of the shortest of the jugglers, neatly snagging the barrel out of the air.
The barrel was full. It hit her like … well … like a barrel of ale. It hammered her slight form clean off the startled man’s shoulders and knocked the wind out of her in a startled “Oof!” and a second impact when she hit the cobblestones with the barrel on top of her drove the remaining breath from her lungs. The bung that was driven into the top of the keg popped out and a thick brown stream of Brannagann’s Dark poured into her face. She was in heaven except for the wet; but it was worth it.
All of the assembled adults and children burst into an uproar of laughter, clapping and cheers. The man she had stolen the barrel from looked at her in baffled astonishment as trinkets, sweets and small coins showered into the hat they had set out to collect donations.
“Well. Well now.” The massively muscular man said, stroking his prodigious moustache and giving her a speculative grin. “Lass if you ever want a part in our act, all you need do is ask.” He bent to pick up the cask, still able to easily lift it although she continued to cling to it and to guzzle the ale as it poured out.
When he set it down bung up she gave him a reproachful look and a sulky pout. “That was mine! I stole it fair and square!”
The rest of the troupe burst out laughing, as did the assembled crowd who were now unsure if they had seen an accident or a carefully constructed prank that was part of the act. “She’s got you there Fortus!” One of the other jugglers said, laughing so hard that tears streamed down his cheeks.
“I like a man with some heft.” Tabitha said, licking ale from her furred cheeks and leaning forward to run a hand lightly over his bulging bicep. “What are you doing for the next hour or two?”
He blinked, and the crowd laughed again, although it was mostly the adolescents this time; the youngsters not understanding and the parents trying hard to keep straight faces. Fortus seemed to not be able to make up his mind if she was serious or crazy.
“I guess it’s true about the kitties eh?” He managed to say, and threw in a waggle of his bushy eyebrows to the crowd.
“I could make you purrrrrrr.” She said, tail twitching. A motion over his shoulder caught her eye. A man in a garish purple vest with bright steel studs and a mane of hair spiked straight up that slowly changed colors was shouldering through the crowd on the other side of the square. It was Garrett. Well shit.
“Sorry. Gotta go cutie. Maybe I’ll find you later.” She slipped into the crowd before the bookie could see her. She owed him too much money to have him see her now. But she was gonna beat that Dragonborn in the fights tonight and she could finally pay him off. It was either that or she’d have to move to another part of the city. She never would have thought a place that once had felt so large would feel so small.
The song ended and Telos allowed the patterns and shapes that his magic had been causing to shift in front the white screen of silk to fade away. The assorted gentry sitting in the audience applauded politely and the musicians stood and bowed.
Although this wasn’t his preferred scene, these people paid better than most and he always got to eat the prepared, not simply summoned, food they made and that was worth putting up with the slightly stodgier and prim attitudes they often had. Also, the songs that were fashionable among the highborn were quite beautiful and accompanied his artistic passions quite well.
Then again, his best paying, and most exiting gig was happening tonight. It was so strange to him to think that people would really enjoy fighting. Enjoy getting punched, kicked and choked. Weapons were of course not allowed, but when a rather wildly dressed half elven man named Garrett had approached him and asked to hire his services for the show.
Garrett’s foot high Mohawk had flashed assorted colors as the man had gesticulated and explained his idea to make the intro “really pop” and his ideas about showing the fights in larger than life size on the wall were interesting, although Telos wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to pull that off or not. Thus far he wasn’t having much luck with moving images. Perhaps with practice though. He had seen others who had managed as much, albeit not for this specific purpose or on this scale.
He had managed considerable success with creating images that were complimentary in nature that could overlap to create fascinating and captivating pieces of art. Even better, the art he had been creating thus was temporary and unique. Like the sand paintings he had seen one of the older monastic orders create, the moment it was complete, it was gone. This quality made it the perfect accompaniment to music which was also always unique and only truly lived in memory.
Telos paused for a moment, thinking about the interchange of blows that made up a fight. Perhaps the folk who fought did so for similar reasons. Some of them anyway. Could a physical expression of one’s abilities hold the same beauty as an intellectual expression? Pondering this idea, he began preparing his mind for the display he was planning. It was Anniversary Day. A day for celebration.
Trey was following Headmistress Trencher’s orphans as they were heading back to the alleyway that led down to the Little Goblin Orphanage. He made sure that they didn’t stray, although one or two seemed as though they would try and escape so as to stay out past curfew. The hour was late, but after the youngsters had been put to their beds the Headmistress turned to Trey with a questioning look in her eye.
“Aren’t you going to ask to be released for the evening?” She asked, when he remained silent.
“Released?” He scratched his head with one hand, fingers not quite able to fully unclench due to the restraint gauntlets.
“For the Celebrations.” She said, “Surely there is something out there that you would like to see? A dance perhaps or to get one of the actually prepared pastries that Lady Taryn hands out every year?”
The Half-Orc remembered smelling the things being cooked. He hadn’t ever tasted actual cooking before. His mouth began to water.
“If it’s all right Headmistress.” He said.
“I wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t all right.” She all but snapped. It seemed that showing overt kindness was difficult for her. “It’s Anniversary day. Seven hundred years today. You helped with the rugrats today, saved me some work. Get out of here and don’t say I never gave you anything.”
Trey walked out, feeling mildly confused at the Headmistress’ contradictory seeming words and actions. Heading for the square where he thought he’d seen Ldy Taryn Vaknair Torben the Third’s attendants handing out sweets. Following his nose, he almost ran over someone.
He looked up to see Lirin’s serious face looking into his own. “Trey, where are you going with your head in the clouds?”
“Oh. Hi Lirin. To get a pastry.” Trey said, “You?”
“The Anniversary pastries are this way.” Lirin said with a smile, “Follow me, I’ll show you.”
“But where are you going? Isn’t it a little late?”
“I am going to a …” His voice trailed off as he looked at the other man. “A place where people might get hurt and need my help.”
“I won’t let you go alone.” Said Trey. “You are a friend who has done much for me. If there is danger I will be there.”
“It’s not really necessary Trey, they won’t be putting me in danger. It’s a sparring ring. The combatants there will be hurting each other, not hurting me.”
“I have seen fights get out of hand.” Trey said with a voice that brooked no argument. “I am coming.”
Lirin gave him a rueful smile, “After all the time I have tried to spend with you learning that violence is not the only answer, I lead you into a place where people are using violence as the answer. Thank you for your company my friend.”
Tension that he hadn’t known was there unclenched from Trey’s shoulders. His friend would not turn him away. He would not go into danger unprotected.