Gravelox and Gearslayer

I liked the names… so I re-used them for this character intro.  With the end of one Dungeons and Dragons campaign comes the start of another.  This should be an interesting one.

“Here’s the workshop.”  Lexai said smiling his usual smile as he opened a wide pair of doors to a large room with a mixture of modern and ancient equipment, shelving, cabinets and a ten foot tall statue of a suit of armor in the corner.  “Outfitted with standard blacksmithing tools, a forge and the newer alchemy supplies you requested as well as a bit of the modern magitech.”

Gravelox looked around and smiled.  This place would be perfect.  He could barely afford the monthly payments, it didn’t have any Passages in it to disrupt his work and the combination of the captive fire elemental for a forge and the alchemy tools were exactly what he was looking for.  There was even a small office space he could convert into a living space.

“Who owns it now?”  He asked his realtor, mentally going over his finances to make sure he had enough for a downpayment.

“I keep my clients confidential.”  Lexai said in a flat, businesslike tone.  His smile stayed fixed as though plastered on.  “That’s not a problem is it?”

“Of course not.”  Gravelox replied, too distracted by the workshop to think clearly.  “Just idle curiosity.  Now, about the terms you had mentioned?”

“The offer stands.  The owners are willing to sell it to you contract for deed.”  Lexai said, his smile ratcheting up a notch.  It was really almost mechanical.  “And at a low fixed interest rate of ten percent.”

Gravelox tried not to swallow his tongue.  “What?  You said it would be five percent!”

“Well, inflation and all that.”  Lexai waved a hand vaguely, “I have three other clients interested.  None of them need financing.”

Swiftly calculating in his head, Gravelox decided that as long as he met his projected sales potential he could make it work.  Barely.  Provided he didn’t run into any unexpected difficulties.  He shook the Kobold’s hand.  “Done.”

Something wasn’t right.  Gravelox had only been living here for a month and it seemed as though things kept going slightly wrong; just wrong enough that many of his creations failed.  He stared at the tiny bit of powder in frustration, watching as the reaction failed to produce the violent reaction intended and instead slowly smoldered and let off sullen red sparks.

It was time for drastic measures.  Opening the scroll case at his waist he withdrew one of the few remaining scrolls within and incanted the spell on the thick vellum.  His eyes glowed violet and he looked about the room, searching for magical anomalies.

At first glance, nothing was wrong.  Of course his forge had a hazy outline showing that it had runes that contained and compelled the elemental within with conjuration, evocation and enchantment.  There were protections on the walls that kept outsiders safe should any untoward alchemical event occur with abjuration magic.  The chamber even had some transmutation magics built into the walls that deadened sounds and helped control the temperature.

A more careful scan showed that the rusting metal statue that served as one of the support pillars radiated subtle power.  To his surprise, both of the statue’s hands radiated a hint of conjuration, but the rest of it seemed almost to be a dead zone.  It almost appeared to be absorbing ambient weave and redirecting it for some unknown purpose.  He also noted that there was a small bit of the statue in the direct center that seemed to be damaged now that he was inspecting it closely.

Removing an old friend from his equipment case, he leveled a wand of mechanical repair at the imperfection and activated it.  The statue twitched, sagged and fell over with a resounding crash.  Gravelox watched in horror as the wall it had been supporting collapsed.  When the roof truss smashed into him he was too surprised to shout.  All he could think of was that if he couldn’t make the payments he was dead.

Something was very wrong.  Gearslayer’s systems were gradually activating, one after another.  The first were the large muscle groups; the cables and cantilevers flexing and going through their startup tests.  A blockage of its shoulder joints impeded mobility so it first tried to lift, then allowed its knees to bend and slump.  Rust made it impossible for Gearslayer to fully articulate its knee joints, and it lost its balance and fell.

Many other things fell as well, and when Gearslayer’s ocular inputs came back online it found itself to be prone in a pile of rubble.  A shriek of protesting joints and pulleys that were long overdue for oiling accompanied its movements as it sat up, easily moving large wooden beams aside.  A fire seemed to be starting and there were multiple code, health and safety violations in effect.

More urgently, there seemed to be a Citizen bleeding and unconscious beneath a section of roofing.  Protocol suggested rescuing the citizen had priority.  Ignoring the warnings about joint malfunction and improperly lubricated equipment, Gearslayer bent and tried to move the section of roof.  When it refused to budge, it extended a hand and a pure white glittering scythe appeared in its hand.

With a perfectly calculated slices, Gearslayer chopped the sections of rubble that pinned the Citizen to the ground.  Dragging the boards off the Citizen, it lifted him to safety.

“Citizen.”  Gearslayer said, as its vocal systems finally coming back online.  “Your building is the subject of several health and safety violations.  I also believe it to be on fire.  My channels of communication with local authorities seem to be very outdated.  Do you have the ability to contact them?”

The Citizen did not respond.  Gearslayer attempted to recall how to check for vital signs but found that program to be corrupt.  It attempted to recall how to restore consciousness but found that program had been removed at the request of one Officer Durand.

A passerby was goggling at the destruction and Gearslayer approached her.  “Attention Citizen.  I require assistance contacting the local constabulary.  It would appear that this building has been destroyed and is in danger of setting fire to the surrounding neighborhood.  Can you assist?”

The Citizen burst out laughing, “You some freak baby, I ain’t no firefighter.  Ain’t no damn cops out here honey.”  She walked off, still chuckling.  “Crazy ass machine, don’t know where he be.”

Coughing behind it made Gearslayer turn back to the Citizen it had rescued from the building.  “You destroyed my shop.”  The Citizen gasped.

Gearslayer paused to consider this statement.  “I do not recall doing so Citizen.”

“What is your name, designation and what year is your commission?”  The Citizen asked, coughing and spitting blood out of his mouth.

Gearslayer paused again, sorting through its protocols.  “My name is Gearslayer, I am designated a Defending Bailiff and sentence executor. I am unsure as to the year of my commission Citizen.  It appears that some of my records are damaged, or possibly modified.”

“Your worthless carcass was holding up one of the walls of my shop.”  The Citizen said, “My name is Gravelox.  Your lawless destruction of my property puts you legally in my debt.”

Gearslayer considered this statement.  Likely he did indeed at least partially owe this Citizen something in return for what had happened; even if it wasn’t intentional.  “What is the amount needed to cover the damage done Citizen Gravelox?  I do not seem to have mention of funds in my name in any of my databanks.”

“Eighty thousand gold.”  Gravelox said, “And that’s just for the building, not counting all the equipment and materials lost.”

“That is a substantial sum Citizen Gravelox.”  Gearslayer said, “I fear it will take some time to assess my capability to assist in the reconstruction.”

“Time is something I don’t have.”  Gravelox said, running his hands through his hair.  “We’d better get the hell out of here.”

“Why would we leave Citizen?”  Gearslayer asked, “Should we not attempt to salvage-“ He was cut off by a small explosion from the ruins of the building.

“There’s dangerous stuff in there.  We need to run – ah – to get the proper authorities.”  Gravelox said.

“That is a valid point Citizen.”  Gearslayer said, “Lead on to the nearest constabulary.  I believe it is six blocks west and fourteen blocks east.”

“Sure.”  Gravelox said, “Come on.”

Lexai frowned, looking about at the destruction.  He’d been counting on the gunsmith to make him some real coin.  Now he was out the lucrative trade of firearms dealing to the less savory elements of this particular quarter as well as being out a building, the mortgage payment and even worse, his Minder wouldn’t be happy about losing the interest on the loan, the regular payments or the property.

“By the Portals what went on here?”  He wondered aloud.  Gesturing to his followers, he looked around the streets.  “Find out what happened.  Bring me witnesses.  Bring them alive, or at least capable of being brought back for questioning.”

The Shadows glided into deeper darkness, the winged folk took to the sky, the other assorted toughs and monsters trudged off into the maze of streets.  When he found Gravelox, there would be a reckoning.

One of the Shadows returned almost immediately, depositing a sealed envelope at Lexai’s feet.  Inside, he found a note from his missing gunsmith.

‘Lexai, please excuse my absence.  I know you will be displeased by the events that have unfolded, however I do plan on paying you back in full.  With proper interest.  It will merely take me more time.  I apologize for the inconvenience.  You have my word that I will compensate you in full once I am able.  Payments will be forwarded regularly.”

“I’ll have his skin for scroll vellum if he so much as misses a single payment.”  Lexai hissed, and the note immolated in his hand.  “If the Minders believe me to be getting soft, they will end my contract.”  He shuddred, ending a contract with his Minders wasn’t fatal.  But he would likely wish it was.

 

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Shirasiau Sai’Li: Epilogue

It’s the end of a Dungeons and Dragons campaign… and I had some loose ends to wrap up.  Hope you enjoy!

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Shirasiau Sai’Li sat on the tall chair that was the seat of power of the Jade Merchant.  It was her chair now, by right of combat.  There were some that had said as it was not by right of single combat it was invalid, but they did not speak very loudly after the first to question her position had vanished without a trace.

Of course, the transition of the title of Jade Merchant was publicly acknowledged in a far different manner.  It was the end of a week of celebrations, feasting, dancing and displays of acrobatics of all kinds, barring combat.  As the new Jade Merchant demanded; the martial arts were not to be shown.  To be completely accurate, she had mentioned that displays of grace and beauty were pleasing to her eye.  As she had never been seen to hold anything more substantial than a silken fan or paper parasol, the planners of the event had reacted accordingly.

She had to admit, the performances were quite pleasing and the dancers lovely.  Three in particular had caught her eye and one of them slept exhausted in her chambers.  The other two were kneeling close by, one holding tea, the other her kiseru and tobacco.

Sai’Li put out her left hand and the attendant placed the elegantly carved jade and silver pipe into it.  When she put it between her delicately tinted lips the same attendant held a coal over the bowl, allowing her to draw the scented smoke into her lungs.  Leaning back, she allowed smoke to trickle out her nostrils as she surveyed the room through lidded eyes.

The seventeen women kneeling before her sat motionless, waiting for her to speak.  She dropped the pipe and her attendant plucked it from the air without hesitation.  After taking a sip of her tea, the most powerful woman in Chen Yun snapped her fan in front of her face and leaned forward slightly.

“My dears.”  Her voice was resonant and pitched perfectly to carry but still sounded like a caress. “We are now at the dawning of a new era for the House of the Jade Merchant and for the Shirasiau family.”  At her words, the curtains parted, and the sun shone into the room, bright and cheerful.

Screams erupted from four of the women and they began to writhe as smoke burst from their skin.  They sprang to their feet, trying to escape from the punishing light, but Sai’Li vanished from her seat, stepping from the shadow of the nearest.  Black metal spiders the size of house cats were streaming from her sleeves as she slashed a fan with razor edges across the throat of her first victim.

“We shall not be tolerating the infiltration of the full breeds.  Only a select few of the males will be retained for the purpose of maintaining our strength of numbers.”  The spiders swarmed over the dying vampires as she spoke, holding them in the sunlight until they were burned to ashes.

Sai’Li sighed as the metal arachnids climbed back up her flawless obi and into her sleeves.  “I really do abhor having to resort to violence my dears.  It is a crude, crass way of dealing with problems and death truly is bad for business.  I have plans lovelies.  Won’t you join me for a nice cup of tea?”

The remaining thirteen women looked up.  They hadn’t moved from their positions as the others had died horribly around them.  Sai’Li flicked the blood off her fan before snapping it open before her face to hide her smile.  These women would be the future of the clan.  They had the discipline, the skill and the drive to perform.  Now if they only had the fortitude to survive bearing the next generation.

She needed daughters raised to respect the old ways.  Cunning but worthy of trust, ambitious but respectful, deadly but wise.  Her policy would be to reward rather than punish.  To encourage and nurture, to take the ideas she had learned during her time trading amongst the mortals and use them to create a family that would truly be legendary.

With a swarm of spiders still swarming behind her like a train, Sai’Li strode into the most important room in her house.  The battleground where she had fought and won most of the battles of her life.  In the tea room, she would court the mothers of her daughters.  She would earn their loyalty.

“Great Mistress.”  Keiko was bowing low, her white hair perfectly coiffed in the latest fashion.  The gray, blue and seafoam green of her kimono had koi swimming over the sleeves and across the back.

“Please Keiko.”  Sai’Li said, rising and taking her longtime partner by the hands.  “I have asked you only to address me formally when we are not alone.”

“Mistress of the Jade Chair, Brightly Blooming One, Flower That Opens in the Moonlight, One Who Stands in Daylight; emissaries from The Necropolis are requesting an audience.”  Keiko was still bowed low, “They are waiting in the antechamber.  I apologize Terrible Star, Princess of Spiders, Hand of Shadow Threads.  I do not yet know how they managed to enter unnoticed.”

“Find out.”  Sai’Li said, straightening her Obi and changing it to a formal affair of beautiful rippling metallic colors with a ripple of magic.  “Send them in.  Bring tea in ten minutes.”  She smiled behind her fan, “The black, flavored with jasmine and saffron.”

Keiko backed out of the circle of obsidian stones that surrounded the dais before straightening and turning to go.  In a few moments three figures dressed in folds of shadow and funerary wrappings entered.  They did not walk, but merely moved along the floor in utter silence.  Sai’Li stood gracefully and returned their slight bows with an inclination of her head.

“I extend greetings honored guests.”  She said, her voice warm as the sunlight that shone in through the high windows on both sides of the room.  “If I had but known of your visit I would have prepared for it.”

“We know.”  The foremost said, very obviously not flinching from the sunlight in a way that said clearly it wished to.  “This is why we have come unannounced.  It has come to our attention that you have been breeding.  We take exception to this.”

“The half dead are but a byproduct.  We do not appreciate your presumptions of superiority.”  The second rasped.

“Your beast has hunted an ancient bloodline nearly to extinction.”  The third whispered, its voice dry as ancient parchment.”

“Nearly to extinction?”  Sai’Li asked, arching a perfect eyebrow.  “I cannot imagine that my dearest Tiger missed any of my father’s spawn?”  She spat the word without honorific.

“You are the last.”  The foremost said.  “Centuries of knowledge and research has been lost and you are merely a half dead.”

“I assure you dear guests, I am not merely an anything.”  Sai’Li said, snapping her fan open to hide her annoyed expression.  “You stand in my chamber.  I require civility lest I become displeased.”

The door opened behind her and the aroma of jasmine blossoms and saffron stamen filled the room.  It was the scent of spring, of life and it cleansed the graveyard scent of her visitors from her nostrils.  Keiko carried a tray with delicate porcelain cups and a centuries old teapot that had belonged to her mother.

Chisara Yi’Tan was the first Empress of Chen’Yun.  Her reign had been a brief one; overthrown by one who had been stricken from the records; every evidence of her burned and all her descendants killed to the last.  Still, Yi’Tan had not been a virgin when she took the throne although her daughter was unknown to all save one.  Sai’Li had devoured the knowledge her father’s extensive diaries had held of her Honored Mother.

The three turned to glare at Keiko and in that moment Sai’Li extended a hand.  Black metal spiders flowed from her sleeves and the hem of her Obi and skittered into the center of the group.  Each one held a tiny sliver of brilliant glimmering light in their mandibles.  Sourcing Sunstones had been rather difficult, but they were most handy tools and her connections with prominent worshipers of Pelor ensured these were legitimate.

“Won’t you join me for some tea?”  She asked sweetly, descending the stairs to her dais with deliberate steps.  “Perhaps we might discuss this in a properly civilized manner.”  Unperturbed by the displays of hostility, rage and fear by the visitors, Keiko unfolded a lacquered table and began pouring the tea.

“Why are there so many cups?  Is your servant joining us?”  One of the emissaries spat, narrowing its eyes against the gleaming beams of bright light.

“No.”  A deeply resonant voice said in Draconic.  “You are not the only undead with an interest here.  I greatly appreciate the gesture dear Keiko.  My sincerest apologies for interrupting you Daughter of the Lost.”

“Coalbraizer, you honor my humble house with your presence.”  Sai’Li said, bowing as a form of swirling smoke stepped into the room, flickers that suggested a skeleton of a dragon that would fill half the room seeming to appear at the edges before vanishing and coalescing into an ethereally featured man dressed in a copper colored Obi.

“You three are not worthy of drinking this tea.”  Another voice, flat as the sound of a coffin nail being driven home.  A woman who would be quite stunning if she had not been so obviously deceased stepped from the shadows thrown by the glimmering Sunstones and they all dimmed to mere moonlight.

“Stileen!”  Sai’Li was barely able to keep the pleasure from tinging her voice, grateful for the fan to cover her smile.  “It is so good to see you again.”  A mental nudge brought her spiders back to their mistress.  She did not want to anger these last two; she knew and respected them.

“You three claim to represent the Necropolis.”  Stileen said, not yet acknowledging Sai’Li.  “Perhaps the three of you could explain which faction?”  Her voice was flat and dangerous.

“We represent the Black Quarter of the city of Argus.”  One of the three said.

“Quiet fool!”  The foremost said, “This is the Lady of Coastwood Mausoleum.”

“Coastwood?  That tiny seaside berg?”  The other replied with disdain in its voice.

“Coastwood is the gateway to the Bay of Souls.”  The foremost hissed, swinging its fist in a vicious arc that sent the other sprawling to the perfectly polished marble floor.  “My apologies Lady Stileen.  That one is less educated than it should be.”

“Please take tea with me and we can discuss any and all issues that Argus may have with me and my Family.”  Sai’Li said, gesturing to Keiko with the tip of the little finger on her left hand.  Keiko retreated to kneel on the floor, awaiting her mistress’s summons.

“It is only proper for us to be introduced formally beforehand.”  She said, giving the bow to visiting dignitaries within a hair’s breadth of the proper level.  “I am Shirasiau Sai’Li, known as The Jade Merchant.”

“I am Revnar, I hold the title of Justicar of Argus Below.”  The foremost, “It is the use of the half dead and their elevation to equal status that is at issue here.”

They sat, ignoring the still twitching form of the third emissary and tactfully not noticing that the second emissary remained standing behind Revnar.  Sai’Li folded herself gracefully to her knees, noting in satisfaction that the others couldn’t match her grace, although Stileen was close.

After they had all taken their first sip of tea, Sai’Li delicately wiped her upper lip and fixed Revnar with a significant look over the edge of her fan.  “Honored Justicar of Argus Below, is the issue at hand that you believe the half dead are undeserving of equal status?”

“Of course.”  He said immediately, not appearing to notice.  “Although technically immortal, they are inferior in every other aspect.”

“Do you believe that I am inferior?”  She asked, her voice not betraying one single iota of anger or discomfort.

“Ah, of course it was not my intention to give insult.”  He said, finally noticing that her cheeks had become slightly more sunken and her eyes had begun to fill with black.

“Nonetheless you have offered insult to me and my daughters beneath my own roof.”  She said quietly.  “You may have your choice of opponents and your choice of champion if you do not wish to fight yourself.  But there will be a duel to satisfy honor.”

She continued sipping her tea in contentment, watching the expression on the faces of the others at the table.  Those too ancient and set in their ways were far too simple to manipulate in such situations.  Now he had to fight and choose the opponent who would be considered to be the strongest or else be deemed weak.  It was almost too easy.

“Of course I will satisfy the needs of honor.”  Revnar said stiffly, “I will face any opponent of your choosing at a time and place of your choosing.”

“You shall face me.”  She said, standing with perfect grace.  “Now.  Here.”

No fool, he attacked without warning but there were suddenly five of her seeming to flicker in and out of existence and his deadly bolt of black energy passed harmlessly through one of them.  It blew him a kiss and vanished.  One of the figures behind him struck with a razor-edged fan and decades old blood splattered to the floor.

“You should not be able to cut me.”  He hissed in anger, striking out with a dagger made of the tooth of some long forgotten animal.  The blow struck another image and it flickered out of existence.

“Perhaps you should have brought your scythe if you came to give insult to ME or MINE!”  Sai’Li said, anger bleeding through her normally calm mask.  “If we were not at least equal to those of you trapped in the shadow we would have long since ceased to exist.  After all it is YOUR kind who create us and it seems as though it is YOUR minds that are susceptible to the madness of the world blending.”

She feinted left and cut horizontally across his face, following up with a downward slash that left a ragged tear that cut his chest to the bone from collar bone to bottom rib.

Revnar had been waiting for her next attack so he could identify which of her shadows was real.   With a snarl of triumph, he put a hand on her arm and threads of black shadows ran from his fingers to flow up and toward her face.

“Die half dead scum!” He shouted in triumph as his attack struck, filling Sai’Li’s eyes, nose and mouth.

Her body convulsed with a spasm of pain at the invading power but she didn’t fight it.  Revnar’s eyes widened as a delicate hand tightened on his wrist and the flow of his power increased.  He realized with shock that his opponent was intentionally draining him.

“What are you doing?”  Revnar screamed as he could feel his limbs weakening.  Sai’Li seemed to be taking one long, deep breath and her diminutive hand held his arm with bone crushing force.

Sai’Li tossed the withered corpse aside with contempt.  Flickers of darkness still hovered about her, looking more like black forks of lightning than shadows.  She licked her lips and turned to fix black eyes on the last remaining being from Argus.

“Are there any other opinions about whether I am your equal?”  She put just enough hunger and anticipation into her voice and saw a quiver of fear travel through its body.  A flick of her wrist closed her fan and cleared the ichor from it.  “Return and tell your Masters that I am not to be trifled with.”

Shirasiau Sai’Li Has Had Enough

Author’s Note.  It has been over a year since we last heard from Sai’Li and things have changed substantially.  This is a bit of fallout from a failed assassination attempt.

“I am disappointed.”  Sai’Li snapped her fan closed, and fixed Ignis with a glare.  He had never seen her express this much emotion outside of a nearly unhinged frenzy brought on by a battle where his mistress had expended her absolute utmost effort to literally and completely destroy her enemies.  It was mildly terrifying to see that barely restrained fury on her face while he was in a room alone with her.

“Your father did seem to act outside of the normal bounds of good faith.”  He said guardedly.  His great scythe sized claws carefully gripped the cask of whisky so as not to crush it and lifted it to take a drink.  Why did he still feel vulnerable in front of this tiny humanoid?  His true tiger form was ten times her size, but he had seen her let down the barriers of propriety that she wore like armor and what he had seen was what nightmares were made of.

“He insulted me.”  She all but hissed, “Summoning me here only to pretend I have gotten soft?  To threaten my followers?  To DARE to suggest he could use them against me?  As though my loyalty was in question?  As though I couldn’t defend what is MINE?”

Ignis noted that her canines were much more prominent than they had been moments before.  Instead of their usual seafoam green, her eyes seemed to be darkening to gray.  Instead of responding, he gathered his legs beneath him in a position more suited for a leap to one side or another and took another drink.

“If he dares to offer such an insult again we will END him my Tiger.”  She flicked her battle fan open and looked at him over the razor sharp tips that were almost concealed by the delicate looking silk.  A shiver ran through him; she had never given him a look that demanded such obedience.

“I tried to be what he wanted.  I built an empire.”  She continued, and Ignis noticed that the flowers on the table beside her had died.  “I am the trading mistress of an entire city in a kingdom that has never given any credence to an outsider before.  A sovereign nation in the very heart of one of the most exclusive and xenophobic kingdoms on the Prime.  I have left nothing behind but vanquished foes and loyal allies and he acts as though I am expendable.”

The potted plants in the room didn’t just wilt, they crumbled to dust.  Sai’Li noticed him looking at them and took a deep breath in.  She didn’t let it out.  Minutes passed before he set his cask down and nodded slowly.  This seemed to be what she was seeking.

When she let her breath out, he could smell graveyard soil.  “I do not doubt your loyalty my Tiger.  I know you began as my father’s hireling, but by this point you must realize he is not going to give you what he swore, what you need.”

This hadn’t occurred to Ignis, he narrowed his eyes but didn’t speak.  His Mistress knew him.  She saw his expression and she knew his mind.  He shuddered even as she smiled.

“I have seen thousands die.  I have killed dozens of members of my own family.  I have even murdered the innocent without the slightest hesitation.”  She inspected the nails of her right hand, taking out a tiny knife and trimming them until they were even.  “I am not a good person.  I am not, to be brutally honest, even a person at all my Tiger.  But I am an entity and I do wish to continue to live.  Do you wish to stay by my side?”

Ignis considered her for a few moments.  The more he looked, the more his instincts told him she was a true predator.  The awestruck way in which she had been referring to her father before had given him pause but this fierce defiance was what he had been waiting for.

“There will be none who can stand against us and live mistress.”

Love Letter

I wrote this random bit of poetry while thinking about the next of my D&D sessions.  It’ll be found the room of a former lord of a fallen city.

 

The sun set upon our meeting
Darkness descended
Swallowed hope
Devoured rest
Consumed peace
The sun set upon our meeting

The stars died upon our meeting
I bid farewell to sanity
I bid farewell to knowledge
I bid farewell to understanding
The stars died upon our meeting

The moon fell upon our meeting
I lost the future
I lost the past
I lost the present
The moon fell upon our meeting

I love the destruction
I love the loss
I love the violence
I love the madness
I love the confusion

Take me
Make me yours
Let the rest of the world burn
Burn it
Let
It
Burn

 

Anniversary Night: The Folk of Einn Boer Gather.

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.

A World Lost: Current Events in the City of Einn Boer

More setting the scene for a new Dungeons and Dragons game I’m going to be running soon.

Hedveig stood at the ancient rusted doorway and tried to stay awake.  The Great Gate hadn’t been opened in his lifetime or his father’s lifetime.  The rust scale on it was so thick he doubted the iron portal would even swing on its hinges anymore, even if someone did try to open it.  It was an important duty for the síðr vorðr; the Long Guard though; they had stood there for centuries, barring the way to any who would dare try and intrude on Einn Boer.

He stretched, feeling his joints crack and listening to the odd echo they made inside his armor.  As the old warrior settled back into his parade rest stance, heard the echo again.  It was coming from behind him, but was not coming from inside his armor.  Hedveig removed his helmet and put his ear to the door and he could hear a tapping sound plain as if someone had been tapping on his helmeted head.

Something was out there.  Something was trying to get in.  Hedveig pulled his long copper and bone horn from his belt and blew three measured blasts followed by two quick ones.  He continued the summons, watching for one of his fellow guardians to approach, the noise deafening him to the sounds coming from the great gate behind him.  He never heard the intruder.

When the runner arrived breathless and wild eyed, he found Hedveig laughing and joking.  Grudgingly, he admitted that his senior Guardsman had pulled one over on him and saw the humor in it.

“It’s not like you to pull something like this Hedveig.”  Reklar grumbled, giving him a wry smile, “What’s the occasion for you developing a sense of humor?”

“It’s the anniversary isn’t it?”  Hedveig said with another chuckle.  “Seven hundred years.  That’s long enough for even the memories of the less mortal races fade.

“Well, yes of course.  The festival is tomorrow.  Are you taking Bellia?”

“Probably.”  Hedveig smoothed his moustache, “You had better get back to your post.”

“Yes sir, right you are sir.”  Reklar said, snapping a smart salute.  The junior Guardsman retreated, his thoughts troubled.  Hedveig had not been acting like himself at all, and had in fact volunteered for guard duty during the festival.  For him to joke, for him to even smile on duty was unheard of.  Perhaps the old bastard had finally loosened up; but Reklar doubted it.

Lady Taryn Vaknair Torben the Third looked out over her city, feeling a glow of satisfaction despite the worry that gnawed at her.  The magic was faltering and nothing she or the Elders had tried seemed to be working.  All the symptoms pointed to the city’s Godheart dying and there didn’t seem to be any way of stopping it.

Below her balcony, the citizens gathered for the sesquicentennial, the seven hundredth anniversary of their retreat into Einn Boer.  The lights of their magic twinkled merrily as they danced, laughed, ate and drank.  They had no idea of what was truly happening, and it was imperative that they remain ignorant of it.  Order was an illusion only barely maintained by the thoughts of the people and she was well aware of that fact.

“My Lady, will you be attending the opening ceremonies?”  Londrak, her personal valet, lover, confidant and spymaster asked from the door.

“Of course I will.  You wouldn’t allow otherwise.”  She said, her voice distant.  “I am troubled Lon.  These developments and our lack of ability to remedy them frighten me.”

“The defenses are strong My Lady.”  He was holding a stylish jacket for her.  The newest fashion of ladies wearing jackets and trousers was a bit disconcerting to her at first, but sometimes it was most liberating.  When she was feeling vulnerable though, she needed the familiarity of her corset and skirts.

“Not tonight Lon.  I will wear my peach and cream gown, this being a formal occasion.”  She waved him off, “Now go away and fetch Droga.  Unless you wish to help me dress?”

Londrak grinned wolfishly, “I would be glad to help, but it seems putting these contraptions on is more difficult than removing them My Lady.  I will send her in.”

Gray crouched on an intricately carved gargoyle three stories above a square crowded with revelers.  He wasn’t so much looking for specific marks as he was watching for trends.  If enough well-off individuals were present and if they were intoxicated sufficiently he would send in the Greylings to do their business.  It was up to him to keep an eye on the ebb and flow of the crowd and choose the right time to strike.

The slightest scrape of boot on roof tile made him shift to the left.   Not enough to betray that he’d heard the noise, but just enough to give him a good throwing angle for his blades if he needed it.  Another sound identified the person attempting to sneak up on him.  He relaxed; it was only Lithia.  He could tell by the slight limp she had from a poorly healed broken ankle.

“I instructed you all to wait for my signal Lithia.”  He said in a low voice that wouldn’t carry beyond a few paces.

“Gray, we have a problem.”  She replied, not moving from the shadow of a nearby gable. “Someone has been poaching, and they’ve botched the job.”

He cursed silently to himself, “Show me.”  The last thing they needed was the Long Guard thinking his Greylings had been responsible for a murder.  They were thieves certainly and while they didn’t shrink from killing when necessary it was considered quite gauche, not to mention getting unwanted attention from Longshanks often led to someone having to be sacrificed.  Someone expendable usually, but that didn’t lessen the blow to his pride.

They slipped silently from the rooftop, shimmying down one of the building’s many carved pillars.  Homeowner’s vanity made these kinds of things easy.  The corpse wasn’t far away and it was strange.  A single circular hole in the back of the head was the only sign that any harm had come to the body.  No blood even leaked from it to stain the crisply ironed Long Guard uniform.

While he was investigating it, the body dissolved into dust.  Gray blinked in surprise, staring at the pile of dust that glowed with a slight greenish sheen.  “Well, at least we need not worry about disposing of the corpse.”  Gray muttered, “I don’t like it Greylings.  We’re leaving.  Someone get a sample of that for the Underman.”

When nobody moved, Gray spat to the side and pulled out a vial.  Scraping up a bit of the dust, he stoppered the vial and carefully placed it into his padded pouch.  “Come on you superstitious slugs, let’s get otta here before the shit starts flying.”

They slipped into the shadows, vanishing into the night, but not out of sight of a pair of glittering green eyes that watched from the windowsill.

The City of Einn Boer and The World Lost campaign setting

This is a setup for a new D&D Campaign I’m starting soon…

Seven centuries ago, the world was struck by a great Cataclysm.  The history you have been taught does not go into details; but the broad strokes paint a world gone mad, overrun with horrible demons and voracious undead that made war on the mortal races.  Led by creatures only known as Harbingers, these armies laid waste to the world.

Only a few brave adventurers and powerful magic weavers managed to secret groups of mortals away into vast cities; sealed away from the death and destruction being wrought outside.  These enclaves thrived without the worry of outside interference.  They were designed to be places free of strife; where mortal kind would not want for anything and therefore would not attempt to leave.

Also taken inside these arks from destruction were animals, seeds and other things they would all need when it was finally safe once again to go outside to reclaim the world.  If that was ever possible.  Those that could be stored in stasis would be and some of the others were raised generation after generation.

In the beginning, or so the history books say, there was enough power for everyone to have anything they wanted.  In the beginning, magical energy flowed through every being in the enclave of Einn Boer.  In the beginning, as we are told, every person could summon everything with the wave of their hand. Over time the magic faded to the way it is today, but the rest of the powers remain.

Images for stores to advertise their wares leap out at passersby to attract their attention, fountains flow with clean water for drinking and washing at every corner, the air is always clean and there is endless food.  The food may not taste exactly like what it simulates anymore, but anyone can summon it any time they wish.  It tastes better when raw ingredients are summoned and prepared, and many people and businesses maintain at least their own herb garden.

At one time, apparently gold was more than just a marker for how much things were worth for reference when trading.  The older history books mention mining gold, fashioning it into coins and using them to buy things.  In the modern-day things like real, not summoned food, herbs, a musical performance, a poetry reading, inventing a new card game, a new carving pattern or any number of other diversions are trade goods.  Everyone is looking for a new distraction; especially the longer-lived races.

Where does it all come from?  Where does it all go?  That is a question that more and more the younger generations are wondering.  In the small forest, as trees are harvested more simply appear randomly in a few days.  When things are tossed into the sewers, they simply vanish overnight.  A few folk have tried to go investigate what happens there; some never returned and others reported nothing at all.  When people die, they are buried but there are rumors that their bodies vanish rather than slowly decomposing over time.  Someone must know the answer, but if they exist, they aren’t telling.

Einn Boer is governed by an elected Monarch and a Council of Nine; each race having a representative.  The current Queen, a human named Lady Taryn Vaknair Torben, is the third generation of the Torben family to be elected.  She is seen as a fair, just and honest leader by nearly everyone and won re-election by a wide margin in the last election.  Recently a new political figure has risen in popularity by attempting to draw correlations between rumors of instability with the Torben family’s so-called ‘inherited monarchy’.

Cthrag Graksen is a red scaled Dragonborn who advocates for investigating how Einn Boer functions, even going as far as to hint that he would like to attempt to open The Great Gate and see the state of the world outside.  His veiled attacks on the Torben family have spread some dissent through the ranks and now the election that is slated to take place the day after the Septecentennial Celebration is uncertain for the first time in three generations.

Order is maintained by the Síðr Vorðr, The Long Guard.  They are independent from the city’s government and their main mission is to keep anyone from opening The Great Gate.  Secondary to that, they are a military order that trains in the arts of combat against the day that The Great Gate is opened.  Rumors have been circulating that the head of Síðr Vorðr is the one who holds the key to the Gate itself and that he is immortal.  Of course nobody really believes those rumors.  Not really.  Or if they do, they’re wise enough to let on.

Worship of the Gods once was much more than the occasional visit to a shrine or a temple.  Although the gods are represented equally, the gradual increase of the population of Einn Boer has led to once vaunted temples giving way to smaller meeting halls that more often than not double as community meeting places and are no longer dedicated sacred spaces.

Although they are purported to once having had other names, now The Father of the Gods is now called Skaberen.  Onde and Gode are his sons and in Skaberen’s absence they now balance one another, Onde being pure evil and Gode pure good.  The many others who once held sway and if the histories are to be believed, once played great games with mortal kind are Tido; the goddess of time, Kaaos; the god of chaos, Ruma; the goddess of magic, Ild;, the god of fire, Luftin; the god of wind, Jorda; the goddess of earth, Illimin, the goddess of light.  Once the different races had their own gods as well, but these have long since been forgotten.

 

Sai’Li Learns of a Storm

One night as Sai’Li is sitting by the fire drinking tea, idly petting Ignis in his tiger form and enjoying the low rumble of his purr, she begins to reflect.  She muses about the past he has shared with her about losing his parents early, the discipline of the monastery, the isolation of his druidic life.  The gruff way he acts is typical of most Dwarves she knows, however the way he closes himself away from almost everyone goes beyond racial attitude and bearing.

She has seen this body language before, although it is usually from folk hardened from birth by the rigors of unkind training in her Lord Father’s rigorous guard training.  His methods of starting with very young children is effective, but certainly weeds out empathy and any semblance of kindness or compassion.  When she recalls the way he bridles and glares when Aurora tries to pet him, the promise of deadly violence clear in his posture reinforces her thoughts.

Taking a sip of tea, Sai’Li wonders if she is the first in his memory to touch him in a gentle manner. She can’t help but smile that the only time he opens himself up to her is when he is also at his most dangerous.  There is no doubt that the six hundred pounds of killing fury sitting contentedly by her side could tear her to shreds in moments.

Covering the smile behind her fan, Sai’Li muses on how things have progressed.  Ignis the Dwarf is still the uncouth and irascible man he has always been.  When a creature feels powerful and comfortable in its skin though; that is ironically when they are the most vulnerable.  One of her most effective and honed skills is to make beings feel comfortable and powerful.

In this case, it has not been her doing; or at least not entirely.  Her vampiric heritage does protect itself by making her mere presence sway others to her will, but there seems to be more here.  Part of it must be the lack of clothing animals are required to wear, as Ignis has shown nothing but disdain for clothing, for the rest… she has known men whose only chance of survival was to become a Tiger.  Of course, those men did not literally become an actual tiger; but instead took on the fierce predator’s killing instinct and lack of mercy.  Here, she judged the physical predator had come to appreciate her abilities as an emotional and psychological predator.

‘Anyone can cut a man in half child.’ Her Honored Father used to say, ‘But a true Master will convince the man to first give everything he has to you of his own free will and then die in the manner of the Master’s choosing.’

She shivered and wondered if it was in horror at the memory or in admiration of his great talents and seemingly limitless power.  Her Honored Father had the prowess of every form of predation she knew existed.  Someday, she hoped … but she did not know what it was she hoped for.  Freedom?  Equal power?  To take his empire?

Sai’Li buried her fingers deep into her tiger’s fur and allowed herself a small sigh of satisfaction at the rumbling of contentment from the bottom of his chest.  For now, she was content to plan and grow stronger.

After a few nights in Burnholm, Ignis has become increasingly irritable with each passing day. Late into one evening while pacing in front of the fire in his Dwarven form, he abruptly turns to Sai’Li. Speaking in a measured, quiet tone he says, “I understand you are more comfortable here than on the road, but I think we have been here long enough.  I smell a fierce storm approaching, we should take our leave tomorrow at dawn.  If we make haste and don’t let that damned wagon slow us.” His voice rises slightly, “We can likely dodge the worst of it.  If we stay, I’m not sure how long it will keep us trapped here.”. Folding his arms, he stares at her intently waiting for a response.

“We are not on the water. I do not fear the rain. What is it about this storm that worries you?” Sai’Li looks up from where she had been using an ivory and obsidian abacus to tally an account of her most recent shipment of fine instruments and goods sent through the ring to Ako, her capable assistant in her Coastwood Blossom House. “I know you are not a coward; what is different about this storm in particular?”

Ignis’s brow furrows and he turns to stare into the crackling flames.  After a few breaths, he flexes his hand like a claw and speaks again.  “Something I can’t explain feels off about it.”  He sighs and continues, “Perhaps, it is nothing more than that these are unfamiliar lands with unfamiliar storms.”

He stares at the fire for another moment before turning back to face her. “However, I can tell you that this storm feels angry and it means to linger.  The winds alone will make it too dangerous to travel in it and waiting it out will delay us more than the few days it will take for it to calm.  The roads will be mud and puddles for who knows how long after. That’s to say nothing of how many downed trees we will have to clear from our path.” Ignis gives her a small grin “And besides, if I have to stay here too much longer I’ll never get the stink of these folk out of my nose.”

“Perhaps it will be a storm from the other world; a storm that crosses the veil.”  Sai’Li muses, tapping a perfectly lacquered inch long blue fingernail against lips that sported matching lip color.  “While that might be a thing to witness it is indeed not something I wish to experience on the road.  Are you certain we will be able to avoid it if we begin our journey this morning?”

She looks out the window at the clear blue sky without a hint of cloud or wind showing just after the sun has chased away the night, trusting her Tiger’s innate weather sense in the face of what her own eyes suggest.  “Perhaps after a bit of tea.  Also, we must warn our allies here of the impending storm.  If it is as fierce as you sense then they must prepare themselves for it.”  She snaps her fingers, a sound almost a whip crack and a striking young man in a short kilt and tunic almost seems to appear at the door.  His face is not quite shining with admiration; he hides it well.

“My Lady Shirasiu?”  He inquires, bowing at a right angle and staying there.

“Please wake the others if you would be so kind Brynhild.  Prepare for them to break their fast in a quarter candlemark and inquire as to if Grandmother Mabel or Uncle Lufan would be willing to join us.”

Brynhild backed two steps before straightening and setting off at a run.  He really was such a good boy.

Ignis looks at the ivory and obsidian abacus, then back to Sai-Li.  “This is not a question of numbers, one can never be certain.”

“Certainty is more often created and believed than it truly exists my Tiger.”  She says, hiding a smile behind her fan.  “The numbers only lie if you make them do it; but they can and will without complaint when the time arises.  If you had been raised under the roof of my Honored Father you would understand that certainty is not certain and uncertainty is power.  All things can be turned to one’s advantage.”  She looks out at the brilliant sky again.  “All things.”

The sky above Burnholm is a bright blue and the sun just clearing the treetops from the east shines warm and bright.

I looks like it’s going to be a good day, but the people of Burnholm do not know what is coming. They do not know that anger and hatred and unending hunger come their way. It is drawn towards them like a shark to blood in the water, like a ghoul to a new corpse.

As morning chores get underway in the little town, the first strange thing the townsfolk notice is the number of large birds flying east this morning.  Stranger still, flocks of smaller birds are flying with haste, almost as if in pursuit of the larger more powerful birds.  When swarms of the wee Fay, the pixies the sprites and others, are seen flying with desperate speed above and around the town word is sent to Grandmother Mabel and Uncle Lufan perhaps the Elders can tell what is happening.

By the time they are found and told of the strange sightings, word from the wall comes where the watch reports movement in the trees. They claim to have seen herds of beasts moving quickly in the wood. But strangest of all is that it is both prey and predator moving together.  As they stand discussing one of the young men of town comes with word that the Lady Sai’li sends for the elders.

They both exchange a worried look perhaps the outlander knows something about these unnatural happenings. They quickly head for the Inn.

“I see by your faces that the news has reached you as well?” Sai’Li says from behind her fan, “Are you preparing the town? If you are waiting for this meeting, please do not fear insult of brevity, instead go and rally your folk to their tasks.”

“I would have you heard of the strange news we bring from those that have seen it.”  Grandmother Mabel says.  She gestures to the people who have come with her and they each give report of what they have seen.  When they finish she turns to Sai’li her head tilted a little to one side.

“Now child.” she says, “What do you know of what is happening?”

“A storm seems to be brewing.” Sai’Li folds her fan and her face is completely calm, “The exact nature of this event is unknown to me but I can tell you that it is unprecedented in nature. Perhaps from beyond the veil. I wanted to warn you of its approach that you might prepare yourselves for its arrival.”

Upon hearing her words Grandmother and Uncle exchange looks Uncle turns to Sai’L,i bows slightly turns and walks out of the room.  Grandmother turns to Sai’Li, “He will begin preparing as best he can. I hope we do not lose any more people. We have suffered so much since being taken across the veil.”  She smiles sadly, at the rembrance of those lost.

“If you are not familiar with a storm like this, then it is not likely from your world as I had hoped.  The most likely explanation then is that when our worlds were thrust together we had a storm from each world collide.  They must have fed off one another to become something new and more dangerous.”  Sai’Li says, “Excuse my rudeness would you care for tea?”

At Grandmother’s nod, she moves with elegant grace, sifting some bright green Matcha into a delicate porcelain cup and pouring hot water over it.  With a horse hair brush set in a carved wooden handle, she mixes and froths the tea before sliding it across the table to Grandmother Mabel on a matching saucer.  “Do not fear grandmother.”  She says, voice calm and reassuring.  “Your town is strong and your people stronger.  After all, as someone once said to me these predictions aren’t precise numerical formulae, they are intuition and what I have heard called an ‘educated guess’.  Perhaps we have a certain Dwarven survivalist who would wish to put her skills to the test and give us a report?”  Sai’Li suggests, giving Ignis a sidelong glance.

“After all, I know Nerata has been itching to show off.  Ah, of course I mean display her many skills and talents.”  Sai’Li says, taking a sip of tea.

Ignis lets out a deep chested hum of satisfaction.  “As much as I like that idea, it would mean staying here and waiting out the storm.  Also, it may prove to be.”  He pauses, giving her a considering stare, “Unprofitable for you.  Go or stay, the choice is yours to make.”

“I believe we can discern if this is indeed a weather event or something … other.”  Sai’Li takes the baby Elven Pine Starseeker gifted her with out and sets him on the table.  “What nears this place little one?  Is it storm or is it foe?”

The tiny figure moved and swayed, chattering in incoherent fear waving its branches.  After a few moments, Ignis shook his head.

“It says its mother’s Dryad Starseeker will meet us at the great oak in the town square.”  He said, turning and beginning to walk out of the room.

With a sigh, Sai’Li put down her teacup and rose, bowing slightly to Grandmother Mable before departing.

Kurien Alyemey

Crossbow bolts fell like deadly hail as Kurien ran down the street with a bag of coins clinking merrily at his belt.  The gold had been freely given, albeit under false pretenses, and he had no intention of giving it back.  He had sold the Lord of this Holding a batch of his ‘Famous Rejuvenating Elixir’ for an exorbitant amount of gold.  It was, of course, really worthless rotgut mixed with a few herbs to make it taste like medication, but how would the greedy old bastard ever learn his lesson if he didn’t pay for it?

He ducked under a bolt that would have punctured his skull, slipped sideways into an alley, put his back against the wall and got ready.  Pulling a dagger from his belt, he cut through a rope that held a stack of empty casks and sent them tumbling into the alleyway.

“Halt you thieving mongrel!”  One of the guards chasing him shouted.  “Come back with the Lord’s gold!”

When the guard came around the corner at a dead sprint, he collided with the tumbling barrels, crashing onto his face.  The second guard was running too fast and had to choose between stepping on his friend or hitting the barrels.  The first guard’s face made a funny squishing sound when it was mushed into the mud.

“Watch your step friends, these streets are slippery!”  Kurien said cheerfully, climbing up a nearby rain gutter to the third floor of a warehouse and vaulting into an open window.  A group of dangerous looking folk all turned to stare in his direction.  A case of something was open on a table between them and all of them were armed to the teeth.

“Raken, is this one of yours?”  A woman with a scar running across her left eye asked in an artificially casual drawl as her hand fell to the hilt of a nasty looking dagger at her belt.

“Jana, you know better, this punk isn’t attached to us.”  Raken said, giving Kurien a narrow glare.  “Although he might be your lackey.”

“Hey I’m just passing through, but The Lord’s Guard is hot on my trail.”  Kurien laughed, “Of course it’s all just a silly misunderstanding.  I didn’t mean to interrupt your er whatever this is.”

“Get him!”  Jana shouted, drawing her dagger.

Kurien struck a theatrical pose and a jangling guitar chord struck up from nowhere.  Jana’s dagger dropped from limp fingers and she stared at him with surprise clear on her face.  She made a calming gesture towards her ruffians as Kurien spread his hand wide.  “Come now friends, there’s no reason to hurt ME, I’m on YOUR side!”

The music continued and this time Raken relaxed, watching the half-elf as he almost danced through the room toward the door.  Kurien didn’t give the others the chance to decide to take matters into their own hands.

“Hey Boss… shouldn’t we be stopping him?”  One of the brighter ones asked.

“He’s fine.”  Raken and Jana said almost in unison.

“Hey wait a minute, that’s a spell!”  Another of the toughs yelled, but Kurien was already through the door and the guard was just struggling through the window.

Laughing merrily, he ran through the hallway, down a flight of stairs and out the door.  He pulled off the hat with its attached wig, stuffed it into a small pack and flipped his cloak so that the drab gray showed instead of the bright scarlet he had been wearing.  It hadn’t been much of a disguise in the first place but these idiots were easily fooled.

A young beggar sat a few streets down with a bowl that contained a single copper, looking up at him with hopeful eyes.  The poor girl was just skin and bone!  Kurien patted her on her grimy head and walked down the street casually, whistling a merry tune.  He was around the corner before she saw the handful of gold in her bowl.  It had been a wonderful day of fooling the so-called “Lord” of this city, and now it was time to redistribute his ill-gotten wealth among those who truly needed it.

Sai’Li plots during her recovery

Sai’Li sat in her bed in the Blossom House; having disdained going to any of the common healing areas.  Of course, part of her refusal was related to the disturbing rumors she had heard about this place.  Those rumors, she was sad to find, were substantiated.

The Madam here was lax in her enforcement, many of her people were ill-treated and the customer base didn’t seem to be screened at all.  The conditions were quite simply unacceptable.  A gentle knock at the door made her sit up and lean forward; senses questing.  She caught the faint scent of clove cologne.  Ah, good, it was Kay.  She let her robe slip down her shoulder another three inches, exposing an expanse of snow white skin.

“Please forgive the intrusion mistress, but it is once again time for your medication.”  He slid the door partially to one side, waiting for her permission before entering.  He really was such a good boy.

“Kay, my dear boy you know you need not knock at my door.  You are of course welcome in my presence at any time.”  She said, snapping her fan open in front of her face, “Please forgive my lack of decorum; I am in a bad state.”

“Nonsense my Lady.”  He said, blushing to the roots of his hair.  “You could never look anything less than absolutely splendid.”  Oh he really was such a dear.

“Sadly sweet Kay, this is hardly my most flattering pose.”  She said, sitting up straighter and accepting the glass of medicine from him.  At the same time, her robe artfully slid a few more finger widths down her shoulder.  His deepening blush was most gratifying.

“My Lady, please allow me.”  He pulled up the coverlet to her chin, but as he moved in she leaned forward and pressed her lips to his.  The kiss was sweet, made even more so by his surprise and lack of expertise.  This really was too easy.

“Darling Kay, I hear there are some irregularities in this House?”  She said, parting their lips and accepting the glass from him.  When he attempted to withdraw, her other arm snaked around his waist and pulled him to sit on the bed.

“Uh, My Lady…” He began, but she silenced him with another kiss.

“There is no need to be so formal sweeting.”  She purred, pulling him closer.  “You know that those of us who have shared intimate passion need not stand on formality.”  Although she hadn’t thought it possible, he blushed deeper.  He really was too adorable.

“Please, I am not worthy…”  He began.

“Of course you are not worthy little mouse.”  She said, lightly biting his neck.  “Your worthiness was never the question.  The simple matter of you not being worthy shouldn’t be an impediment to you striving to become worthy.”

“I – uh – “ He struggled, trying to form words.

“Hush now.”  She said, “First we can enjoy ourselves and then you can tell me everything I want to know.”

“My Lady!”  He protested, but it was halfhearted.  The eager smile on his face belied the supposed objection.

An all too brief time later, she relaxed in her bed, enjoying a pipe of tac and listening to the gentle breathing of her companion as he slept beside her.  Mortals really were all too easily exhausted.  He had told her some very useful information however; information she intended to use.

Slipping out of bed, she put on her kimono, sliding her arms into the sleeves and touching the magic contained within to summon dark green and black silk to cover her body.  Kay muttered and rolled over in his sleep, but she snuck out of the room before he had fully awakened.

Although the illness still caused her pain, she knew she would be up to the task of dealing with such an irrelevant and unimportant figure as a Madam who had forgotten her obligations.  She walked down a hallway and climbed the stairs behind the standard secret door at the end of the second floor corridor.

“Who dares disturb my rest?”  A petulant voice shouted somewhere ahead.  “If you cannot find the initiative to handle such trivial matters on your own then you deserve the treatment you receive!”

A young woman came running down the corridor, tears streaming from her eyes and a grim angry expression on her face.  Sai’Li caught her sleeve, “Please young mistress, allow me to be of assistance.”  She said, her eyes shining with the glimmer of intrigue.

“You can’t help me.”  She said bitterly, “I have displeased the Madam and her rule is law.”

Sai’Li inclined her head slightly, “I was referring to resolving whatever the little issue you came to her about.  One as lowly and insignificant as myself can hardly be expected to solve a problem of politics here, but I will do anything I can to assist.  After all, I believe you were one of those who assisted in tending me through my recent indisposition.”

“It is nothing.  I have some training in the medical arts that do not revolve around magical healing.”  She ducked her head, bowing with her hands on her thighs, the perfect image of poise and civility.  “I apologize that the Madam would not authorize a more competent caretaker.”

“Please, if you would join me for some tea?”  Sai’Li asked, seeing the steel and simmering anger just below the surface.  “I would take it as a personal favor if you would allow me to serve you a cup of my best smoked Matcha.”

After a moment of studying Sai’Li’s face, she bowed deeper. “I would be honored My Lady.” She said, leading Sai’Li back to her room.  Upon entering, Sai’Li carefully scrutinized the room’s walls, looking for the watchers that dear Kay had told her might be lurking.  They were thankfully absent at this late hour.

Once they knelt at the low lacquered table in a tiny sitting room, Sai’Li withdrew ingredients from her enscrolled silk purse.  Humming in satisfaction, she began carefully mixing the tea powder and warm water with a fine horse hair brush in delicate porcelain cups.  “Now please, tell me your name and your troubles my dear.”

“I am called Rinna.”  She said, accepting the cup. “My lady, there truly is nothing you can do to help me I am afraid.”

“Oh little Rinna, what you say is partially true.”  Sai’Li said, “But only while she is Madam.  If another was to take her place things would be quite different would they not?”

The other woman gasped, looking wildly around at the walls.  Sai’Li waved a calming hand, snapping her fan open in front of her face.  “I believe us to be alone, but of course I was only speaking in the hypothetical little sister.”  She said with a smile hidden by the painted silk of her fan.  “One would never be so irreverent as to propose a coup so openly.”

“I have a repeat customer, a local businessman.  He does not follow the protocols, subjecting me to treatment that is outside the proper guidelines.”  She pulled up her sleeve slightly, revealing a bruised wrist.  “I am not skilled in any arts that would allow me to defend myself, and the guards are under orders to obey only the Madam.”

“Ah.  Well that is something easily remedied.”  Sai’Li said with a smile that was the barest crinkle around the corners of her eyes.  “Please, hand me two of your hair pins and enjoy your tea.”

Rinna gave her a confused look, but did as she asked.  Running first one, and then another of the delicate steel pins through her fingers.  The venom that flowed through her body slid from the pores of her fingertips, coating each of them with deadly poison.

Sai’Li sat back and drank her tea, thinking about how the Blossom Houses kept order.  Mostly this bylaw of their code was a good thing.  It kept individuals from starting uprisings unnecessarily, but in cases like this one it had allowed things to go too far.  Her course of action was clear.

“Now my darling Rinna, all you need do is wait until the subject in question returns and attempts to take advantage of your Madam’s laxities.  One little scratch from one of these pins and he will shortly become too weak to even lift his own flabby limbs.  Then you are free to do with him as you choose.

“Keep in mind they will only work once.”  She said, carefully sliding them across the table.  “I am giving you two on the off chance that he is strong enough to resist a first attempt.  If the first one works, then perhaps you might find another use for the second one.”

Confident that these seeds would bear excellent fruit, Sai’Li enjoyed the rest of her tea, chatting idly about trade, politics, and fashion.  This particular Blossom House would soon be under new management.  Management that would be most certainly be friendly to her and the criminal empire she was planning on constructing.