A Hootenanny with a Hoedown, to Boot!

Happy Tuesday, y’all – how ya doin’?

Continuing on from Thursday’s stories, we’re gonna dive on into the rest of the chronicle. Bonus points if you can spot the work that inspired how they get out.

Crevarius & Bindalar Gearforge

Narrator: (The stockades and dungeons of High Bluff, particularly the Crag Cells, were held in infamy for their creative design, the torment the echoing stone was said to have play on the mind, and, moreover, their record for being inescapable. Normally reserved for fugitives and miscreants of great trespass, two unlucky individuals had found themselves on both the wrong side of the law as well as the sore temper of Keeper Falion, leaving them to commiserate in the dark, damp cave-cells of High Bluff’s harshest prison.)

(One, a man, lithe of form and bearing a curled, blonde goatee sat with his elbows upon his knees and his back against the cave wall. He was dressed in a green jerkin, trousers of blackened leather, and high soft boots of the same. Currently, he worked away, whittling a piece of stone with a tiny iron blade.)

(The second, a gnome, short but not stout, with sharp facial features and an almost perpetual smirk adorning his cheeks. Clothed in dark leathers riddled with pockets which confiscation had emptied, only his blonde hair was apparent against the black of the cave wall. He sat cross-legged sorting a small mound of various bread scraps, fatty meat pieces, and stale nuts.)

(Each young man shared his cell with a cellmate who each young man considered very boring company.)

Crevarius: “I’m so hungry.” (He groans.)

Bindalar: “Yeah? Well that’s your own fuckin’ fault, innit? Raisin’ a cat n’ all.”

Crevarius: “Do you really think it the time to-”

Bindalar: “Oooh, mate, all’s we got is fuckin’ time. Your ass ain’t goin’ nowhere! And thanks fuckin’ to it, neither is mine! Ah, good boy.”

(A small, white rat scurries up to the gnome and delivers a bread scrap.)

Crevarius: “Me? YOU are the career street thief. I’d counted on a bit more professional expertise from your end.”

Bindalar: “Ah, yeah, and who’s the bloody fuckin’ fancy archer who missed his fuckin’ shot and left me on the fuckin’ roof without a fuckin’ rope!?”

Crevarius: “I told you to just toss down the bag first! How hard was that?”

Bindalar: “I don’t trust fuckin’ cheats.”

(Crevarius prepares a retort, but jostles his eyebrows in recognition of points made.)

Crevarius: “Can you spare some food?” (He says finally.)

Bindalar: “Wait, what’s that you’ve got there?”

Crevarius: “What? This?”

Bindalar: “Yes fuckin’ that. That what’s in your hand! Is that a knife?”

Crevarius: “Yes.”

Bindalar: (In a harsh whisper) “You’ve got a fuckin’ knife and you didn’t fuckin’ say anything?”

(Pause)

Crevarius: “I didn’t think it important to mention.”

(The gnome stares dumbfounded from under the brim of his hat.)

Bindalar: “Give it here.”

Crevarius: “What? No.”

Bindalar: “Give it fuckin’ here, ya cock-sneezin’ shit bag.”

Crevarius: “Give me the bread and nuts.”

Bindalar: “For fuck’s sake!”

(The gnome shovels all the scraps in front of him through the bars at the archer.)

Crevarius: “Now, what’re you going to do with that?”

Bindalar: “You have no idea how people come and go from this fuckin’ place, do ya?”

Crevarius: “I…uh…”

Bindalar: “Suck a donkey’s tit and call it maple.” (sighs) “Just follow my lead. Oi! (calling through the bars to the distantly attending guard) we got a stiff over here! (whispers) Sorry, bruv.”

Crevarius: “You’re pretty despicable.”

Bindalar: “Ah, sad fuck was hangin’ by a thread anyway. You’s best do the same. We’ve about five minutes ‘fore they come back with sacks for the bodies. Hope your ass knows how to swim!”

Narrator: (After what may only be described as the completion of selfish, depraved, perhaps villainous, but admittedly clever and survivalist actions, two body bags are sung their last rights and cast from the cliffs of High Bluff into the ocean. The first is deftly cut open shortly after sinking below the water’s surface to reveal a very much alive and swimming adept gnome, holding a soggy white rat. The second, upon hitting the salty water swells to a plump, buoyant state and coasts calmly to the shore with the kicking gnome following hotly in pursuit.)

Crevarius: “I have to hand it to you,” (stepping out of his deflating body bag, dressed in the clothes of his former cellmate, and holding a fluffy gray cat) “that WAS a pretty great idea.”

Bindalar: (sloshing his way up the beach) “What the fuckin’ hell was that? And where the fuck did you get a cat?”

Crevarius: “Tala here? She was the brooch on my cloak. Couldn’t have a cat walking around in a prison like that. A rat, sure, but an unfamiliar tabby? Nonsense.”

(Bindalar and his rat stare at him hard for a long moment.)

Bindalar: “Well, that’s fuckin’ brilliant.”

(Together, the two set out into the evening dusk-mellowed streets to resupply themselves the best ways they knew how. Reconvening at the caravan park leading north out of town, they heard the bells of alarm ringing at the end of the peninsula and thought it best to make camp outside the city bounds that night. Regardless, the daring duo was arrested a short week later, hunted by a contracted Justicar of the Taldastius Order and her ward, a prodigal young witch.)

(To this day, no one knows what was said between the opposing camps that fateful night, but the separate two’s became four. Their forces joined, they set off to investigate the call of a priest of The Returned in Hallendren, the Jewel of the East.)

END

The Take: This was fun. I loved having the guys read this at the table, got a fair bout of laughs, and set the mood pretty well. And reading it back now, it still hits me with some chuckles. However you read Bindalar’s voice, I guarantee you got it exactly right.

And last but not least, introducing…

Nisha

Nisha had spent the majority of her life watching the sands. In them, she could read the songs of the wind and in them she could read the news of the world. Raised in the Channelers’ Fold as she had been, that life offered no freedom to explore beyond the walls of Meir and its towering spires could only extend her vision so far. Her early hopes were to distinguish herself with her talents, boast through display the connection with her chosen djinn, and bullishly earn place to be groomed for the Inquisition. But life rarely bears fruit as sweet as the yearnings of our youth would dream it to be. Nisha’s life as an Acolyte of the Inquisition was more difficult than she would ever have thought it could be. The schooling was as demanding as it was constant; the consequences for dissatisfying expectations were severe; and the closer she grew to her djinn, the more deeply she regretted her bond. Try as she might to conceal these thoughts from it, the more it pried into her mind, tormenting her with commands it hadn’t the authority to give and with violent thoughts not her own. The young, olive-skinned, golden-eyed girl would deny the shade its triumph by robbing herself of that for which it doggedly assailed her mind.

On the eve of her Conjoining, the final marriage with her chosen spirit, Nisha stood in the window sill of her spire-top room. She looked over her shoulder for a final sight at the cage that had housed her for so long and cast herself from it. She fell, feeling the wind tear past her on her descent, fill her ears, and lurch her stomach into her throat. With a slow tranquility, the girl closed her eyes and awaited that final silence, a wry smile curling her lips.

*

For years later, Nisha would ponder why it was her silence never came. When she would search the shattered memories of her fraying mind, she only knew that next she woke on a road stretching through unfamiliar sands, far away from the towering walls of Meir. Panic had hit her first, spinning this way and that but seeing nothing more than rolling dunes across an encompassing horizon. When her breath returned to her, she took to her training and with an eventual calm resolve, set herself to reading the sands. The wind carried news of ports, strange dressings, and dye fields on rainbow’d hills. Nisha knew now, she was north of Albe’lar an Tsecht, the Duskset Jewel of the Returned.

She removed herself from the wind’s song and wiped the dust from her face to see an odd group approaching, but took less notice of them than her own hands. With an eerie calm, she observed the wrinkles in the skin of her hands and with them felt the deep grooves of her withered face. Nisha reacted with muted shock as the woman in armor of lacquered silver stepped from the group and approached her (hushing the gnome making a comment about Nisha resembling a robed raisin). The woman spoke but Nisha heard not a word as she came under a much deeper revelation. The woman’s countenance turned worried as she asked with concern, “Old woman, are you alright?”

Nisha looked up to her with tears running down her cheeks and a deep smile on her lips as she replied: “I’m alone.”

The Take: Nisha’s my favorite. Of the five characters presented here, Nisha’s my favorite for sure. Not necessarily for her personality or abilities she went on abuse use to great effect, but just her intro. When asked to do up a backstory, Amanda, the player in question said something along the lines of: “I dunno, something cool. I wanna be a crazy lady.” Well dammit, a crazy lady you now have.
In case I lost you somewhere in there, the short version is this: Nisha is being reared into the Channeler’s Fold (mentioned back in Stella’s portion), a sect/temple/whatever of mages that play host to djinn for power. She was being prepared for her permanent bonding with her chosen djinn, but couldn’t take it, and tried to commit suicide by leaping out of a tall spire’s window. When she woke up, she found she’d somehow not died and was now instead an old wrinkly woman, but the djinn who’d resided in her mind was (equally mysteriously) gone.
Mark my words, here, today, the 24th of September of the year two-thousand nineteen, Nisha will feature prominently in a future novel of mine.

Anyway, Abidee-Abidee- that’s all for now folks (Porky Pig voice definitely intended).

Ciao.

Fantasy Dim Sum: Ainsley and Stella

What’s up, everybody. Happy Thursday!

Today we’re at it again: serving up a couple short scenes that wind up tying together in the end. Rather than overdoing the intro, I’m just going to let them speak for themselves.

Without further adieu…

Part 1: ‘Ainsley, Justicar of Taldastius

Ainsley stood still at the edge of the forest glade, loosing the deep breath with the slow, practiced control her work demanded. Her eyes took in the scene with that same calm measure as her plated boots clinked their tread through the soft grass. A gentle wind danced through the muted green, brushed her cheeks, tossed her hair, and carried the scent of blood – the scent of a haunting life she’d left behind.

While her task required attention, Ainsley’s focused mind would not carry the nightmares of that life. For a time, she would not be molested by thoughts of the clans her brother-and-sisters-in-arms had scattered; she would not burden herself with the memories of their screams; she would not shudder at the knowledge she held of that which corroded the earth, shattered rock, and sundered the skies. A “dishonorable discharge” it had been called, but a system of mock honor that burns and destroys the undeserving to protect its own interests held no place to judge her. No longer holding station among the zealous Elves of the Iron Fang, she had found the freedom to wander. Unwelcome by many, hated by some, Ainsley turned Nameless – finding work and a place in the darkest recesses of Mundas, thanklessly facing the nightmares that plagued its people.

And this way she lived for many years until came such a time as any for those that live the Nameless way, and she found herself ready to die as such. She had stood in a moonlit glade then as well, slowly kneeling ready to dash the lunar-gray grasses with the crimson of her life’s blood. As she had held the blade high and saw in its reflection the pale of the moon, the sight of it filled her mind and heart with a vision:

We that follow are the light that stands amid the dark and guides the helpless through its shroud.”

The Oath and its Moon Strictures now decorating the flesh of her back, her life as a Justicar of Taldastius had begun only weeks later; her stride now set with a righteous purpose beyond murky survival.

As her footfalls strode quietly through the glade, shield at her side and sword gleaming brightly in the moonlight, Ainsley heard the choking, strained gasps more clearly the nearer she drew. The girl was young, no more than twenty winters behind her, with raven black hair and eyes with blue that pierced the pallid night. The acrid smell in the air, the jagged, raking marks down the girl’s arms, and the thick, speckled quills that perforated her petite form told Ainsley more than enough: Howlers.

Normally cowardly, netherplane-dwelling beasts, something had brought them here. The girl looked up at Ainsley, lips quivering, dark trails streaking from the corners of her mouth, and unable to speak. The Justicar held the young girls gaze for a time before turning her own to a rustling in the encompassing treeline.

They were coming.

END

The Take: So, there are a couple of lore points from the larger world at work here to address that might help, might not.
Ainsley is a Justicar (or paladin-variant, basically) of Taldastius, Steward of the Moon, Keeper of the Scales, Lord of Justice, n’ all else. The Moon is the Order’s totem and it represents them in the way Ainsley’s vision outlines: they fight against the dark by living in it, but without becoming it (if that makes sense). I could go on for pages, but that’s the gist and we have more to get to (this is supposed to be bite-sized, after all).
The Iron Fang are essentially a state-funded volunteer corps of defense against the dragon nests north of the Continent. They’re comprised of zealots, desperate sods, religious nutters, social outcasts – anyone and everyone. It’s members are highly revered, though, normally only after they’ve died – being criticized and berated in life by society at large. They’re organized strictly, and when one falls out of their ranks (is insubordinate, flees, or otherwise shows cowardice), they become “Nameless,” the world’s equivalent to Witchers, basically; only finding work as mercenaries and monster-hunters.

On to the next!

Part 2: Stella Fairbay, Heiress of Shale

Stella watched the diminutive ceramic dancer slowly twirl in its place within the open music box. A slight smile spread across her narrow lips as she listened to the soft chiming sung by the inner springs and coils. She watched the last of the day’s warm sunlight glimmer and reflect off its polished curves, and these feelings left her mind awash in memories – though they now seemed so distant.

The years of her youth were of gilded halls and ballrooms, long hours in formal court, and a deep-rooted yearning to part with it all, though never once betraying her family’s storied lineage. As with many of the women in her ancestry, Stella held a particularly strong sway over the magical forces of Mundas, and nothing interfered with that secret more greatly than the life of royalty. Her potential was held captive by the very privilege which provided for her, so she stole away one night to walk the wanderer’s path and develop her talents. Her only farewell: a letter addressed to her grandmother, the ruling Duchess of Shale, mentor to Stella in her youngest years, and, moreover, only living family-by-blood left in the Duchy.

Stella fluttered her eyelids to blink the memories away and she found her vision focusing beyond the now silent toy dancer to the reflection of her own eyes in the mirror of the box’s lid. She held the sight for a breath then looked up to behold the moon, feeling now that it was almost time. It had taken many months to find this place and Stella would be damned if she’d spent that time tracking down the proper charts, conferring with members of the Channelers’ Fold, and preparing the necessary charms only to miss her window distracted by nostalgia.

The young witch carefully closed the music box and stowed it within her black, silver-laced robes. She stood sharply and grasped the spear-staff at her side, an heirloom from her late grandfather. Stella marched with conviction to the edge of a summoner’s circle she’d constructed when the sun had been high, looked up to see the moon nearing its zenith, and an eager laugh escape her lips as she began her incantation, ready to open the way. Her eyes whited over with a milky paleness to mimic the moon and the ground beneath her feet felt as if to hum in harmony with her low tone.

Slowly, like fireflies drifting in the veil of night, glowing sigils began to form out of the cold air and weave together in the bounds of her circle. A complete silence took the glade before a loud snap broke the air and a bright font of light burst forth from the ground. In a matter of moments, Stella knew, if she had done her work correctly, she would be face-to-face with an angelic archon.

As the last of the arcane light faded from the circle, an unexpected darkness shrouded the glade. Stella rubbed her eyes so they might adjust and whispered a word to her staff for light. As she did so, a horrible sense of dread fell upon her like a cloak and she heard a clicking, guttural snarl. The moments of Stella’s life to follow would be remembered only as a panicked blur.

A haunting, shrieking howl pierced the still quiet.

Her chest and arms pained by slashes of unseen claws.

She was knocked breathless against the cool, damp grass.

Stella awaited the death knell from whatever infernal creatures her tragic mistake had summoned, though it never came. She could hear them, feel them encircling her, as her vision slowly darkened until a vibrant silver light beamed from the edge of the glade and the creatures retreated from it. A woman in silver and blue plate armor stood over her, beautiful and scarred, she peered down at Stella with a look of sympathy. A noise from the glade’s edge stole the woman’s attention for a moment, and when her gaze returned to the young witch her eyes burned a brilliant silver that shone against the dark backdrop of the stars.

The woman whispered a soft, chiming tone and Stella coughed. While still in great pain, she could feel a relieving warmth spread across her body where there had been agony moments before. Seeing the young woman stable, the paladin dashed across the muted gray forest floor, her blade shining white with fire. Stella craned her neck to watch as her savior cleaved down the first two beasts in a matter of moments and briefly wrestled with a third, a terrible fray of shouts and visceral crunches, while the remaining pack closed in around. With a desperate, heaving breath, Stella sat up and looked on as long, sharp quills like those that had pierced her struck the paladin between areas of her plate. Focusing through the tormenting pain and hurried anxiety of her circumstance, Stella forced herself into trance.

The paladin fought from her back, swinging this way and that to ward away the encroaching pack, when she felt the ground beneath her shake. The howlers seized the moment of her hesitation and moved to leap upon their meal, but could not feel the ground beneath their gnarled paws. She watched as the remaining pack was lifted above the grass and pulled, flailing viciously, over to the girl in black robes, now standing with spear in one hand and the other extended towards the creatures. Quills were shaken and shot forth in Stella’s direction, though they splintered to harmless flakes in the air around her. The howlers were forced to the grass, dragged by an invisible hand to the circle from which they’d emerged and, like water through cloth, disappeared beneath the ground.

From across the moonlit glade, the two women locked eyes for the second time and together shared a well-earned sigh of relief.

END

The Take: There you have it, a bad-ass, scarred up warrior lady and a reckless, mystical witch woman ruining a gaggle of otherworldly beasties. Always fun. I always liked Stella’s half for tying in and really showing off Ainsley’s badassery, plus alluding to some other world-bits we’ll explore a bit more deeply later.

Probably put up the others of this little “mini-series” tomorrow rather than waiting until Tuesday. Til then, you take it easy and stay beautiful, you.

Ciao.

“Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son” – Our First Guest Post!

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

About a month ago, I started waking up at 4:30 every Tuesday and Thursday morning to go running with my buddy Eric. I wouldn’t have voted for that start time, personally, but I asked, “What time are you consistently available?”
“In the morning before work,” said he.
“What time do you have to be at work?” asked I.
“Seven o’clock,” said he.
“In the morning?” asked I.
“Yep,” confirmed he.
“Okay,” sighed I.

That’s how it started, and I told him I refused to “bitch out” first, so now I’m pretty committed to those words, lest I eat them. It’s a thing I simultaneously think everyone should do, at least a little bit, and would not wish on someone I disliked greatly.

Anyway, on to the good stuff!

You all remember Pierre, right? (It’s kind of funny, because he initially asked to be kept anonymous when I mentioned I was going to put out his debut story, but has since become cool with using his name outside of that…but, nah. I like Pierre, so Pierre he’ll remain.) Well today’s post is both the last installment of the esteemed Amwren Chronicles series AND the first co-written feature on here. He wrote the first half, I finished up with the second to tie it into the campaign, and the result is the following beautiful literary baby.

Without further adieu…

Karian Nimblefinger, the Baron’s Son

Few men can trace their change of fortune to a specific event. Karian however can pinpoint it to a single hour on an otherwise uneventful August day. He was barely twelve years of age when he walked into his small one room home to see his father with a beaten face and his mother nowhere to be seen. He asked the question that any man of any age would ask, and was answered with a cold apathetic grunt from his father trying to drink his way out of a half full bottle of spirits. Unsatisfied and still not sure what happened Karian walked back outside to see what he could find.

Days went by before his father was willing to open up about what happened that day, and as the years progressed so did his story. The first time he told it he attacked the man he suspected his wife of sleeping with. By Karian’s thirteenth birthday his father defended her honor from a gang of savage militiamen with ill intent. Less than a year later, he was telling people the local lord challenged him to a duel for her hand. Two things remained consistent throughout his wildly growing stories: he always heroically faced overwhelming odds, and at the end she always left him coldly. He was the victim of a story that never ended, using his perceived misfortune as a crutch. He may as well have grown gills for all the time he spent drowning in a bottle.

Karian can trace his change of fortune to that mysterious day when his mother disappeared, because it was the first day he had no other option than to start believing his father’s wild stories. By the time he was old enough to start thinking for himself the damage was already done; he couldn’t trust anyone but himself, and women were nothing but backstabbing harlots. Eventually Karian got it in his mind to become a smooth-talking bard after seeing one visit a local tavern, and so he set off to join the Bard’s College of Stettin, and changed his family name from Tavistock to Nimblefinger. He dropped out after learning enough to play a lute, albeit poorly, and hum a tune. He survived by becoming a pickpocket and doing the odd job around a local inn.

These days he spends his time fast talking the pretty girls that pass through his inn. But through it all he can’t ignore the nagging in the back of his mind, the need to discover the truth about what really happened to his mother so many years ago…

*

It was the early morning crowing of a rooster that woke Karian, and he judged by the dizzying headache, lingering scent of perfume, and his utter lack of clothing, that the previous night had been a success. Rubbing his eyes to clear the dust, he looked around and decided that how he had come to wake in a barn, when he’d assuredly bed the lovely young lady in the tavern storeroom, was also best left to the imagination. He adjusted himself on the scratchy hay pile on which he was lying, folded his arms behind his head, and enjoyed the first rays of morning sun peeking through the parse planks of the barn’s walls. Anything but a typical man, this was, alas, a typical story in the life of Karian Nimblefinger.

What he was unaccustomed to, however, was waking to the presence of another man.

“Hello?” ventured a voice from the stall next to his.

“Ah, one minute, mate,” called Karian. Not that he held any shame whatsoever in the size of his manhood, or much shame to speak of at all really, he whispered a thanks to the sweet gods that left him with his bard’s bonnet, and covered himself with it. He cleared his throat with a cough. “You may approach, good sir,” he sang.

“Fair morning.” The man who rounded the corner was young, no more than twenty summers behind him, and dressed in robes of light lavender. A large medallion depicting two hands with intricately woven fingers laced with string hung low from his neck. “Are you Karian Nimblefinger?”

“My reputation precedes me. I am he, unique and true, friend. What’ll it be? Autograph or private performance? As you can see, I’m a bit without my equipment – well, my stage equipment.”

“Kindly appreciated, but unnecessary,” chuckled the priest. “I come on request of my master, as one of the Order of Bokonon. He requests your presence in Tallin in a week’s time.”

“Tallin…Tallin…Tallin…” repeated Karian tapping his chin. “Is that the one with all the…buildings?”

“A few, yes. Temples.”

“Ah, right! Well, as you can see, young master, I’m a man of professional…profession. I’m not accustomed to rendering services without payment. So, on that stricture, one of my very few, I would be remiss not to ask: will there be gold?”

“I would hazard to say yes, yes there will.”

“Then I’m in! If you’ll allow me a moment to fetch me pants, it’ll be off to the City of Temples.”

END

The Take: Not that I expect the world at large to closely follow this series, but after a few darker notes in the middle with entries like Aldis and Tsal, it felt appropriate to bring it back to a lighter note with Karian. Throughout the campaign, for his part in it (he eventually sojourned at one point to become a pirate – dope), he added to the comic relief, joviality, mischief, revelry, and unfiltered fun of the whole process, but he wasn’t without a humanizing darker side. In fact, he was the member of the group I least expected to learn, much less embrace, utilizing blood magic, but shit did he.

Anyway, it was good to see Karian again. Pierre, this one’s to you.

Take it easy, everyone. Catch ya Thursday.

The Window of War

Happy Tuesday, everyone.

No fancy run-up, let’s just do it. Time for some good ol’ fashioned fantasy.

Crixus, a Beginning

Grumlik watched the rocky dirt road pass under his feet as he doggedly placed one boot in front of the other. His march had been long and, wearied by war, his heart yearned for the warmth of his home’s hearth and the touch of his beloved. Aching, he blinked his tired eyes and shook away his exhaustion as he focused on the nighttime sounds: the moonbirds that sang their distant song, the wind that whistled through the tall grass of the plains, the rhythmic thud of his heavy boots, and the crunch of the gravel beneath them. He lifted his eyes to the star-riddled sky.

The song, the wind, the thud, the crunch.

As he thought, he heard also the soft rustling of what he wore: linked chains that gently chimed with each heavy step, bent plates bearing scars, punctures, and dents that rubbed against pads of leather, the shield that hung loosely to his side with its rattling buckles, and the sword on his hip with its muffled dance within the scabbard. His thoughts now upon the garments which had saved his life many times over, he felt their weight on his shoulders as he trudged onward towards home. In the stars he saw constellations and soon saw faces – the faces of comrades, those who wouldn’t see home.

He crested a small ridge and filled his powerful lungs with a deep breath and held it a long time. When he released it, it was accompanied by a tear in his eye. The wind carried the scent of smoke, not the black smoke of war he’d now become so accustomed, but the smoke of an home’s hearth. Grumlik paused. His mouth watered, his stomach twisted, and his fingers twitched.

The song, the wind.

As he stepped across the threshold of his home, a small cabin on the outskirts of town, the inside was aglow with the warming fire and the air smelled thickly of stew. Wordlessly, Grumlik cast his gaze slowly over the room.

It was good to be home.

He saw her sitting by the fire, but the sound of the door softly shutting behind him roused her.

“Faralda,” he called quietly. The sound of his voice surprised him, he’d been silent so long.

She turned to immediately to his call, her fair skin, wavy brown hair, and deep blue eyes illuminated by the fire’s light. She offered no words, but Grumlik could see the sparkle of tears paint from her freckled cheeks to her trembling chin. After a moment hung in the air between them, like a drop of rain frozen in time, she burst from her seat by the fire and flew to his arms. They embraced, they kissed, and they shed tears with one another. Faralda pulled away to speak, when a cry sounded from a crib Grumlik hadn’t noticed.

She smiled to her husband and stepped over to the crib to hush the awoken child. Grumlik approached and laid a hand on her shoulder. Inside the crib was a small babe, perhaps a year old, yet he bore the features unmistakably of his father and the softness of his mother’s eyes.

“What is his name?” Grumlik whispered quietly.

“After your father,” she replied.

Grumlik smiled with pride.

“Crixus.”

*

While it wasn’t a large town, Faraday saw its share of travelers. Known traditionally for its caravan park, it remained the crossroads of a large amount of trade as well as home to the Fenrici Caravaneers’ Guild base. Crixus would watch the roads, fingers laced over the end of his pitchfork, and gather tales from those passing through. In his meetings with these adventurous travelers, he heard stories of bandit attacks, monstrous ghouls, rescues from raging infernos, the weathering of frightful storms, and much more. Every morsel fed his own fire and thirst for adventure.

Today was time that thirst was sated.

“Ha! You’ve gotten better, boy! Your form is most improved!”

“It seems,” Crixus replied, finishing his parry and sidestepping to his opponent’s left, “you make a fair teacher!” The young half-orc feigned in with his shield and followed it with a boxing motion of his wooden sword’s point. The older caravan guard with whom he sparred was well experienced and dodged the tip of the blow, returning with one of his own, only to have it deflected by a shield. Crixus broke away to re-position and quickly stepped in with an overhand swing. The older man deflected not the weapon but the wrist holding it and, with Crixus off balance, kicked him to the dusty earth with a foot to his bottom.

“That makes it,” panted the older man, “eleven to three now, yes?”

“Calling it quits already are we, Regis?”
“Ah, you’re young, I’m old. I’ve earned the right to say when we’ve finished.”

“Only because you know I’d thrash you were we to keep going.”

“Exactly.”

The two shared a laugh and clasped one another respectively by the forearm.

“Crixus!” came a call from the cabin.

“You’d better go, boy. We’ll have another bout when next I’m in town.”

“Make it soon then, as I’ll have your hide next time.”

“Aye, that you will, I’m sure.”

Grumlik was at the table smoking his pipe and rubbing his knee – an old war wound – when Crixus entered.

“You needed me, father?”

“Yes, son. How was your bout with Regis?”

“He got lucky, this time.”

“Ah, well that’s because you go too easy on him,” Grumlik laughed. “Come, take a seat next to me. Good. Now, I’m no poet or bard. I’ve no way with words, so I’ll just come out and say it. I know that this farm holds no life for you, Crixus. You’ve my strength of arm, your mother’s wits, and the same adventurous fire we’d both had at your age. We do you no good now, holding you caged here any longer.”

“But, father, how will you-”

“We’ll manage here just fine, son. You’ve naught to worry there. No, no more. Just listen.” The old Orc stood up stiffly, motioned his son to follow, and walked over to a trunk against the far wall. He grunted as he leaned down and opened the clasps on either end. The smell of worked leather and redolence of old steel escaped the trunk as the lid was lifted. Inside, Crixus could see his father’s old belongings from his time in the war when the conflict was at its height. One by one, Grumlik removed the items and laid them out across the table. “Here, try them on,” he invited.

After some minutes spent adjusting fittings, belts, and buckles, Crixus stood in the center of the cabin, bedecked in his father’s old armor and his shield at his side.

Grumlik stepped around Crixus to his front after setting the final strap and asked, “How does it feel?”

Struggling equally for words, Crixus moved and shifted in his new garb. “It feels good,” he said, and with a chuckle, “if a little strange.”

“It will suit you well enough, at least until you replace it with something better.”

“Why are you doing this for me, father?”

“Because I am your father. What kind of question is that? Besides, you need not hide it any longer simply for the sake of your mother and I. We’ve seen you watching them, the caravans and guards, travelers and wanderers. You’ve done well by us to aid tending the farm, but it’s long time we do well by you and not hold you here any longer.”

Crixus held his father’s gaze with a hard, stoic eyes for a long moment before his countenance broke into a large, toothy grin with eyes wide and anxious. “I will find it, father.”

“Nothing cryptic, son. Find what?”

“My destiny.”

*

Crixus sat upon an old stump looking up at the ways the smoke from his campfire danced and writhed its way between the stars with the gentle wind. He took a deep breath and the crisp nighttime air filled his lungs in a way he’d come to enjoy, a new way, as for once it was the air of open country not tread by his boots. Thoughts of home had come to him often as he’d marched over the last week. In those moments, he looked to the sky and thought that while the ground he walked and the lands he would see would be strange, it was all under the same sky.

As he mused, there came the crunch of gravel and the snap of a dry twig down the road to his right. He knew the road to be dangerous and since leaving Crixus had defended himself from a wolf separated from its pack (that now found itself the subject of Crixus’ rations pouch) and frightened away a would-be highwayman. He stood and put a hand on the hilt of his sword. “Hello?”, he called out. “Who goes there?”

Wordlessly, a robed man approached his site and said, “a simple traveler wishing to share the warmth of your fire, young sir.”

“Hmm, yes. Come. I’d be glad of the company.” Crixus waved the man over to a stump near his own. The figure took his seat by the fire. In its light, Crixus could now see his robes weren’t the dusty rags of a simple traveler but a bright, vibrant lavender. A strange amulet depicting a pair of woven hands hung on a thin silver chain about his neck. Seeing no weapons on the man, Crixus assumed him to be a priest of some obscure order. “How has the road fared you, being as you’ve not a sword to defend yourself?”

“Safe enough,” he chuckled. “I presume many see the robes and think they would do better than tangle with a magician. That, or they are gods-fearing in their own right. Who’s to say, really? What is it that brings you out this way? Do you wander, or are you lost?”

“Neither. I seek something.”

“And what is it you seek?”

“My destiny.”

“Ah, a fine goal to be sure.” And after a breath of silence between them, he said, “You may well be in luck, then. Do you have a destination for the morning?”

“Not in particular. Why do you ask?”

“Come with me then, to the city of Tallin.”

Crixus paused and was slow with his answer. “What awaits us there?”

“Destiny, friend.”

Crixus stared long into the priest’s dark brown eyes as the fire crackled between them. He stared and he searched and in the end found promise in those eyes. The two laid down to rest under the stars and as the sun rose they rose with it. Cinching the straps of his armor, Crixus again breathed deep the morning air and with his new priestly companion began his march towards Tallin, the City of Temples.

END

The Take: Yup! We’re revisiting the Amwren-series. It’s been a while since we’ve put up one of these. I’ve always liked Crixus’ intro. It was short, simple, and none-too-complicated, but personally, I think this was one of the more elegantly written (or, at least, pleasurable in a literary sense) of these serialized shorts. He also went on to be a really beloved character and, in his own dorky way, a sort of central glue for the rest of the group. He had a way of lovably admonishing Revan and his plans, being admonished by Cerlina for his own goofy ideas, kicking impressive heaps of ass with Aldis (when he wasn’t busily selling himself into slavery), pulling ill-advised feats of courage with Tsal, and running schemes with the last member of the group who awaits his introduction next time…

Anyway, catch you Thursday, dorks!

Ciao.

A Gift for Cer’lliarah

Happy Thursday, all..

Let’s do things a little bit backwards today and have our dessert first.

The Take: This one, like a couple of others, came together in about an hour and without any sort of grand idea that inspired it. A scene came to mind and next thing I knew I was obsessively pounding keys until it was done – kind of like the drug hazes or super-focused power montages in movies.
One of my favorite parts about this one is that it was the first time ever in a story that I described someone’s nipples. (Funny story about that, too. I wrote it in the cafeteria of the local junior college and when I got to the part about describing nudity, I checked over my shoulder probably twice, sheepishly feeling like I was somehow getting away with something.)
Anyway, I hope it paints as crisp and glittering a picture in your mind as it arrived in mine.
[Oh! And fun fact: the gift presented in this story wound up inspiring the namesake of the story I’m probably THE most proud of to-date, one I’m currently shipping around to different publishers. You’ll know if/when it gets picked up because that’s probably all this blog will be about the week that it does.]

A Gift for Cer’lliarah

Dorian drew the curtain of moss aside and stepped into the grotto. It was a cavernous space with dark stone walls that glittered like the night sky. Softly lapping waves of a ghostly tide gently foamed at his boots and a beam of moonlight hung over a small central island from which a song chimed harmoniously with its own echo. The words were sweet, indiscernible but melodious, and filled the young duke-to-be with a tingling sense of ecstasy. He was nervously straightening his jerkin and pulling it flat when he saw her step out from a silver pond between two pines.

Cer’lliarah, the water nymph. It was said that she had only ever taken three mortal men, and all three had become kings. Many had tried to curry her favor, but none other than the kings had returned. Besides a gown of transparent water silk, she was completely nude. She was petite in frame, but had long, slender legs and dark hair that flowed down to dimples on her lower back. Her body was completely bare and smooth with fair skin and shapely breasts with perfect, light pink nipples. She blinked at him coquettishly from her island with large nutmeg eyes and beckoned him to her before gracefully retreating from view.

Dorian greedily delved into his pocket and fumbled out a gleaming topaz on a silver chain. Lowering to his knees, he dipped the precious stone into the lapping waves. The jewel glowed brightly a moment and dissolved into the water. A rumble sounded in the grotto and a land bridge slowly foamed out of the waters before him. It had taken scores of ships and fine soldiers to bring him a leviathan’s tear, the only offering Cer’lliarah would accept, but their families had been compensated fairly from the treasury and it would be worth it once the nymph confirmed his destiny as king. His uncle had made a terrible tyrant for Kandar and Dorian’s father was determined to remove his brother from the throne. This would be as close to a bloodless coup as he was liable to get, and he’d entrusted the honor to his son.

Dorian crossed the path trying to maintain a nobility to his stride, but he slipped almost every other jittery step. He had never taken a woman before, so the thought of bedding the legendary nymph made him horribly anxious. That anxiety melted away, however, when he stepped into the island’s small, central glade and saw her laying in wait on a bed of flowers and heather. She rose and began wordlessly removing Dorian’s clothes. As she did, he searched for her eyes, but they were lowered, brushing their sight over his emerging nakedness. When she did look up and meet his eyes, the nerves swiftly returned. They were more beautiful, more enchanting beyond anything in his dreams, and held an ageless, gentle innocence that made him forget the world’s evils, time, even his own body.

He was so taken with their deep golden color he didn’t feel the pain in his back.

The young noble placed his hands on her hips and felt his way to her bosom, quaking in anticipation as her hands did the same. She felt his arms, draped them over his shoulders, and let her hands dance on his chest. They finally fell on the pendant he wore, an emerald from his mother, and she kissed him on the cheek as she undid the clasp. He opened his mouth to protest, but a noticeable pain in the back of his neck caught the words in his throat. He realized he couldn’t move. She met his eyes again and this time Dorian saw himself in their reflection.

He watched his cheeks and jawline become sharpened and defined, his neck and shoulders lost their adolescent chubbiness and grew muscled, and a thick, regal beard adorned his face. His eyes hardened with the wisdom and sacrifices of a just ruler and a great jeweled crown formed on his head. He saw he was the full vision of the ruler he might have become.

Cer’lliarah clasped the pendant around her own neck and took Dorian’s hands from her breasts and crossed them over his own shoulders. The unseen tendrils that had woven their way into his torso now stitched across his limbs and fastened them to his trembling body. She played with the emerald and lay back down on her bed of flowers and heather. He choked on his pleas, but she only smiled up at him with her large, nutmeg eyes as the tendrils lifted him to the ceiling of the grotto. While he couldn’t turn his head, his eyes wildly searched the grotto’s walls and he saw all around him the calcified remains of those who had also come before to entreat the nymph’s favor.

And had also failed.

FIN

PS – I have NEEEEEEWS! Another story of mine, “The Scars of Eliza Gray”, is currently in the works to be featured on the NIGHT LIGHT horror podcast in a few weeks. So stayed tuned, ’cause I’ll be posting updates as I get them and blasting it out there once it’s up! Also keep an eye out and an ear open for the episode where we discuss and give our takes on Jordan Peele’s “Get Out” and “Us”! Yaaaaay!

Gabriel Firefoot, the Dancing Flame (and his Buddy)

Did you know that Lego used to bury its used molds in the concrete foundations of buildings to keep them from being reused? Think about that the next time you get paranoid uploading to the Cloud – Lego already one-up’d you.

Happy Thursday, everybody!

I’m out of cheeky one-liners, so I’m just going to hop right to it.

May I present:

Gabriel Firefoot, the Dancing Flame

Gabriel Firefoot, having been abandoned by his friends in a tavern on the northern edge of the Rift, sat on a wooden bench with a sullen heart in his chest and an ale in his hand. He continued to let the ale quell the headache that pounded away at his temples as a sympathetic bubbling noise came from the ceramic vase at his side.

“I know, Flynnt,” he began, speaking seemingly to the air. “We allow ourselves a single night of gallivanting to properly explore the town, and they up and fucking leave us. Bastards’ll probably get eaten by giants.”

More bubbly syllables arose in response from the container.

“No I don’t actually mean it. Of course I hope they make it back in one piece. They could have said something before taking off is all. The way I figure it, we have plenty of gold left over from our way up here to live pretty comfortable for about a month. They should be back before then, right?”

The cork lid on the vase gave a small, happy jump in reply.

As the weeks progressed, Gabriel frittered away his small adventuring fortune on drink and social displays in the taverns, trinkets and oddities in the shops, and warm baths and women for his luxuries. Though, as his coin purse began to feel light, with his previous adventuring party still not returned to town and no other suitable traveling types coming through, he felt the looming threat of poverty at his heels. Not wishing to return to the days of stealing scraps of bread as a guttersnipe, he turned to the talent that had served him in that time: he performed.

He and his molten familiar Flynnt took to dazzling passersby with the arts of dance, acrobatics, and wonderful displays of fire. Through these talents, his reputation, and social antics, Gabriel managed to make a way for himself and Flynnt. While the two didn’t enjoy quite the same levels of luxury as before, they managed a comfortable residence at the Rift Keep. After some time, his content attitude began to fade and the fire-dancer longed again for the feel of the road beneath his feet.

Perhaps a fortnight after these feelings took root, a fantastic spectacle came to town: Dr. Grumbar’s Terrific Traveling Troop. The nomadic carnival made its stake in the town’s caravan park, and Gabriel would have been perturbed at the subtracted business if Dr. Grumbar himself, a finely dressed, portly dwarf with a magnanimous red beard, hadn’t discovered him while the showman was about town during the carnival’s setup.

“Well look at you!” bellowed the dwarf. “Yer all flames n’ heels n’ wonder ain’t ye? You lookin’ fer work, laddie?”

Gabriel gladly accepted the dwarf’s handsome offer and began his life anew as a dancing acrobat and fire-breather extraordinaire for the traveling circus. After the company had finished its time in the Rift Keep, they set their course south back into Fenris proper. And so Gabriel and Flynnt traveled, performing in such places ranging from Song to Stettin, Freehaven to the Iron Citadel itself. The company found themselves in Neven as the dry season had come around to its peak.

“Hot as a forge’s arsehole up here it is!” Grumbar jested as he addressed the circus. “That, combined with all those horrid critters these poor folk got’a deal with, they need entertainment! Let’s give ’em a show!”

Gabriel and Flynnt had just finished with their routine, making their way to the performers’ tented section of the grounds. Gabriel congratulated himself and his familiar, and Flynnt would bubble back jovial responses to the praise. He had just lied down and was about to uncork Flynnt’s carrier when the bell at their tent door sounded a ring to let them know a visitor had come. He welcomed the fan in, yet withdrew some at the sight that drew back the canvas flap.

A hunched, hooded figure took several hobbling steps into the tent before speaking, though Gabriel already felt an empathetic tension emanate from the vase to his side.

“You and your…creature…were spectacular tonight,” spoke the hood, with a raspy voice and in an accent that Gabriel could not quite place.

“Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed the show,” Gabriel offered tenuously. He tried to see the man’s face but the darkness of the hood made it difficult. With a thought, he made the lanterns in the tent burn more brightly.

The hooded man shrank slightly at the added light and turned away some. “Might I, perhaps, meet your creature?” he ventured.

“I’d need to know your name first, sir.” The hooded figure only withdrew further and offered no answer. Gabriel pressed. “Did Grumbar let you back here? It’s normally for performers only.”

“The creature…” repeated the hood. Gabriel felt fear emanate more and more strongly from Flynnt the longer this man remained in the room.

“I think you should go…” Gabriel began, the last words more slipping from his lips than properly spoken. His eyes drifted over the hooded man’s shoulder to the tent flap, gently parted by a nighttime gust, and Gabriel saw the prone, motionless bodies of two guardsmen.

The figure must have read Gabriel’s reaction, for it then wasted no time in making a lunge for the vase that housed Flynnt. Gabriel matched the man’s move, parried him aside, and, with a grapple, threw him over a wooden dresser. As he lifted himself from the ground, the cloak and its hood caught on the dresser’s handle and were pulled away, revealing not a man but a twisted creature. Its limbs were gnarled and covered with violet mange and it wore a mask of black iron through which haunting yellow eyes peered ravenously at Gabriel and Flynnt. Its hands were clawed and it raked the wooden dresser in anger as it prepared for another lunge.

The fire-dancer was quick, scooping up Flynnt in his vase and made to roll under a back tent flap to escape, though too late as the masked creature was upon him, grappling him by the sling that held Flnnt. Gabriel delivered a powerful kick to its midsection, sending the creature toppling over a wardrobe chest. The rope strained and soon tore under the stress of the struggle, sending the hardened ceramic container and its cork stopper tumbling across the room in different directions. Flynnt, desperate to make an escape from the monster, hurriedly spilled out of his vase and sped for his protector, Gabriel.

The masked horror steadied itself and made a grab for Flynnt once more. Gabriel, in a defensive rage, summoned a blaze of fire in both palms and gripped the iron mask tight, pouring all of his essence into the act, screaming with the strain, intent on cooking the beast’s head to ashes inside the cauldron that was its mask. It loosed a gut-wrenching scream at the pain and as it did so Gabriel’s mind was assaulted with all manner of strange symbols and visions. He saw the very earth cracking apart with an orange glow, forests repeatedly burned to ash and regrew in a manner of seconds, and runic notes in a language he recognized but couldn’t understand felt to brand themselves in his mind before all went dark.

Gabriel came to consciousness a short time later to the sound of panic and chaos. He roused his senses, collected the vase with its stopper, and mentally called out to Flynnt. The familiar responded to him with a frightened bubbling sound from under the bed. Gabriel sighed a quick breath of thanks to the powers that be and ushered him into the vase. While the creature that attacked them was nowhere to be seen, Gabriel saw clear drag marks in the dirt leaving the tent in a hurry as well as the creature’s mask, some seared flesh lining the interior. The fire-dancer collected the mask, Flynnt with his carrier, and a small manner of essentials in a satchel and left the tent to investigate the flurry of chaotic sounds that surrounded their tent.

Stepping outside, Gabriel was met with a disastrous sight: the carnival gone up in flames. Circus folk and patrons all bustled about, either in a fleeing panic or efforts to combat the blaze. His head surged with pulses of pain, briefly revisited by the visions brought by the wicked creature’s screams, though in them he saw a building that housed a great tree, split in twain. He recognized it as the great tree in the main tavern by the town’s central plaza, though only this time, he saw the tree’s veins and the life that flowed through them. He felt beckoned and, though desperately weakened by his encounter, mustered what he could to traverse the chaotic crowds between himself and the tree.

He was jostled, shoved, and thrown by the fleeing crowds. As best he could, Gabriel made use of the alleyways so as to avoid the thickest of the flooding mobs. His magic exhausted, Flynnt would shield him from the flames when they would otherwise prove dangerous. Eventually, the two made it to the building which housed the broken tree. Patrons of the establishment and workers all ran about with buckets, drawing from the well to battle the ensuing blaze. Pushing past them all to the front door, he shoved it open and took the final shuffling steps to the base of its trunk.

As he and Flynnt approached the tree amid the chaotic flames, Gabriel felt his focus becoming clearer – the tree before him the center of this focus, gaining an aura that grew stronger the closer he came. The strange runes and glyphs from his encounter with the creature again surged to mind, and as he lay his hand on the trunk’s face, he felt them become an explosion. Symbols and patterns flew about his own mind and that of Flynnt’s: Fire, Earth, Mind, Nature – these ideas and their deeper meanings that transcended language and seared themselves into the fabric of his being. Soon he had both hands on its trunk and the feeling that followed was one singular to that moment in Gabriel’s life.

He felt as a part of the relic on which he laid his hands. The energy that flowed through the tree was like blood through his veins and he felt entrenched in the earth as if its roots were his own. He could see through his touch that the object before him stood not alone, but part of the forest that surrounded Neven and beyond. Though not in voice, this connection begged him use his talents to put down the blaze that threatened it and he soon felt flushed with new energy – a mana force more fluid and pure than he’d experience in his lifetime. With it, his breath came easier, filled his chest more fully, blood flowed with vigor, and the world about him grew ever more vibrant. He gasped and wondered how he would ever dream to describe this moment in the future. He then collected himself and focused.

Outside, as peasants and performers all ran and hurried about, the blazes began to subside. All stopped and began to stare as the fires that once raged and threatened the town now slowly diminished until they were no more.

Gabriel opened his eyes and looked about the inn to see for himself that the flames were extinguished. As his lips broke a smile, dizziness took him. He fell to his knees and soon slumped to the floor entirely. The last sight before the black was the visage of an elderly elven woman coming to stand over him.

Gabriel slowly awoke to find himself on a soft bed of heather under a brilliant starry sky. Looking about him, he soon noticed the bed he lied upon was in an attic of some kind and that the starlight which lit the space came through a hole in the roof. The charring around the edges and the strangely powerful smell informed him that it was a building no doubt involved in the fire, perhaps only now a few hours later. His eyes continued to graze about the room and soon came to land on a mirror resting in the corner.

In the reflection, he observed many things: the edges of his performer’s outfit were singed in areas, he had been bandaged to presumably cover burns he had no memory of getting, but most curious of all, his eyes, normally a rich brown, burned brightly green – though they were noticeably fading as he watched. As they dimmed, so too did the light of the stars, the burnt smell that hung in the air, and other sensations, all to their regular, mortal strength.

Mentally, Gabriel called out to Flynnt and, for the first time in his life with the molten familiar, a voice came in response instead of the empathetic vibration to which he’d become accustomed. It was childlike and spoke to the very center of his mind.

“Hey! I’m in the kitchen with the lady.”

“You…you..” Gabriel mentally stammered, “you can talk now?”

“Always have been,” Flynnt responded with a happy thought. “I think now you can just hear me. At least, that’s what the lady says.”

“What lady?”

“The elf that runs the place. Here, just come downstairs when you’re ready. I think she has some stuff she wants to talk to us about.”

“Wait, first, why do you sound so much like a kid?”

“Do I?”

“Yeah, like you’re five or six.”

“That’s funny. I guess that’s just how you imagined I’d sound. You sound like, well, you. I’ve heard you talk, so I guess that’s not so crazy.”

“Guess not.” Gabriel paused for a minute while he considered the situation.

“Don’t worry too much about it, I say. We saved the town! Come downstairs and talk to the lady.”

“Yeah, be right there.”

Gabriel came down the flight of stairs very slowly, each hobbling step made the aches in his body pulse to such a degree it made him wish he’d never left his heather bed. His hand on the rail to guide him, he made his way down the spiral wooden stair set and found Flynnt, taking a vageuly humanoid form, lounging in a large ceramic bowl the way one does in a bath too small for their size. Next to him was the elderly elven tavern keeper, sprinkling him with salt out of a smaller bowl a few pinches at a time, which sizzled and sparked to nothing on contact. Gabriel could hear Flynnt’s voice in his mind softly giggling.

“If you’re gonna cook him,” Gabriel announced, addressing the woman, “I’d use some turmeric root and black Scythian salt.”

“Mmhm,” returned the elf. “I’d prefer black Castellean peppercorn. He’s a spicy little fucker, this one.” And at once, Gabriel knew he and the elf would get along famously.

“It tickles!” laughed Flynnt.

Gabriel slowly walked over to the table where the two sat. The room was well lit. Sconces on pillars about the main room gave the space an inviting glow and the fire in the hearth offered it warmth. As his eyes lingered on the flame dancing over the logs, he was reminded of the incident. It came to him in painful flashes: the cackling flames, the screams, the creature…the creature. He pushed the heel of his hand into his eye as if fighting off a migraine.

“Take a seat, hero.”

“Yeah, Flynnt mentioned the town was alright. How much is left?”

“A fair bit, actually,” said the elf, producing a pipe from the folds of her apron with a bit of pipe tobacco. She fitted her pipe, packed down the tobacco and leaned over to the lounging elemental. “Be a dear and give us a light, would you?” Flynnt produced an appendage roughly resembling an arm with a digit roughly resembling a thumb which soon turned to flame. “Ah, you’re a doll. It all went down,” she said now turning back to Gabriel, “about as quickly as it started. There are few like to lose their house and a great many burned, but none that I know of who’ve died.”

“Thank you, before I forget. Thank you for bandaging me and taking care of Flynnt here.”

“Ah, keep it,” she said with a dismissive wave of the hand. “Wasn’t gonna let you die here on my floor and leave your critter here to wither away. You’re the hero of the town and all, even if you’re also the one that started it.” She gazed at him through the haze of the pipe.

“I…” he tried. “I what?”

“Please. This town sees it’s share of nightmares – ghouls, alghouls, ghasts, other undead horrors – but blazes that start out of nowhere? Why, that might take a circus with a magical firedancer in the middle of the dry season to start…oh, wait.”

“Well, when you put it like that it seems rather hard to deny.”

“I thought so. And don’t worry or start up with excuses, your critter here’s already told me the details of what happened.”

Flynnt bobbed up and down affirmatively.

“In any case,” the elderly tavern keeper continued, “you do owe some responsibility for the act of destruction, however unintentional.”

“I would love to, and I mean that wholeheartedly, I don’t exactly make a fortune working as a dancer though, dear.”

“You can piss on your money,” said the old woman with a scoff. “What we need to do is throw some reins on that new found power of yours.”

Gabriel prepared a witty retort by instinct, but holstered it in recognition of his experience with the split tree. “Well then, where do we start?”

“Where else?” She smiled a wry smile at the young firedancer and took deeply of her pipe before parting her lips to vent a great stream of smoke. Through the thick haze, her voice spoke: “At the beginning, ya dippy shit.”

The next several months consisted of long hours in waist-deep snows, lessons in concentration and connection to the surrounding earth, as well as many thousands of hits with Elsa’s favorite switch. Tempered by this crucible, Gabriel’s complaints sharply quit and he was introduced to a principle which had never found its way into his natural habit before: discipline. When she felt he was ready, she bade him take a knee before her one eve.

“If I’m going to be honest with you, I wasn’t entirely certain you’d make it through the winter.”

“I certainly aim to please.”

“It was the bet, wasn’t it?”

“I will have to eat once I leave.”

The old elf softly laughed. She anointed his head with oil from a smoke-eye olive and coated him with the fragrance of frost mirriam. “Rise, Gahliel.”

The former firedancer and circus performer rose, now Gahliel. He wore close-fitting robes of a light sunset orange, tailored for him by his elven mentor, though without sleeves as per the student’s request. With Flynnt’s jar strapped about his back and his meager satchel on his side, he stood ready for a word from his teacher.

“I suppose this calls for some form of ceremony,” groaned Elsa. “Firstly, I had this made in case you happened to make it this far.” She slowly turned and reached behind the rows of bottles that made up the bar and pulled out an elegantly carved walking staff of an smooth gray ironwood, which he accepted. “Secondly, a question. Do you have everything with you?”

“Everything what?”
“Everything you need.”

Gahliel gave a skeptical squint. “I suppose I do.”

“Mmm, then if I can just say it’s been an experience. You and that spicy little fucker do some good out there.” She retrieved from her robes a small cloth bundle and undid the folds to reveal an angled blue stone the size of an egg. The young man gave a tired sigh at the sight of the little cobalt nugget. “Getting rid of me, eh?” he thought.

“Well, it’s been real, Els.” With that, he reached out and touched the stone. In a blinding blue flash, the last sight Gahliel carried with him into the abyss that followed was the affectionate smile of the elderly elven tavern keeper of Neven.

FIN

The Take: Gahliel was always fun because of the penchant for cracking wise (like we saw with Revan), but what really made his endearing was his connection with Flynnt. I know he’s just a bubbling cork most of the time, but Gabriel’s protective attachment to him as well as having him finally emerge as a childish entity that giggles at being salted always felt like a real nice ribbon on top.

Also, little known fact, Gabriel eventually went on to get impregnated by a dragon. D&D gets weird.

Anyway, ta-ta until Thursday!

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!): 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source: https://eandt.theiet.org/content/articles/2009/02/building-on-a-dynasty/

Amwren Origins IV: Tsal Maveth, Host of Bu’ul the Ravager

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

Did you know that the name for “Haagen-Dazs” ice cream was actually created by a Polish Jewish couple who immigrated to the United States in 1921 and made the name up to sound Danish-ish? The more you knooooow!

Anyway, right down to it.

Today’s is the fourth installment in the Amwren Origins series (duh, by the title) and it’s the one that I probably put the most time into. We’ll explore just why that is more fully in The Take (below), but for now, may I present:

Tsal Maveth, Host of Bu’ul the Ravager

Tsal awoke with a gasp. His head pained him terribly and his wrists ached. Turning this way and that, he saw only darkness, as he could feel the cloth of a blindfold covering his eyes. His breathing quickened as his mind searched for answers to his many questions. From what he could tell, keeping himself from panic as best he might, he was chained in some sort of prison with manacles clasped about his wrists. He felt cool, rough stone against his back, and the air was moist and gave him a chill. He noticed the pain in his shoulders and, at the same moment, realized he could move his feet freely, meaning he was suspended by the manacles the held him. Tsal strained his ears, but heard nothing more than a soft drip and his own breathing to break the silence. He tried to think through the pulses of pain and remember how he’d come to be in such a circumstance.

He’d been in his stall back home in Calypso, keeping up his work as a wheelwright, when Dabjorn, his adoptive father had called for him. He remembered setting his tools and rag aside where he’d always set them and left out the cabin’s western door. As he crossed the small homestead where the two lived, he recalled taking note of how low and full the moon was set in the sky. Crossing the threshold of he and Dabjorn’s home, he saw his father sitting by the fireplace with his back to the door.

“Father,” he had said to announce his presence, but the man by the fireplace didn’t stir. Tsal repeated himself as he crossed the room and, with a hand on the man’s shoulder, shook gently to rouse him but yelped with shock as Dabjorn’s head fell limply back to reveal blank, white eyes. Tsal’s heart raced and a hooded figure leaped quickly from the shadows behind him. After that, he awoke here.

The sound of a heavy wooden chamber door interrupted his thoughts. He heard the shuffling of several pairs of feet and, after a soft clattering of chain, collapsed to the ground as his legs suddenly took on his full weight. He opened his mouth to speak, to question his captors or saviors, but was swiftly struck and silenced. While he was dragged through what felt like winding halls and across steep stairs, he heard those that carried him speaking in a tongue he did not recognize. He could tell he was being handled by men, but the language was guttural and sounded as if to come from abyssal, nightmarish creatures. He heard the sound of another heavy door opening, this time into a chamber full of chanting voices. The air grew hot and he was forced onto his knees. His mouth was forcefully opened and stuffed with a cloth gag. There came a flash as his blindfold was gruffly removed and his eyes adjusted to what light there was.

Tsal looked around in a panic to take in his surroundings. He was encompassed on all sides by tall figures in robes of deep red and embroidered black trim. There were perhaps a dozen of them in the room and they wore tall headdresses and dark veils over their faces. Amid the many robed figures that surrounded him, there stood one dressed more elaborately than the others with a skeletal mask on its face in place of a veil like the others. It carried a scroll held tightly to its chest in one hand and a wand of darkened bone in the other, held at its side. The room Tsal was in was actually a small cave, perhaps the size of a tavern’s common room. It was dimly lit by candles of dark wax and, looking up, he saw the ceiling had been made into a mirrored surface. There also was a hole in the cavern’s ceiling that gave a ray of moonlight to a central altar, before which he had been made to kneel; however, it was what adorned the altar that dominated Tsal’s vision and would plague his dreams for years to come.

It was a man also on his knees and restrained with rope about his wrists, his arms outstretched and held wide by those tethers, and a sack over his face. It looked to Tsal as though the man had suffered lengthy torture at the hands of their captors. What rags he wore about his waist were filthy and his exposed body showed bruises, burns, and cuts both deep and shallow. As Tsal looked on in disgust and imagined what sort of methods had caused such harm, two of the robed ones stepped up to the altar and removed his hood. As the man on the altar was revealed, Tsal gave a unintended shriek into his gag. The man looked exactly like him – the same eyes, the same nose, hair color, brow, everything – a perfect likeness, as though looking at his reflection.

The two locked eyes with equal horror and Tsal’s heart began to beat faster and faster until it raced as though meaning to break from his chest. Tsal saw the other man cough in pain with him as he felt himself torn from the crown of his head to the pit of his stomach, an excruciating, ghastly pain that reached his very soul. And so the two stayed for several long moments, feeling their existence wrenched from them, before the masked one barked orders and the other robed figures assembled from the cave’s edges to a circle around the two Tsals, their chanting growing more intense.

The collective voices hummed and reverberated off the cave walls, assaulting and wracking Tsal from all sides. He looked up and the two men once again locked eyes. The pain intensified and they saw one another’s form begin to shift and leave them, each other’s outline swaying from them like a shadow cast from a flickering fire. The droning chants of the collected mages, as now Tsal could only assume they were mages of the occult, hummed steadily on and a deep red glow began to emanate from behind his other self. The figure with the wand once more barked orders in the same infernal tongue and two followers moved to the man on the altar. Together they held a long, sleek dagger which they raised high above the man’s head. One last look was shared between Tsal and his ‘other’ as a third follower approached and forced the man’s head low.

The red glow grew brighter.

The chanting ceased.

The knife found its way driven down the man’s back and into his heart. His body fell limp and lifeless, there came several red flashes that filled the room with a dreadful light, and Tsal felt a force assault his body and fill it as if with hot coals. He wailed with agony and writhed against those that held him. They loosed their grip and he fell to the floor on his back as, internally, he wrestled with this foreign, burning presence. Tsal felt the pain of claws raking him as the chanting returned and he saw his reflection in the ceiling above. Glowing runes of deep black and brilliant ruby were carving themselves onto his torso. When they’d finished and the pattern complete, they covered his body in the fashion as one might where a cross harness. The glyphs on his body soon lost their glow, but the agony remained. His mind dazed from the ritual, the next several minutes Tsal would only ever recall as a panicked blur.

The chanting abruptly halted and the door to the ritual chamber crashed open. Soldiers in decorated plate mail flooded the room, brandishing shields that depicted a golden flame and glistening swords. The skirmish between the two groups was as intense as it was terrible. Bolts of hideous arcane energy cracked the air and cries sounded from those that fell to the sword, with the splatter of gore and gnashing of bone to accompany the screams of both sides. He had no idea how he’d managed to escape the halls during that time of madness, but the next sensation Tsal would remember was the brush of soft grass about his legs and the breeze of cool, midnight air on his arms.

Days later, Tsal wandered the streets of Kolbath, unsure and with no memory of how he came to be there, so many days’ travel from his home. His only thoughts when he tried to recall the days since his capture were of tortured unrest or plaguing, nightmarish dreams. He walked amid the poor and collected himself the best he may, a crescent moon adorning the high sky, when he heard the muffled cries of a young woman. Following the sound, he came across a woman being battered by a stumbling man that stank of sour ale. A finger to his lips signaled at the maiden, he crept up being her assailant and, finding a loose brick in the wall to his right, struck him.

The drunk fell to the ground, motionless. Tsal moved to drop the brick, but found himself strangely unable to. Rather, he held it in hand and, staring at the man’s chest rise and fall with unconscious breath, felt a strange anger begin to churn in his belly. He gripped the brick tight, dropped to a knee, and began to strike the prone form again and again well after the man had stopped twitching. Tsal looked up from the fresh corpse and, looking the frightened woman in the eyes, felt the foreign rage subside as they locked gazes. The woman’s expression slowly lost its edge of shock and fear and became one of a strange softness and allure. He dropped the brick and approached her.

“And what is your name, m’lady?” His words’ sound was sweet to ear, but held an acrid taste.

“Lydia,” she replied with a coy smile.

He gripped her gently by the waist, pulled her close, and intimately they knew one another.

“It’s a late hour that finds you here, m’lord. What can I get you? Look to me like you could use a drink and a bed.”

“Stiff drink, soft bed,” Tsal replied. He tossed a pouch of coin onto the bar.

“Very good, sir. The key. And that drink’ll be with you shortly.”

Tsal found the batterer from the alleyway hadn’t much on him once he’d sent the young lass on her way, but there’d been petty coin enough for a drink and a room for the night at the Hewn Heart, a local tavern and brothel. Tsal felt he didn’t like the innkeeper very much. He didn’t quite know why, he’d known plenty a man like him back home in Calypso, but tonight the man’s features annoyed him. His balding head, pockmarked face, clammy complexion, and unkempt beard all repulsed him very much. He took his drink and key and moved to a table across the way, far from the innkeeper. At that time, a man in lavender robes entered the tavern, seeming to look around the room rather frantically. Tsal was just lifting his mug to his lips when the robed one laid eyes on him and swiftly approached.

“Are you Tsal Maveth?” he asked, breathing hard.

“And who wants to know, pretty boy?” Again, the words that came were not his own.

“My name is not for you to know,” he said, pointedly, “but I come on behalf of my master and the Order of Bokonon. I come to you on purpose of summons, as you are called for a matter of great importance.”

“Right,” sighed Tsal, intent on moving tables, “I think you have the wrong guy.”

As Tsal made to stand, the man in lavender robes waved his hand briskly through the air and Tsal felt his muscles tense, unable to move. The priest gave a sad sigh.

“I see that I was too late. I’m sorry, friend, that I could not find you before…well, before this.” He reached into a fold in his robe and produced a pendant on a thin silver chain. The jewel set in the necklace was a deep colored amethyst and when the priest laid it on Tsal it gave a soft flash. Immediately, Tsal gave a deep, desperate gasp and fell forward, clawing at the table. Other patrons, as well as the innkeeper, looked across the room at the commotion, but with a look and a hand from the lavender priest, they each went back to their own business. Tsal continued breathing hard, but this time with thanks, not struggle. He looked down at the pendant and saw it now held a soft glow, and deep within it something stirred, like a mass swimming on the bottom of a murky lake.

“Th-thank you,” Tsal stuttered. “What did you do?”

The priest seemed to give a soft sigh of relief. “It will ease your struggle, but I’m afraid it won’t remove it of you. For that, I’m sorry as I was too late. It will, however, protect you from their sight.”

“From what?”

“We have been watching you, Tsal Maveth. I’m aware of your ordeals of late. You-…we are very fortunate that you escaped, but I’m afraid so did a handful of your captors. When they finish licking their wounds, they are sure to pursue you.”

“Pursue me? Why? I haven’t done anything to them. I haven’t done anything to anybody! Why would they want me?”

“You’re a foreigner in these lands, friend, and a very valuable one at that.”

“I’ve been to Kolbath before. I know people here and my homestead’s only a few days ride-”

The lavender priest gave a soft, sad smile and a shake of the head.

“In the days to come, you will come to know my meaning. You sought a place in your world from your first steps. Now, you will feel that ever more strongly in this life.” The priest searched Tsal’s expression and his confusion before continuing. “There is much to explain, and understanding your new place takes more time than we may afford. You must come with me to my order, in Tallin. Here, for supplies,” the priest offered him a small pouch that clinked with coin. “Rest tonight, and we must leave with the rising of the sun.”

Desperately confused but with little other recourse, Tsal acted as he was bid. In the morning, the two supplied and made ready for the two day journey to Tallin. While Tsal had many questions that longed for answers, their march was a largely silent one. Though, as they walked, something changed with Tsal. As he looked at the roads they walked, the fields and people they would pass, there came a sensation that would not leave him. Everyone he passed felt like a stranger, whether he would know their face or not. The land he walked, though familiar to him from travels past, felt foreign and may as well have been the Scythian tundra. The longing for answers, he knew, would eventually drive him to madness.

After a few days of walking and meditation with the priest, the crested a hill in the road and Tallin lay before them, the City of Temples.

FIN

The Take: I always really liked this one. Life wasn’t kind enough to let it play out quite as imagined in the actual, living campaign, but it stayed a favorite anyway. Prepare yourself for some woo-woo, because the main idea at work was this:
Tsal had been kidnapped by a group of blood mages from a parallel plane, stolen from his home plane to theirs. Their goal was to abduct a vessel from another plane because that person’s substance would be…loose, in a foreign plane compared to someone who is existing on their home world – kind of like the separation from one’s home plane leaves microscopic cracks in the fabric of their being, cracks that a summoned demon could then fill (like water filling a sponge).
From there, they proceeded to take him to face his alternate self who was of that world and ritualistically sacrifice that Tsal, since the same being cannot existence twice in the same time and place, and therefore binding Tsal Our Hero to this foreign plan.
That’s why the ritual plays out as it does, as well, explains Tsal’s uncharacteristic behavior when first in Kolbath.

Anyway, I know this one was dense, and while I don’t expect it, I rigorously welcome any hardcore fantasy nerds to comment, message, or email me with questions or comments. And if you missed any of the previous chronicles of the Amwren Origins series and wanna get caught up, I encourage you to spend some time and meet Revan, Cerlina, and Aldis. We’re nearly there to having the whole gang together!

Otherwise, I catch you all Thursday. Ciao!

Interested in more? Like knee-slappers and chin-scratchers? Check out my first published work in the Third Flatiron’s “Hidden Histories” anthology here (and tell ’em Evan sent ya!): 
https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07PRN5ZQ1

Today’s FableFact source:  https://www.atlasobscura.com/articles/haagen-dazs-fake-foreign-branding?utm_source=reddit.com