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

Amwren Origins III: Aldis, Hunter of the Scarlet Pact

Happy Tuesday everybody!

Did you know that the Issus coleoptratus is the only known insect on the planet that has gear-like joints? They synchronize its joints for even jumps. Neat.

…yup. Don’t have much more of a cheeky intro than that, so let’s dive on in.

Today’s is another installment of the Amwren Origins series, introducing Aldis, this time. Perhaps the group’s most somber character – though certainly well within his reasons – I always liked him for the way he kept his compass straight, if that makes sense.

Oh! And bonus points if you can spot the homage to Kurt Vonnegut running through all these.

Anyway, may I present:

Aldis, Hunter of the Scarlet Pact

Aldis spent his younger years in the small, unremarkable town of Zylast. His childhood days were passed avoiding chores brought to him by his mother and father. Instead he chased the caravans that would come through on their way to Faraday or the bands of fighting hopefuls off to the desolate lands beyond Neven. As he watched, his mind would fill with dreams of his own adventures: the monsters he would slay, the duties he might perform, the women his tales would woo. Years of these thoughts aged him restlessly, and he grew eager to make them real. A few moons after his seventeenth birthday, he stole away into the night with naught but his clothes, the spear his grandfather had gifted him, and a farewell whispered to his sleeping sister, Talia.

The road to Stettin was straight and relatively safe, but stretched far. After weeks spent connecting with caravans headed in the same direction and foraging for what food he could not barter for, he crested a small hill to see the capital city’s walls on the horizon. Making camp, he new that defining days lay upon his near future.

Through the outer villages and eventually the towering city gates, he parted from the caravan with whom he’d arrived and sought out to earn his stay within the walls. The size of the walls, crowds, and deafening noise overwhelmed him at first, but he soon grew to quite like the buzz that the city offered. Knowing his goal, he searched for the city’s recruitment office and barracks of the capital guard. When he approached, he was laughed away by what soldiers were present and waved away by the attending officer. Sullen and dejected, but no less determined, Aldis found himself in the dark, unlit streets of the Stettin Warrens.

From his left, he heard a small clatter, and as he tensed, a figure leaped out at him from his right. A club struck him in the shoulder from the right and he felt the piercing pain of a dagger to his left thigh from his flanked side. Surprised and frantic, he thrashed with his arm and caught the knife-wielding figure on the chin with his elbow as the other man made for his head once more with the club. Aldis barely deflected the strike with the butt of his spear and spun around as he had practiced back home. Now facing his assailants, he was slowly backing away down the alley. They poised to attack again. Aldis turned and ran down a side alleyway.

Dodging under beams and leaping over refuse, he ran with his pursuers hotly behind him. His foot caught the edge of a hole in the cobbled road and he was sent into a tumble. On the ground, he turned around as the knife-wielding man leaped at him. Aldis closed his eyes and screamed, expecting to feel a sharp sting to the chest. What he felt instead was a warm spatter of viscous fluid across his cheeks. He opened his eyes to see the man with the knife, mouth agape, shocked, and slowly dying on the end of his upraised spear. As the man fell to the side, Aldis saw the other man standing in the street, looking on as his friend lay there dead. Slowly, he peddled back then turned to run away, apparently determined not to meet the same fate. Aldis breathed a sigh of relief that was cut short when he heard a voice not ten paces behind him.

“Well done,” it said, the speaker behind a veil of shadow.

“What do you want?” shouted Aldis, expecting more trouble.

“Me? Nothing. The question might be, though, what is it you’re looking for?”

“Listen, I don’t want anymore trouble here.” Aldis stood up and braced his spear. The man speaking to him was dressed in scale mail that shimmered against the moonlight, but his face remained hidden.

“That kind of attitude might mean you’re in the wrong part of town.” The man stepped forward so Aldis could now see him. He was tall and may have at one time been handsome, but had clearly seen years of conflict and weathered many adventures as his visage was now marred and rough. “But, you show promise. How’d you like to learn to use that thing?”

Aldis breathed slowly and, after several long moments’ silence, gave a soft nod.

Aldis’s first days at the Fighters’ Guild in Stettin were difficult, but justly rewarding. There, he worked hard under the tutelage of the man who’d found him, whose name, Aldis learned, was Hommin. He worked for his keep, scrubbing the dishes the fighters used, assisting the guild hall servants, working to maintain the guild members’ practice gear, and polishing the warriors’ weapons and armor. In return, he was taught the rudimentary lessons in movement, placement of one’s self in a fight, sizing up one’s opponent and analyzing them for weaknesses to exploit as well as strengths to be wary of. He learned to use his spear and weapons of its like, how to fit and dress one’s self in armor, and how to attend to wounds to some degree.

After some months spent in this manner, Hommin approached Aldis and told him to gather his things, saying that his days at the Guild were over. Hommin quieted his Aldis’s protests and as the young man was stepping out the door, his mentor caught him by the shoulder with a powerful hand.

“Where am I even supposed to go?” Aldis objected, fervently still.

“Go back to the recruitment office.”

“They wouldn’t take me!”
“They will now.” Hommin handed Aldis a rolled up piece of paper with the seal of twin swords across a rook tower, of the Stettin Fighters’ Guild.

Aldis walked the streets of Stettin, now on patrol for the city’s Honor Guard as an apprentice. He accompanied two pledged members and he felt a little out of sorts as his armor was brigandine under the light robes and the badge on his chest that marked a trainee, while the armor of pledged guards was a shimmering plate mail. They walked the streets, keeping order where it was needed, and as these days wore on, Aldis became quite accustomed to the unexpected as the matters of the job presented him with all manner of strange goings on – fights, brawls, drunks, occasional small riots, missing persons reports, even reported sightings of monsters and illegal wizards.

This experience could not steel him for the arrival of his sister, however, late one evening. He sat at a table in one of the Market District’s taverns that catered to the guard, The Bronze Toad, when she came through the door.

“Talia?” Aldis exclaimed, nearly covering himself in ale he coughed out his nose.

“Hello, brother.” Her voice was soft as heather and her smile was wide upon seeing her estranged sibling.

The two sat and spoke to the late hours over what he’d done since coming to the city, what their family had done in his absence, and, of course, what she was doing there.

“I’m pregnant,” she explained, “and soon to be married to Patryck. You remember him, from the Feishod farm? Ah, no matter at all. Anyway, I’m here with father to meet with an associate of mother’s to see about a wedding dress. Can you imagine? From a tailor!”

“Let me go with you! I’ll ask to make it a part of my patrol tomorrow. Not every day you come around, after all.”

“It might be. Patryck’s pursuing an apprenticeship under a master cobbler near here in Market Square. We’ll be close again.”

With that, each smiled and agreed to meet the next day at high sun in front of the shoemaker’s building.

“What do you mean, ‘nothing to be done’?” Aldis screamed. “We have to catch the fucking whoreson that did this! We have to find him and catch him! Kill him! We can’t let him get away with this!”

Aldis knelt beside the limp, mutilated body of his sister. It was the early morn, and her body was reportedly discovered not an hour ago. Dark dried blood ran from her still eyes and the corners of her mouth. There was a deep depression in her chest, a sign of a ritualistically removed heart, as well as dark tracks along her arms and neck which indicated she’d been subjected to chemical or magical paralytics. Most horrifically grotesque of all, though, was the viscera that ran from between her legs into the street. It was apparent to the examining officer present, as he would explain to Aldis and the other guards at the scene, that the goal of her attackers was the attainment of the unborn child she had carried; towards what purpose, he couldn’t say, but the work was indicative of skilled Blood Mages.

“So we do nothing?” Aldis exclaimed, standing. “This man or group of men are a menace and they have to be dealt with!”

“That’s not your call to make, boy,” reprimanded his accompanying guard.

“He’s right,” continued the officer. “Blood Mages are a dangerous ordeal, true, but from this it seems they’re targeting pregnant women, which is a far cry from a wide set crisis. Their target group is a small, temporary minority, and a harvest like this will keep them and their work busy for some months. It’s better that we not address this immediately while we have the time to do so.”

“We do nothing,” repeated Aldis solemnly.

“I’m afraid so.”

Aldis looked down once more at Talia and knelt beside her again. He looked to her neck and saw the opal necklace he’d given her when they were children. He’d found the stone at the bottom of a small river and thought of no better purpose for it. He’d almost drowned getting her that damned stone. He took it from her now and closed her eyes. With it, he turned his back and walked away.

“Where do you think you’re going?” called one of the guards.

“Let him go,” calmed the officer. “He’ll come back when he’s ready.”

Aldis would not return to Stettin’s walls. If those blind, pig-headed fools in the guard won’t do anything about an atrocity like that, he thought, then he would.

For months, Aldis traveled the countryside. He hunted names and chased rumors that had anything, even remotely, in line with the arcane nature of what had befallen his sister. One night, while in a tavern in the town of White Tower, he drank away his frustration as his most recent trail had gone cold. The doors to the establishment opened and a man walked in, dressed in robes of light lavender. The man approached Aldis and, without so much as a word, extended a hand offering a rolled piece of parchment with a seal that held an emblazoned ‘B’. While confused, Aldis cautiously accepted the parchment and the man, giving a warm smile, turned and left the building. The parchment sat on the table for a long moment before it was opened.

The note was addressed to Aldis personally by a man named Alistair, of the Order of Bokonon in Tallin. The parchment offered him details of his own recent life, from his training in Stettin to the murder of his sister, as well as his investigations since then. It warned of a matter of great importance coming to the world and his role to play in it. As a measure of good faith, the letter bore a name and promised it meaning in his search: Morvanna.

Without hesitation, the next morning, Aldis rose with the sun and traveled due west to the city of Tallin, the City of Temples.

FIN

The Take: Looking back on this one was cool, if strange. Since it was meant as a backstory for a D&D character, it was already pretty detail-rich for what it was. Given what he has happen, though, it would have been pretty well served in a longer form; especially the confrontation with the officer towards the end. The guard has a pretty calloused reasoning for handling the situation the way they are, and while they rationalize it, Aldis doesn’t accept it. Call it naive, call it moral or emotional, it’s a revenge story at its most classic.

See ya 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://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/this-insect-has-the-only-mechanical-gears-ever-found-in-nature-6480908/

Amwren Origins II: Cerlina, Voice of the Dawn

Sweet Tuesday evening to you, everybody!

Did you know that upwards of 150 wallabies roam the wild forests near Paris due to a jailbreak zoo-escape in the 70’s? Definitely in the running for most adorable jailbreak in history

Hopping straight into it, tonight’s tale is another of the Amwren Origins series. This one introduces Cerlina, a young half-elven girl, born into poverty and strife, but she holds her head high through it all and emerges as something…different.

Also, if you’re sensitive to foul language and racist attitudes…I mean, maybe just read over those parts.

(And in case you missed it, check out Revan’s origin story here:
https://thelightofday.blog/2019/04/30/amwren-origins-i-revan-of-the-crossroads/)

May I present:

Cerlina, Student of the Dawn

Born to an elven mother and a father unknown, Cerlina spent her early years enduring the cold gazes of man and elf alike. She and her mother, a woman fit of body but of waning mind, lived with Cerlina’s aunt, Maydene, in a communal living circle on the outskirts of the small town of Zylast. The circle was primarily composed of elderly women and their husbands who were, like Maydene, though a widow, practiced spinsters and herbalists. Cerlina’s childhood was but a glimpse as at age six, old enough to carry a pail, she worked tirelessly about the community, doing chores that the elderly could not and caring for her mother to the best of her ability.

This was the life she knew until her early teenage years when there came an unusually harsh winter. The cold air bit one’s skin, killed what few crops could manage the earth, and even hearth fires faltered, lashed by the chill. Inspired by the danger it proved to the old and frail, Cerlina made the march to Lomas, two day’s journey with a caravan, and appealed to the local baron. Despite his people’s stores of plenty, the man haughtily denied Cerlina’s call for aid and dismissed the poor peasant girl. That night, she found herself wandering the paved Lomas streets, kneading in her mind how she would word her disappointment to her aunt and her mother.

“Hey, half-breed!” she heard called out from a group of boys by the town’s central well. “Oi! You ‘ear me? I called to ya, ye prick-ear’d bitch!”

Resolute not to provoke any conflict or to make a scene, knowing Fenrici prejudices against elven kind, Cerlina quickened her pace. She soon heard several pairs of shoes smacking the ground behind her in pursuit and so she broke into full flight. She rounded a corner and squeezed down a tight alleyway, leaping over piles of refuse and sidestepping stray beams. She broke out the other side as footfalls echoed off the walls behind her. Making the mistake to look back, Cerlina’s breath escaped her as she was tackled from her blindside. From there, her memory of the clash was blurred.

The sound of approaching shoes.

The cold, stone street against her cheek.

The taste of blood in her mouth.

The next clear memory Cerlina had left her always with a strange blend of gnawing regret and anxious pride. She looked down after the frantic scramble at three boys laying in the street, bloodied and moaning, while two others fled so quickly the wind removed their hats and neither stopped to catch it. “Animal! Bloody she-devil!” they called behind them as they ran. Cerlina suppressed an embarrassed smile and looked back to the squirming bullies. The flash of a ring caught her eye and her pride turned to fear. She recognized the crest as the Halwin family sigil, the ruling family in Lomas. Fearing reprisal and punishment, Cerlina couldn’t wait until the morning caravan and instead set immediately to the dark night road alone, to Zylast. In two day’s time, she sat by the fire with her aunt and mother, relaying the news of the unhelpful baron.

“Well,” sighed Maydene after a long moment’s pause, “it may be time, if only too soon, to recognize what we must do.”

“I’m confused, Aunt May,” Cerlina said softly. “We already appealed in Lomas, the wood’s running out and our axe is broken. At this rate…”

“We won’t last the winter, I know, dear. We’ll be fine.” She smiled sweetly and looked into Cerlina’s eyes for a long moment before continuing. “What I was talking about was you. We planned this quite some time ago, but we wanted you to grow and, well, we still needed the help. But now is as good a time as any, and when opportunity knocks, you don’t turn her away. Those bruises you came home with are evidence enough that you’re ready.”

“I still don’t know what you’re-”

“We’re giving you to the temple of Idun, dear. Perhaps there, you might learn the healing arts, escape this life, and maybe one day…” Maydene’s voice trailed as her eyes moved to her sister sitting voicelessly by the fire. “Well, one day you might find us again and show us all what you’ve learned.”

Against her initial protests, Cerlina was taken to Tallin, the City of Temples. Once there, she was greeted by the head priestess with a knowing smile and quickly inducted into the order. Her beginning weeks were full of learning. She was set to rigorous study under the head priestess herself, Ana Salde, and in that time she spent long hours in the central cloister learning the basics in the proper use of herbs, natural remedies, and the rudimentary beginnings of spellcraft; though it was not to last.

After three weeks with the priestesses of Idun, Cerlina lay in her room, modestly furnished with only a small cot to sleep, a candlelit desk, and small stool, looking out her window at the passing clouds. Her wandering thoughts were interrupted by calls of commotion and protest from the cloister. She moved to investigate the sounds but was met by three armed men at her door as her feet touched the stone floor.

“Ah, there you are,” spoke the first, his comrades behind him holding back Cerlina’s classmates. “Took us a lil’ long to find you. Now,” he produced a scroll and read from it with mock elegance. “Under the authority of Lord Hammel Halwin his’self, Baron of Lomas, we’re to bring you in for the mistreatment of Lord Halwin’s firstborn heir, Ulfric Halwin.” The man rolled the scroll back up and smiled at her nastily. After a long moment’s pause, Cerlina quieted her peers and accompanied the soldiers with no more than a scornful frown.

Four years and untold lashings later, Cerlina sat in the corner of her cell. She was listening to the soft, familiar drip coming from a crack in her ceiling when she heard the clack of approaching boots. She slowly rose and stood up straight with her chin high. The years had been hard, but it had been a test for the resolve her aunt had taught her. “Don’t forget where you come from, child,” Aunt May had instructed. “People will scorn you, mock you, try to hurt you for your lineage. Never, never fall prey to their low thinking.” The jailer rattled his keys in search of the correct one and, upon finding it, opened the heavy door with the dull thud and grind of iron.

“Today’s your lucky day, little fairy. Free to go. Go’on, get out.”

Cerlina said nothing. Eyes closed, she emptied her lungs and then filled them with a strong breath before gracefully stepping forward and out of her cell. Her footsteps fell silently as she walked the hall toward the exit.

“What the…” muttered the jailer as he inspected the inside of the cell. What had been at one time a small, featureless, stone cell now had a bed of thick moss and was framed by a modest hanging gardens with bulbs in the beginning stages of bloom, all lush green despite there being no sunlight.

“Fucking elves.”

Cerlina sat in the shade of a grove on the outskirts of the city. She held in her lap the belongings she received upon leaving the prison, and among them was a package of letters. They were dated through the years of her stay. The first was a pardon from Lord Halwin for the “mistreatment” of his heir. She scoffed to herself and folded it behind the others. The rest were from her family in Zylast. In them, she read of her relatives’ lament for what had become of her, the close of the harsh winter which had taken her there, the success and failure of crops, various celebrations that had been held in town, as well as other general news.

As she read, kissed by the gentle southern breeze, Cerlina would smile, laugh at tales told by the page, until finally she came to the last letter, dated by eight months. It told of her once-widowed aunt remarrying a well-off man from a far away land whom her healing herbs had saved from sickness, stating his wishes that she and those close to her move with him to the city of Hallendren.

While she wished with all her heart the best for her aunt, Cerlina could not deny the pang of loss that she felt and of renewed loneliness, even now free from her cell. She made her way home to the community where she’d lived and toiled, finding her aunt’s now vacant cabin. Inspecting the outside of the cottage, it seemed everything was in place and as she remembered it.

“There were looters,” said one of her neighbors, a beanpole of a man whom Cerlina recognized as one of the younger husbands in the circle. “But we chased ’em off. We figured you was comin’ back some day and, well, wouldn’t feel right to let it happen. All you’s done for us, that is.”

“Thank you,” Cerlina replied sincerely, a soft smile adorning her lips.

The man bunched up his lips and offered an embarrassed nod before resuming his work.

She laid her hand on the door’s handle and left it there for a lingering moment before finally pulling it open. The inside of the cottage was not as she’d expected it. All the furniture and family possessions were as they were when she’d left, but beyond that, the cottage felt lived in, not abandoned. There was a fire in the hearth and she was surprised she hadn’t noticed smoke from the chimney. Her eyes eventually fell upon her mother’s chair and she gasped silently.

“You there,” she announced. “What are you doing here?”

The man stirred, as if from a gentle nap.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he yawned looking over his shoulder at her. “I had wished to be awake and ready to receive you but it appears I dosed off.”

“What are you doing in my home?” she repeated.

“Looking after her, of course.” He stood and now Cerlina saw that he was not a vagrant but some manner of priest, as indicated by his lavender robes. As she came slowly closer, she heard the scratching of dull claws on the wooden floor and she saw a large dog rising also to its feet. “She came here seeking shelter once your family had gone. I thought it only right to take care of her until you returned.”

“No, wait. How did you know I was coming back, or even gone, for that matter? Who are you?”

He smiled warmly. “I am from the Order of Bokonon, in Tallin. That is who I am and why I know you, Cerlina. I trust Ana prepared you properly, despite your time with those of Idun being short?”

“Are you why I was accepted?”

He gave a soft nod. “We did so because you’re needed, Cerlina.”

“Needed for what?”

“There is coming a time of great strife, a time you’re to play a role in guiding. Come to the Temple of Bokonon in a week’s time at dusk.” With that, he nodded and moved gently by her to the door. “Please, gather what you need and I hope to see you then.”

“Wait,” she called.

He stopped.

“What about your dog?”

“Her? She isn’t mine.”

“But,” Cerlina looked down to the dog who was looking back at her with large, gentle eyes. “Then who does she belong to?” she asked, but when she returned her gaze to the man in lavender, he was gone.

“Well,” she sighed to herself, looking to the dog again. “What do we call you, hmm?”

The dog cocked her head to Cerlina’s words and barked.

“What about ‘Alma’?”

She clacked her paws against the wooden floor and wagged her tail.

“Great! Alma it is, then.”

Cerlina and Alma spent one more night in the house they’d both known to call home and, rising with the morning sun, gathered what provisions they each might need. Together, they put step to path and journeyed out, returning to the City of Temples.

FIN

The Take: Much like Revan, I really like Cerlina. She’s born into a pretty crappy hand of cards, but uses what she’s given to the best of her ability, does what needs to be done, and doesn’t complain while enduring the world’s prejudices. Even though she’s treated unfairly, she doesn’t mire in that. She’s hardened, but she isn’t stern – a virtue I think resonates with a lot of us, because it’s such a difficult balance to strike: strong enough to steel against hardship, but not so jaded by that one’s guard never lowers.
Also like with Revan’s story, you might notice some similarities. They both start a little impoverished and they both also wind up speaking to a man in lavender robes – that’s a theme that will continue through the origin stories; albeit, in various forms and for various reasons.

Anyway, see ya 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://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/worldnews/europe/france/11763787/Up-to-150-wallabies-living-wild-near-Paris-in-Rambouillet-forest.html

Amwren Origins I : “Revan, of the Crossroads”

Happy Tuesday, everybody!

Did you know that some Chinese police stations deploy guard geese instead of guard dogs? I guess remember that next time you spy a gaggle at the park.

In my heart, I’m a fantasy nerd first and foremost – that means I’ll take enchanted swords over lightsabers, fireballs over laser beams, and spellbinding elixirs over chemical compounds. Which is why I find it kinda funny that, to date, the stories I’ve successfully sold have been, in order, an historical fiction and a speculative horror (coming soon, NIGHTLIGHT podcast, get ready!).

So, stemming from that love as it should, naturally I ran a D&D campaign (questionably) for a couple of years. Today’s tale is the origin story of one of the players’ character concepts: an orphaned street rat with a curious mentor that helped him nurture his adventurer skills. Bravo!

May I present:

“Revan, of the Crossroads”

“Catch him, dammit! Catch him!”

Revan smiled as he darted down the alleyway. Diving over piles of refuse and sliding under a fallen beam, he looked back to see the angry merchant stumbling to the ground in failed pursuit. He loosed a proud snicker but stopped short to see a patrol of town guard entering the other end of the narrow path with clubs in hand. Wasting neither momentum nor thought, the young elf deftly leapt to his right, planting a step on the wall by the closest guard’s shoulder and vaulting to a low roof on his left. Three quick, bounding paces and he was lowering himself to the street once more on the building’s other side. Revan closed his eyes and took a quick breath as voices approached the alley fence on his right. He locked eyes with the guard between the fence boards.

“Hold right there, you thievin’ rat!” the guard commanded.

Looking shaken, Revan held his hands up and slowly reached into his tunic to retrieve what he had stolen. From it, he produced not the illegally procured item in question, but his own middle finger, which he showed the guardsman with jovial fervor.

“I’ll have your hide you dirty…”, was as much of the guards’ howling that reached Revan’s ears during his fair escape. Being Market Day as it was, he was easily lost in the crowds that pervaded the bazaar stalls of Faraday. At the far end, he stood atop a barrel between the tents of a seller of trinkets and a local apple farmer scanning the fringes of the crowd. A few moments later, he saw the band of guards appear from around the lane corner, breathless and red-faced, throwing their clubs to the ground in frustration. Good thing those plebs can’t run for shit, Revan thought as he dismounted the barrel and was lost amid the alley shadows.

“Oh yes,” said the seller of trinkets to a young woman that had approached his tent. “I have a fine array of bracelets that would fit a lovely maid wonderfully, but for you I’ve just the one. Ah, well now. Um, damn. I beg your pardon, I seem to have misplaced it.”

Revan half-danced as he jauntily strode along to the sounds of the Market Day minstrels. He took one final crunch of his apple and tossed it to the ground beside a small ant hill. Eat up, fellas, he thought as he held his wrist up and admired his new bracelet. It was a twisted rope and leather band set with small non-precious stones. Still though, it was nice. The sounds of music faded more and more into the distance as he made his way to the outer edge of town and the caravan park. He skipped between the wagons and carts, dodging the odd pile of horse shit here and there, until he found the one he was looking for (wagon, not horse poo).

A young woman in her early twenties with fair hair and rich brown eyes sat on the bench of her wagon with its reigns in her lap. She sat with her back to the green painted wood of the covered wagon looking with tired eyes over the rest of the caravan park. Many of those in the area were guards keeping watchful eyes on their claimed spaces or merchants who, like she had, arrived too late to set up a proper stand in the full market. She was just convincing herself to get to work when her wagon shifted with an added weight. “Hello, Revan,” she said without looking.

“How did you know it was me?” he asked from the wagon’s roof.

“You’re not as sneaky as you think you are.”

“Oh, I think I am. How was the road, Nora?”

“Hot, dusty, full of shit. Nobody woke me. I only arrived a short while ago.”

“Ah, that’s crap. Almaran with you, or he snooze too much too?”

“Haven’t seen him just yet. But he should be here soon.”

“Mind if I wait with you?” His lied down and let his head hang over the side, his long hair hanging like a horse’s tail.

“You can wait, I need to go set up. Just keep an eye on the wagon for me.”

“Oh! Here, take this with you, so the day’s not a total bust.”

“Hmm, this is pretty Revan, thank you. Where’d you get it? Are these rubies?”

“The market and probably not. Now go on, get! People need potions and things and, well, whatever else it is you do.”

“I’m an enchantress, dear,” she said with a sarcastic flutter of her eyelashes.

“And I am a prince,” replied Revan regally.

“Oh fuck off.”

So in the meantime, Revan lay on top of the covered green wagon, twiddling his thumbs and playing games in his mind with the clouds that passed overhead.

The wolf, the maiden, the toad, he called them out as they shifted with the wind. The toad became a…snake…or a duck and…went up the maiden’s dress. And the wolf, oh the wolf got fat…and ate the maiden…no, humped the maid. No, yeah, ate the maid. And they became…one, big…cloud. Where the hell is Almaran, the old tit!

*

Having been born poor and orphaned at a young age, he’d had no family business to assume or apprentice under nor the albeit rare opportunity for education of any kind; and so, Revan had learned to make his living as a light-fingered street urchin. Almaran, as Revan had come to know him, was a traveling arcanist and storyteller whom the young elf had met as a child.

One evening making his rounds about the market stalls and purses of through-wandering travelers, he noticed a new face with a crowd of other children about him, enlightening and emboldening them with strange tales and gestures. Sparks flew from his fingers as he spoke of the ancient, mystic fey wilds; glyphs and sigils danced in the air in colorful patterns as he told the ways of the wizard; and fierce, kaleidoscopic flames sprang high into the air with the tales of elder dragons. As Revan approached the mob of children, he was invited by the kindly old man onto his humble, carpeted stage to help reenact the Tale of Two Dragons.

The bond between the two quickly formed and throughout the years as Revan grew, Almaran would visit on his passage through the caravan town. Through his stories, Revan heard tales of famous swashbucklers, legendary archers, cunning rogues, and dashing explorers. In the time between visits from the old man, Revan put these tales to practice and began to emulate them to the best of his ability, impressing his mentor always upon his return.

*

While he mused, the sun had parched the skin on Revan’s forehead, accustomed to the shadows of the night or the shade of wavy bangs as it were. Sunburns peel something awful, he thought. I bet Nora has something for that sort of thing, being an “enchantress” and all.

With the impulse, he rolled off the side of the wagon, landed with the grace of a cat, and opened the back latch on Nora’s wagon. Inside he found crates and cupboards of all sizes and odd shapes containing a myriad of strangely colored jars, vials, flasks, jugs, bottles, and pouches. The colorful array of elixirs was matched in its visual impression only by the powerful odor that emanated from so many alchemical mixtures so closely packaged – smelling much like a spice shop that was home to a giant wet fish. Truly unsure which vessel contained the ointment which would sooth him, Revan started on his left and reached for a short cylindrical jar. He struggled with the tight lid for a frustrating moment before he felt the lid pop and the seal crack. Inside was a paste of deep blue, the thick fumes of which swiftly and somehow gently placed Revan face first in the dirt, quite unconscious.

The young elf awoke several hours later, his forehead no longer of primary concern as he groaned his way to consciousness and nursed his bloodied nose.

“Quite a fine tumble you took,” called a gentle voice. “Looks to me to be Athelas extract, well spoiled now so long exposed to air. In doses, it heals aches and its leaves can be smoked to sooth anxiety. Ho-ho! Though, that batch appears quite concentrated!”

Revan looked over his shoulder to locate the source and saw a man, his face hidden by the wide brim of the hat he wore, dressed in long lavender robes and driving two donkeys pulling a covered wagon painted a happy mustard yellow. “Almaran!” called the young elf with a smile. “About damn time you made it. What was the hold up?”

“Ah well,” came the mature, gentle voice of Almaran, “I was held up along the road by a poor fool who’d driven his cart into a tree. Service to one’s fellow man and so forth.”

“That took you all day?”

“Ah, um, well no. But turned out the man was suitably versed in Robes and, well, you know how much I do enjoy a game or two.”

“Or several, apparently. In any case, how did the road fare for you?”

After a deep breath, the robed one lifted his head and said, “Uneventful, besides,” and it was now that Revan saw not the soft, rounded features of the face of the man known as Almaran, but the sharp jaw, high cheek bones, slight nose, and bright eyes of a young man in his middle years. “Yes? You look surprised, my boy.”

“Well that’s because I am, a bit,” Revan admitted. The magician had, many times before, demonstrated illusory antics for the sake of his storytelling. “This a new character you’re trying on?”

“In a manner of speaking, but I’ve not brought riddles and tales for you this time.”

“Ah, what’s it, then?”

“Direction.”

Revan stared gormlessly at the man known as Almaran, the light of the wagon’s lantern reflecting in his sharp, elven eyes, his brow ever slightly furrowed in contemplation.

“What?”

“Oh gods,” sighed the wizard. “To speak simply, you’ve outgrown this town, Revan. You’re ready for bigger things and brighter horizons. And moreover, you’re ready for the greatness those travels will bring you. Ready yourself as you may, but by Market’s end, make your way for Tallin. There, you will meet-”

“Why’s your face different?”

“What?”

“Why’s your face all…different?”

“Really?”

Revan shrugged. “Yeah.”

“Magic.”

“Oh.”

“May I go on?”

“Sure.”

“Well, yes. Um, right. Go to Tallin, seek the Temple of Bokonon and begin your way.” The wizard smiled.

“My way where?”

The wizard’s smile dropped. “Have you listened to any-”

“Yes, yes, yes,” Revan dismissed with a wave of his hand. “Go to Tallin find the Temple of Bollocks for some such. Sure.”

“Bokonon.”

“Right.”

“Well,” began the wizard, straightening his robes and composure. “That was about a difficult as I’d thought it might be, though for different reasons.”

The young rogue gave a cheeky smile. “You know me. Oh! I got you something.” Revan’s hand disappeared into his tunic and returned holding a small parcel wrapped in brown cloth and twine. “Do you know what this is?”

“Looks to me to be a phallic effigy of some sort.”

“Close!” Revan cheered, not fully grasping Almaran’s vocabulary.

“Ah,” the wizard worried aloud as he unwrapped the parcel with caution. “Oh, this is a lovely pipe, Revan. How did you come by this, if I might ask?”

“Dishonest means.”

“I’m proud of you.”

And so, the two shared a night together beneath the stars as the Market wound to an albeit boisterous close. The man known as Almaran dutifully instructed Revan in how to find the Temple of Bokonon within Tallin and Revan quite passionately ignored him as he made up his own constellations in the nighttime sky. When the old sage was content that Revan would correctly find his way there, the two delved into sharing stories of the time each had passed since their last meeting. Eventually, Revan gave voice to a thought that had been irritating the back of his mind.

“Are you really Almaran?”

“Not exactly.”

“Hmm,” nodded the young elf. “Are you a friend of his?”

“Yes.”

A silence hung between them above the crackling of the campfire.

“Do you trust me?” asked the stranger known as Almaran.

“Yeah.”

“Good. Why?”

“You laughed at my fat princess joke.”

“It was a good joke.”

“Thanks.”

In the morning, Revan was equipped with suitable gear provided by Not Almaran and he set boot to path on his journey to the city of Tallin, the City of Temples.

FIN

The Take: Of all the backstories I’ve written, I think I’m putting out one of my favorites here first. Revan’s cheeky, kind of dumb, impulsive, street-wise, and naive. All together, he makes for a good scoundrel and that came together well in the campaign. While it didn’t quite get to play out, he also unknowingly harbored quite the unique secret (more on that later).

And that’s all for now! I think I’m going to make this the first installment of a series that covers the whole gang, just ’cause they were fun. See ya 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://news.nationalgeographic.com/news/2013/07/130725-geese-guard-police-china/