Wherein a young woman sets out on a quest to find her long lost mother, hires a mercenary, meets several unsavoury types, and is forced to agree to a deal that may cost more than she bargained for.
Cast: Sonia van Reuter and Marcus D'Nough. As NPC's: A devious ogre named Shensal, a prudent mercenary named Freddick, a Wezellian spy calling himself Möller, Punch the puppet, and Lord Velimir of Geistwald.
The following takes place between 3 and 12 Novium, YE 1045.
The town of Werk lies in the North-Western foothills of the Elfswall Mountains, and ever since the Red Death scoured the lands east of the town it has become a haven for adventurers, heretics, mercenaries, and refugees. It is a place to hide from the law, and to spend one's ill-, or legally begotten, silver. Surrounding the walled town lies several farms, all built to withstand both brigands and the occasional roaming dead that still wander out of the Redlands. Sonia grew up on one of these farms, where her grand-uncle is breeding horses.
Fourteen years ago, Helena van Reuter left her daughter with her father's brother, a lapsed Evansianite monk. She was never seen again. Sonia vowed to find out what happened to her mother, and has been training hard to prepare herself for her quest for as long as she's been able to hold a sword. At long last, her guardian has deemed her ready to begin her search, and he informs her that the last time he saw her mother, she was heading for the town of Fork. And so this tale begins.
Marcus D'onough is a veteran of a handful of campaigns, at least two of which can be called proper wars. The last months he's been living the life of Riley, squandering his profits on whores, wines and wagers in the many dens in Werk who specialise in providing just such pastimes to gentlemen of fortune. Lately he's been informed that his credit is wearing thin, and that he'd do wisely in not outstaying his welcome. Unfortunately, winter is drawing nearer, and that is not the best season for a sellsword in the best of times. This year seems to be even worse, as peace appears to have gripped Eria after the Emperor's victory against the Flood in Corinth this summer.
These coincidences conspire to bring these two together, as the young adventuress hires the mercenary to accompany her on an overland journey across the Redlands. The goal is the town of Fork, where an ogre sits as lord.
The two set out from Werk on a bright and cold autumn morning, and around noon that day, they are ferried across the river Traen. Ahead of them lies the Redlands -- three days of uninhabited terrain, where brigands, walking dead, and other unknown terrors prowl. Taking the advice of the ferrymen, the two set their first camp in the ruins of an abandoned monastery, North-East of the Jötunwall. The chapel seems to have been maintained somewhat, and though it lacks a roof, it makes a fortified camp-site for those who travel these lands.
As they chop firewood, the sound of their axes attracts a small pack of walking dead. The four corpses shamble towards the ruins, and our heroes withdraw to the safety of the ruined chapel. It's doors are made of roughly hewn timber, and a solid beam bars them from inside. Thus, as the sun sets and darkness falls, the two entertain themselves with taking pot-shots at their pungent and single-minded attackers.
Once the last of them fall lifeless to the ground with a slit skull, the rest of the night is uneventful. The next day they continue North, and though they spot some movement in the distance a couple of times -- the companions decided on discretion as being the better part of valour -- both the ride and the following night passes without any complications. They make their camp in the ruins of a mill, and the following afternoon they are ferried across the Trän to the city of Fork.
The narrow, cluttered streets of the city seem to lay in a smoky twilight, and more unsettling, the inhabitants appear to be uglier and fouler than those of other towns. A request for directions to the Lord of Fork results in a bewildering half-rhyme of countless left and right turns that will lead them to the Donjon. When they enter what appears to be a main street, and D'Nough spot a Skythian mercenary who's scarred and homely, yet normal face he recognises, both are relieved. They immediately adopt him as their liaison to the mundane in this strange place, and ask him all the questions their short time in Fork has spawned. Freddick answers to the best of his ability, but, being of a prudent disposition, he has carefully avoided any close familiarity with any of the more esoteric denizens of the city. What advice he can give them is not to eat anything unless they have paid for it first, and further, that if offered anything from anyone, to remember to ask whether or not it is freely given. Of Schensal, the ogre who sits as Baron of Fork, he knows little. He does however know how to get to the Donjon.
The ogre holds court in an ancient, squat and ugly keep that lies behind a nauseatingly busy marketplace -- located in and around the long abandoned Temple. The Donjon's dark, square shape rises above the surrounding buildings, gaudy banners flapping lazily from a myriad of spears along it's battlements. A couple of inordinately ugly brutes, leaning heavily on rusty polearms, serve as guards.
Thanks to some smooth talking, the dauntless heroes are let through the gates, and soon after they find themselves in the gloomily lit hall where the Count receives his supplicants. The courtiers include both humans and not -- a couple of Wezellian merchant representatives are having a muted conversation with a small man with a pig's snout, a tall thistle-haired fellow is playing a tune on a reed flute while a cat dances with a small child with old eyes, and other such unsettling characters. The lord of the land himself sits on a solid oaken chair, huge and intimidating. The latter is only enhanced by the impossibly fragile-looking Cathayan porcelain tea cup in his enormous hand.
Led by Sonia, the two present themselves with the utmost deference, bowing and courtesying before the ogre. "My Lord Schensal," she says, "I have come to beseech you to tell me what you know of my mother."
"It's been so long since I smelled pretty," says the ogre, bending forward.
Flinching from the sheer unnaturalness of it, the girl manages to press on. The deal agreed upon in the end is that for the price of two coins from the Land of the Dead, Schensal will tell her where her lost mother went when she was last seen leaving fork, fourteen years ago. For a small additional favour, he will also tell her whether or not her mother still lives. The favour in question is to deliver a small leather tube to a certain den located in a street named Crescent Alley. Eager both to get out of the bizarre court, and to get some straight answers, the companions take their leave. Marcus badly wants to know what's inside the little tube, but his employer is quite set on simply carrying out the deal as agreed upon, and not to let curiosity cause any feline casualties.
They decide to follow Freddick the mercenary's advice and rent rooms at the Broken Halberd Inn. Here they also meet up with the only friendly face they have met in Fork thus far. They quiz him further about the ogre, and about the nature of the locals. Freddick cannot tell them much, but he calls for another of the patrons, one Hob, who can reveal how one gets to Crescent Alley. Once Hob informs them that it is always night-time in that alley, Sonia and Marcus decide to set out post haste. They keep pressing Freddick until he finally, if reluctantly, agrees to accompany them on their errand.
A while later the three squeeze through an alley so narrow that one has no room to change one's mind. They find the den in question, and warily they enter the smoky, low-rafted cellar-room. A few handfuls of people sit huddled around greasy oil-lamps, playing dice. None look up as the three armed humans file in. In the back of the chamber stands a puppeteer's screen, and as Marcus clears his throat, the curtains part. A hideous little Punch-figure takes the stage and starts a little skit. Sonia steps forward and interrupts while holding up the leather tube.
"Where do I deliver this?" she asks.
The puppet makes a mocking bow. "Have you come to play?" it asks in return.
The following exchange results in Sonia's penniless mercenary companion ripping the cap off the tube and throwing down. He gambles his horse for a question about Sonia's mother, rolls the bone dice, and wins. The vague answer result in the poor animal being put on the line once more, and again Mr. D'Nough rolls the higher sum. Also this answer is vague, but the gentleman of fortune decides to quit while he's still ahead, and within minutes the three can draw breaths of relief in the damp air outside.
Though tired, Sonia and Marcus head back to the Count. Both are anxious not to spend more time in Fork than they need -- they have heard a rumour saying it is the ogre's echo that causes those who reside within the walls to become hideous and sullen.
Schensal honours his side of the deal, and can reveal that, yes, Helena von Reuter is indeed, to the best of his knowledge, still alive.
Returning to their inn, the pair's hopes of an uneventful night's rest is shattered by Freddick, who tells them that he has mentioned them and their errand to his employer. Now he's brought an invitation from one of his benefactor's associates. They can meet this fellow in The Hooded Lantern Inn across the street. Somewhat disparaged by the constant press for their attention since they've entered this godsforsaken town, not to mention the unsettling nature of those applying said pressure, they abandon hope of an early night and set out to face this new mystery.
In a small second story room, lit by a trio of candles, Herr Möller, a black-clad and well groomed man receives our heroes. Even seated, the soft-spoken Wezellian bear evidence of being more than capable of holding his own in a brawl. In the conversation that follows, its made clear that he represents certain parties, and that these are to remain unnamed. Said parties, he can tell, also know of, and are perhaps even affiliated with, Sonia's lost mother. Herr Möller also refers to her as Adeptus von Reuter, an Arcane title, and hints strongly towards the Congress having an interest in Sonia's quest. The Congress, he explains, is a cabal of the most powerful magicians in Eria, deciding on policy in the Northern Alliance and beyond. On the question of how one may find this Congress, the answer he gives is, "they cannot be found -- they find you."
Though, as he says, Death is not within his field of expertise, Herr Möller can provide some information on how to get hold of such coins as Schensal has asked for.
"Some seven miles inside Geistwald, by the South-Eastern edge of the forest, close to the river Trän, there lies the village Mörkhogg. Here the people have been delivering their dead into the care of Ferrymen for decades, and it is the centre of one of the largest death-cults in the region."
When they part, it is after midnight, and with Herr Möller's best wishes, and his reassurance that if they meet again, it will be as friends.
The three day's ride from Fork to Mörkhogg is cold and rainy, but blissfully uneventful. The last half-mile of road before they reach the village is flanked on both sides of hundreds and hundreds of effigies, mementoes, and death masks, some elaborate and mounted in small shrines, others simple wood carvings. The village itself is beautiful and quiet, with an inordinately heavy concentration of temples. Most gods worshipped in Eria is represented, and several philosophies as well. There are simple chapels as well as larger temples, none more resplendent than the cathedral devoted to the Cult of the Ferrymen. Though not on par with the temples to the greater gods in the large cities, it is still an impressive sight where it lies, dwarfing the romantic wooden houses surrounding it.
The two adventurers have been debating how to proceed. Neither wish to actually enter the Underworld, and neither feels comfortable with stealing the coins from a dead man's eyes. They talk to a young priest of the afterlife about the metaphysical aspects of their problem -- naturally without bringing up any of the specifics -- and are informed that there is one person in Geistwald who walks between the worlds of the living and that of the dead. This person, Lord Velimir, is said to have brought the first Ferryman to Mörkhogg a generation ago, and it is said that he is neither alive nor is he dead. He resides somewhere inside the woods, and if you seek him, he will find you if that is his wish.
That evening our heroes set off into the woods in search of Velimir the Deathwalker, Lord of Geistwald. As the sun sets, they come into a part of the forest where it seems no man has carried an axe against the trees for a long, long time. The path takes them deeper, and as it gets dark, they have to rely on the instincts of their steeds not to stray into the unknown. As midnight approaches, they come to a stream where they stop to water their horses and stretch their legs. As Sonia raises her eyes after having filled her cup, she finds herself right before a dark, cloaked figure of a man, his face shaded by the brim of his hat, and the hilt of a great sword protruding from his hip. Feline eyes glare from the darkness of his face, seemingly looking directly into her soul.
Both Sonia and Marcus fall to their knees, asking if they have met Lord Velimir. The stranger confirms this, and asks, "what is your errand in these woods?"
"I seek coins from the Underworld to pay the Ogre of Fork for information about my mother," says Sonia.
A short exchange follows, where it becomes clear that any attempt at stealing coins from the dead would have had severe consequences. In the end, Lord Velimir presents two heavy, cold copper coins and wishes Sonia the best of luck in her quest.
A few days later, the two are back in Fork, before the ogre again, and the deal is carried through. The monster gets his coins, and the girl is told that her mother left Fork for the city of Zalburg.
Storytellers note: We're back on Argos again, and tonight we play again. This chapter was played out a week ago, and I've been writing on it since. I find that blogging now, with working during the day, and with kids involved, and also the whole relationship thing to consider, is a whole hell of a lot different than back in Bergen, working nights and pretty much doing what the hell I wanted. I have less time to blog, would you believe it. The kids have started school last week, and normalcy is starting to descend upon us. I hope I can fit blogging into this new schedule, but to be honest, I am pretty much navigating without a chart here. Time will tell.
To those of you with blogs of your own, I have been neglecting that for the last months. I really want to get back to reading and commenting on your stuff as well, and I am trying to work that into my days.
Live long and prosper, friends, and the Force be with you all.
[Picture source: Archives of Khazad-Dum]