Sunday, 28 February 2010

The Legend of Brōdar

This is the story of how Arkon's son, Brōdar, lost control over his anger. The legend is told by Reigald.

Brōdar Stormrider was the strongest of Arkon's sons. He loved nothing so much as a good fight, and often he rode across the heavens on great storms looking for anyone who dared challenge him. He was also deeply loved by his brothers, for he was the youngest of them. Brōdar was also famous for his anger. When he lost his temper, even the giants tried to get out of his way, so violent was his rage. The only one who could calm him when his blood was up was Aeilìn, his wife.

One day the giant Râgor Liesmith came to Aethelingagard disguised as a handsome young warrior. He introduced himself to Aeilìn and swore himself to her service, as was often the custom of young heroes in those days. Aeilìn was beutiful beyond words, and it is said that not among men, elves or gods could a maid more fair be found, then or after.

For a long time Râgor kept his secret. He served Aeilìn faithfully and well, and thus he gained her trust. He was given great gifts as rewards for his loyalty, and he even stood guard outside Aeilìns bedchamber when Brōdar was away.

Then one day Râgor left Aetelingagard and returned to his own kingdom. Here he sat on his throne in the mountain and boasted of how he had slipped between the thighs of Brōdar's fair wife. His disguise he hung behind his seat so that all who visited his great hall could see how he had made a cuckold of the mighty Stormrider.

It did not take long before the word reached Aethelingagard. Brōdar flew into a rage such as the world has never seen, neither before, nor in the ages that has followed. He bellowed and roared so that even his brothers hid from him. He called up a storm so great that the very earth shook as it passed above. Thus he came to the kingdom of Râgor. He roared for the giant to come out of his mountain and meet him, but Râgor had fled when he heard him coming. In his anger, Brōdar smote the mountain asunder, scattering the rocks far away (the rocks formed what you today call the Stormcrow Mountains).

Brōdar searched for Râgor for many days, but the cunning and deceitful giant had hidden well. In his search Brōdar's anger only grew. He split open mountains and tore lands asunder, killing anyone who crossed his path. Finally Aeilìn came to her husband. She sang soothing songs to calm him and stroked his hair and cheek, but so dark was the anger crafted by the Liesmith that Brōdar could not see the truth. Blinded by the lies, seeing only the leering giant between his wife's legs, he slew his beloved Aeilìn.

When Aeilìn fell to the ground Brōdar saw what he had done, and the veil of deceit and rage fell from his eyes. He reached into his soul and ripped his anger out of his flesh and cast it from him. This is how Bolgen came into the world.

Brōdar journeyed then to the realm of the dead to beg the release of his beloved. Alas he was denied, for the regret of the living has never been enough to allow someone to leave the Ashen Lands. The King of the Dead saw how beutiful Aeilìn was, and he became enraged by her murder. He sentenced Brōdar to wander the lands of the living until he was the last man in the world. Then, and only then would he be allowed to die.

Since then, Brōdar has been wandering the world, cast out by his father, Arkon, and shunned by his brothers, for they all loved Aeilìn dearly.

Captain G. Galan's Letter

Storyteller's note: This is written by the Captain's player. It was published as a comment to the 27.02.10 Last chapter. To make sure it doesn't fall between the cracks I am reposting it here.


On Good and Evil

For more than a thousand years, men of Eria have based their understanding of right and wrong upon the notion of Man Supreme.

When his guardians were hard pressed, fighting the Great Enemy, Man stole the Secret of Creation from the Halls of the Gods, and marched to stand beside Gods and Elves. Together they were victoriuos.

The guardians, however, were dissatisfied. And I can understand why. This treachery, and the resentment that followed, lead to the wars on Gods and Elves, and the notion of Man Supreme.

And now, as we are facing the Exarch once again, we stand alone, because we killed the Gods, and we drove the Elves away.

As I broke a branch of the Two Trees, I realized that Man has his position within Creation, and that we must do our utmost to enhance it. Enhance Creation that is, not our position within it.

All acts, when judged as good or evil, must be valued on their effect on Creation, the continued evolution of Creation.

It is deeply problematic to base one's actions on a doctrine written out more than a thousand years ago, for a situation quite different from ours. We must not stagnate in these ancient doctrines. We must ensure the Progression of Man.

By stripping away all free thought and individual will, the Temple of Man Supreme and the Cabal of Pure Thought have devalued the Spirit of Man. And by searching out and killing off all magic, they are acting as Agents of the Deep. These Blind Men of Faith have no free will, but are simply following ancient orders, and are, in practice, hollow men committing Crimes against Creation.

Saturday, 27 February 2010

A Short History of the Wezellian Syndicate

Portrait of the Syndics of the Clothmakers Guild, by Rembrant
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Wezellian merchant houses have dominated the trade on the White Sea and the Inner Ocean for more than five hundred years, and today the Syndicate has offices in every major trade-port in the region. Wezellian merchantmen carries fur, honey and amber from the Principality, grain, wine and steel from the Skythian ports, stockfish and lumber from Livonia, wine and cloth from Corillia, and wool from Pendrell. There is even an office in the Hermetic port of Göteshafen, as well as on the far-away Waymar Islands. The Wezellian warehouses and stockyards are probably the best stocked in the World of Man.

The Syndicate was formed by the five largest Wezellian trading houses in YE 799 to represent and further the interests of their business. They chose an Ombudsman to speak on behalf of the Five in dealings with the king and the nobles, and were quickly able to reap the harvest of their investment. In fact, before the end of the following century two more houses had joined the Syndicate, and their Ombudsman had been given a permanent chair in the King's Privvy Counsil. The last house joined the Board in YE 963.

The nobles resisted the merchants's bid for power, but after Wezell's expensive war with the Princess of Gaffenmarch, YE 907-921, the Syndikate's position, after having bankrolled the endeavour, had become all but unasailable. Over the next hundred years the Onkels would be appointed to key possitions in the government, and the office of Ombudsman became more influential than that of First Minister.

Throughout the 10th Century, the conflict between the Onkels and the noble houses came to a boiling point. Having lost considerable influence in the war, a group of nobles under the Duke of Angermar set out to reclaim their possition through voilence and assasination. After decades of civil strife, the conflict came to an end in YE 987 when the entire family of the ageing Duke died when their ship disappeared. Shortly after, five key members of the Dukes conspiracy were arrested and sentenced to death on charges of treason. When the Duke died the following year the Syndicate had no opposition in Wezell.

The Royal House of Wezell suffered under three weak generations over the last century, and plummeted into debt during the years of the Angermar-conspiracy. The last of these monarchs King, Alphonse XIII, nicknamed Half-Crown, is most famous for his lavish feasts and his love of cards, as well as his dislike of politics.

In YE 1021 the dept of the Crown had reached such astronomical proportions that the Board of Onkels declared the Royal House bancrupt and dissolved the monarchy. The parliament, by now without any real influence, thereafter transferred power of government to the Board of Onkels, in effect making the realm of Wezell an extention of the Syndicate.

The Eight Houses of the Syndicate and Onkels
De Groot, Feliks Apathon de Groot (Ombudsman)
Van Zaar, Jap Makarius van Zaar
Haffen-Manell, Nestor X. Manell
Van Wartenstam, Semion P. van Wartenstam
Van Rosenhafen, Yorman van Rosenhafen
Raederstrasse, Rasmus Edelman
Van Stackermar, Karolinus van Stackermar
De Martellus, Johanna de Martellus

Friday, 26 February 2010


It was so cold the very breath seemed to freeze before it could reach the lungs of the men on the walls. They were wrapped in wool and fur, as much as they dared. None wanted to lose their maneuverability. Wherever their flesh was exposed the frost bit like needles. Great torches were lit along the parapet, but their flames had no power over the cold.

Arbein clutched his old musket with hands he could barely feel. He remembered that someone had told him that as long as you could feel the cold you were good. Only when it stopped hurting did it become dangerous. Somehow loosing a few fingers to the frost didn't seem like such a big deal anymore. He stared into the dark night and wished he knew how to pray.

The old fort had been built long ago, in a time when the greatest threat were the ambitions of the neighbouring nobility. It overlooked the village of Wolford, and had fallen into disrepair over the years since it was built. Besides, its curtain-walls were no match for modern cannon anyway. Arbein wondered if they would offer any protection against the enemy they now faced.

The entire village had gathered inside the fort. Or, those who had survived the raid the night before had huddled together behind the half-broken walls, seeking refuge from the cold and the enemy.

Two days ago a rider had come through the village. He was grey-faced and weary, but what Arbein remembered clearest were his eyes. His eyes were those of someone who knew that all hope was lost. He had told of a great dragon burning down the Five Forts, and of elves coming in great numbers out of the North, killing all in their path. The man had only stayed long enough to change horses before he rode south. He had to warn the King, he said. Those who had heard the traveller's words found them hard to ignore. Even if they told of unbelievable things, the eyes of the speaker had caused the fear they carried to haunt the listeners.

Still, they didn't run. Where could they run? This was their home. That night they had made sure everyone was safe inside their houses, and that they had plenty of wood for their fires. The men had checked their weapons, and the women had sung soothing songs of summer to ease the minds of the children.

An hour before dawn, when all but the most stalwart had been asleep, thinking themselves foolish for having heeded the words of a madman, they came. Arbein had been awakened by his old wolfhound, ol' Toker. The rugged old beast stood facing the door, growling deep in its chest. Arbein had fallen asleep in his chair infront of the fire, his musket in his lap. The fire had almost died, and it had gotten a lot colder. He had been able to see his breath in the freezing air.

It had been so quiet. Nothing but the low growl of ol' Toker and the beating of his own heart. Then he had heard the first screams. They were faint, but still they had sent a chill down his spine. An old soldier, he had heard and seen bad things, still these screams had put a fright in him in a way he'd never experienced before. It had been like some old, long forgotten memory of horrible things had resurfaced from somewhere deep in his soul.

His old lady had woken up then. She had been made of stearner stuff than him, but then he'd always know that. She had been a camp-follower when he served as a musketman in the Corrillian War, and they had married when the war ended and he was sent home. Now she had told him to be a man and go help their neighbours instead of hiding behind barred doors like a cowering old woman. He had put more wood on the fire, put on his boots and his great-coat and left her. She had cocked the old crossbow he used for hunting and stayed behind with the dog.

Since then it had all been like a horrible nightmare no one would ever wake up from. Outside it had been freezing cold, so cold that the snow itself groaned. Other men had also left their homes to lend a hand against whatever it was that had fallen upon the poor screaming soul. They had sought together, as if guided by some deep instinct had told each of them that the only strength they had against what was out there lay in numbers. Casting nervous glances around them, clutching their weapons -- axes, a couple of spears, a halberd, crossbows and a few muskets -- they had made for the sound of the screams.

Arbein remembered hoping that the poor bastard would just die and that the screaming would stop. It had come from the Minister's house. The Minister had come to Wolford only two years ago, a young man, and he had quickly become well liked by the villagers. He had schooled them well since he came, and all who wanted had been taught their letters by the patient and charismatic Presbyter.

They had found him, or rather, what was left of him, in front of his house. He had been kneeling on the ground, only a few steps from his door, arms stretched upwards. Arbein still couldn't understand what he had seen there. It was like there was a tree growing out of him. Even as they watched, young branches pushed through the skin of his hands, buds folding into beutiful, green leaves. From his mouth the stem of the three still stretched towards the bright stars above, budding and branching, growing thicker even as they watched. The screams had lost all semblance to anything human.

And then they had seen the fires. All the farms on the western side of the river had been burning. It had been like the spell they had been under had been broken, now every man feared for his own life, and that of their loved ones. They had run back to their homes, only to find several doors open. Arbein had rushed to his own cottage, small, built with his own hands. All he had in this world was inside those walls. His door had been open.

Snow had blown in, covering everything inside in a fine powdery coat. He rembered it being pretty. All white and serene, with the only colour being where drops of blood had landed, frozen to resemble red blossoms. Ol' Toker was lying in the middle of the floor, peaceful, like he was sleeping on a bed of crimson flowers. His old lady was on her back, cut open from groin to chin, pale and lifeless surrounded by her own flowers. There was so little blood, he remember thinking.

Since then they had only waited in fear. They had sent out their two best riders on their best horses, one to Glencaellyn and one to the Lowlands, but no one believed that any help was coming. They were alone, and out there, somewhere in the cold winter night the enemy was biding his time.

Arbein shifted his weight around, trying in vain to keep the cold from gnawing too deeply on his bones. He looked over to the man beside him, Tyme Miller, a young lad, palefaced and drawn, holding a crossbow older than himself. He tried to smile to the boy, and wished he could think of something to say that would ease his mind.

The arrow came from nowhere. It struck the boy in his neck with a soft sound, like a dagger piercing a linnen shirt. Tyme seemed suprised, then he simply fell over. Arbein could hear others fall as well. His instincts kicked in, he checked the powder on the firing-pan of his musket, put it to his shoulder and tried to find a target. Around him arrows from hidden hunters claimed more lives. He thought he saw something outside the walls and fired. The sparks burned his cheeks, and the smell of burnt beard and gunnpowder filled his nostrils. He was a soldier, and he would die like one! Powder, ball, no time for cloth or cotton, ramrod, he had never loaded a musket faster in his life. People were screaming now. Ramrod out, prime the pan, gods be damned, but he would take at least one with him.

The elf leaped onto the parapet. He was tall, ivory-skinned and white-haired, glorious to behold, clad in mail the color of snow. Arbein threw his musket to his shoulder. The elf seemed to smile as he swiped his long, slender blade across the musket. Arbein looked in wonder as he saw his left arm, the barrel of his gun, and his right hand fall to the snow. Red blossoms seemed to appear on the stones around him.

The last chapter

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The Cabal returned safely back to the Pius from Fornost, the Realm of the Frost Elves, after having rescued those who remained of the Seven Seekers.

The Seven Seekers, and their status:
Princess Ylvana Eclipseborn, alive and well. She never doubted that her dear Gryff would come and get them.

Tomas Parlay, alive, but suffering from chest rot, a form of consumption.

Brother Augustus of the Black Friars, alive and well.

Reigald Galdgrimson of the Enæìdūn, very much alive.

Thorgrim of the Enæìdūn, also alive.

Doctor Misterio, rescued earlier from captivity at the hands of the Ministerium. Lost in madness.

A servant boy, dead.

Aboard the ship, both parties wanted to hear of the adventures of the others, and so great tales were told. Princess Ylvana told of the adventures of the Seekers's, familiar to, but not neccesarily similar to Parlay's account. They had found the portal, and Misterio had calculated that the Moon of Emmeroch would indeed shine upon the plateu only a few days after their arrival. The servant boy had snuck away from the camp one night, and they never saw him again.

When the gate opened, the Seekers had followed the same path taken by the Cabal, and they had indeed come into the forest. There they had been captured by the Elves. On the escape of Dr Misterio, neither the princess or any of her compannions could shed any light. He had vanished from their prison one night, and they were suprised to hear that he was alive and on the ship.

The Great Matter of the chapter was the option presented by Huron the White. Burn the Five Forts, and thus break the seal that kept the elves from crossing into the lands of Man. Drake and Van Zaar wanted to summon the Dragon [Storyteller's note: Three times they may call for the Dragon] and put terror in the hearts of the Presbyterians, they did not however want to break the seal -- burn one fort perhaps, but they didn't want to let the Great Hunt loose on Pendrell. Captain Galan wanted to go all the way. Here he found support in Brother Augustus, "Let him who wants to avoid his enemy walk softly; he who walks to battle shall go forth boldly, with fanfare and bared steel." The debate surged back and forth for a long time.

Brother Augustus also pulled the captain aside and informed him that as a priest he had the authority to perform a wedding. He also spoke warmly of why he felt that the marriage was a Good Thing. Ylvana agreed.

The rest of the Cabal now wanted to call upon Octavian. [Storyteller's note: The relationship between Gryff and Octavian has been a matter of some controversy. There are those who are convinced that the two have a bond deeper than friendship. While this has been confirmed once by the player (and that candedness may be blamed on Single Malt), it has been denied more often.] So, as so often before, Gryff Galan sat in the light of the Elfstone and sang Octavian's name. He found him, deep in the Underdark, beneath Mount Guthûrgoth, in a dark, dead end. His retinue, numbering three Deciples, five Apprentices and three times seven Proxima when they set out, now numbered only one Deciple and two Proxima. Octavian himself lay mortally wounded on the hard stone, wrapped in his cape. It was a very moving scene when Gryff came to him in his mind.

Octavian told Gryff that they had indeed found what they were seeking, but in the battle that followed many had lost their life, and more still had perished in the aftermath -- something old and sinister had been stalking them. Even now, all the Hermetics could do was to keep the darkness at bay. And their light was faltering.

Of course, our heroes could not sit idly by while the brave Hermetics faced a nameless terror in the bowels of this mountain of madness. So it was that the Pius Cabal mounted an epic rescue operation, preparing a great portal-spell and calling upon no fewer than two gods to aid their efforts. [Storyteller's note: two rhymes were written, one for the spell, and one for calling on Geminon]

When the door opened into the dark subterranean chamber and light shone on the survivors the darkness reacted. Drake was unable to hold it back at first, and it was like a great, primordial hatered had become aware of their presence. Arkon's Gateposts guarded the portal, and as the light seemed to go out, Geminon, in the guise of a great Corinthian swordsmaster strode into the cavern, and drawing his sword he walked to face the Dark. Drake mustered his strength and wove a powerful ward. Enæìds now ran to the exhausted Hermetics and pulled them to safety. The portal was closed, and the connection severed. Octavian was safe.

Safe, but not out of danger yet. Drake has been studying the Arcana of Life for a while, though at this point he was still only an Apprentice. He has also been dabbling in Mythos matters (amongst other things, he stood face to face with Shaitan, the Drowned Man, in the dark storm) and when he examined Octavian's wound he found it poisoned. Something dark was deep in the wound, and it meant to kill him. Having consulted both Banzel and the ship's surgeon, dr Toombs, he believed himself capable of saving Octavian's life, although his left arm and shoulder had to be cut off.

This was Drake's Deciple-test. Assisted by the surgeon he cut deep into the flesh, so deep that they saw things no man is meant to see in any living human. Van Zaar, having offered to love Octavian on behalf of the captain, never left the patient while they cut. The captain sat in his quarters, praying to Arkon with Ylvana. At length Drake closed the wound and proclaimed the operation over. He had saved Octavian's life, and become a Deciple of the Arcana of Life. He then went on to promptly cure Parlay of his chestrot.

In the elated state of mind that followed, the Cabal decided to go to Five Fort Vale and call upon the Dragon, and leave it to the Dragon to decide what the Dragon would do. The marriage between the captain and the princess should also be performed there. Thus the Cabal again left the Pius by means of great magic.

The Vale lay peaceful in the hour before a bright winter dawn. The five forts, arrayed with some great and unknown design along key points looked peaceful and serene. The captain had scryed the valley earlier, and discovered that the forts lay upon ancient Hallows, and that apart from the structures themselves, there were no other apparent defenses.

There, on a hill overlooking the valley, by a caern built by Galan when he went hiking in the Vale three years earlier, Brother Augustus bound Gryff and Ylvana in wedlock. Then the Prince called the Dragon's name. Once. Twice. Three times. And then it came.

Coming out of the sun rising behind the mountains the Dragon flew over the Vale and landed infront of the Cabal. "You called," it said. The magicians now found it difficult to answer. Some tried flattering the Great Wyrm, others tried appearing powerful, most bowed their heads and felt insufficient. The Dragon looked at them like an enormous cat who is deciding whether or not to play with them. In the end the Prince had to speak. [Storyteller's note: His player wasn't at the table this evening, and so in effect they pawned the responsibility off on an NPC. Tsk-tsk.] He said: Break the Seal.

The Dragon took flight and circled higher and higher over the peaceful valley. Lazy as a bird of prey deciding which of these fat sheep it would devour first it soared in great circles, high in the air. Then it dived out of the sky. Like a star falling to the earth, a great comet, trailing bright fire it struck the first fort. Stones were shattered, and flames rose high in the air. Then it took flight again, only to gain altitude before again throwing itself on another fort. Now bells started ringing in the valley, and leaving the second conflagration the Wyrm flew low over the farms and villages, spreading death, fire and fear beneath its enormous wings.

The third and forth fort fell. Screams and bells ringing frantically rose to where the Cabal stood aghast. Some of them cried out to make it stop, and some might have wept. From the forest on the oher side of the River Manshield sounds could be heard, as if the forest itself was awakening. Landing infront of the last of the Five Forts, the valley burning around it, the Dragon seemed to have gotten warmed up. Spreading its wings, it seemed to draw in air, then it breathed a vast cone of fire. Fanning it with its wings it continued to breathe, whipping the flames to such a great heat that even the stones melted.

Then, as a horn could be heard from the forest, calling the Hunt, the Dragon took flight for the last time. It passed over the Cabal, standing in shock and awe on the hill, and flew off into the rising sun.

After this, the Cabal returned to the Pius, and then to Rederhafen, where they were dubbed Knights Arcane of the Order of the Golden Dawn.

Storyteller's note: Dragons kick ass! I've always loved them. And when my players leave it to an NPC to input the launch-data... Well, if my memory serves me, the Prince confessed some sympathy with the Elven Prince…

I must confess it felt extremely liberating to unleash such destructive power on my world. I want to go again ;)

Wednesday, 24 February 2010

Lady in Waiting

Artist: Amélie Hutt

"Junker! I bring reports from the baron Edelgade!" the rider shouted. He had galloped across the white sheet covering the fields around the windmill, reining in his foaming horse just as the faint thunder of far away cannons could be heard from beyond the forest to the south. He wore the brown and black uniform of the 4th Rederhafen Militia Regiment.

The man he addressed, Junker Hans von Stachelswein, was aloft, on the top deck of the mill, a good eight yards above the ground, in open air. A somewhat portly, quite sturdy-looking bald and bareheaded man, in a thick, wool-lined winter coat. Junker von Stachelswein had a perfect view of the serene, snow-covered landscape of southern Wezell; frozen fields, covered in an inch of new snow, the winter-bare trees distributed throughout the scenery in the subtle methodical manner of the Wezellians – here Man has tamed his world. A channel cutting a dark silver line through the picture a few yards from the windmill. Smoke rising in a lazy, unaffected tendril from the lonely farm on the other side of the waterway. All in sharp contrast to the flat, empty, gray morning skies above.

The Junker had been trying to capture all of this in watercolor for the last hour, and seemed almost relieved by the disturbance. Stepping back a pace, he took his sword, handed to him by his old bugler. "Not altogether bad, if I have to say so myself," he said, as if speaking to himself while fastening  scabbard to baldric.

"I've seen better, Hans," the scruffy old soldier said as he took down the easel and packed up the tools of the artist.

The officer gave his subordinate a hard glance, muttered something about his general contempt for the uneducated, and descended backwards down the ladder, into the belly of the mill.

The currier, a young man, not much more than a boy stood shivering at attention, trying not to rattle his teeth too loudly. The four blue-coated troopers of Stachelswein's Dragoons had left their cards and now sat watching the newcomer with the anxious patience of veterans. Beneath their winter coats each man wore breastplates of tempered steel. Junker Stachelswein tutted at the men as he climbed the last steps.

"Let's not waste more time before you get a blanket and some schapps, lad", he said as he stepped up to the freezing soldier, folding his hands behind his back and tilting slightly forward on his feet as he stopped. The private was not a large man, still he had a good head on the much older officer. "No good to anyone dead, now are you?"

The messenger seamed to have stumbled in his rethorics, and managed no better answer than a confused stutter.

"Well?" The Junker raised his voice slightly and squinted his eyes. "Let's have it, man!"

Duty overwhelmed his confusion, and the baron's dispatch rider straightened up, looked ahead, and made his report: "Junker von Stachelswein, baron Edelgade sends his compliments and wishes to inform you that the Pendrellians have been locked down in battle at Arber Bridge, three-quarter league south-east of Zaarbrügge. The strength of the enemy is twelve thousand infantry, rifles all. They field four and a half dozen of their best cannon, as well as three lesser batteries. Four regiments of horse have been confirmed – three thousand Ironbellies, and the Kings's Own Blackriver Cuirassiers."

"The baron informs you that while the artillery will no doubt prove costly, he is confident that he will carry the day, Justice willing. What small matter of discomfort he begs you assist him in is that Lady Thorne and her Black Coats have not been accounted for."

"Heh!" The Junker turned to the closest of his men, a hawk-faced, ushaven lance-corporal and was handed a rugged brown, ceramic bottle. Turning again on the militiaman he said, "Not as dumb as you look, are you lad?" He further unbalanced the poor man by handing him the bottle. "Distracting me with open blasphemy while delivering my orders." The old Junker tutted, and muttered something about heathens in general, and youth in particular.

"So the Black Thorn is loose under the good baron's skirts, and now he feels it's time for me to earn my pay?" He had held the question so that the messenger was interrupted as he was about to take a drink. "To end your duty here, Citizen, does His Grace wish to inform me of anything else?"

"Only that he bids you make haste, and not dally, Junker." It was apparent that the young militiaman enjoyed delivering the insult from behind the shield of the messenger.

Von Stachelswein laughed, clapped his hands, and shouted upwards, "Bugler! Sound the Lance! Let's hunt!"

Turning again to the currier, he said, "We'll leave you a meal, that bottle, and I'll send you a fresh horse shortly. Tell your master that he can worry about the cannon, and I will keep his backyard clean."

From the top of the windmill, an insolent, defiant, clear, call to arms rang over the landscape. Immediately a murder of crows took wing from a lonely oak across the channel. From the nearby wood faint command-cries arose, and within minutes a long, gray line of horsemen faded into view along the forest-line.

The four troopers had left the mill, and now sat mounted outside, awaiting the Junker and his bugler. One of them had unfurled a white standard with a black hedgehog, von Stachelswein's coat of arms. Inside the old officer stood bent over a map he held down to the deserted table, while the last of his men came climbing down the ladders from above. The messenger stood discarded, trying not to be in the way, and not long after he stood alone in the windmill. The sound of the horses faded, and around him silence descended. Nineteen years old, a university student, called to fight in what the Pendrellian Parliament have named the Witch's War.

As the six riders galloped off, the line of horses by the woods merged into two long columns and cut across the fields to meet up with their commander. The regiment moved with the effortless efficiency of veterans, confident and proud. They were mercenaries, and some of them had followed the Hedgehog-banner in wars all over Eria for more than a dozen years. While few of them nurtured any loyalty to any royal house, every man would follow the old Junker to the edge of the Abyss, and perhaps even further. Bastards and cutthroats all, yet they were amongst the best paid in the Wezellian army.

The bugler's horn sounded again, and while the regiment came to a halt five officers spurred their horses and rode up to the Junker. There followed a short discussion, and before long the officers returned to their men. Orders were given and distributed down the lines by shouting corporals. Two companies spurred their horses and wheeled off, one heading north along the channel, the other south, towards the distant thunder of the artillery. Only minutes later, the rest of the unit rode west at good speed.

After having put a league behind him Junker von Stachelswein ordered a halt in a small forest and dismounted. He walked a few paces off the road and stood there, gazing off between the trees for a time before calling for his bugler.

"What do you think she's up to?" he asked when he could hear the steps in the snow behind him.

"The Lady Thorne, you mean?"

"Off course, you goat-faced old fool! There's no reports of her or her Black Coats since yesterday when they burned the village of Anster."

"Why do you always talk to me about things I know naught about, Hans?"

"I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to myself. I just like the company." The Junker picked up a wooden pipe carved like a naked woman and started the process of filling it.

"She has one of the best outfits the Parliamentarians have fielded, yet she does not take battle," he continued. "She's not a soldier, she's a killer."

Behind him the bugler drew out his own pipe and for a while the two men occupied themselves with the familar ritual. From around them the sounds of horses and men, waiting patiently, came through the winter wood.

"I have a hunch," the officer said when both pipes had been lit and smoke hung around their heads like clouds obscuring mountain peaks.

The old bugler knew all about his commanders hunches. They had been riding together for a generation, and the Junker had always had a way of guessing what their enemies were up to. Some of the men even believed that their commander had the Gift. He didn't say anything. Instead he drew deep from his pipe and let the smoke pour slowly from his nostrils.

"She knows she's being hunted," the Junker finally said, "that's what she wants. She will try to draw us into a battle where her dismounted carabineers can use their repeating guns to full effect."

After a pause to send a few smokerings up among the branches he continued. "She will find a soft target, likely a town behind the lines, and she will make sure we find her. She will burn and kill. She hopes that we will become too enraged by the plight of the poor citizens to think clearly and storm the streets." He spat in the snow and stuffed the pipe back in his pocket just as the sound of a galloping horse could be heard coming towards them.

"Junker!" The young private reined in his horse, its hooves kicking up powdery white snow as it came to a standstill. "Rittmeister Fegel sends me! He has found the enemy in Erstmannshof a league and a half from here. Black smoke can be seen rising from the center of the town. Peasants say scores of black-coated soldiers rode into town less than an hour before we came there."

"So it is as I thought," the Junker said. He turned to one of his officers. "Ride in all haste to baron Edelgade. Tell him that he is free to die in front of the enemy's cannon, the Black Thorn is lodged behind him, and I will make sure it breaks when it comes out."

Other orders were given, riders bearing dispatches galloped off, and then the bugle called the Hedegehogs to advance.

As the day wore on into afternoon, Stachelswein's Dragoons moved up to within sight of the town of Erstmannshof. The town seemed small and insignificant, almost unreal contrasted against the snow, ocean and sky, all in shades of grey. Normally there would be smoke rising from the many chimneys, instead only a thick, dark tendril snaked upwards from the middle of the town.

Von Stachelswein took up possition on a low ridge about three furlongs from the nearest houses. In front lay the town, behind it a dense thicket of trees. From here he could respond to any attempt to escape. He kept half his strength hidden behind it and had three companies line up along the crest. The remaining two stood in plain view a little to the left.

The Junker dismounted, cursing the cruel fate of old age as his joints groaned at the effort. Pulling up his telescope he took in the scene. "Good ground," he muttered, "if the enemy behaves."

"Order Fegel to advance on the town," he said to the bugler. "Let's see what she's got," he added, to himself this time.

The two companies to the left trotted down the gentle slope in two columns. They stayed in formation until they had covered half the distance, then they split up. One company continued ahead on the road, the other broke off and advanced on a farm about one and a half hundred yards from the nearest houses.

From the ridge the movements on the field were watched carefully. Some held their breath, others muttered thanks to fate or even gods for not having been chosen to test the enemy's guard. Those who grew too bold in their blessings were quieted by gruff corporals.

The company, looking like a small, grey line against the white to those on the ridge, closed the distance at a carfree trot. One hundred paces. Seventy. The spectators held their breath. They could do nothing but wait and watch. The Junker had his telescope trained on the houses in front of the small force. Fifty paces. Twenty. The bugler swore a foul oath under his breath.

The company halted, and after a short moment a single rider continued ahead. On the ridge the men looked on, intently, as if they were watching a juggler try a particularly difficult trick and expecting him to fail.

The bugler stepped closer to the Junker. "Something ent level here, if I know anything about killing," he said in a low voice.

"I agree," the Junker replied, "I've had a bad feeling since I first saw the infernal town. There's something here I can't put my finger on..."

"Shall I sound the recall?"

"No, it is too late. The game is afoot."

The lone rider had vanished between the houses. The thin line of horsemen sat motionless. The company headed for the farm had dismounted and were occupying its buildings. The men on the ridge stood silent, behind them restless horses snorted, their riders standing beside them fiddling their weapons. Black smoke coiled upwards from within the town. Not a sound could be heard. A lonely sparrow landed on a naked shrub not five feet from the hedgehog standard.

Then the rider returned to his company, and not long after the men dismounted. As they fell into ranks around their banner a dispatch sped off towards the ridge. He had not covered half the distance when a single strand of smoke seemed to speed towards the dismounted soldiers from one of the outer houses. Only a heartbeat after, seven more shot forth. As the first reached its mark there was a voilent burst of fire and smoke, then as the rest struck the company vanished in snow and soil and smoke. To the men on the ridge the sound that reached them was like that of a cruel nightmare bearing down on the guilty dreamer: long banshee-wails followed by hard knells of thunder.

Before the dust had settled, hundreds of black-clad riders sallied forth from the northern edge of Erstmannshof. They cut straight for the ridge, threatening the flank of the three dismounted companies holding it.

The Junker reacted swiftly, and gave orders for the five companies behind the crest to mount up. Just as the bugle's challenging call rang across the field shouts came from the thicket behind the ridge The shouts were quickly drowned by a volley of gunfire. It sounded almost like a coarse, wet canvas was being torn by strong hands.

Junker von Stachelswein looked down to where now several men fell from their steeds, and almost obscured by the thick smoke from discharged powder he saw black-coated soldiers kneeling behind his own troops. He saw the same man fire twice without reloading his musket before he vanished in the smoke and chaos. All along the edge of the thicket gunfire could be heard, no longer the massed volley, but the sound of repeated shots, fired at close range at an enemy who had been caught unawares. It all lasted perhaps half a minute, and when it was over nothing but screams of men and horses, dead, wounded or panicked, scattered command calls, and the increasing thunder of approaching cavalry could be heard on the ridge.

The old Junker lay on the eastern slope, away from town. The ground he lay on was trampled and cold. He had caught a stray bullet in the throat, and his life was running steadily into the soil. On the hill the remainder of his men prepared for their last stand.

A tiny, brown sparrow landed on the hilt of a discarded sword stuck in the ground only a few feet from the old man. It sat there, unaffected, watching with its black, unblinking eyes as Junker Hans von Stachelswein died.

Monday, 8 February 2010

The Pantheon of Argos

In the Second Age, the Mythic Age, Man turned his back on the gods; some were forgotten, some were slain by heroes, some wandered off into oblivion, and some withdrew from the affairs of the world. A few of the old gods remained, worshipped in the far reaches of Argos, guarding their followers from the dark things that lurk in the deep.

The Third Age, the Age of Reason, was a time where Man was his own guide and protector. Craft and reason were the ideals that led the growth of civilizations, magic and mystery were pushed to the fringes of mortal society, and the wonders and dangers of the old world were forgotten. The halls of the gods stood empty.

With the ancient bulwarks against the Deep left unguarded, dark forces moved to awake their fell master, the Lord of the Locust. Then came the time when destinies converged. Among the Orc a great leader was born. In Eria two men found themselves thrust into the center of history and a great dragon was freed from its bondage. A wizard sailed out of the North in search of an ancient artifact. The Age of Reason was ending, and magic was awakening again.

Over the following generation the few old gods who remained returned to Argos, and new ones ascended. In this changing world Man now must find his place again, or perish together with all of Creation -- that which sleeps is awakening, and those who stand against it are hard pressed. Older and Younger Gods alike are again mustering, and the ancient struggle is renewed. The Game of Gods is not yet ended.

The gods of Argos are divided into a few different groups. There are the Older Gods -- those few who were worshipped before the Age of Reason, and the Younger Gods -- those who have ascended to divinity after the Awakening. Not all gods have the best interests of Man heart, though. The gods of the Court of Stars serve the Exarch, and their goal is to bring about the End of Days, to see the oceans swallow the land and darkness engulf all.

The system used to define these gods are White Wolf's Scion, tweaked to be compatible with the Storytelling System, and adapted to fit the Book of Worlds.

Note that this is a draft, contents may be amended and/or edited without warning.

  • Arkon (Older God)
Aka.: St Markus, Hunter, Huntsman, Old Mumblebeard, Progenitor
Symbol: The all-seeing eye

A tall warrior, his long beard and hair gone silvery white ages ago, dressed in varnished mail. He has the relentless gaze of a bird of prey.

The legends of Arkon are many, but the one most often told is that of the dragon. As is the nature of legends, it has been told and retold and told again, each teller adding some and leaving some out. At the core of it is the tale of a great dragon, and a dark, endless winter that gripped the world in its merciless embrace, and of how spring again came to the lands after the wyrm had been locked beneath a mountain.

In the olden days he often walked the lands, sometimes disguised as an old man, other times as a hunter. Now he rarely sheds his true visage, nor does he often journey into the realms of mortal men. In stead he sits, in his great hall in Aethlingagard, watching the dark, keeping his hearth burning; it has been said that should the last embers of Arkon's fire go out, an endless winter will fall on Argos.

In the younger days of the world, the benches of Arkon's hall seated many gods, and laughter rang between the rafters. Now his line has all but ended, and so he sits, alone, watching the fire.

Associated Powers: Epic Presence, Epic Intelligence, Epic Manipulation, Epic Stamina, Epic Strength, Epic Wits, Death, Guardian, Magic, Mystery, Prophesy, Psychopomp, War
Abilities: Craft, Occult, Investigation, Weaponry, Stealth, Survival
Rivals: Alaÿna

  • Aziz (Younger God)
Aka.: Gahalar, Servant of Man, the Last Prophet
Symbol: An open hand

Aziz was the servant of Franko da Cola, and as such he witnessed things too horrible for any human to bear without losing his soul and sanity. Even so, through the endless love and devotion of the young boy, not only did he survive, but he also saved his master.

When Franko, on one of his many journeys, was about to be slain by a fallen Daeva imprissoned in one of the hells, Aziz threw himself before the demon and begged it to take him instead. The Daeva thus spared Franko, and through entering the body of Aziz escaped his prison and came to Argos. Here Aziz eventually managed to cast the Daeva out of his body.

Grishnak's Army of Light was eventually defeated by the combined forces of Aziz's followers, the fearless Mujaheed, and an army of Nightmares led by Morpheus and Gilgûl. In the final battle, the Battle of the White Tower, Aziz took the blow intended for Morpheus, thus allowing the Dreamlord to strike down the Daeva. Aziz lost his life.

The followers of Aziz believe that when he is most needed, he will return to Argos to save mankind again.

Associated Powers: Epic Presence, Epic Composure, Love, Magic,
Abilities: Academics, Craft, Emphaty, Medicine, Seneschal, Socialise
Rivals: Alaÿna, Caracalla, Shaitan

  • Dìs (Older God)
Aka.: Death, Charōn, Moros, Thanatos
Symbol: A death-mask

Clad in a black cloak and a white death-mask, Dís is easily recognized by anyone who should lay eyes on him -- after all, everyone knows death. Occasionally he choses to appear in a different guise, sometimes a ravaged maiden or a putrid corpse.

Of all the gods, Death is the one who is most involved in mortal affairs. The Stygian Empire on the Dark Continent is ruled by the Necrophants, an order of arcane clergy who are in direct communication with their deity. When the Dark Horde had conquered the northern colonies it turned on the Stygians -- the prophesy says that when death dies the Exarch will rise again -- and for almost a generation now Death has been locked in combat with the dark gods and their followers.

Recently, Dís has been slain by the Dark Triumvirate. It is still too soon to know what the outcome of this foul act will be. What is certain is that already souls are becoming lost on their journey to the Underworld.

Associated Powers: Arete, Darkness, Death, Epic Composure, Epic Intelligence, Epic Resolve, Guardian, Magic, Mystery, Prophesy, War
Abilities: Craft, Medicine, Occult,
Rivals: Alaÿna, Caracalla, Shaitan

  • Geminon (Younger God)
Aka.: Al Azwad, the Black Man, Lord of Crossroads
Symbol: Two identical masks

Dark and cunning, he appears as a tall, thin man with a narrow face and a sharp goatee, dressed in black (always the latest fashion). He is suave and well mannered, although sarcastic. He came into being when Franko da Cola and Sir William Blackstaff slew the great dragon; ripped from the flesh of Franko, born of magic and dragonfire.
His agenda is known to no one, save himself, but amongst the Younger Gods he is the most active. Geminon walks behind the scenes, giving advice and nudging mortals in the right direction as he sees fit.

Geminon is one of the Trinity, the remaining two being Morpheus and Shaitani. The three are rivals, sometimes enemies, but rarely do they interact directly.

Associated Powers:
Chaos, Epic Presence, Epic Manipulation, Magic, Mystery, Psychopomp
Abilities: Academics, Emphaty Investigation, Occult, Politics
Rivals: Alaÿna, Caracalla, Morpheus

  • Gilgûl (Younger God)
Aka.: Lord Justice, Warmaster
Symbol: Sword and scales

A tall, gaunt shadow, clad in a white full-plate armour, wielding a great sword. Gilgûl seldom speaks, but when he does, his voice booms as if it comes from within a cavernous hall.

Though a young god, he is a most ancient entity, summoned into this Age by the wizards of the Ordo Hermtica to bring Franko da Cola to justice for his soultheft. However, the man Franko had ceased to be by the time Gilgûl came into being, and the god Morpheus had ascended to the throne of dreams. When this new age ends, Gilgûl will bring the Dreamlord to justice -- for even a god cannot escape his judgement.

Now ascended to godhood, Gilgûl has assumed the mantel of command over the Legions of Nightmare, and he now holds the Dreamshell. Every night his provosts press the dreams of the guilty into service in the great war, every night the guilty dream of desperate battle and violent death.

Associated Powers: Arete, Epic Strength, Epic Resolve, Justice, War
Abilities: Brawl, Empathy, Intimidation, Weaponry, Persuasion, Politics
Rivals: Alaÿna, Caracalla, Shaitan

  • Morpheus (Younger God)
Aka.: Morfæus, Lord of the Dreaming, Prince of Nightmares

Tall, gaunt, gray-faced, typically dressed in flowing, dark robes, Morfeus  is the first of the Younger Gods. The man Franko da Cola was a Corinthian witch-hunter who, after having suffered a shipwreck ended up somewhere on the Forsaken Coast around YE 990. What happened there has been swallowed by myth, but only two survivors, Franko and William Blackstaff, made it back to civilization; some stories says that Franko freed an ancient dragon in the North and some that he unlocked some great magical secret. Blackstaff made it back to the world after crossing the Wild on foot, while Franko reappeared on the Dark Continent as the vizier to the Kahn of the Orc.

In the years between the shipwreck and the Ascendance, Franko gained enormous power and accomplished monumental feats of magic. After he became a god, his miracles are many, there amongst the gathering of the Dreaming, but perhaps most spectacular: the War of Light. Here Morpheus joined forces with the Prophet Aziz and defeated the fallen Daeva Grishnak in the Battle of the White Tower. Still, perhaps the greatest of the miracles of Morpheus is the construction of the Dreamshell, a vast fortification of the world of Argos against the coming of the Eldren.

Recently, the Dreamlord has disappeared. Rumors say that he has gone mad, and that he now wanders the Dreaming aimlessly. In his stead, other gods have taken control over various aspects of the Realm of Dreams.

Morpheus is one of the Trinity consisting of himself, Geminon and Shaitan.

Associated Powers: Arete, Epic Intelligence, Epic Manipulation, Magic, Prophesy
Abilities: Academics, Occult, Intimidation, Investigation
Rivals: Alaÿna, Geminon, Shaitan

  • The Warlord (Younger God)
Symbol: Crossed warhamers

Of all the gods, bar perhaps Dís and Caracalla, the Warlord is perhaps the one who is the most directly involved in the affairs of men. He first came into the world when the last free city in the Colonies fell to the Dark Horde. As a young warrior, mortally wounded, screamed his rage and defiance at the overwhelming forces that overran his home, his soul found its higher purpose. It filled him with great strength, and even if the city fell, scores of his enemies were killed before the flesh gave in.

Since then, several warriors have given their bodies to the god of war in a desperate moment, and thus the tide of battle have turned.

Associated Powers: Arete, Epic Stamina Epic Strength, Fire, War
Abilities: Brawl, Craft, Firearms, Intimidation, Weaponry
Rivals: Alaÿna, Caracalla

The Dark Gods: The Court of Stars
The gods of the Star Court have one thing in common, apart from their blood (Caracalla is the son of Alaÿna and Franko da Cola; Shaitan carries a part of the soul of Franko), namely their allegiance to the Lord of the Locust.

  • Alaÿna (Older God)
Aka.: Aleastra, Alanya, Alyssa, Mother, Queen of Sorrow, the Succubus
Symbol: Cresent moon

Alaÿna can appear in a number of guises, ranging from the 30 foot tall, dark skinned demonesse the Orc revers as Mother, to the sensual, voluptuous, fiery-haired temptress that lures mortal men to their doom. The form she favours the most in this Age is that of an impossibly beutiful woman with sharp features, the ears of an elf, and dark eyes that will destroy the willpower of those who gaze into them.

In the dawn of days the Succubus was a great elven queen of one of the most illustrious houses. After the Fall, she became the goddess of the Orc, and today she has decended onto Argos; together with her son, the demigod Caracalla, and the great Khan of the Orc, Ghurandakh, she rules the Last Empire on the Dark Continent.

Associated Powers: Blood, Chaos, Darkness, Epic Dexterity, Epic Manipulation, Epic Presence, Epic Wits, Fertility, Moon, Mystery, Prophesy
Abilities: Craft,  Empathy, Expression, Intimidation, Occult, Persuasion
Rivals: Arkon, Morpheus, Geminon, Shaitan

  • Caracalla (Demigod)
Symbol: Shooting star

Incredibly beutiful, dark eyed, with a magnetism that will capture and enthrall anyone who encounter him, Man, Elf or Orc. He wears nothing but the finest clothes, of the finest fabrics, and he bears himself with the grace and refinement of a prince. Not truly a god, but his lineage makes him more than human, by far.

Of the Star Court he is the one who has the closest connection to the physical world, he is both the High Priest of the Cult of Shaitan and Prince of the Northern Shores. While the other two are fettered to their Umbral realms, Caracalla, being half human, has full access to both the physical and metaphysical worlds. Why be a child amongst gods when you can be a giant amongst men.

Associated Powers: Epic Appearance, Epic Manipulation, Chaos
Abilities: Occult, Socialize, Persuasion
Rivals: Alaÿna, Shaitan, Morpheus, Dís

  • Shaitan (Younger God)
Aka.: the Drowned Man
Symbol: Abyssian glyph

Tall, gaunt, with the skin of a corpse long submerged, dead-eyed, long, black hair that seems to flow as if under water -- the Drowned Man is a truly horrifying sight. When he appears in person, he usually wears a heavy sea-coat, and around him, sprays of cold seawater whips at his surroundings.

Once he was Franko da Cola, but the part of that soul that was swallowed by the Deep was severed from its main corpus and ended up in the possession of Alaÿna. Somehow it was given form and substance, and through some unknown, though unquestionably most sinister ritual. Shaitan's ascent to godhood is shrouded in mystery, but none who have encountered the Drowned Man will deny him.

Shaitan is one of the Trinity, the remaining two being Morpheus and Geminon. The three are rivals, sometimes enemies, but only rarely do they interact directly.

Associated Powers: Arete, Cheval, Darkness, Magic, Mystery
Abilities: Academics, Craft, Occult,
Rivals: Alaÿna, Caracalla, Morpheus, Geminon, Dís