An offer taken

Karl and Junger looked at Valen with surprised expressions, “so yur saying ye want us to help ye make da ’belt ready for this civilization you talked about?” Asked Junger.
“Aye. You take the oath before the priest of Pharamsa signifying the loss of your life then spend your days helping in the Greenbelt,” Valen said gravely.
“I’ll take the oath and do what you ask if it will spare me the noose,” declared Kurt without hesitation.
Junger nodded, “Aye, i’ll take it as well.”
With a nod Valen turned back to road and snapped the reins, as they had talked horses had slowed and separated them from the rest of the party, “alright then, when we stop for lunch, I’ll talk to Gravefoot and the deed will be done.”

As Velan stepped down from the wagon he turned to the two bandits, “I will come get you when we are ready.” After the two captives nodded he and went to join his companions.
As Valen approached the Gravefoot, Kevlann, and Arumn he saw Fell off to the side dismounting his horse, Valen’s ears could barely hear him as he muttered, “Erastil’s tits this dam horse is too skinny.”
Seeing the tall youth approaching Fell nodded to the wagon and asked, “They give you any trouble?”
“Not at all,” Valen swung his gaze from Fell to his half-orc companion, “although I would like to take a moment to talk to them with Gravefoot after lunch, if he is willing that is.”
“Do as you wish with them,” Fell said with a shrug as he reach for his food, “just don’t fall too far behind.”
With that the five of them settled into lunch.

An offer made
You pay with your life

Valen’s eyes followed Gravefoot as he walked back into the small bandit camp the adventurers had taken late last night. His bemused expression turned thoughtful as his eyes moved to the still sleeping forms of the two captives taken in the attack. “I have wronged one of the captives,” Gravefoot’s first words struck a cord in Valen’s mind and it continued to build throughout his gruff monolog with phrases like “mercy” and “enemy turned friend;” all together they resonated with one message: Atonement. As part of his morning devotions Valen always prayed for guidance, he thought it funny that a follower of death could be a messenger of law.

As Valen moved to hitch the wagon and prepare the groups equipment for the day long trip back to Oleg’s his mind focused on what the law said about banditry. Imprisonment for no less then 90 days and, as was the case in most instances, if the perpetrator caused a death he or she were to pay with their life. Pay with their life. A small smile played along Valen’s lips as a thought occurred to him. But would the captives be worth of it? He would do just as Gravefoot asked him, he would talk to them.

A few hours later found the small group miles down the road. The two bandit captives in the back of the wagon had been mostly silent during the trip northward, their somber mood reflected in their expressions. Valen decided it was as good a time as any to start.

“What are your names?” Valen asked without turning around.

“What ye say?”

“Your names, what are they? I am called Valen.”

“Karl and dast’s Junger. Why you want to know.”

“Its a long trip back to Olegs,” Valen said with a shrug.

“Eh well the longer the better I say.”

“Understandable,” Valen said with another shrug. “Where are you from Karl. What brought you to the greenbelt?”

“Northern Brevoy, last of 5 in a farm family. Came south for land and work. One night afor i even got settled in the south that lady you all killed came with some men into my camp and and told me I was recruited. Heh course she gave the option of death if’n I didn’t want to join.”

“Death or banditry, quite the choice.”

“What the fuck dose it even matter!?” Exclaimed Jurgen. “We’re still going to end up dead.”

“Are you?” Valen asked. Turning to look back he stared into Jurgen’s eyes. “The law says that for the crime of banditry you pay with your life.”

“‘Pay with my life’ pah dat’s just a fancy way of saying death.” Jurgen spat.

“Aye, that is one way.” Valen commented as he turned back to the road. “Do you know what is coming to the Greenbelt?”

“Wait,” Karl said confused. “What is that supposed to mean?”

“Civilization,” said Valen softly, forcing the former bandits to fall silent to listen. “Towns, people, law. They are going to develop these lands, ether Brevoy and the swordlords or someone else. As they do this there will be no room for bandits, marauders, and monsters and they will be forced out. But before any of that begins the ground work must be laid. That is why my companions and I are here; this ground work will cost lives, perhaps even ours, in that case others will be sent and others after that. It will defiantly cost the followers of the Staglord their lives, just as it has cost you yours. Lives however are a precious coin. To often they are spent on simple death, as yours are mark for.”

Valen turned again to look at the two men thoughtfully, “but, perhaps, there is another way you can pay with your lives…..another way for you to atone for your crimes. There are….jobs that need doing in at Oleg’s and around the Greenbelt, some menial some dangerous. To many for us to do ourselves…”

“You mean for us to do them?” Jungar ask with a faint gleam in his eye.

“I think you misunderstand.” Valen said shaking his head. “Your lives are spent. Regardless of the reason you used your lives in the service of evil and your future is the price for that in this mortal realm. When I say jobs I don’t mean a handful of tasks to complete and go on your way. I mean the balance of your lives spent in service to the Greenbelt, the cities that will grow here and the people who will populate them. You will spend the rest of your natural lives atoning for the damage you inflicted. The work may kill you the first day or you may live long to serve.”

“Kurt, Junger. I offer you this, the balance of your lives in the service of this land and to be a part of what will grow here. All that I offer for the hangman’s noose. If you take this offer we will take your oaths of service and we will see to your food and basic needs if you are unable to do so for yourself. You will report to Gravefoot the half-orc, myself or Kevlann there,” Valen said pointing to the half-elf. “And if you think to take this offer and run it is the one in black there that will find you.”

Valen looked each of the men in eyes. “So what say you?”

Part 4: Clear light of day.
Wherein Gravefoot must attone.

Gravefoot watched the man as he completed his morning devotions. Although Gravefoot could not relate, he could appreciate the ritual and gesture. He had seen similar things many times in his youth amidst the faithful of Erastil. As to Gravefoot’s practice, his was not so organized a devotion. The domain of Pharsma was death, the great inevitability. Gravefoot was able to glean certain holy days from texts at the monastery, but his was a devotion of practicality. Every time he put someone in the dirt it was a ritual. Each new child he helped bring into the world who suckled was a sacrament, and now that he was called upon to be a Drinker, each revulsion as eyeball burst in battered mouth, a homage to his mistress.

Gravefoot watched from a safe distance, so as not to interrupt, and for Valen to make his way back to camp. Valen’s long gait was nothing like the hunched over and encumbered gait of Gravefoot. Valen’s face, fair and noble, a far cry from the ruin of Gravefoot’s own. From appearances, the only thing that Valen and Gravefoot had in common is they both looked like they walked out of some heroic tale of days past. Valen as the hero, and Gravefoot the monster.

“I have wronged one of the captives,” Gravefoot said as Valen passed.

Valen looked at Gravefoot with a quizzical expression, unsure how to take such a greeting, or even what such a greeting meant.

“I will not task you with being my confessor, but know that I have done one of the captives wrong. And in light of day I am sorry for the actions of the evening prior,” Gravefoot continued.

Valen could still only look on in bewilderment as Gravefoot continued.

“I would have words with the man, and apologize for what I have done to him. But that will not be enough. There is still good that can come of my foolish actions. These men are fighting men. Something that we are in need of. Not just us, but Oleg, Jhod, all the people who seek to bring peace to these lands. And like me, they have done something that, in clear light of day, or perhaps mercy, they may regret. I would ask that as we travel with them today, you speak with these men. There is no need to lie. Tell them what is in your heart. Tell them of your desire to help create a place where all men, even those with dark pasts, can try and make a good name for themselves. And when the time comes, and you feel it best, call to me. Without question, I will drop to knee and ask mercy of the man I wronged. Do this and see not only the conscience of a foolish ally restored, but an enemy turned friend, and a small step towards a safer Stolen Lands.”

Gravefoot did not await Valen’s answer, for he trusted that if his plan were in fact the right one, Valen would act. The half-orc had taken what steps he could to make it right, and should Valen call him to give apology, Gravefoot would so without hesitation. Should that time never come, then Gravefoot would seek the man the wronged in the realm of his mistress. Seeking forgiveness in the vast timeless expanse of death.

Valen's Journal Entry 5
How to beat Bandits

“There are always any number of ways to do any given task. Some ways a smooth and cause little disturbance to anything around you. Other ways are complex and can confuse the most brilliant mind. Then there is the short and brutal way to finish the task. This is usually the way you have to do something once an uncorrectable mistake has been made.”
- Tales of Faith and Magic by Valen

There are a lot of ways to plan for something, today I learned it is possible to over plan for things as well. My deal with the fairy dragon worked, he led us right to the camp. A quick scout by Fell led to long and in-depth planning sessions. I should note that Arumn didn’t contribute much as Tig-Titter-Tut thought it would be a great idea to put him to sleep so he would talk less. And so we planned and we planned…..and we planned. Gravefoot found the planning especially tedious, so as twilight descended he slipped off his armor and went to scout the camp again saying he would return shortly.

Fell was not happy with Gravefoots decision to scout the camp but let him do as he wished. Arumn, having just come to from his induced slumber, immediately decided to follow Gravrfoot on his scouting mission. Truth be told I think he was feeling the after effects of the fairy’s poison; his actions during the battle seemed even more erratic than usual. With Gravefoot and Arumn gone to the camp Fells temper was already being tested when Kevlen went to support our friends. At this point I decided to trust Gravefoot to handle the situation himself and I would try to calm Fell down. It was at that moment that the last bits of the plan went to shit as the sound of a spell being chanted filled the woods. Apparently scouting the camp some how turned into a full assault as Arumn tried to put one of the scouts to sleep. Fell and I shared a moment of panic before running toward the sudden commotion.

Fell quickly out distanced me during our mad dash through the woods and by the time I got to the bandit camp the battle was in full swing. Shortly after our initial clash with the bandit archers I saw Kevlann make a move to charge their position across the river. Unfortunately his leap ended a little short and he landed unsteady in the river, for a moment I thought he would keep his balance and make it through but to my horror his feet were washed out from under him by the rushing river. Seeing his vulnerability some of the bandits charged forward with weapons drawn. At this point my memory starts to escape me. All I remember of the next few seconds was combination of blasts of fire and claws coated with blood.

As the battle wrapped up we managed to take two of the bandits captive despite Fell and Arumn’s insistence that we administer a death sentience and save everyone some time. Gravefoot, Kevlann, and I managed to talk them down and as I sit hear writing this entry next to the camp fire I find my eyes drawn to the two captives. Something about them is nagging me, almost a feeling of responsibility….

Valen's Journal Entry 4
Tabard lost & Fountain found

“What is it that people value most? For some, I suppose, it is power in any of its forms; physical, magical, political, or what have you. Others want only wealth be it gold, land or gem. The wise, I believe, see the worth of their loved ones, friends and family; and while I hold these things close to my heart I think that my memories are held even closer.”
- Tales of Faith and Magic by Valen

Today started as a good day, we were off to reclaim a lost temple of Erastil and defeat the bear that had taken up residence there. We were to be led right there by the annoying fairy pair that had been making our trip in the greenbelt more then mildly uncomfortable. We were very wrong. If only it had just been a bear. I have no way to describe the monstrosity that had taken up residence at the shrine, Gravefoot said that it was a priest who had some how been corrupted but regardless it was terrifying.

To say that was the worst part of the day would be wrong. I lost something special to me today. I knew that Gravefoot wanted to go back to Oleg’s with all speed, and Fell wanted to search out the bandit camp immediately. As I thought about the upcoming argument an answer occurred to me and I also knew exactly what I had to do to make it happen. The realization filled me with sadness. Three favors from a fairy would never be worth my father’s tabard, but peace among the men I am beging to think of as friends, my father would be happy for that trade.

Valen's Journal Entry 3
Here there be Fairies

“I have had many dealings with fairy folk in my lifetime. Ever encounter has been memorable for one reason or another, this should not be surprising given the shear diversity inherent in their kind. Even with all that diversity I have found that my first impression of the fay holds true in just about any encounter. No matter what other traits a fairy may posses be it physical might, a seductive aura or even a terrifying visage; interacting with them is always annoying.”
- Tales of Faith and Magic by Valen

Although our adventure has only just begun I feel that I have already gained a life time of memories. Some for the better some better forgotten. I think one that will, unfortunately stick with me was when Fell and Arumn decided to climb a tree to look and a suspicious looking nest. In order to ease his task he took all his armor off, he continued to strip (much to our suprise) down to his pants and boots. Not to be out done Arumn bared his chest to support the climb and handle the safety rope. Part way up the climb his assent was disturbed as the tree became coated in a thick grease like substance. Just as this substance appeared so to did two giggling fairy creature. After some awkward introductions we began to discuses some of the tasks we had taken upon ourselves. Fell spent the bulk of this conversation hanging by a rope around the waist shirtless covered in grease. I believe I shall not forget that image for the rest of my days.

I found these fairy folk to be both annoying and remarkably disturbing. While the small dragon shaped creature, Perlivash I think, with multicolored wings is not so bad, I find the similarity in his front claws to the ones my hands turn into a little to close. This observation and the odd language I sometimes find myself speaking in may be clues as to what is happening to me. The other creature, Tig-Titter-Tut, is in a word creepy. The image of her trying to seduce Arumn by rubbing her tiny bare breast is one that has, unfortunately, burned it self into my mind.

During our talk we discovered that our recent discomforts were the result of these to fey having a prank competition with each other. Before they would help us with any of our questions they demanded that we pick which of the fairy folk had committed the better prank. In order to spare ourselves the wrath of the loser Gravefoot proposed that we try to deceive the creatures and choose a prank that nether committed. Although not fond of the idea I agreed to try it, during this discussion we exhibited great hubris. It never occurred to us that the little fey creatures would turn invisible and snoop on our discussion. Needless to say our plan went poorly. On the one hand it made our dealings with them a little more difficult but on the other part of me is very happy that my ability to lie has not improved in the slightest.

Part 3: Whip-poor-will
Wherein Gravefoot continues to learn from birds.

“Running water…rainbow wings…foolish faires…spiritually corrupted bears,” Gravefoot snarled exasperatedly.

Gravefoot had moved out to the edge of the shrine of Erastil trying to ponder what his next map would be. Try as he might, nothing would come to him, and he knew why. He was angry with the dealings of fairies, angry that the poor soul corrupted at the shrine had endured so many years or torment. He was angry that those he traveled with now planned to rest here an entire half a day, instead of riding back to Oleg’s to retrieve Jhod Kavken and bring him here. Mostly though, the marred half-orc knew, he was angry with himself. For here he was, so close to the bandits, according to the damnable fairies, and instead of going to look for her, he was here, doing nothing.

Gravefoot rose from the rock he was seated upon with a flare of his new long coat. “Damn those cowards!” he snarled. aloud “I’ll go after her myself! Let them have their rest. They can rest till they rot. I’ll not sit by and do nothing when there is still daylight and my Lady is with me.”

Storming over to his staff sunk into the marshy earth, Gravefoot was surprised to find a small bird perched atop it. The creature’s mottled feathers blended in perfectly with the surrounding brush. It was kind of squat, and round in proportion, with a large black eye that seemed almost in the middle of the side of its head. Gravefoot waved a hand at the bird as if to “shoo” it away but stopped suddenly as the bird began to let forth a trilling call that sounded like it was saying, “Whip-poor-will. Whip-poor-will.”

Gravefoot toppled over as he tried to grab his own arm, halting his swat at the bird , and at the same time trying to drop to his knees. The whippoorwill was a sacred bird to Pharasma. Gravefoot had heard the sacred birds before, but had never seen one. They mainly came out at dusk and dawn, and their natural coloration and propensity for hiding made the small birds difficult to see even in the light of day. Gravefoot felt foolish as he untangled himself from his coat and began a somber mantra to Pharasma, eyeing the bird atop his staff, trying to match the lilting cadence of the creature’s call.

Gravefoot watched as the bird alighted from the staff and begun to hop along the ground. It stopped not far off, as if waiting for him. He rose slowly and followed the bird to a thick bramble patch, bearing thorns as long as dagger blades. With a quick chirp and flutter of wings the bird was over the bladed undergrowth, and back, over and back, seeming to scold Gravefoot because he was not following.

Grimacing, Gravefoot entered the thorny barrier and slowly began to work his way through. It was painful, and nearly impossible to pick a clear path between the spiked foliage. The whippoorwill chirped and chided Gravefoot , and the faster Gravefoot tried to go, the more he was torn and skewerd by the brambles. Gravefoot’s frustration, not far gone from earlier, began to rise to anew. He let forth a whooping belt of rage, a sound he was able to make because of his orcish heritage he was certain. And yet, the lilting call of the whippoorwill somehow rose above his outcry. Gravefoot looked up at the fluttering bird and suddenly it became clear to him.

“I see now little one. If I am to follow you, it is not enough to try and go the same direction. I must give you the steerage of my course.”

With that Gravefoot rocked his head back, and aligned himself directly under the circling bird. As the bird flitted back and forth, Graveffot followed, eyes always towards the darkening sky. After a time, Gravefoot didn’t know how long or how far, he no longer felt the snag and pull of thorns, and taking his eyes from the now purpling sky, he saw he was clear of the brambles amidst a small clearing encircled by the flora.

The whippoorwill, now a colorless shape as Gravefoot’s darkvision took over, flitted atop a small mound. Gravefoot approached and instantly noted the small stack of stones, now overgrown and half sunk within the marshy earth. The small cairn was erected long before Gravefoot’s time, but here amidst this small clearing it stood unmolested, protected on all sides by the jagged barrier.

Gravefoot was thankful for this gift he had been given, for this simple and somber grave was not always so well protected. It was only amidst season after season that the thorny patch grew and thickened, until finally, this small memorial site was better protected than any kingly crypt. Realization caused Gravefoot to think his anger at his companions inaction foolish and shameful.

“I will return to them if you will show me out friend,” Gravefoot said respectfully the bird.

The whippoorwill replied with a lilting chorus of “Whip-poor-will. Whip-poor-will,” before fluttering into the night sky. Gravefoot once again threw back his head and trusted his guide. As he walked and side-stepped he looked at the countless twinkling stars and nebulae that played out in the tapestry of the clear night sky. The half-orc was over come with a serene appreciation for the cosmic majesty that was the heavens, and how little a place he took up in comparison. Eventually the whippoorwill flew off, disappearing into the starry sky, and Gravefoot saw that he was clear of the patch again, on the shrine side.

Excitedly Gravefoot hurried back to the shrine towards the cave. Digging around in what was left of the despoiled bear’s den, he found the ancient clay chalice half buried, that he had seen earlier when he and Valen found the tattered vestments and despoiled holy symbol. Digging the chalice out, he hurried off to get to work. He sketched diligently, all the while humming holy songs to Pharasma that exited the battered side of his face as slurred whistles and occasional gurgles.

Finally, just before sleep threatened to over take him, Gravefoot had finished his maps. The first looked blank as it lay on the ground, but as it was held up to the lantern light behind it, faint cartographic lines could be seen. If held overhead with the sun behind it, the lines would show bold and bright. With this, Gravefoot would always remember that sometimes a change of perspective is needed to truly get where you need to be. What is more, even the fairies that flitted overhead, whose dealings made him bite back an almost primordial rage, must have thought the company wasted time not taking the best route to where the fey tried to lead them, even though it was not possible for the company to fly.

Lastly, there was the clay chalice, the stem now broken off and stopped with a thick wad of cord and fey braided leather from his saddlebag Gravefoot had destroyed. The inside of the chalice had been sketched with landmarks and general rotes and was now filled with water. Gravefoot pulled the stopper, and slowly the water began to drain out the bottom. As it did, the clearest and safest paths began to show in iridescent ink, contrasted by the moist darkened clay. If one watched, and waited patiently, once the entire chalice was drained, but while the clay was still damp, one could see the safest and surest routes through this section of the Gnarlmarsh.

The first stanza
Arumn struggles with verse

Their adventures took them far from home,
Struggling and searching the wild unknown,
Through briars and marshes they struggled to pass,
This trip in thw would would not be their last.

The weak may need help
but the strong they are bold,
the stories of heros will never grow old.
Evil may do as evil does,
but heros will fight for good cause.

The stories are told and the songs will be sung,
We find still that there is much to be done.
When the good find the bad there is trouble, it’s true,
but watch out bandits, they’re coming for you.

Part 2: The Kindness
Wherein Gravefoot is reminded he knows little.

The cawing that surrounded Gravefoot was the only sound, though he could feel a strong wind upon his face. Gravefoot was not certain how, but he knew he was dreaming. He stood on roughhewn steps of stone, leading to a dais with pillars that reached into the slowly swirling golden sky like skeletal fingers. A gray mist spread out beneath Gravefoot, making it impossible to see the ground, yet somehow he knew he was atop a very tall peak. Countless and varied sized poles of grayed and gnarled wood lay in scattered intervals crisscrossing the skeletal pillars, and thousands of ravens cawed, hopped, and perched on the beams.

Gravefoot was not scared. There was something familiar about the feel of this place, although he was certain he had never been here before. Slowly he began to ascend the steps. The cawing seemed to get louder, and now he could he the snap of wings and the tapping of beaks. Yet even as the sound grew it never became cacophonous or deafening.

As Gravefoot ascended the steps he saw beneath the perches were so many writing desks. The desks were made of a wood so dark it looked black, and atop them were large tomes bound in variety of colors. At each desk a spectral scribe busily transcribed into the tomes, motes of faint green light gathering around their quills as if being pulled from the air itself. Each of the spectral scribes wore a long black robe that seemed to absorb the light, and small soundless bells dangled from their hem and sleeves. Occasionally a scribe would cock their head, as if trying to hear better, before nodding and carrying on with their work. Gravefoot saw that after a time a raven would nod to a scribe before flying off, only to have the scribe begin to immediately pay attention to another that began cawing. The birds were in constant flux, with as many coming as departing, seeming to appear and disappear out of the swirling golden light.

Gravefoot did not know how long he waited on the steps by himself, yet he knew he must. Nor did it bother him to do so. There was a pervading sense of clam in this place, despite the noise. Here he did not feel ashamed, or as if he must hide. The nagging pains of his disfigurement vanished in this place. And suddenly Gravefoot knew he was where he would one day be eternally, in the home of his matron Pharasma.

After a time Gravefoot felt a small tug on his psyche and turned to see a scribe at a black desk looking patiently at his tome. A little disoriented Gravefoot realized he was no longer on the steps, but on the dais itself, with so many ravens overhead.

“Be quick, and say what you have drank,” the ghostly scribe urged him, though not unkindly, without looking up.

“I do not understand,” Gravefoot tried to say aloud, yet his voice came out like a caw.

The Scribe looked up and was immediately perplexed to see Gravefoot.

“You are not a normal drinker,” The scribe said not quite knowing what to do.

Gravefoot could only shrug.

“What is your name?” Asked the scribe.

“Gravefoot,” Gravefoot replied.

“No,” was all the scribe said.

“No?” Gravefoot was puzzled. “I have only had one name, the one given to me by him that saved me shortly after I was born, and almost killed.

“No,” the scribe said matter of factly. “Yours was name given before your birth. Your name was announced to a people, and your coming was celebrated.

Gravefoot could only snort. “My coming, friend scribe, was met with a slab of cold stone upside my head by she that bore me.”

The scribe tilted his spectral head slightly, as if listening to something distant, then returned its gaze to Gravefoot. “It is of no matter for now, you have drank so little. Yet we will need to record your contributions under your name, you will need to find that out.”

Gravefoot confusedly spoke, again his voice sounding like a raven’s, “I know not of what you speak?”

The scribe nodded slowly. “Too soon, drinker, you drank too soon. There is still much you should have learned.” The scribe waved its arm towards the sky indicated the ravens overhead. “They eat the eyes of the dead, capturing the last impressions and sites of a departing soul, and bringing them here, to the Aviary, where they can be transcribed by us. Sometimes the images and impressions happen after the soul has begun to depart, and without drinking the eyes, some parts of the living soul can be lost as they transition to dead souls. If pieces are lost, the soul is unwhole, and may become restless. And this, as you know devotee of our lady Pharasma, is unacceptable. Normally Our Lady relies on the raven kin to be the Drinkers of Eyes. But it would seem as if you have been chosen.”

As the scribe spoke, Gravefoot knew what it said was true, the same way he knew he still dreamt. Even still, the kobold’s last memories surged to get out. They battered and leapt against the inside of his skull while others seemed to peck. Sensing a release, Gravefoot began to recant the memories that were not his own to the scribe, the words turning to caws that joined the chorus of those around him.

The scribe’s quill flew across the pages of the tome, the greenish motes seeming to be pulled from Gravefoot’s mouth. When Gravefoot had concluded, he again felt at peace. The scribe finished his scrawling and nodded to Gravefoot. Suddenly Gravefoot was again among the steps of the dais. He could no longer see the scribes, only the ravens. The swirling amidst the ground begun to rise and engulf Gravefoot. As the slow mist began to slowly overtake him, Gravefoot heard the echoing voice of the scribe.

“Return to us when you have drank more. And learn your name.”

Gravefoot awoke with a slow and calm fluttering of his eyes. As had been the case all his life, the first thing to greet him this morning was the ever constant pain of his disfigurement. Even still, Gravefoot felt a residual stillness within himself. He rose slowly from the floor and reached for his tattered coat. Only in its place was a new one, the fabric a shiny new black. Gravefoot raised it up and a small tinkling sound filled the air. A small silver bell hung from each sleeve, and below the collar was a mantle of Raven’s feathers. As Gravefoot slung the coat over his shoulders it fit perfectly. Grabbing his staff, Gravefoot breathed a prayer of thanks to Pharasma and brushed the rough wooden holy symbol against his battered lips. Stowing the rest of his gear Gravefoot departed into the morning air, eager to perform in his new calling.

Part 1: The Map
Wherein Gravefoot fears to dream.

Gravefoot rubbed wearily at his eyes, his calloused hands brushing against the ruin of his face. He yawned widely exposing a fanged maw, battered and broken on one side. A familiar pain laced through his face, accompanied by the pops and pulls of his jaw and scars protesting the forced relocation. Over thirty years the pain had dulled to a sharp jab, followed by a dull discomfort. Gravefoot expelled a ragged breath that was meant to be a laugh.

“As if I needed another reminder of my deformity,” he said to no one.

Gravefoot was glad for this dark night. He was able to converse with the soldier on watch for quite some time without fear of being seen, and he was doing what he could to avoid sleep. Eventually the guard had caught a glimpse of Gravefoot in the fire light and was suddenly far less talkative. That pain was one that time had not yet dulled. The expressions of horror, shock, and revulsion when someone new bore witness to the ruin of his face. Many good-hearted people would do what they could to recover. But even with his scarf covering the majority of his mother’s gift to him, people still new something was wrong, very wrong.

Sighing heavily Gravefoot examined his last few days work. He had never even considered cartography prior to being asked to do it. And although he had no idea whether or not he was doing it correctly, he had enjoyed it thus far. For Gravefoot, the maps were more than just records of direction and landmarks. They were reflective of the struggles and events that were undergone while exploring. Gravefoot knew the value of work without meaning. How many times had he redone a tattoo gotten by a soldier in their cups? The name of lass whom they loved for a lifetime, redone when it turned out the love only lasted a night’s time. The soldier drunkenly shouting the motto and bravado of his regiment one day would come back another to have it covered, after turning deserter. These meaningless works would fill Gravefoot with sadness, yet he performed them all the same. Humans were a mercurial lot. Their only constant was death, and that was why Gravefoot found so much comfort in the dead being his connection to a world otherwise terrified of him.

Gravefoot’s most recent map was a work carved into a roll of cyprus bark. He had found the stringy sheet of bark on a tree near the edge of the marsh, and it still bore some of the boggy smell. Gravefoot had carved the radish patch in relief, his thoughts going back to the battle with kobolds. Suddenly his mind was flooded with memories. The membrane of the eye bursting forth salty jelly with a small “pop” as he crushed it between his teeth. The bile rising in his stomach. A feeling of satiation as he lazily napped amidst those in his band, full on radishes. The desire to protect the radishes. The fear of himself chanting mantras of death and ruin. The arresting pain of steel being slammed into his body.

“Enough!” Gravefoot growled. Louder then he would have liked. He looked around quietly to make sure he hadn’t disturbed anyone at this late hour.

Those last memories were not his own. Yet they had invaded his thoughts all day, and his dreams the night before. That was why Gravefoot tried now not to sleep. Refocusing, he took some steadying breaths before looking upon his second map.
This map was more traditional. Drawn on parchment in a style that was needle thin hashes scrawled in quick successive order. The ink was stained a violent red from the berries Gravefoot had crushed and added to it, and the venom he had added from the spiders left an actinic glow on the parchment in low light.

Gravefoot’s final map looked like nothing more than a heap of carved bones and a few feathers. Gently pawing through the heap, Gravefoot located where the raven feathers were tied to cured ligaments. When the ligaments were pulled taught, the bones leapt into order, and the carvings aligned into lines of the map. Pleased at his own ingenuity, Gravefoot tiredly put the last of the maps down. He could fight sleep no further. Drifting off rapidly, his eyes lingered briefly on the raven’s feather before closing. Just before sleep over took him, he heard the far off caws of a mass of ravens.


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