Kingmaker

Part Seven: Gravethorn Advocacy
Wherein Gravefoot gives and gains advice.

Gravefoot had stopped outside her door, huge fist poised to knock. The torchlight made shadows dance across the entry, causing his eyes to shift in and out of their darkvision. A cool breeze was coming from a window down the corridor, carrying with it the faintest hint of lilac and elder. The pleasant smell died around Gravefoot. He had been at the fort only a few days, but reeked of wild animal, sweat, and his own blood.

Gravefoot had not bathed in days. He had been sleeping in the pen with the she-wolf since their arrival in order to try and establish a bond with dire wolf. So far, his attempts had ended poorly, as illustrated by the countless gashes, bite marks, and scrapes that covered Gravefoot’s body. Were he not able to call upon the gifts of Pharasma, Gravefoot is certain this attempt at training would have killed him numerous times.

In both lives, Gravefoot was fearless. He had tended to the dead and the dying, suffered scorn, exile, and sometimes violence. In the past few months he had struck out into the wilds where he came face to face with dangerous creatures and men. And never once in any of that did he falter. His faith in Pharasma and in his own ability to survive made him resolute. And yet, here stood, in a hallway, arm raised, in front of an oak door, unable to knock. The ludicrousness of the situation was not wasted on Gravefoot. Steeling himself and mentally growling, he forced himself to knock, resulting in an abrupt pounding that, to Gravefoot, seemed to rattle the door on its hinges. Even through the oaken planks Gravefoot could hear her sharp intake of breath as the pounding had startled her. Gravefoot cursed under his breath.

“Come in Auchs,” she said of matter of factly, her voice betraying nothing of having been startled.

Gravefoot visibly winced at being confused for the simpleton, but then, what was he expecting? At least the simpleton had an excuse. People are far more willing to forgive the “touched” than the ugly. Composing himself, Gravefoot entered over cautiously.

“Gravefoot,” Captain Javair said surprised. “I am sorry. From the knock I thought you were…someone else.”

“I should have taken off my boots,” Gravefoot replied. He was looking down at the streaks of wolf excrement he had just tracked into her chamber.

“I’m sorry?”

Gravefoot looked up to notice her looking at him queerly. Of course she was, what kind of response was that?

“I should have taken of my boots,” Gravefoot tried to explain weakly. “I have been in the pen and tracked filth onto your floors.

“That is as it is,” Captain Javair said realizing what Gravefoot was talking about. “Please have a seat. I had heard that you were back. Going forward I would appreciate it if you would notify me in person upon your arrival. Are we clear?”

Gravefoot nodded dumbly. He was enchanted by this woman. The steel in her voice. Her ability to command the situation. There was nothing of the vulnerability he had seen that winter night in her now. Gravefoot himself would not have believed it was the same woman, were it not for him being there.

“Please. Sit,” Capatin Javair said again, equal parts command and invitation.

Gravefoot hurried to the chair she indicated. As he lowered himself into it, the wood creaked under his bulk. It was just small enough that his knees ended up closer to his chest than the floor and from the reflection in the silver pitcher on her desk, he knew he looked ridiculous.

“Will you have wine?” Captain Javair asked, reaching for said pitcher.

“No,” Gravefoot responded curtly. They were few things more horrific involving his disfigurement then that of watching him drink. Especially red wine. Without fail, drops would pour out of the ruined side of his face staining his jagged teeth and chin with what looked like blood.

“Very well,” She said, not having any herself. “What is it you need?”

It occurred to Gravefoot then that he had asked for this meeting. That detail had been forgotten amidst the emotions and thoughts swirling around inside him.

“Captain Javair,” Gravefoot began, but has he pronounced the “juh” of her name, a goblet of spittle shot out of the ruined side of his mouth. With no lips to hold it back, it spattered on the flop, inches from where she stood. “Forgive me,” Gravefoot apologized flustered. “You have no doubt heard of the decree from Restov?”

“I have,” she said, leaning back against the front of her desk with her arms out to either side. The sword at her hip forced her to shift to one side, and suddenly Gravefoot’s mind was filled new thoughts, equally foreign and no less tumultuous. “I believe congratulations are in order?”

Gravefoot was no good at accepting accolades or compliments. They made him uncomfortable. He could only mumble and try to wave it off.

“Is that the purpose of this visit?” She asked arching one eye-brow. “To tell me that which I already know?” Captain Javair’s eyes turned away from Gravefoot, her attention captured by one of the pieces of parchment on her desk behind her.

He had already lost her interest he realized. It happened often. Gravefoot was awkward and hard to look upon, even to the kindest souls. People wanted to be done with their audiences with him as soon as possible. They couldn’t help it. But he could not let that happen this time. She must hear him, for if this ever went as he expected it might, he feared for what may come.

“Hardly,” Gravefoot’s voice suddenly sounded, louder than he expected. He felt compelled to stand. And so he did, pulling back the scarf she had given him that so oft to hid his face. Gravefoot could see Captain Javair’s eyes track him upward as he stood, and for just the briefest of moment there was a glimpse of cautiousness. Gravefoot didn’t know why, but he clasped his arms behind his back, tilted his chin slightly to look her in the eyes, but not look down on her. He stood at his full height, shoulders back, and the composed voice that came out of him caught him by surprise.

“You have tasked me with being the Gravethorn Company’s advocate with my band,” Gravefoot began, each word clarion clear. “However, I take the role to mean that I should be the advocate of the company in all things. Even if it means advocating the good of the company to its captain.”

“Have a done something to jeopardize the company?’ Captain Javair asked, once again her eyebrow raising.

“No,” Gravefoot responded. “But this is about what could be done. You can see from the ruin of my cheek that there is no silver in my tongue. I am awkward, and monstrous, and unsettling to behold. But do not let that take away from the wisdom, from which this shattered mouth now speaks. Restov has done us no favors with this granting. They have made us the scapegoat for their conquering of disputed lands. They send us favor and wish us well because we are no threat to them. We have the Stolen Lands now, and they do not fear us, so to their minds, it is the next best thing to taking them from the River Kingdoms. And what of the River Kingdoms? Are they to suddenly honor our sovereignty because a rival nation says so? I think not.”

Gravefoot began to pace now, slowly, all thoughts of wolf shite and floors far from his mind.

“Both kingdoms will think this fledgling nation quaint, and no threat. And if we are divided, they will be right. The contract struck with myself and Valen recently was shrewdly done-“

“So we come to the heart of it,” Captain Javair said rising of the desk. “Valen gets a royal decree and sends my advocate to get me to come back on my terms? I see-“

“You see what is not there!” Gravefoot growled. Gravefoot could not recall an instance in his three decades of life where he had ever interrupted someone. “I have heard them talk, and they speak of offering you and your man a spot on the ruling council. Valen doesn’t even know I speak to you now.”

Gravefoot turned to face her, “Heed my words, not as threat or bargain, but as truth. If they offer you, and or your man, these positions, return the outlying lands to the kingdom as a show of solidarity. The fort shall remain yours and the upkeep to be paid as struck, but you would be foolish to try and hold the outlying lands as this kingdom forms around them.”

“If they would offer council spots anyway, what reason have I to give over the lands so recently bestowed?” Captain Javair countered heatedly. “You speak of your wisdom, but I see none in that course.”

“Exactly,” Gravefoot said calmly. “You do not see, because you do not know my companions. You are mighty my captain, but your fledgling force could not stand against Valen now. And he will have a kingdom to command. Whose army will grow the quicker? You must understand, Valen is as noble a soul as I have ever met. But he is young, and like some many youths, confuses his convictions for truth, and uses his “truths” to dictate his practicality. If for even a moment Valen thought that your lands would serve this fledgling kingdom’s people better as his, he will take them. Sure he will offer some terms to assuage his own since of honor, but make no mistake, he would do anything if his youthful idealism dictates it as “for the betterment of his people.”

“Then there is Fell,” Gravefoot’s voice dropped in timbre though he didn’t intend it to do so. “I have seen you fight my captain. You are both a vision of beauty (Gravefoot could not believe he just said that!) and ferocity. You are a soldier to your core, but Fell, Fell is a killer. The world needs people like Fell, though they are loathe to admit it, and so will Valen. Fell was none too happy about the deal with Gravethorn in the first place. He will need very little excuse to come and raze your walls in the name of the kingdom, should the opportunity present itself.”

Gravefoot could sense his captain’s ire, she was on the defensive, and why wouldn’t she be? Had he not just threatened her? Was he not asking her to give up something that she had just gained?

“But,” he continued remaining calm. “What if all these words are wind my captain? Yourself and the mighty Gravethorn stand against Valen and his fledgling kingdom when they came to reclaim, if it came to that. At what cost? Some land and pride retained? And in the end, your forces battered, will you not lose it all anyway when Restov or the River Kingdoms see what The Stolen Lands are actually worth? There is gold here. And materials for building structures and weapons. No country will let that rest now that we have tamed it. What are the surrounding lands when you can oversee the entire kingdom, my captain? How much more the pride, if something is built here that neither the Riverlanders nor the Swordlords know is possible? This kingdom we can build, which no doubt is seen as joke to some, can stand as strong, nay stronger, than our neighbors. But this kingdom must be whole. Be it your claim, or the Soot Scale, there can be no internal division. For those divisions are what our enemies will use to weaken us, and if that happens, we are lost before we start. We are another Restovian proverb, told in Swordlord parlors, about what happens to those who didn’t know their place. In here, on your land, you are Captain Javair of the Gravethorn Company. But how much more if we unite our lands and out there-” Gravefoot swung his arm out wildly and cleared a shelf he did not know was behind him. The shelf’s contents clattered to the floor in a mess of scattered papers and shattered ink pots.

“Oaf,” Gravefoot thought to himself looking at the wreckage. His shoulders slumped and he felt that person he was a moment ago slipping away. “My apologies Captain,” Gravefoot spoke to the floor. “I have said my piece and should clean up the mess I have made. If they offer position, my captain, I think the gesture of returning the outlying lands would go far. If they do not, as you know, the Gravethorn Company has a deal shrewdly struck, and for now, is no worse off for it.” With that Gravefoot dropped to his hands and knees busying himself with the mess.

“Leave it,” Captain Javair said. “Stand.”

Captain Javair crossed the chamber and stood in front of Gravefoot as she were inspecting one of her recruits. “You keep saying “they”. But are you not one of them?”

That same question had played through Gravefoot’s mind on so many occasions recently, and yet he had no better answer for her now than he had for himself.

“I am a gravedigger,” Gravefoot said. “As my captain knows all too well. I would spare my captain the pain she felt a winter’s night passed, when she needed my services. I offer advice that will go far in my captain, and the Gravethorn Company, having no further use of those services.”

There was silence in the room, and Gravefoot knew that Capatain Javair was somewhere else at the mention of that night. He stood, shoulders slumped, looking at the floor. The silence stretched on for what seemed a ten-day before suddenly being shattered by a ghostly howl. The she-wolf had awakened, which meant it was time to train anew. As he listened to the rage filled lament of her call, Gravefoot wondered if he would ever be able to reach the beast.

“If my captain will allow it, she is up, and I must return to training,” Gravefoot said quietly.

“She?” Captain Javair asked. “Have you no name for this beast which you will break and bend to your will?”

“She has a name, of that I am sure,” Gravefoot said with a grin unintentionally gruesome. “She has just not been inclined to share it with me. I do not break unless it is needs done to cleanly mend”

“She is a woman,” Captain Javair said, giving a smile that touched her eyes and sent Gravefoot’s heart to racing. “Woo her, show patience with her, and respect her strength. When she is ready, she will give you her name.”

“Sound advice for sound advice,” Gravefoot said. “An even trade. My captain has done well by herself and for herself. A notion I understand all too well. But my captain should consider, she needn’t always be the only one looking out for her, and the Gravethorn’s. well being” With that Gravefoot turned and made to leave the Captain Javair’s chambers, his thoughts already on the fanged muzzle that would so soon be finding purchase in his arm.

“Gravefoot,” Captain Javair said, halting him. “When would you have my answer to this most unusual request?”

Gravefoot turned pulling the gifted scarf over his head to once again shroud his marred visage. “I think my captain is like the she-wolf. I shall get it only when it is her will to give it me.”

View
From Candlelight to Fireside
Wherein a contract is signed

Valen looked down at the documents spread across the the table, shadows danced across the drying ink as the candles flickered in the late night breeze. “Well if its going to change we all have to play our parts,” Valen murmured as he bent over and signed both copies of the Gravethorn Company contract. After returning the quill to the ink pot the tall youth place a figure on each contract and focused intently, a short moment later the image of a single small silver claw unfurled itself next to his name.

“Done and done, sealed by my magic. As long as I and my friends have the means to support you and your company, we will intrust this region’s care, protection and management to you Captain Isabeau Javair.” A small smile played across Valen’s face as he looked Javair and Gravefoot in the eye. “Later when we tell this story lets not mention how bad the room smelled.”

“The Staglord was not known for his…cleanliness,” Javair said apologetically as she lifted her copy of the contact and looked at the signatures.

“We have all been in worst places and in worst company,” Gravefoot said diplomatically.

“True enough,” Javair said looking up and smiling at Gravefoot, “but speaking of company, how will your companions react to the contract?”

“Kevlann will support it I think,” Valen said thoughtfully.

“I agree and so will Fell….eventually,” Gravefoot said, “he may complain about not killing all the bandits right from the start but he will come around.”

“Mercenaries,” Javair corrected.

“Not from Fells current view, I suspect” Gravefoot said with a shrug, “but he will come around once you and your company prove your worth.”

Javair let out a breath, “and what about the other? The mouthy one, the one with the singing voice?”

“Arumn?” Gravefoot said gruffly as he adjusted his scarf to cover his fearsome visage, “who knows, he may accept that we support it, but will not back it or he will change his mind.”

“Aye,” agreed Valen nodding, “he is the most mercurial and passionate man I have ever met.”

“That is for you two to deal with,” Javair said as she rolled-up her copy of the contract. “I must take my leave to inform my men, it will take time to organize them and set up a plan to round up our forces still in the wind.”

“Very well my Captain,” Gravefoot declared as he straightened snapping his heels together.

“Present company excluded, of course. Your role is to help them pacify the rest of these lands.” With a smile to Gravefoot and a nod to Valen the newly christened Captain of the Gravethorn Company turned to the door and exited the Staglord’s old quarters.


Gravefoot and Valen stood in the room after Javair had left. The old cleric ran his calloused finger slowly along the top line of the Contract feeling the rough paper and the dried ink. Thoughts of the past and this region’s future ran through his mind like a thundering herd of cattle until his reprieve was broken by his young friend’s question.

“You know her, do you think she can do it?”

“Hmm?”

“She thought the Staglord was the way forward for the Greenbelt. Do you still trust her judgment?”

“You signed the contract as well. Don’t you?”

“I trust your judgment of her’s,” Valen commented as he rolled their copy of the contract.

“In that case I would say that now she thinks you are the way forward for this region.”

“Ha, I think I find that more disturbing,” Valen said laughing.

Gravefoot gave the youth a lopsided shrug, “I am confident.”

“In that case I am hopeful.”

The two friends walked slowly out of the small, smelly room that was recently home to a bandit on the cusp of being a tyrant. Valen carried the rolled contract loosely in one hand while the other gestured to their companions sitting by the fire. “So who should tell our fellows about the contract with Javair?”

Gravefoot replied immediately, “I can of course, it was made at my urging after all.”

“No, the question was more rhetorical in nature. You have to prepare for cleaning out that group of undead we heard about west of here. I will do it.”

“Are you sure?”

“I am.”

Gravefoot nodded slowly, “all right. I do need to prepare…” Gravefoot raised his wide hand and set it on Valen’s shoulder, ”luck.” With that the old half-orc turned and walked away into the night. The sorcerer’s eyes followed Gravefoot’s retreating back until he vanished into the darkness then he slowly turned to the small fire with three figures reclined in its dancing light. Their forms were easy to make out, even in the faint light of the fire; Fell’s hunched form absently running a stick through the coals, Kevlann inspecting his sword for any flaw or nick, and Arumn playing a haunting tune on his flute.

As Valen approached the fire he could see Fell’s eyes fiercely glowing from the reflected light, his glower seemed to follow all movement in the fort, never resting on one point very long; the man had no need to hold a weapon to be threatening. Next to Fell sat Kevlann slowly running his whetstone along his sword, insuring its perfectection for the next time he has to draw it forth. Each carefully stroke seemed to draw nervus attention from the men in the fort; considering it was the weapon that struck down their Staglord perhaps they found the owner’s stoic care for his weapon more intimidating than Fell’s glare.

Finally, Arumn lounged, seemingly totally relaxed, on a carefully arranged pile of packs and blankets. Absently he fingered notes on his flute conjuring images of forests dressed in fall colors and the long shadows that the last rays of the setting sun invoke. As Valen approached the fire, Arumn’s wondering tune flawlessly transitioned into a marching tune matched perfectly in time to Valen’s strides.

“Well,” Valen said without preamble as he joined his companions at the fire, “Gravefoot and I have made a contract with Javair…..”

View
The Path
Beneath the moon, where spirits dance.

The flickering spirits danced and swirled around Gravefoot and Ahghir. Gravefoot’s grasp on his mace tightened as they flickered at the edge of his vision. His hands had grown clammy and a cold sweat beaded on his brow. Gravefoot could not tell if the deepening shadows were causing the chill or if it was his own growing unease with the realization that the spirits were not just random apparitions but were guiding them along an unseen path. For his part the Kobold shaman seemed unconcerned by the shades, but he could not conceal a small flinch with each drumbeat that echoed through the trees.

The sweet stink of moldering plants began played upon Gravefoot’s nostrils, and the sounds of the nocturnal animals faded away to an unnatural quiet, leaving only the steady thrum of the drumbeat. Ground beneath Gravefoot grew soggy and damp, and the trees slowly receded until the soggy ground became a stagnant, swamp-like pond.

The flickering shades fanned around the pond. Their ethereal dance continuing to the sound of the drumbeat, which built in intensity until its beat thrummed through Gravefoot’s mind. At the pool’s edge the spirits parted and Ahghir strode into the stagnant waters with grave purpose.

Gravefoot hesitated only a moment then set his jaw, plunging in after the shaman. The brackish water rising to his thighs. Ahghir little more than a bobbing head above the water continued forward, as behind them the circle of dancing spirits closed. The unnatural chill in Gravefoot intensified as he made out a dim shape in the center of the pool.

Growing nearer the drumbeat slowed, each beat becoming heavier. An insect-like drone joined the sound, and Gravefoot shook his head in a futile attempt to clear the sensations that had begun to overwhelm his senses.

Slowly the grim pair reached the still object in the pond: a dead unicorn. The once majestic creature sprawled in the pool, its horn broken off at the brow and its body strangely untouched by insects or necrosis. As Gravefoot drew closer he realized the stink of mold came not from the body, which was strangely odorless, but from the fouled water of the pond.

Ahghir watched as Gravefoot gazed upon the fallen creature. “The death of a fae such as this is a corruption to all that is natural. The corruption of the act will spread.” As he spoke ghostly green witchfire danced at tip of his staff. Reverently he touched the staff to the head of the unicorn. “Speak of the one who killed you.”

With renewed fury the drumbeat increased its beat, gaining a frenzied pace. The spirits around the pool shook and flickered grotesquely, their silent mouths screaming out in pain and loss. Witchfire blazed from the unicorn’s eyes and its body shuddered. As though panicked it awkwardly tried to stand before collapsing again in the pool to remain still once more. A hollow echo rang through Gravefoot’s head. “Purest corrupted beauty.”

With a final thunderous clap the drum stopped. As the final beat rumbled through the night, the witchfire fled from the unicorn’s body, and the spirits faded into the moon’s embrace.

View
Part Six: The Call
Wherein Gravefoot discovers a strange tutor.

Years of fear and ostracization had left Gravefoot prepared for many things, but one of them was not being around other people. Although he had come to know his companions well, there was still so much about them he didn’t understand. In addition, there was her.

The broken half-breed had always had his devotion to shield him against others. Horrified looks of passersby, shrieks of children, and the out and out berating by a drunken soldiers would always fade from his mind behind the chants to Pharasma. In those chants Gravefoot could find his center communing with his Lady and finding respite. But now there was no peace. As Gravefoot chanted his litanies, traversing the ever so familiar paths through his mind, Captain Javair was always waiting for him at his center. She stood there, all at once the vulnerable mourner of a winter night long past, and the battle-hardened swordswoman that he now knew.

“Nine Hell’s,” Gravefoot shouted. Shattering the quiet of the secluded glen he had found to meditate. He pounded his huge fists into the ground at his sides and opened his eyes. There before him, he noticed ethereal humanoid forms lazily surrounding him, as if curious. They dissipated at the edges in the dusky light, and glowed a green-gray like old ice.

Gravefoot shot to his feet scrambling for his mace, all the while chanting the verses of protection afforded to him against the restless dead. His huge hands closed over his mace, and with a great roar he swung at the nearest ghost, his mace dissipating its form, but only for a moment. Grunting louder, Gravefoot began to swing wildly, enraged by his impotence against these restless dead, the greatest enemy of Pharsma. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw one move to flank him. Waiting until he was certain the fiend was directly behind him, Gravefoot turned on his heal and charged head long, right into the gray-brown bole of a mighty oak. Pain shot across the entirety of Gravefoot’s face and he could suddenly see the tip of his nose out of his left eye, his mouth flooded with blood.

“Ahhahaha,” Gravefoot heard a hissing laugh from the edge of the grove.

As his vision cleared he saw a kobold sitting on his haunches, a long spindly staff draped across his scaly knees. From his staff many different fetishes swayed lazily, and he noticed one the creature’s reptilian eyes was milk white, and bore a scar.

“Begone rat-lizard,” Gravefoot growled. Although I care not for the likes of you and your tribe, there are fouler things about,” indicating toward the vaporous forms still lazily surrounding him.

The kobold shifted his head like a lizard to see Gravefoot with his good eye. “You no know my tribe! And you no good at spirits!”

Gravefoot braced himself, and with both hands set his nose with an audible “pop”. His eyes swam again, and he infused just enough healing magic into his nose that it would ensure the bone would mend with no infection, although whether it came back straight or not was something else entirely. It wasn’t like he was getting any more fair anyway. Still keeping an eye on the spirits around him, Gravefoot rose and approached the kobold. As he did, he noticed none of this one’s scales were marked in black or soot as all the others in this area were.

The kobold kept Gravefoot in his good eye and examined him as he towered over him, seeming unafraid. “Big as him. But mind not as big him,” the kobold muttered. “You are seer?” The kobold asked, angling his snout up slightly to indicate Gravefoot should respond.

“I am servant of Pharsma, mistress of-“

Quicker than anything Gravefoot had ever seen the kobold launched from his haunches like a coiled serpent, crashing the tip of his spindly staff into Gravefoot’s newly broken nose. Tears flooded Gravefoot’s eyes as he roared, waitng for his vision to clear. When it finally did, Gravefoot saw the kobold sat again on his haunches, still and unafraid.

“Death has no mistress for our people,” the kobold said with such conviction and authority that Gravefoot suddenly found his anger slipping away. He needed to hear this strange creature out, though he wasn’t sure why?

“The soft-lings, the food-lings, for them death is the end, and so they say their prayers to she you serve. You can’t help it, it is in your blood. But only half your blood. The other half is the blood of the mighty-people. The crushers, the takers, the burners, the sackers, and the ravagers,” as he spoke the last his hissing voice rose in fervor and pitch, and the reptilian eye that held Gravefoot fast seemed to alight with fire. “To mighty-people, death can’t stop. We return. To guide, advise, and fuel the rage of the next generation.

“That is nonsense,” Gravefoot said. “The Verses of Gant tell us that all souls go to Pharasma when they pass.

“Not all,” the kobold countered, sounding disappointed. “Behind you, they there.”

Gravefoot saw the spirits lingering and anger surged in him once more. “So they are restless dead!” He shouted. They must be vanquished and their spirits freed.

“All big, but stupid, like ogre,” the kobold sighed. “There is none spirit freer than those.”

After a few moments of silence Gravefoot asked, “What are they doing here? To whom do they wish to do harm?”

“No harm, not now,” the kobold snapped. “They likely confused. Ogre-mind call them, then try to chase them off with mace. They must recognize Ogre-mind is new, more patient then Ogre-mind deserves.” With that the kobold stood muttering and begun to leave.

Gravefoot should have been glad to see the beast shamble off. Taking note that the pain in his nose was now a burning throb, he though to turn away himself, but he couldn’t.. As he watched the kobold leave, somewhere within himself Gravefoot felt a longing. Like he was losing something that was a part of him.

Suddenly the night air filled with a rumbling staccato drum beat that at first Gravefoot thought was thunder, but the skies were clear. It came from deeper within the woods and Gravefoot looked to kobold to see if he was up to something. The sound stopped the kobold cold, and for the first time Gravefoot saw the creature look afraid.
With a heavy sigh and a sag of his bony shoulders the kobold turned to Gravefoot, “Come with me Ogre-mind,” the kobold said, his distaste evident. “He will have me teach you much this night.”

“Where do we go?” Gravefoot asked, but for some reason, he already knew he would follow this creature.

“Follow fool!” the kobold snapped. “Maybe I eat you! Rob you! Kill you! We mighty-people do as we want. It is the way. And Ahghir not want answer Ogre-mind’s questions here. Move, now!”

Gravefoot could only gather his things and follow the strange creature into the darkening wood.

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Valen's Journal Entry 6
I have noted that I am growing Silver Scales

“All things change, some for good some for ill. Change is an integral part of nature and we all are subject to it: birth, growth, death and all the little steps in between. It is when we fight that change or try to step outside of it that we begin to loose ourselves. I should know, I have been more subject to change then most.”
- Tales of Faith and Magic by Valen Silverclaw

It has been sometime since I have entered anything in this journal, there are reason for this. But here now on the eve of our battle to end the Staglord’s rule of these lands I find myself with the need to record some words. I have been going through some changes and while I’m sure my friend Arumn would quip that all young men go through that and I would get used to the hair, it isn’t exactly what I mean.

I have begun to grow small silver scales.

They are not all that noticeable yet but they have begun to spread. The more I studied them the more I came to realize that they match the scales and claws I can call upon when I need. That similarity leads me to believe that the more I call on the magic and the claws the more I will continue to change….but into what I’m not sure.

One of the reasons I have not made an entry in this journal is that I had to decide if I wanted to keep using these powers and accept the changes that they bring, no small question for my meager mind. In the end it came down to what most of my decisions come down to, what would my father do? To not act, to not use everything I have to help these lands would dishonor his memory and discredit everything he taught me.

And so I sit with my friends as they prepare for our coming battle against the Staglord. Gravefoot and Fell are preparing their poison, Arumn a song for the battle, and Kevlann ever attentive to his blade. While my friends do that I prepare myself for what using my powers means and for the changes that I am undergoing.

Perhaps none of this will matter. Perhaps I will fall in the field fighting the Staglord. But I trust that Iomedae has a different plan me and my companions. A different plan for this land.

View
Part Five: Preperation
Wherein Gravefoot and Fell plot to assist in the killing of the Stag Lord.

Gravefoot’s tongue slid amidst the jagged ruin of what remained of that half of his back teeth, to the habitual spot where it was held fast as he concentrated shading the petals. Gravefoot’s recent foray into cartography had only been honing sketching skills developed after years of tattooing. As the first rays of the morning sun begin to appear, his eyes were transitioning out of darkvision, causing the already completed sketch of the Nal Root to look as it it was coming off the page. Gravefoot focused intently on the pistils of his current project, viewing them with renewed vigor in this new spectrum of daylight.

“Nine hells, Gravefoot!” Fell snapped, shattering Gravefoot’s concentration. “I just need something to find the damn plants, not some picture to decorate my walls. We’ve been up the whole night, and we’ve assuredly a bloody night ahead. I want to be able to get some rest before the killing starts.”

Gravefoot grimaced embarrassedly, a gesture that was plainly grotesque as it played across the scarred remnants of the left side his face. Fell’s wince was quick, and probably would have been unnoticeable but for the fact that Gravefoot had seen people reacting to his face all his life. Gravefoot appreciated Fell’s attempt to hide it, and knew the ranger was right. There was no need to do such elaborate of drawings. It was just easier than thinking of her.

“The Nall Root is good for purging the stomach. And the Muletail Flower will loosen the bowels-”

“Of course they will,” Fell said, snatching the piece of parchment from Gravefoot’s hand. “Anything else other than what is one the page?”

“We need something to sanctify the graves of those monks,” Gravefoot was talking to no one in particular. “If we live that is. Holy water and cleansing fire I can create, but the tears of a penitent will be a little tougher.”

“I imagine,” Fell said with a smirk. “Seems to me like your your lady fair said they had their names entered into you Goddesses’ dead book long ago. I have seen a thing or two, but the dead crying isn’t one of them.”

Gravefoot was noticeably agitated at Fell calling the Captain his “Lady Fair”. He tried to disguise it by quickly packing up his drawing implements and throwing his laden pack onto his shoulder, his tools clattering loudly. “It is the salt in the tears that matters,” Gravefoot snarled. “The whole penitent thing is just some clergymen being dramatic. I think I saw some caves near the Skunk, I can dig for some salt there.”

“Imagine that,” Fell said, mounting the brute of an animal that was his horse. “Churches being dramatic. You go dig in the mud for salt, and I will find flowers. It will be just like in all the tales.”

Fell’s sarcasm was not wasted on Gravefoot, and he gafawed, shooting forth a shower of spittle out of the broken side of his face. Gravefoot embarrassedly wiped the expectorate off, hoping Fell wouldn’t notice. If he did, the ranger made no indication. “Even in laughter I am a travesty to behold,” Gravefoot thought to himself. “How could one such as her ever-” Gravefoot forced himself to focus. That was not a path he need go down right now.

“Can you trust the maid?” Fell asked turning his horse. “Seems to me she could have us by the short hairs with a double cross. Hells, I might even think about it were I her. Get us out of the way, and it will be awhile before another group of cutters as hard us are sent down this way.”

“I trust Pharasma,” Gravefoot said, picking up his shovel from the ground. “And so far, she hasn’t told me any of us will die tonight.”

“You let me know the second you hear different,” Fell said with a smirk before thundering off on his destrier.

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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.

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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?”

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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.

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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….

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