Kingmaker

Part 9: In Retrospect
Wherein Gravefoot writes some letters.

Gravefoot called on as much focus as that which he required to call upon Pharasma’s gifts as he forced his huge form through the motions the fierce kobold Ahghir had spent the last year instructing him on. Time and time before, Gravefoot could never complete the complex forms correctly, resulting in many cruel beatings and abuses by elemental magic. Even recalling the harsh lessons almost made him break focus, almost losing his center and ruining the kata.

Gravefoot regained his focus, pushing back the memories, and the fear he felt today when treating with Ahghir, aligning his body as he came to the most complex part. Gathering all the balance of his long form, the half orc leapt into the air with a great growl driving his right near forward above his waist, arms and shoulders extended back. From his leap Gravefoot landed in in low crouch, weight on his back foot, front leg extended.

Gravefoot felt as much as heard the twang of the bowstring and his huge hands were already in motion. He twisted his body sideways, shooting out his arm and snapping outward from the elbow with his forearm at the last second. There was aloud crack as his huge olive forearm made contact with the shaft, snapping the shaft in the center sending the arrow head careening off harmlessly to the side.

The half-orc let out a deep breath, and a huge grin split his ruined face. Arumn stood a ways off, bow held at his side, his other arm raised in the air letting forth a cheer, sharing in Gravefoot’s elation. Finally, Gravefoot had done it.

Gravefoot rose from his crouch as Arumn crossed the distance. Grimacing, Gravefoot snapped off the shafts of Arumn’s previous two arrows, which Gravefoot had failed to turn away. Uttering a small prayer to Pharasma, his wounds glowed with golden light and began to close, forcing the arrow heads out of his skin. Gravefoot caught them as they fell, returning them to Arumn as he approached.

“Well done Gravefoot,” Arumn said with his usual grin. He produced a flask from seemingly nowhere. “A celebratory drink is in order.” He tipped the flask back with a quick motion, not seeming to care if Gravefoot agreed or not, before offering it to half orc.

Gravefoot took the flask, and drank eagerly. Arumn’s spirits were always the most amazing thing the half orc had ever tasted, at least until the next kind was offered by the bard.

“Good thing you finally were able to master it Gravefoot,” Arumn said with a look of concern. “I was starting to worry.”

Gravefoot appreciated his friend’s concern, indicating the already closed wounds from Arumn’s arrows. “Pharasma has not told me I will join her today my friend,” Gravefoot said with his grotesque smile.

At that, Arumn looked a little shocked before a look of recognition crossed his handsome face. With a smile he threw his head back again in a quick snap, pulling from the returned flask.

“Wasn’t you I was worried about,” Arumn said through his grin. “I only thought to bring three arrows.”

With that the bard began to stroll off back to camp absently composing a song about, “A lad who shot at maids, and hoped he never hit his mark. And the maid that could turn his shot away, would for tonight have his heart.”

Gravefoot didn’t get it.

Later that night, Gravefoot called upon a sparrow to convey his message to the Blackthorn’ barracks that he needed someone to meet him as he and his comapnions made for Sootscale. He then returned to camp, and checked the bundle he had prepared to make sure it contained everything he intended. Within was the black dragon scale armor Gravefoot had worn over the last year. He had cleaned and conditioned it, the soot black scales perfectly reflected the moon silvery moonlight. Also, wrapped in a cloth, was the greataxe just given to him. Gravefoot knew it was the most exquisite weapon he had ever seen, and he was once again taken in by the sheer magnificence of the powerful enchantment. There was a small leather purse with a few gold. Lastly, there was were two simple roles of parchment, bearing two letters. The first read:

Jhod-

I have sent this bundle along with one of my soldiers from Gravethorn. Please see its contents delivered to Kundar. If he cannot read, please read my letter to him, and then seek to correct that over the next year. There is far too much wisdom in the written word for one to go without in this life.

Lastly, if you would be so kind as to feed whomever delivers this, as they will need to return to Gravethorn shortly thereafter.

As I know you and yours were not anticipating another mouth to feed, I have enclosed a purse of fourteen gold, whose contents should be used as you see fit to account for Kundar over the course of the year.

My thanks to you and all who serve with you. Do not hesitate to contact me if you need anything.

Gravefoot

The second read:

Kundar-

I apologize for the expedient fashion in which we left. We had to treat with one who has shown little patience in the past, and is often cruel to those who make him wait. In treating with him, I am reminded of something that I must tell you now.

I was flattered when you swore your fealty to me as appreciation for the ordeal we underwent that night. I am still new to many things when dealing with others, and was overcome by such a show of devotion and gratefulness.

That being said, I cannot accept your pledge, nor will I allow it. You are supplanting one master, the beast, for another, myself. That is cowardice. Instead I will challenge, support, and facilitate in any way, you answering to the most difficult master, yourself.

Friend Kundar, I know what it is like to be held captive by something. And recently, I find myself conflicting with something inside me which is bestial, which is wrath, which is dark. Sometimes I think it would be easier to succumb. To serve the dark inside, or flee toward the light, and be at peace one way or another. To be act as commanded, to not think, to not feel responsible, can be a path. But that is not the path I walk. That is not why myself, and so many others, risked all to settle this wild land. This land was formed so that men did not have bend knee unduly or without choice.

As was sentenced, you will serve with Jhod for the year. But you must belong to yourself. You must spend that time coming to terms with the fact that, whether or not you were in control, you have taken a life. You need to begin get right with what happened, or it will resurface in a future, and will be far more costly than it is now.

I have sent you my armor and returned to you your axe. Please do not think I do it to insult. The gravity of you gifting such a magnificent weapon to one such as I is not lost and you have my heartfelt thanks. But for myself, and my own balance, I do not do lasting harm to the living. I do not think less of them that do, as a matter of fact I count amongst my companions both a killer, and swordsmen, both of which I think these lands have not seen the likes of before. My tie is one already so close with death, that I do not take action to speed my Lady’s will along, save by her command.

Please take up my armor, made from the scales of the black dragon Gotternyxia. This beast of legend, whose cruelty was so fierce that it took the sacrifice of hundreds of lives to finally fell her, had he scales reworked to protect the brave survivors that stood against her. Let it remind you not only of myself and our ordeal, but that from the fiercest of beasts can come the strongest protection when re-purposed. Take up your axe, a weapon whose power put to purpose can be so great. It has no business being wasted by one who seldom would call upon it. With these implements I ask you to, not task you with, seeking out innocents within our land for a year under Jhod’s guidance, but wherever you so choose after your sentence, and protect them from monsters like you once were. I care not if you devote yourself to a Jhod’s goodly cause, or even agree with his ethos. So long as you always remember that there are things in this world, by choice or otherwise, that would prey on the innocent. All are not created equal. In this life there are the strong and the weak. The strong can prey upon the weak, or they can protect them. I would hope that you find it within yourself to do the later. Only in death do all become equal. And in death, the strong must answer for the decisions they have made in life.

Lastly, it occurs to me that while sentencing you, you were never asked if you had a family. For that I apologize. Your sentence stands, however I am learning the importance of family, and know that if you have one, it will be difficult from them to be without you for the year. I have a small and simple home with Leveton. If you have a family they are welcome to it for the next year. You are not allowed within the city during your sentence. But I am sure Jhod would not protest to your family coming to visit you at the shrine. In addition, I will check up on you as often as possible. I am very curious about your people and lands you have come from.

Kundar, when we found you, you said Erastil had abandoned you. I would posit that it was the opposite. In your darkest hour, he sent ones who was not even his own to help you. Try and keep that in mind over the next year. Have faith. Have conviction. And let your wounds begin to heal.

Gravefoot

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Report on Negotiations
Dispatch from Baroness Javier, delivered by Falgrim Sneeg.

My Lords,

The last week has been a productive one. I have secured the terms you wished, though I fear it may not be entirely within the structure you desire. That is for you to decide and if further negotiations are necessary I will of course perform them.

I sent a dispatch to Chief Sootscale before departing, informing him of my visit and desire to discuss the future of your burgeoning kingdom. My emissary returned with a complete honor guard sent by Chief Sootscale of 20 Kobold warriors.

As I journeyed to the newly christened Kobold capitol, Firesoot, I was shocked to discover the land over the last year has become increasingly populated. It appears that Kobold tribes from throughout the Greenbelt have flocked to Horde Sootscale and its promise of security under the protection of Sootscale and his honor guard the Godslayers.

Those Kobold who have not yet earned the right to live within the underground halls of Firesoot have created a nomadic tribal society above ground; tending flocks of sturdy gnarlhorn goats and rugged moon radish gardens that they travel between to tend.

As we approached we were joined by a peculiar kobold shaman by the name of Ahghir. He was a surprisingly talkative fellow and spent much time telling me about the new livelihood of Horde Sootscale.

All Kobolds are sworn to Chief Sootscale, and they have formed a new cult around the chieftain and his prowess. Prominent among the cults tales are of the Godslayers who stood beside Sootscale and helped him smite the Demon God, Sharptooth, in a fearsome battle which lasted three days and three nights beneath a sky of blood.

Upon the fall of the Demon God Chief Sootscale granted the Godslayers the lands to the north rule as they see fit and to trade with the uncivilized human lands beyond, while Sootscale remained in Firesoot to rebuild his horde that was laid to waste at the hand of the Demon God.

Ahghir recounted this tale with a straight face and reverence that was punctuated by, what I can only assume, were calls of affirmation by the assembled warriors. Yet I could not shake the sense that the wizened kobold knew that the story was little more than a fanciful tale, though he would certainly never say as much.

Once we reached Firesoot I found its entrance marked by two stone towers that were remarkably sturdy and well built, seemingly of dwarven design. I can only assume the plans were liberated from some poor dwarf in a past time. The Kobolds had “modified” the towers, covering them in fetishes, gruesome tribal markings, and great black iron braziers, that swung from the four corners on black spiked chains. Each brazier burnt with deep red flames, and produced ash and soot in a thick layer that covered the towers and surrounding area.

Around the towers a small town of nomadic kobolds lived. I hesitate to call it a town for I saw no permanent structures, only a series of tents and pavilions made of gnarled lumber poles and crudely sewn goat hides.

My arrival created a great stir and some 40 Kobolds came to watch us enter the mouth of the cave which had been fortified with a black iron portcullis that was coated in a thick covering of sticky black pitch.

Within the caverns I was given almost no leeway to explore. Though they were always polite, in their way, I was often directed away from passages due to “cave-ins.” The halls were choked with smoke and smoldering fires. The walls decorated in a thick paste of soot and blood painted on the walls in intricate tribal patterns.

Falgrim managed to slip away and explore a greater area. He expressed to me that the hallways crawled in a seemingly disorganized maze through the rock, encompassing some couple miles of tunnel and larger caverns that he explored.

The populous within Firesoot were primarily kobolds and almost entirely of the warrior caste. Despite this he estimates their numbers at several hundred at least.

There was a small slave population of blue creatures I, nor Falgrim, recognized, but Ahghir informed me were mites, claimed in battle from the dead tree to the north. The sense I got was that the tunnels extended to this dead tree. I assume he meant the great sycamore which has long been a landmark in the Kamelands.

Falgrim also informed me that deep within one passage he discovered a ramshackle iron mine and foundry which blazed night and day.

Sootscale greeted me in a large chamber, and had obviously dressed for the occasion, as had his honor guard of Godslayers. Ahghir took a position at the right-hand of the chief, a spark of mischief in his eye.

It was here that I made the most disturbing finding of my trip when I was introduced to Moglun Grud. A troll from the Hargulka Tribe from the south.

The troll spoke no language I understood, but seemed uncannily sharp-witted for all of the tales I have heard of the dullness of the species. There was a cruel cunning and brightness in his eyes which I found unsettling.

Over the course of 4 days I was made welcome in Firesoot. Sootscale seemed more interested in showing me great displays of his warriors’ prowess and showed little enthusiasm for affairs of the state. I found these displays of strength to be more grandiose exhibitions of bragging as opposed to veiled attempts at displaying his leverage to negotiate.

In truth, I found him a surprisingly magnanimous host in the way that a spoiled child is very generous with his toys, even if only to show you how many of them he possesses.

In regards to the silver mine, he showed no desire to control the “soft” metal. Saying it was no good for the Horde’s weapons and made poor jewelry compared to bone, feather, or onyx.

His official proclamation was that Horde Antedom may mine the soft metal as it wishes, and he would see that none of his subjects disturbed any whom you sent to work it.

When I discussed terms to build a settlement within the Horde’s borders he was very excited by the prospect. Proclaiming that a city would surely show the greatness of the Horde and make all fear them. When I explained that the settlement would be controlled by Horde Antedom he did not seem to care. His only concern was that it existed, could shelter their goats during the cold times, and made him look strong.

In truth his only wishes seemed to be two-fold. One, he greatly enjoyed the idea of naming regions on Gravefoot’s maps, such as Antedom and Sanglier and wishes the Horde Lands region to be named Firesoot. I think he associated a sense of permanence and pride, gained from the writing of it upon a map. Two, he desires increasing the population of the Horde by any means necessary, regardless of the race or method which they are subsumed into it. Gross numbers of bodies sworn to a cause are a simple metric of power that he understands easily. He seems to care nothing for territory or borders, and the very concept of controlling land that isn’t exactly where he is at the moment was alien to him.

This is why I say that although I secured all terms you wished me to achieve, I fear that Chief Sootscale either does not understand or, perhaps, care about the requests in a manner in which we are accustomed.

The shaman Ahghir obviously carried great respect within the tribe, and I think of all of them it is he who understands our ways and the requests I made the best. However, if he ever provided Sootscale with advice in regards to our proposal it was never within my presence.

I did not see the troll again after the first day, but Falgrim reported that it left soon after our arrival with a small delegation of kobolds and two massive hound-like creatures.

Finally, Sootscale bid me to give you these gifts, one for each of you, which he says are yours by right of conquest. He insisted that I tell you that the string for each necklace is made from the braided gut of Tartuk, cured in the ash of his pyre, and that the rune-carved teeth are also Tartuk’s. The necklaces have been blessed with luck by Ahghir.

(Tartuk Charm: +1 Luck bonus to all saves)

I have sent Falgrim ahead with this dispatch, and the necklaces, so you might discuss your next move. I will return to Gravethorn for one week before departing to Levington to receive your next orders. Should you require my service sooner send word by raven.

In Service,
Baroness Javier

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Part 8: Return to Levington
Wherein Gravefoot is eager to be reunited with a very important girl.

Gravefoot barely contained himself as he giddily made his way through the streets of Levington. He ignored the glances askance from the people out this morning, not sure if it was him or the ton and a half of stark white direwolf beside him. He had been away from Levington for quite a while, and it had changed a lot. The city was growing at a rapid, yet organized pace. A far cry from the streets of Gravethorn, whose every alley was packed with shelter seekers and derelicts. Whereas, despite the heat, the citizenry of Levington seemed content and happy, those of Gravethorn only shared looks of sadness, loss, and distrust after Fell’s campaign. But even these heavy thoughts could not weigh down the half-orc’s light steps, for soon he would be able to see her again.

He had all but jumped at the task when his captain, actually Baroness, old habits died hard with Gravefoot, had said they needed to send someone for supplies from Levington. When Gravefoot volunteered, the Baroness was glad to let him go saying only, “Take your Blackthorn Brigade, and send them back here as soon as possible. I expect you will stay as long as is needed Captain.” Gravefoot wasn’t sure if he should have been hurt by her easy dismissal, but this time he didn’t care. He would get to see the little one.

Blackthorn Brigade wasn’t a brigade at all. When refugees started arriving, many sick and dying, and all needing shelter, the Baroness had tasked Gravefoot with finding anyone within the company that had any skills that could help. Gravefoot found a handful of men and women who were medics, carpenters, wheelwrights, and farriers, prior to becoming sellswords. They were placed directly under Gravefoot’s captaincy, and were ordered to join him in whatever tasks he deemed fit. At first they were highly adverse to the work, but soon had little grounds for complaint. Their captain was always the first one out to help, and the last in. Gravefoot had been fair with them, and quick with coin for drinks at the tavern in the evenings. Although not good with people, Gravefoot understood soldiers, having been around them his whole life, and quickly won them over to the good they were doing. It was early last winter, when Gravefoot digging through things left behind in the fort from the Staglord’s days hoping to find something of use, came across a stash of black hooded robes. The robes were ideal for Gravefoot and his people, as they could easily be worn over armor to stay warm, and their dark color hid the blood, sick, sweat and mud that they ended so many of their days covered in. Soon people were asking for the Black Gravethorn’s when they needed help. And eventually that shortened to Blackthorn, and stuck.

Then one evening the Baroness entered the barracks, crossing directly to Gravefoot.

“Captain Gravefoot,” she said succinctly. “You and the Blackthorn Brigade are to be commended on your good work. Carry on.” With that she left, and like that, the Blackthorn brigade became official.

Gravefoot wore one of those robes now, only in the heat he was stripped down to the waist, his gifted scarf serving as a sash. His upper body was now about sixty percent tattoos, though many had evolved into more natural and organic patterns. One had changed significantly, as he had covered over the Baroness’s likeness. His mohawk had become long and unkempt over the year and he had taken to braiding two strands in the front to keep his coarse hair out of his face. His huge hands were wrapped in dirty gauze to the forearm. His constant work never giving the chance for his blisters to heal all the way. He would have looked more out of place where it not for Howl of the North Wind. The beast was the embodiment of wild. Even now as she padded alongside the nearly seven foot tall half orc her keen eyes looked upon the citizenry without fear, and more than little hunger. Her very essence seemed wrong being contained within these man-built walls, and she wanted free of them. This she let Gravefoot know on a number of occasions, as she less than gently nipped at his heels, speeding him along in his task.

At last the duo arrived at the door of Leveton manor. Gravefoot spun on Howl of the North Wind, raising himself up in posture unconsciously as he tried to summon command into his voice.

“Howl of the North Wind, stay here until I come out,’ Gravefoot commanded.

In response Howl snarled and stood on her hind legs, imitating Gravefoot’s increase in posture. Gravefoot, just the low side of seven feet, was not used to having to look up at things. Yet the massive beast stood well taller than him now.

Knowing she was testing him yet again, Gravefoot stepped forward and shoved the white mound of wolf in the chest, trying to force her back on all fours. The direwolf hooked her forelegs around Gravefoot’s neck as he shoved, and both tumbled down in melee of snarls, curses, and fangs. After a time Gravefoot had the beast pinned and was eye to eye with her, she on her back in the dusty path, Gravefoot atop her.

“Howl of the Northwind, stay here until I come out!” Gravefoot said again out of breath. The direwolf snorted derisively before flipping herself over, crashing her boney head into Gravefoot’s face as he she did. There was a loud “thunk”, followed by swimming vision, and Gravefoot wasn’t sure how he stumbled to his feet. When he could see clearly again he saw that the direwolf was laying in a patch of shade, her huge pink tongue lolling out, looking as if it were her idea that she wait there contentedly until Gravefoot returned.

“Close enough,” Gravefoot grumbled turning to the Leveton’s door. He was surprised to see a slip of a girl standing, gawking, the door swung wide open. Gravefoot recognized her immediately as Amma, the young woman Gravefoot had convinced Svetlana to take on as a maid, though now lady in waiting, after Oleg’s request. Gravefoot could only assume the girl had witnessed his discussion with the direwolf.

“Good day Amma,” Gravefoot said towering over the girl. “I believe I am expected?”
Amma could only stare at the wolf, then Gravefoot. She said something quietly and yielded the threshold of the door still unsure. As he followed her, Gravefoot noticed Amma was almost as disheveled as he was. Instead of dirt and a scrapes, Amma was caked in flour and had bits of dough in her hair. Gravefoot was overcome with heat and the smell of fresh baking bread as soon as he entered the house.

Making his way into the kitchen, Gravefoot was surprised to see the place, normally immaculate, look like some kind of battle had been waged through it. Instead of corpses there were discarded mixing bowls and spoons. And atop the sturdy table were baskets piled high with fresh loaves of bread. At the largest of the counters was arguably the most powerful woman in Levington. Officially she was the wife of the Treasurer, but it just took a few minutes with Svetlana to know that she was so much more. She wore a simple smock and shift, the sleeves rolled up past her elbows. He arms were sunk into a heap of dough she was kneading. Her hair hung in sweaty wisps around her face, flushed from the heat of the oven which had probably been going all night. Her tired eyes were kind as they looked on Gravefoot. And a warm and welcome smile followed quickly after.

“Lana,” Gravefoot started. His nickname for Svetlana was at her behest. His ruined moth often had trouble with the “Svet” part of her name, and she had told him to just call her “Lana” to spare any embarrassment. “You look tired. New mothers need as much rest as their child.”

“Tell her that,” the woman said with sardonic grin. “She gets it from Oleg. He don’t let me sleep either. Asking this and that. Sometimes I fear for this nation with him having the purse strings.”

Gravefoot could only chuckle. There was no one better suited for his task than Oleg Leveton, and they both knew it. A good man, and true. With a good woman behind him.

Gravefoot gingerly crossed the kitchen to simple wooden crib Svetlana had indicated with her head. He hunkered down low over the perfect pink-skinned bundle, swaddled now in light cloth. With healers hands, more gentle and stable then one would think possible to look at them, he scooped the babe out and held her aloft. Lazily the little girl opened her crystal blue eyes and looked upon the half-orc, a slow open-mouthed smile spreading her chubby pink cheeks, revealing toothless gums and little tongue.

“She remembers you,” Svetlana said over her shoulder as she wrestled with the dough. “For most that try to pick her up, she wails like a banshee.”

Gravefoot couldn’t say anything. Little blurs of water began forming at the bottom of his vision. He gently laid the babe down on the table, all the while smiling his grotesque smile. When he could talk it was a gentle rumble to the squirming babe he now unwrapped.

“Let’s have a look at you Sigrun Ragna Leveton, Princess of Levington,” Gravefoot said in voice he only found when speaking with babes. It was not a silly voice, just gentle and quiet, like the rumble of stone moving far off.

“You can stop all that,” Svetlana said huffing. “Tis’ Valen that is King, and his daughter, should he have one, that would be princess.”

“Forgive me. I still do not fully understand how titles work. But I think every little girl should be a princess if she so chooses, isn’t that right Sigrun?” Gravefoot said the last, once again examining the child. “What do you call one born of a lord and lady then?’ Gravefoot asked sincerely.

“Bah that!” Svetlana replied with a final slam of the wad of dough. I am no more a lady then you a lord, Councilor Gravefoot,” Svetlana took on an airy posture as she used his official title.

What a sight this must be, Gravefoot thought to himself, as he examined little Sigrun. Were someone to come in now and see a towering half-monster, covered in tattoos, poking at prodding at a squirming pink babe.

After thoroughly examining Sigrun, Gravefoot deftly wrapped the babe again in her swaddling cloth, then begun rocking her back and forth. She looked like she would get lost in his massive green forearms.

“She is beautiful ‘Lana,” Gravefoot said still looking down on the child. Sigrun busied herself trying to pull on Gravefoot’s braids that hung just out of her tiny reach. “And healthy as any babe I have ever seen.”

At the last Svetlana’s shoulders dropped slightly, as she breathed out a sigh of relief. She turned again to Gravefoot with a smile warmer than the over-worked oven. “Thank you Gravefoot. For everything. You have been away too long.”

Gravefoot flushed, embarrassed, and looked to change the subject. Just then Amma came in, carrying another basket bigger than her, this one filled with dried goods.

“What is all this? Gravefoot said. It looked as if Svetlana and Amma were doing their best to single handedly provision an army. There were baskets of food everywhere.

“Oleg said you all had it rough in the south,” Svetlana began. “When we heard you were coming, Amma and I worked through the night getting this ready for you take with you.”

“Lana-,” Gravefoot began, overcome with surprise and gratitude.

“Wasn’t just me and the girl,” Svetlana jumped in over the top him. “Jhod sent some stuff up from his temple. And, he would be mad for me telling you, but a few of those cheese wheels came from Kestin’s own cellar. It isn’t much, but we all gave what we could to help out.”

Yet again, Gravefoot was left speechless.

“There are a lot of folks up here who appreciate what you did, and what you are doing,” Svetlana continued as she jammed the dough into a well-oiled pan. “And suffering doesn’t know borders, so relief shouldn’t either.”

Gravefoot was overcome, and could only sweep up both the ladies in his huge embrace. Amma tensed, but Svetlana just rested her head on his broad shoulder, running a matronly hand up and down his back before patting it twice.

“Let go,” She ordered. “We have a bit of work left, but send your men up to the house in a few hours to load the wagon. We will feed them before they set out.”

Gravefoot watched in silence for a moment as they returned to their work. He talked with Svetlana for the better part of an hour before bidding farewell to Svetlana and Amma, saying he needed to find his companions whom he had not seen in quite some time. Svetlana let Gravefoot see himself out while she continued her work. At the door Gravefoot produced a simple silver holy symbol he had had made before his journey. Kneeling at the threshold, Gravefoot begun a prayer.

“Our Lady of Graves. I call on your protection for this house and those within. They have been kind, and gentle, and loving to your servant. Death comes to us all in time, my lady, but if it is your will, let not the pain that accompanies your domain be known in the House of Leveton for sometime.”

With that Gravefoot squeezed the holy symbol hard in his hand. He channeled all the energy he had gained from the day’s communion into the simple silver medallion. He felt empty and strange, having no more of the tie to his goddess welling up within him. Opening his palm he saw that the amulet pulsated softly with a blue green light briefly before returning to normal.

Gravefoot placed the amulet on the sill above the door. He knew not what it did, or even if it did anything at all. He was simply content with knowing he left behind some of his Lady’s power in this, the home of his first friends.

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Kobold Conundrum
Wherein we decide our plan for the Sootscale

Plans:

1. Let them alone for now, establish diplomatic relationship, and make them march on our enemies when we have them. 2 pts.

2. Fell, Gravefoot, or Valen challenges Sootscale for leadership and we sort them out later. 7 pts.

3. Tell them to leave. If they don’t, make them leave. 6 pts.

All precincts reporting.

Who fights?

Fell 12 pts.
Gravefoot 8 pts.
Valen 8 pt.
Arumn 1 pt.

4.25/5 precincts reporting.

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Rhythm and Dance

Valen looked out over the construction that seemed to be enveloping Oleg’s old training post, the crowds and workers seemed to shift and swell like a flowing tide. For the first time in a long time the young king found himself with nothing that required his immediate attention. After a moments consideration Valen decided to it was time to try something he had been wanting to do for a long time. With a spring in his step he turned to the militia building to grab one of the suits of heavy leather armor Keston keep there. It was time to train…

Hours later Valen stood covered in sweat, gasping for breath in the center of a clearing; his spear held perpendicular to his body pointed at an imaginary target. With a quick spin he dropped one hand from his spear and summoned his magic in the form of fire. As he extended his hand to channel the spell he could feel the leather armor he wore tugging on his limbs and restricting his movements. As Valen focused on forcing his movements to align with the channeling of his power he could feel the spell slipping away. After he completed his turn the fire that was to explode forth from his hand fizzeled and died. Again.

Valen drove his spear into ground and leaned against it in frustration. All day it seemed he had tried to cast his spells in the restrictive armor and had met with only failure. Now exhausted, frustrated, and arcane energies spent he took off the armor and walked slowly back towards Levington. As Valen passed the rolling hills filled with farms his mind wandered to memories of Arumn and how he seems to easily channel his magic in armor just like the one Valen had failed in. Valen resolved to ask the bard about his talent as soon as he saw him next.


As Valen walked through the outskirts of Levington he saw Arumn riding back into town after a day abroad. The bard was absently floating colored balls in lazy circles in time to a simple tune he was playing on his pipe. Valen couldn’t help a stab of jealousy at how easy the magical task seemed to the half-elf. After a moment to gather his resolve Valen ran to catch up to the Bard.

“Arumn!” Valen called as he jogged up to the bard. “Arumn, I have a question for you,” the young man started directly.

The colored balls silently vanished as Arumn turned to watch Valen run up to him. As Arumn took in the young mages disheveled appearance a look of surprise crossed his face, “and warm greetings to you to, what seems to be troubling you?”

“I….have been training, and I have run into a…block; of sorts.”

“A block of sorts? Well that is more than a little mysterious,” the bard said with a laugh. “What is really bothering you Valen.”

Valen gave Armun a long look then laid out his problem. “I have been trying to learn how to use my magic in armor, as you do, but it has been a total failure. Most of the time when I summon the power I am unable to focus it, the spells I attempt either dissipate or the results are unstable at best. I was wondering if you might have any tips on how to achive my goal.

After looking Valen for a long time, Arumn turned to look forward, the typical smile falling away, a mask of serious consideration in its place. “There is no one “tip” or piece of advice that will help you do what you want. If you like, I would be willing to provide the necessary training. I should warn you, it is rigorous. You will want to question my methods, but you mustn’t.”

“I would be honored!”

“Excellent!” Arumn said, clapping Valen’s back, a wide smile blossoming across his face. “Let meet us by the Thorne River tomorrow afternoon; I will bring everything we will need for the first phase of training,” the bard said with apparent glee.

“Morning would be better for me,” Valen said, “I find I am more ready for handling and focusing my power then.”

“I’m sure,” the smiling bard said, “but, there is no way I’m going to do this training with the headache I plan on discovering tomorrow morning.”


The next afternoon Valen saddled his horse, gathered his arms and armour, then went to met his friend by the river. As the sun began its descent toward the western horizon he arrived to a bend in the river to see Arumn sitting idly with his back against a tall tree, a drum at his side, and a hat pulled over his eyes. In a state of total relaxation he bobbed his foot slowly in time to a tune only he could hear.

Valen awkwardly cleared his throat, “I’m, ah…sorry if I’m a little late.”

“Hmm…late? No I don’t think so,” Arumn said tipping his hat up as turned to look at Valen.

“So shall we get started? I brought my equipment and….”

“What? No you won’t need that crap. Come have a seat and tell me what you hear.”

“Nothing?” Valen said questioningly as he approached the lounging bard and sat crossed legged near him.

“Nothing? There is never nothing! Listen closer. What do you hear?”

Valen looked at Arumn confused, “I really don’t hear anything. It’s silent out here.”

With a mocking smile Arumn leaned back against the tree and closed his eyes, “No my friend. The only silence we will ever know is the stillness of our graves. Listen to the soft murmur of the trees as their leaves rub together, dancing in the wind. Listen to the poetry of the water streaming past the stones.”

Valen gave the bard a long look then closed his eyes and listened for the things he had described. He could hear the sounds of nature filling the air around him, “What is this all about?”

“It’s about music!” Arumn paused, confusion apparent as he took a moment to consider what he had just said. “Wait, no, it is deeper than that. This,” Arumn said, leaning forward, looking directly into Valen’s eyes, ”is about rhythm!”

For perhaps the second time since Valen had met the frivolous half-elf, his eyes were serious and his constant smile had turned from smirk to something more serious.

“And this,” Arumn said raising the drum with a flourish, ”is the instrument you will learn to harness it with!”


Arumn and Valen sat in the Trapper’s Inn near to the fire rhythmically playing their drums, the mage concentrated on maintaining his relatively simple beat. While, as a counterpoint, the bard wove a complex pattern that seemed to both match and playfully dance around the marching percussion of Valen’s basic rhythm. With building speed and intensity the two played hunched over their instruments, concentration wrinkled Valen’s brow as a fond smile played on Arumn’s lips. With a final sharp staccato the intense drumming came to an abrupt end with both drummers striking a single final note in unison.

With a weary sigh Valen leaned slowly back in his chair and reached for his tankard as other patrons in the common room expressed their approval with clapping and by banging their mugs on the table. Arumn, seemingly instantly rejuvenated by the crowd, leapt to his feet and gave a great bow before returning to his chair and collecting his drink.

“So!” Said Valen after drinking deeply. “How would you rate that?” He asked with a smile.”

“Not half bad for simple tune, but now that you have finally found the basic rhythms of song I think that, perhaps, we are ready to move on to the next phase of your training.”

“Ah! At last! And this will help me master my magic while in armor.?”

“Indeed my friend and if you master this phase it will help you in many other ways as well,” the bard said with a sly wink

“Really? In what other ways will it help?”

“Why in the greatest of all pursuits of course! That task that is as old as time itself. One that is fraught with pitfalls and danger unimaginable,” Arumn stated gravely with a twinkle in his eye. “The pursuit of a maiden.”


As the sun touched the horizon a few weeks later, the pair stood side by side in front of a large new building next to Arumn’s house. The last of the workers were putting the finishing touches on the structure, and while Arumn had insisted that he and Valen help with the construction of the basic frame, he was adamant that only the most skilled be allowed to take part in the finish work. On this final day of construction Arumn had call Valen to witness as the last of the decorations were put into place.

“I can’t believe we built this.” Valen said a little dejected. “Given all the things we need and I let you talk me into building this.”

“Hummm, what? Oh, not this again. Get over it and besides it is necessary, people need to have a place to go and let loose once in a while. Plus it will generate money and raise their spirits. I guarantee it,” Arumn said with a wave of his hand as he gazed with pride at the new building. “Did I mention I designed it myself.”

“Yes, many times. And I believe that it will make money but so will other thing that we need. I just….What was the point of building this dance hall?”

Arumn looked at the new king like it was obvious, “ why to have a Dance Hall, of course. And besides, where else do you expect to learn how to dance?”

View
Chronicles of Antedom
The First Year

6th Sarenith, 4711 AR
Summer

On this day by the grace and wisdom of the Swordlords of Restov and Noleski Surtova, Regent of the Dragonscale Throne the lands known as the Greenbelt were granted to the Liberators and given the right to rule.

It is my honor to record the founding of the newly formed Kingdom of Antedom, its capitol Levington, ruled by the most wise and just Valen an’Metho, Slayer of the Demon God, Herald of the Silver Dragon, Holy Creator of the Claws of Redemption, and Lord King of Antedom. May his line reign eternal.

So also on this day was created the subject provence of Sanglier, to be ruled in the kings name by Isabeau Javier, first of her line and baroness of the lands so granted to her and her family by the Lord King.

8th Rova, 4711 AR
Fall

Herein recorded are the deeds of the Kingdom of Antedom. This summer showed the true difficulty taming the Stolen Lands and why its wild nature has resisted civilization for so long. Lord Valen and his wise council made sought to found their new kingdom with construction of such fundamental structure for a prosperous society as Stables, Stockyards, Farms, and Roads. Despite their efforts the populous was slow to come to terms with the new order being established and it was through both cunning, charm, and the imposing presence of Fell Kandle “The Wolf” order was maintained during these critical months.

To the south Gravethorn cultivated inward, building to see to the needs of the newly formed Gravethorn Company and its charge to secure the wild areas surrounding the former center of the Stag Lord’s power. As such structures of war were soon built including smithy, barracks, and stone walls. The lawless nature of these southern citizens soon manifested and widespread unrest quickly spread. At the behest of Baroness Javier The Wolf was dispatched to Gravethorn to quiet the populace.

1st Kuthona, 4711 AR
Winter

Within the heart of the kingdom the wisdom of Lord Valen and his deft councilors saw the quick expansion of the the Kingdom to the surrounding territories. Strong road systems and an abundant stock of newly arrive citizens quickly saw the outlying areas given over to rich farmlands to feed the Kingdom. Within the capitol growth slowed in favor of this aggressive expansion beyond Levington’s borders.

Within Sanglier the Gravethorn company continued to grow soon proving to be a formidable force of order. Tragically, a bitter wind came from the south and an early frost destroyed the crop before harvest and pushed the native game from the area seeking warmer climes. This tragic turn of events led to a swell of refugees to Gravethorn, overwhelming its fledgling resources. Food shortages soon led to sharp tempers, and the heavy hand of The Wolf was seen as oppression rather than law and soon riots and lawlessness prevailed.

3rd Pharast, 4712 AR
Spring

The harsh winter in the south soon reached the north, but the precious weeks warning before its advance saw Levington well prepared. Expansion into the Narlmarches continued as the capitol finished several finer institutes such as the hallowed library which is my charge, and trade shops.

In Sanglier food shortages continued. Baroness Javier and the Gravethorn Company worked tirelessly in the creation of further housing to protect the swelling population of refugees. Most remarkable of all, engineers of Gravethorn Company saw through the completion of the roads connecting Gravethorn to the Antedom roadways, including building a fine stone bridge across the confluence of the Thorn and Shrike Rivers. Sadly this triumph was met with bitter loss as many died in the harsh conditions.

1st Sarenith, 4712 AR
Summer

Truly the Kingdom of Antedom is blessed by the Gods. A prosperous spring saw further expansion into the plain to the west of the Narlmarches and further cultivation of farmlands to feed our great nation. Under the sure guidance of the council Leveton saw the the building of a divine shrine to Erastil, barracks for the Levington Wardens, and a new inhabitant a Gnomish artificer and glassblower, who claims to be able to weave wonderful magicks into his delicate creations. Already his wondrous works have caused the delight of all.

Spring was a sad relief to the people of Sanglier. While the spring sun brought hope it also revealed the true tally of death’s grim toll. Hundreds had died during the winter and an with heavy heart Baroness Javier ordered construction of further homes and an orphanage to shelter those most innocent in the eyes of the Gods.

View
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.

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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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