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Only the desperate beg (D&D Adventure)

Previous Installment: God is Dead

Gold didn’t mean much to Kenshin. It was a means to an end. When he needed arrows, gold bought them. When he needed to fix his blade, gold paid the smith. When he needed food, gold converted to coppers to buy bread and tip the servers. He had enough gold as is. For this reason, when his comrades went searching for a rich woman’s cat, he decided to meet with the Captain of the Guard.

The Captain maintained a stoic façade, barely holding back a latent sadness and desperation. He had felt loss, anger and impotence. Kenshin had felt such before, and knew how to spot it in another man.

“Thank you for coming…”

“Kenshin.”

“Just Kenshin?”

He nodded. The Captain didn’t press the issue. He instead indicated to some laid out cups next to a bottle of clear liquid.

“Not enough water for tea, I’m afraid. I hope gin will suffice.”

Kenshin shook his head. The Captain frowned. “Well, then. Straight to business. I apologise for my treatment of your party back at the temple. I was desperate. The budget hasn’t allowed me to deal with my problem and I have lost too much manpower to whatever monster is infesting the water plant.”

Kenshin stared, stone-faced. The Captain continued:

“My son died a week back. He overdosed on a new drug. Many have already. It’s not like the usual swill that infested the streets. This poison has irresistibly intoxicated many, and kills them soon after. My son never took drugs. He was a good kid. We were going to send him to Z’kla. He wanted to be an Artificer.”

The Captain looked forlorn. He had already wept enough. “He didn’t choose to take Sunrock. Something happened. He was pressured into it, or charmed…I don’t know. What I do know is that this poison needs to get off my streets. I cannot dedicate the guards or the budget to do this officially. I need you – a foreigner. You can blend in. You aren’t a known informer. Please, do this for me. I can pay, from my own pocket – and I will owe you more.”

Kenshin stared for a while, contemplating. He eventually nodded and spoke:

“Possible leads?”

“My son got the sunrock from a dealer in the Bellows, a slum by the warehouse district. I’ve already dealt with the dealer, but I’m sure there’s more in the area.”

Kenshin nodded and left. The Captain didn’t speak to anyone for hours after that. He only stared out of the window, down onto the dry fountain below.

God is Dead (D&D Adventure)

Previous installment: Desk Jockeys and Pencil Pushers in Crestfire (D&D Adventure)

The party faced difficult circumstances. To cross the desert to the north, they needed water to last a month, but by the looks of it, the city didn’t have that much to spare. The party knew that they would need to solve the city’s water crisis but also needed to raise their own money to buy the amenities needed to continue their quest.

For this reason, the party pursued odd jobs and tasks posted upon the noticeboard outside Crestfire’s Consul building. They solved a feud between smithing brothers, agreed to track down a lost cat and finally, investigate the desecration of Crestfire’s most holy of sites.

The cleric of Alahur twitched as she was interviewed by Meowzer and Pemnaq. The rest of the party investigated the courtyard of Crestfire’s temple. The gardens remained green, despite water restrictions. Alahur’s healing energy kept the flowers in bloom, an acolyte stated. Kael revealed that the plants were fake. The opulence of the shrine belied its charitable and humble God, but the heroes didn’t take notice of this. Their query was the statue at the centre of the yard – a statue of the prophet of Alahur who allegedly founded Crestfire. The statue lay headless and upon its breast was written, “God is dead.”

“This is what happens when we let foreigners into our holy city,” the Cleric ranted, ignoring the fact that she was being interviewed by foreigners. “Good local catfolk don’t do this sacrilege. It’s all those foreign cats and humans.”

She still seemed blissfully unaware that she was speaking to a foreign catfolk and a human. They ignored her. Money would staunch their emotional wounds.

Eventually, they left the cleric and approached their compatriots at the statue.

“She didn’t help at all,” Meowzer sighed. Pemnaq shook his head.

Kael’thas, clutching his chin thoughtfully, ignored them. He approached the statue and in a stroke of genius, climbed up and licked the paint.

“2347 C. Lead-based. Fresh,” he savoured the taste. “Corner of Sphinx and Main.”

The party looked at Kael aghast.

“What?” he shrugged. “I did art in first year.”

Meowzer sighed as he healed Kael’s lead-poisoning with a blessing from Selune.

The corner of Sphinx and Main, to prove Kael’s suspicions true, was a paint shop – “Gnome Tones”.

The party entered.

Behind the countertop, only the top half of his head visible despite standing atop a tall bar stool, was a balding gnome with tiny spectacles. The rest of the store was lined with cans of paint.

“Hello, gentlemen. How can I help you?”

“We’re investigating some vandalism. Some red 2347 C lead-paint was used to deface the temple statue,” Pemnaq answered.

“I’m sorry. I do not reveal any details about my customers, even if they are an anti-religious insurgent group.”

Kenshin shared a dubious look with Meowzer.

“And where could we find this anti-religious insurgent group that you aren’t going to tell us about,” Kenshin asked.

“I’ll never tell you that they’re currently staying across the street at the Sphinx Inn! That goes completely against customer confidentiality.”

Feigning disappointment, the group left the paint store and approached the inn.

It was easy to spot their query in the sandstone room of the Sphinx Inn. While the majority of customers were down on their luck dockhands and desert guides, their tan and torn clothing revealing their poverty, one group of three individuals sat in the alcove dressed completely in the black uniforms of the Aulsan Foreign Students College.

Kael swore. Bad memories from the college, perhaps.

The party advanced upon the group, forming a perimeter that looked casual but had a combative purpose.

The head of the student group, a young woman with a Mohawk, smiled widely.

“Hello, friends. It is good to see fellow outlanders in these parts. Care to sit down with us?”

Her companion, a dwarf, let out a huge belch. The other companion, a half-orc, gave a small smile.

“Thank you for the offer but we haven’t got the time,” Pemnaq answered. “We are currently investigating a crime.”

The young woman laughed good-naturedly. “Crime, bard? What is a crime?”

Pemnaq wasn’t prepared for the question and didn’t answer. She continued.

“A crime is a term used by the weak to persecute the powerful. A crime is a fiction used to weaken the elite. The intelligent are condemned as cunning and fraudulent. The strong are abused for assault and murder. The laws of the weak call it a crime. But the powerful should know better. I see by your weapons that you are the powerful. Don’t be like these insects crawling around, subservient to a fictitious man in the sky. You are the powerful. You don’t need to delegate power to a story.”

Kael’thas brought his hand to his face. “Gods-damn Niatcha.”

“You are familiar with our teacher, wizard?” the half-orc asked.

“I tutored him in…well, that doesn’t matter,” Kael’thas winced. “He was a quack.”

The woman looked disappointed. “Quack, you say? Insanity! Another term used by the plebs to devalue the elite. I though more of you, magic-flinger.”

Kael’thas shrugged. He really didn’t care.

“Regardless,” Meowzer interjected. “Did you vandalise the statue at the temple of Pelor?”

“Vandalism is so subje…”

“Shut up. Did you do it or not?”

“Aye, we did,” the dwarf replied. “These insects crawl in the dirt for a God that calls himself humble. They make themselves worse than beggars.”

The half-orc and woman nodded.

“And we would do it again,” the woman added.

Kenshin advanced, hand on his hilt. “Then you’re going to have to come with us. Law being irrelevant or not – we’re bringing you in.”

The group remained sitting.

Kenshin tensed. Meowzer raised his shield slowly.

“Do you know the teachings of Niatcha?” the woman asked, quietly.

Kael let out an exasperated sigh and turned around.

“The teachings are about power,” she continued. “Power is a means to an end, but not any end. A slave can work towards the end of their master. Power is the means to one’s own end. Yet how do we establish our own end? Even if free in name, we are still slaves to a societal structure, culture and morality that hold us back. We are slaves to inhibition that hold back our total freedom and total power.”

“We all owe a duty,” Kenshin replied.

She laughed. “To who? To God? We only owe duty to ourselves. And not even then, lest we enslave ourselves. For true power, we must be sporadic. We must not let anything dominate us.”

Before any of them could react, furniture was flung out in an arc towards and behind them. They managed to retain their footing by Kael was knocked into a group of ruffians, who looked angry until they noticed the black-clad young woman begin to float into the air.

“This is true power,” she grinned as she pointed at the inn keeper, who exploded after being struck by a bolt of lightning.

Meowzer, regaining his composure, kicked the group’s table into the woman, knocking her down. He then charged, drawing his rapier. The half-orc crossed his path, blocking with a mace, parrying and then attempting to counter. Meowzer barely managed to block in time.

Kenshin followed right behind. In one clean swing he attempted to slash at the weakened woman, but was intercepted by the axe-wielding dwarf. He dodged the dwarf’s swing and sliced half-way through the dwarf’s thigh, crippling him.

Pemnaq was the only one to close the gap to the woman. He levelled his quarterstaff to deliver a blow to her head. The staff didn’t find its mark as she released a wave of energy, knocking him back.

Lightning followed and he was close to being fried if not for his superior agility.

Kael’thas chanted a spell as his comrades struggled in the melee. The half-orc was strong and the dwarf had proceeded to crawl to a waitress in order to attack her before Kenshin turned back to try finish the job.

Finally, Kael’thas shouted the final words to his spell. The group fell asleep, all except for the leader who had finally had her head crushed by Pemnaq’s staff.

Around them lay corpses from the woman’s storm and a dead waitress from the axe of the crippled dwarf. Exiting the inn, they carried the comatose bodies to the temple.

“Who are these immigrants?” the cleric asked.

“The culprits,” Meowzer answered simply.

The cleric took their word for it and handed them the reward. At that moment, the sound of metal boots clanging on stone sounded from the entrance to the temple.

A tall, dark-skinned human wearing plate mail and the Crestfire flag on his front appeared, flanked by two town guards.

“All of you are to come see me in the town keep,” he boomed. “You are under suspicion for inciting violence, disturbing the peace and destruction of property.”

Kael’thas smirked. “Are we under arrest?”

This caught the captain off-guard. “Well, no. But you are under…”

“Which means nothing, Captain. We will come if we’re under arrest, and as we have done nothing wrong, we will not come at all.”

A bead of sweat formed on the Captain’s brow. “Sirs, I still ask that you come to the keep. Yes, you aren’t under arrest – but I need your help…”

“Then you shouldn’t have attempted to threaten us,” Meowzer said dismissively.

The group exited the temple one by one, leaving the Captain with clenched fists.

Kenshin didn’t leave. He was curious. The Captain seemed a strong man, and strong men only begged when they were truly in need of help.

Desk Jockeys and Pencil Pushers in Crestfire (D&D Adventure)

Previous installment: Crestfire

“Please remain in the queue, foreigner,” the half-orc guard ordered, once again, as Kael tried to jump the queue. The line snaked all the way out into the sandbox streets, starting at the top of the pyramid that housed the magistrate of Crestfire – a representative of the interests of the local guilds and temples. The only equal to Magistrate Kiri would be Captain Jhova Kherd of the Town Guard.

In an effort to address their need for water to sustain them for their trek, Meowzer and Kael had gone to the magistrate to investigate the problems with the water plant. The word on the street was that the magical purification plant’s maintenance had been made difficult not only due to the lack of Ankorian mages but mainly due to the presence of a monster. As enterprising adventurers, Meowzer and Kael felt it only a small hindrance to their quest.

Backing away from the irate guard, Kael nudged Meowzer.

“You know elvish, right?”

“Ark,” Meowzer replied.

“Perr, perr,” Kael smirked. “Let’s try this. I’ll pose as an engineer from Aulsan. You are my interpreter. Follow my lead.”

Before Meowzer could give his consent, Kael approached the guard.

“Mo ik o picaais tren. O gyreela luktek’gron en’ Aulsan.”

The guard scratched his head. Kael breathed an inward sigh of relief. Meowzer caught up and ‘translated’ what he heard.

“My colleague here is an engineer from Aulsan. He heard of your water troubles and wants to see the magistrate to discuss details.”

“Well,” the guard scratched his head. “It’s not protocol, but these are trying times. Go ahead.”

The pair passed the guard, to the groans and insults of the peasants and merchants in the line.

The entrance hall was a bustling hive of bureaucrats, lobbyists and pencil pushers. A guard, at Meowzer’s questioning, indicated the direction to the magistrate.

Magistrate Kiri was a young cat-folk. While small of stature, she bore the weight of Crestfire’s governance on her shoulders.

“What can one do for you?” she asked, not lifting her eyes from her paperwork.

“Ukle gured. Vurm mon urz. Twaa truar defaia tru’ac te mon, twa shonda varmari Kael’thas en’ Aulsan.”

Meowzer ignored the elvish, hoping Kiri didn’t understand the tongue.

“My colleague here is an engineer from the faculty of alteration at the Aulsan College of Magic. We have heard that you have trouble with your water plant.”

Kiri looked up, pausing her work.

“Trouble? We’re a desert city that used to thrive as a trading hub along the Pike River. There is no longer a Pike River, but instead a gaping crevice of desolation that makes this city useless. The corruption in the water makes non-magical desalination impossible and there is no more Ankor to send mages to purify water for us. To add to this, we can’t even diagnose the problem in the water plant because everyone who enters winds up dead.”

“Sounds like trouble.”

Kiri looked irritable but regained her composure.

“Crestfire has seen better days. Onto business, we aren’t taking formal contracts to fix the water problem because we cannot adequately formalize the requirements. We don’t know what’s in there or what is actually wrong with the plant. Only person who may know is one of the Captain’s men, who came out covered in blood and blithering like an idiot. You can go see him at the temple east of the northern gate. Otherwise, there’s an open reward for fixing the plant – 100 gold pieces.”

Meowzer made a show of translating to Kael.

“Moa defaia uree adro, filf!”

Meowzer tactically mistranslated, “Thank you. Professor Kael’thas will investigate matters to the best of his expansive ability.”

Kiri nodded as they departed.

Crestfire (D&D Adventure)

(Artwork by Darkcloud013)

Previous installment: Diving in the Desolation

The golden sandstone towers of Crestfire were revealed upon the horizon long before its pyramids. The monuments of the once glorious port town were still famous across the lands – even in the high elf, Kael’s native Aulsan. Upon drawing nearer to the settlement, the city revealed that it was no longer in its golden age. Surrounding the bases of the wondrous towers were dung piles of filthy shanties and dilapidated warehouses.

Meowzer took a last swig of rum and then tossed the bottle into an empty barrel. Kenshin gazed towards the fast approaching wharf and then to the group of refugees that he had saved back at March Crossing. He hoped that the group would find greener pastures in this golden desert.

Upon docking, the group hoisted their luggage and began towards the exit of the barge. The refugees, unhindered by luggage, made it to the dock first, just to be shoved back on board by a burly catfolk.

The catfolk was of the desert variety – thinner and less stocky than Meowzer. He wore scale armour, with an image of a flaming moon embroidered on the material covering the armour.

“These plebs aren’t in the ledger, Captain.”

“Talk to the Ronin. He got them on-board.”

The guard glared at Kenshin, who glared back. Interrupting the silent sparring, Pemnaq piped up.

“They can’t do any harm, guv. They’re refugees from March Crossing. Urks took the town, see?”

“Don’t care, bard,” the guard waved him aside. “Under the usual circumstances, I’d let them in, easy. But ain’t usual. Haven’t been since the War. Not enough water for them. We rationing. They coming in? Death sentence for them. Then we have to deal with the pestilence.”

“What happened to the water?” Kael asked, his eyes darting to the guard’s waistline, examining it for gold pouches.

“Times past, we had a magical water plant. Purified the salt water for us. Needed it after the oasis and wells dried up. Thing kept Crestfire in and above water. Thing is, it broke. Back in the day, Ankorian mages would come fix it. That can’t happen anymore.”

“Will there be enough water for us to cross the desert?” Kenshin asked.

“Surely, but gonna cost you. Might as well just suck each other’s blood for liquid. Much cheaper.”

None of the party appreciated the jest.

The guard, upset by the lack of reaction, continued:

“All in all, welcome to Crestfire – those with permits. Don’t know how you’re gonna get to your destination, but I ain’t got the power to keep you away.”

The group walked past the guard, all except Kenshin.

“Guard, what cost to the city is an attempt at survival?”

“That ain’t my business, Ronin.”

“Exactly. These refugees should be given a chance at a new life here. They aren’t costing you anything – on the contrary, they could be very lucrative to you.”

The guard raised his eye brow. “How can these flea bitten river dwellers be o’ use to me?”

“Like any trade, this is one of one set of value being exchanged for another. The survival of these people are important to me. Much more important to me than, say, a flask of water.”

The guard’s eyes opened wide as Kenshin drew his flask.

“We on the same page?”

The guard nodded, gulping and reaching for the flask.

Kenshin pulled it out of the way and then indicated at the refugees. The guard immediately stepped out of the way and allowed the refugees past. Satisfied, Kenshin gave him his water. As the group rushed past, Kenshin stopped a middle-aged woman and handed her a gold coin.

“I fear I cannot give any more than that. Please find me if you need any more help.”

Tears filled her eyes. Before Kenshin could react, she hugged him tightly and then let go.

“Thank you, sir. Thank you.”

Kenshin looked sad and shook his head. The woman had already caught up with her children and didn’t notice the gesture.

The party was waiting for Kenshin. Kael looked disapproving. Pemnaq had already lost interest. Meowzer gave out a big, tooth-filled, yawn and then indicated that they should keep moving.

Pemnaq volunteered to look for accommodation – offering to perform to pay for accommodation. Kenshin needed to restock on arrows. Both Meowzer and Kael, not wishing to pay all they had on water, felt it more prudent to try solve the problem of the water plant once and for all.

 

ID (Dystopian Short Story)

ID was written for a short story competition with the theme of life under a surveillance state. In the vein of 1984, I wrote this story describing a future world where crime has been eradicated by stripping us of all privacy. Enjoy!


“ID?” the black-clad patrol officer asked, his eyes not shifting from the computer tablet grasped in his hands.

“AX567-9B,” I replied, blinking nervously. I did not know what I had done, if anything, but that didn’t mean I hadn’t done anything. If I had done something, there was more chance that They would know, than I would.

“I know,” replied the officer. He already knew my ID. All the patrollers did. They knew everyone’s IDs. A small part of me wanted to snidely remark that there was little point enquiring if they already knew. I had learnt quickly that this morbid joke came with the job. Even a decade later, it seemed to never get old.

“Do you know why I’ve pulled you over?”

I shook my head vigorously, my chin hitting against the ‘Mobile Identity, Safety and Tranquillity Instigator’ around my neck. The MISTI had been cumbersome, at first, but I had soon become used to it. It was to be worn at all times, after all. It could come off easily, like any collar, but They would always know when that happened. It was a test after all. Everyone who wore the MISTI was faced with the suggestion of freedom and a world of privacy, but those falsehoods would always be crushed. No, the MISTI could be taken off, but its purpose could never be removed.

“Your MISTI was picking up a Level 5 just a few minutes ago. This is a Level 4 zone. What you were doing was illegal.” Every time the patroller spoke, a white line appeared on his pitch black visor, flitting from side to side. I should have been used to it by now, but even after ten years it was still somewhat hypnotic.

“That has to be a false reading. I was thinking about work. Nothing more.”

“Job clarification?”

I stifled an exasperated sigh. “You should know already.”

I couldn’t really know, but I somehow could feel the smirk underneath the large helmet that the patroller wore.

“It isn’t my job to know. It is Their job to know and your job to tell me.”

Defeated, I answered. “Personnel Enhancement Specialist – I have up to Level 6 clearance in any zone except for State administration facilities and Defender of the Collective bases.”

“Then what are you doing speaking to me, Professor.”

As I walked away from the patrolman, I couldn’t help but feel a tinge of sadness. Professor used to mean something. Now it was just a title he was given scathingly by audacious policemen. It was empty now.

It did have some benefits, however. My level clearance was one of them. Usually a citizen was forbidden high levels of complex thought, but those deemed to require more multifaceted thought patterns were given permission to think at that level. As a teacher, or Personnel Enhancement Specialist, I had this permission. This allowed me to think about multiple professions, skills and concepts rather than the one of my employment.

Ever since the Employment Security Act, a person was only allowed to learn one skill. The reason for such a law was that being able to utilise more than one would endanger workers who relied on that skill. Every task had a designated individual to fix it. My task was teaching these skills to people. I was an exception.

Yet, knowing these skills did little for me. My MISTI monitored my actions and if I was caught utilising any of these skills, I would be investigated by Them. All I could do was teach – teach hollow skills to hollow people.

Nevertheless, I still held a lower level than some. Not even the patrolmen held a high rank compared to a few. Even their bosses, the Overseers, were low in comparison to the complete all-inspiring power of the Benevolent – the rulers of the Collective. They were Them. The State was but a servant to the Benevolent, for They were truly above the law.

Very little was known about the Benevolent and that an oddity in a society where everything was known about everything. The only things not known were the inner workings of the State and the nature of the Benevolent. Games of strategy had become obsolete years ago, as any individuals intent was put on a public easily accessible database where an opponent was only to check it and know your next move.

As an ex-chess champion, it was one of the things I missed the most. The State had good reasoning, of course. Intent was needed to act and acting could lead to danger. It was better for everyone to know everyone’s intent so they could avoid criminals before the crime took place. Overnight, crime disappeared. The murder and theft that did happen was, of course, legal.

However, I digressed. It was not my place to think about the past or any criticisms of the present. It was my place to teach and that is what I loved. It might be different from what I wanted. I may not be allowed to cook my own food, or fix my own clothes even though I knew how – but at least I could teach. I still had that.

And above all, at least it was safe.

Live by the Sword

In my Matric (final High School) year, I was asked to write a lot of short stories in English. Many of these have been lost, but this very short one was found in one of my old files. My task was to write a short story starting with a feeling. The feeling I chose was anxiety. I extended the requirements by trying to work in the common adage, “To live by the sword.” The story is short, and perhaps creates decent foundation for a larger story. I hope you enjoy.


He felt it – the bite of anxiety and nauseating uneasiness which could only arise from one thing. He had been betrayed and his family was next. There was no evidence to give his fears credence, but Joey Ganitó had not spent his entire life in this industry without learning a thing or two. If someone betrayed the family, losing their life was the least of their problems.

As Joey stumbled from side to side, blood seeping from a wound to his side, he could not help but feel that this poison which caused this attack on his life had been administered months ago. It may have been a man with a knife who tried to take his life, but Joey knew it was more the poison of his actions which had set things in motion.

Now that he thought about it, the poison may very well have taken hold forty-five years ago when he was born. This poison was one flowing through his veins and had been in his family since the old country.

“If only I had backed out,” Joey Ganitó whispered to himself. “It was dad’s business. Didn’t have to join.”

Joey had had regrets similar to this only three months prior to this. Those regrets seemed to be a cure for the venom, but now seemed to be merely infecting the wound.

“I shouldn’t have listened. I had a choice. I knew the costs. No one crosses the Cosa Notra and lives.”

Now his potential assassin lay dead at his feet, his own knife lodged in his throat. Yet, the attempt on his life was not what terrified the Capo. The leader of the family, Don Curio, was a thorough man. He would not allow any loose ends. The Ganitó family would be slain to the last heir.

With a limp and a wince, Joey made his way to the open doorway. He would need to phone his contacts in the Agency – no, he needed to contact his family. The Agency had brought him nothing but trouble. He was wrong to turn snitch.

Joey’s car, much to his relief, was still parked outside the rundown tenement.

“Start, damn you!” he repeated over and over, growing anxious until the car started. The sudden whirl of the engine had never given him so much relief. He immediately sped off and headed straight for his house in the suburbs.

At almost full speed, it had taken minimal time for Joey to travel from downtown to the suburbs just outside of town. His house was near the border and he screeched to a halt outside. He let the door fling open, a pistol in his hand. He ran to the door where he stopped.

As his hand reached towards the doorknob, he somehow sensed his death approaching. He would not survive long after opening this door. Yet he would open it. He would die by the sword.

Diving in the Desolation (D&D Adventure)

Previous installment: Songs of Desolation

The group was still panting after the skirmish with the sirens. They had lost a crew member, but no one else. The Captain didn’t seem overtly saddened by the loss of his first mate. This must have been a usual occurrence.

“Damn sirens! Thought we’d be going around them. No shipwrecks marked at this part of the Desolation.”

The Captain said, chewing on some dried meat.

“Why would that matter?” Kael asked, curious.

“Shipwrecks? Sirens nest in them. They sea harpies don’t like natural rock formations. That’s why they crash ships. They need houses. Must be a wreck underneath us.”

“Hmmm,” Kael started rubbing his hands, “Any treasure to be found in these ships?”

“Most definitely,” the Captain grinned. “We’re stopping to repair some of the damage on the ship, so feel free to go diving.”

Kael put his hands up. “Not me, but…”

Meowzer backed off as fast as he could, but lucky for the hydrophobic cat, Kenshin stepped forward.

“I dived off the reefs back in Aranzi. I’ll do it.”

“Is this really a bright idea,” Pemnaq butted in. “Could be dangerous.”

“Nonsense,” the Captain chuckled. “Only problem with wrecks are sirens. They’re dead now. Go for it.”

Pemnaq still looked concerned but conceded, allowing the pair of Kael and Meowzer to tie a rope to Kenshin. He dived down, rope following after.

Under the water, Kenshin recognised the ship to be an Agthenfallian longboat. From his knowledge of the raider society, it must have been a treasure ship. He dove to the deck, where he spotted the door to the captain’s quarters.

He forced it open, but the exertion caused him to lose a bit of air. He swam to the surface and then down again. With the door open, he swam in and spotted a large chest. The wood was covered with barnacles, and crumbling, but the silver corners were still shining. It wouldn’t budge. Thinking fast, he tied his safety rope to the handle and then swam back up.

“There’s a chest with silver on it down there. Was stuck closed, so tied the rope to it.”

With that, they began pulling it to the surface. With the help of the entire party, it was easy work. On-board, they were able to get a good look at the container.

The wood wasn’t as damaged as Kenshin had previously thought. Despite being under salt water for so long, the wood and metal had remained relatively intact. Pemnaq hovered his hand over it, singing a little ditty. With a nod, he said, “The chest is enchanted to ward off decay. I also detect something within. Magical artefact.”

“Let’s get the lid off then!” Kael was still rubbing his hands.

Pemnaq still looked concerned, but couldn’t help but huddle in as they started prising the lid up. With a snap, the lid opened and was followed by a whooshing and crash as the sky went purple.

A spire of energy seemed to erupt from the chest. The party backed off as it exploded into the air, darkening everything around them. Then it subsided.

“Trapped mana,” Kael said. “Nothing to fear.”

They advanced again. In the centre of the chest, on a velvet pillow, was a single amulet. It was crafted of silver, with a large purple stone in the centre. Kael hovered his hand over it and nodded.

“A Void War relic. These were common then. Enchanters found that the Void crystals had vitality properties. The one who wears this will be granted a greater constitution.”

Meowzer chuckled. “Then you should wear it, elf. Means I won’t have to keep healing you whenever you trip on a paving stone.”

Kael didn’t balk at the insult. He took the amulet as his due. The party knew it was in their best interest to have a tougher mage. As the amulet was put around his neck, Kael seemed to look healthier already. His usually pale skin bore a healthier tinge and his cheeks seemed less hollow.

The Captain called for the ferry to renew their journey, but before they could lift the anchor, the ship shook. Some lost their balance. Some of the small children on-board started to cry.

“What is it this time?” Meowzer hissed, drawing his rapier.

“There was nothing under us besides the ship!” Kenshin exclaimed.

The water started to bubble, but it still felt cold. Then there was a burst of water, which splashed the occupants of the vessel. Tendrils, towering above the sales of the ship, seemingly appeared out of nowhere. There were three of them surrounding the small ship. They were a translucent black. One felt that they should have been able to see through them, but could not. They were like shadows made into physical objects.

Before they could react, one of them lunged for Kenshin, who was unable to stop it. It began crushing him. Kael reacted immediately, sending a volley of magical missiles into it. Luckily, his magic prowess was enough for the enigmatic foe, which let Kenshin drop into the water.

Pemnaq drew his dagger and threw it at the one nearest to him. The blade just embedded itself in the strange flesh. The tendril didn’t seem perturbed by the shard of iron in its presumed belly.

Meowzer let out a war cry for his God and charged, but was promptly halted as the boat rocked, sending him back and Pemnaq overboard.

Kael responded with more magic missiles, sending some expertly placed projectiles into two of the tendrils. The one which had attacked Kenshin dissipated as abruptly as it had appeared. As it did, the others seemed to grow.

Pemnaq gripped precariously onto the back of the boat. He was content to stay there, for now. Kenshin, meanwhile, was firing arrows into the one tendril, to little avail.

The largest tendril recoiled back, and brought itself down on the ships deck, crushing the midwife. The heroes managed to dodge, just in time. In retaliation, Meowzer went in for another charge, but this time the entire ship was turned on its side. Anyone who couldn’t grab a hold of one of the roof poles or the wheel was turfed overboard.

Luckily, the refugees were of the water stock. They knew how to swim. Meowzer, on the other hand, was devastated. He gripped onto the side of the boat for dear life, his fur soaking wet. The water not inhibiting his magic, Kael let out a wave of fire at the tendrils. It scorched them, and they seemed to scream. The one dissipated and the last survivor seemed to grow even larger.

Kael spluttered. “I’m out of spells!”

Kenshin, quick think as he was, dived down. He saw that the tendril reached down to the surface, from the captain’s quarters. He swam in, the tendril not noticing.

Above water, the refugees were clinging to the side of the boat as Pemnaq had climbed on and charged the surviving tendril. In an attempt to retrieve his dagger, he hit at it with his quarterstaff. This accomplished little. Meowzer had made it on-board again, but a swipe from the tendril knocked him into the water again.

Kenshin, in the captain’s quarters, saw the source of the dark tendrils. A hole had been underneath the chest. The tendril was much thinner at this point, growing as it reached the surface. He drew his katana, and with a professional swipe, severed it.

For those above water, the monster disappeared. Kenshin arose from the depths to many congratulations. Pemnaq gave the group a ‘told you so’ look, but didn’t hold back his praise of the Ronin.

The Captain apologised for his mistake.

“Must’ve been a Void mine. Sorry, lads. Didn’t think they were any left.”

The party didn’t begrudge him and rather sat down to rest. The group of refugees mourned the midwife. Her children, most of all.

 

Songs of Desolation (D&D Adventure)

Siren of the DesolationRead the previous installment here: Departing March Crossing Part 1 and 2

The sun shone, but did little to alleviate the chill in the air. Kael shivered, glancing enviously at Meowzer’s natural fur coat. The air upon the Desolation was as cold as Agthenfall frost. It sent Kael, and many of the others, shivering. The only human on-board not to be showing his discomfort was the Ronin, Kenshin. Kael didn’t envy him as much as the catfolk. Stoicism didn’t mitigate discomfort. It only created an illusion for the benefit of others. Kael knew that Kenshin was shivering like the rest of them.

“I ‘member when I was a lad on the long ships,” the Captain of the Guild Ferry continued to babble, his only audience being the always polite and friendly Pemnaq. “Used to be the Pike River back then. Not called that for the fish, mind. But cause o’ the Duke’s forces in the League War. The river was used to ferry men from Ankor to Glerania. Almost took the north of the High Kingdom, he did, then the mercs from B’Thain came in. Wholloped them all. Me dad was one of the Agthenfallers who shipped them across…”

Pemnaq nodded politely. Kael doubted he was absorbing any of the information. He, for one, knew that the Captain was severely overstating the importance of the river. Glerania initially failed due to its insistence on banning most forms of magic. Ankor succeeded because it didn’t have such prejudices. It was the advent of dimeterium that neutralised Glerania’s magic foes. The B’thain mercenaries were just cannon fodder before the Magebreakers could get to the frontlines.

Kael thought all this, contemplating some barrels in the corner of the ferry. The Captain was still babbling. Would he ever shut up? Pemnaq offered to play the flute to cheer up the refugees, but the Captain was more content with speaking over him.

Meanwhile, Meowzer had managed to strong arm one of the crewmembers out of a bottle of ale. Praising his goddess was a fulltime job, it seemed.

Kael sighed. There wasn’t any worthy conversation on this vessel. Maybe he could animate the barrels…

Breaking the monotony of the long boat trip, an eerie sound floated towards him. It was a soothing sound. As they drifted closer, the sound cleared to reveal voices. They sang in an ancient dialect – one of which the wizard did not know.

Pemnaq also heard the voices. He had prepared a spell about an hour before and decided to cast it. The Comprehend Languages spell revealed the voices to be Aylied, a very ancient language. The song was a love ballad – about a fisherman who had lost his way, never to be able to return to his love again. It was a mournful tune, with a sad meaning.

While casting his spell, Pemnaq failed to notice the Captain pause his speaking. The bard turned. The Agthenfall Captain wore a smile on his face. A contented façade, as if there were no cares in the world. He had also let go of the wheel.

With haste, Pemnaq grabbed for the wheel. If they were allowed off course, they would eventually fall into the Void wrought chasm that had caused the river to be renamed.

“The Captain’s gone stony!” Pemnaq shouted.

Figuring out his meaning, Kael raced to the wheel, aiding him in securing it back on track.

It wasn’t only the Captain…

The refugees, crew…almost everyone was in a trance. Then they heard a splash. Meowzer turned to see the crewmember that had “gifted” him the ale disappear. He reached for a rope, tossing it overboard. Nothing.

Kenshin, awakening from his meditation, placed his hand on his hilt. The song continued…then stopped. The silence was more unnerving than the bodiless voices.

Pemnaq did not feel this discomfort, however, as he saw the most beautiful thing in the world. Standing atop a spire of water, a naked damsel stood, beckoning. Pemnaq, a country lad, had never seen a woman of such beauty. Seeking to win her affection, he drew out his panflute and began to play.

“This is no time for fluting, boy!” Kael shouted, desperately trying to retain control of the wheel against the current.

The woman was not impressed, but continued to beckon him. Pemnaq pocketed his flute and walked towards her, straight into the water. Kael shouted and Kenshin darted forward, just to have his arm caught.

Clutching his wrist was a slimy, pale green hand. Its owner lifted itself from the water, revealing a female head dominated by a gargantuan mouth lined with thin razor sharp teeth. The Ronin drew his sword and took off the head of the creature in one strike, but that wasn’t the end. It let go, but its head was still connected to the body. With a scream, it took to the air, its serpentine body bearing wings that looked like fins. Its head gripped on by its sinews.

Kenshin sheathed his blade and drew his bow, releasing an arrow to finish the job of severing the siren’s head off.

Meowzer attempted to dart to the wheel to aid Kael, but a hiss and splash barred his way as another of the creatures rose from the depths to block his path. It slashed at him. He barely managed to avoid the foot-long claws and draw his rapier. He gave the creature a hard kick to the chest and then ran it through.

Meanwhile, the icy water had awoken Pemnaq from his trance. The woman before him was still beautiful, but as she reached in, her illusion failed. Her face and body were similar, except for a gaping mouth of razor teeth, and a fish-like lower-body. The bard, struggling for air, attempted to reach for his dagger. The siren gripped his arm before he could reach it. He tried with his other, to no avail. With nothing else, he kicked the creature. It worked, and she recoiled, allowing him to reach up for air. Kael didn’t waste time and lowered his staff, pulling the boy back onto the vessel.

As Pemnaq caught a breath of fresh relief on-board, the singing started anew. It was a new song now. Pemnaq could detect increased magic in its melody. It was hard, but his brush with near death managed to help him steel himself from the charm. His compatriots weren’t so lucky. Kenshin and Meowzer stood, mouths in a dumb smile. The wizard had resisted it.

Content with their work, a siren burst from the water, it screeched as it dove towards Kael.

Waving his arm, he aimed his staff at the diving siren and calmly uttered, “Va falma arrna!”

A wave of invisible energy swept forth and knocked the siren out of the sky – most probably breaking bones in the process.

Water splashed on Meowzer, which would have angered him in any other state, as another siren leapt on-board. Pemnaq gripped his quarterstaff and lunged. The siren parried the blow with ease, grabbing the staff and pulling the bard towards her. He tumbled and barrelled into Kenshin, who awoke from his stupor.

The siren, ignoring them, lunged for a refugee. Kenshin was quicker, decapitating the beast. Red blood spread across the deck, staining some of the refugees.

With a screech, which woke Meowzer, the siren who had been flung out of the sky landed on-board. The larger siren bore a crown of seaweed. Royalty was not immune to the paladin’s blade, however, and he spitted her like a pig at a feast.

Withdrawing his blade, he went into a ready stance. The party went back to back, preparing for another strike. But none came. Slowly, the rest of the ferry awoke.

The Captain, seeing the unmanned wheel, swore and turned it back on course. The party, realizing that they were safe, rested.

Departing March Crossing: Part 2 (D&D Adventure)

Read Part 1 here: Departing March Crossing Part 1

The inhabitants of the tavern bolted in all directions, many climbing through windows.

“It can’t be,” Kael said, “there hasn’t been an orc raid in these parts for generations.”

“That was before Elenor fell, elf,” the barkeep sounded, drawing a mace from under the table.

Kenshin D&DPemnaq, with a desire for a muse for one of his war epics, exited the tavern. Guards were holding back the wooden gate of the stockade. Axes, piercing through the inadequate wood, knocked and clanked upon their helmets, bearing the now dead symbol of Ankor – a lighthouse.

“Rally to the gates!” the Captain shouted, blowing a trumpet to rally more troops. “We must give the villagers time to escape. Hold the line!”

In the cacophony of noise and desperation, Pemnaq was lucky to still have his wits about him. For a goblin, smaller cousin of the orc, had perched itself upon the gate and was staring right at him. It shouted a curse and leapt.

In an instant, Pemnaq withdrew a piece of fleece from his front pocket and threw it, as he backed away.

“Let there be a me, to be me, so I can continue being me.”

With the elaborate spell, Pemnaq constructed an illusion over the fleece. It looked exactly like him, staring wide-eyed at the goblin. The illusion dissipated as the goblin attacked it, but this gave Pemnaq plenty of time to escape, backing away just to bump into some rushing town guards.

Just as the goblin glanced at the real bard, anger crossing its gruesome green face, Meowzer barrelled out of The Manticore, knocking the goblin onto the ground with his shield. He skewered it with his rapier. A squeak and silence.

Just then, the gate burst open. Orcs and goblins poured through, hitting upon the hastily formed shield wall. The morass of greenskins was too thick to see accurate numbers on the other side. In the meanwhile, at the back of the inn, Kenshin had clambered on top of some boxes, peering over the stockade wall. The sight was from a horror story.

A veritable sea of orcs and goblins were amassed around the small stockade coastal village. Those not fighting at the front were shouting and blowing horns. Despite his honour, he knew that his fight was hopeless.

“Retreat! We can’t hold them all back,” he shouted.

His cry didn’t travel, as war cries and horns muffled it. He watched as spear and shield bearing guards rushed to stop a break in one of the other gates, large orcs bashing through.
Meanwhile, Meowzer was standing tall, defending both Pemnaq and the wizard Kael from goblin skirmishers that made it over the guard formation. Those who weren’t frozen or shot down by Kael were intercepted by Meowzer, who cut them down. Pemnaq, however, sensed that it was hopeless. He shouted into the large catfolk’s ear, “We can’t hold like this forever. We need to get to the boat.”

Meowzer grunted in reply, hamstringing a passing goblin. Guards heard him, some looking shaken. The officer noted this and commanded, “Pull back in formation! We need to let everyone escape.”

As a formation, they began backing away, the guards blocking the main road. As this happened, a crude arrow flew into a wall by Kael’s head. Goblins were pouring out of one of the hostels. They had climbed through the windows on the other side. A banner wielding goblin charged in to attack the wizard, but was met by the hulking paladin. As he tried to bring his banner-axe down, however, the flag got caught on the sign of a shop. Desperately, the goblin tried to wrest it free, to no avail. Meowzer poked him in the chest with his rapier, letting him collapse.

Meowzer D&DMore orcs and goblins had broken through he main gate. A large, scarred orc noticed the party to the side and with a roar, charged. Kael didn’t hesitate and sent out a ray of frost, slowing the beast and causing frostbite. With the distraction, Pemnaq clambered over a fence into an old fish-strewn alley way. Greenskins were pressing on the cat paladin, but he held firm, allowing Kael to navigate his way over the fence. The wizard put his staff over to help the paladin.

From his exertions, Meowzer was barely able to make his way over the fence, even with the wizard’s help.

“Thought cats were good at climbing,” Kael remarked. Meowzer gave a broken growl in response. They broke into a run, meeting up with Pemnaq in the next street over. There was less fighting here. The greenskins were still concerned with a few regiments of guards, but were taking ground.

Kenshin was ahead of them. Taking a running jump, he attempted to bypass another fence. Unfortunately, he missed his footing and somersaulted over the fence, landing on his rump. Two refugees, previously distraught, couldn’t help but laugh as the serious Ronin’s face went bright red. Pemnaq, who was to hear about this later, promised to immortalise the event – giving Kenshin the title of Red-Face for all times.

The rest of the group made their way to Kenshin’s position, bypassing the main street. At the harbour, they found themselves faced with a sea of desperation. The only boat left was the Guild of Explorer’s ship, guarded by some mercenaries who kept back the anxious crowd. Many had given up on trying to secure passage, and instead decided to try their luck in the Desolation. They would no doubt drown, or be pulled apart in the rapids.

The melee at the quay was reaching a fever pitch. People were going to die by each other’s hands, even before the greenskins reached them. Pemnaq, to avert this dire conclusion, took out his panflute, and began to play.

Much like the rabid mutant rats of Hamgeier, the flute calmed the mob. It lulled them into a feeling of harsh solemnity. Some cried. Other sat down, their face in their hands. Nobody raised a hand at the guards.

The party made their way to the boat, the mob no longer being a barrier. They were resigned to their fate. At the corner of his eye, Kenshin spotted the first greenskins to enter the harbour. The large orc levelled his falchion in the direction of the harbour and let out a roar. Kenshin drew his longbow and fired, unfortunately missing. Kael shoved in front of him.

“Now watch what real power is.”

First, he summoned three bolts of light, allowing them to hover above his head like a halo. Then, with a flourish, he let them loose. Each bolt flew into the head of a greenskin, one decapitating its victim. The party members hurried past, Meowzer only staying behind to guard the wizard as he released a wave of fire upon the horde.

With the spell waning, the mob started to erupt once again. Mothers held their babies towards the boat, attempting to throw them in. Kenshin, unable to contain himself any longer, ordered the guard to let in the mothers and elderly. His glare, like daggers, convinced the mercenary to allow it.

Kael, his spell book depleted, allowed Meowzer to cover him as he entered the boat. After a few chosen refugees were allowed on, Meowzer leapt on board and they departed.

Pemnaq gazed onto the quay as the rest of the villagers were slaughtered. He stared on stone-faced, but tormented. He was never going to forget this, no matter how hard he tried.

 

Departing March Crossing: Part 1 (D&D Adventure)

D&DOnce a week, if all goes according to plan, I will be meeting with a group of my friends to play a homebrew adventure of Dungeons and Dragons 5e. The adventure, Realms of Alurn, should last awhile, and I hope will interest you. After every session, I will be posting a report in the form of a short story. Obviously, the story will make the narrative seem a little more coherent, but this is for the benefit of you, the reader. In actual fact, as all D&D players will know, no game could ever be this organised. In general, however, I hope to portray the story and player interactions as well as possible. I hope you enjoy!


“I’m glad you’ve all come. I trust you saw my notice and aren’t just sitting here drinking my booze without any intention of taking on my job. Right? Good.”

The Halfling, Yengin Silkfoot, took a sip from his brandy, on the rocks. He was a stout fellow, possessing a belly carrying a lifetime of good living. He was balding, his only hair being twin tufts of reddish-brown flanking his pudgy face. His accent was smooth and whimsical – typical of a Hwenian. Despite this, his face was stern. He was a broker for the Guild of Explorers, and wouldn’t tolerate any form of wasting his time or tricking him.

“The job is simple. You are all to take a ferry north, to B’thain. Once in Crestfire, find a guide and go to the ruins of the Moon Kingdom. There’s a tomb there. Meant to be the biggest. Belongs to their God Emperor – Zaikere. He being a God didn’t save their nation, but he did have some valuable treasure. You’re to get in that tomb and find the Staff of Zaikere. Any other things you find, take what you will. All I need is the staff.”

“Why you need the staff?” Kenshin, a gruff Ronin, asked.

“That is my business. Your business is bringing it to me,” Yengin replied, waving the question away.

“Payment?” Meowzer chimed in. The Cat-Paladin was friendly, but was desperate for gold, since his last binge of praising Sharess.

“500 gold, each,” Yengin was reluctant to announce the amount, but this was not a man to state thing’s lightly. He didn’t like it, but he was willing to give out the amount.

The table was silent, but the adventurers struggled to contain their delight. Meowzer purred. Kael’thas, a high elf wizard, tapped his fingers together, happily content.

“When you have the staff, return to the mainland on your own terms. There are Guild boats in Crestfire. You can use them to return. Meet me in Hyktha, at the Guild Lodge. You will be paid on delivery. Your boat leaves March Crossing in about an hour.”

Yengin stood up and made his way to the entrance of The Manticore Inn. The group stood up from the round table and dispersed. Pemnaq, a young human bard, rushed to Yengin, making sure that his companions didn’t notice.

“Master Silktoe…”

Kael'thas D&D“Yes, boy? What do you want? Got the staff already?” Yengin replied sarcastically, his annoyance showing through. He glanced hastily at his wrist-sundial, enchanted to always be able to detect the time.

“It’s just that – don’t you think 500 is a bit low?”

“A bit low!” Yengin bellowed. “You could live like a Duke off of that. A farm boy should be fainting with joy, ingrate!”

“It’s just that…well, I know the others don’t know this…but between you and me, I know how much that staff is worth. My village is awash with stories from me uncles about a legendary staff from the Cat Kingdom. Meant to be worth a Duchy. Something like that isn’t worth a mere 2000 gold divided among four of us. It’s worth fiefdoms!”

Yengin was sweating. His mouth twitched and he clucked his tongue. “Shush, fine. What do you want?”

“Why should I deal with you at all? Can trade the staff in with the High King for a barony. The others will probably go along with it…”

Yengin chuckled. “A peasant Bard having an audience with the High King? No. You need the Guild to certify the staff. Won’t get a seller any other way. But you’ve been quite astute. You keep your mouth shut and I’ll throw in another 500 for you.”

Pemnaq nodded. Yengin smiled and then turned, leaving once again. Pemnaq sauntered towards the counter, ordering a beer. Kael sidled up to him and whispered, “Any luck?”

“Nope,” Pemnaq replied, presuming Kael’s meaning.

“Damn shortling. Tight-fisted midge,” Kael swore quietly.

Meanwhile, Meowzer was praising Sharess, the patron Goddess of Cats and Hedonism, by drinking his full. Kenshin was reciting something under his breath, polishing his blade. Kael was glancing around the room, studying the inhabitants. Pemnaq finished his beer and made his way to the stage, wiping foam from his lips.

Pemnaq D&DThe previous bard had been a lute player. The tune had been sombre, and not befitting what Pemnaq pictured to be a happy coastal tavern – despite its mourning of the King of Ankor, their now dead liege. The King had died in the first attack by the Void, only a year ago. The magical attack had left a gaping crevice in the Pike River, renaming it to the Desolation. In the same attack, the palace of Ankor was flattened.

Upon the stage, Pemnaq cleared his throat and started up a bawdy sea-shanty.

“The Queen is neat
Her hair like wheat
Every man cannot resist her
Yet as fair her skin be
She be a bitch to all but me
I be the one that tamed
That cow, putting her feet above me head…”

The mood of the inn livened up, with the majority of the tavern joining the common Agthenfall tune. The Queen, of course, was the High Queen of Glerania. Allegedly, any who were caught singing the tune was immediately hanged in the High Kingdom. Luckily, they were a continent away.

But as the song escalated again in its explicitness, making Kenshin blush, a horn sounded in the distance. The tavern ignored the interruption and continued, but then they heard a scream. The horn sounded again.

Meowzer, sobering up in an instant, pricked up his ears. It was an orc horn.

Part 2 available now