The Undiscovered Country

An Uncanny Child

The druids almost missed the small figure sat beneath the oak tree, she was so still. They had been searching for her for days now and here she was, as if nothing was amiss. As they got closer they realised her lack of movement was this time down to the trance she was in. Her face was serene and unmoving, even when they called her name. One of the druids gently touched her hand to alert her that they were there, but still there was no reaction.

It took them some time and coaxing, but eventually she stirred and those peculiar eyes were revealed. She frowned, confused.

“Why did you disturb me? I was busy.” she grumbled.

“You’ve been gone for a week, hin. You should not have wandered so far on your own!” a druid replied, holding out a hand to help her up. He felt a slight stiffness and flutter in her limbs as his arm tensed with her weight. “How long have you been sat here meditating?” he demanded. “When did you last eat?”

The young girl shrugged unworried. “A few days?”

One of the other druids produced some bread & fruit from a pack and pushed it into the girl’s hands. If they were to make any progress in their return journey, they needed her to be in a fit state to travel. The food disappeared, followed by some gulps from a proffered waterskin.

Once they’d checked her over to make sure she was ok, they headed back through the forest towards their home. She was a strange one that was for sure. If she wasn’t zoning out as if she was looking or listening to something not there, she was wandering off. She certainly wasn’t behaving like a trainee druid or any other Elf they’d taught before. They would have to find another solution – her parents weren’t going to be happy if they sent her back to them.

The druids collectively shuddered as they walked. They felt like they were being minutely observed. Turning to look – those liquid silver eyes were focussed on them. Yes – they would have to do something about this uncanny child.

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Necromance if you want to, you can leave your friends behind
'cause your friends 'aint dead, and if they 'aint dead, well then they're no friends of mine.

At the moment he touched the barrier, felt the immovable forces of the barrier momentarily dissolve around him. As his arcane Sight sense the call and the answer from the amulet that hung – comically – low to his belly…

…he questioned himself.

Why should he leave? The West would have peace now, The Shining city would unite the fortier towns and the refugees. Wullie was going to be Prince Consort, he’d have the queens ear… His internal monologue paused expecting The Bard or Jack to say ‘he’d have the queen’s everything else as well’ but that didn’t happen. Jack?

He looked left as the cold shiver of the barrier touched his face. His unusual co-crosser was unfazed by the bizarre happenings…

“only linguistically speakin’…” his inner Arcanist corrected “…metaphysically, dats up for debate”

He turned back to the cold darkness

The 13th would be fine, they would probably be decorated. The Gnomes would be safe, they had a spooky mushroom lady looking after them, that, unexpectedly, had been good to her word so far. If he’d have stayed he could have completed his life’s work, his Grandfather’s work, his life-extending work, in peace.

But that was the problem wasn’t it? There wasn’t a lot of use for Necromancy in a new golden age. Oh he could write and read, work some simple spells, but they’d put him to work patching up the sick and injured, stitching back together the City’s un-ageing PostMortem Age Pensioners when they fell and broke their hips. His days of testing the finality of death, of taking back what the Grey Wastes would claim as their own, of risking death in long forgotten tombs for the promise of forbidden knowledge… They would be long done.

Worse, they’d make him tell them all he’d learnt, all he’d seen, and he would – because he’d be the first person to admit he’d crack, long before any actual torture.

The cold was infinite, it took his breath away, it made “the chill of the grave” a lie, but it was fleeting, nearly across now.

No it was the war in the east he needed, as a cover, to ensure desperate men accepted dubious arcane solutions.

Was their more to it though? Didn’t he have a duty to stop the Glass Staffs? Hadn’t he suggested moving the town in the first place? Didn’t he have friends on this side of the barrier?

No, he didn’t have friends, he had what he’d always had in the 13th: People he fought beside, and of late people who owed him their second shot at life. That was close enough for him.

It was war that had put him on this path and it was war that would see him to the end of it, the promised land, the ultimate breakthrough.

They were across.

What now?

And why did he have that stupidly-happy tune Lille Nisse Hansi was always singing stuck in his head?!

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The Hewlett Household, part 2

part 1

Crawford the manservant and the young master Hewlett shuffled wearily into the servants’ entrance at the rear of mansion. It had been a long walk from the cliffside. A few household staff were in the kitchen, four of them playing Minotaur Bridge. There was a heated argument about the scoring of a Doubled Banshee which fell to a hush as the two entered.

“His Lordship is in the parlour, and he requests you meet him in the library.”

The door from the back staircase opened to the next to the ajar parlour door, and as the youth shuffled past he could hear hushed toasts. Something boring and mundane about “power” and “peace”. He’d never cared one bit about his father’s dealings, and he wasn’t about to start now. And being caught eavesdropping… he hurried past the door to the end of the hall.

Books.

He’d never counted how many, but the library was the largest room in Hewlett Manor.

Thousands, perhaps.

Thousands of worlds to get lost in.

Thousands of escapes from this mundane life.

And just one world out here. Hardly fair.

He grabbed a log from the pile and stoked the hearth. He sat there as the heat and light grew, warming his hands; not the soft, gentle hands of any other noble heir, but the calloused, nimble hands of the budding adventurer.

The postprandial drinks were still in full swing in the next room. No chance of his father emerging for some time yet, so he lit a candle from the fire and scanned the shelves. There it was, and the bookmark still in place: The Chronicles of Enderis the Wanderer, Vol. III. He set the candle down and quickly engrossed himself in the centuries-old tome.

It was several hours later before he noticed the guests had gone and his father, presumably, had retired to bed. He sighed and shuffled upstairs.

“…staffs, and black robes, that’s what Brent said. Poor boy was scared witless— good morning, Master Hewlett!”

Mrs. Morgan and the kitchen maids rose when the boy entered. He looked exasperated.

“I’ve told you a thousand times, stop treating me like… him. I’ll breakfast with you. What’s the news?”

Guardedly, the cook began again. “A hamlet, on the edge of His Lordship’s land. It was razed last night. Only Brent the farmhand survived. Well… had survived.”

Kitchen maid Jim piped up. “It was mages! And they cursed ‘im!”

“Brent, well, he was a good friend of ours. Here’s the worst news. This never leaves this room, boy.”

Mrs. Morgan leaned forwards and whispered conspiratorially.

“The leader of the mages was one of the guests here last night”.

Furious, the young master Hewlett was pacing the library. Crawford stood near the door.

“I dare not second-guess His Lordship’s motives. And I’m sure there’s some grand scheme here.”

“How can you say that! They’re dead! He knew about it, he fucking must have!”

A scowl. “Be that as it may—“

“He doesn’t love me. His heir! He clearly doesn’t give a fuck about this estate or its future!”

“We don’t know what the mages were doing here last night!” His voice was rising in uncharacteristic fury.

“Crawford, I… listen.” He collapsed into his favourite reading chair. “I eavesdropped last night. Not deliberately. The parlour door was open. They were toasting to peace and to power. What does that sound like to you?” The manservant looked heartbroken.

“Crawford?” The boy’s voice was timid. “My… my mother. What was she like?”

Crawford sighed. “I know where you’re going with this. Don’t think for a second that your father was different before. He has always been cold. He has always been callous. He has always lacked love.”

The manservant gave a far-off look. “That said… your mother was a light in this world. You get that from her.”

They both had tears in their eyes, although the boy was trying his best to hide it. “Why the fuck do you stay?”

“I serve the Hewlett family. Its Lord and its heirs.” A pointed look.

“I’m leaving, Crawford. I’m never coming back. What’s keeping you here then?”

A grand chair. Not a throne; not gilt, or jewelled. Not on a pedestal or even pride of place in its room. Lord Hewlett didn’t need any of that to look imperious.

A ring. Again, not ornate, but simply-finished silver with the Hewlett sigil stamped onto it.

The boy. Who wishes he was too proud to kneel. Wishes he could control his tears.

The lord. Pocketing the ring with a terrible smile. Saying “begone”. Knowing he just condemned his heir.

one week later

You know this, Eben. Come on. Arm straight. Don’t lock elbow. Visualise the target. Breathe out. Loose.

The bolt hit its mark, and the curious rabbit suddenly became decidedly uncurious.

It was the boy’s eighth day on the run, and he’d run out of the food he’d managed to pack in his escape. Just as well he’d had the foresight to grab his handbow and knife. He took the latter in hand and went to work.

While the meat stewed in the pot, he took in the view. From here he could see the span of the Hewlett estate, and the wider fiefdom. The burning hamlet to the west.

This land… my name… that door’s closed to me. Eben Hewlett no more.

He looked at the stolen book poking out of his pack.

I suppose I am a wanderer now.

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I See No Reason, Why the 13th Free Legion Should Ever Be Forgot.

Military conscription… him! It was an outrage! He was going to be the most gifted Evoker in the City!.

“Greysprocket! You little waste of flesh, stop flinching and fight!” came the cry as he was knocked off his feet by a flung crossbow. Landing in the stinking dank water that pooled around his knees and still bled down from the grim sky.

He turned to look at the mound of mud that stood now 3 times his height, he looked back at his elf commander loosing off bolt after bolt with a full sized crossbow in each hand, then down the line over his own shoulder… there they were.

Mortimer half swum, half crawled across the mud of the 12th trenches, he must have gone a quarter mile, ignoring the shouts of:

“Greysprocket! Get back here!”
“Mortimer!”
“Cheap trickster, get that tiny ass back here, or so help me!”
“It’s desertion then! Desertion! I’ll tattoo it on you…” but the young wizard was never enlightened as to the destination of his impending ink, as the fireball that roared into the company line stole away the commanders threats, and his company. Save one.

A giant Chromatic Orb blast hole full of water meant he was soaked across the admittedly short distance from head to toe by the time he made it onto the impressive make-shift gantries of the next company.

This section of the trench was full of Gnomes, the occasional halfling, only their Human corporal stood more than 4 feet. Their trench was a workshop on a battlefield aside from the various ladders, steps, and elevated runs that kept the pint-sized soldiers away from drowning in the knee-deep mud their human companions simply put up with. Behind the gunners tinkerers worked to mend armour, shape bolts for the bow, working by shuttered lanterns lest they give away their position in the blackest of nights.

It was the human Corporal that dragged him out of the mud. Pulling himself up to his almost all four feet of height, the Gnome saluted weakly

“Gre… greysproket, sir, Private, of the 12th” he said before slumping to a seat on the construct of broken wood, metal and stone.

“Copperfield, Corporal around these parts, welcome to the 13th company” came the reply when the hand up was offered again.

“13th? There are only 12 official companies” Mortimer hissed (always a stickler for accurate recording)… as ballista fire whistled overhead.

“Right you are, that makes us the Free Company, rejected from active service by our physical and Racial ‘betters’… we fight anyway, the 13th company of fighting “Men” defending the Shining City.

At this, an eerie silence fell, the Battle Mages relentless bombardment ceased to light the dark night sky.

“Wait for it” Corporal Copperfield advised putting one hand on Mortimer’s chest, holding another up to his miniature warriors, all stayed quiet, saved one Gnome who jumped about, screaming they should attack

“Wow, that one’s pretty daft” Private Greysprocket muttered
“Hell’ova fighter though” Copperfield nodded. “Say’s he’ll marry the Queen one day…”

“Fit Bayonets and charge! Over the top!” came the cry down the line.

Corporal Copperfield was the first one over the trench, he made it in one bound, the rest of the trench was an explosion of activity, some Gnomes had little rockets to launch them up, others a springboard, still more deployed rope ladders. Mortimer scuttled along the impressive ramparts and was one of the last up the ladders.

He made it 3 feet before tripping over his own crossbow as it bit into the churned up mud and left him pivoting head over foot into the dirt. What had been the point of issuing Gnomes with Human sized weapons? What did he need weapons for anyway? He was an Arcanist, a War Wizard of the Shining City. He took after his Grandfather, no matter why his mother and father said he was a crazy old man!

Pulling himself up Mortimer reached out to the abundant corrupting force of Arcanic radiation saturating any battlefield the Battle Mages took too. He shaped a purple shield of will around him, running in it like a pet in a ball over the muddy surface, Crossbow bolts sought out this newly lit up target, but bounced effortlessly off his spell-work.

By the time he drew level with Corporal Copperfield his hands blazed with evoked fire from the elemental chaos, he made to hurl it at his enemies.

“No fire! No magic, the light! You’ll give up our position!”

True enough, at that moment the world exploded.

When Mortimer came too he was half buried under human sacrifice. A fireball creator full of the men and women of the City, fallen to a last person. He dared to look over the edge of the mud: The Corporal, lying in no-man’s land, Mortimer was up and sprinting into fire before he had a chance to remember he was a total coward and had no plan to die this way!

No evocation magic, no light it would draw fire… what else did he have?

“No light, no fire” he said to himself as he shifted the Tenserian Notation prepared in his mind that morning in the barracks.

Mortimer exploded from the crater leaping off the bodies of the other fallen divisions, from his hands he threw not his usual fire, but icy white bolts of deathly energy around him the dead imparted their essence to his unholy works. The enemy waited to target when the wizards lit up? Fine, if they gave him death he would turn that back against them, the 12th was gone, he was now 13, free company. Wielding death against them.

He hadn’t gone long before he slid into another crater, and his heart bottomed out…

Corporal Copperfield lay in the mud, his remains showed the tell-tale ravages of a fireball hit. Mortimer looked down at the remains, at his own hands.

“I can do this, I can do this, this energy is all around me, If magic can kill it can make life again too!” the tinkerer wizard reassure himself, and reached out channeling his arcane energies into the half destroyed form before him.

The young soldier watched as the arcane energies, channeled with the best of intentions, decayed flesh off bone and stripped any trace of life from his new Corporal.

Mortimer just sunk to his knees in the mud… the magic created by war could bring nothing but death. Fine, he could work with that. He looked around the scattered faces of the 13th. If death magic was all he could bring to protect them, so be it.

++++

Pausing from running round to all the Amulet owners, the 13th dragged Mortimer to one side.

Had he forgotten?

He looked at Corporal Skeleton, and just nodded, then produced the red flower out of his spell book. it was a little pressed, but how could he forget?

The 13th met briefly in the Town of Hommlet. They took a moment to remember their fallen, and then they moved on.

Next year, the 13th, The Free Company, might remember in a foreign land that never knew their conflict.

His choice was no choice at all, but they wouldn’t be forgotten.

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Season 6 Session 4

It is the morning after. Mortimer wakes up early in the tower bedchamber, eager to learn another new spell from the Book of Acererak. He is successful in this, even if he does start like a naughty schoolboy when Rufus and Burne wake up and see what he is up to.

No Name awakes elsewhere in the tower – in Jonathan’s bed, to be precise. His attempts to introduce her to dwarven coffee are less than successful, and they have a characteristically awkward conversation by the window. Jonathan has decided that, once he has written his daily report, there should be a council of war.

Mawgojzeta goes for a morning walk, out west beyond the village boundary in the hope that her Sending spell to the citadel will work outside of Hommlet. It doesn’t. But in happier news, she sees a company of soldiers from the citadel approaching from the west, and she goes to greet them. This diverse unit – gnomes, humans, an elf, and even a skeleton – are suspicious at first, until she explains that she is an operative reporting to Thatcher in the citadel, and she has intelligence for them. She sketches out the situation in Hommlet, and mentions that some of the adventurers have returned alive from the Tomb of Acererak, which causes no little astonishment. The soldiers have come across the same huge, dead, strangely decayed worm that the party encountered on their way back from the Tomb, and are just as puzzled about what might have happened to it. As the group has identified itself as the 13th Company, she reveals that one of their number – Greysprocket – is in Hommlet. The commanding officer is delighted to hear this, and happy for her to guide the company into Hommlet to see their long-lost colleague.

The council of war is held in the Headman’s house, which now doubles as a village assembly. All are quickly agreed that they should use the crossing amulets once more to return Hommlet to the east. As the assembly breaks up, Mawgojzeta appears at the door and beckons Mortimer outside, where he is reunited with the 13th Company. Corporal Skeleton seems particularly pleased to see him. Even Lille Nisse Hansi pops up to say hello, causing Mortimer to explain to his incredulous friends that yes, nisse really do exist, and if there’s one thing he’s learned about them on his travels, it’s that it’s hard to be a nissemand.

Just then there is a terrible, far-off screeching sound. A copper dragon, flying through the air, crying out in pain – and coming straight for Hommlet.

The dragon’s jets of acid breath devastate buildings and melt people alive. The 13th Company head for cover. The party – and Jonathan – head for the tower.

Once at the tower, most of the party go to the terrace, watching the dragon wreak havoc in the village. Mortimer and Jack stay in the cover of a downstairs room, watching from a window, while Lubash goes all the way to the very top and loads up one of the fixed ballistae. He shoots a couple of bolts at the dragon as it flies screaming back and forth, and eventually manages to get its attention.

As the dragon turns towards the tower, Mawgojzeta intones a countercharm to keep the party safe from fear. This proves timely. The dragon approaches in a rush, ancient, gargantuan, spitting acid, but its fearful presence is resisted by all except Tuakiin, who knows too much about dragons not to be terrified of this one. Even so, despite his fear he calls out to the dragon in Draconic, imploring it to stop and let him help it with whatever distress it is in. The dragon takes no notice.

Downstairs, Mortimer attempts to dispel magic on the dragon, on the grounds that it may be some spell that is causing the dragon’s pain. It has no effect. Beside him, Jack casts his Armour of Agathys, on the grounds that a great big dragon is approaching.

While Lubash struggles to reload the ballista, Tuakiin calls out to the dragon once more. Its only response is to blast a jet of acid across everyone on the terrace. Most manage to leap out of the way of the main jet, taking secondary splashes which are quite bad enough, but Tuakiin takes the full force of the acid and is very badly injured. Despite this, he continues to call on the dragon to stop, and accept his help, to no avail.

No Name tries to enchant the dragon, which is unsuccessful but does arouse a shriek of outrage from Jonathan, at which point she decides she can’t be bothered with him at the moment and turns into an air elemental in order to heal herself. As the dragon comes back for another pass, Mawgojzeta leaps and rolls down the stairs with catlike grace, finishing beside Mortimer who she implores to do use whatever power he has to stop the dragon. He decides to run upstairs, leaving behind Jack who is merrily shooting eldritch blasts at the dragon from the relative safety of the room. Mawgojzeta attempts to beguile the dragon with a hypnotic pattern, but its legendary powers are such that it bats the illusion aside.

Outside, No Name attempts to harm the dragon while in air elemental form, but to little effect. After clawing her as she retreats, the dragon wheels round and blasts the terrace once more with acid. Only Jonathan and Tuakiin are left up here, and both are killed by the acid breath, the middle parts of their bodies dissolved into goo. Nasty. The dragon then settles down on the upper platform, with the ballistae and Lubash. Or, as he likes to be called, Lubash Dragonslayer.

Lubash Dragonslayer leaps onto the dragon’s back, and whips off his loincloth in the hope of tying it round the dragon’s eyes. But this is an older and huger creature than the black dragon he wrestled in the sky above Rhest, and he quickly realises no such shenanigans will prove successful. Instead, he hits it with his hammer.

In a downstairs room, Enderis loads his crossbow and heads towards the sounds of combat.

Now at the top of the stairs, Mortimer sees the pitiable remains of his friend Tuakiin. Pitiable, that is, unless you are a necromancer. As Mawgojzeta catches up with him on the stairs, he dashes out, picks up what is left of Tuakiin and dimension doors back down into the tower. It’s all go on the stairs as Jack comes up too, jumping out onto the terrace long enough to eldritch blast the dragon then ducking back into cover, and Enderis appears too, doing the same as Jack but with fearsomely precise crossbow bolts instead of magic. Meanwhile No Name reverts to her usual form and performs the unusual task of sawing off the late Jonathan’s head with a scimitar before popping it into a bag and heading down the stairs – past Mawgojzeta, who gives the bag a disapproving look.

The dragon shakes off its unwanted rider, and proceeds to bite and claw at Lubash. But Lubash stands his ground, swinging his hammer at the dragon and achieving many palpable hits. This is all happening above the terrace, and out of sight of Mawgojzeta, who can see no one left alive on the terrace and the dragon’s tail whipping in the air above her. She rushes down once again to find Mortimer, who is busy tending to Tuakiin’s remains, and gives him the most urgent pep talk he’s ever had. He is reluctant to go back upstairs, but when she points out that he is the most powerful wizard for miles around his ego overcomes his cowardice and he returns to the fight.

Lubash is doing damage to the dragon, assisted by Jack’s eldritch blasts and Enderis’s crossbow bolts, but Lubash is also becoming increasingly bloodied. He pulls back from the fight as Mortimer approaches, ducking back into the cover of the stairway with Jack. Mortimer, the tiny gnome, faces up to the gargantuan dragon and touches it on the nose, causing necromantic energy to blast through it.

Jack comes out of the stairway for another blast at the dragon, and on his way back in, without so much as a by-your-leave, he turns Lubash invisible. With this new advantage, Lubash returns to the fray, pounding the dragon with near-impunity. As he does so, Mortimer runs underneath the dragon, rams his clawed hands upwards into its belly, and induces a surge of necrotic magic that turns the dragon to dust and bone. Lubash Dragonslayer takes a tooth, to add to his collection.

The fight over, most of the party rest. All but two. Mortimer goes to work to restore Tuakiin to life, but with so much of him gone he needs some new reptilian body parts. Reluctantly, Master Burne gives up his pet green lizard Fluffy for the greater good, and Tuakiin is soon resurrected, albeit with the middle part of his body now green instead of his usual beautiful gold. This interrupts the conversation he and Jonathan were having in the Grey Wastes, in which Jonathan insisted on clinging to religious orthodoxy despite Tuakiin’s assurance that, on this side of the barrier, God is dead.

Mawgojzeta and Enderis share an intimate moment. She asks him about where he went off to with Vivien, and he describes a beautiful place that they were both sent to for all too short a time.

In her own private place, No Name takes the severed head of Jonathan and weaves druidic magic about it. He is brought back to life, but such are the unpredictabilities of a druid’s powers that he is reincarnated as a halfing.

The relative calm is shattered by an announcement from Burne. He has figured out what caused the dragon to go mad – an increasing time differential that affects the largest creatures first, but which will soon destroy Lubash, and then the rest of them. There are only two ways to put an end to it. One is a ritual which will seal the barrier for all time – but will kill every magic-wielding person on the west side. The other is a ritual that will collapse the barrier entirely, causing this world in the west to become joined again to the east, such that anyone can pass back and forth between them. The party must decide what to do – and there isn’t much time…

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When the Man Comes Around

Mortimer watched Burne and Rufus sleep, it had been a trying ordeal for them, and that was partially, okay largely, his fault, but he felt confident that with enough time he and Burne could come up with a way of moving the right souls into the right bodies, of course time was the one thing they didn’t have, the Time Wraiths must but his next concern, there was no two ways about it, they had to move the village back across the barrier. But could they do it without Burne?

They had Spugnoir, Jack, Himself, where was that knight with magical talent? Where was Lady Anarieay for that matter? He could hear most of the voices he recognised down in the tavern below him, but he couldn’t hear her bossing people around.

She was the least of his worries, he suspected they would need Burne and Rufus back at their respective positions of import sooner rather than later, he hoped the village would rally around their traditional figureheads, but how would that even work now… now he’d confused things a little? At least Jack’s appearance shifting spell had calmed them enough that now they slept.

Sleep… That was something he could put off no longer, for a Necromancer the line “i’ll sleep when I’m dead” is a blatant fallacy.

“An’ besides, I don’t plan on dyin’” he muttered to himself as he let his head and body sink lower, lower, till it rested on the large, black, evil looking spellbook he cradled like others would a teddybear these days.

Soon he slumbered, and in his dreams he ran over and over the events of the day, which, for the pintsized spellslinger, had been mostly necromantic ritual after ritual. In his mind he went over and over the circles, the pentagrams, the Existential Markup, the dribbly candles… till in his dream all he saw was grey.

He sat, in the featureless grey for a long while, long enough for him to become aware he had some seriously boring dreams. At that moment of realisation however, he heard a voice and looked over to see a man in a sharp grey suit, with a trilby hat, and a goatee beard.

“There’s a man goin’ ‘round takin’ names. An’ he decides who to free and who to blame. Everybody won’t be treated all the same.”

“No offence…” the wizard clad in midnight intoned, “But you’re one of the last people I wanted to dream about, especially on that subject!”

The smartly dressed man gave a slow nod, as if accepting that this was a fair statement, but he approached anyway, gestured as if asking to sit, and then dropped down beside the smaller figure.

“Wadda’ you want friend, I was kinda hoping to sleep like the dead, not dream some cryptic bullshit. I don’t suppose you have a real straight forward revelation about the current situation that you’ve going to give me in simple, plane, Common do you?

Instead of an answer the suited man reached into his right breast pocket and, inexplicably, produced a simple clay vessel, full of a dark red liquid.

“The hairs on your arm will stand up. At the terror in each sip and in each sup. For you partake of that last offered cup, Or disappear into the potter’s ground. When the man comes around.”_

Mortimer regarded the offered cup for a moment, but halted before drinking, trying to change the subject instead:

“If this is about your disciple girl, I actually tried to save her y’know, I’ve started doing that now, saving people, I think I’ve started having ‘friends’… terrible habit to get into. I tried to save two people today, not because they would be useful, not because I could use them to get the powers I need to know, but just because they didn’t judge me, one of them was excited to know me and what I knew, the other accepted me because I was important to one he cared about. Now I’ve got this horrible feeling, like I’m gonna’ have to make things right by ‘em just cause of that. Why do those feelings even exist, ‘whatsa use of that to anyone?”

The man smiled a little and nodded slowly. He opened his mouth to speak, closed it, as if thinking better of it, and then said:

”Hear the trumpets, hear the pipers. One hundred million angels singin’. Multitudes are marching to the big kettle drum. Voices callin’, voices cryin’. Some are born an’ some are dyin’.”

“Oh geeze, yeah, that clears everything right up, why’d I gotta’ get such a freakin’ cryptic subconscious. Some are certainly dyin’ cause they’re being poisoned as part of some dumb-as-rocks political maneuverin’ around a king who aint’ even in this land! Jonathan and his men want this place so bad, they’re a thousand years away from their home, the only ruler in these parts is my Queen in the Shining City. They want to poison the one guy who can keep them safe and get them home? I aint’ got time for these games!”

The suited man put a reassuring hand on the smaller figures shoulder

“The whirlwind is in the thorn tree. It’s hard for thee to kick against the pricks.”

“True that’” the robed mage smirked. “First sensible thing you said so far!”

He reached behind him and produced a black leather clad volume that he currently converted more than anything else in the world.

“I got betta’ thing to be doin’, y’know, secrets to be learning, like how to not make your acquaintance again at the end of it all, no offence like, I mean I’m on message, I feel where you’re comin’ from, you run a tight ship, I just rather it sailed widout’ me on it, y’know?”

He paused, but the figure seemed genuinely amused by this notion.

“Is it even in here? What I’ve been striving for all my life? Did Acererak ever find the secret?”

The besuited figure raised a conspiratorial eyebrow, and then grinned a wicked smile. He paused for a moment to stroke his goatee beard, and replied:

”Till Armageddon, no Shalam, no Shalom. Then the father hen will call his chickens home. The wise men will bow down before the throne. And at his feet they’ll cast their golden crown.”

“Just once I’d like to have a dream that made an ounce a’ sense, it’s like bending your mind to the arcane arts all day is worst than cheese a’fore bedtime, y’know?!”

Mortimer threw up his hands in despair

“Can I get a straight answer ova’ here?”

”Listen to the words long written down, When the man comes around.”

Mortimer opened and shut his mouth, he looked down at the spellbook he cradled,

“Ooo-kay, that actually kinda made sense, surprisingly.”

The man nodded, and rose, doffed his trilby hat, and made to leave.

“Wait! Before you go, what’s waiting for us, what’s back East, when we move the village, I got a bad feelin’ I’m stuck with this till the end here, whatdo’I got comin’?”

The suited man looked back over his shoulder, smiled a knowing smile, and added:

”It’s Alpha’s and Omega’s Kingdom come…”

With that mortimer woke with a start, it was dawn, the pub below him sounded quite. He blinked away sleep for a moment then flung open the spellbook he cradled and searched desperately through it’s pages

“Ah shit I’m gonna’ need a plan B, ‘case the man comes around!”

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The Hewlett Household, part 1

kachunk

“Dammit!”

The bolt had sailed straight past the target, embedding itself in the dirt some dozens of yards away.

“Now, that’s not bad, but you’re locking your elbow. Loosen up”. The instructor braced herself; she’d been trying to teach the youth for weeks. She knew what was coming.

“I fucking know what I’m doing wrong! Here! Watch!”

kachunk

This bolt struck the edge of the target, spinning wildly away in a cloud of straw fragments.

The instructor smiled sardonically at the space where the youth had stood. He was striding away, fuming.

She’d seen that part coming, too.

Lord Hewlett noted the absence at the dinner table with resignation. “He’s gone on another of his walks. That boy always ends up in the strangest of places!”

The servants had set down the platters and taken their places at the head table. In the Hewlett household, the staff always ate with the family; this tradition had lasted for generations.

The guest chuckled. “I’m sure he’ll turn up, Your Grace”.

“Oh, he always turns up. It’s where he goes in the meantime”. The lord was shaking his head, in disbelief even now. “One time, last year, he found this temple. Wouldn’t shut up about altars and elements for weeks!”.

The mage tried to hide his fascination. “A temple of the elements? Wherever did he find that?”

“Lord Hewlett requests your presence, Master Hewlett.”

The youth’s lank hair flew in all directions, driven by the wind rushing up the cliff. He turned where he was sitting.

“How the fuck did you find me this time, Crawford?”

The servant pulled his furs tighter and sat on the edge of the cliff next to the boy.

“I’m not going to claim your father was worried about you. We both know that’s not the case. I was worried about you, young master”.

The youth swung his legs around. “One of these days you won’t find me, you know. Maybe Lord Hewlett will worry when his heir is actually missing”.

“Come now. Let’s go home.”

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Season 6 Session 3
Anarië Dies At The End

The battle with the insect-men and their queen now over, Jonathan decides to continue leading people to the tower. His soldiers are with him, along with the mage Vivien and an as-yet-unnamed priest. Also following along are Burne’s Badgers and a rabble of villagers. The party follow too, although Anarië turns invisible before doing so.

In the tower, Mortimer is having some difficulty explaining his actions to Rufus, who he has inadvertently resurrected in Burne’s body. Rufus is also having some difficulty moving, with resurrection sickness adding to the problems of trying to coordinate an unfamiliar body. The commotion wakes Jack , who is busy downstairs trying out new forms in front of a mirror.

Jack comes up and knocks on the door, but it is opened and swiftly shut before he realises he is not in hs usual Jack guise, so he changes back and tries again. This time Mortimer is glad to see him, and together they manage to dimension door Rufus and the remaining dead body straight to the pub, where Jack loses no time in having a large beer. Mortimer begins the ritual again. Surely he can put it right this time.

Anarië, invisible, begins reading Jonathan’s mind. Meanwhile the Bard barracks Jonathan about his role in the alleged killings of burne and Rufus, and his responsibility for what has transpired. Unfortunately, his surface thoughts are little but anger and determination to press on, and Anarië has to probe deeper to find out the truth about Jonathan’s actions, and what he knows about the killings. Jonathan becomes aware of this, and angrily cries “Stop that!”, to which Anarië responds “Stop what?”, hoping to lead him into an admission that his thoughts have been read.

Instead, he directs his troops to attack the place where Anarië’s voice came from. The crossbowmen shoot, to little effect as Anarië remains invisible. Jonathan angrily denounces Anarië for “rummaging in my thoughts”, and that is just the cue Anarië needs. With excellent timing, Vivien chooses this moment to dispel Anarië’s invisibility.

Anarië appears, and addresses Burne’s Badgers, saying that she has indeed been rummaging in Jonathan’s mind, and she has discovered that his troops killed Burne and Rufus, that jonathan has already killed once to cover up the crime. They are trying to kill her now because she knows the truth, and next they will turn on the Badgers. While she tries to persuade the Badgers to attack Jonathan’s soldiers, the latter continue their crossbow attacks, while Vivien and the priest join in with magical assaults. Even Enderis joins in, pointing a crossbow at Anarië and telling her he will shoot her if she does not stop. Anarië merely gives him a disdainful look and says “Shoot”. He does so, but even though it is particularly well-placed and damaging shot it still does not goad Anarië into attacking him.

No Name, seeing Anarië under attack and being quite comfortable with this, heads on towards the tower. Back in the pub, Mortimer has made some progress. He has now managed to raise Burne in Rufus’s body. This is viewed by both Burne and Rufus as, at best, a partial success, and some consternation ensues. Jack pops in and helpfully casts an illusion spell to make Burne look like Rufus and vice versa, which is acclaimed by all as a good move, at least until an awkward kiss reveals to the two men that the effect is merely visual and not physical.

Anarië’s rhetoric finally gets through to the Badgers, and they begin to fight Jonathan’s soldiers. Vivien turns Jonathan invisible, and he apparently wanders off – at any rate, the Bard’s attempts to catch hold of him and get him to safety come to naught. Vivien and the priest are still magically attacking Anarië though, and she attempts to banish both of them. Vivien’s counterspell is defeated by Anarië’s counter-counterspell, and she is banished temporarily to another plane. The priest’s defences are superior, however, and the banishment intended for him instead alights on Enderis, who also vanishes.

Unable to gain entry easily to the tower, No name returns to the scene of the fight. By this time, Jonathan is attacking Anarië invisibly, while the priest sends divine strikes against her and the Bard pleads fruitlessly for an end to the conflict. Seeing that none of her adventuring colleagues are coming to her aid, the fight between the Badgers and the guards looks set to be a long slog, and still under attack by Jonathan and the priest, Anarië decides to become ethereal for a while, to recuperate. Able to observe, but not to interfere, and undetectable by anyone else, Anarië watches for a while as Jonathan tries to regain control of the situation with ever more extreme threats, No Name tries to get him to become visible again – it turns out he can’t until the spell wears off – and the Bard plays songs of peace and reconciliation. Vivien and Ederis pop back from their planar exile, the latter with an oddly satisfied smirk on his face, and in due course everyone troops down to the pub. Mortimer and Jack manage to hide Burne and Rufus away just in time.

In the pub, some kind of weary peace takes hold. Mawgojzeta tries to find out from Enderis what has been going on, but he evidently has developed a new interest and goes off with Vivien instead. Seeing the Bard looking all dejected and vulnerable, Mawgojzeta goes over to comfort him instead. No Name assures Jonathan that, King’s Man or not, he will always be her man.

Anarië does not go to the pub. Instead, she walks out of Hommlet, going north to a place where the barrier remains intact. On this grey ethereal plane, which some call the Grey Wastes, the barrier appears to be a grey desert stretching out into the east. She waits here, recovering from her exertions and considering her next move. Hommlet appears to be a lost cause. With Burne dead there seems little prospect of returning it to the east, and the military command utterly dysfunctional there would seem to be little point in trying to form a fighting force. There is no good reason to return to Hommlet, except to destroy that jumped-up commoner Jonathan with a blaze of fire. Which, to Anarië, is reason enough.

However, she has been away from Ser Gweneth for too long. Her love is waiting on the other side of the barrier, and Anarië feels that she now has enough magical strength to get through with her own power, with no need for Master Burne. It is a choice between love and vengeance.

She chooses love.

Knowing that Ser Gweneth will be waiting for her at Starsong Hill, Anarië teleports herself directly there. The spell is perfectly accurate, and in moments Anarië and Ser Gweneth are reunited in a passionate embrace in one of the great tree-houses. Anarië tells her that now they can go anywhere in the world, see everything that there is to see. But Gweneth notices that Anarië seems to have aged unnaturally.

Going down the wooden stairs, Anarië seems to age more with each step, her hair greying, her skin becoming like paper. Too weak to get on a horse, Anarië instead teleports both of them to Bahtriah, City of a Thousand Kings, which lies resplendent amidst the great Achamin Mountains of Southern Escapar. They gaze out of a window over the great brass domes, shining in the sunlight, Anarië lying exhausted on a couch. Gweneth tucks a blanket round her, making her comfortable, and gives her one last, loving kiss before she passes away.

The sun shines over the city. Gweneth stands at the window, alone.

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Oh Beardie
ode to a lost lover

Morning, just another day
Hairy peasants pass my way
Looking in their eyes
I see a memory
I never realized
How happy you made me, oh Beardie
Well you came and you looted without taking
But you went to the Toom, oh Beardie
And you kissed me and stopped me from shaking
And I need you today (because of that basted Johnathan) , oh Beardie
I was standing the edge of the grey waste
and you called me by name,
Caught up in a world of uphill with wraith coming for us all
The tears are in my eyes
And nothing is rhyming, oh Beardie

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Nothing a Little Necromancy Can't Fix

Mortimer’s hands didn’t shake despite the lack of sleep. Why would they? This was his stock-in-trade, there was no emotion involved here (despite his reaction to the scene earlier. He blamed politics, never get involved in that). This was a simple transfer of information, from one (admittedly tricky to access) location to another, and placing that information back in the repository it belonged. True, said repository was a squishy and fallible bag of chemicals that was currently reacting badly to said bag being punctured and said chemicals spilled… but fixing that weakness was one of the other things on his to-do list, right here, right now, it was simple. Find the information that was Burn, return it to the physical form that everyone recognised as Burn. There was no drama, there was no rush, there was just precise eXml work and then things would be well again.

There didn’t need for the panic and grief and anger of senseless murder because these were setbacks only the morons who thought with their fists considered final, traumatic, to a learned Necromancer – Cleric of the Undead Gods indeed – these were simply setbacks, souls could be found, retrieved, vulnerable bodies could be mended.

There was no need for unhelpful emotion.

He chanted on, the Grey Wastes swirled around him… no… he corrected himself, his brain simply processed the alternate plane of existence in a visual way his mortal form was used too; “Grey Wastes” just a name used by the superstitious, he had no need for gods and heavens at this time.

And there is was, there they were, Burns and his husband Rufus, right where they should be. Variables to be parsed and relocated to another container, nothing more. For a moment he idled on the simplicity of finding Rufus, and the frustration and failure to find Vani, to be able to do this hear, for himself, but being unable to do this for Rema… but he dismissed it, emotion wasn’t needed here.

He reached out across the featureless grey to the two souls (except it wasn’t featureless now… the wallpaper was troubling… he suspected The Bard).

“I can take one” he informed Burn and Rufus, reassuring them one of them would have to wait a little longer till he could perform the ritual a second time, only another ten minutes, then things would be sorted.

He prepared to close the functions and end the ritual, Master Burn would be restored, all would be…

Burn’s soul stepped back into the grey.

The ritual ended.

Channelling the power of the Undead Gods, the body was healed.

“Burn?” said the patient.

Mortimer said nothing, he knew. When it came to the mortal remains, the squashy bodies we cast off and leave behind, he could command, he could use force. When it came to the essence of the living he could only guide, there was always a choice.

A choice that had been made, out of ‘love’ he had no doubt. That one concept always alien to him, the one variable in the equation he had failed to factor in.

“oh boy…”

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