The Undiscovered Country

Christmas Special

It is the best Christmas ever. Lille Nisse Hansi sits happily in her nisse hole, snitting some lovely presents while children play.

It is the best Christmas ever. No Name wakes up in bed with Jonathan. He is the soul of courtesy and charm.

It is the best Christmas ever. Lubash is with his family, drinking and telling stories. They are so proud of his work for the Ogre’s union.

It is the best Christmas ever. Mortimer is with the 13th Company in a great castle. All his friends are there – Corporal Skeleton, Daft Wullie, Awfully Wee Hamish and more.

It is the best Christmas ever. Tuakiin is in a high room with his sworn enemy Javier. He reaches behind his head to where he has a hand crossbow affixed to his back, pulls it out and shoots Javier, who falls out of a high window to his certain death.

In a snowy forest clearing sits a woman playing a viol. So loud is her playing that she fails to notice the manticore until it drops down in front of her. She stands and armours herself with defensive magic, but the manticore only wants to talk. He asks what she is doing, and she explains that she is a musician – Illyria de Viol by name – and she is practising in between performances. The manticore directs her to a local inn called the Rising Giant where he expects she may find an audience, and flies off.

In the Feywild, an elven woman named Tuarsalkafaesen – Sal for short – is surprised to find a large mirrored cube, thirty feet on a side. It is a most incongruous object. She attempts to interact with it, but all to no avail.

It is the best Christmas ever. Lille Nisse Hansi is so delighted when her old friend Günther arrives, and she gives him a big tankard of øl from the tun. Skål!

It is the best Christmas ever. No Name wakes up with Jonathan. She is troubled. Hasn’t this happened before? He is utterly pleasant and charming. Now she knows something is wrong.

It is the best Christmas ever. Lubash hears noises outside, and wouldn’t you know it? It is his best friend, the Bard, come to visit! They have a jolly time, singing and telling stories of their adventures.

It is the best Christmas ever. Well, it was for a while, anyway. No Name is increasingly freaked out by Jonathan’s implausibly pleasant behaviour and insists that he leaves. He eventually accedes to her demands and goes out of the door. She decides she has to leave too, but when she opens the door she reveals only a mirror filling the doorway.

It is the best Christmas ever. Mortimer is receiving delightful presents from all of his lovely chums, and beaming that heartwarming smile of his.

It is the best Christmas ever. Tuakiin is in Escapar now, with his family. His mother is so proud of him, especially when he tells her he has taken revenge on the dragonborn who killed her. Hang on…

Illyria enters the bar. It is a rough sort of place, and in her dark makeup, black leather and lace she stands out amongst the various soldiers and labourers. She buys a bottle of whisky from the bar, and the barman invites her to play her set in return for a room. Her music is loud, hash and metallic, augmented by her magic with percussion and counterpoint and an astonishing light show. Then, in an instant, all of her magic fails. She segues into a quiet lamenting melody, as if she meant it all along.

Sal punches the mirrored cube, achieving little but drawing some blood. She uses the blood to write on the mirror, in Common, Elvish and Infernal.

It is the best Christmas ever. Hansi goes out into the town to deliver presents to all, accompanied by her old friend Günther. Eventually she gets to Mortimer’s place. Mortimer is so happy with his present that he invites her to come and play hide and seek with all the children. Skål!

No Name sees writing appear on the mirror. She finds a jar of tomato ketchup and begins writing back.

It is the best Christmas ever. Lubash is having such fun with his friend the Bard. But he decides it is time to leave, and go to spread the word about the Ogres’ Union. As he tries to leave the village, his way is blocked by a wide mirror. He tries to hit it with his axe. The mirror takes no damage – but writing begins to appear on it.

It is the best Christmas ever – but Mortimer is sure something is wrong. Searching through the castle, he eventually comes to the female privy. The door opens to reveal a mirror blocking the doorway. Writing is appearing on it.

It is the best Christmas ever. Tuakiin’s mother flies him across the mountains of Escapar, past the distant shining domes of the city of Bahtriah, into the west. Eventually they reach the sunken city of Rhest, and Tuakiin has his mother land them on the top of the highest building. She transforms into dragonborn shape and they explore the deserted tower together. Eventually they come to a corridor that ends in a mirror. Tuakiin cannot scratch the mirror, and even flame breath cannot damage it. But writing starts to appear…

Alone in her room, drunk and depressed, Illyria lies in bed and prays to her Lord Asmodeus, risking her very sanity to obtain answers as to why her magic has failed. Her effort is successful, and she becomes aware that someone called Clausis is to blame, and that this Clausis is currently some weeks’ travel away with scores of comrades – and is more powerful than Illyria. Then the wall seems to open and Asmodeus himself appears. Telling Illyria there are more important things going on, he takes her with him to Hell. There he shows her an incongruous mirrored cube, thirty feet on a side, which has recently appeared. It is going to drain all the magic of Hell, unless one of the other planar kingdoms can be destroyed in order to stop it. Illyria is eager to help her lord in any way – but he unceremoniously pushes her into the mirror.

In the Feywild, the Spring Queen appears to Sal and sends her on a special mission, opening up a portal for her to travel into Hell. there she meets Asmodeus, who shows her the sights of Hell, such as they are – a sandy wasteland, uninhabited save by the demons he conjures. Many souls come here, he explains, but all eventually repent, and both Asmodeus and the one are merciful. She notes that there seem to be identical cubes in both realms, and he explains that the only way it can be removed is for one realm to be destroyed so that the others might survive. He tries to convince her to go back and destroy the Feywild in order to save Hell, but she is having none of it.

It is the best Christmas ever. Hansi is playing hide and seek. She comes into a bedroom, but can find no one in it. Eventually she opens one of the doors leading off. It opens onto a mirror filling the doorway. There is writing on it. Suddenly, a woman appears from the mirror – Illyria. She is quite confused.

It is the best Christmas ever. Jonathan is in his bedroom, looking at the mirror which is blocking the door, when Illyria arrives. He is his usual irritating self.

No Name and Sal have had the chance for a conversation, mediated through blood and ketchup respectively on the mirrored surface. Unfortunately, it seems no closer to getting No Name out. Then Illyria arrives through the mirror.

Lubash has realised that the best Christmas ever is not real, and that his friend the Bard is really dead. He tells the Bard that he will have to let him go, but he will always remember him and sing his songs. Illyria appears through the mirror, startling the poor ogre.

Mortimer is joining in the mirror conversation, by means of scrawling XML on one side of the mirror to try to find a way through. His spell to pass through solid objects seems like it might be promising, but when he passes his hand into the mirror it just comes straight back out at him. Then Illyria appears.

Tuakiin is having no more luck with the mirror than anyone else when Illyria arrives through his mirror too. While she can’t help admiring his buff torso, she is feeling a little disorientated as there are several versions of her all at once and she is aware of all of them.

Between the mirror writing and Illyria’s dissociated state, the party are finally able to communicate as a group. Illyria thinks she can get them all back using her power to travel through the planes, but that just brings them all back to where they were. Mortimer inscribes a teleport circle on the mirror, such that it appears on everyone’s mirror, but it remains inert.

This is when Illyria, seeing them all trapped in their own private worlds, on Christmas Day of all days, realises what is so wrong with all these perfect Christmasses. Christmas is about togetherness, she explains, the love and warmth of family, found family, friends all together in music, laughter and delight.

At this, the teleport circles glow. Quickly, all of the party step through their respective circles, all arriving in Hell with Asmodeus and Sal. Illyria comes through several times, merging with herself each time, which becomes confusing.

Asmodeus explains that he will soon die, and shortly after Hell itself will be destroyed. He grants the party the power of Hell in its last few moments, before dispersing into dust. The party use this power to open a portal back into their own world – to the Rising Giant public house, to be precise. Illyria, distraught and heartbroken, is the last to leave.

[Somewhere far away, Clausis feels her Wish spell ceasing. She declares to her companions that the next one will not be so easily thwarted.]

In the pub is much companionship and good cheer. No Name and Jonathan are reunited properly this time, and he comes as close as he can to expressing real feelings for her. Illyria takes up her viol and begins a new melody.

When the snowman brings the snow
When the snowman brings the snow

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Dominion

She reached down and gripped a fistful of crumpled bedsheet. The sweat was dry now, the unruly sheets the only record remaining of the night when she had spoken to her Lord, the night when He had come to her, the night when He had taken her into His dominion.

When I close my eyes
When I look your way

All gone now. Gone. Gone and yet this world remained. Her legs buckled, she fell to her knees, clutching the bed, head bowed, grief, grief hollowing her out to a fragile, weightless husk.

When I meet the fear that lies inside

He was gone, and she was lost without Him.

On the lone and level
Sand stretch far away

She had no one now. No one but the strangers she had met in the mirrors. She had preached to them then, a dark priestess with a sermon of love and family, friendship and comfort.

What comfort was there for her?

In the settled dust
Hold hold and say

To see Clausis torn asunder, limb rent from limb, head impaled and displayed to the mocking crows. There was comfort in that thought.

But what then? What now, with her Lord gone, gone forever?

Some say prayers
Some say prayers

Was there some spark of him left within her? Some faint glowing ember of His almighty power?

Or was that a fond and foolish wish? A way to close up her grief, to deny the depth of the abyss even when staring into unending darkness?

Some say prayers
Some say prayers

She raised her head. Whatever power she had, it would have to be enough. And perhaps, in time, her Lord would return. For was not the Master of all things the Master of his own death?

Some day
Some day
Dominion

And when He returned, would He not remember her?

Some say prayers
Some say prayers
I say mine

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It's a kind of magic
Collaboration Chis and Amanda

The Bard gently strummed his Lute, an old friend through thick and fine. In his hands music was a powerful tool to protect others. Something his father had never understood. The grand Vizier thought he could teach the boy to take power, he never realised ‘The Bard’ already had all he needed.
The Bard had attracted a small group of adoring fans. One more song,the most romantic in his repertoire, and there would be some fun times ahead,baring general adventuring duties.
A severed greying hand landed at his feet with a soft ‘flump’, jumping out of his skin, he looked up as the crowd fled screaming in terror. Good lungs, they’d have made impressive backing singers.

Threw the fleeing ample hips, the pintsized figure in the midnight blue robe sauntering towards him.

“I have to ahem hand it to you, you know how to clear a room” The Bard quipped, keeping a completely straight face and stared unblinking into the gnomes face who did not or choose not to hear. He put his lute to one side, he doubted the Necromancer had any appreciation for music.

The hand leapt into the air of it’s own free will and darted back into Mortimer’s bag.

“How’s it goin’ Brad? we’re gonna need you’re crossin’ amulet soon… I’ve been roundin’ up the flock, you’re my last call. We’re goin’ home… er… yours that is”

Said the unmistakably gnomish voice from beneath the hood, which was now flipped down to reveal a small pale face with ashen eyes and a shock of red hair.

“It’s The Bard” the young man said trying to keep the frustration out of his voice. Not everyone was a fan, yet. “What do you need me to do?”

“Ahhh, didn’t explain myself, sorry ‘bout that. We need to do a magic ritual with the crossing amulets.”

The corners of The Bard’s mouth twitched, his chiseled jaw clenched a little.

“I don’t do magic”

“Yeah, I know, you can’t do magic, so I just need to borra’ your amulet, I’ll return it as soon as we’re…” but he was cut off by a single raised finger from the young musician, who was looking off into the middle distance. In truth Mortimer wasn’t sure why he stopped at a mere gesture but… the man had, presence.

For a moment, Bard was back in the classroom, strict teachers trying to crush his spirit, spells were to force nature and people to your will, father smashing his instruments and burning his music, telling him he was destined to rule the kingdom, tell the ruler what to think. There was no glory in music.

“That isn’t what I said, I don’t do magic, not I can’t…”

“You do songs that mess wid’ people’s heads, it’s an impressive skill I wasn’t tryin’a…” but the smaller mage stopped there as the human had risen up at that. His leather trousers creaked at the motion, and for a moment that was the only sound to cut the silence.

“I definitely don’t do that!”

The young man said quietly, deliberately. “I do things in my own way, with music, if you need my help, tell me what you need.”

Mortimer pondered for a moment, this was one of those human interaction moments he begrudgingly accepted were part of life… he knew The Bard wasn’t happy with him, but was making an effort to be ‘reasonable’ – that was the word, but he was just stating the facts, so why should the guy get mad?

“No offence meant, I’m sure, but we need to do a spell and you just said you don’t do…”

“Spells” the young man finished. Then he reached down and took a book from Morimer’s bag, noting in passing it said “Burne” on the spine.

“You’re a Wizard, I know the type, when what you’ve got is magic, every problem looks like it needs a spell. Twist the world into enough knots, pelt it with enough power, and the problems go away…” he set the book down on the tree-stump with a thud, “…it lacks… he pinched two fingers before his mouth trying to find the word for a moment, then finished: “finesse”

“When I play i’m tapping into the natural rhythm of the universe and go with the flow. Music can’t be forced….” he trail off, struggling to explain something that was a feeling, a deep truth in his soul, meer words felt lame. Some notes would express it maybe, but somehow he felt that would be lost on the ever pragmatic gnomes. But his heart was in the right place, sticking by the party despite self interest.

The wizard frowned, opened his mouth to object but the man put a silencing finger down on his lips even as he flicked his golden locks over his other shoulder.

“What’s this?” the young man demanded jabbing a finger at an expression of eXML

“It’s represents a 46th arcanic resonance oscillation in the extra-planar concept of Air, at the 8080 circle interface…” Mortimer sighed as if he was having to explain calculus to a dog, and waiting for the obvious look of confusion.

Instead the bard picked up his stringed instrument. “I think it would sound something like this”… he plucked.

Ma Ma Ma Ma Maaaa

Mortimer’s had rose toward his face, but he stopped it at the last moment and ruffed his hair instead.

“It doesn’t sound like anything, it’s a defined variable in a spell!” the pint sized practitioner insisted sounding exasperated, “really, we just need the…”

“No, it’s not only that, it’s also an open G string…” he mused on this for a moment looking off into the distant red sun… “A favorite of mine actually!” he added with a conspiratorial wink that flew right over Mortimer’s head. Getting back to his point, The Bard turned from the wizard and added: “or, if you play it once more, with feeling, it sounds like this:”

MWAAAAAAWWAAAA!

The note thundered out across the village, two of three hedges were buffered by the shockwave of sound that rang out, stones rolled, a discarded ale bottle cracked as it flew end over end. Mortimer’s teeth rattled, a flap of ornamentation on his robe fluttered up and over his face. He pulled it away with an annoyed flick.

“I know Wizards, I chose not to do magic, not to ‘do’ spells, I make music…” at this he fished a familiar looking black amulet out of a pocket in his impossibly tight leather trousers (which seemed magic in its-self given how tight they were) deposited it around his neck. “So instead let’s start with telling me the problem, and let’s go make beautiful music together?” He suggested, turning and striding confidently off toward the horizon.

Mortimer wanted to say something, but he just opened and shut his mouth, he guessed he should follow but, his legs apparently wanted to ‘take a moment’. He wasn’t sure why.

“Well… I guess… it’s’a kinda’ magic….”

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Season 6 Session 5

It is the Great Debate.

Our heroes – most of them – are assembled with Master Burne, Rufus and Spugnoire to make a crucial decision that cannot be put off any longer. Will they collapse the barrier, allowing anyone to move freely back and forth, or will they restore it, returning Hommlet to its proper place, ensuring the barrier will be impassible for all eternity – and killing every every wizard west of the barrier in the process?

The group wrestles with the dilemma. Mortimer is not terribly keen on the idea of dying at all, while Mawgojzeta is sceptical about Burne’s claims – after all, wasn’t this barrier supposed to be impassible the first time round, yet the battle mages found a way to cross?

Burne clarifies matters as far as he can. He is confident that his new research has shown him how to succeed where his predecessors failed. Furthermore, it is only those spellcasters who have some trace of wizardly power who will be destroyed by the ritual, just as it is only such people who can assist in carrying out the ritual. This will destroy all of the battlemages, the newly returned Acererak – and the elven queen. With all of the temporal interference blocking Sending spells, there is no way to warn her, still less to save her.

Meanwhile, No Name is with Jonathan, who she has just brought back to life in the form of a halfling. He is less grateful than she might have hoped. After a blazing row, he eventually calms down, accepting that what she did was well intentioned and did in fact save his life. However much he may have preferred to go to heaven, he knows that he will still get there eventually.

Jonathan’s attempts to impose his authority on his subordinates is less than successful. Vivien and the priest openly scoff him, and he becomes near-suicidal before eventually resolving to continue to do his duty as a King’s Man.

In the debate, opinion has swung in favour of restoring the barrier, and the question has now shifted to who can survive this ritual, and how. Jack comes up with the cunning plan of banishing wizards to another plane for a minute at the climax of the ritual, thus saving them from its effects. It’s a good plan, with just one limitation: the four wizards who actually carry out the ritual cannot be saved in this way.

It is time for the most fraught decision of all: who is to carry out the ritual, and die in the process? Burne and Spugnoire both volunteer. Mortimer vows to “the finest wizards in this land” (Spugoire is particularly flattered by this) that just as they are giving their lives to save his people, so he will do his very best to fight for their land. If they notice any inequity in this arrangement, they do not mention it.

Rima enthusiastically volunteers to join in the ritual (secretly hoping to see her beloved Vani again in the Feywild). Lastly, the Bard steps in as the fourth person. He may have dropped out of wizard training at an early stage, but he’s still wizard enough for this.

The rest of the party can choose to wait in Hommlet and return with it to the east, or leave the village boundary and remain in the west. Tuakiin, not wanting to waste any more time, makes a third choice. He still has his crossing amulet, and he travels to the barrier in order to use it. As he reaches the barrier, he is caught up by Mortimer, who wants to go through with him before the ritual begins. Enderis has no wish to remain in the west, and is glad to stay in Hommlet and leave his homeland behind forever. Mawgojzeta, on the other hand, still has a mission here. With the battle mages destroyed, the enemy will be suddenly weakened and she has to ensure that her people take full advantage, establishing a new political order quickly and decisively. She picks up the 13th Company from the pub and explains the situation to them. Also in the pub, the Bard makes an emotional farewell to Lubash.

Finally, it is time for the ritual. Burne, Spugnoire, Rima and the Bard all focus their arcane energies on Burne’s incantations. Spugnoire dies, then Burne. Rima, after diverting enough energy to restore the Feywilld, also falls dead – her spirit travelling to a new existence in the Feywild. Finally, playing one last bass chord of astounding power, the Bard dies, completing the ritual.

In the citadel, Daft Wullie is in bed with his beloved queen when she lets out her last breath.

In the tower, Rufus, still in the body of Burne, is struck by wracking pain. Jack manages to banish him temporarily, just in time to save his life.

In Hommlet, Vivien dies unmourned.

Somewhere to the south, Clausis uses her crossing amulet to open a gap in the barrier, and steps through, behind her, waiting to cross, is Acererak, at the head of an immense army of battle mages. Just as they are about to come through, the barrier seals behind Clausis. Acererak and all of his army are destroyed.

Outside Hommlet, Mawgojzeta and the 13th Company watch the village disappear. When all is done and calm is restored, they move off. There is work to be done. As they go, Mawgojzeta can be heard turning to Corporal Skeleton and asking “So, how long have you been a skeleton?”

With Hommlet returned to the east and Rufus returned to the material plane, Jack hurries off to catch up with Tuakiin and Mortimer, eager to continue delightfully spreading chaos.

In the Feywild – Rima bows before the Fey Court, her oath to the Winter King complete. Wandering the forests she eventually finds her love waiting under a tree for her.

In the Citadel – Wullie searches for someone who can restore his beloved Queen to life. Luck is with him – her spirit is restored, but into a new Gnome body. They rule together for long years, their children becoming the ruling dynasty for a thousand years.

A thousand years in the future, a giant spider that has spent a millennium clinging to the roof of an ancient temple, at one with the infinite oneness of the Universe, begins to stir. Its consciousness has ranged throughout time and space, and now it has returned, a deity in spider form. It will need a new name. It decides to call itself Lolth.

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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?!

necro_tree.png

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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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