George Longcloak - In search of a legend

  • A door opens. A heavy creak, some grinding. A poorly fitting door in a poorly built house… well... house... a shack in the dockside of Peltarch.
    The young man stepped inside and threw his worn cloak over a hook, hanging his hat over that.
    A room he could have for less than the price of the common room in the Mermaid, rented off some old man whose house became too big for him as his family thinned with the passing of time.
    Not that it was big, mind. Or terribly clean. At least there was a small shuttered window to let in some fresh air, but he'd rely on candles for sight. No matter. He'd seen worse, and here there was privacy.

    He sets his pack down and takes out a small wooden box. Inside is a host of small figures, about two inches in height, cast in pewter. They'd seem toys to most, but he takes them out with great care, placing them in certain order on the room's table. He lights a small cone of incense before them, and prays for the well being of his family.
    His duty done, he stands to remove his ornate doublet and hosen, then takes a small book from his pack, as well as his meager writing equipment. In the warm light of the candle and surrounded by the smell of incense, he sits behind his table, relaxed in his underclothes, and sets to writing.

    I've made Narfell. Through all the campaigns I've been through, I never thought I would write that. I've come so near to dying so often, I did not really believe.
    Yet here I am. I should thank my comrades when I see them again. Enrolling in a standing army would never have given me this oppertunity.
    Mother and father would likely scold me. My cousin already has.
    Fairytales and legends. Nothing happens in this back end of Faerun. There is nothing here, least of all a future. It's a hole.

    Well, whosoever reads this when I'm gone, I assure you. The only hole I have seen in Narfell is the crater near where a town named Jiyyd used to be. I have heard tales of crisis after crisis striking at this land, and stalwart defenders rallying to protect what little they had, or to retake what outside forces took from them. Selflessness and villainy. Bravery and cowardice. Duty and treason. Cruel war, for precious moments of peace.
    I own, I have yet to see these days for myself, but the scars are there. From that crater, to a ghost town in the south at the border of another town, to a stone that speaks of these children of Atol being slaughtered by the thousands.

    Yes, this land has seen much, and will continue to see more. Even today, I heard a redhaired bard speak of an attack on Peltarch's walls by an orc as tall as those very walls and his forces. Oh, how I would have wanted to stand in that band. I do not know if I will see the grandeur that legend describes, but I intend to remain a good while. I will carve out my own spot among these legends. Reel in treasure to dwarf any mercenary's pay. Honour my family's name. And if Luck permits? Carve it into the bedrock of this fine land.

    He nods, satisfied, then moves to the small bed, only to realize he doesn't even have a blanket. He smiles and shakes his head, taking his cloak from the hook and uses that instead. As he snuffs the candle's flame between index and thumb and lays his head down, he ponders the long road ahead of any of that, while he slowly drifts into sleep.

  • The day is slowly ending. The late summer sun is already touching the the horizon, casting the surroundings in an almost mystical light. Despite the warm light, the weather is cooling, the air smells fresh and carries the first hint of dying leaves.

    The family still occupies his room, and he won't press them. They and their kids are treating his room with respect, and even replace the fruit at his little alter when it's no longer fresh, as promised. Lars and Joanna. Good people.

    Instead, he comes here for his writing. The royal estate. The atmosphere is pleasant, it beats trying to write in the Mermaid, and it's still close enough to the city in case things start going wrong again. Some of the household look at him like a vagrant, but so far none have come to chase him off. So far.

    The young man lies on his cloak in the grass, head propped up on his breastplate, his knees pulled up and his diary resting against them as he scribbles away.

    Some levity, for a change.

    Interesting things have been happening in the lull after the Whyte affair. I have no other way to describe it and had you been the one telling me, I would have called bull.
    I was coming back to the city after trying to earn back some of the money I owe.
    I chanced upon the Princess, Isolde, Sebrienne and a new face sitting outside the Mermaid.

    Small talk was had. Banter. Generally poking fun at one another. Sebrienne assuring me the lightning that had struck me while assaulting the Seafarer headquarters was absolutely not hers. Not that the thought had ever crossed my mind.
    Sebrienne. She's a stunning young woman, with boundless enthusiasm, and yes, a careless streak.
    Careless? Carefree? I'm not certain, but I mind neither.
    Some might describe her as flighty because of it, and could assume that it was a stray lightning bolt of hers that did me in.
    I disagree. I believe she sells herself short. I have seen her in combat, and while she is wild and tempestuous, inspiring and awful all at once...
    If her lightning hit me, it would not be an accident, and I haven't had the chance to offend her quite that much, yet.
    She was especially happy she was no longer in trouble with the law.

    Mako was the new face. And a strange one, at that. Do not mistake me, I mean her no offense. The thing is, I don't know how I mean it.
    Her eyes are mesmerizing. To the point where even I find it hard to speak. Too deep, too ancient in a face that young.
    And I swear if I looked closely at her skin, I could see scales.
    I almost found myself stumbling over words as she offered to sell me a halberd. Quite a bit better than my old one, I must say.
    Yes, yes, I know I said I would pay Asha back first and foremost, but a halberd like this is an investment.
    In the long run, I'll survive my line of work better, which will make it easier to pay my dues.
    No, I do not know how often I will be making that excuse in the future.
    Anyway, she also offered tutelage, and I'm inclined to take her up on that. Isolde was kind enough to point out I was no greenhorn myself. While I appreciate that, I have plenty left to learn. Plus, if I am not mistaken, Mako is from the lands beyond the Golden Way.
    I have chanced to see a handful of their warriors when I was campaigning in Thesk, and I'm curious to learn about their fighting styles.

    So I sat there, enjoying the conversation and admiring the view around the table. Others were starting to show up. Tory. Raazi. Vindel. It felt welcoming. Normal. There are times where I miss the Band, but not there. Not then.

    Of course, if nothing had happened, I would not be bothering you with this entry. You have been a loyal reader to get this far, and I won't betray that trust.

    So I give you... A song. ((written to following tune))

    And to the town of Peltarch there came a gnomish mage
    A bard called out "oh yeah, she's strong, but not much of a sage"
    While on her back a heaving, a far too massive crate
    Another tried to share the load, but it was far too late
    The crate it broke, and it blew smoke, the magic spread about
    And now a gaggle of freaks is marching doooooooown...
    from Peltarch town!

    The magic took its hold of us and changed our very form
    The first became a rakshasa, it was the mage of storm
    The people were astonished, in panic ran about
    We'd have to leave the city. Quick! before the guards came out!

    An ogre, a little imp, a walking bunch of stone
    Two goblins and a massive cat, a floating light that shone
    The Rakshasa completed the pack, and then the little gnome.
    She said we'd have have to follow her, she'd fix us at her home.

    And from the town of Peltarch there came that little mage
    Experiments that crazy should just land you in a cage.
    They say that she was heaving a far too massive crate
    Another tried to share the load, but it was far too late
    The crate it broke, and it blew smoke, the magic spread about
    And now a gaggle of freaks is marching doooooooown...
    from Peltarch town!

    A massive band of bandits was set for Peltarch town
    They came upon our bunch of freaks as they were marching down
    The leader he had seen enough, and quickly ran away
    And without the city knowing, the monsters saved the day!

    The magic was unstable, the bunch kept changing forms
    The magic made a porcupine of the mage of storms
    A ruby giant, a manticore, a walking, living flame
    A fire was set among the trees, and all denied the blame!

    And from the town of Peltarch came still the little mage
    You'd think she was mummer, and all the Pass her stage
    They say that she was heaving a far too massive crate
    Another tried to share the load, but it was far too late
    The crate it broke, and it blew smoke, the magic spread about
    And now a gaggle of freaks is marching doooooooown...
    from Peltarch town!

    The brave men of the Legion, they started giving chase
    The goblins wanted to be free, it turned to quite a race
    The Legionnaires got left behind, the goblins they got clear
    The gnome said we must find them, they're hiding somewhere near

    The magic kept on shifting and dragons joined the bunch
    They hunted both the goblins down, they'd nearly been their lunch
    They gathered up their monster friends and then took to the skies!
    And flew the whole bunch farther south, where old Spellweaver lies!

    And from the town of Peltarch flew down that bloody mage
    Oblivious to the hand she had in causing quite the rage
    They say that she was heaving a far too massive crate
    Another tried to share the load, but it was far too late
    The crate it broke, and it blew smoke, the magic spread about
    And now a gaggle of freaks is marching doooooooown...
    from Peltarch town!

    From Peltarch town! (ad infinitum)

    Banter aside, it was quite the night. I know what it is to fly, now.
    To soar among clouds, carrying the weight of four on my back as my wings push me on as easily as my feet carry me walking.
    Not quite a legend, yet, but I will cherish that for a lifetime.
    I was almost sad when we reached Spellweaver, knowing it had to end.

    It seems I have written quite a bit. Well. I promised levity. Not brevity.

    Nodding to himself as he finishes the diary, he copies the song to a separate piece of paper. As the light fades, he gets to his feet and gathers his things, leaving the song among the papers in the central table, unsigned.

    Time to figure out where he was sleeping tonight. He wasn't about to push his luck in hanging around the estate -that- far.

  • Night has fallen over the city of Peltarch. As the rain comes down outside, falling on rubble and still smoldering embers, a warm and inviting light streams from one of the dock district windows that escaped the carnage.

    The room is uncharacteristically busy. A gaggle of children lay on the bed. Two are awake, whispering. Their mother, or a woman he found guarding them, lies on the bed with them. Asleep, exhausted after the ordeal of the past few days.
    The father, he assumes, is pacing, occasionally stopping to stare out of the window. The eyes haunted by things seen. Or perhaps, by the days ahead and the task of rebuilding hearth and home.

    By custom, the small lares are displayed on the pedestal. Two new figurines have joined the others at the end of the pattern. One is a small knight, holding up his right, gauntleted hand, palm facing forward. The other an ivory disk with the face of a woman engraved on it. Before them, a cone of incense, nearly burned through, and a fresh offering of fruit.
    The children hadn't even tried to nab it.

    The young man is slouching back in his chair, still dressed because of the company, looking at the troubled family as he gathers his thoughts. Hours passed like this, before he finally straightens himself up and sets to writing.

    Almost dead yesterday. Possibly dead tomorrow. Gloriously alive today.

    These were words we lived by. All of us. It is the harsh truth of a sellsword's life. It is why we live the way we do. Why we embrace everything life throws at us to the fullest. Why so many of us know so little shame or humility. It can all be over in the blink of an eye, especially in our profession.
    Reckless abandon.

    And for a brief moment, it was. I was dead yesterday, my dear reader. Quite obviously, today I am not. Otherwise the goodly priests would already be banging on my door to put the evil to rest, believe you me.

    To begin at the beginning, since I am getting ahead of myself yet again. I found myself hiking in the Nars Pass. It was a pleasant day, the sun was out, the wind was mild. I'd just gotten a new suit tailored to embrace the coming autumn. The people at the Vanity Plates know their craft. The colours are spot on, and the fit so snug I could hike all the way to Damara and feel like I'm wearing nothing at all.

    Suddenly, that all changed. The very air seemed to tear up with a massive explosion, louder than any I'd ever heard, from the direction of the city. Needless to say, I turned about and headed north immediately.
    Every step closer brought new explosions, and I found myself hoping I would not come up, alone, on the back end of an invading force. Perhaps it was imprudent of me to keep going, and a voice inside me kept telling me I owed this city nothing, but something pushed me onward

    By the time I reached the city, I could clearly make out the sound of battle, yet the gates and walls seemed unaffected. Heading into the city, it was chaos. More buildings burning, more people screaming, small skirmishes happening, muggers and thieves abusing the opportunity. It's a chaos you become familiar with over the years, and I allowed it to lead me to the docks, where the thick of the fighting was happening . At first I could not make heads nor tails of who was fighting whom, or why. What a clever sellsword normally does is stay out of such things until someone pays him, and I advise you to do the same, my friend.

    As I watched the fighting, however, I started to make out the factions in that fight. Seafarers and assorted ruffians on one end. On the other, I saw Reemul. I saw Isolde. I saw Tory. I saw Asha. I saw Erilo.
    Now, I do not have a lot of compunctions. I do not generally feel obligated to act one way or the other, and I will not preach to you about doing "the right thing" often.
    These people. I own, I barely know them, but they are people I have spilled blood with in the past, who I have trusted to guard my back, and who have shown me the same trust. These are battle brothers, and you stand with your battle brothers.

    I will be brief on the actual assault. Of the cannons fired into the city. Of the ballistae and the summoned storm to end their ships. Of the alleyway fighting. It was not a thing of beauty, though possibly bravery. We stormed the headquarters, and I was among the first in, as is my place. They tell me I stepped on a trap. Lighting struck me dead in the chest, and that was it. That was the end of George the Longcloak. One of a thousand ends, known and unknown, of a man in the Black Band

    Or it would have been. Do not get me wrong, I am no uneducated berk. I know miracles can happen at the hands of priests. I also know such miracles have a cost. You may recall in earlier writings that I was amazed at magical healing being shared freely, that the expense meant a lot of my old company went with scars, old wounds that acted up, amputations. Never had any of us been raised from the dead. Not once. Not even the officers. We were each of us expendable. Even my cousin.
    Yet here I am.

    I'm not sure who my benefactor was. The magistrate Shannon raised me by Torm's might. Asha footed the bill. But who of them decided I was worth not simply burying me with the other dozens that died that day? Was it one? Was it all of them? Despite not knowing much in the way of shame, I dare not ask straight out.

    And now I walk the face of Toril again. For a price that could have hired the company for a month. It feels ridiculous. Wrong, somehow. Do others that have been there feel this?
    The fight was all but over when I returned. We had to stop some clerks from burning ledgers and turn them out to the guard, but it was really just the aftermath. They tried to apprehend Jessica Whyte of the Seafarers, the city's main player in the game that saw the royal line fled and devils accosting the city, but she poisoned herself. I took a copy of the book that, hopefully, sheds some light on this thing I've only seen the last days of. Well, last days. She might have been the main player in the city, but instinct tells me she was not alone.

    Regardless. I am alive now, and I owe what I owe. I will repay Asha as soon as I am able, no matter how pleasant, patient and understanding she is. Just a damn shame I'll probably have to sell my little hoard of gems. I was thinking of having my armour studded with them.

    He puts the quill down, then throws some salt over the ink to have it dry quicker. Nodding to himself, he gets to his feet, gathering up his things, a copy of the Iconoclast and his halberd. As he turns to the door, he looks at the stranger pacing in his room. He puts a hand on the man's shoulder and squeezes, offering an encouraging smile. A few weeks in the inn, or out in a field while this family tries to recover won't hurt him. He sings softly to himself as he heads down the stairs and into the street.

    Haul away... And be glad that you can see another day...
    With another storm, it might have blown away...
    Haul away, boys, haul away...

  • The familiar scene has changed somewhat. A different room, a different apartment.
    A few luxuries more, furniture of better craftsmanship. A slightly larger window. The sword in the corner replaced by a halberd on a stand. The young man slightly less young.

    Yet, some things remain the same. The young man sits at the table in his underclothes, gathering his thoughts over his journal in the warm light of wax candles. The same old lares set on the same old pedestal, with incense and fresh fruit at their feet. A bright white cloak with blood red lining hanging from a peg. Ridiculously bright clothing on put away in a wardrobe, one could almost mistake him for humble.

    He looks over the journal, which consists of more than one book now, running quickly over the earlier sections detailing the start of his journey in Chondath, the many wars he'd joined his company in around the Sea of Fallen Stars, past his first visit to Narfell after ending a campaign in Thesk, his return to the company at the insistence of his cousin to fight a campaign in Impiltur, and the decision to return after that ill fated campaign, to end at the blank page before him. At long last, he decides to write.

    I have returned. To be fair, my dear reader, I made Narfell again a while ago, but times have been hectic. Yes, this land seems to have changed much since my last visit, and I do not know where to begin. You will forgive me if the following entry jumps to and fro

    Perhaps I should start with what has remained. Some faces. Isolde. Of all the people I met on my first stay in this land, only she remains as I remember. I will admit I am glad for it. Still friendly, still bright and mischievous, still convinced I will meet a dragon and have her fall in love with me. This time she added the caveat that only her personality might be that of a dragon, however. Cheer. Raryldor, too, seems to frequent this land still. Though we got off on the right foot years ago, I'm at a loss now. His cat dislikes me. Apparently the creature up and decided I am no good, and its master is now upset with me for frightening it. I swear I was not trying anything of the sort. Still, I was never any good with cats.

    And that is it. Of what I knew, just about everything else has changed. Peltarch's royal line has all but disappeared, and the city is slowly turning into a merchant republic. If the city survives at all. The people of the city seem happy enough with the change in leadership after, as rumours tell me, teetering on the edge of a civil war following a period of complete indecisiveness that saw the rulers lose their grip. This culminated in an attack on the city that left such scars I am still surprised people live there at all. An attack by creatures from the Nine Hells, no less, along with countless unsavory mercenaries and bandits, where the heir to the throne disappeared. Someone must have gone through great lengths to hurl that amount of strength at the city. Many buildings and walls were torn brick from brick, and I will not describe what it did to some people.

    They feel like desperate times, even with the brave face of the commoners. Such times bring opportunities, of course, but always for both sides of the conflict. While the guilds are rallying their strength in an effort of showing they can lead this city and bring it back to prosperity, the vultures are already circling.
    The other day I was standing with a group of adventurers to keep lizardmen and kobolds from invading through a gap in the wall large enough to run four wagons abreast. The lizardmen were strong and out in force, but it felt like they were simply probing. Feeling if the city was weak enough for the coup de grace. Fighting at my side were a young Tormtar named Kalen and a large fellow named Erilo, and I was glad for their company in that fight. I will write more on them when I know them better.
    The other end of the gap was held by more adventurers, but the only ones I know by name were Eve and Tory. Of them, too, I will write when I know more.
    The Black Band could stand to make a lot of coin, if they decide to show up.

    Yet, outright violence from reptilians is just the tip of the iceberg. Since arriving, I've been down a mad dungeon beneath the city ruled by an elder brain that played games of chance with the lives of commoners. I've searched for missing sailors only to learn they were dead for the purpose of some ritual. To learn such things about a city that seemed so beautiful at first glance rankles me. I must be growing soft.

    Meanwhile, the gravity of political influence seems to slowly be shifting towards a place called High Hold. If the city of Peltarch does not get itself together soon, I expect the city's decline to lead to High Hold becoming the power in the region. This matters little to me, in the end, but it is an interesting development, and serves to show how such a fair city can fall. I wonder how Nan would feel.

    I returned to Jiyyd. I found no undead. No more gnats. No more carrion crawlers. No more scavengers. The atmosphere has changed. The land is seemingly letting go. That is one change I was truly happy to see.

  • The young man sits at his table again. The room is becoming more homely; a proper chandelier for extra light, relieving some of the perpetual gloom caused by the shadows of building upon building on this side of the city.
    Curtains to keep out the chill from the window as the winter months approach. The lares have been given a pedestal seperate from his table, where the incense is still burning and a small offering of fresh fruit is made.
    The corners are clear of dust and cobwebs. His clothes hang from a proper rack, rather than a hook. His blanket has been joined by a pillow.
    He is writing calmly, deliberately, no real questions occupying his thoughts.

    They think me a bard. Well. I'm not sure they all do. To begin at the beginning. Since my ordeal in Jiyyd's plains, I have been travelling around to look for trouble. I will not attain lofty goals wasting away in a city.

    I had gone many places and dealt with several creatures, though none were a real challenge but in numbers. Then, as I walked through the city's docks, I chanced upon a sewer entrance. I recalled Shesarai say she had patrolled the sewers in search of coffins.
    Have I mentioned Shesarai? Another lovely young red haired women. It's as though Sune and Tymora conspired to put so many redheads on my path. I haven't learned much of her yet, but I gather she is herself a bard, though I may be as wrong as she was.
    Either way, on the one hand I felt the need to find out what these coffins were about, and on the other I believed I might do her a favour as she seemed resentful of the task. And so, I went sewer diving.

    I tell you now, my unknown companions through these pages, I regret it. I fully understand her resentment. I spent the better part of the day wading in cold mountain streams to get the smell out. I have swam castle moats during sieges, and I will never forget the charming scent of an army's makeshift latrine, but it all fades to naught in light of the sewage system of a city of thousands.
    It is hard to describe, and you should not wish to try, but suffice to say I feel for the guards posted so near, and the cultists below must indeed be insane to host their rituals in so foul an air. One would think whatever god they worship would smite them, for each ritual that reaches their domain must bring with it the waft of all Peltarch's debauchery's morning after.
    Come to think of it, that might be the reason for its constant peril.

    Either way, the cultists in the sewers. I did not find coffins, but I found them. Rather, they found me, as they were charging me headlong by the time I noticed them. As you read this, you can assume I survived, and they did not. It pains to admit it was the hardest battle I've fought so far, even if the opponents were just three. A normal man, and then some manner of priest with its summoned creature. The man fell easily. The summoned creature disappeared into thin air again before it managed to hurt me. The priest? That bastard managed a spell, and I felt feverish. Then he took my hilt to the face. He managed a second spell, and I felt a golden light burn away at me. For that, I gave him a gash across his leg. A third spell, and he sent wracking pain through me. I knew he would get the better of me if he kept it up, but I also knew he would if I ran. Despite the pain, I managed to cut his arm, and his next spell fizzled. I saw his eyes widen and he almost tried to flee, but there was nowhere to run. Three more spells he tried, three times more I stopped him. The last was fatal. Sadly, I destroyed his armour along with it.

    I walked away then, with my life and a brewing fever. Luckily it never took real hold, and I lived to tell the tale to Shesarai and Gnarl.

    Gnarl. Gnarl appears a kindly dwarf, even if his speech is short and to the point. He's also offered to buy any coal off me that I manage to find, and then encourages me to spend my hard earned coin at the Edge. His store. He's also a redhead, for what that's worth.

    Gnarl mentioned he had a good scroll that would protect me from the spell with the red light, and I said I couldn't use it. Shesarai who'd joined the conversation by then was honestly surprised. 'But you're a bard, aren't you?'. A bard. I own, I hadn't given them much evidence to the contrary. My clothes imply the lust for life and all its vices which bards are known for. My speech, I'll admit, is verbose and lyrical, but as these people themselves are so eloquent, they bring it out in me. The manner of speech I used among rough soldiers has gone like snow before the coming of spring. And all they have seen of me is talk. Talk of past deeds, talk of future aspirations, and the spinning of a tale. Could I be a bard, though? I would never say I am so skilled.

    They took me to the Kuo Toa in the caverns near Oscura that day, and I should hope my actions have proven me to be more than just talk. I'd like to think they did, as Isolde now teasingly calls me brute, gifting me a fine club, which I will cherish. A small part of the loot has paid for some much needed niceties in my room, the rest I shall keep to finance future endeavours. Gnarl, again, advised me that any loot I kept could be easily and freely spent in his store, and indeed, a crossbow bolt effortlessly ripped my chainmail as a reminder that I need something better.

    He then puts the quill down and throws some salt over the ink to help it set. Bending over from his seat, he reaches beside the table and opens a small, velvet lined case. He takes out an old, worn mandolin and sits himself upright, back straight against the chair, crossing his left foot over his right knee.
    His fingertips slowly slide over the strings, pressing them down and taking in the feeling. As the winds in the city pick up and drive the rain relentlessly on, a first few unpracticed and uncertain notes can be heard from an unremarkable window in an alley in the docks.

  • Once again, the young man is found at his table, quill in hand, though he is not focused on his paper. He is gazing pensively at his arm, where the tiniest red mark denotes an infected insect bite, already healed and fading. His eyes then travel down, and his hand runs along smooth skin, a vague frown on his face. He gives a light shake of his head before turning back to his writing.

    I returned to Jiyyd, today. Or rather, the area around it. Instinct tells me I should not head into the village alone. Part of it is morbid fascination, I suppose. To see how a land could be blasted the way it was. Another part is my belief that I should steel myself against sights like these. It unnerved me to the bone, to see such destruction and decay, but something tells me I will see worse if I aim to stay. Worse, and more personal. Then there's also the idea there is yet more to learn of the area, that it might yet be important to me. And last, there is the fact that there seems some coin to be made, at least.

    No, dear reader, the irony of scavenging among scavengers that I called desperate just a few days ago does not escape me. It is actually quite bitter on my tongue. Hunger, however, would be all the more bitter, and there does not seem to be much paid mercenary work available. I might even have to resign myself to enlisting with the city's standing army, if this keeps up. Imagine that. My mother would throw even more of a fit.

    I tried to press on farther, last time I got a glimpse of an old fortress before I turned back, and I wanted to see what secrets it held. Alas, it did not go as planned. Before following the road even halfway there, I bumped into one of the carrion crawlers. I thought to make short work of it, but they are hardy beasts. As I slew one, another showed up. And another. And another. I was backed into a corner as I defended myself, but I thought I would win the day. Until, of course, one of those damn corpse gnats stung me. That sting felt worse than any bite of the crawlers could give, and I damn near dropped my sword, fingers cramping and arm shaking, like a page the first day he holds a sword. I know not what filth it carried, but it got me good. Still I fought on, I had no choice. Eventually, I managed to slay the beasts, but just as I kicked the last corpse aside and finally started swatting the damn flies, four of the scavengers saw an opportunity. I'll not lie, my heart sank. I raised my blade to greet them and started the montante's dance to clear a wide street, in order to create a space to flee through. Just then, I felt another sting. And I caved.

    I could feel my stomach heave, forcing the rest of me to bend over and hurl my breakfast to the floor. The first scavenger saw his shot and leapt at me. I could barely move. Barely drag my armoured self around. Still, I managed to force myself upright and swing my sword at him. Like a butcher. Like a barbarian. Like some dim witted oaf of a knight who swings his sword the same way he swings a cudgel. The dance was lost in me. Yet I struck home. He died instantly, giving his compatriots pause, but I must have seemed easy prey still. I do not know how I survived. Yet, some minutes later, four men lay dead, and I not among them. I bled, though. I had a hard enough time dragging myself out there, but I still stripped them of everything they had. Perhaps I was delirious, but not a chance in the Nine that I wasn't making coin off of this.

    After bandaging myself up, I dropped my spoils by the girl with the wagon. A fair enough price, and the road back to the city would be too long dragging all that. I looked like shit and felt like death, but money made, right? Still, I balked at the idea of coughing up the coin it would take to set all this right.

    But I didn't have to. I stepped into the Commons of the city, and the first thing I knew, Isolde sprang up to come to me, she hummed a song and touched me, and gone were the wounds. At her asking, I mentioned I wasn't quite right yet, so she picked up an instrument and continued her healing song. And gone was whatever filth ailed me.
    The price? The smallest joke at me expense. She did it for free. Not even a hint at wanting coin or favour.
    Healing magic was something I always thought of as precious, to be shared with the officers, and even then for a price, but here was this young woman who stepped up, bright and chipper, to help a man she barely knew, just for showing up.

    Isolde. I haven't written about her yet, have I? A beautiful young woman who I've come to understand is a bard of some prowess and note at the city's College, always a smile on her face, a ready wit and an eye for mischief that puts even mine to shame.
    She asked me for the first chapters in the story of George and the Dragon, joking how I would come to meet a gold dragon who falls madly in love with me, fiercely jealous of any human competitors. I could live with that legend, I think.

    For her kindness, I told her of my youth. Of running away to join a mercenary band, as my mother tried everything in her power to shield me from the military life, of the band I joined together with my cousin, and a short view into the adventures had, and my choice to come north, to Narfell, chasing the stories my grandmother told. She seemed genuinly pleased, and even the others around the Commons listened and asked or interjected.

    It was strange. In the Black Band, you were barely spoken to when you arrived. You were arrow fodder. Meat for the grinder. The first sent in, and the first to die. At best, they learned your name so they could order you about in between fights.
    Surive a campaign or two, kill more than a handful of men in a single battle, earn some good loot off corpses or ransoming wealthy opponents, make enough money to wear their fashion. Then they'd speak to you. Then they'd call on you. Then they'd count on you.
    And it made sense. New kids died. If not in battle, then from wounds. There was always more fodder, any that climbed the ranks were a bonus.

    Not so, here. They want to know you. Your past. Your experiences. Your wants, needs and desires. They want to know what drives you.
    Perhaps I am focussing on the wrong type of wealth. Perhaps it is allies and friends I should be seeking.

  • The same familiar scene. The young man behind his table, the burning incense before the lares, his freshly oiled and polished sword in the corner, his cloak and hat over the hook. There's a snazzy new leather jacket to add to it now, though.
    And a blanket.
    He sits there, quietly writing away, far more determined this night.

    If it is indeed luck, I begin to suspect it's of the sort the Smiling Lady has a hand in.

    I started my day as I said. Running through my drills again and again. I must not have been a fearful sight, though, as even something as low as a bunch of feral cats felt like I was prey. They were wrong, of course. I have to admit it was something else, however, fighting cats. And I do believe I learned at least some little things. I pray I need not apply it to these man eating tigers I heard about any time soon.

    The damnable weather and cold eventually gained the upper hand, though. This land can be so dreary and desolate. Being cold and wet doesn't exactly help. So, south I went, in search of new sights and people. I eventually made Norwick, and saw a new face.

    A pale elf, clad all in silver armour, the symbol of one of their gods on his belt, an ornate sword in an ornate scabbard. He held himself with grace and dignity, and showed the signs of age, so rare in his kind, that I'm unsure how ancient he must be. I greeted him as master elf, and he challenged me on that perception in a mild mannered way, asking how I figured he was a master of anything. He had a strange sense of humour, and it was at my expense, though there was no malice there as far as I could tell. Still, eventually he seemed satisfied or even amused at my explanation, and we introduced one another. It was Raryldor, the famed elf I was told to seek out by Kaitlyn, just the day before. The only friendly face I'd seen all day, and it was a living legend. No, I no longer think it was just happenstance that I chance upon these people.
    For good or ill, I turned this way at the earliest opportunity, and fortuitous meetings have been thrown at my feet since I arrived. I think I shall see what else this fate has in store for me, and rent this room a while longer.

    On old glories, however, he wasn't too talkative. A part of me understands. A life as long and filled with conflict as his must eat at him more than I can imagine. He felt it better not to speak unless I had a specific question, which I admittedly did not have yet, and instead look forward in life. He did explain the lay of the land to me, where what creatures dwelled, and which would or would not likely get me killed. I thanked him and moved on. The lessons taken from past conflicts will have to wait.

    Instead, I set out to find my own conflict. I have scoured the restless dead, exorcised possessed swine, cleaved through goblins, but I learned little. I decided to ferry across the crater, to see this Jiyyd with my own eyes, Now, I have seen the wholesale slaughter of a pitched battle, the merciless culling in ambushes and the brutal reality and cruelty of siege warfare. I have yet to see something quite as oppressive as Jiyyd, however.

    It is dark, day and night. The ruins lay as they lay when whatever cataclysm happened, happened. The restless dead roam, along with carrion crawlers and all manner of pests, and bodies as broken as the weapons they wielded lay strewn about. When I see the old battlements of Norwick and destroyed towers in the Nars Pass, I see the beauty of nature, even if it is desolate and unforgiving, I see heroism and bravery, even if it failed.
    No such thing around Jiyyd. The area reeks of despair and fear, so thick that you could feel it creeping into your soul if you stayed long enough. The destroyed natural beauty, the crumbling defensive structures, the roaming scavengers, the rumours of demons. The entire area weeps one sentence. "Here, the heroes failed." Perhaps that is why the overlooking hill is called 'Heroes Bluff'.
    That is unfair of me. I know not the odds, nor the enemy they faced. Given the result and the might of some of these fine people, I think I will hold my tongue, lest my hubris is the end of me.

    I was beset by a group of these scavengers when I could stomach no more and returned. What desperation drove them to assault me, I do not know, but they did not have much time to regret it.
    I took the leather jacket one of them wore. There was a lesson learned in Jiyyd, on the price of failure, and I aim to keep it with me.
    It looked ghastly, though.

    As a sidenote, if I died a pauper, it is because of the accursed Vanity Plates.
    Avenge me.

  • The young man sits at his table once more. The incense he lit has smoldered to dark ashes, still giving off scent and a faint trail smoke. Even his candle burned a quarter of the way, dripping its wax on his table. In the right hand, he has his quill, tapping it gently against the wood, the ink long wasted on random spots of table. In the left, he holds one of his small figures. A fully armoured knight, sword and shield up in a defensive position. He twists it around and lets it catch the light this way and that. Given the right angle, one could see a worn engravement on the knight's breastplate, depicting a knight's chess piece.
    There's no real saying how long he sat there, staring at the piece, but eventually he sets it down at the top of the pattern, next to three others, dipping his quill in fresh ink, and finally sets to writing.

    I tried to collect my thoughts before writing. For my own sake, as well as posterity's. No such luck.
    Luck. That might be a good word to start on. Luck. Good Fortune. Serendipity? Providence? Fate? Possibly irony.

    I've spent a good few nights in the commons of Peltarch now. Seen many faces and listened to many people. I've kept myself to the background for now, however, difficult as that may be.
    Everyone here seems genuinly friendly. Genuinly kind. Genuinly interested. Genuinly helpful. It is as if everyone that knows anyone is on the same team as everyone else. I suppose it's natural for a country this dangerous and plagued by war. You very quickly come to know those you can rely on in a fight, and bonds created on a battlefield rarely break.

    And oh yes, it is plagued by war and dangerous, having heard and read more tales. What was I saying about luck? Ah yes. I've made my first acquaintance today. Her name is Kaitlyn, a pretty girl not much younger than myself. Don't get the wrong idea, while I own she is a looker, she's… Shy. Timid. Kind, sweet and gentle, no doubt, and probably responsible and dependable, but there seemed to be no real fire, there.

    Either way, here I am, in this strange land, rumoured in the outside world to be dangerous beyond belief, trying to dig up knowledge and relics of its countless wars, and the great deeds they inspired, ready to throw myself onto the anvil and join the fabled names this place has spawned, and there she sat.
    By a stray strand of fate, she was on my path.
    A historian and lorekeeper. A swordsman, her manners and speech leaving no doubt that she was under the tutelage of some of the best this city has to offer. A faithful of the Red Knight Herself. Born from a soldier who she claims ascended to a celestial being in the Grandmaster's service. This, I cannot call coincidence.
    We spoke of wars past, of Eastland marauders, red dragons and more. The libraries contain countless tomes, she says, but there are those who lived the wars, still here.
    Aelthas, Raryldor, Thaeon. Names I should remember. People I should speak to if I want to know.

    Excited as I am, I have neglected other duties. I have gone around the city to see the sights, as though it were my first campaign in a foreign land. More interested in stacked stones and pretty girls than training. And while I'm happy to have found the Ferret and have stared in awe at the temple of the Triad, I will do these kind people no good if my swordarm tires the next time some ungodly creature comes to tear down these walls.

    He looks up from his writing, to where a strangely elegant two handed sword stood in the corner, then nods to himself.

    At first light, I will take my montante to this land's cold hills, and I will drill, drill, and drill again, until I am warm enough to wade into the Icelace.