Posted below are tales, anecdotes and stories of Rika, an Uthgardt warrior from Spine of the World
The bathhouse in Blackbridge was a quiet place before sunrise. The water was supremely still, lit by various magical lanterns and phosphors that lined the room. Rika stood on the edge and gazed upon her reflection.
She didn’t possess a mirror, and pondered that perhaps this was the first time she had seen her reflection in over two years. The image she had of herself was far different than the dark image on the water that looked back.
Gone was the youthful, almost pony-ish figure that arrived in Peltarch that one Spring many years ago. The woman that gazed back at her was thicker and heavier. A maturity upon her countenance mocked the youthful carefree woman that bedded rogues and ruffians in drunken pleasure. The woman that stared back was fierce and willful, a proclaimed champion of Uthgar, whose strength flowed through her in battle.
Yet, as Rika and her reflection locked gaze, she couldn’t help but wonder if she had failed.
The people of her tribe were a shadow of their former selves. The death of the Great Worm at the hand of Zhents had all but destroyed them. She could have chosen to stay, but trusted in the words of Maya the Undying that Tempus willed that her place was here.
Certainly, her people were here now. The people of Blackbridge her home. Her Uthgardt heritage was fire in her heart, but inaction left a trail of cooling embers behind her. For every step she took forward, the root of her heritage fell further behind.
For the Uthgardt, family was everything. Yet she had wedded no one, born no children, and remained alone in her tent. Instead, she took solace in the family of her raiders. Kyne had sired two strong boys, who tussled and played. Barrabus had just been wed, and they were expecting their first child in the fall. Rika was the favorite aunt, the older sister, mentor and friend, but not mother. This hurt more than she cared to admit
Rika frowned at the thought, and her reflection frowned with her.
She thought of the keep and what it would mean. Would not “Lady Rika” have suitors? The thought irritated her. Except with exchanges between tribes, it was rare for an Uthgardt to wed without love, or duty to family. Better to die in battle than wed for … politics.
With a snort of derision, Rika dove into the water. Her reflection grew and scattered, staring back no more.
Tribe of the Great Worm
There had been promise in the journey’s end. They had passed the grand sight of Mithril Hall to the east, and started the long ascent into the mountains. Rika had mentioned that a monument to her brother’s heroism had been placed along with the name of the dwarves that had defended the grand hall. She promised to take Simon to see it someday. Rika had trouble speaking Dwarvish, but understood it very well, a fact not known to many. In the name of her brother Magnus, the Dwarves had granted her access any time she wished.
The first sign of trouble came when one of the tribe’s scouts Einar, had greeted Rika with some enthusiasm. They had grown up together, and marveled at Rika’s health and equipment. Though he regarded Simon with some suspicion, any friend of Rika’s was a friend of his, and he led them to the trail that would take them to the village. But Rika was worried. Einar was a good 20 pounds lighter. His face was gaunt. It was obvious he hadn’t been eaten well this past winter. Rika had turned to Simon with a worrying glance.
Upon arriving at the village, a pall was cast over Rika’s demeanor. “Where is everyone…”, Simon heard her trail off as villagers started gathering around at their arrival. Simon put his hand on her shoulder in support. He knew not what to expect of these people.
They were tall, taller than the average person in Peltarch, Norwick, and surrounding areas. With few exceptions, all had dark hair and blue eyes, much like Rika. They spoke in a language he didn’t quite understand. It sounded Illuskan but different. As they gathered around, Rika’s eyes searched the crowd in despair. Only when a middle age woman came into view did her eyes light up, and she ran to embrace her. They both spoke quietly for a moment, then at length. He saw Rika’s shoulder’s drop, then shake as hard wracking sobs enveloped her. They held each other for some time.
Simon watched helplessly has his friend wept. He stood there awkwardly, no knowing what was said or what to do. Within a few minutes though, two people parted the crowd. A regal looking woman who bore scale armor, and a tall gaunt companion at his side. Rika turned to her in surprise and gestured at Simon. Simon heard his name mentioned at some point.
The regal looking woman turned to him. Her gaze was harsh and cold, but respectful. Whoever she was, she had the bearing of leadership.
“I am Gweshen Talistars, leader of the tribe of the Great Worm”, she said switching to trade speech. She gestured to her left, “This is Themrin, the tribe’s eldest shaman. As Rika’s friend we greet and welcome you. Come…”, she said, gesturing to a clearing behind her. “We have much to tell”
It was there, surrounded by Rika’s people, that Simon learned what had driven Rika so ardently forward. The Peltarch Farscout had been right.
Themrin spoke with authority and eloquence. Simon found himself in admiration of his speaking skills. Gweshin sat by his side as Themrin wove a tale of sorrow.
The tribe had been preparing for Runemeet, a time when young men and women were fully welcomed into the tribe. It was a grand Uthgardt holy day, where people communed with their ancestors. It was during a lull in these preparations that they had attacked.
Who “they” were remains largely unknown. They had attacked in the wee hours of the morning. Extremely skilled and full of powerful magic, they slew what tribe members were there before entering the cavern. There, they had aroused Elrem the Great Worm, and with the aid of unspeakable magics had slain him as well. The cavern had been defiled and looted before they mysteriously vanished.
Amongst the dead included Petr, Rika’s father, his brother Haglund, and Rika’s eldest nephew Erik
However, their deaths were not in vain. Despite the powerful magics, two of the marauders had fallen outside the cavern. When the remaining tribe had arrived, they had noticed one was still alive.
Themrin described in brutal detail how that man was questioned. Simon went pale during the telling. Themrin was rather descriptive, articulate and seemed to delight in the details. Gweshin nodded at various points. Simon looked to Rika. Her face was a mask of cold and uncaring.
The tribe learned that a faction of Zhents had hired a group of skilled “adventurers” to do their bidding. They had slain Elrem for vast sums of coin and magic. Elrem’s downfall had all but destroyed the tribe.
Many fled to the lowlands. With great animation Themrin told the story of how Elrem’s spirit had spoken to him, and how he still promised to protect the tribe and their ancestors. But winter had been harsh, and with spirits low many perished. Without her husband, Rika’s aunt Margret had lost her will. She had wandered out into a snowstorm and never returned.
That is when Gweshin stepped in. The tribe had never had a woman chieftain, but through grit, charisma and tenacity, Gweshen had pulled the tribe together to survive. After that, the tribe had unanimously agreed that she should lead it.
At the conclusion of the story, the tribe slowly dispersed. Rika sat there, staring ahead, a look of grim determination on her face. Without saying a word, Simon knew what was on her mind.
She was going hunt down and kill the people that desecrated her tribe’s holy ground and slew her family. By the look in her eyes, he worried for anyone that stood in her way.
It was early evening. The tavern was noisy and full of smoke from fires and pipe weed. Simon sat across from Rika, who seemed to enjoy her stew with a little two much enthusiasm. He had lost count how many dark stouts she’d had, and her voice was growing loud as she exchanged words with three men at the table behind him.
Simon wasn’t paying attention though. Rika’s words were lost in the cacophony of voices and his own thoughts.
They had arrived two days ago. The first morning, Simon had awoken early to an empty room and had assumed Rika was out enjoying the sights shopping. She loved open markets and could browse for hours over the silliest of trinkets. He had said his morning prayers, thanking Torm for guiding them safely, and headed to the bathhouse to remove the bits and pieces of the road and trail that had accumulated. He walked into the bathhouse with nary a thought, only to find Rika sprawled out at the far end of the pool, head back on the edge, eyes closed.
Simon stood there for a long moment, the awkwardness of the next morning of the cave a specter in his thoughts. With a long sigh and pursed lips he walked over to where she was sitting, quietly undressed and climbed into the water. Rika cracked an eye open and regarded him lazily.
“I was wondering who was going to wash my back”, she said with a sleepy grin, and closed her eyes again.
Simon glanced up at the ceiling, wondering if Torm was looking down upon him, laughing. There was this eternal fork in the road in front of him. The one to his right led to duty, honor, and service to his patron. His left, to family, children, and what would be likely an equally fulfilling life. He always took the right road. Yet one day he knew, that fork in the road would be gone. That thought left a quiet sadness in its wake.
Simon’s reverie was broken by a sharp sound. The cacophony and smells filled his senses again. Rika no longer sat eating her stew. She had stood up, and that sharp sound was her axe buried in the table. Her presence filled the room, and the voices began to quiet.
Simon looked over his shoulder. Of the three men, two were standing. Swords had cleared their sheathes. The third looked hesitant, fearful, and had remained seated. Simon had been lost in thought and didn’t even know what was said to anger his friend so. He looked at her worriedly. She had obviously had too much to drink. Gently, he reached across the table and put his hand on her arm.
“Rika, listen…”, he said quietly, but she made no move to take her hand off of her axe.
“Rika!”, he said more insistently. Rika turned her head, her expression softening as their eyes met.
“Rika, if you kill these people, you will be arrested. You will never see your family or your people again. Are they…”, he gestured behind him, “…worth it?”
Rika’s mouth twitched in decision. She looked between the men at the other table, Simon, and back again. Finally, with a sigh she wrested the axe from the table, put it on her back and walked away towards the stairs.
Money changed hands at a few of the other tables. The volume increased again. One of the men smirked and made a kissy face, followed by a rude gesture. The other two seemed relieved.
Simon paused for a moment before following Rika, and turned to the one who remained standing. He was tall, full of himself, and looked to the other tables with a grin.
“You should thank me stranger. I’ve seen her kill things in the Underdark that would terrify a child like you. I have little doubt she would have painted this tavern with your blood. Now, if you’d like, give me your name. In the morning, you can challenge her to a proper duel for whatever slight was issued”
With some drama, Simon took out a parchment, a charcoal stick and waited.
The man stood there for a moment. He looked around the room and then down at his two friends. Simon could see the doubt that filled his eyes before he and his two friends left. With a smirk, he put the parchment and stick back in his belt pouch.
“I thought so”.
Westward (written by Darkspyr)
Spirits renewed, Rika and Simon set down off the frozen wastes, the dark outlines of low hills and forests drawing them on. Once the snow thinned, they stretched their legs, only slowing to pass treacherous fissures, bypassing rotting ice and frigid streams of fast flowing water. Finally, they set foot on soil, not covered in ice or snow. Simon stopped to praise Torm for the leagues past and prayers for the leagues ahead.
The weather remained clear for days as they made their way through the woods and finally to a travelled road. Beasts seemed to shy away from them and the howls of wolves that seem to have followed them down from the ice, dwindled away. They spotted what appeared to be a lone trapper heading west like them, but outpaced him quickly. Finally hitting a road, they moved along it cautiously since the lands were not well known to either. With roads came civilization, and with civilization came those that preyed upon others and both were familiar with such in their journeys.
Their supplies were gone and taking the time to hunt or trap did not fit with the constant urgency in Rika’s stride. They were both gaunt and looked half wild when they turned up a narrow steep tract that bore a sign with a tree on it, hinting at civilization. Simon struggled to keep up the pace and was 20 paces behind when the dire bear rounded the path ahead. He was not sure if the roar was Rika’s or the bear’s but he found his bow in hand and an arrow already flying as she charged the beast, her double bladed axe leading the way. Perhaps if, there had been space, the bear might have run off but there was nowhere to go. A second arrow was let go as Rika and the bear collided. It was Torm’s own mercy that his arrow hit the bear in the shoulder and not Simon’s companion. But it did not matter, the bear in all its power and strength could not match her speed and skill and blood covered them both as Simon finally arrived, sword in hand to watch the bear collapse, one paw missing along with half its skull. Rika stood over it her breaths blooming in the air as she gathered herself. Simon pulled his knife and proceeded to cut meat off the bear. No time to skin and pack it up he took large slabs off its shoulders and quarters as well as the heart and liver and packed them quickly away. They heaved the rest off the trail and moved ahead seeing spires of smoke cresting the hill.
After only one day and night they rested in the small village of Deadsnows, a mixed community of mostly dwarves and humans. The dwarves took them into the traveler’s shelter where they slept the rest of the day and that night. They bathed in the heated baths and ate until they thought they might burst. Simon traded much of the meat for trail rations and they resupplied in the village shops. Salt and dried herbs, trail rations, dried meat and a few winter apples. Then they were off down the mountain trail and back to the main road. Fortunately, few travelers were out on these narrow back roads and they made good time. The pace was relentless, and their camps were cold or minimal fire, sharing body warmth and little enough shelter. Often Simon had just enough energy to praise Torm for the day and pray for the coming days ahead, eat and roll up and then sleep like the dead. The rains settled in and the pace slowed as the road turned to mud and side trails to small streams.
Days turned into weeks as the road became wider and populous. They were able to hitch rides on wagons and Rika and Simon would conserve some their strength as they regaled their hosts with stories of their journey. They finally came to Sundabar, but only stayed long enough to purchase 4 horses. Neither was a great rider, but speed seemed of the essence. Simon often caught Rika’s glance to the West and North, her brow furrowed and would come up beside her and lay a gentle hand on her shoulder and smile. With saddlebags bulging on the spare mounts they set off at an uncomfortable trot.
The six people arrayed before them in the road did not move as they slowed, and Simon could sense eyes on them from the woods. But the greed in their eyes and the weapons in their hands left no doubt of their desires. Without any signal, Rika and Simon dropped from the restless horses. One of the men stepped forward and opened his mouth to speak, but before he could utter a word, Simon surprised Rika and took a step forward and raised his voice. “Torm grant mercy to those about to meet you, Torm grant grace to those in need of you, may your justice be swift, your honor untouched and duty upheld.” And as the bandits gawked light flared around Simon and the ground shook and groaned as the earth itself heaved and came to life, a huge figure erupting and then striding forward. An arrow glanced off Simon’s helm and Rika was gone, a mere blur as she exploded into the woods. Screams and thrashing could barely be heard over the charging rock figure and Simon’s voice rose like thunder. “Honor withheld is not Honor, Justice withheld is not justice, duty withheld is not duty.” And spreading his arms wide he cried out, “I grant you all in TORM’s NAME!!!” With sword in hand he charged after the Huge Earth Elemental.
Minutes later the earth settled and an unnatural quiet reigned. Rika stepped out of the woods, her short axe covered in blood, small cuts on her face and hands from branches and desperate deflections. Simon examined the dent in his helm and probed the welt on his forehead, blood dripping down the side of his face. He looked somewhat bemused as she walked over and grabbed his head and hugged him fiercely then stepped back and punched him in the shoulder. “What was that for? I mean the shoulder punch, the other I am not complaining about” he grinned and blushed slightly at the same time. She silently looked at him, then the dead and then the road behind them, the empty road behind them. With a solemn face she said, “you let go of the horses”.
Together they dragged the dead off the road and gathered those in the wood. He built a cairn over them as Rika hunted the horses. Fortunately, the beasts had not gone far and when she returned Simon had finished the rites for the dead. When she gave him a questioning look he said, “When you take a life you take all that a person has, past, present, future, there is no more. So I speak of the sorrows for what was lost, a path wrongly taken, all the misspent moments that lead to this. Potential squandered, the gift of life wasted. They have been judged here, and now they shall face final judgement in what is beyond.”
They moved several more leagues down the road and then made camp for the night. They sat in companionable silence until Simon’s breathing evened out and then Rika eased him down, curled up to him and pulled the blanket over them. The roads seemed alive with people two days later as the city came into sight. People heading in and out of the city from all over, carts and wagons loaded and empty, patrols of soldiers, nobles in carriages. Silverymoon seemed to explode onto their senses as they neared the open gates.
Simon woke the next morning. Sunlight streamed over the snow through the cave entrance. He lay there quietly in thought for some time.
Their friendship had crossed a line over which he had never intended to venture. He knew that family, life, and all that it entailed was important to Rika and her people, and a weakness of the moment had led to an unspoken promise he couldn’t fulfill. His duties lay elsewhere. Rika was one of his dearest friends, and he knew he had somehow betrayed her. He squeezed his eyes shut momentarily in a vain attempt to push the guilt away.
Rising, he padded over the cave floor to the entrance. The sunlight was painfully bright over the freshly fallen snow. He knelt in prayer, asking Torm to guide him on the right path cleans his spirit. Torm seemed oddly distant though, and he wondered with concern whether his straying from the path had caused it.
With a sigh he rose, and turning looked straight into Rika’s eyes. She had risen unheard during his prayers. They looked at each other for a long moment before Simon turned his face away. Rika cocked her head, a sudden look of amusement in her eyes.
“Rika, I….”, Simons voice trailed off.
Suddenly Rika broke into a smile and laughed lightly. It wasn’t what he was expecting.
“Simon, you think too much”, she said, playfully turning his head back. “The shaman of my people often live alone. Duty to our ancestors and the tribe consumes them. But everyone needs to live a little. Uthgar was known to be full of life when he walked among us. The shamans sometimes join in celebrations of life. I thought that maybe, shamans of duty and honor did too. Who else to do this but with your best friend, no?”
Simon looked at her for some time, with Rika regarding him patiently. A flood of relief washed the guilt away, but Simon just stood there silently at a loss for words. Finally Rika just rolled her eyes, which still glistened with mirth.
“Simon, you still think too much. Come! The day is clear and bright! We should pack and go”
“Yes…”, Simon trailed off and muttered, a jumble of feelings scrambled inside of him.
A half hour later, Rika and Simon burst through drifts into the bright sun.
The bitter wind assaulted Rika and Simon. The day had started innocently enough with warm clear skies, but that was soon replaced by rain, then snow. The snow was already over Rika’s knees, and it made for hard going. They took turns breaking trail, and Rika was currently out front. Both were exhausted, and Simons prayers of elemental protection wore down quickly. Worse, it was getting dark. Temperatures would soon plummet even further.
Rika noticed with alarm that she no longer heard Simon’s footsteps behind her. She turned, and spotted his dark form in the snow. He had collapsed some ten paces back. She ran to him.
Simon looked up. The wraps around his face were covered in ice and snow. “Rika, let me rest”, he wheezed out and closed his eyes.
“No!”, Rika said, hauling him to a sitting position. “If you sleep here, you will die! Those rock ahead”, she pointed, “…are about half mile. There is a cave that travelers use. We can make it! Eight hundred steps! You can do this!”
Simon nodded weekly and reached his hand up. Rika pulled him standing, and gave him the last of her endurance potions. He pulled down the wrappings, drank it and nodded. Together they continued.
They made it another two hundred steps before Simon collapsed again.
“Simon!”, Rika shouted over the wind. This time he lay there and didn’t look up. She looked at the trail ahead. The rocky outcropping was fading in the dim light, the faint glow of the sunset behind it. A cold panic started to course through her. She looked up into the sky and prayed, “Uthgar, I need six hundred steps”. Then she uttered a battle prayer in her native Bothii.
Within moments strength flowed through her. Her breathing eased as Uthgar lent her strength. She reached down and pulled Simon’s arm over the back of her neck, and picked him up in a soldier’s carry. With grim determination, she set out.
Six hundred more steps…
The darkness set in, and the out cropping disappeared into the shadows.
Rika’s legs burned and gave out as the prayer faded.
Rika and Simon fell into the deep snow. Rika’s breath came out in huge gulps. She tried standing again, but her legs no longer held her weight.
“FUCK!”, she screamed out
This was no way for a warrior of Uthgar to die. The weather had become her mortal enemy. If the weather wanted a fight, she would give it one.
With a scream she hauled Simon up. The pain vanished in a flurry of adrenaline. She ran the remaining distance.
She had been here twice before. Somewhere in the darkness was a cavern stocked with provisions. She pulled out her shield, and the light from it revealed the entrance, mostly full of snow. With the last of her strength she dragged Simon through the snow covering the entrance and into the cavern. The wind immediate ceased, and the light from her shield played upon the walls. The howling continued outside.
Everything on her and Simon was covered in snow and ice. She pulled her knife and cut the straps from clothing and furs. She took all the furs and coverings they had, unrolled and lay them out. Working quickly, she cut the clothing from Simon and herself. Simon had stopped shivering, and that terrified her. She pressed herself to him, and then covered them both with her bearskin cloak, and waited.
Simon woke to a dim light filtering through his eyelids. He was pinned and couldn’t move, and there was a moment of panic where he thought he was buried in the snow. The last thing he remembered was blacking out.
Rika lay pressed against his back. Her head was on top of his, her soft breathing in his ear. Her arm was across his chest. He tried to extricate himself from the tangle of legs and underneath her head, but she unconsciously pulled him tighter, much like a sleeping child would clutch a blanket. He laughed inwardly at the ridiculous and sensuous predicament he was in, but more to simply be alive.
He finally managed to pull himself free, and wrapping one of the cloaks around him, he surveyed his surroundings. The cave was obviously a popular rest area. There were stocks of dried wood and food. Soot marks were all over the ceiling from the years of people who took refuge from the weather.
He pulled some wood together, and made a small fire. The smoke rose up to the ceiling, curled along it, and exited through a small hole at the entrance. Most of the entrance was covered with a thick drift of snow. He wandered over and looked outside. The sun was bright, and betrayed nothing of the ordeal they had just gone through. He evoked a solemn prayer, thanking Torm for guiding them to safety. Time passed as he recited each prayer in turn, until he heard Rika stirring behind him.
He turned and looked, a smile of relief on her lips. But her expression changed and she simply held out her hand.
Simon never had time for anything other than his duty to Torm. It was his life and his calling. He looked into Rika’s blue eyes. There was an unspoken invitation. She never said a word.
Simon wondered for some time whether Rika was a test of his duty, or a reward for his dedication. Silently, he asked Torm for forgiveness, and went to her.
The small ship sailed north to Hoarsgate, the sail slanted in tack to a westerly wind. Rika stood on the bow, her hands gripping the railing, her clothes and furs rippling in the breeze. Simon looked up from whittling and watched.
Rika sometimes drank to excess. She was often too loud. She ate heartily, talking frequently and animated with her mouth full. She cried easily, laughed easily, and spoke about things that seemed publicly inappropriate with banter and laughter. There were times he wondered how or why he ended up being her friend.
Then she turned to him and smiled.
He stopped whittling for a moment, his breath stilled and caught. Her smile was disarming. He felt briefly lifted and carefree. He felt ten years younger, and there were times he wondered if she was a test from Torm.
He got up and joined her at the bow, the wind whipping his thinning hair and furs as well. He stood alone with his thoughts for a time before speaking.
“Rika, I know the journey is long. What dangers do we face?”
Rika paused only briefly before smirking. “The weather”, she said.
Simon scrunched his face in curiosity before Rika continued.
“The way west goes over ice and snow for much of it. There are few creatures who will bother us. Once we reach the Silver Marches, we will take the roads and go from town to town. The roads are well marked and patrolled. But the glacier will be our test. If we have good weather, the traveling will be boring but easy. If we have bad weather, then we could die. There is little shelter for much of it”
“I’m sure Torm will protect us, and your Uthgar will give us the strength we need”, Simon offered hopefully. Rika only nodded, worry on her face. Simon had tried to convince her that she shouldn’t be listening to the words of a former Far Scout concerning things he would have no knowledge, but she seemed driven. Once Rika set her mind to something, there was often no dissuading her. They had been through much together, and he certainly wasn’t going to let her do this alone.
Simon looked again at the map. The journey back to the Spine of the World would take a long trek through the glacier fields of the Icy North, The High Ice, the Silver Marches, and past Mithril Hall. He had been tasked to see more of the world, and this journey was certainly honoring that wish. Before the boat set sail he had prayed to Torm for safe passage, but Torm seemed unusually distant as of late.
For a moment, Simon wondered if he was doing the right thing.
Love and Death
The rain came down in a light cold drizzle, the aftermath of a steady rain. Rika sat on a bench overlooking the Icelace, two empty bottles at her feet. She was inebriated and she knew it, and like most times, simply didn’t care. Her clothing and hair were soaked and plastered to her skin. She should be shivering, but like many of her people, endured.
She had fallen in battle, yet again. This time, facing giants and their pets with the great warrior Varya at her side. She had stupidly sought better position and became trapped instead. Regardless, she had acquitted herself with strength, bravery and honor. Uthgar would be proud she thought. What happened next however, shocked her.
She had woken up in the Temple of the Triad. She had expected to see a priest of Tempus in High Hold, or the smiling face of the priests of the Earth Mother in Norwick. These were the gods of her people here in the Nars, and she had been brought back by them before.
But never Torm. Never, ever Torm. Why would Torm even give her favor? Why would Torm even care? She followed the teachings of the Great Worm. She prayed to the gods of the Uthgardt and no other. Uthgar and her ancestors blessed her and gave her strength. The Great Worm himself had even blessed her axe. Not once had she ever said a prayer to Torm. Not once.
She had been surprised, astonished, and upset. Raryldor had simply walked away. Varya stood there and had tried to explain.
It had taken two entire bottles and a wine skin to understand. Unable to rise, the liquor taking her legs, she sat there on the bench gazing to the sea. While, large angry waves leapt over the peer, Rika wept. Uthgardt were not afraid of tears.
Simon, the priest of Torm was her best friend. He was not an effete priest who stayed in the elaborate trappings of a grand temple. He did not involve himself in politics. He brought the words of duty and honor to the common people. He traveled from town to town, offering prayer, guidance, and healing. Despite being a priest of a god often at odds with Uthgar, she was proud to be his friend. He was a good man.
She had faced death many times with him. They had fought side by side, explored new places, shared drinks, and laughed over stories. When he had been poisoned and shivered with fever, she had stripped down and held him close to keep him warm, terrified his next breath would be his last.
That was why Torm had raised her. It wasn’t just that she fought beside him. It wasn’t just because she accepted the blessings. It wasn’t because he was her friend.
It was because she loved him.
Rika stood outside the entrance to the cavern. Even in the sunlight, the deep recesses looked foreboding. Though it was the holiest of places of her people, it was said it was connected to the Underdark. She had been inside only once during the Runemeet of her womanhood.
The elder shaman of the village stood next to her patiently. He was once a tall man, but now stooped with age. Despite that, he miraculously had a full head of hair, though mostly grey. Legend had it that he was once a powerful man. His arms were still knotted with muscle, and his hands large and strong. He gestured with his long staff towards the entrance.
“The answers you seek are within Rika. All I can say is what the ancestors have told me. You’ve been given a great gift. It’s true nature however, was not given to me.”
Rika looked at him with disappointment. The thought of going in both exhilarated and frightened her. With a nod she straightened herself and summoned the courage to step inside. Her heart skipped a beat when she looked over her shoulder and saw the shaman leaving. With a long breath she continued walking.
The way soon became dark, and Rika drew her shield. Her shield had been blessed by Tempus to emit light, but the light was absent on the design of the Great Worm on the shield. The design of it cast a shadow ahead of her on the floor of the cavern in the shape of the one who guided her people. As she turned the shield around, her breath caught in her throat.
The mound was ringed in various layers. Carved stones marked each one. At the top of the mound was an altar, perhaps a statue. It was large, in the shape of a winged serpent. It awed her now as much as it did those many years ago.
The whispers were subtle at first. Tired and ancient, yet insistent. They didn’t seem to come from anywhere in particular. Rika drew her axe and crouched, trying to determine direction.
The laughter was different. Lighter. Almost inside her head. “Who are you to invade this holy place!”, Rika shouted.
“HELLO FROG CHASER”
A rustling came from the other side of the mound. Rika squinted into the darkness, but saw nothing.
“I STILL REMEMBER THE LITTLE GIRL WHO CHASED THE WOOD FROG TO MY DOOR STEP. THE CHILD HAS GROWN”
Rika gasped at the sudden memory. She was three, perhaps four years old. She was out playing, chasing this frog with a raccoon like mask. Every time she got close, it would leap the length of a grown man away from her…. then nothing. Her memory ended there.
“Who…”, Rika started, but in her heart she knew. Rika bowed her head out of reflex and forced herself to remain standing. Every fiber of her being screamed to kneel, but that would have been disrespectful. Uthgardt do not kneel before others.
“STEP FORWARD FROG CHASER”
Rika stepped forward. The light in her shield cast its shadow of the great worm on the mound. A large shadow appeared behind it, next to the statue. Bright serpentine eyes glinted in the light. Rika stood there, her feet pinned to the floor. There was a deep, almost pleased rumble.
“WE HAVE LITTLE TIME FROG CHASER. YOU HAVE QUESTIONS AND A FAVOR TO ASK. ASK THEM”
“Why me? What have I been given?”, Rika stammered. There was a brief pause before the Great Worm spoke.
“YOU HAVE BEEN GIVEN UTHGAR’S FAVOR. I HAVE ASKED HIM AND YOUR ANCESTORS FOR THIS, AND YOU WILL USE IT TO DO MY BIDDING. YOU WILL SLAY EVIL. YOU WILL QUELL ITS NATURE, AND BE A FORCE FOR GOOD. PEOPLE WILL KNOW UTHGAR THROUGH YOU AND THE DIVINE STRENGTH HE GIVES YOU.”
“But my br…”, Rika started.
“IT WAS NEVER YOUR BROTHER. IT WAS ALWAYS YOU”
The was a long silence. Magnus she thought, was always the better person. Taller, stronger and far more clever. He was kind and caring. He was a good person that died far too young. Even after all these years, she teared up at his memory.
Rika cleared her throat. She was going to ask the elder shaman for the blessing. Asking the Great Worm himself seemed arrogant. She closed her eyes and exhaled at length.
“Will you and the ancestors bless my axe?”, she asked timidly.
Rika took out the mithral axe that Sonja had laboriously crafted. Beside it, she put the fang of the great spider she had slain, along with several gems she hoped would help. She had bargained for them at great expense.
The Great Worm came forward into the light, and Rika’s breath caught in her throat at the sight.
He was vast, the size of a dragon. A serpent’s head rested atop a long slender body covered in bright feathers. Large wings extended to balance. As she watched, the gems, the axe and the fang floated off the ground. A large globe of light formed above them. The old and tired whispers started again, but this time in ritual unison.
“ONE PART ME”, he intoned, and the globe of light touched the axe.
“ONE PART OF YOU”, he intoned again. Rika’s head flooded with the image of herself before battle, the ritual of her axe clanging on her shield rang through her. Her legs grew week as the orb of light grew brighter and touched the axe again
“ONE PART OF THE FIRST GREAT EVIL YOU SLEW”, he intoned a final time. The floating fang pulverized to dust. The large gems did the same. The dust intermingled, twisted and swirled, and laid itself out on the filigree of the designed on the axe. The axe glowed green and spun in its axis before settling back on the mound. The surrounding whispers stopped.
Rika looked up at the Great Worm. She could almost sense that something was wrong.
“NOW FROG CHASER, YOU MUST GO. THE ZHENTS ARE UPON US”
Alarmed, Rika picked up the axe. She could almost feel the power within it. She turned to face the entrance.
“…NO FROG CHASER. IF YOU STAY HERE YOU WILL PERISH. YOU MUST CONTINUE.”.
Rika turned to object, but large wings wrapped around her. The Great Worm’s voice became soft, sad, and insistent.
“Wear his power like armor. Use it to rid the lands of evil. Honor your ancestors, for they will give you strength. Fight in Uthgar’s name…”
Rika felt disoriented, tumbling through blackness. Trees, mountains, lakes and rivers flew before her vision. When she recovered, she stumbled and fell sitting on a muddy field. The city of Peltarch was in the distance, smoke curling lazily from its many chimneys.
Rika cried out in anguish, then hung her head and wept.
In the latter half of the 14th century DR, the Great Worm was slain by a band of adventurers who had been sponsored by the Zhents (Silver Marches Sourcebook)
Petr and Sif sat on a log by the fire. Sif’s head rested on her husband Petr’s broad shoulders, a happy smile upon her lips. Her bright blue eyes glistened with pride. Petr held Sif’s hands in his, his thick fingers caressing hers. Together they watched as their daughter Rika told animated tales of her many adventures of the land she had visited.
She had arrived three days ago, haggard and worn. The scouts had spotted her a half a day’s journey from the village, and had escorted her the remainder of the way. She had slept almost a full day after she arrived.
Petr and Sif had doubts about ever seeing their daughter again. That she had even returned was a miracle in of itself. But the gifts she bore were surely the result of their ancestors’ favor. Beautifully crafted weapons, gems, and an astounding amount of gold were given as tribute to the chieftain and the village. The axe she bore was made of a strange silvery metal. Her armor crafted and polished steel. She almost looked like someone from one of the shamans’ tales come to life.
The gathering was large. Many of the tribe of the Great Worm had come, some of whom had known her when she was little. Now she stood telling great tales, the eyes of the village upon her.
Rika was no skald, but she had an uncanny ability to draw attention. She was tall and fair of face, and when she spoke, people listened.
She told tales of a land called Narfell, besieged by orcs, giants, and all manner of foul and evil creatures. She told tales of great warriors. Amongst them a yellow haired princess who fought with a two handed blade, and a great warrior named “Scott” who waded through fire and smoke, and had learned to dodge the magic of evil wizards.
She told of dwarven adventures in search of metals in cold mountains and deep mines, along with a priest who dedicated himself to a god of prophets. She told of another who dedicated himself to honor and duty, who wandered the land helping the people. Petr noticed she spoke of the latter with some fondness.
At one point, she spoke of a great battle with a spider the size of the chieftain’s yurt. No one believed her until she pulled this fantastic fang from a pack which seemed to hold endless amounts of trinkets. The villagers gasped, many of the warriors looking upon her and speaking amongst themselves. Petr had no doubt that Rika could have any man she wanted that night. More than one if she wished.
As the night wore on and Rika’s voice grew hoarse, people succumbed to the ale and mead which were plentiful. People fell asleep or drifted back to their homes, Rika included. Sitting beside the chieftain, the elder shaman watched with sadness. The ancestors had spoken to him in dreams, and he knew that Rika’s destiny lay elsewhere. Her stay here was temporary, and it was not time for her to be with her people.
Uthgar, the Great Worm, and the ancestors had given her a great gift, and she was expected to use it.
When Rika, her father and her uncle traveled east, they bypassed Silverymoon to the north. Neither of them wanted anything to do with the city or its residents.
Silverymoon was a known Magocracy, having been ruled by mages for centuries. The currently ruler Taern Hornblade was a mage of great repute, and many of the Tribe of the Great Worm feared or outright despised dealing with Silverymoon in any fashion.
Rika’s attitude had changed in the years following that journey east. Living in Peltarch had given her exposure to magic of all sorts, and her tolerance of it had improved. She still didn’t trust mages. Their power was unseen and chaotic. Most of them she had encountered were either power hungry or crazy, Zoma being the latter. The only mage she tolerated on a regular basis was Salin, and that’s because his specialty was making other mages not use their power.
This time however, Rika was guarding a merchant wagon headed directly into the heart of the city. She thought of collecting her pay in the outskirts and bypassing it again, but it seemed cowardly this time. As she approached the eastern gate, she steeled herself and followed the merchant in.
Rika followed in awe.
Silverymoon was easily three to four times the size of Peltarch. It boggled her mind how so many people could be in one place. Row upon row of houses, stands and stores lined the streets. Men and women dressed in colorful and fancy clothing. Some women carried sticks with broad brightly colored cloth stretched over their head.
They ventured no further than a hundred paces when two guards approached. Like Peltarch’s guards they were well dressed. One was pinched face and short. The other was average height, sported a full beard and was rather portly. They regarded Rika with some trepidation, but engaged the merchant and his wife professionally, asking for papers. When they were satisfied, the small one tipped the lip of his helm and they both left.
As Rika watched them go, she began to notice her surroundings in earnest. People walked around carefree. Most of them were unarmed, save for a dagger or short blade. There were far more elves here than she had seen anywhere else and they too, walked carefree and largely unarmed. Some of them were fat. Even the guard was fat. “How does a guard manage to get fat?”, she thought to herself in disgust. An Uthgardt child would be a mortal challenge to most of these people. Civilization truly made people weak. The sooner she got home and away from these effete, self-indulgent people the better.
She escorted the merchant to a vast open space. It was as large as the entire docks district in Peltarch. Merchants hawked their wares as far as the eye could see. If you wanted something, anything, it was likely it could be found here.
The merchant and his family found an open space and folded down the sides of the wagon. He paid Rika with a heartfelt smile and added another small purse as a bonus. He cupped her hand and said a blessing to Waulkeen. Rika hefted the coin, returned the smile and left.
Rika spent an uneventful three days in the city, gathering supplies for the final leg of the journey. She was excited. She had made good time. Runemeet was still two months away and she would easily be home before it started.
There was no road home. The journey back to the Spine of the World would take a long trek through the glacier fields of the Icy North, The High Ice, the Silver Marches, and past Mithril Hall. It would take months, most of it through freezing temperatures and desolation.
It started off the way it had ended. Rika had gathered her things, near emptied her bank account, and booked passage on the Icelace north to Hoarsgate. From there, she journeyed north, where the ruler there held sway over 4000 nomads and warriors. She stopped to pay her respects, and let her know that the gifts had been received, and her tasks complete. Now it was time to head west.
Rika used some of her coin to pay three guides for what would be the hardest part of her journey. There were no bandits and few beasts. Their greatest enemy was the climate. Rika, her father and her uncle had no guides going east when the journey to Narfell had first been made. With the guides, a third of the time was shaved from the trip.
Nonetheless, food became scarce. There was only so much that could be carried on the snow ponies and sleds. Ice Mephits attacked one night and stole some of it. A blizzard came through and forced them to hole up for almost three days, after which the deeper snow made progress slow. They were tracked at length by some great white beast that never showed itself, and had to veer around territory marked by some orcish tribe whose symbols no one recognized.
Eventually, after weeks of travel, the ruins of Hlaungadath appeared on the horizon. Those ruins marked the start of better climate. Once the ruins were reached, Rika and the guides parted company. From there, the journey would be alone until the walls of Sundabar were reached.
Rika bypassed the ruins to the north and across the tip of the Anauroch past the ruins of Ascore. She kept her distance at all times and fearfully watched without a campfire lest she draw unwanted attention. The ruins of Ascore flickered with lights, and she didn’t want to meet what manner of evil spirits dwelt there. Two days later, she discovered the abandoned road to Sundabar.
Sundabar was her first sign of civilization she had seen in some time. Originally a dwarven citadel, it was now home to humans as well which made up at least half of the population. It reminded Rika of Peltarch in a way but with a different language. Tall stone buildings lined cobblestone streets. Guards were everywhere mostly bearing symbols of Helm or Tyr along with the city’s sigil.
Rika spent three nights there regaining her strength, eating all too well and drinking far too much. She guarded her coin purse diligently. Although she drew attention, her bearing and equipment gave an appearance of someone who was not to be trifled with and she was largely left alone.
At the end of the three days she hired on a guard for a merchant headed to Silverymoon. It was just the merchant, his family, and two other guards. It would also be the first time her axe had drawn blood since the quest to the Fire Temple in the Giant Spires.
The merchant and his family were a nice lot. He was loud, a bit overbearing, and his wife was petite with an attitude twice her size. Their two young boys were quiet and helpful. The other two guards were human, but Rika was sure one of them had a bit of elven blood.
The bandits attacked while they were traveling through the Nether Mountains. It wasn’t even really an attack. It was eight men in a mix of chain and leathers who saw three guards and figured eight was greater than three.
A fallen log had blocked the road, and the eight came from around rocks and hidden crevices behind the wagon. One of the wagon guards stayed with the family, a look of despair on his face. The other had a crossbow, but looked ready to drop it. What appeared to be the leader of the group of bandits stepped forward. He had a decent sword. The chainmail was well crafted. He had a look of cruel confidence, his eyes greedily looking at the wagon.
Rika stepped up to meet him, weapons undrawn. She looked them over as she approached. All she saw were desperate men with little to no combat experience who wanted an easy target. The leader looked at her with a smile, but his eyes betrayed uncertainty. The woman that approached was in well crafted plate, and was as tall has he was.
There was the forced bravado. The call for surrender and the promise of spared life. But the leader was killed mid-sentence when Rika quickly drew her axe, and with a summoning of divine strength nearly cut him in twain. His eyes registered brief surprise, but little else.
Rika stood there silently for a moment as she drew her shield. Her axe dripped blood on the sand and stone. The other bandits, leaderless, looked unsure and stunned at the turn of events.
“Who’s next”, Rika said, spitting on the ground.
They turn and ran. The leader wasn’t even worth looting. Several days later, they reached the vast city of Silverymoon.
Rika stood amongst the surviving Defenders. Blood still dripped from her axe. The screams and loud clashes of weapons on shield and armor had been replaced by an eerie silence interrupted by an occasional moan.
The battle had been brutal. The orcs had out numbered the defenders considerably, but they had held fast. Four defenders lay dead. Two more lay dying.
Rika had heard the clashes in the forest when heading north past the west gate of the city. She had rushed deep into the forest’s shaded interior and around the hillside to bear witness to the onslaught. With a battle cry upon her lips, she had joined the fray.
Now, the defenders milled around momentarily dazed. The battle had required all of the group’s balms and healing potions merely to survive. There were none left for the dying.
Of the two that still lived, one was a young lad the sergeant called “Daniel”. A three month recruit, the boy looked barely out of his teens. The sergeant had tried to put a healing potion up to his mouth, but the lad was too far gone to drink. The sergeant merely pursed his lips and sighed.
“He will die a warrior’s death”, Rika thought, though she was dismayed at his youth. Her brother was about the same age when he too had fallen in battle. It just didn’t seem fair.
It was then she realized, that she had a choice.
She didn’t understand how or why she knew. She only knew that she could either let him live or die. The dreams of the brightly colored cloak of feathers was suddenly a sharp memory, and the weight of bearing it seemed all too real now. She knelt beside Daniel and took his hand. Somehow, it seemed like the right thing to do.
Rika suddenly felt warm. Daniel’s eyes briefly fluttered open to meet Rika’s startled gaze. It was a curious sensation that was followed by a sharp intake of breath. Vague color returned to Daniel’s face.
“Glad you had one left in you priestess”, the sergeant smiled with relief. “Perhaps the lad will see another sunrise”
As the survivors gathered the dead and a runner was sent to the city, Rika followed silently. She was no priestess. Yet somehow, she had saved the boy’s life. Though she didn’t truly understand the significance of the event, she knew where she must go to find the answers.
Back to her people. Back to the Spine of the World and perhaps, the ancestral mound itself.
Rika sat in Jonni’s spot at the table in front of the Mermaid. It amused her to no end how he claimed the chair and this spot. She took it upon herself to occasionally move the chair he had marked with his name to other locations, even bringing it inside and replacing it with others. She smiled at the thought of his semi sincere protests at her incursions. They were completely ridiculous, and her light hearted teasing at the situation brought mirth to an otherwise overcast and dreary day.
The heated and spiced cider sat cooling in the stein that she carried everywhere. It had been a parting gift from her favorite village shaman. The shaman had gifted it to her they day before she, her father, and her uncle left to travel north. He reminded her that life wasn’t always that serious, and to drink, enjoy, and take it all in, both good and bad. It was dwarven crafted and bore her name in their odd runic markings. It was probably her favorite possession.
She took a long sip, cupping the stein in her hands for warmth. She was slow to wake up this morning. The over abundance of mead last night didn’t help.
The dreams had started innocently enough. She was drifting through the village where she grew up, proudly bearing a cloak of brightly colored feathers. Her parents seemed proud that she owned it. Some warriors looked upon her with envy. Some mocked her as unworthy that it graced her shoulders. Sometimes her brother was there just as she remembered him.
The dreams never told her how or why she had it. There were hints that it had been bequeathed by her brother. Sometimes it was kept under a bed at her parents’ house, and had been hers all along until she grew into it. Sometimes it was a gift from a mysterious stranger, some larger than life figure unspoken of. Last night she thought she had the answer, but the wisps of the dream world carried it away on little quiet feet and hid it in the shadows of her thoughts.
To the Uthgardt people, dreams meant something. They were portents and visions often gifted by the ancestors, great spirits or the gods themselves. She knew this dream was important, but couldn’t explain why.
Someone clearing his throat disturbed her thoughts. Rika looked up into Jonni’s older face. Blonde hair framed a disapproving scowl as he gestured to the chair in which she sat. Rika kicked out a different chair and pointed to it.
“So Jonni the Seer … Do you do dreams”?